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.)