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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THE HOUSE OF HORROR ... A Chiller for DC Summer Heat
by Karl Schadow. © 2014
(From Radio Recall, February 2015)
Much of the study of radio horror drama has focused on the major network programs including: The Witch's Tale, Lights Out and Inner Sanctum Mysteries. During the Second World War listeners on many stations enjoyed mystery-thrillers produced and broadcast locally all across the country showcasing local talent on such ventures as the Krime Klan (KOIL, Omaha) and Dark Magic (WMPS, Memphis). In 1944, Washington, DC, station WMAL aired a chiller-diller entitled The House of Horror broadcast Monday's from 10:30 - 11 :00 pm. During those hot summer months, fourteen episodes were aired from May 15th through August 28th. It was pre-empted on two occasions (June 12th and June 26th) for special broadcasts.
Each thirty-minute episode featured a complete story directed and announced by Gordon Hubbel, production manager of WMAL. His 1993 obituary as distributed by the Associated Press credits him as creator of a WMAL horror program though a specific title is not indicated. As no other horror programs have been identified on WMAL, this is most likely, The House of Horror. Hubbel had joined the station in 1936 and during the previous eight years had directed many of the station's dramatic programs including the 1943 daytime serial, Websters of Wartime Washington which achieved national prominence as it was carried by the Blue Network.
Selected as script author was John R. Speer then a freelance writer in New York who was also crafting the daily Fun With Dunn program on CBS (heard in the DC area on WTOP). It is unknown how WMAL was able to secure the talented Speer who had established himself in the thriller field with The Phantom Theatre, a program from KFH in Wichita, Kansas. Though the radio industry including the Nation's Capital was enjoying a healthy business in 1944, it is unknown if The House of Horrorbecame a commercial endeavor during its brief tenure on the air.
To date, no scripts or audio have been located, but newspapers and trade periodicals have provided teasers of the series' potential including titles of two episodes, one of which is "The Floor Between" (May 22, 1944). Bryson Flash, radio columnist for the now defunct Washington Sunday Star reviewed the story in which a vampire with horticulture as a hobby, lures a couple to a hotel room with no means of escape. Not only does he take the victim's blood, but also peels off their skin for use as pedals for his flowers. Had John Speer adapted this scene from that infamous Lights Out episode? Rash states, "... this program is out-and-out horror with no tongue-in-cheek treatment at all. It is well written, well produced and the cast is superb ... "
It must be noted however, that in 1944, WMAL was owned by the newspaper and the critic also served as the station's special features and publicity director. Unfortunately, this one review is the only detailed information to be found on the program in WMAL's parent publication. However, the paper's art department had some amusement in promoting the program as seen in the adjoining ad.
Though no participants were identified in that initial review, Caskie Stinnett cites several individuals in his critique of the series published in the August 5th issue of The Billboard. He applauded the sound effects as performed by Lincoln Diamant as " ... one of the best features of the show ... " This particular story also involved a vampire but as no title was disclosed, it is unknown if this was the same episode as reviewed in the Sunday Star.
The cast included: Martha Smith, Claus Bogel, Harold Stepler, Bob West and Margot Stevenson. That last name may sound familiar as it is the same actress who portrayed Margo Lane opposite Orson Welles during the summer 1938 series of The Shadow. She was residing in the Nation's Capital following her marriage to former screen writer Robert Russell then serving in the Armed Forces. Martha Smith had sojourned to Washington from Chicago in 1942 and was soon heard as the official voice of the local Office of Civilian Defense on the OCD Reporter program over station WOL.
Both Bob West and Harold Stepler were WMAL staff announcers. Claus Bogel was a former veteran Shakespearean actor who had performed with Sarah Bernhardt. A graduate of New York's Columbia University where he was instrumental in creating the first radio station on that campus, 'Linc' Diamant was a member of WMAL's program department.
Copy reprinted from the Evening Star Washington, DC (May 29, 1944).
Promoted by the station as "...a gripping, tense program..." potential sponsors and advertising agencies could preview selected episodes of The House of Horror via transcription. Thus, there is a chance that at least one of these recordings has been preserved over the years and awaits unsheathing. Therefore, this author (email: email@example.com) is calling upon his fellow Radio Club members should they be interested in thrillers or any DC produced program, to assist in his quest to uncover these seemingly obscure, local treasures and to solve the mystery of the "Strange Little Living Things." This is the other known episode title from The House of Horror series as aired on June 5, 1944.
Incidentally, the Websters of Wartime Washington also warranted a review in The Billboard with the following cast: Ruth Bailey, Bob Pollard, Mary Dudley, and long-time WMAL personality Jackson Weaver. It is unknown if any of the four also participated in The House of Horror. Though Jim Smiley provided the organ music on the daytime serial, the musician(s) for The House of Horror have not been identified. Finally, in May of 1944, WTOP was contemplating a horror program of its own tentatively titled, The Devil's Playhouse. The fate of this endeavor is unknown.