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calendar   Friday - October 31, 2008

HALLOWEEN 2008 AND MEMORIES OF BETTER YEARS PAST.


A FEW THOUGHTS AT HALLOWEEN, 2008.

I suppose we all enjoy being frightened, as long as there’s no real danger to us.
That would explain why horror shows have been popular.
It certainly explains the popularity of the radio programs of my day.

Programs such as SUSPENSE, THE INNER SANCTUM and LIGHTS OUT to name just three.

An aside if I may and an interesting one. There are only two sounds in radio that are trademarked.  The creaking door of Inner Sanctum, and the NBC chimes.

I am not concerned with movies here but something oft referred to as the “Theater of the mind.” And trust me, it was.

Even commercials could be scary and one in particular, the Bromo Seltzer radio commercial leading into Inner Sanctum.

I think to fully appreciate what I’m saying the expression, you had to be there applies. 


The Bromo Seltzer radio commercial has never been equalled for chills.  Sure, you modern kids that were brought up with blood and gratuitous gore might not get all tingly.  But keep in mind the era I’m writing about.  The 1940’s to about 1953 or possibly 1955.  When I was growing up in the 40’s, it was a slower time, there wasn’t any TV yet, movies could be scary, The Mummy comes to mind, and sex hadn’t been invented yet. So for sheer thrills, listening to a radio mystery alone, at night , with the lights out, was thrilling.

The ad agency for Bromo Seltzer might have been the first to use something we’d call techie today. Well, I might.  They did it with the human voice and an organ. The organ of course was the staple for radio mysteries and soapers. 

Bromo Seltzer sponsored Inner Sanctum and you can easily find the program online today.  The commercial itself was boring as most are, BUT , the intro and lead right up to the show was creepy.
“Fight headache, threeeeee waaaaaysss – chug-chug- bromo seltzer, bromo seltzer, bromoseltzer..  Each repeat of the product name building and speeding up and giving the impression of a train leaving the station … choo-choo and that lonesome whistle leading up right onto that evening’s show.  Sometimes that was the best part of the program.  It set the stage for what was coming.

Bromo_Seltzer2_CUT.mp3

One of the times I believe my generation, and my parents as well, could justly use the term “The Good Old Days” and not suffer by comparison with more modern times and technology, was radio.
Roma Wines sponsored SUSPENSE, one of the most literate and well done programs of it’s time, referred to as the theater of thrills.  A producer of that show was the late William Spier who hired Orson Wells long before he became theee Orson Wells.  I know that because I did an interview with Mr. Spier at his home in Ct. many years ago.  He also wrote and directed a good many of the shows.

I feel so darn bad now that I hadn’t saved all the photos I had from so many years ago of some truly talented and wonderful people.
Of particular interest here is a show titled, “THE HOUSE IN CYPRESS CANYON.”
Even as an adult, that show and one other Suspense offering, “THE THING ON THE FORBLE BOARD” are still remembered by me today as chilling.  But by far the scariest was The House in Cypress Canyon.  It’s a much better offering in the chill factor then War of the Worlds. I would urge you to listen to it if you can make the time.  Go ahead. Listen to it and see if you don’t agree.
But it should be listened to as we did. With nothing to get in the way or interrupt the listening and concentration.  I guess we were pretty lucky. There wasn’t anything else to take our attention or get in the way.

http://ia341011.us.archive.org/2/items/SUSPENSE2/45-12-05_The_House_In_Cypress_Canyon.MP3

Apologies for the quality on the above. It’s simply there if anyone want to link and listen.  The quality isn’t bad all the way through and it’s still worth it.

And there was everyone’s other favorite along with Suspense, “THE INNER SANCTUM.”

After some three or so bars of organ music, the show would open and you’d hear Raymond turning a door knob and next you’d hear the sound of a squeaking door.
A longish squeak that of course suggested menace. 

The Inner Sanctum was hosted by Raymond. He called us friends, in a very creepy sort of way.  Good evening friends, won’t you come in.  This way. With his words and vowels drawn out and a slight menacing sound to his chuckle which wasn’t a chuckle at all.  Squeeeek went that door and once we were inside … SLAM
Then came some graveyard humor, and a laugh that was intended to make the listener shiver.  It always did.

People listened as much to hear Raymond as they did the program. Perhaps more. And believe me, he was always worth listening to, with that creepy yet somehow humorous voice. 

After the first commercial break Raymond would come back and immediately bring us back into his dark world and it was as though we’d never left for the break.
At the end of the program our host would intone; Well, now it’s time to close the squeaking door of the Inner Sanctum until next week.
So good niii-ight… Pleasant dreammmmssss?” Heh-heh-heh-heh-haaaaaaaaaaa!
And the way he drew out that word dreams as his voice rose at the end in a question, absolutely raised shivers up the spine.
(Sound effect: Squeaking door sloooowly closes shut.)

this link is just the intro and out, for the program. For brevity I cut out the show. But this short 1:52 clip give you the idea.
Inner_Sanctum_410518_Dead_Freight_CUT_CUT.Mp3

Raymond Edward Johnson was a great,great actor and voice from that period.  I had the honor to meet and be part of a group that helped the great man in his later years
when he was destitute and living alone in much reduced circumstances. We hunted for him and he was found, in a wheel chair and living on the second floor of a resident hotel in NH, overweight, broke and forgotten by all. He thought. Well not quite. We got him out of the hotel and into a VA hospital and in months he lost weight, his color was back as much as it would ever get, and he was on the mend.  In a sense. 
He was still suffering as he had for many years from MS.  But I met and shook hands with and helped a man I’d listened to for so long.  He gave me an old reel to reel tape which may well be the only one in existence, of dramatic readings he’d done in better years.  The man was a master of his craft.

In the early days of radio actors played multiple parts on many shows.  For example, Raymond was also Mandrake the Magician, Kato, on the Green Hornet, Don Winslow, of Don Winslow of the Navy and that’s just naming a few.
His sister was also in radio btw.  She played on a show my grandmother would never miss called, Ma Perkins.  Not for young boys of course. Boring to any but grandmas.

Raymond suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for a very long time. Called to Hollywood at one point, and I had the still photos once of the audition scenes, he just could not hide his condition although he tried.  He had a cane by then and tried to hide that. But his condition gave him away.

In 1997 he appeared at a gathering of the Friends of Old Time Radio. He delivered a reading from a portable bed.

Do you recall a movie with Richard Gere called “Power?” The year was 1986. 
In that movie, the lead played by Gere is on a private jet. He’s got a pair of drummers sticks and I think he was tapping out Sing-Sing-Sing with BG’s recording in the background.  We saw this movie in the theater.  So, this short man whose face you do not see is walking up the isle and Gere says to him, “Hi Jackson.” The actor replies hello back.  No more then a word and that was all we’d see of him.
I was the only person in that audience who knew exactly who that guy was with his one line word.  Damn near fell outta my seat.  Told the wife, my god. That was Jackson Beck. That was Jackson Beck.  I waited through the whole movie for his return but of course he never did.  But there was his name in the credits at the end of the movie. 

Who was Jackson Beck? Just the little man with the VERY BIG voice on radio who announced for every boy in America, “Look, Look up in the sky.  It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No. IT’S SUPERMAN.”

He worked right up into old age doing hundreds of voice overs and no doubt you’ve heard him on commercials in the 80s, on TV.  He was really short and so when I first met him at a dinner and gathering our radio organization held in Ct., I was shocked.
I expected someone huge because he had this large voice. No a loud voice mind you.  But big. 

So, what I’d intended as a Halloween thing has turned into a trip down memory lane.

It couldn’t be helped and no apologies forthcoming.  I’ve had a lifelong love affair with radio and am happy that for a brief time in my life, I too was a tiny part of the business.  But gosh, I wish it could have been in the 30s and 40s.  I was born too late.  I should also confess that being in love with radio is also somewhat like being in love with an unfaithful mistress.

image
RAYMOND EDWARD JOHNSON
JULY 1911 - AUGUST 2001

Stay Tuned


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Posted by peiper   United Kingdom  on 10/31/2008 at 10:30 AM   
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Oh, and here's some kind of visitor flag counter thingy. Hey, all the cool blogs have one, so I should too. The Visitors Online thingy up at the top doesn't count anything, but it looks neat. It had better, since I paid actual money for it.
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