Run, Man, Run
(aka The James and Pamela Mason Show)
Above image courtesy of Tune In For Terror © 1992
Announcer: Frank Barton
Sometimes you can have excellent talent, a famous writer, plus a highly prized director, and still wind up with a mess. That seems to have been what happened with Illusion, aka The James and Pamela Mason Show-- written and directed by Arch Oboler. The subtitle to this series was Run, Man, Run. It was a dramatic action anthology series transcribed in advance of the actual air dates. This became painfully obvious when Oboler recorded three episodes and then promptly resigned from the show before the very first one aired. Conflict with the Masons seems to have reached a breaking point. James Mason was an exceptional film actor and his wife was no slouch either. They had become popular on radio for their appearances on the comic Fred Allen Show (Dunning, 367). Lurene Tuttle was another well qualified cast member, having been heard in countless other radio shows. Everyone involved was a well seasoned professional. So what caused the meltdown?
According to the July 23, 1949 review of the premier episode by Billboard magazine, it was Oboler who dropped the ball. Reviewer Jerry Franken describes Oboler as "One of the best writers in radio, with a notable record of achievement to his name," but goes on to add, "it must nevertheless be reported that had he quit before recording this program, all concerned would have been better off. The script and story idea were transparent and spurious, and the bilious Colonel Blimpish performance by James Mason botched any chance it may have had." Many of Oboler's stories tend to be plot heavy with one dimensional characters. As radio audiences matured and the 1940s came to a close, they didn't suspend their disbelief as easily as they might have in earlier times. If any part of the story or the characters seemed too contrived, the more jaded listeners would notice.
The plot of the first show, "The African Story", involves Mason's character seeking revenge against a man he blames for causing his wife's death in a lion hunting accident. In the end, it is revealed that Mason was really to blame, and he blows out his own brains in atonement. (That's one way to reunite with the deceased.) The story certainly had enough blood, action, and gore-- all typical Oboler ingredients for excitement-- but according to Franken, it just didn't "command reality." Seasoned director William Spier of Suspense fame was called in to rescue the series (Dunning, 367). Unfortunately, even a new captain at the helm was not enough to save the ill-fated ship from sinking. It lasted just a month and a half on NBC. One can only imagine the in-fighting and finger pointing that occurred once this big budget show (which spent a whopping $9,000 on the cast alone) started to take on water. Despite the entire series being recorded in advance for broadcast, none of the episodes seem to be in circulation today. Did someone go out of their way to bury it in an unmarked grave? We may never know.
What we do know is this: As much as the entertainment industry desires to find a sure-fire formula of making a hit, the magic of radio drama cannot be pre-engineered with any degree of certainty. It is an art, not a science. Obtaining a big budget, a hot cast, and a seasoned crew improves the chances of a hit, but anyone who thinks it will guarantee success is living an illusion.
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