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Suspense - Sorry, Wrong Number, Feb 24, 1944, AFRS Pgm 41

May 3rd, 2008

In this post, "Suspense" from February 24, 1944, broadcast on AFRS as program 41, "Sorry, Wrong Number" starring Agnes Moorehead. "Sorry" has been circulated by OTR fans for years and is one of the all-time classic episodes of the series and, indeed, of old time radio in general. This episode circulates in a CBS network version; here, you can give a listen to how the show was presented to troops overseas, including a preview of next week's show to fill out the time at the end.

This particular episode was the third performance of "Sorry" on "Suspense". Moorehead performed the story eight times during the run of the series, the first on May 25, 1943 and the last on February 14, 1960.

Some listeners really dislike "Sorry, Wrong Number", finding Agnes Moorehead's performance "shrill" and "over top" and the show unpleasant to listen to. I really think that's the beauty of the script and a facet of the character that Moorehead understands that made the show so popular that it was repeated many times over the run of the "Suspense" series - Mrs. Stevenson is utterly unlikable and the script plays with our sympathies (or animosity) towards her.

I read somewhere that Lucille Fletcher got the idea for the show after hearing an obnoxious woman in line at a store, demanding service and indignant that she was being treated improperly. Fletcher sets up the character as demanding, whiny and shrill - the type of person that would test the patience of any telephone operator and, even more, the patience of her husband.

As the program progresses and the potential murder story becomes more clear, we have either one of two reactions. We either feel more sympathy for Mrs. Stevenson, realizing the situation she is in and the frustration she feels. Or, as in my case when sometimes listening to the show, you think, "Man, I wish she was the one being killed - she's annoying!" Of course, if you feel for Mrs. Stevenson and understand her terror, the ending is frightening and disturbing. If you can't stand Mrs. Stevenson, the ending is satisfying and exhilarating.

If it hasn't been done already, someone could do a fun parody of "Sorry, Wrong Number", where the telephone operator storms in to murder her for being such a nuisance and not looking up and dialing her own damn telephone numbers.

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  • Goddess of Torment

    “Sorry, Wrong Number” is an excellent radio play! It transports the listener to the bedroom of the irritating Mrs. Stevenson, allowing the listener to create the scene within his or her own mind. I remember as a young girl finding this old cassette tape at my local library and going back every two weeks to borrow it again. I’d listen to it every night before bed. When I was a teenager, I rewrote it and performed it as a monologue as part of my drama class. I was alone on the stage, with the exception of the final minute when my teacher came on for the infamous last line. Today, many years later, I still find myself on the edge of my seat listening to this play. It still has the ability, even all these years later, to send a chill down my spine. “Sorry, Wrong Number” is one of the very few plays which can (and does) stand the test of time. With the prevalence of gore and almost no real suspense in the films of today, it’s nice to just sit back and listen to what REAL bone-chilling suspense is.

    May 26, 2008 at 2:22 am
  • Old Time Radio

    This is a great example of old time radio. This story was also on TV in various forms over the years. It’s a great plot and keeps you on the edge of your seat.

    Feb 27, 2010 at 9:53 pm
  • Hank Harris

    Trying to locate a cd of Sorry Wrong Number with Agnes Moorhead? HELP>

    Sep 29, 2010 at 10:41 am
  • James B Sheehan

    More years ago than I care to remember i struggled to hear an AFRS bcast of this over AFN in Europe when night reception was unpredictable to say the least! Nevertheless I was so enthralled & gripped that it remained with me.5 years on,having been through an RAF Radio School I was posted to a large Signals Centre in Liverpool when I shortly joined a small group of colleagues running evening & off duty bcasts over the unit’s tannoy network as a sort of DJ/Movie critic. Following the local release of Paramount’s film version with B Stanwyk & B Lancaster which was much anticipated I heard that Columbia records in the UK had just issued 2 x 12″ (shellac)discs of the play which I searched for everywhere but never managed to find. Decades later (late 70s) during some midnight browsing on a ham radio I latched on to one of the remaining AFN stations still operating in Europe still subject to the infuriating reception difficulties which was running a series of OTR original shows that I tried to put on tape & one night - yes, S W No resurfaced. Around the same period whilst working in London, during a lunch break I came across a small record store near Piccadilly which specialised in rare American imports of LPs of old shows,movie s/tracks & radio shows not normally available but quite pricey because of the extra tax. They usually contained an hour’s show on each side. On a third visit I was ready to afford the extra expence & was always searching out the unusual when browsing the many tempting covers I turned over one & there was what I had searched for so long ago - an LP with a sponsored copy of the original bcast! I grabbed it eagerly & it has remained in my small LP collection of other b/casts in the Suspense series. The cover has notes by OTR’s amed Frank Bresee on the famed series which opened on June 17 1942 with Charlie Ruggles starring in The Burning Court. It is backed with one of O Welles’ several appearances in Lucille Fletcher’s other thriller, The Hitch-Hiker. 2 great Classics. I also acquired Radiola’s double album of Welles’ unedited version of Donovan’s Brain (CBS May 18th & 25th 1944), Herbert Marshall as Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps/ J Cagney in No Escape (Dec 16 1948) and another Radiola issue with 2 different adaptations of The Maltese Falcon with the original cast. Now, with so much appreciation & thanks to the several US specialist groups and people like OTR/Brando & Radio Lady many hundreds of these long forgotten AFRS shows are out there on shiny discs, often cleaned up and available to hear nice & clearly as formerly for the American WW2 and AFN audiences - and I now have hundreds of them.

    As a point of UK WW2 radio history. between 1942/4 the BBC originated a late evening weekly series that became very popular which as a young kid I had to plead to stay up for called “Appointment With Fear” and introduced by the sinister Y

    Oct 9, 2010 at 5:00 pm
  • James B Sheehan

    As a point of UK WW2 radio history between 1942/44 the BBC originated a late evening weekly series that became very popular called “Appointment With Fear” and was introduced by the sonorous and sinister tones of the actor,Valentine Dyall as “Your Man In Black” a tall and popular radio actor. The series often included tails of the macabre from Poe & John Dickson Carr.The format & introductory/closing music was pretty much that used for the US Suspense series so it was obviously a direct transference of the long running American series but made no mention of it.

    Oct 9, 2010 at 5:10 pm