Friday, October 13, 2017

The Mystery of Robert Arthur

Robert Arthur once wrote that “suspense is that quality in a story which makes you want to keep on reading it to find out what happens. By this definition any good story, of course, has suspense in it. A love story can have suspense – does it end happily? A mountain climbing story can have suspense – does the hero get to the top of does he slip and fall over a cliff?” Such was the brief exploration in the mind of a writer who today is synonymous with The Mysterious Traveler radio program. Together with producer-director David Kogan, Arthur scripted more than half of the stories for the eerie program that was broadcast weekly over the Mutual Broadcasting System.

Robert Arthur’s accomplishments extended beyond a single radio program. Prior to his radio career he was a prolific writer of hundreds of short stories and novellas for pulp magazines. From science-fiction to detective fare, Arthur made a living hammering the keys of his typewriter and submitting stories to the editors of national magazines. Many of these stories were recycled for radio programs including Dark Destiny, Just Five Lines and Murder by Experts. He also recycled plots and characters from short stories for The Shadow, Nick Carter, Master Detective and Suspense. What adds to the confusion is deciphering which came first… the radio play or the short story?

“Death Thumbs a Ride” was originally published in the January 1942 issue of Weird Tales, then adapted into an episode of The Mysterious Traveler, re-titled “The Haunted Trailer,” for broadcast on June 3, 1952. The radio version featured a number of minor revisions when you compare the extant recording of that broadcast to the printed page. The radio version would later be re-written into short story form as “The Haunted Trailer” for Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery (Random House, 1962) and again in A Red Skel(e)ton in Your Closet (Grosset & Dunlap, 1965) and again in Red Skelton’s Favorite Ghost Stories (Tempo, 1970).

“Calling All Corpses,” published in the October 1948 issue of Dime Mystery Magazine, was an adaptation of an original radio play, “Welcome Home,” dramatized on both The Mysterious Traveler in 1943 and The Sealed Book circa 1945.

“Death Laughs Last,” broadcast on The Mysterious Traveler on the evening of September 24, 1944, was based on the short story, “The Dead Laugh Last,” published in the August 1942 issue of Detective Novels Magazine.

Also adding to the confusion is the fact that Arthur wrote under numerous aliases. Robert Forbes, John West, Anthony Morton, Andrew Fell, Jay Norman, Joan Vatsek (the name of his wife, incidentally), A.A. Fleming, Andrew Benedict, Pauline C. Smith, Andrew Saxon, John A. Saxon and Mark Williams have been verified. Further digging in the coming year may reveal a few more pseudonyms. The purpose of a pseudonym, by the way, was for writers to collect more money for their stories – including two or three submissions appearing in the same issue of the same magazine.

About half of his short stories have been reprinted in paperback and hardcover anthologies over the years, making it easier for curiosity seekers to find a copy without having to shell out $85 for a detective pulp magazine in the collector market. When The Mysterious Traveler branched into a series of five mystery magazines, Arthur was the editor and multiple short stories written by Arthur appeared within the same issue. During the mid-fifties, Arthur also ghost-wrote for Alfred Hitchcock for a series of hardcover and paperback anthologies. Besides the fact that one story in each of these anthologies were written by Robert Arthur, the copyright page always acknowledged “the invaluable assistance of Robert Arthur in the preparation of this volume.” This included Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories They Wouldn’t Let Me Do On TV (1957) and Alfred Hitchcock Presents: My Favorites in Suspense (1959).

Beginning in 1964, Robert Arthur began writing a series of children’s books in the hopes of cashing in on the success of such popular publications as The Hardy Boys and Rick Brandt. Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series comprised of 43 books. Arthur wrote the first nine, and the eleventh. Other authors assumed the task following Arthur’s departure.

He was twice honored by the Mystery Writers of America with an Edgar Award for Best Radio Drama; 1950 for Murder by Experts and 1953 for The Mysterious Traveler. Regrettably, recordings for the majority of his radio contributions do not exist in recorded form. No recordings are known to exist of his contributions for Adventure Into Fear (1945), The Teller of Tales (1950) and Mystery Time (1952).

On The Mysterious Traveler, The Sealed Book and other programs, Arthur and Kogan shared joint authorship but like Lennon and McCarthy, scripts were always written solo. This Halloween, when you take time to listen to an episode of The Strange Dr. Weird or The Mysterious Traveler, take a moment to remember that while those programs have an E.C. Comics feel of blood n’ thunder, the pulp style of science-fiction, fantasy and horror also have a pulp origin.


1 comment:

Dr. OTR said...

I was a huge fan of the Three Investigators as a kid, and now my wife is reading those books to my son. It was a great thrill when I realized how pervasive Robert Arthur was in so many radio shows as well. Query for you: Arthur was clearly based in NYC, and the shows that bear his strongest fingerprints were New York based. But Hitchcock was in Hollywood, and the Three Investigators lived in California. Did Arthur relocate to the west coast after radio work dried up in the 50s?

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