Above image courtesy of Tune In For Terror © 1992
Wyllis Cooper's "Quiet, Please!" article from Writer's Digest, May 1949
Radio & Television
By Harriet Cannon
"Quiet, please!" The voice is Ernest Chappell's, subduedand full of portent. Every Sunday at 5:30 p.m., wherever the vast network of the American Broadcasting Company reaches, loyal fans settle down to their favorite half-hour in radio, resolved to answer neither telephone nor doorbell, while they listen to Quiet, Please! [The series began on the Mutual Broadcasting System running from June '47 to September '48, then moved to ABC. The program ended in June '49.]
How long did it take you to read the above paragraph? Perhaps seven seconds? That's exactly how much time elapses on the air between Chappell's first, "Quiet, please!" and his second repetition of the phrase. Seven seconds of dead air in the introduction of a radio show is one of writer Wyllis Cooper's innovations in the field.
Master of the weird and the whimsical, Cooper is both writer and director of Quiet, Please! To date he has turned out some 90-odd scripts, which are easy to listen to and "murder to write."
Cooper writes to please his own taste. If other people like his scripts, he's glad. But if they don't, he will suggest that they turn the little knob on their radios and listen to something else. One woman, irked by a Quiet, Please! program which she couldn't understand, phoned Cooper and received the usual polite answer. A little later she phoned again and when Cooper answered, she replied, "Yah, yah, yah, drop dead!" Then she hung up.
Cooper was at a loss for words -- but only briefly. He seized upon the unexpected opportunity and wrote a script called "Drop Dead!" He addressed himself to the anonymous "dear lady," which, if she was listening, must have filled her with remorse, demonstrating as it did the possible and horrible consequences of her advice. [The episode was entitled "Anonymous"]
A soft-spoken and genial man, Cooper is a newspaper reporter "from way back when." He's been in radio, in Chicago and New York, for twenty-one years. Lights Out, a popular thriller of a few years ago, was his creation. He wrote it for three years before Arch Oboler became associated with it.
Always a prolific writer, Cooper recalls the old days in radio, some 13 years ago, when in order to make a living from the young medium, a writer had to turn out an inordinate amount of material. At one time, Cooper was Continuity Editor for NBC in Chicago, wrote Lights Out (for $13.50 a script), had another half-hour show, and in his spare time, did 15 soap opera scripts a week. "I worked at home every morning from five until nine," he says. "Then my secretary would stop in, pick up the completed work and take it to the office. I'd catch a quick nap and continue to work until eight in the evening."
His pace hasn't slackened appreciably. Nowadays his schedule runs something like this: Sunday: Rehearsal all afternoon, then broadcast. Monday: Write from eight a.m. to five p.m. Tuesday: Lay out next Sunday's show and answer correspondence. Wednesday and Thursday. Write show. Friday: Rehearsal.
Quiet, Please! is slow in tempo. Some of the scripts are shorter than 18 pages, instead of the 25 to 30 that usually comprise a half-hour dramatic show. He believes that radio drama generally is played too fast; but he admits that he can write in such an unorthodox manner only because he is his own director.
"I know just what my lines are going to sound like," he points out. Only three or four other writers in radio have the same privilege and "all of them earned it through years of hard work." Cooper says that writing good dialogue is harder work than laying bricks. He ought to know -- he's laid them. He's also worked in oil fields and on the railroads, and he's utilized much of this experience as background material in his scripts. Cooper likes to think of himself as a rebel. To prove it, he points to the fact that he has done fewer commercial shows than any other writer in his class.
"I don't believe in too strong a story line because it's apt to be too hard for the listener to keep in mind," he says. "The charm in radio consists of good characterization. Plot should consist of a twist rather than a formalized structure." He doesn't rewrite, nor does he permit his actors to "ad lib" although his dialogue achieves a smooth flowing naturalness. He beats no drums, espouses no causes, says his function is "to entertain." He admits that he is a "little hipped" on the subject of the Atom Bomb, and tried to give his listeners "a little extra-curricular thinking to do" in one of his scripts, "Adam and the Darkest Day."
The ideas for Quiet, Please! are all Cooper's own. He has no assistants. Often the casual remarks of a bartender or an elevator boy will suggest a program theme to him. Sometimes he'll open the Bible, which he knows well, and will select a verse and build his script around it. Although in no sense a "religious" show, his program has some of its strongest supporters among the clergy.
There's no formula or pattern to Quiet, Please! other than that it is always narrated in the first person by Ernest Chappell, and has an eerie, slow-paced mood. Sometimes it's macabre, sometimes hilarious, but always it is entertaining. ABC reports that it gets more requests for Quiet, Please! scripts than for those of any other show.
"My scripts are not intended to be read," Cooper insists. "They're intended to be listened to." But his fans are more insistent, and next fall will see the publication of a book of radio scripts by Wyllis Cooper, entitled Quiet, Please! [Alas, no such book was ever published.]
Here is our good friend, Wyllis Cooper.
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