Friday, May 2, 2014

"Lost" Episodes of The Mysterious Traveler

Mysterious Traveler comic book
Romantically, fans of old-time radio (and fans of old horror radio programs) rave about The Mysterious Traveler. Chilling tales of murder -- and on occasion -- science fiction and horror. One can easily compare the stories to those of E.C. Comics (Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, etc.) and while the series today ranks among the most popular of radio chillers (as opposed to the often overlooked and underrated Quiet, Please series), in reality it was not as popular at the time it was first broadcast. The best example I can come up with at the moment is the motion-picture, It's a Wonderful Life. Never reaching box office success at the time of release, it's become a classic today. In reality, The Mysterious Traveler was a sustaining filler for time slots on the Mutual Broadcasting System's irregular schedule. A sustaining program was simply as it suggests: the network forked up the production costs in the hopes that a sponsor would buy what network executives believed was a promising program. Ford was a temporary sponsor in 1950, but only for a few broadcasts. (Ford did the same for a large number of radio programs in the same manner in late 1950.)

The radio program spawned a short-lived series of comic books and four mystery magazines. These collectibles vary in price depending on the quality of the comics and magazines. The front and back cover, and the tightness of the spine, are inspected for grading quality so if the magazine is in superb condition but half the front cover is torn, the value is so cheap you can pay $5 bucks for it. The usual going price for a good condition copy of the magazine is $20 per issue. (And for $20, the seller better have it in a plastic sleeve.)


Mysterious Traveler mystery magazine
The series was created and scripted by Robert Arthur and David Kogan. I suspect (and am presently working on digging for proof) that they rarely co-wrote a script together. Instead, they wrote the scripts solo and shared joint authorship for every radio script broadcast. (In the same manner as Lennon and McCartney as The Beatles.) Many of the episodes were reused for The Sealed Book, The Strange Doctor Weird and a couple recycled for the later episodes of Suspense. Robert Arthur later adapted a number of his Mysterious Traveler scripts for short stories in magazines. During the late fifties and early sixties, Arthur ghost wrote the introductions for Alfred Hitchcock in the paperback and hardcover anthologies. You can always tell if Arthur was the editor because there was always one story among the selection penned by Arthur -- many of which were adaptations of Mysterious Traveler scripts.

Regardless of what is reported on a number of internet websites, The Mysterious Traveler did not inspire other mystery radio programs such as Dark Venture, Murder by Experts and The Teller of Tales. Anthology programs were a dime a dozen and rarely was one radio program the inspiration for another. In fact, producers insisted on their own variation-on-a-theme so they could avoid potential lawsuits. One website goes as far as to suggest that The Mysterious Traveler competed against Inner Sanctum Mystery and Lights Out! and that "the same big three networks were forced to continually shuffle their offerings back and forth on the radio dial to continue to fend off the upstart Mysterious Traveler." This is incorrect and merely an assumption. The same site claims: "While simply a road-bump to MBS, the blacklisting of one of radio's greatest writing teams effectively ended their radio writing careers with the cancellation of The Mysterious Traveler." This is not true. Executives at Mutual made a financial decision to cancel the program after it was determined that selling the series to potential sponsors was not feasible in an era where it was acknowledged that television was going to dominate the field.

Maurice Tarplin as The Mysterious Traveler
Transcription discs for "lost" episodes are expensive because they rarely turn up on eBay. Just a hair over 70 episodes are known to exist and while unscrupulous mp3 vendors have been altering episodes of The Sealed Book and retitling them to fool gullible consumers into believing they are buying over 100 episodes, discs do seem to turn up from time to time. I recently paid $225 for three transcription discs and they are presently being transferred to audio CDs. (The dates on the disc labels do not cohere with the radio scripts so whether they are "lost" recordings or simply ones that already exist has yet to be determined until the discs and CDs arrive and I can listen to them.) So in the meantime, here are a few plot summaries for five "lost" episodes for you to enjoy. I'll try to post additional plots in future posts.


Episode #140  "I'LL DANCE ON YOUR COFFIN"
Broadcast February 10, 1948
PLOT: This is the story of Anita Barnes, a pretty girl from a small Southern town, who came to New York with a burning ambition to achieve fame and success as a dancer. There, she meets Tony Dervish, a vaudeville tap dancer who is looking for a new partner for his act, The Dancing Dervishes. He sees talent in the little lady and encourages her to marry him, promising a signed contract in Hollywood in five years. Tony, however, prefers to practice, practice and practice till she has blisters on her toes. Two years later, Anita's love for Tony diminishes. Andy Thomas, a publicity manager with eyes for Anita, convinces the tap dancer to poison her husband's cup of coffee, causing him to fall off the roof of a high-story building during a publicity stunt. Tony doesn't die. Instead, he is stuck recovering in a clinic in Arizona. While Tony is recovering, Anita and Andy get a contract in Hollywood and enjoy their new life... until Tony surprises Anita (who still visits him once a month in the clinic to keep up the act of the suffering wife). Tony is starting to walk and in another year he might be able to start dancing again. Back in Hollywood, Anita receives a phone call from Doctor Richards. Tony somehow slipped away from the hospital. His whereabouts are unknown. Anita knows, however, as she phones Andy to let him know that Tony has arrived at her apartment. "Tony's coming to get me!" she shouts over the receiver. Andy races to the apartment house and forces the superintendent to unlock her front door. His car broke down and it's been an hour since she phoned him. The superintendent said neighbors were complaining because of all the dancing and "driving the people down below crazy." Inside, Andy finds Anita dead. She danced herself to death. "Dancing like that kill anybody," says the super. "Faster, faster, faster! The heart can't stand it!" Before Andy leaves the room, the phone rings. Doctor Richards breaks the bad news. They found Tony, dead at the wheel of an automobile. "He ran off the road with the car he stole," the doctor explains. "He died an hour ago..."

Episode #146  "SEVEN YEARS TO WAIT"Broadcast March 23, 1948
PLOT: In 1940, in a small New England city, George Adams and his wife, Louise, find themselves in financial dire. George wants to pay off the old family mortgage but wealthy brother Jeff, who came to visit his brother for a few hours, will not contribute. There was a reason why Uncle Philip left the family fortune in Jeff's name. Angry, George, with the assistance of Louise, plots the murder of Jeff and buries his body in the cellar. Only after the crime is committed does George discover that his brother was heir to $250,000. Now George and Louise have to wait seven years for Jeff to be classified as "dead" and George can inherit the money. Seven long years passed in which George and Louise Adams lived in their dreams of the future. Their daily life was a constant struggle to meet the mortgage and tax payments. Then one day a real estate man pays a visit and offers $40,000 for the property. His client wants to build a ten story office building. George and Louise cannot sell because of the secret hidden in the cellar. Angry, the real estate agent promises to have the city council raise the taxes to force the couple to sell. George and Louise decide to rent out part of the house to Larry Martin, who quickly discovers the couple's crime and blackmails them with a proposition. Larry wants to pretend he is Jeff Adams and claim the estate. George will not agree so Larry contacts the police. George and Louise confess to the crime but Larry continues his charade and pretends to be Jeff, complete with an engraved wrist watch and other forms of identification. The police dig up the grave only to find a framed photo of Larry. The authorities, suspecting George and Louise need to spend time at an institution, take the couple in... leaving Larry, who apparently dug up the body of Jeff and disposed of him elsewhere, alone to receive the inheritance.

Episode #133  "MR. TRIMBLE'S TURNABOUT CHRISTMAS"
Broadcast December 23, 1947
PLOT: The Mysterious Traveler opens the broadcast with a reminder of the holiday season when hearts are light and stories should be gay to match the mood of the occasion. "So tonight we'll have no screams, no groans, no moans, no pistol shots." Mr. Timothy Trimble of Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn, wakes on Christmas morning to discover a live Santa Claus, eighteen inches tall, sitting on top of his bureau. Benny, as the small figures explains, is invisible to the human eye except for Mr. Trimble. Benny is a Christmas Spirit who has come to bestow on Mr. Trimble the Christmas Spirits Goodness Award for 1947. As a reward, everything that could ever happen to Mr. Trimble is going to happen for the next 24 hours. As Mr. Trimble walks about town buying last-minute Christmas presents, he is shocked to discover how generous everyone is and all of the gifts are on the house. A waitress at the diner tips him five dollars! A police officer fails to give Mr. Trimble a speeding ticket. Mr. Trimble receives a brand new Superior Eight, replacing his 1928 model. Mr. Trimble is the winner of the Super-Duper Jackpot of 1947, receiving a ton of prizes including a $25,000 home on Long Island, a ranch in New Mexico, a 38-foot cabin cruiser, a jet propelled airplane, a $2,000 mink coat, a silver-plated cement mixer, his own private Pullman car, a 12 carat ring and anything else a man of his standing should receive. Only at the end of the day, back in his warm home, does Mr. Timothy Thomas Trimble discover the surprise waiting for him. Benny has just discovered he made a mistake. He was to bestow the award to Timothy T. Trimble (Timothy Timothy Trimble) and because of the mix-up is forced to turn back the clock to 10 a.m.... where Mr. Trimble wakes on Christmas morning... wondering if it was all a dream.

Episode #163  "THE CHASE"
Broadcast July 20, 1948
PLOT: Mike Thomas, in the middle of a four-year term for extortion, makes arrangements for his wife, Flo, to pick up Danny Nelson, just finishing a five-year sentence for a hold up. Danny was diagnosed by the prison doctors that he suffers from a severe case of claustrophobia. While incarcerated, Mike learns that Albert Raymond, a former cashier at the Fifth National, is also leaving prison. $48,000 was never recovered and both Mike and Danny suspect Albert hid the proceeds of his crime, planning to recover the stolen loot after he is releases. Working with Flo, Danny keeps tabs on the whereabouts of Albert and discovers where the money was hidden. Following Albert to Boston on board a luxury liner, the two criminals steal the suitcase of cash and make a swift getaway in a small boat for Havana. After crashing into the rocks, the boat capsizes in the water, trapping both Danny and Flo in an air-tight cabin, submerged below the water's surface. With no possible avenue of escape, Danny and Flo try to figure out a way to survive until help comes. Realizing there may not be enough oxygen for two, Danny strangles Flo. Panicking from claustrophobia, Danny decides to smash the porthole and allow all the water to flow in -- then planning to escape by making a swim for it. His plan fails because of the physics and a rescue party above watches as a great big air bubble races to the surface... along with hundred dollar bills floating on the surface like seaweed.

Trivia
The above radio script was revised and re-titled as "Dead Man's Story" for the May 15, 1960 broadcast of Suspense, with Kevin McCarthy playing the lead.

Episode #155  "DEATH IS MY CO-PILOT"
Broadcast May 25, 1948
PLOT: Two Americans, Steve Gordon and Joe Weinburg, joined a group of courageous pilots who have gone to their deaths over the treacherous Himalayas. Indo-China Airlines pays extremely well for pilots who can maneuver above the mountain peaks. During their flight, the men run out of fuel and are forced to make an emergency landing on the mountain side. When Steve and Joe discover the wreckage of a former cargo plane, owned by Barney King, they also find Barney King alive and well, keeping warm in a cave. Steve and Joe think Barney is joking when they are told that they are all dead. Someone named Mr. Benedict comes to the cave and guides them to their next destination. Barney and his co-pilot have resolved themselves to their fate but Steve and Joe will not allow themselves to be taken by Mr. Benedict -- at least, not yet. Transferring gas from Barney's plane, Steve means to fly away. Joe, however, chooses to stay and remain. The next day, Steve finds himself facing Hank Farrell and Sam Morris of the airlines, recovering at the field hospital in Chungking. His tale is too bizarre for Hank and Sam to believe... until Steve starts shouting that Mr. Benedict is at the bedside. No one can see the invisible man as Steve shouts, "Don't let him take me!" Moments later, Steve dies. Hank and Sam believe the dead man was off his rocker due to trauma... until Sam finds Barney King's lucky ring in the pocket of Steve's flying jacket.

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