Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Command Performance Christmas




Command Performance radio broadcast c. 1944 with Jane Russell, Bob Hope and, in background, Major Meredith Willson conducting the AFRS band.



My father, who turned 86 a couple of weeks ago, left high school and enlisted in the Navy just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.   


He was 17.


While he and millions of other young men and women were off to war, entertainers did what they could to maintain their morale and bring them a slice of home.


Hollywood and Broadway literally went to war as well.


Volunteer USO entertainers visited military bases, hospitals, and in some cases, traveled perilously close to the front lines. Other entertainers made morale boosting movies, or entertained the troops via AFRS (Armed Forces Radio Service).


Some did all of those things, and more.


While Bob Hope is almost universally best remembered for his `camp shows’, the list of entertainers who volunteered to go overseas is staggering, and includes the famous and the not-so-famous.


And during those war years, 28 USO performers died as a result of their tour, either from plane accidents, illness, or disease.  Many others were injured.


Al Jolson quite famously contracted Malaria while on tour, which cost him a lung, and shortened his career. Broadway singer Jane Froman was severely injured in a plane accident. She  married the co-pilot who saved her life in that crash, and her story was later told in the 1952 film With a Song in My Heart.


Despite the risks, and the loss of income, thousands entertainers clamored for opportunities to volunteer. You’d even find big-name stars serving coffee and donuts at the Hollywood Canteen.


Each week, starting shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and continuing until 1949 (`Each week and every week . . . until it’s over . . . over there’) Command Performance brought the best of Hollywood and the world of entertainment to service personnel around the world.


Entertainers read letters from, and responded to, requests from the troops. 


Christmas shows beamed on the AFRS  to the men and women overseas during WWII are particularly poignant.  During the early days (1942-44) the Allies were reeling, and victory was far from assured.



Today, I bring you 8 very special extended Christmas shows from Command Performance which are available on the Internet Archive .


These shows run from 1 hour to 2 hours each.


CP1-421224ChristmasShow                 27.5 MB

CP1-431225ChristmasSpecial               41.9 MB

CP1-441224ChristmasShow                 59.6 MB

CP1-441225ChristmasShow                 27.6 MB

CP1-451225ChristmasProgram             56.3 MB

CP1-461225ChristmasSpecial_1946       26.6 MB

CP1-481225ChristmasSpecial_1            53.5 MB

CP1-481225ChristmasSpecial_2            55.7 MB


You can download all of these files in ZIP format (or if you prefer, in OGG or VBR MP3 format) at this link.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Christmas Quickie




There is an old Russian proverb that states:


The wondrous thing about a dancing bear is not that it dances well . . . but that it dances at all.


And sometimes, given the fledgling technology and the miniscule budgets available for that experimental medium called Television back in 1949, it helps if you adopt that slightly bemused attitude.


The `golden age’ of televised drama was still a few years away, recording technology was limited (film or kinescope), and as far as  special effects went . . .  heck, receiving TV images in your home was a pretty impressive special effect just by itself!


So I didn’t really expect much when I recently screened a short (25 minute) television version of The Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens produced in 1949.


I’m a hard sell when it comes to that hoary Christmas tale, anyway.  Since in my 57 years, I’m certain I’ve seen several hundred adaptations of the story.


Seems like every TV show did their own version of the story when I was growing up, everything from Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol in 1962, to Rich Little’s HBO special in 1978.

For a good list of the dozens of adaptations of Dicken’s classic, you might find this wikipedia article of interest.


But today’s offering from 1949, narrated by Vincent Price, was better than I expected.  Particularly given the notoriously bad reviews I’ve read of this production over the years.


It is short enough not to wear out its welcome, even for young children (who often find the movie versions tedious). Vincent Price does well in his role as narrator, and 71 year-old  Broadway and movie actor Taylor Holmes acquits himself well enough as Ol’ Ebenezer.


If you blink, you’ll miss it, but this is also Jill St. John’s first television screen role (she was 9) as (Missie Cratchit), although she is billed as Jill Oppenheim.


Vincent Price, at this point in his career was considered a straight dramatic actor, and had not yet become identified with the horror genre. In fact, his biggest claim to fame in the late 1940s was playing The Saint on the radio (1947-1951).


The worst part about this show is the slightly blurry picture.  I don’t know if there are any better copies floating around, but the one on the Internet Archive has seen better days.


Still, you could do worse this holiday season.   Despite the poor special effects and production values, I found it charming.


Just as long as I remembered the story of the dancing bear.



The Christmas Carol (as told by Vincent Price) (1949)




Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ill Have A Blues Christmas






With two weeks still to go before Christmas day, many of you may already have OD’d on Burl Ives’ Holly Jolly Christmas, and like me, one more rendition of The Little Drummer Boy may be enough to send you over the edge.


Fear not.  You don’t have to adopt a Bah, Humbug! attitude and give up Christmas music altogether.


You may just be in need a break from the traditional and overplayed holiday fare, and to spend a few hours listening to seldom heard renditions of Christmas classics by Blues and Jazz artists.


Artists like Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, Booker T. and the MGs, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Etta James, William Clarke, Hop Wilson and Canned Heat.


To that end, today a 4 hour musical set of Blues and Jazz Christmas music from Capital Public Radio, first broadcast as:

Mick Martin's Christmas Blues Party - 12/19/09 (December 19, 2009)

You can listen to this show on the Internet Archive, or better yet . . . download it to your computer as a Zip file, and listen using your media player, to avoid internet buffering problems.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas TV – 1950s Style





Unlike today, during the 1950s variety shows were a staple of television.

A curmudgeon like myself might simply observe that 50 years ago, there was a lot more show biz talent to populate these shows than we have today.


The alumni of the fabled `studio system’ and of vaudeville almost all had more than one entertainment skill.  Actors could sing, singers could dance, comedians could act, etc.  


Perhaps not well . . .  but they could do it.


Today, actors walk through their parts.  Singers either scream or rhyme.  Comedians hurl random obscenities until someone in the audience laughs.

And apparently nobody dances. 


It’s tough to build a variety series around today’s questionable pool of talent.


But in 1955, viewers lucky enough to have TV set and access to all 3 networks (NBC, CBS, ABC) could watch more than 15 variety shows each week, including:

The Ed Sullivan Show 

The Original Amateur Hour

Colgate Variety Hour

Caesar's Hour

Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts

The Milton Berle Show

The Martha Raye Show

The Chevy Show

Tony Martin Show

Dinah Shore Show

Eddie Fisher Show

Arthur Godfrey and His Friends

Lawrence Welk

Perry Como



And while the formats differed, as did the style of music presented, they all had one thing in common.


Each year they almost all aired a Christmas show.


Sadly, most of these shows were never taped (kinescoped or film), and so they are lost forever.  A few have survived, however.


So today, I present three to warm you up for the Holidays.



First stop is Liberace, whose show aired not during prime time, but was syndicated to more than 100 local TV stations and aired at various times – sometimes twice a day in some markets.


One of TV’s first big stars, Wladziu Valentino `Lee' Liberace wasn’t a big hit with music critics, but audiences loved him.  You can read more about Liberace in my blog entry Mr. Showmanship.


The Liberace Show - 1954 Christmas episode (1954)



Next stop is the Perry Como Christmas show from 1952.


During the 1950s, many variety shows were only 15 minutes long, and aired sometimes 2, 3, or even 5 times a week.


This episode is just 15 minutes long, and features Perry, the Mitchell Ayres Orchestra, and the Fontane Sisters telling the story of the first Christmas.


You’ll also get a Chesterfield commercial, along with Como’s signature Ave Maria.


"The Perry Como Show" - 24/December/1952


Our last stop today is Your Hit Parade, a long running show (first on radio, then TV) which counted down – and performed - the top songs of the day.


My first MOMPD blog entry was on this iconic variety show, which you can read at 'Twas Rock & Roll That Killed Your Hit Parade.


You can join Dorothy Collins, Snooky Lanson, Russell Arms, and Gisele MacKenzie for this Christmas eve 1955 episode.


Your Hit Parade - Christmas Eve Show 1955 (1955)



For a lot more on Your Hit Parade and the Golden Age of Television, I would also direct you to my friend, and fellow blogger, Andrew Fielding’s site:

The Lucky Strike Papers


His book, chronically his mother’s career as an early TV performer on the Lucky Strike Your Hit Parade is a wonderful read, and I recommend it highly.


I wrote a full review of The Lucky Strike Papers in And Now, A Lucky Strike Extra . . .

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Vinyl Analysis





If you are, like me, on the wrong side of 40 . . .  you remember when music was analog . . . not digital.


Music came on records . .  vinyl platters that spun at 78, 45, or 33.3 RPM under the weight of an honest-to-god needle . . . not a beam of coherent light.


During the 1950s and 1960s, LP albums took over from the 78 platters of my parent’s generation. And stereophonic sound was the rage.


If you wanted to copy music, you had to record it to tape.  And many audiophiles did just that . . . knowing that after a few dozen plays . . . records began to lose their clarity.


So they would record to cassette (or before that . . .reel-to-reel) tape the first play of a new album, and put the album back into its cover and listen to the tape instead.


Of course, a lot of us had such crappy record players back in the 1960s, you wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between the first playing, and the 500th.


So the point was pretty much moot.


`Adult’ music of the vinyl years was overshadowed by rock & roll, and today is largely forgotten.  A pity since so many terrific performances were pressed into those concentric grooves of vinyl.


Oh, people remember (and play) Sinatra, Dean Martin, Doris Day, Tony Bennett and a dozen or so of the big names of the era . . .  but when was the last time you heard something by Julie London, the Mary Kaye Trio, or  Martin Denny? 


Music was often referred to as swingin’  or cool, big bands were out, and the Vegas lounge style was `in’. But it would be wrong to pigeonhole the music into one genre.


There are ballads, torch songs, exotica, Latin beats, small combos, bigger orchestras, and an abundance of talent.


There are `music of your life’ stations that play the same couple of hundred `standards’ from that era, songs that consultants have picked as having the right nostalgic appeal for their target audience.


But after awhile, the playlist grows familiar. And you just know there were a lot more great recordings than that.


If you are looking for some fresh sounds of yesteryear that deviate from the standard repertoire, I would direct your attention to broadcast series from the mid-1990s called Soundsational!


There are more than two dozen episodes (they vary in length from 22 to 40 minutes) on the Internet Archive, each with an eclectic collection of rarely heard recordings from the vinyl era.


You can access the entire listing on The Internet Archive  by following THIS LINK.


I’ve listed a handful of selected episodes (but follow the link to get them all) include:


SOUNDSATIONAL! 1143 - Jacksondouglas
from the celebrated 1996 broadcast series featuring the music of Doris Day, Sammy Davis, Ray McKinley, David Rose, Anthony Newley, Nelson Riddle, Steve Allen, the Mary Kaye Trio, the Harmonicats, Don Costa, Dick Haymes, Jose Melis, Kai Winding, Kay Starr and Buddy Cole. (42 min.)


SOUNDSATIONAL! 1158 - Jacksondouglas
from the celebrated 1996 broadcast series featuring the music of Rosemary Clooney, Billy Eckstine, David Rose, David Carroll, Johnny Desmond, Les Paul, Billy May, Peggy Lee, Art Van Damme, Jackie Gleason, the Four Freshmen, Ralph Marterie, Percy Faith, Ray McKinley and Herbie Fields. (42 min. 35 sec.)


SOUNDSATIONAL! 1014 - Jacksondouglas
program 1014. the sounds of american popular music from the mid century on vinyl from Lena Horne, Bing Crosby, The Dukes Of Dixieland, Peggy Lee, Frankie Laine, Robert Maxwell, Jerry Vale and the Clebanoff Orchestra. 22 min 59 sec.


You can learn more about these shows, and about the history of radio broadcasting, from the originator’s website:

You’ll also find a 250 picture slideshow of 1950s and 1960s graphics pertaining to the music and radio industry.

Check it out.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Christmas Companion To The Cinnamon Bear





Each year, around Thanksgiving, I highlight what has become a 73 year-old radio tradition – the 26-episode children's Christmas program called The Cinnamon Bear.

You can read the full Cinnamon Bear blog here.


But in brief, Its 26 15-minute episodes (with commercials) were designed to be aired six nights a week from November 29th to the grand finale on Christmas Eve.


Geared for the 3 to 8 year old crowd (not that adults couldn't enjoy it!), the plot involves the adventures of Judy and Jimmy Barton as they go to the enchanted world of Maybeland in search of their missing silver star that belonged on the top of their Christmas Tree.


Along the way they meet the Cinnamon Bear, a miniature stuffed bear with shoe-button eyes who would serve as their guide, and other characters like the Wintergreen Witch and Fe Fo the Giant.


The cast of Cinnamon Bear reads like practically a Who’s Who of OTR actors, including:

  • Joseph Kearns (as the Crazyquilt Dragon) is best remembered for his role as Mr. Wilson in the TV series Dennis The Menace.
  • Howard McNear (as the Cowboy, and Sammy the Seal) created the role of Doc Adams on radio's Gunsmoke, but the baby boomer generation knows him as Floyd the barber on the Andy Griffith Show
  • Gale Gordon (Weary Willie the Stork and Oliver Ostrich) was an accomplished radio actor as well, but is best known for playing Theodore J. Mooney on The Lucy Show.
  • Frank Nelson (Captain Tintop) was Jack Benny's long time foil, appearing as a variety of rude salesclerks.  His signature lines "Ye-e-e-e-s?"  and "Oo-oo-oo-ooh, DO they!"  are imitated to this day on shows like The Simpsons.

The shows are available for free download from a variety of sites, including: 

and are rebroadcast each year by a great many radio stations around the world.


This year, we’ve another children's Christmas series which was launched a year after the Cinnamon Bear, in 1938.


While not as famous (or well regarded, for that matter) as the Cinnamon Bear, youngsters who have already enjoyed the bear might appreciate a different Christmas adventure this year.


Jonathan Thomas and His Christmas on The Moon is also told in 26 12-minute adventures that were broadcast by stations in direct competition with the Cinnamon Bear show.


Unlike CB, I’ve been unable to find any reliable cast and production details for Jonathon Thomas.  Perhaps by next year . . .


The Internet Archive has the entire Jonathon Thomas series available either as a single zip’ed file, or as individual episodes.


Jonathan Thomas and His Christmas on the Moon (Full series)

Jonathan Thomas and His Christmas on the Moon - Single Episodes


In any event, either of these Christmas shows are sure to please the imaginative youngster, and are an ideal introduction for kids to the wonderful world of Old Time Radio.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Quatermass Returns





One of the most influential, and enduring British fictional characters of the 1950s was Professor Bernard Quatermass, who was first imagined in 1953 by TV writer Nigel Kneale for a 6 part mini-series called The Quatermass Experiment.


In this early, live production, Quatermass must prevent disaster when an astronaut returns from orbit infected with an alien virus that threatens to destroy the world.

Sadly, only 2 of those 6 episodes survive, but fate has been kinder to the numerous sequels.


Before the decade was out, there would bet two more highly successful mini-series produced;  Quatermass II, and perhaps the best of the lot, Quatermass and the Pit.


The Quatermass Experiment would be remade as a Sci-Fi movie by Hammer Films, called The Quatermass Xperiment (released in the US with the more generic title The Creeping Unknown) starring American actor Brian Donlevy.


Although Nigel Kneale was unhappy with the performance by Donlevy, and displeased with plot changes – including a different ending – the film proved to be a success in the UK, and in the US as well.


The Quatermass Xperiment was to become Hammer Film’s first horror success story, and the first Hammer film to be widely distributed in the United States.

I blogged about the third BBC mini-series, Quatermass And The Pit just over two years ago, when episodes were available on GUBA.    Those shows no longer appear to be available, but may now be downloaded fromthe Internet Archive.


Quatermass and the Pit - Episode One

Quatermass and the Pit - Episode Two

Quatermass and the Pit - Episode Three

Quatermass and the Pit - Episode Four

Quatermass and the Pit - Episode Five

Quatermass and the Pit - Episode Six

Quatermass and the Pit would be made into a successful Hammer film in 1967, released in the US under the name Five Million Years To Earth.


In 1955, two years after the successful debut of the first Quatermass series, Kneale wrote a sequel that traded on cold war fears in the guise of an alien infiltration of the highest ranks of the British government.


While a ratings hit, this first surviving example of a British science fiction TV series is viewed as the weakest of the three mini-series. Partly because the actor who played Quatermass in the original series – Reginald Tate – collapsed and died shortly before filming was to begin.

A new actor was chosen – John Robinson – but his performance was deemed stilted and awkward by some critics.




The budget for this second series was double that of the first, allowing the live studio performances to be augmented with pre-filmed outside shots – giving it less of a stage bound feel.


This series has been compared to the US Classic film (and terrific book by Jack Finney)   Invasion of the Body Snatchers.


While few would put this production in the same league, this series is not without its merits.  It is an important part of early TV history, and provides us with a fascinating glimpse of British sensibilities and fears during the height of the cold war.



Quatermass II Episode 1 of 6

Quatermass II Episode 2 of 6 

Quatermass II Episode 3 of 6 

Quatermass II Episode 4 of 6 

Quatermass II Episode 5 of 6 

Quatermass II Episode 6 of 6 


A fourth Quatermass series would be produced for British Television in 1979, albeit not this time for the BBC.  Instead it would be a 4-part series starring John Mills produced for Thames TV called simply Quatermass.

An edited down version was released as movie, but it saw only limited distribution.

In 2005, Jason Flemyng recreated the eponymous role in a live retooling of The Quatermass Experiment  on BBC Four.


Additionally, the Quatermass character has appeared in serialized stories, books, three movies, BBC radio plays, and even theatrical productions.


And the longest running British Science fiction program of all time – Doctor Who – has lifted (or recycled) many of the themes first aired in the Quatermass stories.


Homages and `inside’ references  to  Quatermass have appeared in numerous TV shows, books, short stories, and even as the name of a progressive rock band in the 1970s.


Professor Bernard Quatermass – strong, moral, intelligent and resolute – has rightfully been called Britain’s first Television `hero’.


A pity we haven’t the entire first mini-series to watch, but for those willing to settle for just the first two parts, you can view them here.


Although not in the public domain, you are likely to find the Hammer Quatermass films showing on cable movie stations from time to time.


They are well worth watching as well.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

How To Get To Carnegie Hall







If you’ve already seen the UOGB (The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain), then you already know.  

If you haven’t . . . well, you are in for quite a surprise.


The UOGB was formed in 1985, and while its members have changed over the years, its mission – to reinterpret all manner of musical genres for the ukulele – hasn’t.


Lest you think the Ukulele is only suitable for strumming Hawaiian music, or playing 1920s ditties while wearing a raccoon coat (popular among the college crowd in the roaring twenties) then listen up.


The UOGB has changed the game.


Ukulele music has not only become popular in some eclectic circles, it has become respectable enough for Carnegie Hall as their November 2nd, 2010 sold out performance illustrates (see the NYT’s review here).


Trading on the British love of the absurd, and an abundance of musical talent, the UOGB octet takes the stage in formal orchestra attire, a serious demeanor, and a variety of ukuleles in hand.  

Current members include Dave Suich, Peter Brooke Turner, Hester Goodman, George Hinchliffe, Richie Williams, Kitty Lux, Will Grove-White and Jonty Bankes.


They then embark on an evening of puns, physical humor (watching them is half the fun!), obscure references, and hard driving – and often quite amazing – music (vocals and instrumental).


Their website can be accessed here, and you can order CDs, follow the latest news, watch videos of some of their performances, or see if they will be performing near you.



Fair warning, songs don’t always end the way you expect them to.  What may start off seeming like a rather pedestrian performance have a habit of morphing into something quite extraordinary before they are done.


To fully appreciate this talented group, you really have to see them in action.  And so today, I present a few of my favorite clips of the UOGB from their YouTube  Channel and captured from other appearances.

While not `public domain’, these videos are freely available for download.


First a short little introduction by the BBC of the the UOAB’s performance at the Royal Albert Hall in 2009.  It was standing room only and more than 1,000 people showed up with ukuleles of their own.




Next a hard driving rendition of the theme from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly . . . performed like you’ve never heard it before.


And The Orange Blossom Special has never been performed quite like this – the comedy bits are inspired, as is the playing.

And now for something completely different – David Bowie’s Life on Mars . . .  but this won’t end like you expect it to . . . so stay to the amazing finish.



A little Isaac Hayes (can you dig it?).  The theme from Shaft!


And here, I’ve saved my personal favorite for last.   Fly Me to the Handel.  With a finale that has to be heard to be believed.





You’ll find dozens of more clips available on Youtube.   Just search on UOGB  . . . and in no time at all, you’ll be as big a fan of this multi-talented group as I am.

Monday, November 8, 2010

NBC Celebrates Its First Fabulous Fifty





I’ve been out of town for most of the last week, so apologies for this late first-entry for November.  But today I’ve something very special.


Thirty-four years ago, the NBC network celebrated it’s 50th anniversary of radio broadcasting.  From humble beginnings in 1926, the fledgling broadcast network would ultimately become the most successful of all of the networks during the golden age of radio.


In 1976 NBC radio aired 5 1-hour (well, 40 minutes after news breaks and commercials are excised) remembrances of that network’s first 50 years of radio.


Chock full of audio clips, nostalgia and history, each deals with roughly one decade of NBC’s five decades, and each is presented by a different host.

Plus, as a bonus, we’ve a special hour-long remembrance of early show business by George Jessel as well.

But first, NBC’s First Fabulous Fifty.


The first hour is narrated by legendary NBC announcer Ben Grauer, who perhaps most famously was selected by  Arturo Toscanini to become the voice of the NBC Symphony Orchestra.


Grauer became that show’s announcer in 1940 and remained until the show ended in 1954.


There were numerous other jobs, both on NBC radio and Television over the years, including live political convention coverage, the first live broadcast from NBC TV (1939 Worlds Fair Opening), and an assortment of game and quiz shows and news broadcasts.

Grauer would die within a year of this broadcast, at the age of 68, from a heart attack.

Host - Ben Grauer - Part 1  46.8 MB


The second hour is hosted by Bob “NBC” Hope, and takes us from 1936 through the war years to 1946.   During the recording session, Hope went off script, with some personal remembrances of the day the war broke out.


His ad libbed narration was so good, they kept kept it in.


Host - Bob Hope - Part 2 46.7 MB

As sure as spring follows winter, so naturally does Crosby follow Hope.    And Bing handles the post-war years up to 1956 including the radio extravaganza launched in 1950 to try to beat back the inroads of television; The Big Show.

For more on The Big Show see  A Really Big Show

Sadly, as with Ben Gauer, Crosby would pass away roughly a year later.


Host - Bing Crosby - Part 3 46.6 MB

Arlene Francis covers the decline of what we think of as Old-Time-Radio, and focuses on the rise of the last big innovation in NBC radio’s history; The weekend radio show Monitor.

Other topics include radio’s coverage of the JFK assassination and its move into a more news and informational format. 

Francis had a career that spanned Broadway, film, radio and Television and was a long time contributor to the Monitor Show.


Host - Arlene Francis - Part 4 46.8 MB

The final segment is hosted by NBC newsman/anchor John Chancellor,  and deals with radio’s coverage of America’s turbulent years, that included Vietnam and Watergate.  

But this segment also features a softer interview with Ed McMahon and Johnny Carson.


Host - John Chancellor - Part 5 46.6 MB



Lastly, as promised, a bonus.  Included with the above on the Internet Archive.


In 1951, Abel Green – who was the long time editor of Variety – along with Joe Laurie Jr., published a history of 20th century Show business called  SHOWBIZ: From Vaude To Video.


Shortly thereafter, George Jessel put together a companion LP to the book, with audio clips from some of the best remembered performers of the first half of the 20th century.


In this you’ll hear early sound clips from such notables as Eddie Cantor, Maurice Chevalier , George M Cohan, Will Rogers, Kate Smith, Sophie Tucker, and Rudy Vallee .


Showbiz - George Jessel  50.6 MB



Although a vaudeville performer, songwriter, movie producer, comic, and appearing in a few movies and and guesting on TV shows in the 1950s and 1960s, George Jessel was more famous as a personality and a raconteur than as a performer.


He was frequently to be found as the master of ceremonies at many high profile occasions, and gained the nickname `Toastmaster General of the United States’.

Jessel died in 1981, at the age of 83.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Remembrances Of Halloweens Past



Note:   Each October since the start of this blog, I’ve featured some of the best (and, admittedly worst!) horror and suspense offerings available from online sources.   

Since many of the really `good’ shows are now buried deep in the archives, I thought I’d `resurrect’ a few of my favorites for this Halloween weekend edition.


So a few slightly burnt offerings from the past, humbly offered once more.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Three Radio Chillers For Halloween


Although the movies of the 1930s brought horror to mainstream America, with such classics as Dracula, Frankenstein, and King Kong . . . it was the fertile ground of radio drama that produced the most (and arguably some of the best) horror entertainment.


So pervasive were horror and suspense programs on the radio during the 1930s and 1940s, that the outcry of clergy and teachers often reached a fevered pitch. The sordid and gruesome radio fare, from shows like The Inner Sanctum and Lights Out, they feared was going to be the ruination of the country’s youth.


That, and swing music by Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey.


I’ve select 3 of my favorite horror/suspense OTR episodes, that will hopefully spur many of you on to explore the thousands of others that have been preserved and archived on the internet.


Unlike the movies, or TV, these episodes require your attention and mental participation.  The use of your imagination to fill in the horrifying blanks.


So turn the lights down low, gather your family around the computer, and enjoy . . .


Three Skeleton Key

Tired of the everyday routine? Ever dream of a life of romantic adventure? Want to get away from it all?

We offer you... Escape!      (cue dramatic music)

Escape. Designed to free you from the four walls of today for a half hour of high adventure.

With that famous opening (often intoned by William Conrad) one of the best anthology series of the late 1940’s and early 1950s brought us tales of  ESCAPE!

Admittedly, this is one of my favorite series (you find another offering follows).


ESCAPE! was the little, low-budget show that could.


A summer replacement for the long-running SUSPENSE! - which attracted big name stars - Escape is well remembered for doing a lot with very little.


Nearly all of the episodes from its 7 year run are available for free download, including from.  (Internet Archive)  (Real Player Episodes)


The episode Three Skeleton Key stars Vincent Price in a radio adaptation of the George G. Toudouze 1937 short story which is available online to read.


Three Skeleton Key is the first, March 1950 production of this story.  It would end up being produced twice more by Suspense!, but this first one is considered to be the best.


Rats, Vincent Price, and an old light house . . . and almost no hope of ESCAPE!



Shipment of Mute Fate

Many of the radio scripts from ESCAPE! would end up being re-produced on ESCAPE! or SUSPENSE! a number of times, often with different casts. 

A Shipment of Mute Fate was produced at least 4 times, but I’ve always been partial to the first run-through, starring a young Jack Webb in 1947  (see You Really Don’t Know Jack). 

Escape! had a thing for snakes, and in this case, the story revolves around a South American Bushmaster – perhaps the deadliest snake in the world – loose aboard a small passenger ship.


`Mute Fate’ comes from the Latin name for the snake, Lachesis Muta, which refers to the silent rattle the snake possesses.  No warning for the careless trespasser onto the snake’s territory.


Aside from the suspenseful plot, and surprise ending, this is an opportunity to hear Jack Webb before he adopted his mono-toned Sgt. Friday persona.

The Thing on the Fourble Board

Jumping now to  Wyllis Cooper’s Quiet, Please, we get one of the most highly regarded horror scripts ever produced for radio.


Cooper, who had created Lights Out years earlier created Quiet, Please with Ernest E. Chappell, who had previously been a radio announcer.


He turned out, however, to be a terrific radio actor and used  silence, and the dreaded `dead air’ to great effect.


It is said that Cooper’s scripts, read by anyone else, would have run only about 11 or 12 minutes.   But the pauses that Chappell built in stretched them out to nearly 30 minutes.


You’ll find more than 100 episodes available at


In The Thing on the Fourble Board, we hear the story of a roughneck, working the oil fields, who discovers something remarkable up on the fourble board of his oil derrick.


If you like these, there are hundreds of other episodes from these two series, plus thousands more from Suspense, Lights Out, The Mysterious Traveler, Inner Sanctum, The Hermits Cave, and many, many more.


Some, today, would be considered camp, or even silly.  A few, like The Hermits Cave, were admittedly over-the-top.


But before we’d been jaded by CGI movies, and had seen a thousand rip offs of these early plots on TV, these shows were very chilling indeed.



Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Night America Trembled


With Halloween rapidly approaching, this is the time of year we look at some of sci-fi and horror offerings of radio, early TV, and the movies.  None is more famous than the infamous `War of The Worlds’ broadcast of Halloween night, 1938.


Although this Orson Welles broadcast was the subject of one of my earlier blogs (see The Most Famous Halloween Broadcast Of All), written back in 2008,  I’ve an interesting addendum for classic TV fans.


A Studio One presentation called `The Night America Trembled’.


But first, a brief revisiting of the original radio broadcast.


Among Halloween radio broadcasts, there is none better remembered than the Mercury Theatre's  War of the Worlds,  broadcast on Oct 30st, 1938.  My parents were listening that Sunday night, and having tuned in from the beginning, knew this was a dramatic presentation.


Anyone who listened to the first 2 minutes of the show heard the introduction by producer and star Orson Welles.   But the next disclaimer wouldn’t come until 40 minutes into the show.

Orson Welles

Orson  Welles

The Mercury theatre – while a critical success – was considered a a bit of a `highbrow’ show, and had far fewer listeners than their competitor on NBC, the popular Chase and Sanborn Hour with Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy.


So the truth is, most of the country wasn’t even listening that night.


Those that did tune in late, however, found that their local CBS station was broadcasting a program of `dance music by Ramon Raquello’ and his orchestra instead of the Mercury Theatre.


Within moments, however, there would be a simulated `news flash', indicating that astronomers had detected explosions of `hydrogen gas' on the planet Mars.


With increasing frequency (far too fast, but hey, it was only an hour show), more news flashes would break into the `music program'.


First, with an interview with an `astronomer' named  Richard Pearson (quite obviously voiced by Orson Welles), who discounts any concerns over Mars being inhabited.


Within seconds, however, there are reports of seismic activity in New Jersey, and the next 30 minutes are a series of flash news reports covering the landing of a space craft in Grovers Mill, New Jersey, and its subsequent attack on the people there.


Soon New York City is under attack by "five great machines" wading across the Hudson River.


Now, the story goes that more than a million people believed this radio broadcast to be real.     I doubt that.


There were disclaimers during the shows intermission, a full disclaimer in the first two minutes, and quite frankly it has the `sound and feel' of a radio drama.


Anyone alarmed by this broadcast  would certainly have checked other stations to see if they, too, were carrying the`news'.   The next day, there was a great to-do make over the broadcast, and recriminations against Welles and his radio troop.


While the `panic' caused by this show was probably exaggerated, some people did apparently take it to be real.   In any event, legend or fact, it is a piece of history now.


Listen to the most famous Halloween radio broadcast of them all.

1938-10-30 War of the Worlds

Twenty years after that famous broadcast, Studio One  opened their 10th season with a dramatic re-enactment of that broadcast, and the reaction of America.


Narrated by the most famous newsman of the era, Edward R. Murrow, this was a prestigious presentation that captures the mood of the nation in those nervous years just prior to World War II.


You’ll spot a lot of young, not-yet-quite famous actors in the cast including Ed Asner, John Astin, Vincent Gardenia, James CoburnWarren Oates and Warren Beatty.  The `stars’ of this production, however, are Ed Murrow and Alexander Scourby.

The Night America Trembled

This was the film debut of both John Astin and James Coburn, both destined to stardom in the decade to come.


As you watch, remember that this was live television, with no chances for re-takes, no post-production editing.  This was acting (and directing) without a net.   And something that few TV shows dare to attempt today.


The days of live drama were nearly at an end by 1958, with video tape and film soon to replace the `stage bound’ production so common during Televisions first decade.


The original radio show, followed by the TV re-enactment, would make a fine (and educational) evenings’ double feature in the days ahead.  

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Lon Day’s Journey Into Nightmare






While cowboys, detectives (public & private), and variety shows pretty much ruled America’s prime time TV airwaves in the late 1950s and early 1960s there were a few exceptions.


Rod Serling’s classic The Twilight Zone ran for 5 seasons on CBS, and continues to be shown on cable stations around the world a half century later.


One Step Beyond, perhaps less well remembered, was a forerunner to The Twilight Zone and sufficiently spooky that many of us still regard it fondly. 

I blogged about that series in Going `One Step Beyond' about 18 months ago, and provided links to numerous episodes.


Another contemporary series called `The Veil’ was hosted by Boris Karloff in 1958, but incredibly, while 10 episodes were produced, they were never aired.


Studio problems led to the cancellation of this project, and with just 10 episodes in the can, no one felt it could be syndicated.   These `lost' episodes languished, largely unseen, for the next 30 years, although they have now been released on DVD.


You can read about (and watch) these `lost’ episodes in my blog Lifting The Veil On THE VEIL.



There were earlier suspense and horror-related offerings, most notably Lights Out and Suspense! back during the live days of televised drama.   You can revisit some very early, classic TV horror I blogged on earlier this year by checking out Tales From The Disembodied Head.


Today, an oddity.


A Swedish horror series (with English speaking actors), hosted by Lon `The Wolfman’ Chaney Jr., and briefly syndicated for a 13 episode run back in 1959.


It’s called 13 Demon Street, and it is – like most of the other horror offerings back then – an anthology show.


Different casts and unrelated story lines were featured each week, introduced and thinly strung together by the narrator (Chaney) who is condemned to live at (you guessed it) 13 Demon Street until he can find a crime more unspeakable than his own.

We never learn what horrendous crime Chaney committed, but it might have had something to do his rather infamous performance in a Live broadcast of Tales of Tomorrow in the early 1950's. 


Over the years, the retelling of the story has embellished it a bit, but it is an example of how things didn't always go as planned during a live broadcast.


Chaney was to play Frankenstein’s monster, which at least kept his lines to a minimum.

The legend is that Chaney, under the influence of alcohol, became confused and thought that they were doing a dress rehearsal, and not a live broadcast.


During his `rampage scene' in the first half of the show, instead of busting up props, he picked them up and then set them down carefully and muttered `break later’.

I’ve seen the episode, and for whatever reason, Chaney does pick up, and set back down, a number of props - particularly in the first half of the show. 



Cheney, the son of Lon Chaney – who is regarded by many as the greatest of all film actors during the silent era – never achieved the stardom of his father. Nevertheless, he appeared in 30 Universal (mostly horror) movies during the 1940s.


In the late 1950s, when Universal released their catalog of 1930s and 1940s horror films to Television, Chaney saw a sudden resurgence in popularity and a whole new generation of fans.


Today, we’ve 3 episodes of this obscure and rarely seen Horror show – plus 3 more episodes that were stitched together (with reworked introductions by Chaney as `The Devil’) into a drive-in movie .

All are available on The Internet Archive.

Three TV episodes.

13 Demon Street (The Black Hand)

13 Demon Street (Fever)

13 Demon Street (The Vine of Death)


And the `moviefied’ version, which was released as The Devil’s Messenger in 1961, consisting of the episodes `The Photograph’, 'The Girl in the Glacier' and 'Condemned in Crystal'.


The Devil´s Messenger (1961)

All guaranteed to be horrible, and all just in time for Halloween.



Chaney, who appeared in some abominable roles late in his career, was actually a fairly effective actor. He appeared in some high profile films during the 1950s, including High Noon, A Lion in the Streets, and The Defiant Ones.

Unfortunately for every `A’ movie, there were 4 or 5 `B’ movies. Chaney did find frequent work in Television, sometimes as a regular on a series (Pistols 'n' Petticoats) but more often as a guest performer (3 appearances on Route 66, including one particularly memorable one playing himself along side Boris Karloff!).



He could also be found guesting on early 1960s TV shows like Adventures in ParadiseWagon Train, and Rawhide.  As the decade progressed, his health, and his  film roles declined.


Chaney died in 1973, at the age of 67.


While never coming close to achieving the acclaim of his father, for a generation that grew up watching `The Wolf Man’ on Friday Night Shock Theatre, Chaney Jr. will be Lon(g) remembered.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Halloween OTR: Tales From The Morgue






Sometimes OTR (Old Time Radio) programs aren’t all that old.


In the case of Chet Chetter’s Tales From the Morgue, they hail from the early 1990s, and are the brainchild of two boyhood friends who met 15 years earlier and shared a love for old radio shows like X Minus One and The Inner Sanctum.


The show consists of a series of short horror, sci-fi, or just plain weird tales introduced by its amiable host, Chet Chetter, a morgue attendant and licensed embalmer.


Humor and unlikely situations play a major role in these stories that are set in the deep south. 


Mark Sawyer and Jay Reel – who do most of the voice work - produced their first Chet Chetter episode in 1989 (Highway of Death), and submitted it to National Public Radio.


To their surprise, NPR liked it . . . and ordered 3 more stories. The following year, NPR requested another 9 episodes, making a total run of 13 episodes that ran on NPR Playhouse.  

Not all of the stories submitted were accepted by NPR, since some of the subject matter was considered `inappropriate’ for that network in the early 1990s.

In all 95 episodes were produced, and were aired extensively during the 1990s on  radio stations in England and Australia.


Paying homage to some of the great-but-cheesy horror radio shows of the 1940s, Tales from the Morgue is frequently over-the-top, but always entertaining.


About half the episodes feature the outrageous adventures of manure hauler Elmer Korn, who manages to get himself into some pretty wild predicaments.

The voice work is excellent, and the audio quality is (as would be expected given its age), terrific.

If your tastes are `eclectic’, your sense of humor a little warped,  and if you are looking for something a little different to put you in the mood for this year’s Halloween . . . then Chet Chetter may be just the ticket.


The Internet Archive has 21 half-hour episodes available for your online listening or for download, which you can access at the link below.


Chet Chetter's Tales from the Morgue - Single Episodes


You can also download an entire CD of MP3 files all at once, from this link.

Chet Chetter's Tales from the Morgue

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Project Tic Toc






Two American scientists are lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages, during the first experiments on America's greatest and most secret project, the Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time. – Opening voice over credits




During the mid-1960s science fiction returned to network television in a big way.


While the 1950’s had seen shows such as One Step BeyondThe Twilight Zone, and even earlier efforts like Tales of Tomorrow – very few of their episodes provided anything in the way of special effects or `hard science’ fiction.


That is, until Irwin Allen brought Voyage to the Bottom of The Sea to TV.  And it’s first year – 1964-65 – produced a well-remembered block of solid episodes with both sci-fi and cold war elements. 

The network (ABC) apparently decided the show was too `dark’, and for its second season (filmed in color), pushed for more of the `monster of the week’ type episodes.  


As the series progressed, things just got sillier.


In 1966, Irwin Allen would launch two other sci-fi series; Lost in Space  and The Time Tunnel.


1966 will also be remembered for the launch of the most durable sci-fi franchise of them all . . .  Star Trek.


While popular with the younger generation, none of these 3 shows would make the top 30 in the Nielson ratings that year.


Lost in Space, which began with promise - like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea - descended into juvenile antics and `camp’. By its second season, every 12 year-old I knew had decided it was a `kids’ show, and had migrated to Star Trek.


The Time Tunnel, however, was for the most part more of an `adult’ series (although it too had its low moments).


The stars were Robert Colbert and James Darren, both popular actors in the 1960s.


Colbert had reluctantly played `Brent Maverick’ in two episodes of the long running western series, but was mercifully not called back for the final season.  He also showed up in popular series like The Virginian, 77 Sunset Strip, 12 0’Clock High, Perry Mason, and Bonanza.


Darren started out as a teen idol, appearing as Moondoggie in several Gidget films, and had a successful recording career.  His biggest selling record – which is still played 50 years later – was Goodbye Cruel World.


Darren also appeared in 1961’s The Guns of Navarone, but it was The Time Tunnel that really helped him shed his teen idol image.


Venerable character actor Whit Bissell, and  the winner of the 1955 Miss America pageant – Lee Meriwether – rounded out the cast.



The plot was simple (and would be reused by Voyagers! and to an extent, by Quantum Leap).  Our two heroes would `jump’ into a new time (always at an important moment) and have to try to change history.


Each episode would end with one of Irwin Allen’s patented cliff hangers, as Tony & Doug landed in a new predicament.


Using stock footage from the vast 20th Century Fox library of historical dramas, and selective `editing in’ of the central characters, the show had a `bigger budget’ feel than most TV shows of the day.


Despite that advantage, the pilot episode cost an astounding $500,000 and was the most expensive hour produced to that point.


The series lasted but one season.  While the ratings weren’t terrible, the story goes that studio executives wanted to promote The Legend of Custer, but there was no open slot in the schedule.


Something had to go.

Given the costs of production, the decision was to cut the Time Tunnel loose.   Custer was panned by critics and viewers alike, and went down in flames after just one season.


FANCAST has all 30 episodes of The Time Tunnel available for you to view online.  

You can access them at this link.


The cast would move on successfully to other projects, with James Darren becoming a regular on T.J. Hooker and later making appearances on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.


Colbert would spend a decade on the daytime soap The Young and the Restless, and later appear on Baywatch.


Both actors remained active into the 1990s.


Lee Meriwether worked steadily, including such famous roles as Catwoman on Batman (1966), she replaced Barbara Bain on Mission Impossible for 6 episodes during its 4th season, and spent 7 years helping Buddy Ebsen solve crimes on Barnaby Jones.


Whit Bissell passed away in 1996, with nearly 300 credits listed on the Internet Movie Database.