20 November: Twins’ peak

Tuttle in a publicity splice for "Death Sees Double." (Photo: CBS.)

Tuttle in a publicity splice for “Death Sees Double.” (Photo: CBS.)

In 1945, Radio Life bid fair to explain just how on earth Lurene Tuttle managed to bring off what was considered a radio first: playing identical twins of near-similar voice, on an episode of The Whistler, without tripping over herself or otherwise getting caught in a verbal pratfall or three.

Tuttle has been down this path once before, sort of: When Bette Davis was engaged to play a troubled woman and her alter-ego, of very different voices, on Arch Oboler’s Plays, Davis was supposed to be talking as one character while the other was crying. Tuttle stood in to provide the crying.

But tonight the show is going to be different, considerably, with apologies to Ed Wynn. I’ll let Radio Life take it from here:

Now a radio veteran, recognized as one of the airlanes’ most accomplished actresses, Lurene encountered a similar problem in the script of “Death Sees Double” when one sister is heard laughing hysterically while the other is talking. Producer Allen solved the situation by having Lurene record the laughter before the broadcast—the recording to be skillfully inserted on cue by the soundman, Berne Surrey, during the show, and supplied the sound of feminine footsteps in the initial murder scene when one sister kills the other.

Particularly difficult for actress Tuttle was this death scene, during which, with the pitch of her voice and the position of her head in relation to the microphone, she had to switch the sisters’ personalities—making the previously positive character become the negative one, as the weaker girl became the stronger of the two. [E]nacting the death struggle of the victim written on the bottom of one page of her script, while the dialogue of the triumphant murderess continued immediately at the top of the next sheet.

“I don’t think I can manage,” the actress protested, “to choke myself and turn the page at the same time.” So the sheets were stapled together to form one long page. In all, Miss Tuttle did six pages of solid, rapid dialogue with herself!

She worked with two microphones, holding her mouth close to one for the role of Martha, turning her face toward the other mike, place a few feet away, when speaking as Mona. The intricate task of engineering the show was handled by Robert Anderson.

The dual role necessitated a five-hour rehearsal for the broadcast, in contrast to the usual three hours spent in preparation for a Whistler airing.

“The extra two hours,” smiled producer [George W.] Allen, “were spent in seeing if this could be done.”

So much for my previous supposition that, since pre-recording was yet to become an accepted industry practise even in 1944-45, we couldn’t determine for, ahem, dead last certain whether cast and crew performed it live again, or whether a transcription disk recorded during the original performance would be used at air time.

As it is, the performance only adds to Lurene Tuttle’s radio legend. Deftly, and magnificently.



The Whistler: Death Sees Double (CBS, 1944)

Yes, this is the same as the 6 November 1944 episode known first as “The Twins.” Unfortunately, the original performance was pre-empted, allowing CBS’s national network to carry a speech by Republican presidential aspirant Thomas E. Dewey, the former New York governor challenging Franklin D. Roosevelt, in the first of Dewey’s two failed White House bids.

Thus it airs tonight . . . under the title by which it becomes far better known. So enjoy the story once again.

Beauteous twins Mona and Martha Spencer (Tuttle), heretofore as matched in their devotion to each other as in their surface physiology, become only too ugly when retiring Martha falls in love with outgoing Mona’s husband-to-be, Bill (Joseph Kearns), provoking Martha to a grave act that may yet backfire upon her—especially since she barely discovers Bill has his own dangerous enough secret.

If it seems at first to be little short of boilerplate, pay attention both to the understated writing (for the most part). And, be reminded that, as Radio Life pointed forth, at one point in the script Tuttle has six pages of unbroken dialogue between the sisters, compelling her to the aforesaid use of two microphones and their distances, plus her own sense of pitch and timing between the two differently-arrayed mikes, to make it work.

Which she does. Impeccably.

Additional cast: Unidentified. The Whistler: Bill Forman. Announcer: Bob Anderson. Music: Wilbur Hatch; whistling theme by Dorothy Roberts. Director: George W. Allen. Writer: Ralph Rose.


Further Channel Surfing . . .


The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny: Too Hot to Handle (NBC, 1938)—Jack Benny, Phil Harris, Don Wilson, Mary Livingstone, Kenny Baker. Benny’s stuck on the phone with a comely lady, amusing Phil, Don, and Mary no end as they scurry to keep him from catching on; and, a genial poke at the Clark Gable/Myrna Loy vehicle, Too Hot to Handle. Not too hot for laughs, either. Announcer: Don Wilson. Music: Phil Harris Orchestra, Kenny Baker. Writers: Ed Beloin, Bill Morrow.

Vic & Sade: A Miserable Object of Public Ridicule; or, Rush is Humiliated on Thanksgiving (NBC, 1941)—Art Van Harvey, Bernadine Flynn, Bill Idelson. A quiet evening home turns to alarm when Rush is ready to paste buddy Blazer over . . . revealing the dinner utensils Sade leaves him at each meal. Who says you can’t make this stuff up? Writer/director: Paul Rhymer.

Vic & Sade: Smelly Clark, The Barber (NBC, 1942)—Bill Idelson, Art Van Harvey, Bernadine Flynn. Rush may be taking a big risk letting his buddy give him a haircut—which he learns retrospectively, when he’s in no hurry to take his cap off or let Vic help him. Only the boy’s head is clipped badly. Writer/director: Paul Rhymer.

Fibber McGee & Molly: Architect McGee, Construction Supervisor (NBC, 1945)—Jim and Marian Jordan, Shirley Mitchell, Arthur Q. Bryan, Bea Benaderet, Gale Gordon. The Frank Lloyd Wrong of 79 Wistful Vista just can’t resist wanting to offer his sage and barely solicited counsel when a new house begins construction next door—and the crew mistakes him for the owner. Genius playing with mental blocks. Writers: Don Quinn, Phil Leslie.

Vic & Sade: Miss Korkell Borrows a Cup of Sugar (CBS, 1945)—Art Van Harvey, Bernadine Flynn, Bill Idelson, Ruth Perrott, Johnny Coons. Vic is just a little flabbergasted that Edith Korkell plans to walk twenty blocks over to the Gook house just to borrow a cup of sugar, though Sade figures the lady and her husband merely wish to be friendly—which they do, with or without every relative seeming to drop on by as well. Only this crew. Writer/director: Paul Rhymer.

The Great Gildersleeve: Improving Leroy’s Studies (NBC, 1946)—Harold Peary, Walter Tetley, Mary Lee Robb, Lillian Randolph, Louise Erickson, Earle Ross. A rough rainy-day bus trip home from the water works and a surprising conversation with Eve gives Gildersleeve a different view of how his home atmosphere impacts Leroy’s education. Gentle humour. Writers: John Whedon, Sam Moore.

The Jack Carson Show: Building Materials (NBC, 1946)—Jack Carson, Arthur Treacher, Dave Willock, Irene Ryan, Norma Jean Nilsson, Herb Vigran, Phil Baker. Buying a live rooster to weather the beef crisis has Jack bent on going into the poultry business, beginning with a hen for his rooster, but Treacher suggests building the coop first. Which could turn into a real game of chicken. Writers: Leonard L. Levinson, Lou Fulton.

The Lucky Strike Program Starring Jack Benny: Jack Goes to Rehearsal (CBS, 1949)—Jack Benny, Mel Blanc, Ed Wynn, Mary Livingstone, Don Wilson, Dennis Day. Benny ponders selling his rickety old Maxwell, whose motor dies (yet again) at an intersection, prompting a few gags and reminiscences from guest Wynn, before studio praises to Wynn prick Benny’s vanity no end. The usual charm. Writers: George Balzer, Milt Josefsberg, Sam Perrin, John Tackaberry.

Our Miss Brooks: The Party Line (CBS, 1949)—Eve Arden, Jane Morgan, Gale Gordon, Richard Crenna, Jeff Chandler. Nothing to do with politics, everything to do with the telephone—on which a party line’s incessant gossip may block Connie from hooking up to a possible promotion. The usual first-rate Brooksobatics. Writer: Al Lewis.

The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show: The Talented Children’s Screen Test (NBC, 1949)—Phil Harris, Alice Faye, Anne Whitfield, Jeanine Roos, Robert North, Elliott Lewis, Lois Forman, Walter Tetley. After watching the girls in their first school play, a studio scout wants Phyllis for a film, Little Alice handles it the typical Harris manner (withering sarcasm), and Alice blanches at what it might do to both girls. Those who know Faye’s real-life distaste for the film industry of the time will appreciate the none-too-genteel digging especially. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.


Crime Drama

The Clock: Lover Boy (ABC, 1947)—Hart McGuire, Ken Wayne, Wynne Nelson, Moyer Redmond, John Urich, Brian James. A self-doubting playboy who still manages to fleece his lovers now has more than he can handle, including a sexy drive-in waitress who only seems numb from the neck up . . . and whose steady boyfriend resembles him almost exactly. The acting lifts it somewhat above the customary cliché this scenario usually threatens to become. Writer: Lawrence Klee.

The Whistler: Letters of Aaron Burr (CBS, 1949)—Wally Maher, Doris Singleton, Bill Forman. The letters turn up inside a blue serge suit freshly-liberated convict Ernie Madden discards in favour of a more attractive ensemble, and a young woman who followed him from the prison gates to town seems inordinately interested in those letters—which turn out to be forgeries by an elder inmate. It has its moments. Writer: Joel Malone.

The Mysterious Traveler: The Most Famous Man in the World (Mutual, 1951)—Maurice Tarplin, Lawson Zerbe, Jan Miner, possibly Ann Shepherd. Needing extra money with a baby due, Frank and Mabel Richards rent one of their rooms to a couple predicting Frank’s fame and claiming to have time traveled from the year 2228 . . . in order to assassinate a Senate candidate destined to become the founding father of an America-based world dictatorship, even if the assassination ends the time traveling wife’s life—because she is a descendant of the man. If you’re looking for a candidate to name this series’ single most gripping installment, you’ll have a very hard time topping this one. Writer/directors: Robert A. Arthur, David Kogan.


Drama/Dramatic Anthology

Romance: No Time for Comedy (CBS, 1945)—James Stewart reprising a surprisingly clean condensation of his 1940 film role: His comedies great successes, playwright Gaylord Easterbrook lets an arts patron talk him into writing a tragedy, instead—which nearly makes his happy marriage a tragedy. If you can handle Stewart sounding a little (and uncharacteristically) weaselish, stay with it. Writers: Joel Malone, Stanley Rubin, adapting the play by S.N. Behrman and the screenplay by Julius and Philip Epstein.



Suspense: Night on Red Mountain (CBS, 1960)—Lawson Zerbe, Jim Bowles, Mandel Kramer, Carmen McRae, Bob Dreighton, Ruth Tobin, Bill Adams. During a brittle blizzard, a gas station owner comes under seige . . . by members of that old gang of his. You just might feel the blizzard chill during this one. Writer: William N. Robson.



Gunsmoke: Dutch George (CBS, 1955)—William Conrad, John Dehner, Georgia Ellis, Parley Baer, Vic Perrin, Jim Hunter. A hustling horse thief with an apparent knack for evading jury convictions puzzles Dillon, who once knew him as a legitimate enough businessman. Deftly written. Writer: John Dunkel. (Advisory: Flawed tape recording.)

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