Hollywood and Old Time Radio: Suspense

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

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7 Responses to Hollywood and Old Time Radio: Suspense

  1. Pingback: Hollywood and Old Time Radio: Suspense | Lindsay's Movie Musings | Old Time Radio

  2. Lindsay,
    Thanks for sharing that clip and your experience in listening to two very fine radio episodes. If I could go back in time to be present for any one radio broadcast it would be for Welles War of the Worlds. I really just want to get a feel for if it was sensationalized (the response and amount of people who were terrified, believed it) versus those who recognized that it was all a big joke.

    Admittedly, I haven’t heard that many radio shows but I’ve been making an effort to find more and take the time to listen to some of the more popular ones.

  3. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Page!
    I can only imagine what that must’ve been like to hear that War of the Worlds broadcast. I wonder if Welles knew he was going to get that kind of response, and how he felt about it afterwards. I love OTR almost more than television sometimes because I think that our imaginations can come up with some amazing things, and it’s fun to be able to close your eyes and follow the story by creating your own images.

  4. Pingback: Here’s Linking at You 4/30/12 : The Cinementals

  5. Vienna says:

    Thanks for highlighting SUSPENSE. Having discovered Archive.org, I’ve listened to about 30 episodes so far! Great fun.

    • It’s a great show! I love how accessible all of those OTR shows are nowadays. It’s great to be able to download a bunch of them and take them with me on my iPod. Suspense is one of the best. Thanks for reading!

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