Escape!

1947 - 1954

William Conrad was one of several deep voiced hosts on Escape. Another was Paul Frees (click image for the photo of Paul Frees)

Escape is one of radio's most respected adventure shows. It lasted seven years, which is especially remarkable in light of the fact it changed time slots 18 different times and often without notice. It had a small budget and never had any long lasting commercial backing (Dunning, 233). Despite these handicaps-- or perhaps because of them-- it cranked out some of the most imaginative and memorable radio stories of the era.

The distinctive deep voice that opened the series (and occasionally starred in it) was actually three different people: William Conrad (the voice of Sheriff Matt Dillon in the radio version of Gunsmoke), Paul Frees (the voice of Boris in the Bullwinkle cartoons), or Lou Krugman. The host would sometimes ask a question tied to current events, like "Did you lose an election bet yesterday?" Then it would ask the same rhetorical question it did every week: "Ever dream of a life of romantic adventure? Want to get away from it all?" The answer for regular listeners was always "YES!" And so began 30 minutes of excitement and Escape.

The innovative series was a summer replacement for Suspense. Both series had a few things in common, but the differences were significant. Suspense had the big money, the big names, and the big network promotions. Escape had virtually no stars or ads. Whereas Suspense spent a lot of its time on commercials and chit-chat between the host and guest stars, Escape invested its precious airtime in the story and sustaining the tension. The plot of Suspense usually involved mystery and crime, but Escape was more action and adventure. That included science fiction, the supernatural, horror, and action stories involving man vs. nature, or man vs. man (and that sometimes included crime and espionage). Escape aired many original scripts, but often also adapted great classics like Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King, H.G.Wells' The Time Machine, and F. Scott Fitzgerald's comic adventure, A Diamond as Big as the Ritz.

Several of the best tales included Vincent Price. In "Blood Bath", he fought various jungle terrors. Black and white movies were nothing compared to the full color imaginations of radio's audience as they envisioned bloody piranhas in all their gruesome glory. And how would Hollywood switch back and forth between reality and imagination as Price did in his modern retelling of An Occurrence at Owl Creek? In the Escape version ("Present Tense"), a prisoner (Price) escapes from a train on his way to the death house. He makes it all the way back home to hear the sound of the fish jumping for insects on the surface of a nearby lake. But the listener soon realizes that those plopping noises are actually the sounds of cyanide pellets dropping into acid as the prisoner waits in the gas chamber. Unlike the audience, Price did not Escape!

Another Price classic involved a spectacle Hollywood would not be able to create for fifty years until the advent of computer generated special effects. In "Three Skeleton Key", a lighthouse is completely covered by a giant mass of hungry rats! Naturally, our heroes were trapped inside with Price. They might even survive if they can keep their sanity and wits about them as the bloodthirsty vermin attempt to gnaw their way in through the window frames...

It was exciting tales like these that kept the audience on pins and needles each week. Little wonder that when the series moved, they searched the airwaves until they found it again. Loyalty like that kept the series alive, and today, it still remains alive through tape. OTR fans are fortunate that nearly all seven years worth of Escape survived in decent condition.


Artist depiction of "Three Skeleton Key" courtesy of Tune In For Terror © 1992

The Standard Opening

(Hear it in Real Audio!)

Host: "Tired of the everyday routine? Ever dream of a life of romantic adventure? Want to get away from it all?"

Announcer: "We offer you... Escape!"

(SFX: Music: Dramatic chord.)

Announcer: "Escape! Designed to free you from the four walls of today for a half hour of high adventure!"

(SFX: Music: Night on Bald Mountain by Moussorgsky.)

 

An Opening Narration:

Host: "Tonight, we escape to a lonely lighthouse off the steaming jungle coast of French Guiana and a nightmare world of terror and violence as George Toudouze describes it in his hair-raising tale, "Three Skeleton Key."

(MUSIC ... NIGHT ON BALD MOUNTAIN ... IN AND OUT)

JEAN: (NARRATES) Picture this place. A gray, tapering cylinder, welded by iron rods and concrete, to the key itself: a bare black rock, a hundred and fifty feet long, maybe forty wide. That's at low tide. At high tide, just the light, rising a hundred and ten feet straight up out of the ocean. And, all about it, the churning water -- gray-green, scum-dappled, warm as soup, and swarming with gigantic bat-like, devil fish, great violet schools of Portuguese man-of-war, and yes, sharks, the big ones, the fifteen-footers. And as if this wasn't enough, there was a hot, dank, rotten-smelling wind that came at us day and night off the jungle swamps of the mainland. A wind that smelled like death.

 

The Standard Closing:

Sfx: Music sting.

Announcer (Reads credits and then says) "Next week--"

Host: "You are groping through the midnight dimness of a gigantic department store, and suddenly you realize that a hundred eyes are staring at you from the shadows, and a hundred hands are reaching for your throat. And your most urgent desire is to ... Escape!"

(SFX: Music: Night on Bald Mountain.)

Announcer: Next week, we escape with John Conyers story, 'Evening Primrose.' Goodbye then until this same time when once again we offer you... Escape!"

 


Hear Actual Episodes Free!

Hear up to 201 different episodes of Escape in RealPlayer care of OTR.net!

(RealPlayer allows you to continue to browse other sites while you listen.)

Read the two part article on Escape by Stewart Wright from Radio Recall, part 1 and part 2.


Some Suggested Samples

A Shipment of Mute Fate: A deadly snake is transported aboard a passenger ship and escapes, causing chaos and mayhem for all aboard.

Pollock and Parrah Man: An African game hunter kills a native medicine man and is haunted by his curse.

Evening Primrose: Frustrated by stress, a man leaves the modern world behind to hide out in a department store after hours... only to discover he's not alone.

Three Skeleton Key - Three light keepers are trapped within a lighthouse when a ship filled with rats runs aground. Later repeats starred Vincent Price, but the original star (Elliot Reid) was even more dynamic, delivering a virtuoso performance.


Bonus Escape script sites:

Script to the Escape episode, "Three Skeleton Key."

Script to the Escape episode, "Leiningen Vs. The Ants."

OTR Plot Spot synopsis of various episodes from Escape: http://www.otrplotspot.com/Escape.htm


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rev. 1.25.10 **