Down the cobwebbed Halls of Horror Host History many well known names echo; VAMPIRA, ZACHERLEY, GHOULARDI, and a haunted hoard of others. But, in a far gloomy corner, just beyond sight, echo names of those not as well known in our era, but whose influence is still felt. They are the forerunners of our tradition of terror, the primordial presenters of fearful fare. They are the Horror Hosts of Radio!
Before home computers, or even television, RADIO was THE home entertainment medium. Radio brought it’s millions of listener’s news, commentary, music, and, most importantly to fear fiends like us, stories of suspense and horror. Unlike TV shows and films these tales relied only on voices, sounds and the listener’s imagination to chill the blood.
And, of course, we find these journeys into dark drama are more enjoyable with a companion, someone(or something!) to lead you through the lurid labyrinth and safely home again. And so, in 1930, out from the miasma of sinister sound came…THE SHADOW!
Created by ad man David Chrisman and radio writer/director William Sweets, and voiced alternately by James La Curto and Frank Readick, THE SHADOW hosted THE DETECTIVE STORY HOUR, a radio series of crime stories adapted from the pulp publication DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE. Designed to boost sales at the newsstands, Chrisman and Sweets felt a Mystery Man narrator would be a unique hook for the show, but soon THE SHADOW, with his mocking laugh and magnetic manner, upstaged the tales he hosted. After audiences started asking retailers for “that Shadow magazine” instead of the magazine’s actual title, it became clear that THE SHADOW was the true star of the show.
Writer and magician Walter B. Gibson then shaped the famous character as he is known today; the mystic crime fighter who can “cloud minds of men” and move about unseen. In 1937, THE SHADOW radio series starring Orson Welles premiered with the classic catch phase from it’s introduction “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow Knows!”
But first, THE SHADOW was a host! The character had supernatural overtones but is not usually considered a “Horror” Host, since his show focused on crime drama.
In this writer’s humble opinion, the first TRUE radio Horror Host crept along in 1931. She was a croaking, grizzled old crone who conjured uncanny yarns; the host of “THE WITCH’S TALE”, OLD NANCY, The Witch of Salem!
With her wise black cat “Satan”, OLD NANCY welcomed listeners into her haunted hovel, (always on her “birthday” which, inexplicably, occurred weekly) to gaze deep into the embers of her hearth’s fire as she related her “pretty tales”, which included adaptations of classics such as DR. JEKYLL and MR. HYDE and FRANKENSTEIN as well as many original stories.
Created by writer Alonzo Deen Cole, OLD NANCY was performed by stage actress Adelaide Fitz-Allen. After Fitz-Allen’s death, the one hundred and seventeen year-old witch’s voice was performed by Miriam Wolfe, who was only thirteen at the time!
Hot on OLD NANCY’s haggard heels followed a fearful flood of radio Horror Hosts, as we shall see next time! Keep your dial tuned to this station!
TO BE CONTINUED…
Old Time Radio fans can read more about horror host Lord’s Blood-Rah’s Nerve Wrackin’ Auditorium podcast presenting the best in old time radio horror at www.drunkenzombie.com or on iTunes under Drunken Zombie. Get more info at www.facebook.com/lordbloodrah and on our staff page.
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!