Friday, October 17, 2014

The "lost" Mysterious Traveler Episodes

Mysterious Traveler comic book
In recognition of Halloween, here are a few goodies related to The Mysterious Traveler. 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 pop 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.


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, naturally, 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 in an era where it was acknowledged that television was going to dominate the field was not feasible.

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 exist already 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 #126  "INVITATION TO DEATH"
Broadcast October 28, 1947
Plot: A Halloween party is being given by Jerry Mason, who has picked out a very appropriate spot for it -- a deserted old mansion in the woods, reputed to be haunted. An hour and a half before midnight, Jerry plots with Sally to murder her husband, due to arrive in a few minutes. With everyone masked in costume, it would be easy for Sally to lure her often-drunk husband, Carl, out to the old rock quarry where Jerry can throw his rival over the edge. They would then return to the party and act as if nothing has happened. What Jerry ad Sally are not aware of is the recent auto accident at Dead Man's Curve, a notoriously dangerous spot a short ways out of town. A motorcycle officer saw the accident and is shocked when the dead body, dressed in a skeleton costume, vanishes from the scene. When Carl arrives at the party, Sally and Jerry commit the crime and return to the party only to discover Carl alive and well. A second attempt seems successful but when Carl returns from the dead again, the lovebirds strike the dead man with a rock and toss his body into a car. Their third attempt involves propping Carl up behind the wheel and pushing it over the edge of a blind curve down the road. Carl wakes from the dead once again and takes the wheel, causing the car to crash with the murderers restrained inside. When the motorcycle officer arrives at the scene, he is surprised to find the second car right smack on top of the green roadster that crashed there earlier that night. "Chances are a thousand to one against a thing like that," the officer remarks. "Death must like that spot." And the dead body of Carl, still in the skeleton costume, is found lying beside the rocks where he first vanished.

Episode #127  "MURDER AT THE DAWN OF TIME"
a.k.a. "THE MURDER THAT COULDN'T HAPPEN"
Broadcast November 4, 1947
Plot: In the courthouse auditorium, Walter Thayer, the county prosecutor in a little town in New Mexico called Sandy Island, questions a number of suspects in an attempt to settle the unsolved disappearance and potential murder of Professor Leonidas Jordan. Mr. and Mrs. Frisbee took in the 300 pound professor as a boarder and soon after discovered he had a lot of money. After convincing the professor to allow him to invest the funds in the stock market, Mr. Frisbee suffers a total loss as a result of a recent drop in the market. When the Professor finally perfects his latest invention, the couple are invited to participate in an experiment. The Professor explains that when certain radioactive isotypes are concentrated, they produce a curious effect on the energy stream of time itself. After tearing a hole into the fabric of time, the Professor uses his camera to capture photographs of what it was like 50,000 years ago. Tearing the hole even wider, the Professor wheels himself straight into the circle of light. Mr. and Mrs. Frisbee follow and it doesn't take long for them to realize they are the world's first time travelers. Taking advantage of the situation, Mr. Frisbee murders the Professor by smashing his skull in with a rock and then returns to the present. The police are called in to investigate the case of a missing person, but forensics prove murder. The skeletal remains of the Professor were recently discovered and dental records match the gold fillings found in the skull. A special-delivery package from the FBI in Washington verify the fingerprints on the rock match that of Mr. Frisbee. The fingerprints, made in clay that later hardened to become part of the rock itself, cinch the truth. In desperation, Mr. Frisbee turns on the time machine set up in the corner of the courthouse -- among the may exhibits in the trial. Mr. and Mrs. Frisbee escape into the past and shoots out the tubes to ensure their passage be closed forever. When everyone in the courtroom calms down from the excitement, Thayer questions whether the murderers, having escaped into the past, have become the ancestors of the human race. After all, homo sapiens appeared on earth just about that same time according to one scientist...

The above episode features two different script titles as revealed in the scan of the script cover and the first page of the script. (See photo scans of the script below.)



Episode #128  "MY DATE IS WITH DEATH"
Broadcast November 11, 1947
Plot: John Hart, a partner in the Sharon Fabrics Company, meets a stranger with a glowing face who represents himself as Mr. Death. While waiting for his train at Rosedale, John Hart attempts to evade the stranger only to wake and find his entire experience a nightmare. At home, he discovers the stranger handed him a newspaper predicting his death in two days. "John Hart was found scalded to death early this morning in the steam testing room of the plant, where new fabrics are subjected to intense heat," the newspaper reports. Suspecting one of his partners, George Hutchinson, of eliminating his business partner in the same manner as depicted in the newspaper, John cleverly finds a way of killing George on a lonely, deserted road. The next day, John meets his other business partner, Tom Fearing, only to discover Tom was the puppet master. Tom was the stranger in the waiting room, wearing powder that glowed in the dark. The newspaper was fake, planted by John's wife, Diana. Framed for murder, John is ordered to leave town -- or else. John, however, removes an ace up his sleeve when he pulls a gun on Tom and orders him into the steam testing room. Locking themselves in the room, John turns up the steam and throws the key down the ventilator. Tom screams out of desperation to avoid being scalded to death. John wakes to find himself still sitting in the train depot, having fallen asleep next to the stove. Was his dream a premonition?

Maurice Tarplin's artwork of The Mysterious Traveler
Episode #130  "DEATH CANCELS ALL DEBTS"
Broadcast December 2, 1947
Plot: Paul Edgar, a quaint little man who runs a bookstore, is a modern-day miser who saves every dollar he can, regardless of the precautions he put into effect -- including installing a burglar-proof safe in his home. Late one evening his brother Joe arrives, bleeding and begging for $2,000 cash. It seems Joe was playing cards and got into a fight. He snatched up a knife and stabbed a card player. With a police dragnet searching for him, Joe begs his brother for money. Offering to sign off on a $20,000 endowment policy carefully arranged by their father, Joe forfeits the policy to his brother in return for $2,000. Paul agrees and months later cashes in on the policy because his brother's dead body was found by police. Hours after receiving the claim, Paul receives another visit from his brother. Joe confesses how he switched his wallet and watch o the dead body of a tramp and tricked both the police and his brother into thinking he was dead. Joe wants half of the money, $10,000, or he will turn himself over to the police. It seems the man he stabbed never died and Joe is no longer wanted by the police. Paul attempts to stall for time while romancing Gladys, the secretary at the insurance firm. Gladys knows Joe is alive and well and agrees to marry Paul in return for the money -- the firm she works for has other options, including legally forcing for the return of the money. Paul reluctantly agrees. But when Gladys and her boss, Andrews, arrives at Paul's residence, they find Joe reluctant to surrender the money. "I couldn't bring myself to give back the money," Paul explains, "But it's all right -- it's perfectly all right." Opening a door, Paul reveals the horror -- Joe Edgar is dead, hanging from the chandelier.

Episode #151  "THE LITTLE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE"
Broadcast April 27, 1948
Plot: Lying on a hospital bed in an Eastern metropolis, Johnny Becker recounts to Lieutenant Morris, of the Homicide Squad, the events of the past week that led him to his present situation, while trying to prevent crying out in pain. Johnny was a habitual gambler who discovered that Maxie, an employee at Barney Sloan's pool parlor, has a rare gift. Maxie is not smart enough to do anything but sweep floors and cannot remember anything two minutes after someone tells him... but he swears he can communicate with his dead brother, Siggy. Maxie shrugs it off until Siggy (through Maxie) is correctly able to predict the winners of the races. Maxie soon strikes a bargain with Siggy (who communicates only with Maxie). Siggy provide a list of winners for upcoming races and Maxie will pay for a bigger tombstone for Siggy's grave. The partnership works out to perfection -- until Big Ed wants a private meeting with the habitual winner. Big Ed suspects Johnny has an inside source and proposes a percentage of the winnings if Maxie provides a list of his intel. The healthy share of dividends turns foul, however, when Big Ed wagers most of the Syndicate's money on a prize fight that Johnny swears: "Mike Sanders will win by a decision." When Killer Lewis wins the fight, the Syndicate puts the heat on Johnny, who is promptly shot in the streets. Back in the hospital bed, Johnny finishes his story moments before he dies and Lieutenant Morris is shocked to learn from the doctor that the newspapers are reporting that Killer Lewis did not win the fight last night. "That last punch he hit Mike Sanders was low," the doctor explains. "Sanders claimed a foul. The motion pictures proved he was right. The boxing commission reversed the decision, and awarded the championship to Sanders."

4 comments:

Gary said...

The Mysterious Traveler is often compared to Inner Sanctum, but the two were very different shows in that the Traveler had no qualms about the genuinely supernatural, while Sanctum almost invariably spun straight mystery yarns with supernatural overtones that the scripts were careful to explain away at the finish. Not that the Traveler never did that. I heard a Traveler the other night that hauled out the old Inner Sanctum trope of staging a haunting to force a confession out of the murderer. But for the most part, the Traveler was far more willing than the host of Inner Sanctum to spin a genuinely supernatural yarn without feeling the need to rationalize all the spooky stuff.

The Mysterious Traveler survives in, overall, very nice sound, something that, unfortunately, cannot be said for Inner Sanctum. The Lipton-sponsored Inner Sanctum shows sound nice, but too many of the programs that precede and follow those years are in pretty rough shape, having been sourced from scratchy, beat-up discs.

Anonymous said...

$225 for three Mysterious Travelers isn't bad. I once paid $1,300 for a set of all 52 Murder at Midnights. They are downstairs in my record library now. Preserved on tape and as wav files. Someday I'll decide what to do with them.

Zack said...

Now see that hacks me off. I defy you or Martin or anybody else to give me one good reason why you guys have any right to be selfish with these shows and keep them to yourselves instead of uploading them to someplace like archive.org where we could all enjoy them for free.

Lester Tippie said...

Oh, Zack. No one is being selfish when collecting recordings. You do know that every OTR recording originated from a transcription disc and every disc costs money? Every recording you download off archive.org (recently cited in a national magazine as one of the largest suppliers of illegal bootleg downloading) originated from a transcription disc that someone shelled out between $40 and $300 a disc. Did you pay the people who, for decades, spent tens of thousands of dollars on transcription discs for the recordings you illegally downloaded? If Anonymous spent $1,300 for a complete set of 52 Murder at Midnight transcription discs, he has the right to not give them away to people who try to make him out as "selfish." Zack's public criticism is one of the many reasons why dozens of people with large cache of transcription discs stopped transferring and sharing recordings. Even the people who choose not to financially support and prefer to illegally download copies of OTR are criticizing the people who they got their recordings in the first place. A proactive approach would be to praise someone who invested $1,300 for transcription discs, wouldn't it? Besides, archive.org has Murder at Midnight recordings available for illegal downloading anyway so why bother to criticize?

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