Old Time Radio Thursdays – #010: CBS Radio Mystery Theater (1974-1982) Part One

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. Old Time Radio Thursdays is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

CBSRMT-LogoI knew the voice, and the name, long before I ever knew the face.

Growing up, E.G. Marshall was, to me, one of the creepiest people alive. Marshall, you see, was the host of one of my most favorite radio shows of all time, the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. Each night, from the time I was nine years old, around 9 o’clock, a creaking door would open, and a very distinctive voice would intone “Come in. Welcome. I’m E.G. Marshall…” Mr. Marshall would then begin to introduce the players and setting for the night’s show. When it was time for a commercial break, (the stories were always broken into a classical three-act structure, allowing for commercial time in between) the voice would return, often asking questions about what we had just heard or in some way increasing the intrigue of the story. Then, at the end, Mr. Marshall would return with a wrap up for that night’s feature and often a preview of the next show before finally intoning “This is E. G. Marshall inviting you to return to our Mystery Theater for another adventure in the macabre. Until next time, pleasant… dreams?” The door would then creak closed and slam shut, all the while with some of the most mysterious music I’d ever heard playing in the background.

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Mr. E.G. Marshall and other players recording an episode of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater.

It wasn’t until years later, while viewing 12 Angry Men, that I actually put a face with the voice, and realized what an interesting actor Mr. Marshall actually was. But even then, because of those early years spent listening to the Mystery Theater, it was his voice that always carried the day for me.

CBS Radio Mystery Theater was actually a very odd show in and of itself. At the time, it was a throw-back, an effort by Old Time Radio creator, writer, and director Himan Brown to revive the golden age of radio plays and bring them up-to-date for a new audience. How successful was this effort? Well, if you consider the fact that the show lasted for eight years and produced 1399 separate episodes, it was very successful, at least as far as that goes. It even spawned, at its height, a couple of imitators/competitors, most notably the Sears Radio Theater which took a slightly different tack, with shows of a different genre (and different hosts) each night of the week. As far as actually reviving radio drama, well, that was probably a lost cause from the start. By then, radio was a place where people turned for music, and the concept of tuning in for dramatic plays… that was what television was for, right?

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An original ad for the CBSRMT

Nonetheless, the show did make an impression upon those who did manage to find it, and even today I have found it very effective in introducing others to the imaginative wonder that can be Old Time Radio. In some ways it’s like a gateway drug of sorts. Once people get used to the idea of simply listening to the show, of letting it work on their imagination, of letting their mind create the images instead of having them fed to them by the pictures in a box or on the screen, they will often be more open to or even seek out other shows either of the same genre or others that they might enjoy.

And that’s all thanks, in large part, to that voice.

For more information on CBSRMT as it’s popularly known, including a complete episode guide to the series along with streaming episodes and downloads, one good place to begin is here. I’ll also be revisiting the show again next week, with more information on Himan Brown, and his connections with the Golden Age of Radio and some of the stars that were featured on the show.

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4 comments on “Old Time Radio Thursdays – #010: CBS Radio Mystery Theater (1974-1982) Part One

  1. Rita says:

    Will you be writing about Stella Dallas? My sister and I were talking about that program this week.

    • Michael Laws says:

      I hate to admit it, but I’m largely unfamiliar with Stella Dallas. It does look intriguing, though, since from what little I’ve read it seems to be considered possibly the first radio soap opera. Also, since there were a couple of different movie versions, it definitely has the Hollywood connection. I’ll have to do a little digging to see what episodes I can come up with. So far I’ve only found two, but they sound pretty good. Or maybe I should just get you and your sister to reminisce about it for me.

  2. […] of weeks we’ve been taking a look at the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. (You can find part one here and part two […]

  3. […] three weeks I’ve taken a look at the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. (You can find those posts  here,  here, and here.) During the course of those articles I noted that series creator/director Himan […]

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