The Mystery In The Air Radio Program
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Mystery In the Air spot ad fromJuly 17 1947
R. J. Reynolds sponsored Mystery In the Air to promote its Camel cigarettes and Prince Albert pipe tobacco lines
Peter Lorre records Mystery In The Air, with Harry Morgan, Hans Conreid and Ben Wright, ca. 1947
Cut from the cloth of tales woven by the imaginations of some of the most famous authors in history, Mystery In the Air, starring none other than the famous, and infamous Peter Lorre, brings these brilliant horror classics to life spooktacularly, as no other could. Peter Lorre was one of the most popular horror stars of the forties, and with a supporting cast including such greats as Agnes Moorehead, Howard Culver, Lurene Tuttle, Joseph Kearns and Ken Christy, the production was destined to be a success.
The authors and stories used in the production were:
- Edgar Allan Poe - The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat
- Carl Stephenson - Leiningen vs the Ants
- Theodore Sturgeon - The Touch Of Your Hand
- W.W. Jacobs - The Interruption
- Guy de Maupassant - A Piece Of String, The Horla
- Ben Hecht - The Marvelous Barastro, Beyond Good and Evil
- Doug Whitney - Beyond Good and Evil
- Marie Adelaide Belloc-Lowndes - The Lodger
- Nelson Bond - The Mask Of Medusa
- Alexander Pushkin - The Queen Of Spades
- Fyodor Dostoevsky - Crime and Punishment
Though only a short summer replacement for Abbott and Costello, Mystery In the Air fulfilled Peter Lorre's long-standing ambition to star in his own dramatic program. Lorre was convinced the classical tales chosen would thrill audiences for radio as much as they did the readers of the original stories. And thrill they did. Not only were Mr and Mrs America getting thrills and chills each week, but movie executives were paying attention as well. They were listening each week with the idea of starring Lorre in a series of pictures based on some of the famous stories used in this series.
From the July 29th1947 edition of the Oakland Tribune:
By JOHN CROSBY
"We were the three Blanchard of the circus," whined Peter Lorre the other night on "Mystery in the Air" (NBC 6 p.m., Thursdays), "It's waining hahd on thuh windows ana on huh gwave in Fwance," continued Mr. Lorre who has a little trouble with his R's. "She was so young, so beautiful. She was my wife."
Given that much of an introductiona moody trapeze artist and hii beautiful young wifeI can work out the rest of it pretty much by myself. I can smell the acrid odor of the tanbark, the rich over ripe smell of the old cliches; I can hear the roar of the crowd, the trumpeting of the elephants, the wild scream of the jealous lion-tamer. There isn't much you can do with a pair of trapeze artists. Somebody is going to fall off that high-wire and the only question is who and under what circumstances.
This particular story didn't deviate to any great extent. LorreI didn't catch any other namesand his beautiful wife had just perfected their one-handed quadruple somersault with a full twist (or something like that) which was their masterpiece. They were the only ones in the world who could do it.
The artists in these stories are always the only ones in the world who can do it. Then they don't do it; at least, they don't get away with it on that one night, the night the hasp is loose or the turnbuckle is tampered with by the spiteful bearded lady.
The big moment takes a good deal of preparation. No trapeze artist ever falls until the groundwork is carefully laid. "A storm was gathering like a great black beast, lying in wait," Lorre pulsated. "It was the worst storm in 30 years." It's always the worst storm in 30 years. Not 20 years. Not 40 years. Thirty years. There's a finality about the number 30. It signifies the end.
"I luff her. I luff her. I won't let her go on. I won't, I won't, howled his brother, the jealous acrobat. The jealous acrobatsometimes it's the jealous lion-tamer, but in this case it was the jealous acrobatalways bares his soul near the end. After that, the climax isn't far off.
RUN, BOYS, RUN
"Hope we can hold the Big Top," said an unidentified man. "I got to chain the elephants." When they start chaining the elephants, look out!
Pretty soon there they werethe moody trapeze artist and his beautiful wifeswinging 100 feet from the ground, the calliope tootling away, the crowd screeching, the worst storm in 30 years, the gorillas even berserker than usual. Right here you get the last conversation
between these love-crazed high wire experts. It's a weird and introspective dialogue, these final words. A man hanging upside down a hundred feet up gets some funny ideas. "Oh, circus! With your smells and sounds! You're heaven on earth! And we're God! Yes, God!" Small wonder he missed her, distracted as he was by thoughts like that.
I was a little disappointed that no one fiddled with that turnbuckle, but in all other respects this story followed the classic lines of all circus stories.
It's as good an introduction as any to "Mystery in the Air" which, according to the announcer, is a collection of "dark and compelling stories culled from the four corners of literature." That means, as I get it, that these tales will be full of spiders, corpses, and psychiatry of one sort or another. Peter Lorre with his W's where his R's should be, his velvety whispering and his intense Interest in murder will be in all of them. They couldn't get a better man for the job.
Copyright 1947, for The Tribune
And from the Amarillo News-Globe, August 10, 1947:
"THE CLOSING NOTE:
Our award for screen star best able to project personality of characterization on air expertly as on screen goes to Peter Lorre in his Mystery in the Air program Thursday nights at 8."
Well, Peter, your ambition was realized, and this wonderful series has stood the test of time. We listen today with the same anticipation as listeners of yore, and with each new generation, a new audience to appreciate the wonderful, hair-raising stories you brought to the airwaves.
|AFRS R-Series Mystery In The Air
||Anthology of Golden Age Radio Supernatural Thriller Dramas
||Audition Date(s) and Title(s):
||Premiere Date(s) and Title(s):
||47-07-03 01 The Tell Tale Heart
||Run Dates(s)/ Time(s):
||47-07-03 to 47-09-25; NBC; Thirteen, 30-Minute programs; Thursdays, 8:00 p.m.
||AFRS R-Series Mystery In The Air
||Camel Cigarettes; Prince Albert pipe tobacco
||Cal Kul; Don Bernard [Producer]
||Peter Lorre, Harry Morgan, Jane Morgan, Barbara Eiler, John Brown, Howard Culver, Russell Thorson, Agnes Moorehead, Eric Snowden, Rolfe Sedan, Conrad Binyon, Raymond Lawrence, Ben Wright, Jack Edwards Jr., Ken Christy, Lurene Tuttle, Peggy Webber, John Brown, Lucille Meredith, Phyllis Christine Morris, Stan Waxman, Luis Van Rooten, Joseph Kearns, Gloria Ann Simpson, Herb Butterfield
||Edgar Allan Poe, Carl Stephenson, Theodore Sturgeon, W.W. Jacobs, Guy de Maupassant, Ben Hecht, Mrs Belloc-Lowndes, Doug Whitney, Nelson Bond, Alexander Pushkin, Fyodor Dostoevsky
||Paul Baron [Composer/Conductor]
||Harry Morgan, Michael Roy
||Estimated Scripts or
||Episodes in Circulation:
||Total Episodes in Collection:
Billboard Magazine Review of Mystery In The Air from July 10 1947
|RadioGOLDINdex, Hickerson Guide.
Notes on Provenances:
The most helpful provenances were the log of the radioGOLDINdex and newspaper listings.
This program should not be confused with the entirely different 1945 detective genre program, Mystery . . . In The Air!. The only thing they shared was their sponsor and timeslot. R.J. Reynolds and its Camel Cigarettes brand also sponsored The Abbott and Costello Show, which aired under Camel sponsorship from 1942 through 1947. Camel owned both the timeslot and the program name, Mystery In The Air, utilized for both formats:
- The 1945 Mystery In The Air, summer replacement for Abbott and Costello; a detective mystery format, featuring Jackson Beck as Detective Stonewall Scott.
- The 1947 Mystery In The Air, summer replacement for Abbott and Costello; an adventure/thriller format tailored for Peter Lorre.
Camel's summer replacement for Abbott and Costello for the Summer of 1946 was a variety format, The Vaughn Monroe Summer Show.
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The Mystery In The Air Radio Program Biographies
|Peter Lorre [László 'Lazzy' Löwenstein]
Stage, Radio, Television and Film Actor
Birthplace: Rózsahegy, Austria-Hungary [now annexed to Ruzomberok, Slovakia]
1938 The Lifebuoy Show
1939 Texaco Star Theatre
1941 The Jello Program
1942 Towards the Century Of the Common Man
1943 Inner Sanctum
1943 Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre
1943 Duffy's Tavern
1943 The Amos 'n Andy Show
1944 Nero Wolf
1944 The Abbott and Costello Show
1944 Molle Mystery Theatre
1944 The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes
1944 The Whistler
1944 G. I. Journal
1944 Mr District Attorney
1945 Mr and Mrs North
1945 The Andrews Sisters Show
1945 Radio Hall Of Fame
1945 Command Performance
1945 Mystery Theatre
1946 The Lucky Strike Program
1946 Birds Eye Open House
1947 The Pepsodent Show
1947 The Victor Borge Show
1947 Mystery In the Air
1947 Hollywood Fights Back
1947 Philco Radio Time
1949 Big Town
1949 The Martin and Lewis Show
1952 The Big Show
1963 The Hy Gardner Show
Hollywood's Open House
The Adventures Of the Thin Man
Mr and Mrs North
Mr District Attorney
Skippy Hollywood Theatre
Peter Lorre fan photo ca. 1939
Lorre in German Stage production, ca. 1931
Peter Lorre in Fritz Lang's classic psychological thriller, M (1931)
M title screen
Lorre discusses a scene between takes with Alfred Hitchcock, ca. 1934
Peter Lorre stars as Mr. Moto in one of eight Mr. Moto features between 1937 and 1939
Lorre in a pensive mood circa 1938
Lorre in costume for Radio's Hollywood Hotel program, Nancy Steele is Missing, Friday, March 5, 1937
Peter Lorre performs over NBC, ca. 1945
Peter Lorre records Mystery In The Air, with Harry Morgan, Hans Conreid and Ben Wright, ca. 1947
Lorre kids around with tennis partner, the legendary Don Budge, ca. 1939
Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre enjoy a spritz together in Beverly Hills, ca. 1940
Lorre chats with Katharine Hepburn, ca. 1938
Peter Lorre life mask, ca. 1959
Four Horror greats, Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Vincent Price, ca. 1959
|Peter Lorre was born in 1904 in Rózsahegy, Hungary, to Alois and Elvira Löwenstein, who moved the family to Moedling, Austria, in 1912, where young László debuted in a primary school production of Snow White. He was educated in both elementary and secondary schools in Vienna, Austria. Often erroneously reported as having run away from home to become an actor, in reality after high school graduation he attended business school and eventually obtained a position as a bank teller in Vienna. A Bohemian at heart, he was quite comfortable balancing an archetypal conventional vocation by day with a very active social and night life, often performing improvisational bits at the local night clubs.
From Vienna, he moved on to the Lobe and Thalia Theaters in Breslau, Germany, in 1924. He then secured a part in John Galsworthy's Society in Zurich. While studying at Jakob Moreno's Theater of Spontaneity, László trained to emote "the lived out and unlived out dimensions of his private world." It was reputedly his mentor Jakob Moreno that in 1925 dubbed László 'Peter Lorre,' reportedly in reference to the unkempt Struwwelpeter, character from German children's literature. Further Stage experience at Zurich's Schauspielhaus and Vienna's Kammerspiele, eventually brought him to Berlin--and to the attention of legendary poet-dramatist Bertolt Brecht.
Lorre's unconventional appearance certainly fit the bill in Brecht's continuing quest for distinctive types. In 1928 Brecht cast young Lorre as the cretinous high school student in Marieluise Fleischer's lustspiel Pioniere in Ingolstadt (Engineers in Ingolstadt.) After that appearance, Lorre became, in his own words, "the hottest thing on the Berlin stage." Then in 1931 Fritz Lang cast him as the chillingly psychopathic child killer in M.
Lorre's performance had attracted the attention of German director Fritz Lang, who had cast his negative superman (e.g., an anti-superman) as a psychopathic murderer. M catapulted Peter Lorre to international infamy as much as fame, but the notoriety from that one role pretty much typecast him--in the public eye, at any rate--as a psychotic character type from that point forward in his acting career.
Fleeing Nazi Germany just two days before the Reichstag Fire of February 1933, the Jewish actor joined fellow émigrés in a Jewish conclave in Paris. M was still playing there and people recognized him as Le Maudit--The Damned One. By the end of 1933 he'd accepted Alfred Hitchcock's invitation to come to the U.K. to appear as Hitchcock's fiendish terrorist in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). After The Man Who Knew Too Much, a contract with Columbia Pictures followed, bringing both Lorre and his first wife, actress Celia Lovksy, to the United States for the first time in July of 1934.
America, he hoped, would afford Lorre the opportunity to finally shed his screen image as a psychotic villain. Lorre reportedly later observed, "Ever since I came to this country I've been trying to live down my past. That picture M has haunted me everywhere I've gone." Yet despite a concerted effort to both shed his accent and reinvent himself in American eyes, Hollywood continued to cast him as a fascinating--yet deeply troubled--psycho to varying degrees. Indeed, he was first cast as a demented doctor in Mad Love (1935), his first American film. Lorre preferred to characterize the film as "psychological terror" in lieu of a "horror" film--a genre he disliked.
Still hoping to become a more mainstream character actor, Lorre accepted Twentieth Century-Fox's invitation to play a variety of roles for their studio. Their first long-term project for Lorre cast him as the remarkably agile--both physically and mentally--Japanese detective Mr. Moto, based on J .P. Marquand's legendary secret service detective. Ironically, the eight Mr. Moto features virtually ensured an even narrower range of roles for Lorre had he stayed on at Twentieth Century-Fox.
Moving to Warner Bros., Lorre finally began hitting his stride, appearing in vehicles that popularized both his quixotic and sinister images--such as The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1943)--and introducing a more introspective, philosophic side--such as in Three Strangers (1946). And perhaps even more importantly shedding both the ethnic and pychotic characters that had more narrowly typecast him up to that point.
His acting style then reflected a major change of attitude, consciously distancing himself from the psychological probing in favor of a more natural, conventional, yet slightly off-center or ironic demeanor. He confided with friends that he was prepared to play any role--"a Martian, a cannibal, even Bugs Bunny"--to avoid a suspension in work. Warner Bros. called his bluff in 1946, casting him in The Beast with Five Fingers, ironically signalling the end of the major studio horror genre.
In an effort to secure his own fate, Lorre left the studios to form his own management company so as to produce, direct or act in his own projects. What followed were three years of relative inactivity, graylisting by the House Un-American Activities Committee--over Lorre's early relationship with Bertolt Brecht--and ultimately, bankruptcy in 1949.
Returning to Germany to direct, Lorre wrote, directed and starred in Der Verlorene (1951). Following mixed reviews, Lorre returned from Germany in 1952--somewhat more stout and disheartened in the process. After appearing in a summer stock production of A Night at Madame Tussaud's, Lorre found himself cast against type as a deliciously droll rogue in Humphrey Bogart's Beat the Devil (1954). According to a biographer, "The reunion of the 'unholy three' Huston, Bogart, and Lorre turned the clock back to happier days, when a sense of camaraderie fed the spirit of fun."
An enjoyable break, Beat The Devil was a moderate success, but such glimmers of success failed to arrest Lorre's downward spiral. Hollywood ultimately refused to capitulate to Lorre's demands to be used in more mainstream ways, continuing to cast Peter Lorre in roles that simply parodied Lorre's typecasting of the past. Lorre embarked on a string of mediocre--almost exploitative--efforts, with one possible exception: his role as a clown in The Big Circus (1959). His last feature film was Jerry Lewis' The Patsy (1964).
In a more bitter irony, as Lorre neared the end of his Acting years, his appearances in exploitative horror-comedies--teamed with Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., and John Carradine--seemed to outnumber his actual Filmography of 'psychological terror' films. By age 59, now far overweight and out of shape, Peter Lorre suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage on March 23, 1964.
A highly contemplative, cerebral and intellectual artist and thinker his entire life, Lorre both attracted, and was attracted to, the more analytical, independent thinking, and intellectual fellow artists and celebrities of his era. When one compares Lorre's long friendship with the likes of Bertolt Brecht and Humphrey Bogart--both acutely intellectual, opinionated, independent thinkers--one is tempted to feel Lorre was at odds with himself in the company he sought. But in fact, Brecht and Bogart were more alike than different. The photos of the era continually show Lorre holding his own with intellectuals such as Ernst Lubitsch, Alfred Hitchcock, Katharine Hepburn, Fritz Lang, John Garfield, The Bogarts, Bernard Herrmann, and John Gielgud. This was not simply publicity staging.
Lorre's contemporaries found him an engaging, brilliant, widely read, intellectually challenging, and often bitingly humorous companion. Certainly all well-deserved--and hard-earned--attributes. Going further, by the time his stardom had already passed its zenith, though not particularly enthused about the direction the last ten years of his professional life had taken him, he never appeared embittered about the outcome.
He took himself seriously only when he was pushing himself and his own considerable talents. From all accounts, in his personal life he tended to minimize his celebrity in favor of privately savoring the companionship of his family and friends
From his earliest campy German Stage characterizations, through his brief but influential psychopath typecasting, the lighter Mr. Moto features, and on through portraying conniving fashion victim Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon, Lorre's performances were consistent only in their unpredictability.
Just when you thought you knew every Lorre move, every signature gesture or inflection, he'd throw you another curveball and leave you in awe--yet again. That's not serendipity. That's genius. With the exception of the last 5-8 years of his exploitation films, Lorre's absolute integrity on the screen was fascinating to watch. From features as relatively trivial as the Mr. Moto's to Lorre's most angst-ridden, tortured, on-screen characterizations, he was an inveterate scene-stealer. You simply couldn't take your eyes off the man, no matter how weaselly, evil, amoral or devious his characters were.
His Radio performances were the same. When his voice aired, everyone else' just seemed to recede into the background. Was it intentional? We doubt it. We tend to feel it was simply a natural--and mutual--attraction between the audience and the performer. A very ostensibly odd performer at times, to be sure, but a mutual attraction, nonetheless.
Indeed about the only medium he seemed utterly at ease with--and even casual about--was Radio. And yet his Radio performances were as spellbinding as his Films. In fact, going even further, the vast majority of Lorre's Radio appearances were parodies of his own archetypal Film roles. He clearly delighted in camping it up over Radio--and his radio hosts and audiences loved it equally well.
Peter Lorre has become an Entertainment icon of the twentieth century, and deservedly so. No medium escaped his influence, be it Animation, Film, the Stage, Radio, Television, or Print. Whether in caricature or viewed as the gifted professional actor he truly was, Peter Lorre remains one of the last century's most easily identifiable personalities.
Nor will we easily escape his influence for decades to come--and thankfully so.
Radio, Television, and Film Actor and Announcer
Birthplace: Larimer County, Colorado, USA
1937 The Life of Mary Sothern
1942 News Of the World Today
1944 Star Performance
1944 We Deliver the Goods
1946 Strange Wills
1946 The Whistler
1947 All-Star Western Theatre
1947 Mystery In the Air
1947 Stairway To the Stars
1947 Family Theatre
1948 Straight Arrow
1948 The Adventures Of Ellery Queen
1948 Chandu the Magician
1948 Make Believe Town
1948 Anacin Hollywood Star Theatre
1948 Stories From the American Scene
1949 Our American Heritage
1949 The Adventures Of Philip Marlowe
1949 The Croupier
1949 Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar
1950 The Hour Of St Francis
1950 The Fabulous Mr Manchester
1951 Defense Attorney
1952 Father Knows Best
1952 The Freedom Story
1952 Wild Bill Hickok
1953 The Roy Rogers Show
1954 Rocky Fortune
1954 The Railroad Hour
1955 Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator
1956 Fort Laramie
1957 A Joy Forever
1958 Have Gun, Will Travel
1979 Sears Radio Theater
I Devise and Bequeath
When the West Was Young
Hollywood Theatre Group
Howard Culver as Dr. Bill Hawley in Perry Mason (1957)
Howard Culver as handwriting expert Rufus Bolding in Perry Mason (1958)
Howard Culver as Rufus Bolding shakes hands with Perry Mason (1958)
Howard Culver as Detective Parker in The Third Man (1959)
Howard Culver as Jury Foreman in The Twilight Zone (1961)
Howard Culver in The Untouchables (1962)
|Diminutive Howard Culver was a giant in Radio and a solid, steadily working character actor in Television. Born in Colorado, Culver grew up in Los Angeles, California. By the age of 19 he was appearing in Radio on The Life of Mary Sothern.
From the outset, Howard Culver's distinctive baritone and straightforward delivery promised a long and successful career for the young actor/announcer. Working regularly at KFI, KNX and Don Lee-Mutual in Los Angeles and with Don Lee-Mutual in San Francisco, Culver had already performed in almost a thousand Radio episodes by the time he entered The Navy during World War II.
Upon his return to civilian life, Howard Culver jumped right back into Radio, as well as early Television. Over a forty year career in Radio, Howard Culver compiled an estimated 4,000 appearances. His Television career, equally successful and prolific saw him in some 200 Television appearances over a 35 year career.
As with many of the truly great character actors of from The Golden Age of Television, Howard Culver was a master of 'disappearing' into a well-directed Television feature--that was, after all, what he was being paid to do. As such it's a foregone conclusion that virtually anyone who watched mainstream Television from The Golden Age has seen Howard Culver a hundred times, and can probably remember him but not specifically place him.
But where Howard Culver's voice is concerned, it's likely that virtually any genuine Golden Age Radio fan can recognize Howard Culver's distinctive voice, irrespective of the vehicle in which he was appearing. He did acquire his own fan following over the years for several memorable leading roles--especially his starring role in Straight Arrow (1948) as Steve Adams for almost three years and three-hundred episodes. Juvenile adventure fans will also recognize Howard Culver from his role as the announcer in the Chandu The Magician (1948) radio series. Culver was also Radio's last Ellery Queen (1948).
Clearly comfortable in juvenile adventure roles, Culver's most diverse body of work in Radio was in the crime, mystery and detective genres which found him appearing in a truly remarkable variety of roles, spanning the entire range of characterizations. Culver was a frequent performer in virtually anything that Jack Webb was ever a party to, as well as numerous appearances in Strange Wills (1946), All-Star Western Theatre (1947), Mystery in The Air (1947) and Defense Attorney (1951).
Working right up until his unexpected passing--while on vacation in Hong Kong--Culver seemed even more in demand as a character actor the more he matured. His voice certainly never wavered and his character performances right through the end of his career were predictably solid--the epitome of a true craftsman.
Howard Culver's widow, Lois--a Radio professional in her own right--remained active in the Vintage Radio community after Howard's passing.
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