- I LOVE A MYSTERY: STAIRWAY TO THE SUN
“Stairway to the Sun,” is considered by many I Love A Mystery fans as one of the best adventures of the series.
With the exception of “Temple of Vampires,” most of the
adventures Morse presented on Mystery
were straight-forward situations set along the California
Coast, tropical islands and desert locales. With this adventure,
Morse gave the detectives a larger task: to venture through an
unexplored country, rumored to be a myth, and save the lives of
the expedition. Doc Long and Jack Packard are hired to pilot and
service an expedition into the South American jungle, headed by
Dr. Karl Haugemann, scientist, and his two daughters, Frieda and
Gretchen. The initial object of the adventure was a safe landing
atop the great, four-hundred-square-mile, pre-historic plateau
rising straight up out of the Venezuela jungle a mile high.
After making a successful landing with the first load of food
and equipment, Jack learns that Dr. Haugemann is not capable of
leading such an expedition. With the plane undamaged, the crew
could fly out of the jungles (if it were not for the fact there
is no room for a successful take off.)
to trek back to civilization by hacking their way through the
savage tangle of jungle and floating down the river, the
expedition encounters numerous obstacles including a mile-high
waterfall, deep caverns and underground chambers.
It’s too bad we can’t see more too, because this must be
That is obvious by the manner in which our footsteps and voices
. . .
Yeah, listen to this fer instance . . . (back off) . . .
Yoooweeeeee . . .
‘em cowboy . . .
Heeey, Doc, cut that out . . .
important is the discovery of a stairway cut out of the living
rock that climbs higher and higher until it vanishes in the haze
and clouds above. Doc takes one look and dubs it the “Stairway
to the Sun.” It served undoubtedly as one way to reach the
great plateau above. The continual drag upward (while not beyond
the endurance of the two girls) creates a pull on muscles and
delicate organs, which leaves them in an agony of stitches and
cramps after every twenty or thirty steps. After the long climb
upwards, which takes two days and one night (a total of four
episodes), the party reaches the top to discover evidence of
natives whose intelligence is limited to Pagan taboos and poison
darts and blow guns. A virtual city of cliff dwellers.
monkey men invade the cliff dwellers and jungle natives in
search of the men and two girls. Jack arranges for the
short-wave set in working order and contacts the Venezuela
Government station and the Caracas police. Shortly after, a mass
of ape men start to invade and Jack shoots over their heads with
a machine gun. This only makes them angry and more ready for a
fight. Dr. Haugemann insists on staying behind to explore the
lost civilization, shooting his daughter Gretchen when she
won’t agree to stay behind. The rescue plane arrives. The
expedition members are picked up and dropped off at the Caracas
municipal airport. Gretchen’s wounds are given a thorough
examination and she is given the promise of quick recovery.
to the Sun” was the second-longest serial in the I Love A Mystery series, lasting a whole thirty chapters, twice the
normal length of the serials Morse wrote for the program. The
idea for the “Stairway to the Sun” originated in Morse’s
second NBC Mystery Serial in 1930, The
Dragon in the Sun (which also makes a brief appearance in
episode forty-four of the Adventures
By Morse serial, “Land of the Living Dead”). *
Small footnote for nit-pickers: This serial was entitled
“Stairway to the Sun,” not “The Stairway to the Sun”
like some reference books have claimed over the last few
decades. My source
are the covers of the original scripts.
doubt originating from one of Morse’s encyclopedias,
“Stairway to the Sun” was based on real Mayan history. The
Egyptian kings maintained the cult of the sun over the
centuries. Building pyramids (symbols of the stairway to the sun
or angled rays of the sun) and later solar temples in honor of
the sun gods, the Egyptians believed these stairways also led to
the afterlife. When a king or Pharaoh died, his actions were
judged in the afterworld by Osiris, a form of sun god and ruler
of the underworld. If they were considered “just” during
their lifetime, the king would be transformed into a form of the
sun god. In Palenque, Mexico, at one of the most beautiful of
the Classical Mayan sites, are large stone steps described as
the “Stairway to the Sun.” The civilization became prominent
in perhaps 700 A.D. and flourished for a few hundred years. This
large area of ruins lies in the Chiapas state of Mexico, near
the Guatemala border.
had on my shelf a British Great Encyclopedia,” recalled Morse,
“and I used it in every I
Love A Mystery story that took place out of the country. I
used that Encyclopedia to find out what kind of forest they had,
what kind of people they had, and it was all written reasonably
and responsible. For example, ‘The Twenty Traitors of
Timbuktu’ was laid in Africa way back there when Africa was a
different place than it is now. I couldn’t possibly do that
show today unless I said it happened back in the 1930s. I even
found out how big the little towns were, whether they had a
railway through there, and what kind of trains they had. In
great detail and it was in the Great Encyclopedia, letting the
dialog take up the action.”
“The Stairway to the Sun” being as descriptive as it was,
there can be no doubt that Morse used entries from the
Encyclopedia for the foundation of this serial. As described by
they watch Jack and Haugemann approach the falls, they see the
flash of lightning and hear the crash and roll of thunder caused
by the friction of the great body of falling water! The falls is
completely surrounded by ring after ring of rainbows until it
looks like a highly decorated may-pole reaching up into the
clouds, and every few minutes the electrified air in the
vicinity of the water explodes with the flash and crack of canon
another time the announcer also got descriptive, before the
approach of flying reptiles:
- “They look down on giant rocky prominence and
cliffs of unbelievable proportions and of every color and hue;
all the colors of the painted desert are splashed over the
age-old peaks and declivities. The greens of emerald; the
lustrous sheen and shine of exposed ledges of gold; the orange
and browns of sandstone and the purples of amethyst . . . A
whole glittering peak of amethyst banked by ledge shining with
unlimited out-crossings of gold, so that it shone in the
tropical brilliance like a captive sun. And then into the
blistering sky swarmed a flock of creatures with wings;
creatures as ancient as creation itself; great monsters with
teeth, bat-like wings and with snouts and jaws like alligators .
. . Doc called them Flying Crocodiles at first and then he
called them a lot of other things as they turned toward the
airplane intent on destruction . . .”
(excited) They’re a comin’ Jack . . . four, six, seven nine
of ‘em and
ain’t foolin’ . . .
Well get up here in front along side of me. Gretchen, you’d
in the cabin with your father . . . You got both of those
I got ‘em, Jack . . . ‘Scues me Baby . . .
I’m pretty good with a rifle . .. If I can be any help . . .
You can use an automatic rifle?
Yes, I’ve never shot from an airplane.
Well, we’ve never shot crocodiles from an airplane either,
sister . . .
take this rifle and git over there on the other side of Jack . .
might also be noted that Venezuela, the vast setting for this
serial, was the inspiration behind Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The
Lost World (1912), and actually contains the world’s
highest waterfall, flooded plains, and Andean peaks. Known as
Angel Falls, the highest waterfall in the world plunges down
from the western flank of a gorge in the middle of the
Auyan-tepui. With a total height of 979 meters, and free fall of
807 meters, the water that leaves the summit takes fourteen
seconds to reach the bottom, although in the dry season much of
that water is blown away in a fine mist.
also marked the first serial in which Morse began incorporating
Christianity among the pages of scripts. Many references,
descriptions and dialogue began to filter through the I
Love A Mystery serials, hoping to remind the audience that
horror was only fiction, not something to take seriously
especially in cult fashion. The Stairway was described as a
veritable “Jacob’s Ladder to Heaven.” Later in the serial,
the Island in the Sky was described as a “Garden of Eden”
when the descriptions of the flora and fauna still left in
half-finished stages were represented. *
Another footnote: During the spring of 1930, NBC was
broadcasting a series of Biblical dramas scripted by Carlton E.
Morse, entitled Bible Stories. George Rand was the producer and director. Paul
Carson supplied the music. The hour-long dramas were broadcast
on Sunday mornings from 11 a.m. to 12 noon on the West Coast.
initial working title was “The Island in the Sky,” but Morse
changed the title to “Stairway to the Sun” before he
completed the serial. Also of interest is the character of Dr.
Karl Haugemann, described as a German scientist. At the time
this serial was being broadcast, the United States was still at
war with Japan and their allies including Germany. So why have a
German scientist leading an expedition? (If nit-pickers really
wanted, they could ask themselves how the opening gong in each
broadcast setting the time of events, came into the picture. Are
there any hidden natives with a gong at every corner?) Due to
the popularity of the favorable fan mail, Morse would write a
sequel to this thriller five serials later entitled “The
Hermit of San Felipe Atabapo.”
Haynes of Compton (the Agency representing the sponsor) wrote to
Morse on July 23, 1943, days after “Stairway to the Sun”
ended: “What the hell happened to ‘Stairway to the Sun?’
“ Haynes expressed his opinion that the story started nicely,
then frazzled. He wondered if Morse was having trouble with CBS.
The loose ends of the story worried him, and he wondered if
Morse shouldn’t work these stories out more completely before
starting to write them. “They have to add up as a whole . . .
this would also protect you from Columbia.”
August 16, 1943, Morse wrote to Haynes: “CBS did not give me
trouble . . .” and continued to explain his thinking on
“Stairway” basically defending the story. Morse said he
hadn’t received any negative feedback. (He also mentioned that
he recently received a letter from John Gordon about a Street
and Smith I Love A Mystery
comic book. Morse was very opposed to this, “it’s cheap and
childish, and it would harm the program.”)
September 13, 1943, Haynes wrote back to Morse. “OK, you win,
it seems listeners don’t agree with me on ‘Stairway.’ “
This just goes to show that the radio listeners still have the
final say regarding the quality of an audio performance. Fans of
I Love A Mystery to
this day still consider “Stairway to the Sun” one of the
best serials ever broadcast on network radio.
Copyright Registration: “Stairway to the Sun” (Reg. #
PA-582-677). I Love a
Mystery series; story no.34, episodes no. 1-30. Published
December 31, 1986, registered December 30, 1991. Claimant:
Richard A. Ferguson, trustee, Morse Family Trust. Author on ©
Application: Carlton E. Morse.
from The I Love A Mystery
Companion by Martin Grams, Jr.
2003, OTR Publishing, Martin Grams, Jr.
- email me:
- Copyright © 2004 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.
Audio Classics® LLC Archive
Copyright © 1997-2012 Terry Salomonson
Home Page: http://www.audio-classics.com
Last Updated: 04/27/15 07:37:41 PM