At the end of July, I posted a lacquer 78 rpm lacquer set of the famous Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcast of "War of the Worlds" on my blog. I transferred the discs and posted the audio file thinking it was likely a "dub" - the fact that the disc set might be an original surviving master copy was just something I just couldn't believe.
Since my original post, I've dived into researching the background on the set, surviving copies of the broadcast, and have concluded this set is, indeed, a "live" master, probably ordered up by Mercury actor and associate producer Paul Stewart.
In this post, I'll share some details on my research into the set, highlighting what we know and don't know about how the show was recorded and preserved over the years.
Tags: drama · updates
March 24th, 2013 ·
During the New Deal era, the Roosevelt administration used the new medium of radio to get the word out about new programs through syndicated shows. Some, like programs featuring WPA musicians, was more subtle in their advertising approach. Others were more direct in explaining New Deal programs to the public.
Program 3 in the "Resettlement Administration" series presents a drama about the plight of tenant farmers, taking the listener through the development of tenant farming after slavery was abolished in the South after the Civil War, how tenant farmers wound up in perpetual debt and poverty, and how the Resettlement Administration could help them.
Conservatives, of course, were outraged at this type of radio "propaganda" - this is the type of program that the National Industrial Council (aka the National Association of Manufacturers) was combatting when they developed the radio serial "American Family Robinson".
What's curious about this particular show is that it features an Old Time Radio and classic Hollywood film voice you might recognize - Joseph Cotten. The Resettlement Administration was only active in 1935-36, so the show probably from those years and Cotten, at this point in his career, was appearing on-stage in New York with the Federal Theatre Project. This is one of the earliest recording of Joseph Cotten on the air - the Goldin database lists a November 14, 1936 "Columbia Workshop" production of "Hamlet" with Cotten and he doesn't pop up on radio again until a September 1938 episode of CBS's "Mercury Theater". Welles and others involved in the Federal Theatre Project, of course, picked up odd jobs on radio, most famously with Orson Welles appearing in "The Shadow" and "The March of Time".
The show was transferred from an original one-sided shellac Radio and Film Methods Corporation transcription, matrix number 288-A. The label notes "Dyer Process Recording", "Use Filmmatic Needles" and address of company as 101 Park Avenue, New York City, CAledonia 5-7530-1. The company probably also produced 16" transcription discs for use with filmstrips. The show appears to be previously lost.
Tags: drama · Depression-era · early radio
March 24th, 2013 ·
Note: This program contains racial stereotyping themes that may be offensive to some listeners.
"Eno Crime Clues" is a rare 1930s radio series heard on the NBC Blue Network from 1933 to 1936. The program had different incarnations, heard on Columbia in the early 1930s and later on Mutual as "Crime Clues", with the series connected to detective and mystery novels put out by publishers like Doubleday.
Goldin only lists eight programs existing in the Blue Network series, so this is a nice find. What we have in this post is part 1 of the broadcast of March 28, 1934, Episode 2 of the story "The Talking Skull", a murder mystery that takes place on an island, with the detective grilling the assembled group of suspects to come to a solution to the crime. The program is sponsored by Emo Effervescent Salts.
Each story was broadcast in two half-hour installments, so we're hearing only 15 minutes of the second half of the story. Even without the solution to the mystery, it's a nice example of this early type of radio drama.
The show was transferred from an original one-sided Victrolac transcription pressed by RCA, matrix number 82259-1. The advertising agency is N.W. Ayer and Son, New York.
This show appears to be previously lost. Anyone have the other disc containing the other half of the show in their attic?
Tags: drama · early radio
July 10th, 2012 ·
Here's the only other episode in my collection of "Boulevard of Make Believe", a syndicated serial drama about Hollywood stars featuring Anna Q. Nelson and Viola Dana. In program 12, Wally talks to the police about how he might be mixed up in the kidnapping of his wife.
The end theme plays through and we hear a male vocalist crooning the lyrics to "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" - he sounds a bit like Bing Crosby. Anyone have an idea who it might be? It wasn't uncommon for these early 30s syndicated shows to use cues from commercial records, so it might be from a commercially released 78.
Dave Goldin, by the way, lists program 1 in the series in his database, a show which ran in my blog a few months ago. He conjectures that one of the performers playing a Mexican sounds like Bela Lugosi. What do you think?
The show was digitized direct from an original shellac Radio Release Productions transcription disc, matrix number A-1055. Radio Release Productions, you might recall, also produced the "Police Reporter" series I ran on the blog awhile back.
I wish I could run into the full run of the series, which I'm guessing was just 13 or 26 episodes - this sounds like a fun serial.
My special thanks to the Old Time Radio Researchers Group for adding this disc to my collection!
Tags: drama · soap opera · early radio
July 10th, 2012 ·
For your drama fans, here's the last episode I have in my collection of "Best Plays", an hour-long anthology series of plays from the New York stage. The other programs in the series in my collection are here and here.
Program 6 in the series, as it was heard on the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service on June 5, 1953, is "Autumn Crocus" with Carmen Matthews and Walter Slezak; the announcer is Fred Collins. "Autumn Crocus", according to Wikipedia, was first staged at London's Lyric Theatre in 1931 with Fay Compton and was adapted into a film in 1934. The drama concerns a schoolteacher who goes on holiday and falls in love with the owner of the hotel where she is staying.
Carmen Matthews had a long career on stage, film and television and appeared in episodes of the "CBS Radio Mystery Theater" in the 1970s. The show is hosted by John Chapman, drama critic for the New York Daily News. As I mentioned in a previous post, many of the radio scripts for "Best Plays" were written by Earl Hamner, years before he found fame creating "The Waltons".
Our program was transferred to digital direct from an original vinyl AFRTS transcription set.
July 10th, 2012 ·
Well, I must have a short attention span today. Up next on the blog, an episode of that great little syndicated dramatic filler program, "Five Minute Mysteries".
Program 28 is "The Tell Tale Knife" and concerns murder on a southern plantation. The show was transferred from an original RCA Syndicated Program vinyl transcription, matrix number ND5-MM-3244-7.
Tags: drama · Five Minute Mysteries
May 3rd, 2012 ·
In this post, a real rarity. "Weird Tales" was a series (or perhaps a proposed series) recorded in Hollywood in 1932 and based on stories in the famous horror anthology magazine. So far, discs from the series haven't turned up - until now.
I obtained this disc from Jim Blackson and would like to thank him for the transfer you're listening to here - the disc is almost 17" across and just too large for my transcription player. Jim had two of these discs, both with blank Columbia labels like this and both part 2 of "The Curse of Nagana". However, they seem to be different takes. He saved a copy of both so we could compare the discs.
I'd also like to send a shout-out to Stephen Haffner for help with this post. Haffner is the proprieter of the Haffner Press, a publisher of mystery fiction that was offering a limited edition set of stories by a "Weird Tales" author - the set included, as a bonus, a reproduction of the flyer sent to radio stations promoting the series. He was generous enough to forward a digital copy of the flyer to give some background on what you're hearing.
The series (or proposed series) was produced by Hollywood Radio Attractions, 4376 Sunset Drive, Hollywood. In a promotional flyer for the program, they advertise three episodes that had been produced - the company was planning to record a total of 52 half-hour shows. Similar to "The Witch's Tale", the show was created in such a way that they could be played as one half-hour program each week or split into two fifteen minute shows, completing one story each week. So, what you're hearing is part two of "The Mystery of Nagara", which, if run on-air, could be run as a self-contained fifteen minute show, likely with an introduction and commercial by a local announcer.
This disc, along with the other take of part 2 of this episode, seem to be the only discs that survive from the series. The other shows would have been a fascinating listen - they got some top Hollywood acting talent for the programs. Here's a rundown of the episodes listed as being available in the flyer:
- Program 1 - "The Living Dead", based on Kirk Mashburn's Novellete, "De Brignac's Lady" with Jason Robards, William Farnum, Viola Dana, Richard Tucker, John Ince, Wally Reid, Jr. and featuring music by the "Mata Hari Orchestra direct from Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, California"
- Program 2 - "The Curse of Nagana", from Hugh B. Cave's short story "The Ghoul Gallery" with Richard Carle, Johnny Harron, Florence Britton, Cyrill Delavante, John Ince, Pierre White, Lucille Amaya with music by an "Arabian Orchestra".
- Program 3 - "The Three from the Tomb", from a novel by Edmund Hamilton with William Farnum, Bert Roach, Prisicilla Dean, Pat O'Malley, John Ince, Frank Glendon and Robert Hoover.
The actors on the shows were experienced in Hollywood films. Jason Robards, featured on the first program, is actually Jason Robards, Sr., the father of the actor you might be more familiar with. The elder Robards appeared in silent and sound films and television through the 1950s. Richard Carle and the other actors featured in "Nagana" were all experienced character actors in films.
All of the shows were adapted by Oliver Drake and produced by Irving Fogel, a producer and recording executive that had a long career in Los Angeles. Fogel, according to Christopher Sterling's "Encyclopedia of Radio", acted as a producer on some early Armed Forces Radio programming. Drake was a writer and director in Hollywood, primarily with Westerns, from the silent era through the 1950s and worked on television shows such as "The Adventures of Superman", "Laramie" and "Lassie".
Scholars looking at the history of "Weird Tales" magazine have heard about the series for years, but no recordings of the shows themselves or much detail about the series have surfaced. After considerable searching through Google and subscription newspaper databases, I can't any reference to the series or these particular shows actually being broadcast. My guess is that the three shows were recorded and promoted to stations, but that it just didn't sell.
Horror was a bit of a tough genre to sell to sponsors. At a time when sponsors were identified closely with the programs they advertised on, it would be difficult to find a local or regional advertiser that was a good fit. Combine that with some likely belt-tightening with the Depression going full-swing and the glut of transcription programming available and it likely doomed the project. The other programs in the series probably weren't produced and, with no or few airings of the three shows that were made, that would explain why discs from the series just haven't turned up.
Again, I would like to thank Jim Blackson and Stephen Haffner for their help with this post.
The mp3 you're hearing was transferred directly from the Columbia one-sided laminated shellac transcription, matrix number I-1511 with notations of "IA" and "HRA2". The disc features a blank Columbia Sound-on-Disc Division label, so it is likely a test pressing.
If you have any additional info or thoughts on the "Weird Tales" series, please leave a comment or drop me a line.
Tags: drama · early radio