Classic Television Thursday #006 – The Chevy Mystery Show: The Suicide Club (1960)

chev3Ah, the wonders of the interwebs rabbit hole. Just the other day I was relatively bored and decided to check out an episode of the venerable detective series Columbo. Noticing a discrepancy between the episode numbers as they appeared on Netflix and on a YouTube posting, (I was looking on YouTube because I was thinking about running one of the episodes as a feature here, which I’m certain I will do in the next few weeks) I decided to see if I could square the difference by looking at the episode list on Wikipedia.

Well, I did manage to clarify that little mystery, but I was at the same time surprised to find out that Peter Falk was not the first actor to portray the character on television, and in fact that the famed lieutenant goes back much further than I expected. I’m not going to go into the character’s literary origins right now (I’ll save that for the actual feature on his own show), but his first televised appearance was in the mystery anthology series The Chevy Mystery Show, which was created as a summer replacement for the The Dinah Shore Chevy Show.

chev1I’ll admit beyond that I didn’t do too much digging (the Chevy Mystery Show apparently doesn’t even rate its own Wikipedia page), but what little I did do turned up this: there were apparently 18 total episodes, and ran on NBC during the 9 – 10pm hour from May thru September of 1960. There was also apparently a 1961 run, but it appears that it likely consisted of repeats from the 1960 series rather than a run of new shows, but the details of that are unclear. Most of  the episodes were hosted by Walter Slezak, but at least a couple of the last episodes, including today’s feature, were hosted by none other than Vincent Price. One reference that I found listed this episode as having been produced by famed radio writer/producer/director Himan Brown, but it is not listed among his IMDB credits (though interestingly, another episode of the series is listed there).

chev2So why, considering the fact that all of this started with Columbo, am I not sharing the episode that featured him here? Well, there are two reasons, really. First off, it appears that that episode is only available for viewing in the archives of the Paley Center for Media in New York City and Los Angeles – I certainly wasn’t able to find it anywhere else. And secondly, not only is the episode hosted by Vincent Price, but it stars Cesar Romero. who most of you will of course know from his role as the Joker in the Batman television series of the 1960s, though his performance here is decidedly more restrained than his portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime.

So here, for your viewing pleasure, direct from 1960 is the Chevy Mystery Show episode “The Suicide Club”:

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.