Saturday, June 12, 2021

20 Great Years of Radio, Part 6: 1943

  1. Suspense (CBS): This year the show picked up their first sponsor, Roma Wines and saw an increase in the number of high-profile guest stars, such as Cary Grant in The Black Curtain. This was also the year of Sorry Wrong Number with Agnes Moorehead, which would become the show's most frequently-repeated episode. But there was so much more in this year which showed what William Spier and his talented writers and performers could accomplish; the highlights include: The Diary of Sophronia Winters, The White Rose Murders and The After Dinner Story.
  2. The Jack Benny Program (NBC): This show struggled a little for the first time as without Phil Harris it lost a lot of verve. Strangely enough, the show's shot in the arm came when Jack himself missed five episodes. First George Burns and Gracie Allen, then Orson Welles stepped in to cover for Jack, during which time Phil Harris returned. It became one of the program's wartime highlights and demonstrated just how strong Benny's writers and performers were, that they could keep the show running without Jack himself!
  3. Lights Out (CBS): Another great year of Arch Oboler's horror stories, some of them satires on his own show, such as Murder in the Script Department and The Author and the Thing. My personal favourite is The Spider, but there are plenty of other great outings including The Fast One, The Projective Mr. Drogan and Litle Old Lady. But after this year, Oboler was basically done with Lights Out.
  4. Information Please (NBC): Another great year for this series as Fred Allen appeared as a guest panelist and, although he was a little shakey at first, became one of their best guests and would return many more times. There was also another phenomenal appearance by Boris Karloff alongside Jan Struther in which Karloff was answering remotely; rather than ring a bell when he had an answer, he would emit his Frankenstein Monster growl, which was hilarious!
  5. The Weird Circle (NBC): This little oddity took public domain stories of the supernatural (and related themes) and adapted them - sometimes really going against the original text. Still, many of these stories weren't being adapted anywhere else on radio and so it did a lot to introduce me to authors I hadn't read before. The most terriying of these episodes is A Terrible Night. But there are many other worthy episodes such as: What Was It?, William Wilson and The Man Without a Country.
  6. Screen Guild Theatre (CBS): Another fine year for the Guild, whose best adaptation was a fun recap of Holiday Inn which mostly just repeated the film's songs. Other highlights were: Suspicition, Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon.
  7. Inner Sanctum Mysteries (Blue/CBS): At this point, Inner Sanctum was really growing in strength. Highlights from this year include The Black Seagull and The Horla.
  8. The Whistler (CBS): This series underwent subtle changes this year as the twist endings were dramatized, instead of being narrated. This small change was a huge improvement to the program and became what the show was known for.
  9. Lux Radio Theater (CBS): A decent year for Lux, my favourite episode being This Gun for Hire.
  10. The Shadow (Mutual): This was the year where Bret Morrison took over as the Shadow. I don't find him as good as Welles or Johnstone and the writing at this stage has became far too staid, but there were still good episodes such as The Gibbering Things.

Friday, June 11, 2021

20 Great Years of Radio, Part 5: 1942

  1. The Jack Benny Program (NBC): A lot changed for Jack's series this year as he was forced to take Grape Nuts as his sponsor because of sugar rationing and Phil Harris left the show to join the Merchant Marines. Jack even gave away his beloved Maxwell car for scrap metal! Still, there were a lot of great episodes, my favourite being the adaptation of Tales of Manhattan. The 2-part Frightwig Murder Case with Humphrey Bogart was another great highlight!
  2. Information Please (NBC): This was the year in which the show's sponsor, Lucky Strike, unleashed their most irritating ad campaign, "Lucky Strike Green Has Gone to War," which would cause the show to end its contract with the sponsor! But this was also the year in which Orson Welles appeared as guest panelist and spent practically the whole program criticizing the questions and showing off his superior intellect. Obviously, it's a highlight!
  3. Suspense (CBS): In development since 1940, the series began this year under the eye of William Spier, who would oversee the show's best work. Unfortunately, at this stage author John Dickson Carr wielded the most influence and his work is very dated. Still, a few genius episodes slipped by, including The Hitchhiker, A Passage to Benares and Two Sharp Knives. The show's best years were in its near-future.
  4. Lights Out (CBS): With his Plays series done, Oboler returned to Lights Out with what seems to be recreations of earlier scripts of his. But virtually everything this year was perfect radio horror with intense performances (such as in Come to the Bank), gruesome situations (Poltergiest, valse Triste) and that signature Oboler first-person perspective. Other great episodes included Revolt of the Worms, Knock at the Door and Meteor Man.
  5. The Columbia Workshop (CBS): This year saw a great production of Norman Corwin's humourous The Plot to Overthrow Christmas and the ghost story Remodeled Brownstone by Lucille Fletcher.
  6. Lux Radio Theater (CBS): Another great year of film adaptations, with Ronald Colman in A Tale of Two Cities being my personal favourite. There were also great adaptations of The Lady Eve and Ball of Fire.
  7. The Shadow (Mutual): At this point the Shadow was becoming pretty rote but there were still decent outings like Altar of Death and The Lady in Black.
  8. Inner Sanctum Mysteries (Blue): This series was still finding its footing and we don't have many examples from this year, but there are good episodes like Dead Recokoning and A Study for Murder.
  9. The Whistler (CBS): This series began rather modestly and somewhat stilted as the program struggled to express its twist endings in a compelling fashion, but the show would quickly iron out its kinks.
  10. George Burns & Gracie Allen (CBS): This was the year this program became a situation comedy instead of a Benny imitator and was much the better for it! It was with this format that the series would endure into the age of television and this era is the most fun to listen to.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

20 Great Years of Radio, Part 4: 1941

  1. The Jack Benny Program (NBC): Another great year for Benny with the great episode Jack Is Late with No Script, wherein Jack has to go on the air with an unfinished script. There was also Murder at the Racquet Club and Jack's great battle of wits against the Quiz Kids! Beyond that there were very funny satires of the films City for Conquest and Tobacco Road. Still A-1!
  2. Information Please (NBC): This year saw Boris Karloff make his debut as a guest panelist and he was simply delightful, especially as he demonstrated his speciality at nursery rhymes! This year also saw Groucho Marx's appearance, which was a ton of fun.
  3. The Shadow (Mutual): Another good year for the Shadow with good programs like The Shadow Challenged, The Man Who Lived Thrice and The Chess Club Murders.
  4. The Columbia Workshop (CBS): Another good year for the Workshop with unusual dramas like the all-black cast in Jason Was a Man or the submarine story The Log of the R-77.
  5. Lux Radio Theater (CBS): Another good year of Lux with great adaptations of The Shop Around the Corner, Lost Horizon and Rebecca.
  6. Screen Guild Theater (CBS): Quality programs on the Guild this year included Orson Welles performing The Happy Prince and an adaptation of His Girl Friday.
  7. Forecast (CBS): This was the end of Forecast but they released some more interesting pilots such as Marlene Dietrich's Arabian Nights and the debut of the music program Jubilee.
  8. Dark Fantasy (NBC): This is an oddball show even by the standards of horror radio! Many of the episodes don't quite work but they can be rather fascinating simply because of the weird story structures. The highlights this year were the Christmas episode The House of Bread, the micro-world adventure Men Call Me Mad and The Demon Tree.
  9. Inner Sanctum Mysteries (Blue): This would become the longest-running radio horror show but it started rather modestly with The Amazing Death of Mrs. Putnam, which was little more than a standard mystery drama. In the years to come, its tone would shift and soon become standardized.
  10. We Hold These Truths (Mutual): This was Norman Corwin's salute to the US Constitution, as told by Lionel Barrymore and Orson Welles. Even as a non-American I admire the quality of the performances.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

20 Great Years of Radio, Part 3: 1940

  1. The Jack Benny Program (NBC): Another phenomenal year for Jack Benny which included the show's only 4-part storyline, centered around the cast's trip to Yosemite. There was also a classic episode where the cast went to meet Don Wilson's new wife, with frustrating results! They had another great football satire (Hold That Line) and satires of Pinocchio, Town Hall Tonight (Clown Hall Tonight) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Mr. Benny Goes to Washington). Another first-rate year of Benny!
  2. The Shadow (Mutual): This year is probably best-remembered for the episode The Voice of Death, which was notoriously weird and tasteless. But there were many other fine episodes including Murder in the Death House, Carnival of Death and House of Horror.
  3. Information Please (Blue/NBC): Another fun year of this series, which included a few appearances by Jan Struther as their guest panelist, who was probably the highlight of their guests.
  4. Lux Radio Theater (CBS): This was a great year for comedy adaptations on Lux with great productions of Remember the Night, His Girl Friday, Bachelor Mother and True Confession. High quality stuff.
  5. Screen Guild Theater (CBS): Obviously my personal highlight is the episode Why Jack Benny Will Not Be Appearing on the Screen Guild, which was written by Jack's writers (and later adapted to his own show). But there were other highlights this year, including adaptations of The Petrified Forest and The Shop Around the Corner.
  6. The Columbia Workshop (CBS): Another good year on the Workshop, the best being the oddities Double Exposure and an adaptation of Carmilla.
  7. Arch Oboler's Plays (Blue): This year included James Cagney in an adaptation of Johnny Got His Gun, which may well be the finest bit of radio in the entirety of this series.
  8. Forecast (CBS): This oddball program was a place for CBS to test out new shows. This year included the pilots for Suspense and Duffy's Tavern. Although Duffy's Tavern became a long-running comedy series which started right away, it took a little more time for Suspense to get ready for broadcast.
  9. The Campbell Playhouse (CBS): This was Campbell's last year and, as Jack Benny turned up in June Moon, obviously there was something I liked. Orson Welles would return, but it seemed increasingly difficult for him to recapture the magic of the early Mercury shows.
  10. George Burns & Gracie Allen (NBC): At this stage this program was little more than an imitator of Jack Benny. It's decent comedy, but not very remarkable at this stage; still, Gracie Allen was herself such a fine performer that it elevates this series for me.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

20 Great Years of Radio, Part 2: 1939

  1. The Jack Benny Program (NBC): This is one of my favourite years of Jack Benny, and not just because it's the year where Dennis Day replaced Kenny Baker. There are so many compelling episodes, particularly the melancholy New Year's episode where Jack can't get a date. But there were many more highlights, including satires of Jesse James, Gunga Din, Alexander Graham Bell and a gender-swapped version of The Women, plus a fun football two-parter, Murder on the Gridiron. To me, this is the best of Benny!
  2. The Shadow of Fu Manchu (syndication): Certainly not a politically-correct series, but I found this show so compelling. It dramatized adventures from Sax Rohmer's original novels and serialized them into what was, for my money, radio's best adventure serial. These episodes, adapating the first novel, were the best of the lot.
  3. The Shadow (Mutual): Bill Johnstone continued to do a fine job as the Shadow with some better-than-average episodes with great high concepts, including the sci-fi New Year's story The Man Who Murdered Time. Some other fantastic episodes were Phantom Fingerprints, Mansion of Madness and The Sandhog Murders.
  4. The Campbell Playhouse (CBS): This was the Playhouse's best year as they produced their finest version of A Christmas Carol with Lionel Barrymore in what is one of the best adaptations of that story, period. But some other great episodes included The Green Goddess, The Glass Key and The Magnificent Ambersons.
  5. The Columbia Workshop (CBS): Another good year for the Workshop which included the sobering drama Nine Prisoners and an under-appreciated crime story, Law Beaters.
  6. Arch Oboler's Plays (NBC): I don't find Plays to be anywhere near as strong as Lights Out, but Oboler turned out a number of tales which could have easily appeared on his other program, including Crazytown, Another World and Nobody Died. All great examples of radio horror.
  7. Lux Radio Theater (CBS): This was a strong year for Lux with some good comedies like The Perfect Specimen, the crime story Angels with Dirty Faces, and deeply emotional dramas including Goodbye Mr. Chips and Wuthering Heights.
  8. Information Please (Blue): This was a great year for Information Please as the series relied more upon guest panelists, the highlight being Gracie Allen who performed against type to demonstrate that she was not, in real life, a dumb blonde!
  9. The Silver Theater (CBS): This is series seldom lauded these days but it had some great episodes including my favourite, The Villain Still Pursues Her, a satire of turn-of-the-century plays.
  10. The Screen Guild Theater (CBS): The Guild could always be relied on for strong plays. Most of their programming in this year was music-based but they had a few fine dramas.

Monday, June 7, 2021

20 Great Years of Radio Part 1: 1938

As I'm a big fan of old-time radio comedy and drama I thought it would be interesting to take a wider view of my favourite programs. But the programs that I like changed a bit over the years and shows which were strong at one time were weaker at another. So I'm going to run a series of 20 posts looking at the years 1938-1957 in radio and listing my 10 favourite series in each year. This means some programs will come up more than once but I think it will be interesting to discuss how they changed across 2 decades. Therefore...
  1. The Mercury Theater on the Air (CBS): Even if their adaptation of The War of the Worlds were their only triumph this series would rank high. But there were so many fine episodes, from the horror of Dracula to the high adventure of Treasure Island. This was an exceptionally well-produced and well-acted series. Utter greatness! Some other great stories featured include: A Tale of Two Cities, the Thirty-Nine Steps, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Man Who Was Thursday, Hell on Ice and Heart of Darkness.
  2. The Jack Benny Program (NBC): I'm a big Jack Benny fan so he'll be appearing near the top of the list for most of these 20 articles. In this period Jack had his best sponsor, Jell-o, and the quality of his scripts was at its peak with Ed Beloin and Bill Morrow and the feud with Fred Allen came up a few times. There was also a great Christmas shopping episode this year.
  3. The Shadow (Mutual): Orson Welles and later Bill Johnstone helped make this the most exciting era of the Shadow series with plenty of unusual threats for the Shadow to battle and clever uses of the Shadow's power. There are so many great episodes, my favourites being: The Society of The Living Dead, The White Legion and The Power of the Mind.
  4. Lights Out (NBC): We have only a few examples of Lights Out dated to this period but they're pretty strong scripts by Arch Oboler - The Dream, Cat Wife and It Happened. Lights Out is one of the best-written horror programs in the history of radio.
  5. The Campbell Playhouse (CBS): Late in 1938 the Mercury's series changed its name. I don't find the Campbell Playhouse to be as great as the earlier show, but in this brief period they produced good adaptations of Rebecca and A Christmas Carol.
  6. The Columbia Workshop (CBS): This program was experimental and groundbreaking but also uneven. Still, this was a strong year for the Workshop with great scripts like Seven Waves Away, Bury the Dead and Tranga Man Fine Gah.
  7. Lux Radio Theater (CBS): This was CBS' most prestigious program for many years as, otherwise, NBC tended to clobber them in the ratings. Lux could always be counted on for high-quality film adaptations but my favourite program from this year is, of course, Jack Benny's appearance in Seven Keys to Baldpate.
  8. Information Please (Blue): This series was just getting started at this stage but it remains very fun to listen to as panelists are quizzed by questions from their listeners. It's not so much the answers themselves that make this show fun, but the manner in which the panelists answer. It was the wittiest show on the air.
  9. The Witch's Tale (Mutual): It seems appropriate that this series was fading at the time Lights Out was coming in. The Witch's Tale was frequently campy and relied too much on dialogue, not enough on sound effects. Still, I'm granting them a mention because of the place they hold in the history of horror radio.
  10. Big Town (CBS): This was a decent enough series, which, at the time, featured Edward G. Robinson as the show's heroic newspaper publisher.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

My Story is on YouTube

Today I spoke at my church about my upcoming trip to Angola. If you'd like to see the recording, you can view it on YouTube!