Sunday, January 18, 2004

”…each in his orbit of loneliness…”

Day 17 of “Twenty Days Well-Calculated to Keep You in Suspense.”


Their spaceship blown to pieces, six surviving crew members—Hollis (William Conrad), Applegate (Stacy Harris), Stone (Parley Baer), Laspaire (Howard McNear), Stimson (Sam Edwards), and the ship’s captain (John Dehner)—are set helplessly adrift in space. The men communicate with one another via the headsets in their spacesuits in order to maintain their sanity in the face of their impending deaths.

Ray Bradbury’s classic 1949 science-fiction tale “Kaleidoscope” was adapted by Suspense director-producer Antony Ellis and presented on the program July 12, 1955. This wonderfully moving story is a testament to the talent and genius of the celebrated Bradbury, and in addition, provides irrefutable evidence of the power of the aural medium. To achieve the stunning effect of being stranded in space, the six actors performed in individual isolation booths—and special sound patterns were also developed to convey the illusion of flying debris and open space.

Conrad receives top-billing in the opening credits, and he’s joined on this broadcast by his fellow Gunsmoke co-stars Baer and McNear. In fact, all four members of the celebrated western’s acting ensemble are present and accounted for—Georgia Ellis has a small role at the episode’s poignant conclusion (with the part of her son being played by, coincidentally, her real-life son Jonathan). Dehner and Edwards were also part of Gunsmoke’s stock company, though Dehner later achieved stardom on Frontier Gentleman and Have Gun, Will Travel and Edwards was best known as boyfriend Dexter Franklin on the situation comedy Meet Corliss Archer. Harris was a regular on both the radio and TV Dragnet, and also starred as agent Jim Taylor on This is Your F.B.I. (1945-53).

The Cave

Young Dan Embry (Dick Beals) receives a flashlight for Christmas, prompting him and his friend George (Billy Chapin) to explore a nearby cave. To their surprise and delight, their venture in spelunking reveals a strange, magical world complete with pirates, buried treasure—and a damsel in distress in the form of a princess (Ellen Morgan) in desperate need of being rescued.

Director-producer Ellis revived his earlier December 24, 1950 Escape script—an unusual Christmas fantasy tale—for the December 20, 1955 broadcast of Suspense. It’s very entertaining, perfect for both children and adults, and features a hardy crew of radio veterans—Hans Conried, Ben Wright, Larry Dobkin, and Raymond Lawrence—as the bloodthirsty pirates, with the always reliable John Dehner providing the narration as the adult Dan. Conried, who provided the voice of Captain Hook in the 1953 Walt Disney classic Peter Pan, seems to be having the time of his life, helping himself to seconds and thirds of scenery du jour as the pirate Blackton.

Dick Beals’ high-pitched voice made him the ideal choice for children’s roles—he began his professional radio career in Detroit working on the programs that comprised the George W. Trendle/WXYZ triumvirate: The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, and Challenge of the Yukon. He moved to Hollywood in 1952 and secured work with CBS, with appearances on Escape and Gunsmoke. Beals’ most memorable turn on Suspense was a February 1, 1959 episode entitled “Return to Dust,” in which his unique vocal talents were employed to simulate that of a scientist who gets smaller and smaller after an experiment (in shrinking cancer cells) goes horribly awry.

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