- INNER SANCTUM
MYSTERY: BEHIND THE CREAKING DOOR
- by Martin Grams,
- Inner Sanctum
a national favorite among mystery lovers for more than a decade,
went on the air in January 1941 and was quickly chosen among the
10 best dramatic features on the air in both the Scripps-Howard
and Radio Daily polls.
in hair-raising murder and mystery dramas, Inner
Sanctum frequently delved into the supernatural, complete
with ghosts, ghouls and spooks of every variety. It featured as
host Raymond Edward Johnson and Paul McGrath, both well-known
radio and Broadway actors. Johnson, the initial host, identified
as “Raymond” on the show, was a debonair character beloved
by his audience for his saucy commentaries and his ability to
keep them in a state of constant but pleasurable suspense. The
introductory and final note of the program was the familiar
creaking door, which has since become as popular a byword as
Raymond’s expression, “Pleasant dreams—hummmm!” Himan
Brown, one of the most competent and experienced producers of
topflight radio dramas, assured magnificent productions.
mail ranged from poetic endeavors of clever kids trying to
immortalize the creaking door to rambling epistles from
listeners of many ages. Raymond received letters written in
blood, the majority of them from women. Submissions included
cans of oil for the creaking door.
Inner Sanctum cannot
make up for, however, is its lack of preservation. It’s
estimated at present that only one-fifth of the Inner Sanctum radio broadcasts exist in recorded form. Very few
scripts are in circulation, and interviews with those involved
are few and far between, compared to lesser known radio horrors. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that Inner
Sanctum Mystery is best remembered not for the stories it
dramatized, but for the signature opening and closing of the
creaking door. (Quite
a number of Inner Sanctum
scripts were dramatized on Murder
at Midnight but when you ask someone to name a horror
program that aired during the “golden age of radio,” which
of the two come to mind first?)
a curio, let’s look back at the impact Inner
Sanctum Mystery made on the listening audience, through
reviews, fan letters, and other assorted trivia.
(This is just a “small” sampling, mind you.)
- Assorted trivia
. . .
January 22, 1941, issue of Variety reported: “Through this series Carter’s Little Liver
Pills makes its bow in network broadcasting. As a contributor of
radio entertainment the account has not done itself proud.
Perhaps the product found it gratifying enough to be admitted to
network respectability and figured that its purpose would be
amply served so long as it could get the CLLP plug over such a
hookup. In any event, the plug is deftly interpolated and most
innocuously phrased. As for the mysteries themselves, they are
not only poorly adapted but they reek, from the production angle
of 1930 radio. The narrator, who seems to be gumming up the
proceedings most of the time, talks about excitement, suspense
and chills but what the program should guarantee is a sure cure
was once quoted by someone (and now popularly “known” among Inner
Sanctum fans) that there was a total number of thirteen
script writers who wrote for the mystery program. This is not
true. Inner Sanctum
featured scripts penned by more than twenty authors during the
twelve years on radio.
radio actors who appeared on the horror program week in and week
out in supporting roles were known as “stock players.” Many
were residents of New York and surrounding areas. Raymond Edward
Johnson lived in Chappaqua, New York; Richard Widmark lived in
Bronxville, New York; Anne Seymour had a residence in Greenwich,
Connecticut; Santos Ortega lived in Dougleston, Long Island;
Betty Winkler and Leslie Woods resided in New York City.
February 26, 1941 issue of Variety reviews “The Case of the Strangled Snake,” broadcast on
February 18, 1941: “Inner
Sanctum Mystery hasn’t improved since its faltering start
a few weeks ago … a pitifully spurious whodunit by Frank
Gould. Scripting was pretentious and clumsy, production and
directing were inept and the acting, except for Myron
McCormick’s vibrantly direct performance as the detective,
were hoke-bound. Carter’s Little Liver Pills commercials were
broad, but unobjectionably worded.”
to the April 8, 1942 issue of Variety,
the Inner Sanctum series had the next-highest rating to Winchell of any
program on the Blue Network.
Lew White supplied the music for the radio program during most
of the run. He even furnished music for the television series in
1953. His signature build-up and eerie chords opening each
episode was featured from episode one. But not until December 1,
1942, almost two years after the program began, did White
actually copyright his composition titled “The Inner
episodes, August 15, 22 and 29 of 1943 did not feature Raymond
Edward Johnson as the host during the early years.
Raymond went on vacation for a little rest and
Kroeger was substitute for Raymond, who did return for the
broadcast of September 4, 1943.
Newman’s “The Man Who Hated Death,” broadcast on March 22,
1942 was a vehicle for horror actor Boris Karloff.
The script was included in Max Wylie’s Best
Broadcasts volume of the year.
per episode of Inner Sanctum Mystery as reported in January 29, 1941, issue of Variety:
per episode of Inner Sanctum Mystery as reported in October 22, 1941, issue of Variety:
$1,500 to $2,000.
fan letters reprinted below . . .
your program is slightly on the grotesque side, I find it a
refreshing change from the ordinary. However, in the past weeks
it fails to be unusual and drops back into the commonplace.
Let’s have more gore.”
Murphy, Des Moines, Iowa)
do not believe a program such as yours is fit for children to
listen to. I know that children do not use shave cream but they
used to listen to your other program.”
Weber Brown, Portland, Oregon)
have elected Inner Sanctum
Mystery the most outstanding program of its kind.”
Edmund Cooke, Princeton University)
wishes for your continued success. We love your silly
interruptions. Speaking of ‘lather gloves,’ why not use this
one … ‘A Pretty Ghoul Is like a Malady.’ We think your
commercials are very well done, and my husband certainly
switched to Palmolive Shave Cream because of them.”
E. S. Rogers, Port Chester, New York)
must compliment you on your program of February 5th. In
twenty-five minutes you killed off twenty-seven victims. These
are the kinds of programs we love. Plenty of gore—so give us
Sulzer, Los Angeles, California, 1944)
- More assorted
trivia . . .
strangest sound effect that ever evolved, recalled Sanctum’s
sound man Ted Slate, was that of leeches eating a man. To
accomplish the effect, he kept beating a hunk of liver on a
marble slab—and the effect was terrific.
Edward Johnson shattered the 19-year record of True
Detective Magazine by appearing on the cover in connection
with his choice of a favorite “Inner Sanctum Mystery.” The
editorial policy of the magazine, until then, had been to use
only factual police records.
Brothers created a short Bugs Bunny cartoon in 1946 titled Racketeer
Rabbit with Bugs performing the usual antics on two
gangsters (caricatures of Peter Lorre and Edward G. Robinson).
In one scene, a creaking door opens slowly after which Bugs
Bunny refers to Inner
Bloch’s 1959 mystery novel Psycho
was initially released as “An Inner Sanctum Mystery.” As a
result of the 1960 Hitchcock film version, the novel went into
more reprints than any other Inner Sanctum release and outsold
the others. Such reprints are no longer attributed as “An
Inner Sanctum Mystery.”
Universal Studios filmed the six “Inner Sanctum” movies from
1943 to 1946, the leading actor was paid more than the director.
Lon Chaney, Jr.’s salary was $10,000 per movie, which
is not a bad take for a low-budget “B-class” picture,
especially since director Le Borg went home with a $1,500
paycheck for directing Dead
- Inner Sanctum
had a long course of out-of-this-world interests. The horror
program was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1988 and,
even today, “lost” episodes of broadcasts not known to exist
in recorded form are sought by collectors and promptly sold for
top dollar before they spread through circulation.
the early 1940s the radio program had a devoted follower in one
of the inmates at Auburn Prison. Every week (during the months
of 1943 to 1944) saw at least one gruesome story outline heaped
on the batch of incoming mail. Himan Brown never used any of
them, but that didn’t stop the Auburn resident from submitting
proposal after proposal.
is the author of the book Inner
Sanctum Mysteries: Behind the Creaking Door.
Excerpts and trivia above are reprinted with permission
from both the author and the publisher.
If you think the various trivia above is fascinating,
then this book comes highly recommended. A must-have for even the casual old-time radio fan.
Grams is the author and co-author of many books about
old-time radio including The
Have Gun-Will Travel Companion, The
Sound of Detection: Ellery Queen’s Adventures in Radio and
Invitation to Learning.
Copyright © 2003 by Martin
Grams, Jr. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States Of America. No part of this
publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording,
or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
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Last Updated: 04/27/15 07:37:41 PM