Old Time Radio Thursdays – #012: CBS Radio Mystery Theater (1974-1982) Part Three

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.

CbsrmtlogoSo for the past couple of weeks we’ve been taking a look at the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. (You can find part one here and part two here.)

One aspect I wanted to spend a little more time is the person behind the show, Mr. Himan Brown.

Mr. Brown was born in 1910, and during his 65 active years on the radio he purportedly produced over 30,000 radio shows. Of course, that number includes almost 1400 original episodes of the CBSRMT. Obviously, however, his involvement with radio went far beyond that.

One of the first things listeners to CBSRMT notice is the creaking door which opens and closes the show. (Just as a side note, I’ve always personally thought the closing door especially sounds just like a person moaning, and the voice is shut off by the clack-clack of the lock.) That creaking door motif was actually something that Mr. Brown originated with another of his series, Inner Sanctum Mystery.

Inner Sanctum ran for 562 episodes from 1941 to 1952, and is really the show that Mystery Theater was based on. The two biggest differences between the two being that Inner Sanctum’s episodes were only 30 minutes long, and instead of E.G. Marshall as host, IS at first featured Raymond Johnson who identified himself as “Your host, Raymond”, and later by Paul McGrath who simply identified himself as “Your Host”.

Here’s an episode of Inner Sanctum:

Other radio shows produced, created and/or directed by Himan Brown include The Adventures of the Thin ManBulldog Drummond, City Desk, Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon, The General Mills Radio Adventure Theater, Grand Central Station, Green Valley, USA, The GumpsJoyce Jordan, M.D., Marie, the Little French Princess, The NBC Radio Theater, The Private Files of Rex Saunders and, Terry and the Pirates along with a number of daytime soap operas.

Another aspect of the show that I wanted to touch om very quickly is the music that is heard extensively throughout the episodes. If it seems familiar, there’s a reason for that. Instead of having an in-house band or musician as was often the case during the golden age of radio (when it made sense to have such musicians because they could be used for a variety of different shows throughout the day), Mr. Brown chose to use stock cuts from the CBS library. This goes for most of the sound effects, too, which were often pre-recorded. Even the theme music was taken from another CBS show – it is adapted from the soundtrack of the Twilight Zone episode “Two”.

Himan Brown directs an episode of CBSRMT
Himan Brown directs an episode of CBSRMT

In the first part of this series I wrote about host E.G. Marshall and his relationship with the show and Hollywood, but he was far from the only past or future star who would be featured or make an appearance on the show. As a matter of fact, the first episode starred Agnes Moorehead in a story called “The Old Ones Are Hard To Kill”. As far as other movie/television connections, well, just take a look at this list of people who made appearances in various episodes: Richard Crenna, Joan Hackett, Margaret Hamilton, Casey Kasem, Jerry Orbach, Sarah Jessica Parker, Mandy Patinkin, Kathleen Quinlan, Jerry Stiller, Roy Thinnes, John Lithgow, Mason Adams, Kevin McCarthy, Howard Da Silva, Keir Dullea, Morgan Fairchild, Fred Gwynne, Larry Haines, Kim Hunter, Mercedes McCambridge, Tony Roberts, Alexander Scourby, and Marian Seldes among many, many others.

One final note, which is actually a bit of trivia for my younger readers out there. if you listen to a number of these shows you’ll note that they have the original commercials and news broadcasts that would round out the hour cut out from them, and often they are slightly edited or the opening/ending title music cut short so that they will fit into a 45 minute time. Why 45 minutes? Because, since these shows have never had any kind of official release, for the most part these episodes come to us from off-the-air recordings made by fans of the show at the time, and those recordings were often made on home cassette players, and at the time, those cassettes typically came in three standard lengths: 30, 60, or 90 minutes. Now, of course, many fans would use 60 minute cassettes, and those are the source for the more intact shows, but as a cost cutting measure, a lot of people would use 90 minute tapes, manually starting and stopping the recordings as the show would go to and come back from their commercial breaks. That way they could get two shows on one tape. And, of course, doing the math shows that 90 minutes divided by two results in 45 minutes per side. Of course, whatever format they used for recording these shows, we definitely owe a debt of gratitude to these original home-tapers for preserving and passing along this great show for us to enjoy today.

Okay, that’s definitely enough words from me on the subject, so here’s another selection of episodes for you to listen to and enjoy, beginning with the afore-mentioned first episode “The Old Ones Are Hard to Kill”.

Again,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. And be sure to let me know below about your own thoughts on the show, and other shows you’d like to see featured here.

Old Time Radio Thursdays – #011: CBS Radio Mystery Theater (1974-1982) Part Two

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’d planned to write more on the CBS Radio Mystery Theater this week, (for some info on the show and its host E.G. Marxhall, see last week’s post) but got caught in kind of a time crunch. I’ll be back next week with more actual thoughts/info on CBSRMT next week, but for now, here are some more episodes for your listening pleasure.

As an added bonus, here’s one of the episodes hosted by series creator Himn Brown:

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.

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.

cbsrmt
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.

Old Time Radio Thursdays – #001: An Introduction

No real long-winded introduction today. 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.

 People gathered around to listen to the radio in the 1920s and '30s CREDIT: French, Herbert E., photographer. "Atwater Kent, Standing By Radio, and Seven Other People Listening to the Radio." National Photo Company, between 1920 and 1930. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

People gathered around to listen to the radio in the 1920s and ’30s
CREDIT: French, Herbert E., photographer. “Atwater Kent, Standing By Radio, and Seven Other People Listening to the Radio.” National Photo Company, between 1920 and 1930. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

These shows encompassed many different genres, including drama, adventure, comedy, science fiction, westerns, soap operas, sports… basically it was the television of its day. Before, that is, television (network television at least) became overrun mostly by unreality tv and CSI clones.

So why am I writing about old radio shows on what is ostensibly a blog about movies? Well, two reasons really. First of all, I have an affinity to these shows that dates back to my childhood when my father collected these shows on cassette tapes that he would either purchase or trade with other collectors, and secondly, many of these shows had definite connections to Hollywood. Many of them would simply adapt popular movies for radio audiences, others would feature or even star Hollywood performers.

Anyway, I said I was going to try not to be too long-winded with this introduction, so for now I’m going to stop there, and let the shows begin speaking for themselves. For this first installment, I’m simply going to give you a variety of different shows to help those unfamiliar with the whole concept get a taste of what I’m talking about. Then, in weeks to come, I’ll feature a specific show and talk more about it and its Hollywood connections, and hopefully. over time, some of you will come to enjoy these shows as much as I do.

Plus, who knows, we might even find some connections between these shows and current movies, too. (As a matter of fact, I know we will.)

For now, though, just sit back, relax, maybe close your eyes, and let the magic of radio transport you back to an earlier time…

(By the way, just a quick note… you’ll notice varying quality on some of these recordings. While many of them are taken from transcription records that would be sent to various stations for playing at the appropriate time, others were simply recorded from the actual broadcasts by listeners who had set up (most likely) reel-to-reel tape machines to capture the broadcasts, and it is from those amateur recordings that the only known copies of those shows still exist. Hopefully, however, these quality variences won’t take away too much from your enjoyment of the shows themselves.)

 

This last one is actually from a later period, and is a show that I actually grew up listening to. Locally it was broadcast at 9pm on our CBS affiliate, so I got to lie in bed and listen to it each weeknight before nodding off to sleep. One of the interesting things about going back and listening to these today is that many of them, this one included, also include the original commercials and news broadcasts that would round out the hour of programming, and since this one, for instance, was first broadcast in 1974, the news often included coverage of the developing scandal which would become known as Watergate. Just keep listening through the commercials at the end, and you can hear how radio was reporting the latest news coming from the Nixon White House as more facts were coming to light.

(Oh, and yes, there are some definite movie connections in this story also, as you’ll see. Or should I say, as you’ll hear?)

Well, I hope that’s given you at least a taste of what’s to come as we explore the connections between Old Time Radio and the cinema, and be sure to check back next week as we focus in more closely on one of these great shows. And if you have any particular memories of radio shows, or any favorites, or if any of these caught your attention and you want to hear more, please let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.