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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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