The Edge of Night

TV classics

USA 1956-84,  7,420 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, CBS and ABC, black & white and color. Sponsored by Procter & Gamble. Created by Irving Vendig. Announced by Bob Dixon, Herbert Duncan and Harry Kramer Cast: John Larkin, Teal Ames, Ann Flood, Laurence Hugo, Forrest Compton, Lois Kibbee and many others.

Plot summary: In Monticello, life is an endless cycle of personal drama, occasional laughter and crime.

Edge56Review: It is the dream of any author to create a character who resonates with a growing audience. As common as this dream may be, it rarely becomes reality. For Erle Stanley Gardner, that dream came true. The character he introduced in 1933 took America by storm: Perry Mason, the attorney who never loses a case. Accompanied by two faithful companions, Della Street and Paul Drake, Gardner’s hero soon tried his cases on paper and screen. First adapted for a movie audience in the 1930s, Perry Mason became truly successful on CBS Radio in 1943. Presented as a daily broadcast, the show was destined to also try its luck on television. Although originally endorsed by Erle Stanley Gardner, the program was ultimately created by Irving Vendig, the mastermind behind Mason’s radio success and renamed The Edge of Night. Following up on twelve years on radio, the television show was presented in daily cliffhanger installments which remained true to their roots of drama and crime. Only loosely based on Gardner’s original concept, The Edge of Night introduced Mike Karr as its central crime-fighting character who was supported by his love interest Sara Lane. Designed as a soap opera, the show was broadcast live on CBS from 1956 until its cancellation in 1975. It was then picked up on ABC for another nine years where it finally ended in 1984 without ever becoming untrue to its open end narrative.

As one of the first two half hour dailies of its genre it may be astonishing to hear that The Edge of Night first drew in a large male audience. At second glance, however, the afternoon time slot as well as the whodunit format are explanation enough. Although first perceived as TV’s daytime Perry Mason, the show soon grew into its own and attracted viewers from all backgrounds and age groups. Set in the fictional town of Monticello, the program did not focus on a single family or institution but rather on the entangled lives of a populace somewhere in the Midwest. John Larkin starred as one of the narrative connectors, an actor then still widely identified as the voice of CBS Radio’s Perry Mason. His Mike Karr was joined by Teal Ames as Sara Lane who met with a tragic and untimely death in 1961. Larkin himself was replaced by Laurence Hugo in 1962 who was then succeeded by Forrest Compton for the remainder of the show’s run. Not uncommon for its genre, The Edge of Night underwent many such character deaths and cast changes in its twenty-eight years on the air, none of which resulted in a fatal decline in ratings. What led to a drop in approval, however, was the unfortunate combination of network policy and Procter & Gambles’ influence on time slot changes.

Today, only a fourth of the original 7,400 episodes are available for syndication. Due to an unfortunate habit of erasing classic recordings, especially the early black and white episodes are a rare treat. For anyone who is familiar with the Perry Mason radio program from the 1940s and 50s, the quality of those few preserved episodes serves as a beautiful continuation of the suspense of once live recorded material. For soap opera fans, the show is also a true classic that deserves to be revisited where possible. Treat yourself to an early episode of The Edge of Night here, Tide commercials, announcer and original score included for the real experience.

The Perry Mason Radio Show

In 1943, after having published some twenty odd successful whodunits, Erle Stanley Gardner signed a contract with Procter & Gamble to bring his fictional lawyer and his team to America’s living rooms. Although scarred by his experiences with Hollywood and Warner Bros’ six reluctantly successful screen adaptations, he agreed to broadcast Perry Mason as an afternoon program to entertain his target group and thus promote his books. Despite Gardner’s own deficiencies to turn his narratives into suspenseful scripts, Perry Mason premiered in the fall of 1943 and underwent several revisions until the author finally came to like the radio version of his famous character three years later. Improved by writer Irving Vendig in 1946, Perry Mason was brought to life by several actors, among them Donald Briggs, John Larkin, SanotsJohn Larkin & Joan Alexander Ortega and Bartlett Robinson. They presented a sophisticated, multifaceted lawyer who was in the habit of defending friends and enjoyed good food. He was supported by an ever-loyal and savvy Della Street, played by Joan Alexander, Jan Miner an Gertrude Warner. Their relationship, like in the books, remained a riddle: close-knit and intimate, yet respectful and professional, they shared a kiss more than once. Paul Drake, the smart-mouthed, brisk detective, was played by Matt Crowley and Charles Webster. Always kept on his toes by Perry’s cases and eager to banter with Della, he was an important ingredient to the slowly blooming success of a soapy yet suspenseful show. Broadcast five days a week in fifteen minute segments, Perry Mason solved his cases with the help of recurring guest characters such as Helen and Jake Jacobson, two news reporters who helped fool suspects or the prosecution more than once. Designed as a suspense program with melodramatic elements, the show lasted twelve consecutive seasons and was finally terminated in 1955. Followed by the still popular Perry Mason TV show (CBS 1957-66, NBC 1985-95) and The Edge of Night (CBS 1956-75, ABC 1975-84), selected episodes of the Perry Mason radio program are now available on The Internet Archive and Old Time Radio. Although incomplete and rather different in quality, the episodes are a wonderful treat for any Perry Mason fan, novice or seasoned, and a great addition to any radio detective collection.

Sorry, Wrong Number

Talkie of the Week: Sorry, Wrong Number

USA 1948, 89 minutes, black & white, Paramount Pictures. Director: Anatole Litvak, Written by Lucille Fletcher, Based on the radio play “Sorry, Wrong Number” by Lucille Fletcher, Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Burt Lancaster, Ann Richards, Wendell Corey, Harold Vermilyea, Ed Begley, Leif Erickson, William Conrad, John Bromfield, Jimmy Hunt, Dorothy Neumann, Paul Fierro

Plot summary: Leona Stevenson overhears two men plotting a murder of a woman who turns out to be herself.

Review: Today, the lovely Barbara Stanwyck would have celebrated her 105th birthday. In dear memory of an unforgettable leading lady, I have thus decided to present Sorry, Wrong Number, a film noir for which she received her fourth Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1949.

Originally a radio play that featured Agnes Moorehead in a solo performance in 1943, Sorry, Wrong Number was turned into a screenplay by Lucille Fletcher, the playwright herself, and conquered the silver screen in the fall of 1948. Starring Barbara Stanwyck as invalid Leona Stevenson who overhears two men plotting a murder on the phone, the story is dark and suspenseful in writing, as well as in effect. Told in real time with the use of explanatory flashbacks, Leona’s desperate attempt to inform the authorities are as futile as her effort to reach her husband. The phone, as her only medium of communication with the outside world, turns into a beacon of hope and sorrow when she finally realizes
that the victim is going to be herself. Haunting in her desperation, Barbara Stanwyck’s performance is never quiet but rather striking in its fierceness and color. Supported by an excellent co-star, Burt Lancaster, as Henry Stevenson and an overall convincing cast, Ms. Stanwyck’s fear and constriction reaches an almost tangible level with every phone call she places, every secret she learns. Her face reflects the horrid situation she finds herself trapped in, the mere panic she begins to absorb. It is the music by Franz Waxman and the expert use of shadows and light which does the rest, affecting the audience with a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Reclaiming her role as Leona on CBS’ Lux Radio Theater in 1950, Barbara Stanwyck showed her full range of emotions in a part that was the last to get her the attention from the Motion Picture Academy until she finally received an Honorary Oscar in 1981. As one of her many films that left a mark until today, Sorry, Last Number is a classic that never gets old but has the potential to attract an entire new generation of fans. With its enthralling style and Ms. Stanwyck’s powerhouse performance, the film is perfect to bring sunshine to an autumn-like July and a beautiful way to honor her today.

Available on DVD, CD and as radio podcast.

Tune in again tomorrow, will you?!

Do you like to listen to the radio?!

Well, if you’re like me and enjoy the beats, lyrics and commercials of the swing, big band and rock ‘n roll era, I just found the place for you today: Radio Vintage.

Go ahead and listen in, they are online and a wonderful addition to all the available programs on the Internet Archive  (including Lux Radio Theater, selected episodes from Dragnet or Father Knows Best, Mr. and Mrs. North, Our Miss Brooks and Perry Mason).

But be warned, you better plan to sing along and move your feet – I know I’ve been doing that all day and enjoyed every blessed minute!

Mr. and Mrs. North

TV classics: Mr. and Mrs. North

USA 1952-54, 2 seasons,  57 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, CBS (1952-53), NBC (1954), black & white. Based on Richard & Frances Lockridge’s original novels. Cast: Barbara Britton, Richard Denning and Francis De Sales

Plot summary: Pam and Jerry North keep stumbling into murder cases they investigate with or without a little help from their police detective friend.

Review: Before Mr. and Mrs. North found their way to the small screen, the married sleuths had a career in radio, a motion pictures and a series of novels to look back on. Originally created by Richard Lockridge as newspaper fiction in the 1930s, Mr. and Mrs. North were first reprinted as short stories and then further developed into a series of crime novels by the author himself and his wife Frances. In 1941, the sleuths were presented on Broadway, then moved on to silver screen Hollywood and radio one year later. Following their continued radio success, Mr. and Mrs. North were finally picked up for the small screen in 1952, starring Barbara Britton and Richard Denning as the title characters.When the show was canceled in 1954, the two leading actors reprised their on-screen chemistry on the continued radio program until it was taken off the air one year later.

For the duration of the show, Mr. and Mrs. North were often supported by befriended New York police Lieutenant Bill Weigand (Francis De Sales). Although helping them with an occasional interrogation or professional advice, the cases were always solved by the hobby sleuths, primarily by Pam who had a tendency to get herself in trouble for uncovering the truth. Jerry, her loving husband, often seemed to be one step behind – a fact that didn’t stop him from ignoring her hunches or ideas until her words made sense to him (mostly when Pam had already put herself in danger again).

If you think that the show may have dwelled on the interaction between husband and wife, in fact it did. That was the driving force of the show. The crimes they stumbled into were a mere setup for an entertaining half hour of married investigating. Sometimes, the solutions to their cases were so simple, it wouldn’t have worked if Pam and Jerry’s behavioral pattern hadn’t been so funny. Barbara Britton and Richard Denning did a beautiful job creating a sparkle of spousal familiarity that added spice and joy to the short and easy plots.

All in all, Mr. and Mrs. North is a diverting program with a group of sympathetic characters and a decent cast of actors who were joined by fantastic guest performers such as Raymond Burr (who would take on the role of his life as Perry Mason in 1957). It’s a great show for a cold winter night when all you want is to lean back on the couch with a hot cup of whatever-you-like.

Selected episodes available on DVD and online.

Mr. and Mrs. North pilot episode

Vintage Christmas

So this is it, only one day left till Christmas Eve.  Let’s doll up and spend the holidays with some of those joyful classics. Have yourself a charming vintage Christmas. And bless y’all!

Christmas songs:

Christmas TV episodes:

Christmas radio:

Radio Plays

Today I’ll move away from the screen and focus on another favorite medium of mine, the radio.

As a child, I loved listening to the radio, for hours and hours, followed those voices that smoothed my heart and caressed my soul. I fell in love with knowledgeable hosts and reporters, music programs, and most of all, plays recorded for the radio.

I adored that feeling of getting absorbed by a good tale, preferably whodunits. I closed my eyes and was right there, in the world of a suspenseful story, with my favorite characters, feared for them or cheered. The sound of an opening door stopped my heart, the buzz of a doorbell turned my head and gunshots made me shriek. I loved to use my headphones to increase the effect, to lie down on the couch or the floor and feel the adventure surrounding me. I craved to be right in the middle of it, to run along and solve the case. At some point I often knew who the murderer was, just like my heroes, but my heart didn’t stop bouncing with anxiety until they were safe and justice had prevailed.

Today, I still enjoy listening in – now on my iPod to catch those old-school favorites of mine. iTunes offers a variety of gems, misleadingly offered as podcasts: Perry Mason, Old Time Mystery Radio or Radio Detective Story Hour – take your pick and enjoy. It’s free, just like radio used to be.

The spell still works for me – an hour or two of Perry Mason on the radio and I am bewitched, hold my breath, giggle or cry out to my favorite lawyer to watch out for Della or himself. I especially like those original recordings, even though the quality is sometimes rough – back in the days, when they still had radio actors, the cast and crew knew how to keep me on the edge on my seat while new recordings often sound airy, lifeless and simply not dramatic enough. One of the many things we seem to have forgotten, how to tell stories with intensity and passion, but minus the explicit.

Like in those classic movies, insinuations do so much more for you, a crime that’s mentioned or hinted at rather than shown. The effect can be so much more draining, those little tricks our imagination is playing when we feel haunted by a mix of words and scary atmosphere. It advances our creativity.

There’s a reason why we like to sit and listen to our parents telling us stories as children. Not only do we learn their language, we also dive into a whole new world, one that was created by their voices and comes to live in our heads. We form images to the words we hear, see the setting, faces, colors – nothing can top that movie in our head because in our mind we don’t have to make compromises about how people look, feel or smell, how a place is built or a wall is painted. Our imagination doesn’t know those kinds of limitations unless we’ve never learned to unravel that potential.

I am happy to have grown up with all kinds of creative input: radio, books and classic films. Every medium triggered a different fondness and an insight into another world. Radio plays made me fall in love with voices and the quality of witty dialogue. Now the internet, as a “new” medium provides me with a chance to dive back into those. How beautiful is that?!