Audio ClassicsÒ Archive

by Martin Grams, Jr.
In 1973, Carlton E. Morse was the guest of honor at a tribute dinner and during the celebration, Morse received a letter of recognition which was read to everyone attending: “Dear Carlton, My best wishes on this occasion. There is no mystery that you helped make radio writing an art form. Regards, Arch Oboler.”
Carlton E. Morse was certainly one of the leading scriptwriters for radio dramas. He began his career at NBC in 1929, and was the creator of two of the best-remembered radio programs of the 1930s and 1940s; One Man’s Family and I Love A Mystery. His contribution to the art of writing for radio is regarded and treasured by both young and old alike.
“Good citizenship is prerequisite to an abundant and gracious civilization, and thoughtful parenthood is the only key to that good citizenship. Great civilizations three times before have withered and died, because they neglected this important truth.”
- Carlton E. Morse
Carlton E. Morse was born on June 4th, 1901, in Jennings, Louisiana. At the time of his birth, his parents, George and Ora Morse (Ora Anna Phyllis Grubb) never had an inkling that their little boy would grow up to become a writer. Carlton was the oldest of six children. As with most parents, George and Ora assumed that “Carl,” as they so called him during his youth, was just an average boy growing up to find his fortune, and possibly marry the woman of his dreams. But in 1906, the family was forced to move to west, to the booming town of San Francisco, California, where George and Ora hoped to raise their children in a more strict, conventional home life. Years later, the family would move north where help was needed on a fruit and dairy ranch in Talent, Oregon.
“At the tender age of five I enticed my father and mother away from their rice fields and oil wells near Jennings, Louisiana, not too distant from the rough, tough, roistering elements of the Texas Panhandle,” recalled Morse. “It was then I brought them through the perils of the turn-of-the-century rail transportation to the virgin farm lands of the Rogue River country in Southern Oregon. The trials and tribulations of this memorable trek were manifold. A few instances of our misadventures may be imagined when I make it clear that my father in early married life was a reluctant man with money, which though negligible, he had come by the hard way. The idea of adding a gratuity, more vulgarly known as a tip, to a service charge revolted him right down to the tendrils of his grassroots. Once in a generous moment he expansively left four pennies for a large colored waiter, and only was saved from outright mayhem with a most odious looking straightedge razor by throwing my innocent young body in my father’s arms and crying out, ‘Brutalize me if you will, but save my dear papa.’
He attended Ashland, Oregon High School beginning in 1915; two years later the family left Oregon and moved to a twenty acre ranch in the Carmichael district of Sacramento, California. Carlton’s brother, Wilbur, would eventually practice law there and his older brother, Melvin, would sell insurance. Morse’s father became the Superintendent of the now-defunct National Rice Mills of Northern Sacramento. Carlton wanted to go out on his own and make a living for himself. From time to time, he helped unload rice for his father.
At Sacramento High School, Morse played on the basketball team and was on the staff of the school paper. He graduated in 1919. After high school he attended Sacramento Junior College and played on its basketball team also. In 1922, Carlton E. Morse was twenty-one years old. In that same year he enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley, where he once recalled having heard President Wilson speak. The students knew Morse as a guy with a sly sense of humor.
At the University of California at Berkeley, he was exposed to drama classes and writing courses, that became the inspiration for a career in journalism. According to “many” sources it was here during drama classes that Morse made life-long friends with students who would later star in One Man’s Family and I Love A Mystery, including Michael Raffetto, Barton Yarborough, and J. Anthony Smythe.
About 1990, Morse told ILAM fan Jim Harmon in a face to face conversation that newspaper stories about his being friends with his future actors at the University were not true. He had met Raffetto, Yarborough and the rest when they “walked through the door” to audition for his early radio dramas like House of Myths.
Carlton’s journalism career was jumpy, to say the least. He was supposed to graduate with the Class of 1923 at the University of California but never did. But as Morse explained, “On my second year I got thrown out because I flunked military. On those days it was right after the first World War and everybody was coming back from Europe and here I was, a little country boy, never wore a uniform (always wore overalls) and so I got thrown out of the University. I went up to Sacramento where my folks were living and got my first job writing for the Sacramento Union.” He began at the bottom floor, as a newspaper reporter for the Union from 1920 to 1922, covering radio and police news.
“Now I reached out into wider fields, namely ‘The Press’,” recalled Morse. “I was kindly received, but miserably paid, receiving the munificent sum of twelve dollars a week, that is on the weeks where there was money left over after the printers and the managing and city editors had got theirs. However I was not pleased being quite away that this same sheet, the Sacramento Union, had pandered to the geniuses of both Brett Harte and Mark Twain. Perhaps I was even working at the very desk and with the very typewriter these two stalwarts had used for some of their masterpieces. This might well have been, for both were of vintage stock, the desk on weary and trembling legs and the typewriter wrote with all the keys only when laid upon its left side. I understand that since, and perhaps because of, my days of service there the Sacramento Union has flourished. I always am glad to lay the magic touch on any institution which is tolerably responsive.”
Discouraged with his meager pay, Morse went to work for the copy desk at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he remained until 1925. It was five years of hard work that finally paid off, when he acquired the position of a columnist at the San Francisco Illustrated Daily Herald (1925-27), and it was this position with which he established his writing style. From 1927 to 1928 he wrote for the Seattle (Washington) Times, and from 1928 to 1929 he wrote columns for the San Francisco Bulletin.
Author’s note: Morse wrote columns for numerous West Coast newspapers during the twenties, including the Portland Oregonian, the San Francisco Illustrated Daily Herald and the Vancouver Columbian. One source reports that he wrote for the Vanderbilt Arrow, but I have yet to find any documents proving this; if he did that must have been a very short stint.
Biographical trivia – Morse was a Republican, a member of the Bohemian Club, San Francisco Food and Wine Society, and the Hollywood Lakeside Golf Club.
It was this last job as a columnist that providence rewarded Carlton for all his hard work. While working at the Bulletin, he met Patricia Pattison De Ball, who would become his first wife on September 23, 1928. Months later, the Bulletin was bought out by the San Francisco Call to become part of the expanding Hearst Empire and Carlton, along with other employees, found he was no longer needed. Working at the Bulletin also gave him the advantage of reading the new employment ads, before the public caught wind of such notices. One of these said advertisements, listed job openings of scriptwriters for radio serials at the National Broadcasting Company.
Morse later recalled: “From the Union I invaded the editorial rooms of the now-defunct San Francisco Call, the San Francisco Bulletin, the Vanderbilt Herald and the still thriving Chronicle. From this pinnacle of forty dollars a week on the rim of the copy desk, I transferred my subtle touch and driving energies to the Seattle Times. But with all, my deepest instincts were suggesting that the day and era of the metropolitan press, as a great mass communication medium and a voice of the people, was drawing to a close. With this thought in September of 1929, the very month of the Great Crash, I dug myself a nice little foothold with the National Broadcasting Company, then entrenched in several floors of the Hunter-Dillion Building, at a hundred and eleven Sutter Street, San Francisco.”
Soon after being hired by N.B.C, Morse began writing a series of scripts entitled One Man’s Family. The story of how that radio program became successful is another story, but needless to say, Morse later went on to create numerous radio programs including I Love A Mystery, Adventures By Morse, I Love Adventure, Split Second Tales, Pigskin Romances, The House of Myths, and many other radio programs.
In 1966, the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters (PPB) was founded to preserve the memory of West Coast broadcasting in the “golden age” of radio. Over 10,000 individual scripts are housed at the Thousand Oaks Library, which were previously housed for many years at the PPB headquarters in the Washington Mutual Building at Sunset and Vine in California. The American Radio Archive, established in 1984 by the Thousand Oaks Library Foundation, presently houses a large collection of radio scripts to I Love A Mystery, including I Love Adventure, Adventures By Morse, One Man’s Family and His Honor the Barber. Stanford University – the same Stanford which Claudia and Cliff attended in the television version of One Man’s Family – houses the largest collection of Morse material.
To be honored with a star on the world’s most famous sidewalk, is a tribute as coveted and sought after as any of the entertainment industry’s equally prestigious awards – including the Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, Golden Mike or Tony. And, because it recognizes a life-long contribution of both public and peer appreciation, it is an honor uniquely in a class by itself. The Walk of Fame is a permanent monument of the past, as well as the present. Envisioned in 1958 as a lasting tribute to the personalities who helped make Hollywood the most famous community in the world, the Walk continues today as a superior asset to the city, perpetuating the aura that has made the name “Hollywood” synonymous with glamour. The Walk remains one of Hollywood’s most widely visited tourist attractions. Carlton E. Morse was honored with a star of his own, in front of 6445 Hollywood Blvd.
In the introduction to the short story compilation Beyond the Gates of Dream, published in 1969, author Lin Carter recalled how the radio program I Love A Mystery inspired him as a youth to write fantasy stories. The book was the production of that inspiration. In 1945, Brett Halliday wrote a short story entitled “Murder with Music” and in the story is a brief mention of I Love A Mystery being aired over the radio – part of an alibi for murder. In the 1994 film Radioland Murders, the opening began with short sound snippets of various radio programs including the classic signature theme for I Love A Mystery.
Noted author William Goldman featured a character named Doc in his novel Marathon Man (1974). In chapter nineteen, the nicknamed was explained: “. . . and ‘Doc’ was our name. From I Love A Mystery. That was his favorite. He was always going on about Jack, Doc and Reggie, and for a while I called him Reggie but he said, ‘No, I’d rather be Doc,’ so that was it.”
On Monday, May 24, 1993, at the age of 91, Carlton E. Morse died of natural causes. His family was with him. He was survived by his second wife, Millie, of Carmichael, California; a daughter, Noel Canfield of Fair Oaks, California; two brothers, Wilmer and Harry, and two sisters, Lucille Chastine and Anne Morse, all from the Sacramento area. His memorial service was held in Los Angeles, California with several members of the One Man’s Family cast in attendance. According to Morse’s obituary as reported in the June 14, 1993 issue of Variety, and the May 28, 1993 issue of the New York Times, Morse had at one time, worked on plans to revive I Love A Mystery.
Some time before his passing, Morse wrote an epitaph for himself. “When I am gone think this of me: He truly was what he seemed to be.”
Martin Grams, Jr. is the author and co-author of a dozen books about old-time radio and old-time television including The I Love A Mystery Companion (2003) and GANG BUSTERS: The Crime Fighters of American Broadcasting (2004). Material reprinted above from the I Love A Mystery book and reprinted with permission from the author. This article is a reprint from the June 2004 REPS Convention Program Guide and reprinted with permission.
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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.


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