This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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DARK FANTASY PART III: Surveying the Supernatural
by Karl Schadow © 2011
(From Radio Recall, June 2011)
Parts I and II of this series on Dark Fantasy (Radio Recall, February 2011 and April 2011, respectively) provided OTR enthusiasts with detailed information on the program's creator Scott Bishop (George M. Hamaker), production at Station WKY in Oklahoma City, and episode chronology and plot synopsis from a period of October 1941 through April 1944. In the third and final chapter the program's supernatural features will be explored.
Each 25-minute episode of Dark Fantasy opened with a howling wind accompanied by ominous organ chords exercised by Ken Wright. The program's title ...DARK...FANTASY... was then read in a deadpan voice by Ben Morris or that particular play's lead actor. This was followed by the episode's title emoted by an actor, but occasionally by lead actress Eleanor Naylor Caughron as in "The Letter from Yesterday" (May 1, 1942) and "The Cup of Gold" (May 8, 1942). It was the rare instance when announcer Tom Paxton delivered,..."Debt from the Past" Starring Jane Wyatt... (January 16, 1942).
The most intriguing opening did not include the title, when Peter Craig (Fred Wayne) stated..."I'd like to buy a satchel, if you please...there, that one in the corner will do, the scarlet one. You see, scarlet is my favorite color because...it reminds me so very much of blood..." in "The Man with the Scarlet Satchel" (March 6, 1942). Following the program and episode introductions, the story commenced, for there was no Raymond or Hermit as Host of Dark Fantasy, a factor which may have helped to perpetuate the program's obscure status within the hobby.
The Dark Fantasy canon delved into many facets of horror and the supernatural. At least two dozen such icons from The Alien to The Zombie have been characterized in the 2007 horror compendium edited by Joshi. Radio was mentioned only in passing in the 700-plus page tome.
However, two major works involving many programs have specifically addressed horror radio in America. The first is the 1972 thesis by Roger Weldon Hill entitled, A Descriptive Study of the Uses of Terror and Horror in Selected Radio Mystery Programs Dramas Between 1935 and 1955. The second and more readily available source is the 2006 cornerstone, Terror on the Air by Richard Hand. Curiously, neither author included Dark Fantasy in their respective endeavors.
Reviewing 50 episodes from eleven programs, Hill studied eleven fear-provoking events which produce terror (in the absence of revulsion or violence) and horror (associated with repulsion or violence). Such events included: pain (psychological or physical), loud noises, dead or mutilated bodies, strange persons or animals, solitude (isolation), loss of support , darkness, "the uncanny," high (or deep) places, water, and slimy things. The focus of Hand's work was on the evolution of horror themes throughout both the history of individual programs and the evolution of horror in the Golden Age of Radio itself.
Dark Fantasy certainly fulfilled the initial criteria of terror and horror as most episodes included pain; from the physical distress Thomas Wakefield Crane endured being strangled to death by a giant oak (see figure below) in "The Demon Tree" (December 5, 1941), to the mental anguish suffered by Cicely Marshall awaiting the never-to-be-delivered letters from her lost-love, Adam in "The Letter from Yesterday."
Loud noises emanate from an unidentified animal, a strange person appears to have been painted onto an artist's canvas, and the mutilated body of an archeologist are all featured in "The Curse of The Neanderthal" (January 9, 1942). In "Funeral Arrangements Completed" (May 15, 1942). Richard Longacre becomes isolated in the darkness of a haunted house when his candle blows out and the floor gives way resulting in his wife's fall into a chamber beneath the structure.
The movie moguls in "The Thing from the Sea" (November 28, 1941) contemplate drowning during the oceanic adventure when their yacht rides up and over a monstrous wave, yet survive only to encounter the slimy creatures of Ebaan. With the possible exception of "The Letter from Yesterday," all Dark Fantasy episodes incorporate "the uncanny" or contain elements of the unknown. This author challenges his fellow listeners to additionally identify those fear-provoking events in the Dark Fantasy saga.
The horror and terror was propagated in the stories through the eloquent use of narrative, music and sound. Simply through the suggestive dialogue in "The Demon Tree" we sense the chill in the air as Danvers and his friends descend into the sinister forest, or we cringe at Isaac's description of the 220 year-old skeletal apparition of Captain Jonathan Strange in "The Sea Phantom" (February 6, 1942). Moreover, we wonder why Aunt Wanna in "Death is a Savage Deity" (January 30, 1942) continuously warns James to "watch out" for the lily pond as he walks about her property. Surely she doesn't want anything to happen to her niece's fiancée.
In numerous moments, organ stings or interludes heighten the moment or bridge two adjoining scenes. Music however, played more than the usual augmentative role in three episodes. A haunting piano is heard in "The Man Who Came Back" (November 14, 1941) at every occasion the murderer Keith Grange is "visited" by his victim Philip Blake. Classical music enthusiasts will have recognized the "Waltz in A-Flat Major," Op. 39, No. 15 by Brahms. Although it is Blake who is at the keyboard in the story, the pianist in the WKY Studios is not credited in program's closing and remains unknown. It could have been organist Ken Wright, but it's most likely either Josephine Alves or Polly Taylor as both pianists had been featured on previous WKY musical variety programs.
Tower of London visitor Frederick Holman seals his own doom upon playing the pipe organ in the infamous Chapel of Saint Peter-ad-Vincula. Of course this awakens the ghost of the Chapel who happens to provide the ghastly serenades for the nightly meetings of "The Headless Dead" (January 23, 1942). When Dolores inquiries if her Aunt Wanna is playing a dirge for the recently deceased and dearly loved servant, Andrews, her Aunt replies, "...it's just weird melody of my own..." but is it really a prelude to her Aunt's witchcraft and black magic?
The artistry of the WKY sound effects corps excels throughout the series. In addition to perfecting the signature wind opening and closing of each episode; and with the usual exemplary gun shots, thunder and auto crashes, memorable sounds for this author are the roar of the tsunami signaling the oceanic disturbance in "The Thing from the Sea," the scraping of tombstones being moved by the inhabitants of "The Headless Dead," and the barely audible "clunk" of a belaying pin landing on the deck of a "ghost" ship in "The Sea Phantom."
Expert animal sounds are also voiced in the aforementioned "The Curse of The Neanderthal" and the archetypal beast in "W is for Werewolf" (February 13, 1942). It would not do the series justice without a brief mention of some lighter moments. When Adam in "The Letter from Yesterday" discovers the lost mail bag in the attic, he begins to read some of the names on the letters. Among those is one addressed to a Paul Rhymer of Chicago...author Scott Bishop's unique tribute to his pal of Vic & Sade fame. In "Convoy for Atlantis" (March 27, 1942) the affable denizen Siegfried in pointing out the geography around his great continent; to the West is the Mighty Land of Moo. (A tip-of-the-hat to the Vincent Hamblin comic strip, Alley Oop.)
How did series creator Scott Bishop come to write these superb plays? A clue from a 1942 press release indicates that Poe, DeQuincy, Blake and other Masters (i.e. H.P. Lovecraft) may have influenced him. The eerie supernatural flavor of Dark Fantasy suggests Poe, while “Confessions of an English Opium User” by Thomas DeQuincy may have been the premise behind "Dead Hand's Reaching" (May 22, 1942).
Similarly, the seafaring stories may have been prompted by the works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. William Blake and his writings emphasizing dreams could have influenced the episodes with those major themes, "The House of Bread" (December 26, 1942) and "The Edge of The Shadow" (April 10, 1942).
Additionally, the anthologies of the major ghost story aficionados, Charles Lindley and Elliot O'Donnell served as the basis for "Funeral Arrangements Completed" and "The Demon Tree" respectively. Finally, 'the world in a moonbeam' as discovered by Dr. Charles Terhune in "Men Call Me Mad" (December 19, 1941) mirrors that of Mr. Linley's 'drop of water' in Fitz-James O'Brien's “The Diamond Lens.” However, we may rightly assume that Terhune did not commit murder to achieve his goal.
An appropriate summation of Dark Fantasy is heralded by its creator Scott Bishop who relates in a press release: "Give the listener enough material to let his imagination go to work, and he'll supply his own goose pimples." In closing, this author hopes that he stimulated the reader to pursue his own encounters with one of radio's premier horror anthologies.
The author wishes to acknowledge the following as he accumulated material on Dark Fantasy: Linda Lynn, Jan McKee, Bryan Cornell, Karen Fishman, Dave Grabarek, George Fogelson, Jerry Haendiges, Rodger Hill, Bill Moore, Michael Dean, Martin Grams, Jr., Matthew Killmeier and Jack French. Most importantly however, are the recent interactions with Mrs. Dores Hatfield (widow of Scott Bishop) and Scott's Daughters: Lee Bailey, Daryl Lyn Cantine, Valerie Bateman, Judy Pasqua., Don Stolz, Nikki Morris (daughter of Ben Morris), and Pat McAlister (son of Daryl McAlister.) Interested persons may contact this author via USPS: PO Box 1031, Sandston, VA 23150, or via email: <email@example.com>
Illustration from "The Strangling Oak of Nannau Woods" by Elliot O’Donnell, (copyright) The American Weekly, 10-12-24. Reprinted with permission from Hearst Corp.