14 January: Not-so-dizzy Miss Lizzie

Suspense: Fall River Tragedy (CBS, 1952)

Moorehead, "the first lady of Suspense." (Photo: CBS.)

Moorehead, “the first lady of Suspense.” (Photo: CBS.)

In perhaps a minor masterpiece of understatement, the TruTV network’s Website Crime Library will put it like this:

The Lizzie Borden case has mystified and fascinated those interested in crime for over one hundred years. Very few cases in American history have attracted as much attention as the hatchet murders of Andrew J. Borden and his wife, Abby Borden. The bloodiness of the acts in an otherwise respectable late nineteenth century domestic setting is startling. Along with the gruesome nature of the crimes is the unexpected character of the accused, not a hatchet-wielding maniac, but a church-going, Sunday-school-teaching, respectable, spinster-daughter, charged with parricide, the murder of parents, a crime worthy of Classical Greek tragedy. This is a murder case in which the accused is found not guilty for the violent and bloody murders of two people. There were the unusual circumstances considering that it was an era of swift justice, of vast newspaper coverage, evidence that was almost entirely circumstantial, passionately divided public opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the accused, incompetent prosecution, and acquittal.

A youthful Lizzie Borden.

A youthful Lizzie Borden.

Even more than a century after her acquittal, her case having remained secured in the fold of a divided American imagination, there would be those seriously trying to re-prosecute the case, most notably a group of Stanford Law School faculty, students, and alumni, in a mock trial over which two sitting Supreme Court Justices (William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O’Connor) would preside . . . and still concluding Lizzie Borden not guilty.

And for all the notoriety that would keep the case alive in American thought and consciousness into the 21st Century, the murders of Andrew and Abby Boren will yet remain an unsolved crime.

Along the way, however, the Borden case also inspires a radio drama or three, perhaps none as terse and understated as tonight’s offering. Billed by now as “the first lady of Suspense,” Agnes Moorehead has almost as classic a vehicle as Lizzie Borden as she’s had as Leona Stevenson in the larger-than-life “Sorry, Wrong Number.”

Moorehead is Borden as an older woman, inviting a reporter to her home quietly to hear her recap her life, notoriety, and infamous murder trial. We’ll spare the spoilers, of course, but this is not at all a bad speculatoin on how Borden herself actually saw the case and the trial, all things considered. And, of course, Moorehead is her usual riveting self.

Proesecutor: Joseph Kearns. Additional cast: Peggy Webber, Herb Butterfield, Rolfe Sedan, Stuffy Singer, William Wright. Music: Lucien Morowick, Lud Gluskin. Director: Elliott Lewis. Writer: Gil Doud.


Tune In Today . . .


The Great Gildersleeve: The Engagement Defence (NBC, 1945)—Harold Peary, Walter Tetley, Earle Ross, Lillian Randolph, Lurene Tuttle, Bea Benaderet, Richard LeGrand, Shirley Mitchell. When not wrestling with how to comfort Leroy after he’s been handed a bloody nose defending his uncle over Dolores Del Rey, Uncle Mort wrestles with Hooker’s idea for defending himself over her breach-of-promise suit—which depends on an old paramour. Uh, huh . . . Writers: John Whedon, Sam Moore.

The Old Gold Comedy Theater: Nothing But the Truth (NBC, 1945)—Anne Baxter, Alan Young. A stockbroker promises his daughter a double stake for setting up a local charity, while his young associate joins colleagues in betting he can’t lie for 24 hours. A too-clipped adaptation of the 1941 Bob Hope-Paulette Goddard film vehicle but engaging anyway. Adapted from the screenplay by Ken Englund and Don Hartman; based on the novel by Frederic S. Isham.

The Great Gildersleeve: Encouraging Romance (NBC, 1948)—Harold Peary, Mary Lee Robb, Walter Tetley, Lillian Randolph, Richard LeGrand, Bea Benaderet, Arthur Q. Bryan, Earle Ross. Flighty dater Marjorie seems serious about one particular fellow at long enough last, a horseman, surprising and dismaying Gildersleeve until he decides encouraging it just might discourage it . . . he hopes. So it lacks horse sense . . . Writers: John Elliott, Andy White.


Crime Drama

The Whistler: Hit and Run (CBS; AFRS Rebroadcast, 1946)—Bill Forman (as the Whistler), Lurene Tuttle, unidentified cast. Mildred Hardwick has second thoughts about leaving her shiftless, boozing husband; her would be next-husband doubles back to drive her home, and they’d rather risk hit and run charges for running him down unwittingly than let their affair be exposed—which leads to a blackmail attempt. Boilerplate soapishness here and there but not the worst instance of that syndrome. Writer: Unidentified. (Note: Some of the introduction and all the closing music and credits missing from this recording.)

Boston Blackie: Blackie and the Fur Thefts (Blue Network, 1947)—Dick Kollmar, Jan Minor, Maurice Tarplin. Blackie’s the intended fall guy for fur thieves Janet Corning, an old friend who asks him to secure one of the stolen furs without telling him just what was in it; and, Harry Barlowe, who’s wanted for murder in Kansas City but might yet be wanted for murder in Boston. Fans will like it. Writers: Unidentified.

The Whistler: The Silent Partner (CBS, 1948)—Bill Bouchee, David Ellis, unidentified additional cast. Three decades after inheriting his father’s dairy and ranch, Matt Robertson learns his partner Wilk Cain—who lords over him that he, Cain, saved the ranch from dissipation and bankruptcy—buys an adjacent ranch, which may impact the two men and a parolee Robertson employs . . . a parolle in whom Cain’s daughter has a romantic interest. Stay with it. Writers: Joel Malone, Harold Swanton.

The Whistler: The Little Things (CBS, 1951)—Lawrence Dobkin, Gigi Pearson, Jack Moyles, Ed Max, Tony Odair. Parolee Johnny Larson—fresh from prison after a female accomplice’s double cross, swearing to leave no small detail untended again—returns to his old gang, even if it means keeping a wary eye on their new moll . . . who has him even more wary when she warns him against a coming bank job. Hold on. Writer: James J. Cullen.

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