Old Time Radio Thursdays – #013: Inner Sanctum Mystery (1941-1952)

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.

So for the past three weeks I’ve taken a look at the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. (You can find those posts  herehere, and here.) During the course of those articles I noted that series creator/director Himan Brown was also the creator of the classic radio series Inner Sanctum Mysteries (or, as it is more widely and popularly known, simply Inner Sanctum), so I thought that today we’d spend a little more time with that series.

As noted, Inner Sanctum was created in 1941 by Himan Brown. The series ran for a total of 526 episodes, closing the creaking door for the last time on October 5, 1952.

The series was an anthology, each week presenting a tale of mystery, horror, or suspense, all of which were presented by a mysterious host with a very wry sense of humor. Early on, the host was played by Raymond Edward Johnson who on the show simply went by the name “Raymond”. In 1945, Johnson left the show to join the army, and was replaced by Paul McGrath, who most of the time simply referred to himself as “Your Host”.

The show’s most iconic feature, however, was its start and finish, which were signaled each week by the opening and closing of a very, very badly creaking door, which had the effect upon listeners of making them feel as though they were entering and leaving a very private place, perhaps a room in a haunted house or even a dungeon. Or perhaps, yes, a sanctum where the only occupants were their host, and their imaginations.

The title Inner Sanctum was actually created and owned by book publisher Simon and Schuster which used it as an over-arching title for a series of mystery novels.

Of course, like many of the anthology series of the time, the show often featured Hollywood stars of the time as guest stars, as seen in the above ad. There is, however another Hollywood connection with the series. From 1943 to 1945, Universal licensed the Inner Sanctum title from Simon and Schuster to produce a series of six movies, all of which were presented under the Inner Sanctum Mystery banner, and all of which starred Lon Chaney Jr. Oddly, however, these films did not utilize the iconic creaking door imagery, and though they did have a host to introduce them, he was represented by a head speaking from a crystal ball.

There was also an Inner Sanctum television series which ran for only one season in 1954 and did feature Paul McGrath as the host.

Okay, that’s enough background/introduction, I think. Let’s get to the real reason we’re all here and see exactly what’s lurking behind that creaking door as we listen to a few episodes of one of the all-time great shows from the golden age of radio.

For more information on Inner Sanctum, I’ll refer you to Jerry Haendiges’ log of all known episodes of the show and to the list of episodes still known to exist as compiled by OTR researcher and author Martin Grams Jr. Also, a complete set of the available episodes, as certified by the Old Time Radio Researchers Group can be downloaded from the Internet Archives here.

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