The Devil and Mr. O Radio Program
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||As might be surmised from the title, The Devil and Mr. O, the 'Mr. O' refers to the diminutive genius playwright, Arch Oboler. Arch Oboler packaged several rebroadcasts of his programs between 1945 and 1970. Oboler repackaged The Devil and Mr. O in late 1969 for syndication in 1970 and beyond. The first documented broadcasts aired from May 3, 1970 through the Fall of 1970.
The twenty-six programs were predominantly Lights Out! broadcasts retitled for this The Devil and Mr. O canon. The single exception was Rocket From Manhattan, the one program in Oboler's The Devil and Mr. O canon that survives with its title intact. This is undoubtedly the reason that Rocket From Manhattan is often mischaracterized as a Lights Out! program, which of course it never was. We can hypothesize that the title changes for the remaining repackaged Lights Out! broadcasts were due to either NBC, CBS, or 20th Century Fox's joint-ownership of the titles, or a previous Lights Out! sponsor's ownership or control of the titles--or some combination of these factors.
Given Oboler's undoubted awareness of the popularity of his own Lights Out! scripts from the NBC and CBS runs, we can be fairly certain that the titles of many of these more popular selections from the Lights Out! canon were widely known--and collected--by Oboler's most ardent fans of the era. This fact can't have escaped Oboler's attention: hence our conclusion that there were other factors at work which forced Oboler to change the titles of every one of the Lights Out! broadcasts for this retrospective.
As noted in the article in the sidebar, the announcement of yet another retrospective of some of Oboler's finest and most compelling Lights Out! broadcasts created quite a buzz. Unfortunately the early buzz about the retrospective didn't result in a great number of takers for The Devil and Mr. O in syndication. WLS-FM was the first to air the canon intact, but the next documented broadcasts had to have been broadcast in the 1971 to 1973 timeframe.
The public service announcements (PSAs) and spot advertisements from the circulating exemplars mark their broadcasts from a New Jersey station, though no airchecks or station I.D.'s survive in the circulating exemplars. They also mark the circulating run as from the 1972-1973 timeframe, given the contemporaneous announcements and advertisers within the recordings. Indeed, the exceptional number of mostly PSAs of the era would tend to indicate the broadcast source as an FM station in New Jersey. In particular, the ''Never Say Die'' exhibition at The American Museum of Natural History opened in September of 1972 and ran through November 30, 1972. That would date Episode No. 6, Gravestone, of the circulating exemplars to between September and November of 1972 as opposed to the October 22, 1971 date currently circulating for that episode. It's conceivable that the date for that circulating exemplar is actually October 22, 1972, but we have no provenance to support that supposition one way or the other.
Oboler clearly stacked the deck with this retrospective. Virtually all of Oboler's most popular and critically acclaimed scripts from the Lights Out! canon are represented in this collection. From Cat Wife to The Immortal Gentleman to Mungahra, this collection of twenty-five of the best of Lights Out! stands as a fascinating reprise of his finest supernatural drama output from the early 1940s. Rocket From Manhattan, the only non-Lights Out! script in the selection, was also highly reminiscent of Oboler's Lights Out! exemplars, which might explain its lone representation of Arch Oboler's Plays in this compilation.
NBC attempted a couple of Television pilots of Lights Out! to dismal reviews. This for example, from the January 20, 1972 Oakland Tribune, addressing Gene Nelson's then recent retrospective of Golden Age Radio dramas over KFSO:
Tonight's revivals included a "The Whistler" episode
and a 1945 "Dick Tracy" program that has an unusual
moment: it is interrupted by the news bulletin of Hitler's
Friday's schedule calls for one of the old "Lights
Out" dramas, written and produced by Arch Oboler in
This is a coincidence, as television tried a revival of
"Lights Out" this week: an hour story titled "When Widows Weep," with Joan Hackett as a doll maker haunted by her dolls.
I also have a letter, dated a few days before the
program aired, from Arch Oboler himself. He is burned
about NBC's treatment of "Lights Out."
Oboler created the old radio show, and apparently
supplied the idea for the television version. His letter
gives a clue to the way things are done in Hollywood, or
at least the way disappointed writers think they are done
* * *
"Two years ago I brought to 20th-century Fox the
idea of a "theater of the mind" Lights Out series which
was to be my debut on TV.
"20th sold my idea to NBC, but from that day to this
I have never been consulted on any element of the pilot,
in-spite of the fact that contractually I was supposed to
be the writer, director, producer.
"In plain words, for better or worse, I have had
absolutely nothing to do with the present Lights Out pilot, either in its format, or its content.
"My ideas and plays still remain happily virginal in
their Santa Monica Mountain cave, awaiting the executive genius who will realize that an outstanding television drama series comes about, not through an executive committee's wheeling (or through the use of an old radio title) but out of the creative heart and mind of a playwright.
"Cordially, Arch Oboler."
* * *
My memory of Monday's "Lights Out' tells me Oboler
is wise to make it clear he had nothing to do with it.
From a rather compelling idea (dolls are spooky, after
all) and a good cast (Luckinbill and Hackett were fine)
NBC managed to get a choppy, confusing drama that fell
to pieces at the end. The cutting was so abrupt and the
sense of time and place so hazy that perhaps it was a
90-minute film chopped to an hour. At any rate, it
The script was probably, as Oboler hinted, written by
a committee. But that's hardly unusual. By the time a
television script passes through the hands of producers,
executive producers, story directors, and the studio
owner's wife's astrologer, it has become the kind of
succotash considered suitable for feeding to the TV
But those old radio plays weren't so hot, either.
* * *
Given the inaccuracies of the staff journalist who wrote this article, his or her perspective--and conclusion--about the relative quality of Golden Age Radio drama can be taken with a grain of salt. Rather, it's Arch Oboler's observations about the state of then current Television offerings--and their quality--that are most instructive. Clearly Arch Oboler had been burned by both studio executives and network executives in the treatment and contractual integrity of their relationships with Oboler. But Oboler's observations about the workings of 1970s media executives' minds is almost certainly accurate--if not prophetic.
And then there was this, from the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram from January 15, 1973:
Author's shadow falls on preview of 'Lights Out'
By GEORGE ERES
A "sneak" preview of "Lights Out," an anthology series of occult dramas NBC says it is considering for its next season, has been somewhat spoiled by Arch Obler's "pre-sneak" preview comments. The network reported that "Lights Out was "a prominent NBC-TV dramatic series from 1949 to 1952, and featured the talents of many of the now most-honored names in television drama. It was created by Arch Obler, one of the masters of the suspense-mystery form."
THAT KIND of sweet talk hasn't satisfied Obler, who has disassociated himself from the venture with a few comments in a letter to TV editors.
"AS THE politicians say," writes Obler, "For the record: "Two years ago I brought to 20th Century Fox the idea of a "theater of the mind" Lights Out series which was to be my debut on TV. "20th sold my idea to NBC, but from that day to this I have never been consulted on any element of the pilot, in spite of the fact that contractually I was supposed to be the writer, director, producer. "In plain words, for better or worse I have had absolutely nothing to do with the present Lights Out pilot, neither in its format, nor its content. "My ideas and plays still remain happily virginal in their Santa Monica Mountain cave awaiting the executive genius who will realize that an outstanding television drama series comes about, not through an executive committee's free-wheeling (or through the use of an old radio title) but out of the creative heart and mind of a playwright."
(NBC says they know nothing about Obler's dealings with 20th. "We've received no letter from Obler; we just bought a show from 20th").
Anyway the "sneak" (why do they call it that?) preview of the possible series will air at 10 tonight on Ch. 4. The show has to do with the proprietor of a doll house who fashions and sells her creations which become "involved in bizarre and mysterious incidents."
Network and studio executives--and their writing staffs--apparently had no problem whatsoever in lifting--wholesale--entire scripts and concepts from The Golden Age of Radio and recycling them as either situation comedies or Television and Film dramas. Television, in particular, and its voracious appetite for new commercial offerings had long since outstripped the writing talent that the studios and networks were prepared to pay for. It became far easier to simply recycle or adapt plots, storylines, gags, and situations from Radio's most popular programs and repackage them as current Television offerings.
Oboler wasn't by any means alone in his observations. Norman Corwin had also expressed his disappointment in the state of Television's offerings and their direction. And of course, then FCC Chairman Newton Minnow had already cited the predominant state of popular Television in his "Television and The Public Interest" speech of May 9, 1961:
"When television is good, nothing not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers nothing is better.
But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.
You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you'll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it."
Sadly, network executives paid little heed to Minnow's comments. Television's arrogance and conceit was that it could throw anything and everything at Television audiences throughout the 1960s and 1970s and sponsors would pay for it to extend their messages and sales pitches to American audiences who'd, for the most part, already abdicated their public ownership of the airwaves to the networks. With a public for the most part unaware of their legal right to demand better programming, networks simply continued to consolidate their ownership of Radio and Television stations throughout the country. Indeed, throughout this period, the networks and their corporate owners continued to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at Congress over a period of thirty years to ensure legislation favorable to their media consolidation efforts.
Arch Oboler, Norman Corwin, and the numerous other respected media sages of the era had lost their voice--and the medium for their messages--with the demise of The Golden Age of Radio. The tens of thousands of 'mom and pop' media outlets had already begun dwindling throughout the country, gobbled up by an exponentially decreasing number of gigantic media conglomerates who were buying up every small market media affiliate they could lay their hands on at fire sale prices--and absent any regulations preventing such a consolidation. Of course the regulations were absent. The networks had paid millions to ensure continued deregulation and absence of oversight.
In the end, the voices of Arch Oboler, Norman Corwin, Elliott Lewis, Himan Brown, William N. Robson, Newton Minnow, and all of the other great Radio writers, producers, and actors from The Golden Age of Radio were rendered ineffective under the relentless juggernaut of 'popular' Television and its unregulated programming and marketing. And as with any modern culture throughout Civilization, once the public begins to ignore their sages in favor of popular diversions, cultural catastrophe is inevitable.
The Devil and Mr. O enjoyed a couple of years of broadcasts in, for the most part, isolated markets. Hollywood Radio Theatre and CBS Radio Mystery Theatre enjoyed somewhat more success in 1973--and well beyond in the case of CBS Radio Mystery Theatre. But the writing was indelibly etched on the wall by that point in American media history. That CBS Radio Mystery Theatre survived as long as it did, simply underscored the fact that there was no further room in Radio--or Television for that matter--for truly well-written, well produced 'Theatre of The Mind' in America's popular conscious at the time.
Theatre of The Mind depended on the rapt attention of the listeners--or viewers--to involve themselves in the plot of a compelling, suspenseful, or viscerally aural dramatic presentation. Radio, for the most part, had maintained that attention, even though the growing number of commercial spots during even the 1940s and 1950s might distract from that psychological, spirtual, or escapist involvement for thirty to sixty seconds. But the commercials in modern Television could run as long as two to three minutes in the worst cases. So long, in fact, that many Television programs had to waste as much as fifteen to thirty seconds at the return to the programming following a commercial spot just to reengage the audience in the plot.
It was that type of commerical distraction that made all attempts to recapture any "Theatre of The Mind" concept as a commercially viable project. Americans had already fallen into the marketing trap of Television and, even worse, no longer had any comparable dramatic offerings over either Radio or Television, with which to compare to what they were missing.
|Arch Oboler's Plays; Lights Out!
||Anthology of Golden Age Radio Supernatural Drama Retrospectives
||Audition Date(s) and Title(s):
||70-04-26[?] -- Sales Promotion and Preview
||Premiere Date(s) and Title(s):
||70-05-03 01 Alley Cat
||Run Dates(s)/ Time(s):
||70-05-03 to 70-10-25; WLS-FM, Chicago; Twenty-six, 30-minute programs; Sundays, 11:30 p.m.
||The Franciscans; Radio Nostalgia Magazine; The March of Dimes; College of Medicine and Dentistry; Office of Consumer Protection of The State of New Jersey; Cruises to The Sun; American Heart Association; House On Fire; YMCA; Never Say Die Exhibition at The American Museum of Natural History; President's Office of Emergency Preparedness and The Office of Consumer Affairs; Provident Investment Corporation; National Council of The Boy Scouts
||Mercedes McCambridge, Byron Kane, Raymond Edward Johnson, Ann Sheppard, Cathy Lewis, Mary Jane Croft, Frank Lovejoy, Paul Stewart, Franchot Tone, Joseph Kearns, Bea Benaderet, Lou Merrill, Elliott Lewis, Hans Conried, Jane Morgan
||Claire Bloom for The March of Dimes; Greg Morris for YMCA; Charlton Heston for National Kidney Foundation
||Estimated Scripts or
||Episodes in Circulation:
||Total Episodes in Collection:
Billboard Magazine article on Arch Oboler retrospective airing over WVNJ, New York from January 13 1973
Notes on Provenances:
The most helpful provenances were newspaper listings.
We invite you to compare our fully provenanced research with the '1,500 expert researchers' at the OTRR and their Devil and Mr O log, which the OTRR claims to be correct according to their 'OTTER log' they represent as the "most authoritative and accurate otr database in the world":
We've provided a screen shot of their current log for comparison, HERE to protect our own ongoing due diligence and intellectual property.
The currently circulating The Devil and Mr. O logs are a regrettable example of the unprovenanced 'research' passing as fact. Entirely unprovenanced--as always--there's no record whatsoever of dates, sequences, or titles to support the currently circulating set of as-aired recordings dated with a fictitious, made-up, date range of 1971 dates. While there may very well be a set of The Devil and Mr. O tapes in collectors' hands, there's no proof whatsoever, as yet to the circulating dates of what may be either transcriptions or 'as-aired' broadcasts.
That the source at the very root of misinformation about the circulating exemplars should again be The Vintage Radio Place and it's 'sister publication', the infamously inaccurate OTTER logs, should come as no surprise to anyone. The absence of any type of proof, substantiation, or support for the hundreds of imaginary logs from those two sources is becoming the stuff of legend. There's little point in illustrating the obvious any longer. The OTTER logs, as populated from the commercial CATAlogs of The Vintage Radio Place are about as much use to a radio historian as the Sears Catalogs of the late 1800s were to outhouses.
For the record: the circulating recordings of The Devil and Mr. O are from a New Jersey-based radio station that aired those recordings in the 1972 timeframe, in all probability from the Fall of 1972 to the late Spring of 1973. They are most certainly and demonstrably not from 1971, Q.E.D.
Since the existing logs are fiction, we've elected to date our The Devil and Mr. O log from the series that was first broadcast over WLS-FM in 1970. It was a transcribed syndication that could have aired virtually anytime before Oboler sold his remaining interests in his Lights Out! canon.
What you see here, is what you get. Complete transparency. Here's how we did it--for better or worse. Here's how you can build on it yourselves--hopefully for the better. Here's the breadcrumbs--just follow the trail a bit further if you wish. No hobbled downloads. No misdirection. No misrepresentations. No strings attached. We point you in the right direction and you're free to expand on it, extend it, use it however it best advances your efforts.
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We don't pronounce our Golden Age Radio research as 'certified' anything. By the very definition, research is imperfect. We simply tell the truth. As is our continuing practice, we provide our fully provenanced research results--to the extent possible--right here on the page, for any of our peers to review--or refute--as the case may be. If you take issue with any of our findings, you're welcome to cite any better verifiable source(s) and we'll immediately review them and update our findings accordingly. As more verifiable provenances surface, we'll continue to update the following series log, as appropriate.
All rights reserved by their respective sources. Article and log copyright 2009 The Digital Deli Online--all rights reserved. Any failure to attribute the results of this copywritten work will be rigorously pursued.
The Devil and Mr. O Radio Program Biographies
(Writer, Director, Producer)
Stage, Screen, Radio and Television Writer, Director, Producer; Playwright; Mineralogist
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.
1937 Lights Out
1937 The Chase and Sanborn Hour
1938 The Royal Desserts Hour
1938 Good News
1938 The Rudy Vallee Hour
1938 Texaco Star Theatre
1938 Columbia Workshop
1939 Curtain Time
1939 Arch Oboler's Plays
1940 Gulf Screen Guild Theatre
1940 Everyman's Theatre
1941 The Treasury Hour
1942 Cavalcade Of America
1942 Hollywood March Of Dimes Of the Air
1942 Plays For Americans
1942 Keep 'Em Rolling
1942 To the President
1943 Cavalcade For Victory
1944 Everything For the Boys
1944 The First Nighter Program
1944 The Adventures Of Mark Twain
1944 Four For the Fifth
1945 Weird Circle
1945 Chicago, Germany
1945 Wonderful World
1945 Radio Hall Of Fame
1945 The Victory Chest Program
1946 The AFRA Refresher Course Workshop Of the Air
1956 Biography In Sound
1970 The Devil and Mr O
1972 Same Time, Same Station
1979 Sears Radio Theatre
Arch Oboler Drama
AFRTS Playhouse 25
The Joe Pyne Show
Treasury Star Parade
I Have No Prayer
Yarns For Yanks
Arch Oboler goes over The Hollywood March Of Dimes Of The Air script with emcee Tommy Cook at the NBC mike (1942)
Arch Oboler with Raymond Edward Johnson rehearsing at the MBS Mike
Arch Oboler goes over a script with Nazimova circa 1940
Arch Oboler gives direction to Nazimova circa 1940
Arch Oboler with Norma Shearer conferring on Everyman's Theater (1940)
Oboler's post-Apocalyptic film Five (1951)
Arch Oboler on the set of Five circa 1951
Perky piece punctuates penta-psychodrama proposing pitiful post-pandemic panic.
Oboler's F.L.Wright-designed beachhouse was used as the final location for his movie Five (1951)
The gatehouse of Oboler's Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home, 'Eaglefeather,' in Malibu Canyon.
Arch Oboler's Twonky (1953)
Oboler's Bwana Devil (1952) boasted its claim as the first feature length 3-D film
As late as 1962 Arch Oboler and Capitol Records teamed to create a fascinating compilation of Oboler's scarier productions.
|5'1" tall Arch Oboler, pound for pound, inch for inch one of Radio history's scariest writers/directors--ever--was born in 1909, in Chicago. He was also, by most accounts, one of Radio's most sensitive, introspective writers, and a giant by virtually any conventional measure of the industry.
ARCH OBOLER, WROTE THRILLERS FOR RADIO IN 1930'S AND 40'S
By WILLIAM G. BLAIR
Published: Sunday, March 22, 1987
Arch Oboler, who enthralled listeners with his tales of suspense and horror in the golden age of radio in the 1930's and 40's, died Thursday of heart failure at the Westlake Community Hospital in Westlake, Calif. He was 79 years old and lived in Malibu.
Although Mr. Oboler was perhaps best known as the writer of a series of nighttime radio dramas that were broadcast under the name ''Lights Out,'' he also wrote for screen and stage.
The ''Lights Out'' programs, delightfully chilling fare to many now over the age of 50, began with these words:
''These stories are definitely not for the timid soul. So we tell you calmly and very sincerely, if you frighten easily, turn off your radio now. Lights out, everybody!'' 'I Wrote About Human Beings'
The rights to rebroadcast and distribute many of the ''Lights Out'' thrillers were acquired from Mr. Oboler late last year by Metacom, a Minneapolis-based concern that specializes in the distribution of old radio shows.
In an interview with The New York Times in October, Mr. Oboler said he had turned down offers to sell his radio stories to television in the 1950's because ''basically, I think TV talks too much and shows too much.''
Mr. Oboler said he believed his thrillers had not lost their ability to terrify because ''I wrote about human beings, not special effects.''
''What we fear most is the monster within - the girl who lets you down, the husband who is unfaithful,'' he said. ''The greatest horrors are within ourselves.''
In movies, he first made a name for himself as the writer of the 1940 screen version of ''Escape,'' the anti-Nazi best-selling novel by Ethel Vance, that starred Norma Shearer and Robert Taylor.
More than a decade later, he wrote, directed and produced the first three-dimensional movie, ''Bwana Devil,'' which had moviegoers in special eyeglasses ducking when African spears and lions appeared to be flying off the screen directly at them.
In the mid-1950's, Mr. Oboler turned to Broadway. He wrote ''Night of the Auk,'' a science-fiction drama set aboard a spaceship. The show, produced by Kermit Bloomgarden and directed by Sidney Lumet, ran for eight performances and was briefly revived in 1963.
From the 1960's on, as head of Oboler Productions, he continued to write for radio, movies and the theater. In 1969, he wrote a book called ''House on Fire'' that a reviewer for The Times described as ''pretty much what Mr. Oboler used to terrify America with.''
He is survived by his wife, the former Eleanor Helfand, and a son, Dr. Steven Oboler of Denver. A private funeral is planned.
Between 1936 and 1944, Arch Oboler either conceived or participated in an ambitious undertaking of both brief and long-running dramatic series':
- 1936 Lights Out!
- 1939 Arch Oboler's Plays
- 1940 Everyman's Theater
- 1942 Plays for Americans
- 1942 This Is Our America
- 1942 To The President
- 1943 Free World Theatre
- 1944 Four for The Fifth (with William N. Robson)
- Drop Dead!: An Exercise In Horror (1962 Capitol Records LP)
- The Devil and Mr. O (a 1970s revival series)
Arch Oboler's Plays was Oboler's breakout dramatic showcase over Radio. Everyman's Theater further established Oboler's versatility and range, while underscoring Oboler's growing appeal to a far wider audience than he'd already established with Lights Out!. Though eight years his senior, the diminutive Oboler, while never as widely popular as Orson Welles, invites comparison to the other great young playwright-actor-director. Their skills were clearly each other's equal, their versatility had already been amply demonstrated by 1940, and their genius was indisputable. It's also clear that both Wyllis Cooper and Norman Corwin served to influence and inform Oboler's growing, wider appeal.
The reach and effect of Arch Oboler's writing style, subject matter, and point of view remain significant influences to this day. Indeed a world of imitators, 'hat tippers', homages, and unabashed worshippers of his style have sprung up every year since the mid-1950s. And for good reason. Devising new ways to scare the be-jee-zuzz out of people has become something of a cottage industry at various times during the past 60 years.
Thillers sell when the public is in the mood for them. And when the public is in the mood for them, they tend to be insatiable for them.
Wyllis Cooper and Arch Oboler were arguably the two of the most significant influences in supernatural thrillers over Radio, of the 20th Century. Virtually every modern fiction writer of the past seventy years cites both Cooper and Oboler as influences.
Arch Oboler's fortunes waned with the waning of The Golden Age of Radio. His solo Film projects were, while revolutionary in many respects, not nearly up to the standards of his Radio work. His Five (1951) was a rather overly contrived, over-ripe, and self-important opus about a post-apocalyptic world and its five widely differing survivors. Filmed around his property and home in Malibu Canyon, it's become more of a cult flick than a representative Atomic Age sci-fi drama.
Bwana Devil (1952) was the first feature-length film to be produced in 3-D, yet another of Oboler's signature--albeit eccentric--innovations. Historic for only its innovative technology, the film, while popular as a novelty, was a stinker in every critically measurable way.
His Twonky (1953), starring pal, Hans Conreid, was a fascinating concept, somewhat frivolously executed. It featured a television set with a mind of its own, purportedly receiving direction from an alien force in geoconcentric orbit around Earth. This was highly reminiscent of the CBS Radio Workshop program, The Enormous Radio (1956), wherein a similar problem surfaces with a Radio set.
Oboler later released the Capitol LP, Drop Dead!: An Exercise In Horror (1962), reprised many of his Arch Oboler's Plays with the 1971 revival series The Devil and Mr. O, and in 1969, employed his 3-D production skills in another first, Stewardesses, a soft-core porn feature he wrote and directed for 3-D, under the pseudonym, 'Alf Silliman.'
Arch Oboler spent much of the remainder of his life attending to the various elements of his Oboler Productions company, collecting hippopotamuses, enjoying the company of his family and his poodle, Happiness, and vainly plugging his various other writing, Film, Radio and Television projects.
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