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.
In some ways, the title itself evokes the very reason for being of Old Time Radio. Along with, of course, movies, television, books, stage plays, and whatever other forms of entertainment you might enjoy. Sure, these forms can be used for other purposes, especially education (though often even there, the two purposes often intermingle and entwine), but quite often, they are purely meant to provide us with a chance to get away, to live outside of ourselves for awhile, to enter someone else’s life or to travel to some exotic setting and leave behind our own troubles if only for a little while.
Or, as one version of the popular opening script to the radio show Escape put it:
Tired of the everyday grind? Ever dream of a life of romantic adventure? Want to get away from it all? We offer you … ESCAPE!
I’ve referred to Escape here before as a “sister show” to the series Suspense, but in doing so, I don’t mean to denigrate either show. Actually, I consider them to be on a fairly equal footing, with Escape at times even moving forward in my estimation, purely based on its willingness to include more science-fiction and other fantastical elements than Suspense.
Okay, so let’s shelve the comparisons for a moment and take a look at the show itself, shall we?
Escape was created as a sustaining show on the CBS Radio Network, and had its first official broadcast on July 7, 1947, with an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King”. Over the course of the next seven years, it would present a total of approximately 250 shows, most of which are still in circulation today. (Exact figures appear to be a matter of some debate, depending at least partially on how one counts the various rebroadcasts and east-west variants.) The final show was titled “The Heart of Kali”, written by Ross Murray, and broadcast on September 29, 1954.
The show was originally broadcast as a summer replacement for the second half-hour of the time slot then occupied by the Lux Radio Theatre on Monday nights. (The first half hour of the hour-long Lux slot was filled by a show titled CBS Is There.) Though Escape seemed to immediately grab hold of the listeners ears and imaginations, it never did really enjoy the comfort of having a regular, long-time sponsor, and for the largest part of its run, it continued on a sustaining basis. Unfortunately for listeners this meant that it also never really enjoyed the kind of long-running time-slot that many other shows had, and, in a kind of circular catch-22, that also meant that it was continually under budget constraints that were not as much of a concern for those shows that did have bigger budgets thanks to their sponsors.
This did, however, in a way prove to be a “less is more” type situation which forced the show to rely on adaptations of popular novels and short stories, and many of those proved to be true classics, As a matter of fact, I’d personally contend that some of these shows are amongst the best that were ever produced during radio’s golden age. Highlights include the William Conrad starring adaptation of Carl Stephenson’s “Leiningen vs. the Ants”, Vincent Price‘s incredibly stirring turn in “Three Skeleton Key”(which was taken from a short story that originally appeared in Esquire magazine by George Toudouze, and John Dunkel’s adaptation of John Collier’s story “Evening Primrose,”Other noteworthy adaptations include Algernon Blackwood’s “Confession”, Ray Bradbury’s “Mars Is Heaven,” George R. Stewart’s “Earth Abides”, Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” among many, many others.
Nor was the show lacking for star power, as, alongside the already mentioned voices of William Conrad (who not only starred in a large number of the shows, but also, for awhile at least provided the “voice of the show”, intoning the opening lines and introduction) and Vincent Price, but also such luminaries as Parley Baer, Harry Bartell, John Dehner, Howard McNear, Dan O’Herlihy, Jeanette Nolan, Alan Reed, Bill Johnstone, Sandra Gould, Marvin Miller, Frank Lovejoy, Berry Kroeger, Vic Perrin, Elliott Lewis, and Jack Webb.
Here, of course, is where I would usually leave you with some YouTube samples of the show, but to be honest, there unfortunately aren’t that many posted, and rather than simply repeat the selections from my last post, instead I’m going to direct you to this page at the Internet Archives where you can download a complete collection of the Escape shows known to still exist, along with some other ephemeral material to accompany them.
Until next time, as always, Happy Listening!
- Old Time Radio Thursdays – #001: An Introduction (durnmoosemovies.wordpress.com)
- “On the Air” NBC Radio Promo Comic from 1947 (wfmu.org)