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Suspense - Radio's outstanding theater of thrills

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 23, 2014 01:36pm | Post a Comment
AND NOW, A TALE WELL CALCULATED TO KEEP YOU IN SUSPENSE
 
Lurene Tuttle (left) and Rosalind Russell in "The Sisters" (9 December, 1948)
Lurene Tuttle (left) and Rosalind Russell in "The Sisters" (9 December, 1948)

On 17 June, 1942, the anthology Suspense debuted on CBS Radio. The long-running series, which anticipated television programs like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone, concluded in 1962, an occasion now usually cited as signalling the end of radio's Golden Age.

The formula of Suspense was similar to that of another excellent anthology of the day, The Whistler. In most episodes a crime occurs shortly after the program begins. Suspense is heightened as the drama unfolds. In the end justice prevails and the program concludes. Suspense succeeds where lesser anthologies often failed through good production, usually-taut writing, and the presence of some of the biggest names in Hollywood including giants like Bela Lugosi, Cary Grant, Charles Laughton, Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart, Joan CrawfordJohn Garfield, Judy Garland, Lana Turner, Lena Horne, Marlene Dietrich, Orson Welles, Paul Muni, Peter Lorre, among others -- who were often cast against type (especially in the case of actors mostly thought of as comedians like Jack BennyLucille Ball, and Red Skelton). 

Stories start in many ways -- a look back at old time radio's Night Beat

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 20, 2014 02:45pm | Post a Comment
Frank Lovejoy at NBCIn the Golden Age of Radio, NBC produced some of the medium's best crime dramas, programs like The Adventures of Philip MarloweThe Adventures of Sam Spade, ConfessionDragnet, and Tales of the Texas Rangers. Another -- although sadly not well-remembered today -- was Night Beat, which debuted on 6 February, 1950 and aired not just in the US, but Australia and South Africa as well. 

The plot of Night Beat revolves around a reporter named Randy Stone who works for the fictional Chicago Star newspaper. In the process of writing his human interest column, "Night Beat," Stone passes in and out of the lives of night owls, underworld figures, lost souls, and other denizens of an improbably noir Chicago

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Six Shooter -- The Radio Western Starring Jimmy Stewart Debuted 20 September, 1953

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 20, 2013 02:16pm | Post a Comment
Jimmy Stewart at microphone

On this date (20 September) in 1953, one of my favorite old time radio Westerns debuted on NBC -- Six Shooter. It was created and written by Frank Burt, who'd also written for The Six Shooter promo picWhistlerThe Man Called X, and The Unexpected. It was produced by Jack Johnstone (Buck Rogers, The CBS Radio Workshop, Richard DiamondSomebody KnowsYours Truly, Johnny Dollar, and others). The music director, Basil Adlam, arranged and conducted the theme,Ralph Vaughan Williams’s "The Highland Lament." The announcers were Hal Gibney (and John Wald), who introduced each episode with the words "The man in the saddle is angular and long-legged. His skin is sun-dyed brown. The gun in his holster is gray steel and rainbow mother-of-pearl, its handle unmarked. People call them both "the Six Shooter."

The only recurring character was Britt Ponset – played with greatness by Jimmy Stewart, who'd been interested in starring in a radio drama for some time before Six Shooter. Other actors that frequently appeared on the series included Parley Baer, Virginia Gregg, Harry Bartell, Howard McNear, Jeanette Nolan, Dan O'Herlihy, Alan Reed, Marvin Miller and William Conrad (though often credited as "Julius Krelboyne" since, at the same time, he was starring on Gunsmoke over at NBC's rival network, CBS).

Happy Birthday, Gildy -- The Great Gildersleeve debuted on this day in 1941

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 31, 2013 04:20pm | Post a Comment
The Great Gildersleeve was a radio sitcom and one of the first spin-offs. It was tremendously popular in the 1940s and led to four feature films and three 78 records.

The Great Gildersleeve (1942) movie poster

The series centered on Throckmorton Philharmonic Gildersleeve (nicknames included "The Great Man" or just "Gildy"), a lovable windbag who first appeared on Fibber McGee and Molly in 1939. OnGildy's Blade Fibber McGee and Molly he was McGee's antagonist armed with a catchphrase ("You're a haaard man, McGee!"). He was originally expertly played by Harold Peary.

Gildersleeve was so popular that he soon got his own show, The Great Gildersleeve, which debuted on NBC on 31 August, 1941. It was sponsored by Kraft Foods whose advertisements promoted their Parkay margarine -- a weird, oily yellow spread that people turned instead of butter during the Great Depression but strangely continued to eat after butter was affordable again). On The Great Gildersleeve, the titular character retained some of his pomposity and general man-childishness but was made more likeable. And whereas he had a wife on Fibber McGee, on his own he was a lifelong bachelor and much of the plot revolved around his awkward romantic pursuits.

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Tales of the Texas Rangers -- Police Procedural with a Lone Star Twist

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 8, 2013 12:42pm | Post a Comment

It took me a while to discover the brilliant radio drama, Tales of the Texas Rangers. I inferred from its name that it was a juvenile Western -- possibly a derivative of The Lone Ranger. Even though The Tales of the Texas Rangers Dell comicLone Ranger provided my childhood introduction I have never been a fan of white hat vs. black hat shoot 'em ups. The fact that the Ranger Reid and his taciturn buddy, Tonto, are once again galloping onto the screens of multiplexes does absolutely nothing for me besides lodging Gioachino Rossini's William Tell Overture into my head on a loop.




Luckily for me, Tales of the Texas Rangers is almost completely unlike The Lone Ranger beyond the fact that the protagonists of both are (or were, in the Lone Ranger's case) members of the Texas Rangers. Tales of the Texas Rangers isn't even a Western, really, any more than Bottle Rocket, Office Space, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, or any other film that happens to be set in Texas of the present day. Tales of the Texas Rangers is actually a police procedural, having more in common with Dragnet and the similarly-technology-fetishizing CSI franchise than even radio noir adult westerns like Gunsmoke. Like Dragnet, the episodes were supposedly based on actual cases handled by the rangers from the late 1920s to the then present. Also like Dragnet, after the apprehension of the criminal, the announcer would state the outcome of the case -- usually a sentence at Huntsville in place of San Quentin.

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