Space odyssey: Old-time radio listening, 19 November

Dimension X: Competition (NBC, 1950)

Les Tremayne, one of the New York actors involved heavily enough with Dimension X . . . (Photo: NBC)

Suspense and Escape dipped into the genre once in awhile. Quiet, Please was a very occasional dipper but focused, as always (and brilliantly), on the psychological fantasy first. Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers were strictly for the kids and often as not insulted even their intelligence. Not until 1950, when Destination Moon becomes a film hit, does old-time radio find an impetus for a full science fiction series, and the first such show, Dimension X, will prove as well to be the best of its breed.

Ernest Kinoy and George Lefferts adapt stories by the formative greats of the genre, including Isaac Asimov, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Graham Doar, Robert Heinlein, Kurt Vonnegut, and others; the New York version of Radio Row provide the bulk of the talent, including but not limited to veterans Inge Adams, Denise Alexander, Joan Alexander, Joseph Curtin, Joseph De Santis, Bill Griffis, Jack Grimes, Leon Janney, Raymond Edward Johnson, Joe Julian, Jan Miner, Bill Quinn, Luis van Rooten, Alexander Scourby, Les Tremayne, Lawson Zerbe, and others.

And although it was done well with remarkably taut production, direction, and sound direction, the very thing that makes Dimension X so memorable is the thing that also ensures an extremely short life: the original series will last shy of a year and a half, unable to break beyond its too-obvious niche—or overcome its erratic, almost loss-leader scheduling—to the broader audience the genre would enjoy a decade and a half later, on television, courtesy of the like of The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits (both of which are as much psychological fantasies, children of Quiet, Please, as science fiction), and (especially) Star Trek.

Dimension X‘s successor series, X Minus One (to be born in 1955), will suffer a slightly less comparable fate; with the same writers (though their sources will be limited predominantly to stories published in Galaxy) and many of the same performers, over the same network, X Minus One will manage to endure for almost three years in original production, in spite of scheduling that will sometimes be even more erratic than its predecessor.

What both also have in common: Science fiction buffs of the 21st Century might not recognise the shows as sci-fi entries. Unlike the kiddie shows that preceded them, but like the psychological thrillers that informed them in part, Dimension X and X Minus One will keep most focus on characters and plot, not bizarro, suffocating sound effects. Even the periodic echo, theramin, and clankingly ethereal sound punctuations (its most die hard fans among future collectors must admit Dimension X‘s opening is classic sci-fi corn) are accents, not the thing itself.

Tonight: Colonists traveling from earth to various new worlds in the Red Star Quadrant receive unexpected notice that they now must choose a single world on which to live, unnerving most of the travelers—including a woman (Elaine Ross) determined to reunite with her sister on a world other than the one to which she’s been assigned—and leading to subterfuge involving competing interests in a technology by which the original plan might have been kept intact.

Arthur: Les Tremayne. Additional cast: Unidentified. Host: Norman Rose. Announcer: Robert Warren. Music: Bert Berman. Director: Ed King. Writer: Ernest Kinoy, based on the story by E.M. Hull and A.E. van Vogt.

 

FURTHER CHANNEL SURFING . . .

Adventure

Escape: Casting the Runes (CBS, 1947)—A British authority on medieval life and customs (John McIntire) isn’t laughing at the idea of being under curses anymore, after he criticises a book of alchemy and the review is spurned by an academic association whose secretary (Ian Wolfe) warns him the last critic of the author’s (William Conrad) work died mysteriously. Additional cast: Unknown. Announcer: Roy Rowan. Music: Cy Feuer. Director: William N. Robson. Writers: Irving Ravetch, John Dunkel, based on the story by M.R. James.

Escape: Journey Into Fear (CBS, 1950)—In Istanbul, British engineer (Ben Wright) trying to keep ahead of German agents willing to kill to stop his work ducks shots and learns the hard way from a Turkish secret police commander that a mere burglar was sent to murder him, but his planned escape via cargo vessel proves a little less than safe passage. Considering what had to be trimmed to make the story radio-ready, it’s pretty effective. Additional cast: Wilms Herbert, Edgar Barrier, Rolfe Sedan, Ann Morrison, Jack Kruschen, Lou Krugman, Shimen Ruskin. Announcer: Unknown. Music: Ivan Ditmars. Director: Norman MacDonnell. Writer: Antony Ellis, based on the novel by Eric Ambler.

 

Comedy

The Abbott & Costello Show: Knights in Shining Armor (NBC, 1942)—Live from the Sixth Ferrying Group of the Air Transport Command in Long Beach, California: Bud (Abbott) urges Lou (Costello) to hurry up and hire their next leading lady, whom he thinks will be guest Merle Oberon. It’s the sort of thing they play with numerous enough times on the air, but their near-effortless ability to strangle it into their customary omelette makes you forget what a cliché it’s become even this early in their radio game. Botsford/Bugs Bunny: Mel Blanc. Pierre: Possibly Bert Gordon. Announcer: Ken Niles. Music: Lee Stevens and his Orchestra, the Camel Five, Connie Haines. Writers: Martin A. Ragaway, possibly Parke Levy, possibly Pat Costello.

The Great Gildersleeve: A Reception for Miss Del Rey (NBC, 1944)—After helping Hooker (Earle Ross) press a new suit for a new dance school proprietress, Gildersleeve (Harold Peary) is willing to help Hooker host a reception for the lady—including convincing Gildy’s snobbish former fiance Leila (Shirley Mitchell) and his wary current flame Eve (Bea Benaderet, who also plays Mrs. Vandervort) to attend at all, knowing the lady’s a rather fetching number in her own right. Peavey: Richard LeGrand. Leroy: Walter Tetley. Birdie: Lillian Randolph. Marjorie: Lurene Tuttle. Floyd: Arthur Q. Bryan. Additional cast: Unknown. Announcer: Ken Carpenter. Director: Frank Pittman. Music: Claude Sweetin Orchestra. Writers: John Whedon, Sam Moore.

The Life of Riley: Turkey Hunt (ABC, 1944)—Inspired somewhat by Babs’ (Peggy Conklin) high school play, Riley (William Bendix) can’t wait to bring in a Thanksgiving turkey he hunted himself—but the family can’t believe the turkey accepted the challenge to hunt the turkey in the first place. If you’re a fan, you’ll love it. If you’re not, be advised that this show has done and will do it better. Peg: Paula Winslowe. Junior: Conrad Binyon. Digger O’Dell: John Brown. Annoucner: Ken Niles. Director: Possibly Al Kaye. Writers: Ruben Ship, Ashmead Scott, Alan Lipscott.

The Old Gold Comedy Theater: Vivacious Lady (NBC, 1944)—Adapted from the 1938 Ginger Rogers/James Stewart vehicle: While visiting New York to retrieve a wayward cousin, a youthful professor (Lee Bowman) falls in love with and marries a nightclub singer (Linda Darnell)—who makes it difficult if not impossible for her husband to break it to his tyrannical father. Keith Morgan: Jack Edwards, Jr. Host/director: Harold Lloyd. Adapted from the 1938 screenplay by P.J. Wolfson.

The Mel Blanc Show: The Astrologer (CBS, 1949)—Heartsick to learn Mr. Colby (Joseph Kearns) plans to sell the supermarket and move the family out of town, the better to get Betty (Mary Jane Croft) away from him, Mel (Blanc) tries to scotch the deal by mimicking old man Colby and warning against the deal when the buyer shows up a day early, on the advice of his astrologer, which leaves Mel seeing stars in more ways than one. Announcer: Bud Easton. Music: Victor Miller. Director: Joe Rines. Writer: Mac Benoff.

The Jack Benny Program: Jack and Dinah in London (CBS, 1950)—After a command performance for the British royal family, Jack (Benny) plans his first show since returning from London, which means a musical headache from Phil (Harris), a few wisecracks from Dennis (Day), and brings forth Dinah Shore to sing “You’re Just In Love” (from Call Me Madam) with Dennis, while Mary (Livingstone) has to get the skinny on the London trip from Dinah. Additional cast: Mel Blanc.

Our Miss Brooks: Thanksgiving Turkey (CBS, 1950)—The problem is, nobody knows just whothe turkey is, when the mixups begin after Connie (Eve Arden) sets out to avoid a Thanksgiving alone. Mrs. Davis: Jane Morgan. Walter: Richard Crenna. Boynton: Jeff Chandler. Conklin: Gale Gordon. Harriet: Gloria McMillan. Stretch: Leonard Smith. Annoucner: Bob LeMond. Music: Wilbur Hatch. Writer/director: Al Lewis.

Fibber McGee & Molly: Fibber Goes to Bed at Seven O’Clock (NBC, 1953)—A day after he’s home from the duck hunt, McGee (Jim Jordan) surprises Molly (Marian Jordan) by appearing in pajamas at a very early evening hour. But since he’s exhausted from five days on the pond, she’s determined to let him sleep early and long—a determination that won’t be easy to live up to, when McGee is shaken into restlessness by two visitors, one of whom gets him fuming over the net results of the duck hunt. The Old-Timer: Bill Thompson. Doc Gamble: Arthur Q. Bryan. Announcer: John Wald. Director: Max Hutto. Writers: Phil Leslie, Ralph Goodman.

Bob & Ray Present the CBS Radio Network: Wally Ballou on the Coming World’s Fair (Trick Question, 1959)—Our intrepid reporter (“He’s mandatory listening for all employees at Pompous Pith Helmet Works”) scopes the planning for the eventual 1964 New York World’s Fair, including emblem designer David L. McCelligan. Meanwhile, Arthur Shrank reports from WJIM Lansing, and Ray’s caught off guard when Bob asks if he’s found the music for Great Come and Get It Day. Writers/improvisors: Bob Elliott, Ray Goulding.

 

Crime Drama

The Whistler: Coincidence (CBS, 1945)—A twist on hell having no fury like a woman scorned . . . when the woman (possibly Betty Lou Gerson) falls in love with her brother-in-law, whose marriage to her sister (possibly Lurene Tuttle) has just collapsed, and her brother-in-law’s rejection drives her to set him up for murdering the sister who’s just committed suicide over their marital collapse. Additional cast: Unknown. The Whistler: Bill Forman. Announcer: Marvin Miller. Music: Wilbur Hatch. (Whistling: Dorothy Roberts.) Director: George W. Allen. Writer: Harold Swanton.

Broadway is My Beat: The Eugene Bullock Murder Case (CBS; AFRTS rebroadcast, 1949)—An out-of-towner who went out to buy his wife an expensive anniversary present is stabbed to death in the dance hall into which he detoured—unbeknownst to his wife, who has to identify him in the police morgue after his body is found on the doorstep of a sanitarium run by a questionable doctor. Clover: Larry Thor. Tartaglia: Charles Calvert. Additional cast: Unidentified. Announcer: Bill Anders. Music: Alexander Courage. Director: Elliott Lewis. Writers: Morton Fine, David Friedkin.

Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: The Guide to Murder Matter (CBS, 1961)—Still in Sarasota and still hoping to get in some serious fishing and no more work until he returns home, Johnny (Mandel Kramer) gets just what he’s hoping for, until his and Earl’s (Ian Martin) boat captain (Ivor Francis) shows him his vintage, one-owner Maxwell car . . . with an unexpected corpse slumped against the front seat. Dr. Hill: Lawson Zerbe. Police Lieutenant: Jim Bowles. Announcer: Art Hanna. Music: Ethel Huber. Director: Bruno Zirato, Jr. Writer: Jack Johnstone.

 

Mystery/Thriller

Suspense: The Black Door (CBS, 1961)—A story first used over a decade earlier on The Mysterious Traveler (that episode, alas, is lost): The discovery of a dead city—albeit one once inhabited by dog-headed moon creatures—comes from an archaeologist (Robert Readick) hoping to make his academic mark, receiving a grant to search for the lost City of the Fire God in Central America, meeting a native (Ralph Camargo) who claims to know the city’s location, agreeing to share any treasures they find . . . assuming any survive from an earthquake they inadvertently stir. This sort of absurdism surely must have an impact on the future masterminds of the likewise absurdist Indiana Jones filmseries. Additional cast: Unidentified. Announcer: George Walsh. Music: Ethel Huber. Director: Bruno Zirato, Jr. Writer: Robert Arthur.

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