Sunday, October 14, 2018

Debunking the Myths of Inner Sanctum Mystery

Inner Sanctum Mystery book
Inner Sanctum Mystery was not a great staple of American Broadcasting -- but the signature sound effect, that of the creaking door, was imprinted in the memories of radio listeners for generations. Himan Brown, the creator, producer and director of the 1941-52 radio program, would ultimately register the sound of the creaking door for Federal Copyright Protection on February 17, 1949, under the name "The Creaking Door," submitted in the form of a sample radio program -- marking one of two sounds ever copyrighted (the other was the three NBC chimes). Sounds cannot be copyrighted which is why, on a technical standpoint, the copyright on a creaking door stands to be challenged in court... but Brown did make much use with the sound effect by incorporating it as the signature opening for a later series, The CBS Radio Mystery Theater.

"The door told me to use it. The door spoke to me. 'Make me a star,' it said. It was a door that I used on the Dick Tracy series," Himan Brown later recalled. "I used all kinds of doors. When I did a sequence on Tracy with haunted houses or criminal background or some such thing, I used this door, and the door creaked. You didn't have to fake it; you didn't have to play with it. It was a door with rusty hinges that was badly sprung and it creaked."

Inner Sanctum Mystery advertisement
Simon & Schuster, publishers, was at that time publishing a monthly mystery novel under the byline of "An Inner Sanctum Mystery." The first was published in July 1930, I Am Jonathan Scrivener, written by Claude Houghton. The series initially took on a variety of genres, always indicated by the color of the book's binding: blue for serious drama, red for lighter fare (romance); and green for detective stories. Later, as a result of the radio program, the Inner Sanctum books contained solely mysteries. It was through Simon & Schuster that Himan Brown licensed the name for his radio program -- under one condition. At the conclusion of each broadcast the announcer revealed this month's Inner Sanctum mystery novel -- free publicity for the publisher.

If you can get your hands on a copy of The Lunatic Time, published in 1956 and written by John Roeburt, you will discover that the story is actually based on the Inner Sanctum radio broadcast, "The Unforgiving Corpse" from May 28, 1951. Roeburt, recycling his own stories, re-titled the same Inner Sanctum drama for the June 17, 1962 broadcast of Suspense, "The Lunatic Hour."

All this reminds me of the Warner Bros. cartoon, Racketeer Rabbit, from 1946. Bugs Bunny performs his usual antics against two caricatures of Peter Lorre and Edward G. Robinson. In one scene, a door opens with a long creak and Bugs Bunny makes a direct reference to Inner Sanctum Mystery.

For clarification, the exact name of the program is Inner Sanctum Mystery, not "Mysteries." Singular, not plural. A number of people have been challenging me on this, but I continue to ask them to listen to a recording of Inner Sanctum. While the earliest scripts of the series list "Inner Sanctum Mysteries," the announcer clearly refers to the program singular.

In 2002, I amateurishly put together a book about the radio program. (Yes, I titled the book Inner Sanctum Mysteries. That was done on purpose because most people incorrectly type the title wrong in search engines. And the book refers to the series as a whole plural so the title of the book was not meant to be the same as the program itself.) No one wanted to publish the book (probably my young age had something to do with it) so I self-published a compilation of assorted trivia and other pertinent information so fans of the program could learn more about the series beyond a brief entry in an encyclopedia. Since then, I finally acquired a complete run of each and every Inner Sanctum Mystery radio script, along with files of material from advertising agencies, library archives and other private collections.

One recording that circulates today is "The Amazing Death of Mrs. Putnam" and fans continue to debate whether or not the recording is the first broadcast of the series. I do not know the origin of the controversy, or why people insist it was never broadcast on the evening of January 7, 1941. Maybe it is because the announcer and host Raymond Edward Johnson never make reference to it being the premiere episode. Regardless, last week I received yet another e-mail telling me that my episode guide is inaccurate and "The Amazing Death of Mrs. Putnam" aired later in the series' run. So to close the file on this debate, enclosed is the NBC announcer sheet for that very broadcast, two production sheets verifying the cast, the announcer, the organist, the producer, and the title of the broadcast. Also enclosed are the first two pages of the radio script to verify the January 7, 1941 broadcast date.

An altered advertisement
For more information about existing Inner Sanctum Mystery radio broadcasts, CLICK HERE.

The advertisement featured to the right is "altered" and not original. Sadly, four different websites now reprint this ad and I do not believe the website owners are aware of this potential error. Take a closer look and you will see all reference to the name of the program, station call letters, broadcast time and celebrity has been superimposed in newer font. That means someone took the original advertisement and altered it. Not sure why -- there is a difference between an "alteration" and a "restoration" but whatever the reason, it's a darn shame that people are reproducing it on their websites. Altered advertisements have already begun creeping into published reference guides and that means whatever form of preservation and validity was attempted with those books... the authors failed. Reprinting an altered advertisement rather than the original is more terrifying than the creaking door.

Anyway, I am reprinting it for you to check out with your own eyes and verify. If someone wants to reprint an old newspaper advertisement for a radio program, all they have to do is simply visit newspapers on microfilm at their local library and print them out. You can go home and scan the advertisement and what little effort it takes to do so will be much more rewarding than high profile egg on face when the altered version appears in print and is pointed out in a book review. (My sole purpose of pointing this out is for others to reconsider if they gave any credence to plucking images off the web for illustration.)

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Lady Gaga Shines in A STAR IS BORN

Film buffs have seen this same story three times before in 1937, 1954 and 1976 -- A country singer at the top of his game has to contend with drugs, alcohol, the price of fame and a medical condition causing him to lose his hearing, but takes time out of his busy tour schedule to launch the career of a young woman with musical talent. She excels quickly, appearing on Saturday Night Live, receiving multiple Grammy nominations and financial freedom... all the while his condition continues to decline. You can surmise the conclusion before the curtain closes but for the younger generation who never saw the prior renditions, this might come as a surprise to them. 

Over the past few weeks there were people who told me they were dead set against this remake; perhaps they lovingly embraced the 1954 Judy Garland rendition or the 1976 Barbara Streisand version. My general rule of thumb with remakes is this -- good or bad, we will always have the original.  

Having watched the prior renditions over the past years I was eager to see an updated take -- and was pleased to see how this film excels on many levels. Bradley Cooper not only plays the male lead, but also directs from behind the camera. As expected, Lady Gaga shines with strong vocals but also with an acting assignment that will no doubt reward her with an Oscar nomination for "Best Actress." She went all-in on this role -- evident when she smashes a glass picture frame with her fist, which break into pieces and falls to the floor and you can tell that was real glass. The chemistry between the two, however, is so evident that it cannot be overlooked -- it has been years since I saw chemistry on the big screen. (For the record, that was four years ago when I watched To Have and Have Not with Bogart and Bacall and could feel the chemistry.) 

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in A STAR IS BORN (2018)

Bradley Cooper gives what is clearly his best performance on the screen and proved that he can also direct as well. In most movies Bradley Cooper plays Bradley Cooper -- much like Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise in every movie he plays -- but in A Star is Born, Cooper plays a role that makes you forget he was Bradley Cooper. This is talent that awards Oscars. 

This may be October but the Oscar race launched this weekend with a film that will no doubt receive Oscar nominations for "Best Director," "Best Screenplay," "Best Actor," "Best Actress," "Best Song" and "Best Picture." I have only seen two movies this year that warrant inclusion on the 2018 "must see" list. Won't You Be My Neighbor?, the documentary about Fred Rogers, was the first and A Star is Born is now the second.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Frances Langford Finally Receives Her Due

To date there has never been a biography about Frances Langford in print form, which makes Ben Ohmart's latest contribution to the reference library all the more valuable. She really was the Sweetheart of the Armed Forces, once quoted of saying "God knows I would gladly give my life to help end this terrible affair and send those boys home to their families and friends where they belong." With her vocal talents as both movie star and radio personality, her career has been immortalized in recorded form. Her personal life restricted to the tabloids and gossip columns of the times, she donated everything she owned -- including letters, scrapbooks and photographs to the Martin County Historical Society in Minnesota. Anyone can visit the Elliott Museum and browse through her collection, but Ben Ohmart saved us an expensive trip across the country with this 333-page book documenting her personal life, her radio career, her screen career and more than any other aspect of her career... what she devoted to troops overseas. 

"Frances cared a lot about her war work," Ohmart explains, "and more than anything, I wanted this book to showcase her amazing patriotism." Chapter three focuses on her tour with Bob Hope for the U.S.O. 

I could go on paragraph after paragraph of what this book contains but if you are seeking a biography that covers all aspects of her life and career, this is the book. The most impressive aspect is the fact that this book features hundreds of never-before-seen photographs from Langford's personal collection and are a rare treat. Most biographies have a handful of rare photographs, sometimes as a centerpiece in the middle of a book. Ben Ohmart gave us not just a slice of the pie, but multiple pies of various flavors. The photos alone are worth the price of this book.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Forever and a Day: The Origin of James Bond

"There is only one recipe for a best seller. You have to get the reader to turn over the page."
-- Ian Fleming

It is not every day that I receive an advance copy of a novel to be published months from now and I have to confess both my sincere appreciation and excitement when I discovered it was a James Bond novel. Not just any novel, but the official prequel to Casino Royale (1953), which provides an origin for James Bond.

Casino Royale was a magnificent read. The prose was fantastic and the story simplistic. Establishing the world of spies and international intrigue the novel described celebrated world cities, beautiful women and his motif for working with them, being captured by the villain, enjoying upscale brands, and a muted violent streak that verges on cruelty. Subsequent novels were enjoyable, but nowhere near the caliber of Casino Royale. In fact, if you are going to read any other Ian Fleming novels, I recommend his third, Moonraker (1955), simply because so many elements in that novel crept into the cinema formula of the Bond movies.

Other authors took over the mantle after the passing of Ian Fleming and dozens and dozens of Bond novels have been published over the past few decades. Of recent, Anthony Horowitz took on the task and with credits to his name (the Alex Rider novels and teleplays for Poirot, Midsomer Murders and Murder Most Horrid) it was a surefire success. His first, Trigger Mortis is enjoyable and one can hear the John Barry 007 theme numerous times during action sequences. His second, due for publication in November, is Forever and a Day.

In this new entry, James Bond has just been promoted to 00 status and is sent to the Riviera (and environs, particularly Marseille) to discover who killed his predecessor and why. There he meets with a woman who may or may not be on the side of the angels, an American industrialist making film stock for Hollywood and a grotesquely fat Corsican syndicate head who deals in drugs and could be straight out of Dick Tracy’s gallery of villains. He also encounters a CIA operative who appears to be a reliable good guy. Throw in some car chases, some great food and drink and you have a classic Bond thriller.

If you do not want to wait until November, you can purchase a copy of the book from England because it was released commercially overseas back in May. But if you are seeking adventure and escapism this holiday season, treat yourself and order a copy of this book.