When I was in high school, probably my senior year, my history teacher took our class to see a local theater production that centered around Old Time Radio. The theater troupe did a live broadcast of War of the Worlds and Sorry, Wrong Number. The stage was done up like an old broadcast booth, and the actors were all in period costume. I remember it was so neat to be able to see where all the sound effects were coming from, how everything was set up to create such a rich world.
Classic Hollywood stars were often the voices heard on such broadcasts back in the day. Whether it was a hosting job, like Dick Powell serving as MC for Hollywood Hotel, comedy/variety shows featuring Bob Hope, or programs like the Lux Radio Theater and the Screen Guild Theater which recreated movies in 30-60 minute radio adaptations, stars became well-known radio personalities as well.
I’m a sucker for a good radio drama, and Suspense holds its place as one of the best out there, and one of the longest running. Suspense started its run on CBS in 1942, and put out new episodes until its last broadcast on September 30, 1962. There are over 900 episodes, most of them still available today.
The series (or what I’ve heard of it so far), is very noir-like. Most of the stories are about ordinary people pushed to the edge, or people who think they have what it takes to commit the perfect crime. What drives Suspense isn’t just its great stories, but the talent it brought on the realize them. While some of the best dramatic actors lent their chops to Suspense, the series offered up a chance to hear actors and actresses like Lucille Ball and Jack Benny play against type.
While Agnes Moorehead’s Sorry,Wrong Number is probably the best known of the Suspense episodes, I wanted to share with you one of Jimmy Stewart’s appearances. He sounds just like he appears in his post-1950s work, the shaky voice, the mean streak hiding just underneath the surface. I listened to this right before bed, and while most horror/suspense shows from the Golden Age don’t freak me out as much as things made today can, this one got under my skin a little bit. Whereas our modern makeup and special effects can create the scariest and most gruesome images, Suspense reminds me that sometimes you don’t need to see everything to have your audience on the edge of their seat- just enough to send shivers down their spine, like a brush of cool breeze in the night.
Suspense is available from the Internet Archive and the Old Time Radio Researchers group: http://archive.org/details/OTRR_Certified_Suspense