OTR Tuesday – Ma Perkins

mp1Of course, we’re all familiar with the concept of the soap opera. It’s a serial, either daily or weekly, that usually dramatizes (often overly so) the lives of a generally small group of people linked to gether in some way. They might live in the same city, work together in a hospital, or even just be members of the same family. The daily soaps especially are known for their rushed production and generally lower production values than night time programming, but they still have an incredible number of followers who will make it “appointment tv” to make sure they don’t miss their “stories”.

(A quick aside: I put the word “stories” in quotes there not to imply anything abput the plots of these shows which can, at times and over the years become quite intricate, but because that’s the phrase my grandmother used to use to describe them, and I’ve heard it used quite often since.)

Of course,like a lot of our entertainment options,the soap operas began on the radio where they were broadcast to provide entertainment to housewives as they went through their day. As a matter of fact,that’s where the phrase “soap opera” comes from as often the shows were accompanied by advertisements for laundry detergents and other household cleaners that the women would use while doing their daily cleaning.

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The cast of Ma Perkins

One of the earliest and longest running soap operas was Ma Perkins, which was broadcast on the NBC network from 1933 to 1949 and on the CBS network from 1942 to 1960.Now you may notice some overlap there, and yes, it’s true. For awhile the show was so popular that from 1942 to 1949 it was carried by both networks. In total, 7,065 episodes were produced.

Ma Perkins was a widow who owned and operated a lumber yard (which she had presumably inherited from her husband in the small town of Rushville Center located somewhere in the south. She was the mother of three children, Evey, Faye, and John. Ma was portrayed through the entire run by Virginia Payne, who was 23 then the show started and never missed a show until it came to a close when she was 50.

However, even regular listeners would not have known the star by name, because even though everyone else would get their name read during the closing credits, the announcer would simply end with “…and Ma Perkins.” As a matter of fact, the only time Payne’s name was mentioned was in the last show when Payne took to the airwaves as herself to make a farewell speech to the audience.

It’s often noted that due to their very nature, daytime soaps tend to drag out their plot-lines often to an excruciating extent. After all, people might not be able to tune in every day, and if viewers miss too much that happens in a particular day or week, they might get so confused they simply tune out. This was especially true for Ma Perkins,where storylines could go on for three or four months without any resolution. At the same time, loyal listeners were rewarded for their tenacity with such over-the-top plots as when Ma exposed a black market baby-smuggling ring or when she gave safe shelter to Soviet political dissidents in her home.

Generally, though, the stories were more low-key, and simply dealt with Ma dealing with the crises that affected her friends and family.

Here’s a selection of episodes:

 

 

Old Time Radio Tuesday – Halloween Roundup

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. OTR  Tuesday 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.

It’s that time of year again, time to celebrate some of the Spookier offerings from the golden age of radio. I’ve tried to pick a mortician’s dozen of episodes for this time around that I don’t think I’ve featured before. So relax, close your eyes, and let your imagination take hold…

 

Old Time Radio Tuesday – Three Skeleton Key

tskThe 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. OTR  Tuesday 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.

Usually for OTR Tuesday I post a whole bunch of shows covering a particular genre or a specific series, but I thought today, since we’re well into the spooky season, and especially in light of this week’s release of Robert Eggers’s movie The Lighthouse, it would be a good time to take a look at one of the true classic episodes of the era.

For those unfamiliar with the show Escape, it was broadcast on the CBS radio network from July 7, 1947 to September 25, 1954. Escape was an anthology series, presenting a new story each week, many of them adapted from short stories such as Daphne du Maurier’s “The Birds”, Carl Stephenson’s “Leiningen Versus the Ants”, Algernon Blackwood’s “Confession”, Ray Bradbury’s “Mars Is Heaven”, and Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game”.

On of the most popular episodes of Escape was their adaptation of French author George Toudouze’s short story “Three Skeleton Key”. In the story, three men are trapped inside a lighthouse by a horde of thousands of hungry and angry rats. It was first broadcast on November 15, 1949, and was subsequently rebroadcast (with different casts) a number of times, and it also made the leap to Escape‘s “sister show” Suspense.

The version I’m posting below is from March 17, 1950, and stars Vincent Price in the role of Jean.

Okay, that’s definitely enough words from me. Now just sit back, turn out your lights, and have yourself a little… escape… if you can…

By the way, if you enjoy this episode, be sure to check out my previous posts featuring Escape. You can find them here and here.

 

Old Time Radio Thursdays – #014: Gunsmoke (1952-1961)

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.

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Yeah, this is the logo from the opening of the TV show, but it was the best image I could find.

Yes, it’s true. US television’s longest running prime time live action drama actually began as a radio show.

Actually, the story behind the creation of Gunsmoke is rather fascinating. Here’s Wikipedia’s version which squares pretty well with the way I’ve heard it told over the years:

In the late 1940s, CBS chairman William S. Paley, a fan of the Philip Marlowe radio serial, asked his programming chief, Hubell Robinson, to develop a hardboiled Western series, a show about a “Philip Marlowe of the Old West.” Robinson instructed his West Coast CBS Vice-President, Harry Ackerman, who had developed the Philip Marlowe series, to take on the task.

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The cast of radio’s Gunsmoke: Howard McNear (Doc), William Conrad (Matt), Georgia Ellis (Kitty) and Parley Baer (Chester)

Ackerman and his scriptwriters, Mort Fine and David Friedkin, created an audition script called “Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye” based on one of their Michael Shayne radio scripts, “The Crooked Wheel”. Two auditions were created in 1949. The first was very much like a hardboiled detective series and starred Michael Rye (credited as Rye Billsbury) as Dillon; the second starred Straight Arrow actor Howard Culver in a more Western, lighter version of the same script. CBS liked the Culver version better, and Ackerman was told to proceed.

But there was a complication. Culver’s contract as the star of Straight Arrow would not allow him to do another Western series. The project was shelved for three years, when MacDonnell and Meston discovered it creating an adult Western series of their own.

MacDonnell and Meston wanted to create a radio Western for adults, in contrast to the prevailing juvenile fare such as The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid.

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Marshall Dillon? No, but it is William Conrad in a promotional photo for a later western show that he starred in.

From these converging ideas was born Gunsmoke which was set in Dodge City, Kansas during the thriving cattle days of the 1870s. As far as the goal of creating a more “adult” western, the creators definitely succeeded in that, as the show’s characters, themes, and episodes rarely flinched at presenting a much more realistic portrait of life in the “wild west”. This was not a show where Sheriff Dillon would always shoot the gun from the bad guy’s hand then cart them off to the pokey, nor did he always necessarily escape from certain situations unscathed. There was a reason why one of the main characters and one of Matt’s best friends was the town doctor.

Of course, for anyone who grew up with or who knows Gunsmoke only from it’s TV version, squaring William Conrad’s voice with the image of James Arness may take some work, but really this is one of those cases where you have to set aside your preconceived notions and listen to the shows as they unfold. Or perhaps consider this an “alternate universe” version of the show. You know, it’s kind of like when a book is adapted for television or the movies. Just let it be what it is on its own terms.

For those interested in learning more about or hearing more of radio’s version of Gunsmoke, I’d suggest downloading this OTRR (Old Time Radio Researchers group) certified set of shows from the Internet Archives. The set contains all except six episodes, which are not known to exist. It consists of eleven zipped CDs. The first CD contains many bonus materials, including the Tribute Show, the first TV episode, all known Australian episodes, and a lot of other great stuff.

Until next time, Happy Listening!

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.