The Mysterious Traveler
1943 - 1952
Maurice Tarplin was stranger on the train who told listeners creepy stories.
The Mysterious Traveler was a show that conjured up both an image of the story being told, as well as the creepy narrator telling it. He was just as the title said, a "mysterious traveler" that we met each week on the train. It would begin with the distant sound of a phantom train approaching. A steam whistle blew, and soon we would be aboard, listening to our mysterious host spinning his yarn. His disturbing voice and morbid tales would fascinate us, as well as disturb us. After all, what kind of person would tell such a gruesome story to a stranger on a train? What sort of human would delight in the disasters of others and chuckle about the downbeat endings? Whoever he was, he knew what the audience liked-- and that made us just as guilty because we tuned in every week to hear more of it.
Maurice Tarplin was the man behind the mysterious voice. Taking us for a ride though the sinister and supernatural was his forte. Tarplin was so good at it, he also did another series that was very similar (but only 15 minutes long) called The Strange Dr. Weird. There was always a jovial undercurrent to his voice. It was obvious that he knew he was giving us the creeps and enjoyed it. And then there was the way he almost always cut off his tale right in the middle of a juicy detail. "If you think that's terrible, I should tell you about another murderer, a man who killed his wife by -- oh, you have to get off here. I'm sorry." Ostensively, it was because the train was pulling into our stop and we were about to exit, but it was really because he knew how to keep us in suspense for another week. Tarplin realized the best way to keep the audience returning was to never quite satisfy them, bur rather, to keep them hungry for more. And he sure shoveled out a lot of murder and suspense to his starving fans.
In the earlier episodes, Tarplin would insert himself into the story with small roles. ("Back when I was practicing medicine...") Thanks to these cameo appearances, we know the name of our traveling companion was Dr. Smith.
The series was written by Robert Arthur and David Kogan, who later recycled their scripts for use in The Sealed Book (as well as The Strange Dr. Weird). Unfortunately, both writers were activist members of the Radio Writer's Guild, which in 1953, was deemed to be a communist front group by the House Committee for Un-American Activities (HUAC). As a consequence, the Mutual Network was pressured by advertisers and WOR affiliates to drop The Mysterious Traveler series, and basically end Arthur and Kogan's radio writing career. (Digital Deli Too).
Some writers feel the bipartisan HUAC's real goal was union busting, and that there was really no communist threat at all. However, the FBI had by that time obtained documents from other unions showing direct involvement with Soviet agents, and Hollywood elites were prized targets of communist grooming, having been courted successfully by Soviet undercover agents like Otto Katz during the Depression, World War II and beyond. Realistically, the Soviet NKVD would have been foolish if they had not influenced Hollywood insiders to promote the Red agenda, and what better way to try and do that than to infiltrate the unions of Hollywood's writers?
Regardless of which version of history you believe (both are presented here in the interest of fairness), neither version proves any knowing involvement by Arthur and Kogan in communist shenanigans. They were, in essence, presumed guilty by association. Collateral damage in war is common-- even in a cold war. But expelling two of radio's most prolific mystery and horror writers was a big loss to the art form, whatever the reason.
The Mysterious Traveler wasn't restricted just to radio. There was also a Mysterious Traveler mystery magazine. It is doubtful the printed word could have competed with Tarplin's sinister voice characterizations, but the graphic artwork on the covers and the direct association with the long running radio series were certainly a big advertising advantage. Vintage copies of the pulp magazine are still popular today, as are The Mysterious Traveler comic books, which were another popular spin-off item.
There was also a Mysterious Traveler TV show (Grams, 2000, 336), but like other radio horror shows that tried their hand at television or film (Inner Sanctum, Lights Out), it wasn't as frightening or successful. It would be difficult (if not impossible) for anything on the screen to generate the same level of horror created by your own imagination listening to a good, scary radio drama.
Although nearly 280 of the 370 recorded episodes of the radio series have been lost to the ages, The Mysterious Traveler remains one of the best remembered characters in radio's horror history, right up there with The Whistler and Inner Sanctum's Raymond.
A recording session for The Mysterious Traveler. Left to right: Jack Amerine (sound), Bill Zuckert, Lon Clark, Roger DeKoven, Ed Bergly, Maurice Tarplin (closest to mic), Jim Wallinton, and Jackson Beck.
Artist depiction of a scene from the classic episode "Behind the Locked Door", courtesy of Tune In For Terror © 1992
The Standard Introduction:
(Hear it on Real Audio!)
SFX: Eerie music plays, a distant train whistle blows, and the clackity-clack of a train is heard in the background.
Host: "This is The Mysterious Traveler, inviting you to join me on another journey into the strange and terrifying. I hope that you'll enjoy the trip, that it will thrill you a little and chill you a little. So settle back and get a good grip on your nerves and be comfortable-- if you can! As we meet a gentleman who's just found exactly the house he's been looking for. I call his story... 'Change Of Address'"
Sfx: Music flourish.
An Opening Narration:
Host: "Have you ever seen a house that made you say automatically, 'That house was just made for a murder'? Of course you have. But until now, you've never wanted to own such a house. But now your name is Andrew Hollins. You're in your 40s, and all your life, you've been outwardly respectable. Now, suddenly, you feel trapped. Completely trapped by your marriage to your wife, Jocaster, who rules you with an iron hand. That's why, when you find this bleak, lonely house on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, your heart leaps with joy. Because it's a house... just made for murder."
An Ending Narration and Standard Closing:
SFX: Train whistle blows. The clacky-clack noise heard inside of a train plays in the background.
Host: "This is the Mysterious Traveler again. Poor Andrew. Even in death, Jocaster had him under her thumb. Yes, they had both left the house inside 48 hours, just as she had sworn. That's the trouble with a house just built for a murder. Too many people may have the same idea. So, if you're ever tempted to dig a grave in your cellar, be sure no one else had the idea first, or you may get into trouble. In fact, it may be better if you just forget the whole thing and -- Ohhh, you have to get off here... I'm sorry!... I'm sure we'll meet again. I take this same train every week at this same time."
SFX: Train Whistle blows and train sounds fade out.
Hear An Actual Episode!
(Courtesy of Botar Archives)
Devil and the Deep Blue Sea - 01/06/1949
Death at Storm House - 4/22/1945
Good Die Young - 02/27/1944
House of Death - 01/30/1944
Last Survivor - 10/11/1945
No Grave can hold Me - 01/12/1947
Out of the Past - (stars Ann Sheppard & Santos Ortega)- 04/02/1944
Visiting Corpse - (with Mason Adams)- 08/10/1948
Hear even more, FREE!
Hear up to 66 episodes of The Mysterious Traveler in RealPlayer on OTR.net!
(RealPlayer allows you to continue to browse other sites while you listen.)
(Courtesy of OTR.net)
Death is the Visitor - A man murders his mother-in-law, only to have her return again and again.
If You Believe - A scientist creates a blob monster.
The Haunted Trailer - A humorous tale about a haunted camper.
Behind the Locked Door - A man travels into a deep cave and discovers what has been trapped there for a long, long time. (A classic episode!)
Death Comes For Adolph Hitler - When WW2 ends, Hitler fakes his death and sneaks aboard a submarine to escape to South America. But victims of the German subs decide he's lived too long.
The Man The Insects Hated - A scientist develops an effective poison to kill mans greatest competitor of food-- the insects. But what if the bugs decided to fight back?
Read OTR Plot Spot synopis of various episodes from The Mysterious Traveler: http://www.otrplotspot.com/MysteriousTraveler.htm
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