Saturday, January 19, 2019

Inner Sanctum Radio Horror

INNER SANCTUM MYSTERIES, horror anthology. 

BROADCAST HISTORY: Jan. 7, 1941–Aug. 29, 1943, Blue Network. 25m, Tuesdays at 9:35 until March 16, 1941; then 30m, Sundays at 8:30. Carter’s Pills. Sept. 4, 1943–April 17, 1950, CBS. 30m, Saturdays at 8:30 until Nov. 22, 1944; Wednesdays at 9 until Jan. 2, 1945; Tuesdays at 9 until June 18, 1946; then Mondays at 8. Colgate through Dec. 27, 1944; Lipton Tea, Jan. 2, 1945–June 18, 1946; Bromo Seltzer, July 29, 1946–April 17, 1950. Sept. 4, 1950–June 18, 1951, ABC. 30m, Mondays at 8. Mars Candy. June 22–Oct. 5, 1952, CBS. 30m, Sundays at 8. Pearson Pharmaceutical. HOSTS: Raymond Edward Johnson until May 22, 1945; Paul McGrath beginning Sept. 28, 1945. Also: House Jameson. CAST: Film stars known for the macabre—Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, etc.—in lead roles, ca. 1941–42. New York radio performers in subsequent leads and in support: Richard Widmark, Larry Haines, Everett Sloane, Lesley Woods, Anne Seymour, Stefan Schnabel, Arnold Moss, etc. ANNOUNCERS: Ed Herlihy for Carter’s Pills; Dwight Weist for Bromo Seltzer; Allen C. Anthony for Mars Candy. CREATOR-PRODUCER-DIRECTOR: CREATOR-PRODUCER-DIRECTOR: Himan Brown. WRITERS: Milton Lewis, John Roeburt, Robert Sloane, Robert Newman, Harry and Gail Ingram, Sigmund Miller, etc. SOUND EFFECTS: Keene Crockett, Harold Johnson Jr. (ABC); Jack Amrhein, Bobby Prescott (CBS). Himan Brown would tell the story years later: in a studio where he once worked, the door to the basement gave off an ungodly creak whenever anyone opened it. One day it occurred to him—he would make that door a star. It was a classic moment in radio broadcasting, for the show that grew out of it would be remembered decades after radio itself ceased to be dramatically viable. The campy horrors of Inner Sanctum Mysteries began and ended with that creaking door. It may have been the greatest opening signature device ever achieved. It pushed its listeners into that dank inner chamber of the mind, where each week for a decade were staged some of the most farfetched, unbelievable, and downright impossible murder tales ever devised in a medium not known for restraint. Though the show was a strange combination of horror and humor, the stories were played strictly for chills. No matter how strained the conclusion or how deeply into his bag of improbables a writer had to reach to knit it all together, there was never a hint that this dark world was anything but real. At the same time, the stories were introduced by a host who trotted out every conceivable ghoulish pun in his effort to liven things up. It opened to grim organ music, a deep generic creepiness that set the stage. Someone was about to die, and horribly at that. The organ became one of the star players: peppered by sharp stings and cascading cresendos, it trickled through the show, brooding, ever-present, worrying, fretting, a macabre bed for the narrator’s voice or a sudden revelation for the villain. This was the epitome of radio melodrama. The opening music was a study in contrasts: three bars in the lowest register, then a sting, and the announcement—Inner Sanctum Mysteries! A doorknob turned. The door swung in slowly, the creaking agonized and broken. Then came Raymond, the host, with gruesome jokes about losing one’s head or hanging around after the show, or perhaps beating the high cost of dying. Ectoplasm with two lumps of cheer. And now, if your scalpels are sharpened and ready, we’ll proceed with the business of the evening … Raymond’s story was about to begin. The early days of Inner Sanctum gave a generous mix of classics and original stories. Boris Karloff was a regular, appearing in, among others, the Poe classics The Telltale Heart and The Fall of the House of Usher. Peter Lorre was heard in The Horla, by Maupassant, and George Coulouris, Paul Lukas, and Claude Rains were also starred performers. But Karloff propelled it: fueled by his film portrayals of Frankenstein’s monster, he appeared more than 15 times in 1941–42. While the network was under pressure from parents’ groups to curtail graphic violence, Karloff wanted even more gore. His public expected it, he argued. But Karloff was gone as a regular by 1943, to return only in infrequent guest roles. The series settled into its own niche, the roles enacted by the unsung radio professionals of New York. The stories turned on the wildest happenstance. Only on Inner Sanctum could a man be haunted for 40 years by the wailing of his dead wife, then learn that the sound was the wind rushing through a hole in the wall where he had sealed her body. Only here would a man be sentenced to life imprisonment after committing murder to obtain a scientific formula that made him immortal. Clich├ęd literary devices were shamelessly used to fool listeners, the most common of these employing the first-person killer viewpoint, the narrator who was insane but seemed normal. Self-loathing had buried his crimes beyond conscious recall, giving the writers the freedom to conjure up all kinds of ghostly manifestations. Dead men were seen in crowds; ghosts fluttered in the window at midnight; voices wafted on the wind. Without benefit of the guilty knowledge, the listener was recruited as the killer’s sidekick. The listener then saw that ghost, heard that wail, got that chilling call from a long-dead spouse, and the fear of the killer-narrator became the listener’s lullabye. At the end, the host returned for the body count. Everybody dead but the cat, and we only over-looked him because we couldn’t find him … heh-heh-heh … And now it’s time to close that squeaking door … Good niiii-iiight … Pleasant dreeeeeaaaaammmmmsssss … And the agonized squeak reversed, and the door slammed shut. Raymond Edward Johnson used his first name as host; Paul McGrath, who followed in 1945, had a lighter, brighter demeanor, losing a bit of Johnson’s underlying menace. Though the series took its name from, and promoted, Simon and Schuster’s Inner Sanctum line of mystery novels, the radio stories were mostly originals. More than 100 shows are available, valued today as high camp.

Listen to the program on our station: Mystery and Suspense radio network. 

Dunning, John. On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (p. 347). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition. 


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