Sleep No More!

1952 - 1957

Horror Host: Nelson Omsted

Sleep No More was the second radio horror series of spoken word tales recited by Nelson Olmsted. (The first one was Black Night in 1937). Sleep No More began as a fifteen minute series, but in November of 1956, it expanded to 30 minutes (OTR Olmsted would read classic short stories and perform all the different voices of the characters. Music and sound effects were added in the background. Some (if not all) of the readings were pre-recorded. Not only was magnetic tape use becoming commonplace in the 1950s, but one can detect a slight edit at the beginning of one of the sentences during the performance of "Waxworks". (About 1/3rd into the performance, when the main character has just been left alone in the wax museum, you can hear the false start of a sentence recorded over when Olmsted says "The eye-- The eyes of doctor Bordet's effigy haunted and tormented him.") Yet even with the advantages that such technology afforded, Olmsted's ability to change voices between distinct characters is impressive. (He had plenty of practice perfecting the talent during his live performance years of Black Night.) Although the stories were not original ones written specifically for radio as they had been in the Black Chapel and the Black Castle series, Sleep No More is still a fine example of reader's theater and pre-published short stories at their best.

A Typical Intro:

Host: "This is Nelson Olmsted.

(SFX: Wind blows.)

(Echo effect) "Sleep No More.

(Eerie music, oboe plays.)

Host: "Sleep No More. Turn down the lights. Sink back into your chair and don't look in to the shadows. In the shadows, there may be moving things. Tonight, it may be, you will Sleep No More."

Announcer: "Good Evening. This is Ben Grauer introducing tonight's tale of terror, told by Nelson Olmsted on the National Broadcasting Company's presentation of Sleep No More. The story of terror can be as simple as a sheeted ghost rattling chains. It can be a complex and hidden world of horror, lurking in such unholy dimensions as only the dead and the moonstruck can glimpse. Or it can be those terrible fathomless shadows which lie buried deep in the primitive mind of civilized man. And, for this evening, well Nelson Olmsted, tell us about this evening's story."

Host: "It's called The Storm, by McKnight Malmar, who, incidentally, is a woman. It's a story about a woman, who comes home one night to a big empty house to find a pin point of light, where there should be no light."

Announcer: "That sounds chilling. So let's let Nelson Olmsted tell us about the woman alone at night, and The Storm..."


A Typical Closing:

Host: "This is Nelson Olmsted. The story you heard tonight was written by a woman and was about a woman. In the moments that remain tonight, and while you're in such a wonderful, sleepless mood, I'd like you to hear the famous poem Edgar Allen Poe wrote about a woman, his wife. Here is Annabel Lee."

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"The Storm" - A woman is terrorized by strange events within her country home.

For over a dozen more, see They include:

"Waxworks" - A reporter agrees to spend the night in a wax museum's chamber of horrors, and becomes hypnotized by one of the characters on display.

Also included in the same program is:

"The Man and The Snake" - A collector of snakes finds one has escaped beneath his bed, and is unable to move or call for help.

"Three O'clock" - A jealous husband decides to blow up his wife with a time bomb, but he can't predict the events that disrupt his murderous scheme.

"The Escape of Mr. Trimm" - A convict manages a lucky escape, but still has a barrier to overcome before being truly free: a pair of meddlesome handcuffs.

Other trivia: Two records of Olmsted's performances were released in 1956 under the Vanguard label. They were "Sleep No More! Famous Ghost and Horror Stories" (Vanguard, 9008, 1956. See photo at top of page), and "Edgar Allan Poe: Tales of Terror" (Vanguard, 1956. See image above this paragraph.) They were later re-released in the 1960s and 70s as a two record set.

On the back of the Sleep No More album, Olmsted wrote:

"Now that I think of it, we had a sort of Golden Age of Drama down in Austin, Texas, during those depressed middle thirties. There was the Curtain Club of the University of Texas and Austin’s Little Theatre, and working between them were such aspirants as Zachary Scott, Elaine Anderson Scott, Eli Wallach, Walter Cronkite, Brooks West and Alma Holloway, whom I had sense enough to marry. Most of them came on to New York, fought the actor’s battle, and made it one way or another. I stayed behind with the security of a radio announcer’s job. By the time I moved to WBAP, in Fort Worth, this security was pulling, and the announcer’s life seemed endlessly sterile. What to do about it? Dramatic shows cost money and there were no budgets. The cheapest drama for radio I could think of was good literature, read aloud. Especially the work of that great dramatist who never wrote a play -- Edgar Allan Poe. WBAP gave me some time with which to experiment. That was way back in 1939 -- and it worked. By 1940, the storytelling show was on NBC for a ten-year run. There were a couple of years out for the Army, but even so I managed to tell stories over the Army radio network in Italy. Television brought rough competition to the industry. Rather than fight, I joined by adapting some of the best stories into plays, selling them to Fred Coe, and playing a part in them -- sometimes the lead. So -- in the long run -- I got to New York, too, and made it as an actor, literally by telling stories!"

One listener described it thus: "(They are) largely excellent and highly literary adaptations of famous works that are allowed to unravel in 8 to 9 minute vignettes, I think Olmsted's voice and tone will seem especially well suited to the medium among OTR enthusiasts, who will also find a familiar and more languid sense of pacing evident here."

See also Nelson Olmsted's first OTR horror show, Black Night.

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