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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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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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Somebody Knows and Wanted -- Golden Age Radio's great unsolved mysteries

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 2, 2013 12:31pm | Post a Comment

In the wake of Dragnet's success for NBC (after having been rejected by CBS), radio audiences more and more craved authenticity from their crime dramas. Programs like Gang Busters (1936-1957) and This is Your FBI (1945-1953) claimed to be based on authentic cases, but were less realistic and adult in tone than the true crime series of the 1950s. Most of the scores of earlier hard-boiled detective shows were often utterly implausible, even when enjoyable. As they often did, in the summer of 1950, CBS and NBC went head to head with two similar programs that aimed to up the authenticity stakes, Somebody Knows and Wanted.
 

*****

SOMEBODY KNOWS

Somebody Knows debuted on 6 July, 1950 as that year's summer replacement for Suspense (1942-Elizabeth Short1962). Through narration and dramatizations, the known facts of unsolved crimes were presented and listeners who provided information leading to the conviction of a criminal in one of the profiled cases would get $5,000 for their effort (more than $47,000 in 2013, adjusted for inflation). Unable to find a sponsor, independent series creator Jimmy Saphier put up $40,000 of his own money. In a promotional interview Sapphier stated, "I don't care if we only have one listener. As long as he's the guy who knows who did it--and will rat on his pals." 

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