Mercury Theatre on the Air: Dracula

The Mercury Theatre on the Air: Dracula by Bram Stoker, originally broadcast July 11,1938

Orson WellesThe beginnings of The Mercury Theatre on the Air actually go back to the formation of The Mercury Theatre itself. Having successfully produced Marc Blitzstein’s  The Cradle Will Rock for the Federal Theatre Project in June of 1937, John Houseman and the 21-year-old “boy wonder” of the theatre, Orson Welles, decided to form their own theatrical production company. In August of that same year The Mercury Theatre was born, starting off with total monetary assets of $100. Their first production, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, adapted by Mr. Welles (and set in fascist Italy), opened in New York on November 11 and created as much controversy as the young producers had hoped; The Mercury Theatre  was off and running. After the theatrical successes of the Mercury Theatre, CBS Radio invited Orson Welles to create a summer show for 13 weeks. The series began July 11, 1938, initially titled First Person Singular, with the formula that Welles would play the lead in each show. Some months later the show was called The Mercury Theatre on the Air.

By this time Orson Welles was already a radio veteran, having made frequent appearances on The March of Time as early as 1935 and, in fact, at the time of The Mercury Theatre’s formation, was engaged in a seven-part dramatization of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, which was airing on Friday evenings between July and September of 1937 over the Mutual Broadcasting System. Although not officially The Mercury (the series had been airing for a few weeks before The Mercury even came into existence), several actors who were to become fixtures of The Mercury Theatre of the Air such as Martin Gabel, Alice Frost, Ray Collins, Virginia Welles (Mrs. Orson Welles), Agnes Moorehead and Everett Sloane, appeared in the program, which Mr. Welles produced, directed, scripted, and starred in.
After the theatrical successes of the Mercury Theatre, CBS Radio invited Orson Welles to create a summer show for 13 weeks. The series began July 11, 1938, initially titled First Person Singular, with the formula that Welles would play the lead in each show. Some months later the show was called The Mercury Theatre on the Air. The stories presented were also out of the ordinary. Bram Stoker’s Gothic horror tale, Dracula, opened the series, followed by, among others, Treasure Island, A Tale of Two Cities, The 39 Steps, Abraham Lincoln, and The Count of Monte Cristo. While ratings were not high, CBS executives knew they had a worthwhile prestige program on their roster, and Welles was invited to add the show to the regular CBS lineup beginning in September of 1938. By the time the second series of 13 Mercury Theatre shows ended on December 4, Orson Welles was as big a celebrity as radio had produced, all because of an updated version for the airwaves of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, adapted by Howard Koch (who was now scripting most of the shows) and John Houseman, but credited by the general public entirely to its director, producer, and star, Orson Welles. The music was composed or arranged by Bernard Herrmann. According to the Bernard Herrmann Papers at the University of California-Santa Barbra listing all his compositions, the only Mercury show for which he composed new music was Dracula.

Cast: Orson Welles as Dr. John Seward and Count Dracula, Elizabeth Fuller as Lucy Westenra, George Coulouris as Jonathan Harker, Agnes Moorehead as Mina Harker, Martin Gabel as Dr. Van Helsing, Ray Collins as the Russian Captain and Karl Swenson as the Mate.


Suspense and The Mysterious Traveler

Suspense The A.B.C. Murders

The Suspense episode “The A.B.C. Murders” was adapted from the 1936 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie, but the radio version bears little resemblance to the original story. In the book, the mystery is solved by private detective extraordinaire Hercule Poirot, but Suspense’s version leaves him out entirely. Instead, the story is condensed and uses only the basic plot from Christie’s book.
As the episode opens, two librarians sit behind the counter and discuss the odd little patron who has just dropped off a book. Suddenly, they realize the man has left his briefcase behind. One of them, Franklin Clarke, catches up to the owner, and returns the case to him. The briefcase has the initials A.B.C. and the owner identifies himself as Alexander Bonaparte Cust. The two chat for a while and find out they have some things in common.
Later, Mr. Cust prepares to start his new job as a traveling salesman. His first stop is Andover, but what he doesn’t know is that the police are in Andover warning the public about a homicidal maniac planning to strike in Andover. The same thing happens in the next town Mr. Cust visits, Bexhill.
He quickly becomes confused. Does he have something to do with the murders? With his terrible headaches, Mr. Cust sometimes doesn’t remember what he does… Originally aired May 18, 1943.

The Mysterious Traveler Behind The Locked Door

Written and directed by Robert Arthur and David Kogan, the radio series was sponsored by Adams Hats. It began on the Mutual Broadcasting System, December 5, 1943, continuing in many different timeslots until September 16, 1952. The lonely sound of a distant locomotive heralded the arrival of the malevolent narrator, portrayed by Maurice Tarplin.
Tonight’s episode, Behind the Locked Door, was a popular, much-requested episode which takes place in total darkness and was repeated several times during the years. Two archaeologists discover a century-old wagon train that had been sealed in a cave following a landslide. When their Native American guide is mysteriously and brutally attacked, the two, now lost in the darkness, conclude that the descendants of the wagon train are still living in the cave. Or are they?
Only 75 of the original 370 Mysterious Traveler episodes still exist. The popularity of the series spawned other supernatural shows, such as The Sealed Book. With scripts by a Mysterious Traveler writer and Tarplin as host-narrator, The Strange Dr. Weird was a nearly identical program which we will air in future MMM shows.



Alka Seltzer

This show has a LOT going on. Tonight, we present eight “shows” in our one hour time allotment. Here they are, more or less in order:

Alka Seltzer Time – Originally aired 10/23/53

Believe it Or Not!

Vic and Sade: Christmas Present – Originally aired 11/26/43

Five Minute Mysteries: The Jules buck Murder

NBC News Commentary: The End of World War II

Grand Slam, originally aired 8/23/49

Ellery Queen’s Minute Mystery: The Curious Gangland Killings

and finally, Incredible, but TRUE.


Fibber McGee & Molly and Boston Blackie

Chester Morris as Boston Blackie
Fibber McGee and Molly was an American comedy series which maintained its popularity over decades. It premiered on NBC in 1935 and continued until its demise in 1959. Jim and Marian Jordan, real-life husband and wife, met when they were their teens, married in 1918 and stayed together until Marian’s death in 1961. For station WMAQ in Chicago, beginning in April 1931, the Jordans and their writer Donald Quinn created Smackout, a 15-minute daily program which centered on a general store and its proprietor, Luke Grey (Jim), a storekeeper with a penchant for tall tales and a perpetual dearth of whatever his customers wanted: He always seemed “smack out of it.” Marian Jordan portrayed both a lady named Marian and a little girl named Teeny, as well as playing musical accompaniment on piano. During the show’s run, Marian Jordan voiced a total of 69 different characters in it. Smackout was picked up by NBC in April 1933 and broadcast nationally until August 1935.
The Fibber McGee & Molly show made good use of running gags, probably the most well remembered being McGee’s junk-filled closet, the contents of which always crashed down on anyone that happened to open the door.
This show, Big Money for Old Books, centers around Fibber’s Horatio Alger collection and originally aired 2/17/1948.

Boston Blackie: Polly Morrison’s Gun Collection
After several months of shows, I thought it was time to “come home” and present home town-guy Boston Blackie on the Matinee. Boston Blackie is old, much older than even the radio and film series which many of us have seen and heard. The original tales of Blackie were written by Jack Boyle in the early 20th Century. “The Price of Principle” was a short story in the July 1914 issue of The American Magazine. Boyle’s character also turned up in Cosmopolitan. In 1917, Redbook published the novelette “Boston Blackie’s Mary,” and the magazine brought the character back with “The Heart of the Lily” (February, 1921). Boyle’s stories were collected in the book Boston Blackie (1919), which was reprinted in 1979 by Gregg Press. There were even early film adaptations of the stories done in the silent era. Columbia Films revived the Boston Blackie film series in 1941 with a 58 minute story starring Chester Morris, who plays Blackie in our show tonight. The radio series began in 1944 as a summer replacement for Amos & Andy on NBC. It was revived on Mutual (starring Richard Kollmar) in April of 1945 and ran until 1949. But even then, Blackie was not finished as the show was developed into a television series in 1951 which ran for 58 episodes. As late as 2009, Boston Blackie is still thrilling audiences, this time in Graphic novel format. Boston Blackie: Bloody Shame (Moonstone Noir) by Stefan Petrucha (Author), Kirk Van Wormer (Illustrator), Chris Burnham (Illustrator) is available today at many bookstores and online. This episode originally aired on July 28th, 1944.


Show #1 The Secrets of Scotland Yard and Abbott & Costello

Secrets of Scotland YardWelcome Michael’s Midnight Matinee.

Our first show, originally broadcast on 6/28/11

This week’s show features: The Secrets of Scotland Yard which is undated but probably from 1951 and The Abbot and Costello Program The Matrimonial Agency from October 26, 1944.

The Secrets of Scotland Yard starring Clive Brook originated on the Canadian Broadcasting System in 1950 and ran there until 1953. The show began a new life on Mutual in March of 1957 and ran weekly through June 12, 1958. This was not the end of the show as the University of Texas at Austin started playing reruns in 1974. I believe that this recording was made at that time.

One of the most well known and well loved comedy duos on Radio, Film or Television Abbott and Costello delighted audiences for years and continue to do so today. This show, The Matrimonial Agency is one of my very favorites.

Next Up: The Shadow and Candy Matson