Monday, March 30, 2015

Lighthouses on Old Time Radio - Thunder Rock on Studio One (1947)

Here is the 11th entry in my lighthouses on old time radio series.  I hope you are enjoying all these great old time radio programs with a lighthouse theme.  I am staying on the CBS Radio Network with some of the creative programs that they produced over the years.  This program took place 10 years before Lightship was on the CBS Radio Workshop.  This showcased episode comes from Studio One,  a one-hour program that ran from 1947 through 1949 on the CBS Radio Network.  The series was produced and directed by Fletcher Markle who pulled together a great group of actors and actresses to perform longer adaptations of plays and novels.  The works that were adapted for the radio through this program include Alibi Ike, Red Badge of Courage, Wuthering Heights, The Thirty-Nine Steps and many others.

In a review from Variety (May 7, 1947, p52) for its first episode (Under the Volcano), there is a great summary of the problem that CBS was facing on Tuesday nights.

For some years CBS has been coping with the problem of how best to compete against the two top-rated shows in radio, Fibber & Molly and Bob Hope in the 9:30-10:30 Tuesday night stretch on NBC.  Bill Paley's sales boys have virtually resigned themselves to the awareness that so long as the Fibber-Hope combo remains in the public favor, any sponsorship nibbles for the Tuesday hour are pretty much out of the question.  That's why the CBS 60-minute period has become a favorite sustaining stamping ground for the networks' programming dept.

They've now hit on an idea that may eventually pay off, certainly in prestige, and (or more importance to the web since it's already loaded down with prestige programming), in audiences.  For its new hour-long series of 60-minute dramatic series, the network has imported Canda's 25-year old Fletcher Markle, who as writer-actor-director-producer in his Canadian broadcasting ventures, has already been likened somewhat to Orson Welles.  (The pair, incidentally, teamed up last summer of Welles' Pabst commercial series on CBS.)

Apparently not for nothing has the Welles-Markle comparison cropped up, for when it comes to unorthodox techniques, young Markle can virtually throw the book at his audience.

Port Austin Reef Lighthouse (Michigan)

Port Austin (Michigan) Reef Lighthouse 
(Lake Huron - OK wrong Great Lake - but it works) - June 2008

The program we feature today Thunder Rock from September 2, 1947.  The radio play was adapted from the 1939 stage play by Robert Audrey.  Audrey was a playwright and screenwriter who later became a paleontologist. While the play closed after only 3 weeks on Broadway, it ran longer in London and inspired the wartime British movie to be made in 1942 staring Michael Redgrave, Barbara Mullen, James Mason and Lilli Palmer.  The adaptation opens with Fletcher Markle reading the plaque that was used to dedicate Thunder Rock lighthouse:

On the night of May 16, 1849, the sailing ship Land O' Lakes out of Buffalo, bound for Milwaukee, encountered a northwest gale.  800 yards north of this spot, she stuck the reef and floundered.  All hands were lost, including 60 immigrants, passengers on the unfortunate vessel.  To the memory of the sailing ship Land O' Lakes, lost in these northerly waters of Lake Michigan, this lighthouse is dedicated.  Thunder Rock A.D. 1901.

Thunder Rock was a fictional lighthouse in Northern Lake Michigan, and a refuge for a newspaper man (David Charleston) who sought to run away from his problems, and the problems of the world.  So content was he to be far removed from the work of man that he would not even accept a radio to keep in touch with the outside world.  Besides monthly supply and inspection visits, there was no one to communicate with out on the Lighthouse, but that was not a problem for David.  Joining him in his solitude were people that were the creation of his imagination.  They were the crew members and passengers on the ill-fated Land O' Lakes.    To create a better world, David created in his mind personas for each of the passengers and crew on that ship.  And after sending off his former mate Streeter, who went off to fight the Japanese in China, David retreated to the world of 1849 and the optimism that existed among people who would leave everything for a new chance.  The lonely lighthouse was not only the setting for the play, but practically a character itself.  Through its history and in particular, the dedication plaque, David found meaning in a world on the brink of war.

The Studio One cast included director Fletcher Markle in the staring role, with Clarence Derwent, Hester Sondergaard, Robert Dryden, and Stefan Schnabel.

Thunder Rock (September 2, 1947)

Please enjoy these great episodes.  This is a real treat and a great way to continue my Lighthouse Old Time Radio series.  I will have another entry in about a week!

Here are some links to programs relating to Old Time Radio and Studio One:

Friday, March 27, 2015

Lighthouses on Old Time Radio - Lightship on CBS Radio Workshop (1957)

Here is the tenth entry in my lighthouses on old time radio series.  I hope you are enjoying all these great old time radio programs with a lighthouse theme.  I have a good number more to do - hopefully they will not be so far apart.  With today's entry, we go to one of the great CBS Radio programs in the late 1950s that showed the network was not giving up on the medium.  There are many times where it seemed that CBS Network was to radio in the late 50s what PBS is to TV now - head and shoulders above all else.  Even in the late 1950s and the early 1960s, when more and more Americans had TV sets for entertainment, CBS Radio had some of their best work.  These included Suspense, Gunsmoke, Frontier Gentleman, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and the program that we are showcasing today, the CBS Radio Workshop.

The CBS Radio Workshop continued the tradition at the network to produce some of the most innovative programs on radio.  The program was intended to provide a link back to the Columbia Workshop days and Norman Corwin and provide amazing drama "dedicated to man's imagination, the theater of the mind" In 1956, CBS returned to the airways with a program that would cement their network as the home for innovation.

Starting in January 1956, the CBS Radio Workshop would be on the air for 86 episodes through September 1957.  The CBS Radio Workshop was designed not to be commercially lucrative, but to find a place where the network could put on cutting edge works that might not match with a sponsor's goals.  The 30 minute program started out with a two-part adaptation of Huxley's Brave New World and featured many original and adapted programs.  These features great radio talent and special effects that were the best in the business.  One of my favorites, though not dealing with lighthouses, is called The Storm, and aired on February 10, 1956 featuring William Conrad.  I will come back to this great series from time to time - it is a treasure.

Huron Lighthship

Huron Lightship (Port Huron, Michigan - July 2007)

The program we feature today is Lightship - which aired on April 28, 1957.  This story was an adaptation of the Archie Binnis' 1934 novel of the same name.  According to an entry about the author:

"Archie Binns, novelist and historian of the northwestern United States, is best known for his critically acclaimed novel Lightship (1934). Based partly on Binns’ own experiences at age eighteen aboard the Umatilla Reef Lightship off Cape Flattery, Washington, the story brings together the diverse lives of nine sailors as they struggle to save the ship, which has broken loose from its moorings in a deadly storm." - Matthew Everston - from Gidmark, Jill B., ed. Encyclopedia of American Literature of the Sea & Great Lakes. Westport, CT, USA: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Lightship does a great job of capturing the danger and desperation that can befall a crew of a lightship.  The episode starts off with a man overboard, and crew members struggling to retain focus and their mission when they are doing anything to be relieved from their service.  But when their relief was delayed, the crew grew more desperate to try to get back to port in Seattle.  Not only do the pine for returning to shore, the also sabotage their ship to force their return.  But their service to the ships heading in and out of Seattle kept them on the water longer than they wished.  This great episode features actors Luis Van Rooten, Dan Ocko, Ralph Bell, and Santos Ortega.

Lightship (April 28, 1957)

Please enjoy these great episodes.  This is a real treat and a great way to continue my Lighthouse Old Time Radio series.  I will have another entry in about a week!

Here are some links to programs relating to Old Time Radio and CBS Radio Workshop

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lighthouses on Old Time Radio - Vincent Price in Three Skeleton Key (Escape and Suspense)

Here is the ninth entry in my lighthouses on old time radio series.  I hope you are enjoying all these great old time radio programs with a lighthouse theme.  I have a good number more to do - hopefully they will not be so far apart.  With today's entry, we ask ourselves three questions:

Tired of the everyday routine? 
Ever dream of a life of romantic adventure? 
Want to get away from it all?

With that, I offer you ESCAPE! This was one of the most famous shows on the CBS Radio Network.  It ran from 1947 to 1954 and, along with Suspense, Gunsmoke and various programs led by Norman Corwin (that will be covered later in this series), cemented the place for CBS to be at the Pantheon of the Golden Age of Radio.  Escape featured many adapted versions of short stories that placed the characters in difficult, if not impossible adventures.

Detroit River Light (South Rockwood, Michigan)

Detroit River Light (Lake Erie - July 2011)

It was 65 years ago today that one of the most famous Escape episodes aired.  Three Skeleton Key aired on March 17, 1950.  The story was written by George G. Toudouze (1877-1972) and it first appeared in English in the January 1937 issue of Esquire.  Twelve years later, James Poe adapted it for radio, and the rest is history.  The story story centers on three men who work at a lighthouse far off the coast of French Guiana in South America on the Atlantic Ocean.  The three men are Jean, the newest member of the crew at the lighthouse and the narrator of the radio plays.  Louie is the tough nosed leader of the crew who cherished his quiet.  And Auguste was a former actor on the Paris stage, a short hunchback who loved to talk...and talk...and talk.  As Jean sat on watch one night, a ship was heading towards the light and the rocks on the key.  And while the light was working, they soon realized that the ship was not manned by a normal crew.  Rats.  Thousands and thousands of rats made up the crew of that ship.  And as it approached the lighthouse, the lives of these three lighthouse keepers would be irrevocably changed.  In many ways, it is a perfect story for radio.  There is so much tension and drama is knowing that an army of rats was just on the other side of a brass door.  But there are so many elements that make it an amazing listen.

While it aired 65 years ago today, it was, in fact, the second time that it aired on the series.  The first time happened only a few months before on November 15, 1949.  The opening was tweaked to reflect this:

Tonight, we escape to a lonely lighthouse off the steaming jungle coast of French Guiana and the nightmare world of terror and violence as we bring you again in response to hundreds of requests "Three Skeleton Key" starring Vincent Price.

It would also air three more times, once on Escape,  and twice on Suspense.  While all these are all great, none can top Vincent Price as Jean and the recording made in 1950.  Other stars to be in these recordings include Elliot Reid, Ben Wright, John Dehner, Lawrence Dobkin, William Conrad, Harry Bartell, Jeff Corey, Paul Frees and Jay Novello.  All of the episodes were directed by William N. Robson.  And when people select the most famous episodes from the Golden Age of Radio...ones like this, and Sorry Wrong Number always come up to the top of the list.  To get a sense of the power of this story, just consider the opening of the story - brilliant acted by Vincent Price:

Picture this place. A gray, tapering cylinder welded, by iron rods and concrete, to the key itself: a bare black rock, one hundred fifty feet long, maybe forty wide. That's at low tide. At high tide, just the lighthouse, rising a hundred ten feet straight up out of the ocean, and all about it the churning water -- gray-green, scum dappled, warm as soup, and swarming with gigantic bat-like, devil fish, great violet schools of Portuguese man-of-war, and yes, sharks, the big ones, the fifteen-footers. And as if this weren't enough, there was a hot, dank, rotten-smelling wind that came at us day and night off the jungle swamps of the mainland. A wind that smelled like death. A wind that had smelled the slow and frightful death that came one night to this bare black rock. Set in the base of the light was a watertight bronze door  and in you went. And up. Yes, up and up and 'round and 'round, past the tanks of oil and the coils of rope, casks of wicks and racks of lanterns, sacks of spuds, and cartons and cans and up and up and up, 'round and 'round. Over the light storeroom was the food storeroom. And over the food storeroom was the bunk room where the three of us slept. And over the bunk room was the living and cooking room. And over the living and cooking room was the light.

She was a beauty. Big steel and bronze baby with the sun gleaming through the glass walls all about, bouncing blinding little beams off the big shiny reflectors, glittering and refracting through her lenses. The whole gigantic bulk of her balanced like a ballerina on the glistening steel axle of her rotary mechanism. She was a sweetheart of a light.

 And at night, you'd lie there on the stone deck of the gallery with her revolving smoothly and quietly over over your head, easing her bright white eye three hundred sixty degrees around the horizon. You'd lie there watching to see that the feeders kept working, that everything ran right. And it wouldn't be bad. The other two fellows snoring in their sacks two levels down. You'd smoke your pipe to kill the stink of the wind and it wouldn't be bad.

I have listened to this enough that I can always imagine Vincent Price saying " wouldn't be bad." when things do not go my way in life. After you listen to it - you might feel the same way.  And while the acting and story were fantastic, the sound effects are simply amazing.  At the end of the 1950 version, you hear this:

Sound effects on "Three Skeleton Key" created by Cliff Thorsness and executed today by Mister Thorsness, Gus Bayz, and Jack Sixsmith, have been awarded the best of the year by Radio and Television Life Magazine. 

This is not surprising at all.  The noise they make for the rats and for the moving parts of the light put you there like nothing else.  This is truly what Norman Corwin called the "Theater of the Mind."

Here are all five episodes.  Make sure you listen to the March 17, 1950 version - it is amazing!

Escape. November 15, 1949

Cast: Elliott Reid (Jean - the narrator), William Conrad (Louis), & Harry Bartell (Auguste)

Escape. March 17, 1950

Cast: Vincent Price (Jean - the narrator), Jeff Corey (Louis), & Harry Bartell (Auguste)

Escape. August 9, 1953

Cast: Ben Wright (Jean - the narrator), Paul Frees (Louis), & Jay Novello (Auguste)

Suspense. November 11, 1956

Cast: Vincent Price (Jean - the narrator), John Dehner (Louis), & Ben Wright (Auguste)

Suspense. October 19, 1958

Cast: Vincent Price (Jean - the narrator), Lawrence Dobkin (Louis), & Ben Wright (Auguste)
This one is trimmed a bit - to reflect the time allotted to programs in the late 1950s.

Please enjoy these great episodes.  This is a real treat and a great way to continue my Lighthouse Old Time Radio series.  I will have another entry in about a week!

Here are some links to programs relating to Old Time Radio and both Escape and Suspense:

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Lighthouses on Old Time Radio - When Cupid Was a Pup from The Cavalcade of America (1946)

Here is the eighth entry in my Lighthouses on Old Time Radio series.  This is the second one I want to feature from the Cavalcade of America.  This is a great story about how people at a lighthouse take care of an abandoned seal pup that was left to die.  And while it was based on a true story, it has a different and very current feel among the stories that were featured on this great series.  More about that later.

The story was pulled from the pages of the Saturday Evening Post.  The Post was the leading weekly publication in the United States for many, many years.  The following passage sums up the impact of the weekly:

Long before Time and Newsweek recapped the events of the world for millions of Americans, long before Reader's Digest and Life condensed the news into words and pictures, the Saturday Evening Post was truly America's magazine. Born in earnest at the turn of the twentieth century, with roots in colonial America, the Saturday Evening Post quickly became required reading for anyone who wished to stay in touch with the issues that mattered in culture, politics, and the economy. The Post, as it became widely known, dominated the American magazine landscape for the first thirty years of the century, both in circulation and influence. In its heyday, it was the voice of American common-sense conservatism. The Saturday Evening Post ultimately faded along with that brand of conservatism, giving way to a less impressive contemporary incarnation of the publication. However, memories of the magazine's greatness live on through the classic Norman Rockwell Post covers that have become essential elements in Americana collections.

-Pendergast, Tom. "The Saturday Evening Post." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Ed. Thomas Riggs. 2nd ed. Vol. 4. Detroit: St. James Press, 2013. 445-447. Web. 8 Mar. 2015.

On January 19, 1946, Richard English wrote the column Report to the Editor about a lighthouse keeper who saved a seal pup.  Called "When Cupid Was a Pup," this short story sat on page 6, just next to an advertisement from DuPont extolling the benefits of their nylon bristles on toothbrushes.  While there is no proof to this outcome - it would be great to think that people in the DuPont marketing were looking at their ad in the Saturday Evening Post - and noticed this great story.  What a great addition, they might have thought, to Cavalcade.  A few months later - on April 1st to be exact - it appeared on the air.

The Cavalcade of America is a great series sponsored by DuPont.  The purpose of the program has been one of great study and I am definitely glad that I have a few episodes to talk about it.  The long-running show ran from 1935 to 1953 and then had a second life on television.  Starting first on the CBS Network, it moved to NBC in 1939.  This 30 minute program provided a great platform to showcase some of the lesser known incidents and people who made the country great.  Not only was this series a great source of historical dramas, there were numerous fictional stories brought in as well.  From the Internet Archive page (see link below),  "The company's motto, 'Maker of better things for better living through chemistry,' was read at the beginning of each program, and the dramas emphasized humanitarian progress, particularly improvements in the lives of women, often through technological innovation."

314/365/1775 (April 21, 2013) - Pigeon Point Lighthouse (Pescadero, California)

Pigeon Point Lighthouse (Pescadero, California) - April 21, 2013

The episode itself took some liberties with the original story, but it placed it well in the world of post-WWII America.  In this story, an ex-serviceman, Dick Pearson, looks to get away from civilization - and finds himself working at the lighthouse on the Farrallon Islands - 25 miles west of San Francisco.  He was happiest being far away from women.  But when he learns about the others at the lighthouse, he is displeased to learn that Bobby the cook - was actually Bobbie the cook - the lighthousekeeper's daughter.  But what gets his interest more than anything is an abandoned seal pup that he discovers on the shore near the lighthouse.  "Oscar" has he is to be named, was blind.  Dick Pearson, who was in the medical crew during the war, gets boric acid to take care of his vision.  Through that and subsequent needs that Oscar had, Dick Pearson not only saves the seal, but he learns to love again,

The episode was recorded with a live audience (given the great laughter at times in the recording) and started movie star Cornel Wilde as Dick Pearson. It was stars Elliott Lewis, Griff Barnett, Jerry Hausner, and Sammie Hill.
When Cupid Was a Pup (April 1, 1946)

Please enjoy this great episode.  This is a real treat and a great way to continue my Lighthouse Old Time Radio series.  I will have another entry in about a week!

Here are some links to programs relating to Old Time Radio and Cavalcade of America:
Lighthouses on Old Time Radio:

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Lighthouses on Old Time Radio - Gustaf Dalén Bio on KDKA's Adventures in Research (1946)

Here is the seventh entry in my lighthouses on old time radio series.  I hope you are enjoying all these great old time radio programs with a lighthouse theme.  This entry is from a 15 minute program that was a public service production of Westinghouse Research Labs and broadcast from Pittsburgh's historic KDKA radio station.  The series is called "Adventures in Research" and it ran from 1942 through the 1950s.  The broadcasts originated from KDKA in Pittsburgh and was carried by over 100 other stations across the country.  KDKA is often cited as the first commercial radio station, being the brainchild of Westinghouse engineer Frank Conrad.

According to an article in Broadcasting (May 17, 1943 - page 38), the Adventures in Research program started on January 7, 1942.  It originally was a local feature on KDKA (referred in the article as the "KDKA Pet") , but quickly gained a national audience and was carried by 96 stations in 43 states.  From the article:

"Adventures in Research  has become a "national institution of learning," through the answers to countless commonplace and intricate questions submitted by the radio audience to Dr. Phillips Thomas, veteran engineer of Westinghouse Research Laboratories."

"When the program was introduced it was designed primarily to appeal to adolescents.  It was conceived as a practicable supplement to the academic pursuits of youngsters of high school age. But the questions submitted for Dr. Thomas' solution by husbands, wives, and many of advanced learning soon indicated Adventures in Research  had attracted a cosmopolitan adult audience."

"Schools in many cities have adopted Adventures in Research as a part of their curriculum.  They borrow the weekly transcriptions that the student bodies may assimilate the wealth of worthwhile information."

The series featured short dramatized accounts of great scientists and the inventions they created.  Among the many topics covered included George Westinghouse, the typewriter, movies, early radio, and even oil from shale (sound familiar - it was October 29, 1946 - only a few weeks before the episode that we feature today).  These dramatized accounts of scientific innovation are quite enjoyable and showcase for the listeners the important role of science and research in everyday life.  Dr. Thomas was joined by Paul Shannon, KDKA staff announcer.  Phillips Thomas died in 1958 at the age of 75 during an auto accident at Uniontown, Pennsylvania.  At that time, the program he created was still being carried over the airways.

In many regards, this series was very similar to The Romance of the Ranchos from the Title and Trust Insurance Company of Los Angeles as well as Cavalcade of America, which was featured earlier in this series with the story of Ida Lewis (The Woman on Lime Rock) from DuPont.  There will be more features from that series in the upcoming weeks.

Alpena Light (Alpena, Michigan) - Sunrise on October 10, 2014

Alpena Light (Alpena, Michigan) - Sunrise on October 10, 2014

The episode that was focused on lighthouses is from November 26, 1946 and tells the story of Gustaf Dalén (sometimes listed as Gustav Dalen).  Regardless of how you spell it - Gustaf Dalén led a remarkable life and was very important to the history of lighthouses.  He invented the Dalén light, an automated lighthouse that involved burning of acetylene gas and a solar sensor which started the light at sunset and stopped it at daybreak.  Pretty amazing technology for the early 20th Century.

While always being interested in inventing, Dalén and his wife lamented the need to protect ships on the waters.  Lighthouses located all over the shoreline would be what is needed - but what country could afford that?  Who could hire all the lighthouse keepers for that great work?  With this premise, he set out to try and invent a system for lighting beacons and lighthouses that could be done automatically.

From the Nobel Prize site:

"In 1901, Dalén's company purchased the patent rights of the French invention of dissolved acetylene and he began his work on automatic flashing beacons for lighthouses. His subsequent invention of the sun-valve, which causes a beacon to light automatically at dusk and extinguish itself at dawn, enabled lighthouses to function perfectly and unattended for periods of up to a year. His invention of cylinder filled with a porous mass of asbestos and diatomaceous earth for storage of acetylene reduced considerably the hazards in handling this material and its use in welding became safe. He also invented a mixer for providing a constant and correct balance of gas and air for use in the incandescent mantle and a device for removing broken mantles and replacing them by new ones."

In 1912, Dalén suffered a tremendous accident caused by an acetylene gas explosion while they were testing in an outdoor location.  Dalén lost his eyesight in the accident.  Later that year, he was awarded the 1912 Nobel Prize in Physics, though he was not well enough to accept the award in person.  He eventually recovered and returned to work as the president of AGA, a position he held until his death in 1937.

Adventures in Research - Gustaf Dalén (Gustav Dalen) - November 26, 1946

Please enjoy these great episodes.  This is a real treat and a great way to continue my Lighthouse Old Time Radio series.  I will have another entry in about a week!

Here are some links to programs relating to Old Time Radio and Adventures in Research:
Lighthouses on Old Time Radio: