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Suspense (30 min)

Show Description

When it left the air in 1962, Suspense was the only remaining regularly scheduled drama on commercial network radio. We’re bringing it back with “Sorry, Wrong Number”, the classic tale of an invalid who overhears a call where her own murder is planned.

Show History

Considered one of the best mystery series on radio, Suspense was broadcast by CBS. The weekly anthology show ran for twenty years, from 1942 to 1962. The radio program was broadcast weekly from Hollywood. Scripts were generally of high quality and featured at least one well-known stage or film performer. The famous broadcast of 1948 entitled “Sorry Wrong Number” starred Agnes Moorehead in a thrilling tale of an invalid woman who accidentally overhears a telephone conversation in which arrangements for her own murder are being discussed. For the rest of the program, she tries frantically to telephone someone for help. A stunning concept for the aural medium, the episode was later made into a film.

One of the premier programs of the Golden Age of Radio, Suspense advertised itself as “radio’s outstanding theater of thrills” and was heard in one form or another from 1942 through 1962. There were approximately 945 episodes broadcast during its long run.

Suspense went through several major phases, characterized by its hosts, sponsors and director/producers. The show was so popular that over 900 of the original episodes are extant in high-quality recordings. Alfred Hitchcock directed the audition show — an adaptation of The Lodger, that Hitchcock had filmed in 1926 — in a 1940 program called Forecast, starring Herbert Marshall. In the early phase, the program was hosted by “The Man in Black” (played by Joseph Kearns or Ted Osborne) and many episodes written or adapted by the prominent mystery author John Dickson Carr.

The sponsor became Roma Wines and then Autolite Spark Plugs; eventually Harlow Wilcox (of Fibber McGee and Molly) became the pitchman. William Spier, William N. Robson, and Anton M. Leder were among the producers and directors. The program’s heyday was in the early 1950s, when the great radio actor, producer and director Elliott Lewis took over (still during the Wilcox/Autolite run). Here the material reached new levels of sophistication. The writing was taut, and the casting, which had always been a strong point of the series (featuring famous film stars like Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Colman, Cary Grant and many others), took an unexpected turn when Lewis expanded the repertory to include many of radio’s famous drama and comedy stars, such as Jack Benny and Jim and Marian Jordan (aka Fibber McGee and Molly). The highest production values enhanced Suspense, and many of the shows retain their power to grip, entertain and move.

The single most popular episode of Suspense is “Sorry, Wrong Number,” written by the premier radio scribe Lucille Fletcher, in which a panicked, bedridden woman (played by veteran radio actor Agnes Moorehead) tries to convince a telephone operator she has overheard a murder plot on a crossed line. First broadcast on May 25, 1943, it was repeated seven times (last on 2/14/60) and spawned the 1948 film with Barbara Stanwyck in the lead role. Another noteworthy episode was Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker”. But there are literally hundreds of extant episodes considered by fans to be of equal or greater quality. In addition to such fine writing, the radio Suspense featured outstanding music by Bernard Herrmann and excellent production values. The program attracted a loyal following of listeners until September 1962.

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