This little jewel was called to my attention by radio researcher Michael Ogden. It was a short five minute series of horror stories read by Boris Karloff. The writer was Michael Avallone, the famously prolific mystery writer who described himself as "the fastest typewriter in the East." He is known to have written over a thousand works under his own name (and various pseudonyms). He also had a big ego and a tendency to publicly attack other writers, saying things like Stephen King based all his stories on Robert Bloch ideas, or that Arthur Conan-Doyle was Jack the Ripper. Pairing up such an outspoken ego-maniac with the soft spoken and polite Karloff was a real contrast. Not since MGM hitched silent movie legend Buster Keaton with loud mouthed Jimmy Durante had Hollywood seen or heard such a odd couple. (Thank goodness it was Karloff who did the talking.) There was definitely something fun about Avollone. He said he would rather write than eat and sleep, and that enthusiasm often came through in his stories. He never let reality get in the way of a really good plot twist, and his sheer determination would often steamroll the facts and force an exciting conclusion, no matter how unlikely or contrived it might appear afterwards if evaluated with the slightest bit of objectively. As one contemporary described Avallone, "He was his own best character."
This isn't to say that the stories from The Frightened were not good. Many of them were entertaining and clever (although it's unclear if they borrowed various ideas from urban legends, or actually inspired them). The endings get a bit corny, however, when Karloff attempts to connect himself to some aspect of the story. If it were a vampire story, he might make a suggestive remark about the listener's neck, or if it were a tale about a cemetery, he might mention he's an undertaker. The last line would be followed by a dramatic music crescendo. It might have been effective a few times, but when he does it with every story, it becomes formulaic and juvenile. The horror aspect would have had more impact if the stories ended after the climax rather than the predictable epilogues. (Yet others will probably feel the hammy endings add to the overall charm.)
Like so many other fun radio series, this one was short lived, and it's uncertain exactly how many actually made it on the air. It would probably have been forgotten completely, except Avallone eventually published his stories in a book called Tales of the Frightened in 1963. That inspired Mercury Records to release two volumes of the actual radio show on LPs as Boris Karloff Presents Tales of the Frightened. The total number of episodes were (appropriately) thirteen. The name of the book and LP caused some confusion, however, in that people started adding "Tales of" to the actual radio title of "The Frightened."
Billboard (Sept. 21, 1963) described the recordings thus:
"Mystery writer Michael Avallone has authored a series of short horror tales to appear as pocketbooks soon from Belmont books. A number of these have been packaged into a moving series for records with narration in the hair-raising style of Boris Karloff. The scripting bears strongly Hitchcockian touches, as the master horror storyteller reads six tales on each disk, with suitable sound effects and musical accompaniment. A professional job all the way and horror story fans will find plenty of excitement."
The Standard Intro:
Karloff: "Are you one of the Frightened?"
A Typical Intro:
Karloff: "Have you ever imagined someone was following you? Caught a glimpse of a strange face in the crowd behind you and then that face mysteriously seems to be with you wherever you go? Sylvester Dodge has just that experience. Walk with me a bit and I'll tell about Sylvester and his Man in the Raincoat..."
A Typical Closing (spoiler alert!):
Karloff: "So you see, poor Sylvester tried to run away from his fate and dodged in the wrong direction, all because he had the silly notion that someone was following him. Well, I'll leave you here my friend. Huh? Why, you don't think my face is so awfully white, do you? Oh, I'm so sorry, I seem to have dropped my umbrella. Would you mind very much... handing it to me?"
Hear it now, FREE!
(Courtesy of Creativetechs.com)
You can hear the 13 stories from the Lp release of Tales of The Frightened here (2nd entry down)
18 Known titles from the radio show (from OTRstreet.com)
(* = The thirteen tales also released on the Karloff Lp)
Chung Ling Soo (1957-12-16)
Shakespeare's Hometown (1957-12-17)
Story Of Wood (1957-12-18)
The White House (1957-12-20)
Call At Midnight *
Don't Lose Your Head *
Dr Harvey Cushing
Hands Of Fate *
Just Inside The Cemetery *
Man In The Raincoat *
Never Kick A Black Cat *
The Deadly Dress *
The Fortune Teller *
The Ladder *
The Mirror Of Death *
The Vampire Sleeps *
Voice From The Grave *
Here's a list of 13 other titles from Avollone's 1963 published version of Tales of the Frightened.
"The Barking Dog"
"Beware the Bird"
"Children of the Devil"
"Defilers of the Tombs"
"The Graveyard Nine"
"The Phantom Soldier"
"Portrait in Hell"
"Say Good Night to Mr. Sporko"
"Some Things Shouldn't Be Seen"
"Terror in the Window"
"Theda Is Death"
"Tom, Dick and Horror "
"You Can Take It with You"
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