Thursday, January 22, 2015

Lighthouses on Old Time Radio - Seascape from The Whistler (1945)

For a long time, and I mean years, I have wanted to bring together my longtime interest in lighthouses with my relatively new found interest in Old Time Radio.  I have been carrying around a list of the relevant episodes for a few years in my folder of fun things to work on.  Well....time to start working.  I am going to use this blog to share these episodes, with links that go to freely available resources that are relevant to the topic.  The pictures will come from my large collection of lighthouse pictures on flickr!  This has been fun to pull together radio programs and I hope you have fun reading and listening.  I hope to pull it together for an article down the road.  But lets start out, shall we?

So to start my lighthouse adventure, I am choosing Seascape from The Whistler.  I am doing this for a few reasons.  First, The Whistler is just one of the best mystery programs on Old Time Radio.  If you have not heard these shows before - you are in for a treat.  Second, it is a great mystery story involving a lighthouse.  And third, this episode aired on January 22, 1945 (70 years ago today) - so for me, it is an anniversary that I actually hit!

Thacher Island Twin Lighthouses (Cape Ann, Massachusetts)

Thacher Island Twin Lighthouses (Cape Ann, Massachusetts) - August 2010 - I do not have any pictures of lighthouses in Maine...yet!

The Whistler is one of the greatest old time radio programs.  This mystery series aired from May 1942 to September 1955 on the West-coast network from CBS Radio.  The show was sponsored by the Signal Oil Company.  The lead in for the show was: "That whistle is your signal for the Signal Oil program, The Whistler."  The Signal Oil Company was one of the biggest west-coast oil companies.  They became part of AlliedSignal and then Honeywell.  The Signal Oil Company as an entity phased out in the 1960s, but in the years before, they were a leading gas supplier in the Western United States.

One of the best parts about The Whistler is that each episode was a self-contained story, using new characters and situations.  They were able to bring in many big names on radio and film into the studio to report the episodes.  These actors included Frank Lovejoy, Betty Lou Gerson, William Conrad, Jack Webb, Gerald Mohr, Doris Singleton, Lurene Tuttle, Joseph Kearns and Bill Forman (who played the title role of The Whistler more than any other actor).  The Whistler was the omniscient voice in the story, who started the episodes with the same refrain:

"I am the Whistler, and I know many things, for I walk by night. I know many strange tales, hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes, I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak."  

These are wonderful 30 minute mysteries that do a great job of keeping the listener interested.  They are also one of my favorite mysteries.  The opening of this particular episode does a great job of giving Bill Forman (as The Whistler) the phrases to perfectly set the scene:

"The Atlantic Coastline, from the Gulf of St. Lawrence south to Cape Hatteras and beyond is a treacherous one.  An ever present threat to the thousands of vessels which have for centuries moved in streams, in and out of American ports. And the keepers of the lighthouses there are men with an awful responsibility.  Men who most not only fight the perils of the storm, but must battle continually against the loneliness and despair of their vigilance.  Its not a very attractive life - NO - especially for a girl like Madeline Murray, who six months ago came to live with her new husband, Richard, at their lighthouse on a rocky island off the coast of Northern Maine."

Richard, a lighthouse keeper from Maine, learns that Madeline, his wife of six months, is no longer in love with him.  But that is the best news he would hear over the next 24 hours.  First, she never really loved him.  Second, she can't leave the lighthouse - because he committed a murder months before she met Richard.  The solitude at the lighthouse was what attracted her to Richard - she needed a place to be lost.  Third, a strong nor'easter rolled into the region the following day and a skiff shipwrecked near the light.  But piloting that skiff....more bad news.  It was Blake Adams, who just happened to be one of Madeline's old lovers.  In fact, he was with Madeline when she committed murder.  All in all, a great day on the Lighthouse.

When the story opens, Madeline reveals to Richard that she hates being at the lighthouse.  And even though it only has been six months, she can barely take it any longer.  She actually thinks that serving in jail will be better than one more day in the lighthouse.  When Madeline was reacquainting herself to Blake, he figures out why she left and ran away.  Her response seems to be what my family says when I bring them to lighthouses on trips.

"You don't think it's because I like lighthouses, do you?"

The actors who are featured in this piece are huge names from the Golden Age of Radio.  Joseph Kearns plays the Richard, the lighthouse keeper.  Kearns appeared in many productions on radio, most famously as the Man in Black on CBS' Suspense.  He would later appear on TV as Mr. Wilson on Dennis the Menace.  Cathy Lewis plays Richards wife of 6 months, Madeleine. She was married to Elliott, though he shared the same last name from birth.  She was a very prominent radio actress and was featured in My Friend Irma and The Adventures Of Michael Shayne just to name two.  Elliott Lewis plays Madeleine's long-lost lover Blake Adams.  He is possibly best known as Frankie Remley, Phil Harris' lead guitar player on The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show.  Besides being a radio voice actor, he also wrote and directed many shows, including many years with CBS' Suspense and the Sears Radio Theater in the late 1970s.  Bill Forman played the Whistler, the omniscient narrator or chorus of the story.

This is a real treat and a great way to kick off the Lighthouse Old Time Radio series.  I will have another entry every few days.

Seascape (January 22, 1945) - Mystery/Fiction

Here are some links to programs relating to Old Time Radio and The Whistler:
Lighthouses on Old Time Radio:

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