Suspense

1942 - 1962

Berne Surrey provides sound effects for Agnes Moorehead in the Suspense production of "Sorry, Wrong Number."

Suspense was actually spawned from another series called Forecast. The 1940 horror show was entitled Suspense and it was based on the Marie Belloc Lowndes' short Jack-the-Ripper novella, The Lodger. It was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, who had made a 1926 silent film based on the same story (Grams, 1997, 3). Its subtle ending generated a large volume of mail which convinced CBS executives that they had a strong market. Two years later, Suspense was aired. It became one of radio's longest lasting shows, surviving twenty years of consistent success. It had numerous announcers during those two decades, ranging from the early Berry Kroeger to the veteran announcers, Paul Frees and George Walsh. But it was Joseph Kearns* who evolved into "The Man in Black" host in 1943. This mysterious all-knowing narrator was similar to The Whistler.. The character lasted for over 100 episodes until March of 1945. Kerns continued as host through 1947, and returned again in 1950, but "The Man in Black" role devolved back into a nameless announcer (Grams, 1997, 17).

Yet the series itself continued on as strong as ever. It attracted Hollywood's best actors because they were allowed to play roles different from their usual stereotypes. Comedians could play killers, or heroes could play victims. Jack Benny played a Martian. Ronald Reagan played a man on the run framed for a crime he didn't commit. Lucille Ball played a cold-blooded murderer. Frank Sinatra played a psychopath. All the while, audiences were kept wondering and waiting to see what the surprise ending would be. They expected the unexpected, and they usually got it.

Some of the same stories would later be adapted to TV and performed on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Hitchcock was, after all, billed as "the Master of Suspense." And there was a certain amount of poetic justice in him borrowing from the radio series, since he was so instrumental in creating it. Examples of stories he recycled include "Banquo's Chair" and "Dead Ernest". The later story involved a man who is hit by a car and mistaken for dead. But he's actually quite alive, just catatonic. He can hear everything as the morgue man prepares to suck the blood from his body and perform an autopsy. The listener sits on needles waiting to hear if they'll discover their mistake in time, as the victim is unable to move a muscle in his defense.

Its stories like these that made Suspense so, well-- suspenseful. But Hitchcock wasn't the only one taking stories from radio. Everyone in TV was, and they were also borrowing writers, actors, musicians, and anyone else with talent who wanted greater pay and exposure. The drain on resources eventually sucked radio dry. The final blow was when the audience itself was borrowed and not returned. Suspense broadcast its last episode (#945) on September 30th, 1962 (the last day for new network radio drama in general). It was the end of a great series, and an even greater era.

* Ted Osborne also played The Man In Black when he substituted for Kearns during two episodes in 1943.


A scene from one of the classic episode "Flesh Peddler," courtesy of Tune In For Terror ©1992.

The Standard Intro:

(Hear it in Real Audio!)

Announcer: "And now... Another tale well calculated to keep you in... Suspense!

SFX: A dreamy piece using church bells tolling, strings, and soft wind instruments composed by Bernard Herrmann.

An Opening Narration:

Man in Black: "This is your narrator, the man in black. Again about to introduce tonight's Columbia program... Suspense! The story is 'The Pit and The Pendulum' by Edgar Allan Poe. The adaptation by John Dixon Carr. Our guest is the distinguished American actor Mr. Henry Hull, who plays the part of a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition. If you've been with us on these Tuesday nights, you will know that Suspense is compounded of mystery, suspicion, and dangerous adventure. To hold you in a precarious situation, and withhold the solution until the last possible moment. And so it is with 'The Pit And the Pendulum', and Mr. Hull's performance, we again hope to keep you in... Suspense!"

SFX: Music sting.

"And now, 'The Pit and The Pendulum'."

 

A Closing Narration:

SFX: A dreamy piece using church bells tolling, strings, and soft wind instruments composed by Bernard Herrmann.

Man in Black: "And so closes Poe's celebrated story, 'The Pit and The Pendulum', starring Henry Hull. We invite you to another adventure of Suspense next Tuesday at the same hour. Until then, this is the Man In Black saying... good night..."

Announcer reads credits.


Hear episodes on-line for FREE!

Hear up to 84 episodes of Suspense in RealPlayer on OTR.net!

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

 

You can also check out Archive.org for even more.


Some Suggested Samples!

(Courtesy of OTR.net)

Flesh Peddler - A talent scout discovers a new act he has to have, but at a deadly price.

The Most Dangerous Game - A man is stranded on an island which happens to be the home of a most eccentric hunter. Stars Orson Welles.

Dead Earnest - A paralyzed man is powerless to warn those who think he is dead not to harm him.

The Hitchhiker - A mysterious hitchhiker stalks a traveler. Stars Orson Welles

The House of Cypress Canyon - There is something scary in the house....locked inside the closet!

Country of the Blind - A fortune seeker goes to a strange place where the people are all alike, and jealous of his talent.

 

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

more OTR Plot Summaries of Suspense episodes: http://webspace.webring.com/people/as/sittingduck_1313/suspense.html


Bonus Suspense related sites:

Hear the Real Audio opening without the Man In Black.

Script to the Suspense episode, "House on Cypress Canyon."

Script to the Suspense episode, "Sorry, Wrong Number."


Suspense in the Newspaper Columns (Nov. 2, 1948)

"As if that wasn't enough to shake my faith in the established order of things, there was a case on 'Suspense' of Ray Milland playing the part of one of those tough, extraordinarily competent detectives who is tracking down a murderer. He thought he had his man, a very suspicious character, but the guy wouldn't answer questions. In a moment of anger, the cop slugged the murder suspect, who instantly dropped dead. The rest of the story was devoted to Milland's efforts to beat a murder rap himself. I can't think what drove the writer of that program to shatter an ancient tradition in such an uncouth manner, to make a cop behave in a way no cop has ever behaved on radio. Iconoclasm? Desperation? Or simply the belief that radio hasn't long to live anyway and we might as well start breaking up the joint right now?" (Crosby, 192)


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