Overview

Suspense (1942-1962) is often cited as one of the best series of the Golden Age of radio. Subtitled "radio's outstanding theater of thrills," Suspense provided an anthology of crime tales and occasionally adventure, science fiction, or the supernatural and featured leading Hollywood actors and directors. Suspense is significant because it was one of the most diverse, broad-based radio shows. One episode, "Sorry, Wrong Number," is known as radio's ultimate murder show. Episodes dealt in life or death situations, each heightened by a sense of doom. This was the source of suspense.


Episodes

Totals

Total episodes: 947 (approximate)
Surviving episodes: 895 (approximate)

Exemplary Episodes

Sorry, Wrong Number
Episode 043, 25 May 1943 (and others)
The best known episode of the Suspense series. Written by Lucille Fletcher and starring Agnes Moorehead. Radio historian John Dunning says "Sorry, Wrong Number" transcended Suspense and was "widely perceived to be the most effective radio show ever" (On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 648). In his introduction to The Mercury Summer Theatre on the Air production of "The Hitch-Hiker" (21 June 1946), producer Orson Welles called it "a classic among radio thrillers" and went on to say, "It's author is one of the most gifted of all the writers who ever worked for this medium, Lucille Fletcher who wrote 'Sorry, Wrong Number,' the greatest single radio script ever written."

Plot

Mrs. Elbert Stevenson, bedridden at home, depends on the telephone for a lifeline to the outside world. While calling her husband, she is connected into a conversation between two men. She can hear the two men, but they cannot hear her. Apparently, they are plotting to murder a woman at 11:15 that night, just as a train passes outside. Mrs. Stevenson realizes she may be the murder victim. It is nearly 11:15 PM. How will she convince anyone that she is in danger? Everyone she calls refuses to take her fears seriously. The drama becomes a critical examination of the telephone, a device, which although it allows people to connect, does not necessarily allow them to communicate. Script available here.

Cast

Although there are several characters, "Sorry, Wrong Number" is essentially a one-woman drama. The cast includes
The Man in Black (host of many episodes; Joseph Kearns or Ted Osborne)
Mrs. Elbert Stevenson (Agnes Moorehead)
Operator
1st Man
George
Chief Operator
Sergeant Martin
3rd Man
Information
Woman
Announcer

Versions

Eight versions of "Sorry, Wrong Number" starring Agnes Moorehead were featured on Suspense between 1943 and 1960. Seven of those episodes survive.

Episode 043, 25 May 1943
Starring Agnes Moorehead
Both the East and West Coast versions contained a flubbed line at the end that made the ending confusing.

Episode 054, 21 August 1943
Starring Agnes Moorehead
This performance fixed the flawed ending.

Episode 080, 24 February 1944
Starring Agnes Moorehead

Episode 157, 6 September 1945
Starring Agnes Moorehead

Episode 315, 18 November 1948
Starring Agnes Moorehead
To coincide with the release of the film adaptation written by Lucille Fletcher and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster. The film was nominated for an Academy Award. "Sorry, Wrong Number" was the only Suspense episode to be made into a film.

Episode 478, 15 September 1952 (missing)
Starring Agnes Moorehead

Episode 721, 20 October 1957
Starring Agnes Moorehead

Episode 840, 14 February 1960
Starring Agnes Moorehead
A rebroadcast of 20 October 1947 episode with new opening and closing segments and advertisements.

On 9 January 1950, Stanwyck and Lancaster reprised their film roles in an hour-long adaptation for the Lux Radio Theater.

Adaptations

"Sorry, Wrong Number" was adapted into a movie, a television play, and a novel.

Radio Dramas by Lucille Fletcher

"The Man with the One Track Mind"
The Columbia Workshop, 30 June 1940

"Carmilla"
The Columbia Workshop, July 28, 1940

"Alf, The All-American Fly"
The Columbia Workshop, 1 September 1940

"The Hitchhiker"
The Mercury Theatre on the Air, 17 November 1941

"Someone Else"
The Columbia Workshop, 20 July 1942

"Remodeled Brownstone"
The Columbia Workshop, 19 October 1942

"Gremlins"
Ceiling Unlimited, 21 December 1942

"The Diary of Safronia Winters"
Suspense, 27 April 1943, Episode 039
17 August 1944, Episode 105
10 August 1958, Episode 763
Starring Agnes Moorehead and Ray Collins

"Sorry, Wrong Number"
Suspense, 25 May 1943

"Fugue in C Minor"
Suspense, 1 June 1944, Episode 094
Starring Vincent Price, Ida Lupino, and Bea Benaderet

"The Search for Henri Lefevre"
Suspense, 6 July 1944, Episode 099 Starring Paul Muni, Hans Conried, and Lurene Tuttle

"The Night Man"
Suspense, 26 October 1944, Episode 812
23 October 1960, Episode 876
Starring Virginia Bruce, Marsha Hunt, Ginger Jones

"The Furnished Floor"
Suspense, 13 September 1945, Episode 158
Starring Mildred Natwick and Don Defore
Script available here.

"Dark Journey" Suspense, 25 April 1946, Episode 190
Starring Nancy Kelly and Cathy Lewis

"The Thing in the Window"
Suspense, 19 December 1946, episode 325
Starring Cathy Lewis, Jeanette Nolan, Jerry Hausner, Joseph Cotten, Robert Montgomery, and Elizabeth Montgomery.

"Bela Boczniak's Bad Dreams"
The Clock, 25 April 1948

The Hitchhiker
Episode 9, 17 November 1941, The Campbell Playhouse
Episode 11, 2 September 1942, Suspense
22 June 1946 (Episode 3, The Mercury Summer Theatre on the Air
"The Hitchhiker" was written by Lucille Fletcher for Orson Welles, and first performed by him on The Campbell Playhouse, 17 November 1941, but no recording is known to exist. The following year, 2 September 1942, Welles performed "The Hitchhiker" as Episode 11 of Suspense and then reprised his performance on 22 June 1946 for The Mercury Summer Theatre on the Air.

This radio drama is, essentially, a ghost story. Ronald Adams sets out to drive from New York City to California. He sees a strange man, hitchhiking on the Brooklyn Bridge, and again and again as he continues driving cross-country. There is no logical way this hitchhiker could have gotten ahead of him, and Adams becomes obsessed with the hitchhiker, even determines to run him over with his automobile. Calling home from New Mexico, Adams learns his mother is distraught over his death on The Brooklyn Bridge, six days prior. Could this hitchhiker be an Angel of Death, sent to guide him to the other side? Adams starts actively searching for the hitchhiker. Listen to Welles' performance of "The Hitchhiker" for Suspense.

Another version, also performed by Welles for The Mercury Summer Theatre of the Air, 2 June 1946, is available.

Donovan's Brain
Episode 92, Part 1, 18 May 1944
Episode 93, Part 2, 25 May 1944
Orson Welles; a classic of science fiction.

August Heat
Episode 143, 31 May 1945
Ronald Coleman; a date with fate and a madman with a knife, all foretold by a tombstone inscription.

The Dunwich Horror
Episode 165, 1 November 1945
H.P. Lovecraft's tale of an ancient race returned.

Dead Ernest
Episode 205, 8 August 1946
An auto accident survivor races with time against an embalmer's knife.

House in Cypress Canyon
Episode 222, 5 December 1946
A young couple find a werewolf in their newly rented home.

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Background

Suspense, was initially produced and directed by William Spier. Scripts were performed more than once over the years, often with different Hollywood actors. For example, Burt Lancaster made his radio premier in an episode called "The Big Shot." Fibber McGee and Molly appeared out of character as they took a ride with a killer in "Back Seat Driver."

Episodes were broadcast on Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), 17 June 1942-30 September 1962. The last episode, "The Devil Stone," was the last radio drama broadcast with its roots in The Golden Age of Radio (or Old Time Radio, OTR).

The cast included notable actors like, Cary Grant, Fredric March, Charles Laughton, Humphrey Bogart, Lucille Ball, Olivia De Havilland, Gregory Peck, Peter Lorre, Henry Fonda, and Orson Welles.

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Resources

OTRR certified episodes at Internet Archive
Single episodes at Internet Archive
Suspense Radio Logs at Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs website
Plot summaries and credits at Radio Gold Index website
Escape and Suspense website.

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