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Original Illusion header art

The Illusion Radio Program

Dee-Scription: Home >> D D Too Home >> Radio Logs >> Illusion

James Mason, his wife Pamela (Kellino), and one of their Siamese cats collaborate on their book celebrating their cats.
James Mason, his wife Pamela (Kellino), and one of their Siamese cats collaborate on their book celebrating their cats.


James Mason and his wife, Pamela Kellino, took some time to write their 1949 book 'The Cats In Our Lives' together. James Mason illustrated the book himself.
James Mason and his wife, Pamela Kellino, took some time to write their 1949 book 'The Cats In Our Lives' together. James Mason illustrated the book himself.

Background

Between 1936 and 1973, Arch Oboler conceived of, or participated in, an ambitious undertaking of both brief and long-running dramatic radio series':

  • 1936 Lights Out!
  • 1939 Arch Oboler's Plays [and the 26- Ep., MBS run of 1945]
  • 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)
  • 1949 Illusion [ a.k.a. The James and Pamela Mason Show]
  • 1950 African Adventure
  • Drop Dead!: An Exercise In Horror (1962 Capitol Records LP)
  • 1964 Arch Oboler Presents both old and new Arch Oboler's Plays
  • 1964 AFRTS Rebroadcasts of both old and new Arch Oboler's Plays
  • The Devil and Mr. O (a 1970s revival series)

Illusion, one of Oboler's lesser-known Radio productions began with great ambitions as a Summer replacement for Dorothy Lamour's popular Variety Theater. Illusion was envisioned as a psychological drama vehicle for legendary Film star James Mason and his wife Pamela. But apparently the clash of creative wills proved a bit too spicy for NBC's Illusion. By the time the Thursday night series premiered, producer-writer Arch Oboler had already decided to bow out, replaced by William Spier as producer-director. It's therefore quite understandable why this lesser known Oboler production remains an 'illusion' for the Radio Preservation Community.

The series premiered with Oboler's "African Story" on Thursday evening, July 14th 1949. Oboler had already written three radioplays for the series, NBC was left to find a writer for the remaining five episodes contemplated for the Summer replacement series.

Given the rocky start of the series, The Billboard reviewed Illusion's premiere production, "African Story," with understandably withering criticism. It's also understandable that, while the series was ostensibly titled "Illusion," the listings for most of the series' Summer season listed it as "The James and Pamela Mason Show."

From the July 20, 1949 edition of the St. Petersburg Times:

Oboler Sticks Around Until Opening Night

     The Masons--James and Pamela, of the movies--have been the guests of everyone on radio except Superman and, having exhausted the regulars, they now have theirown program called "Illusion".  This, we were told opening night, is a special, LIMITED series of plays like a limited edition, morocco-bound and gold-tooled.
     The author - director - producer up to opening night was Arch Oboler.  I say up to opening night because Mr. Oboler isn't around any more.  A petulant telegram from the West Coast from Mr. O. explains that he and the Masons had differences over script and format and the playwright, as I say, walked out.  I'd like to have been there during the differences, something that should have been recorded for posterity.
     Mr. Mason, taut as a hawser, exclaiming:  "R''lly!!"  Mason, as practically everyone knows, is the only actor who ever succeeded in eliminating ALL the vowels from "really".  Next to him, her chin up, eyes flashing but holding herself--as she does so ably00well in hand, Pamela.  Pamela, after a long moment pregnant with significance says:  "Are you--making a joke?"
 
     AND COWERING in the corner, Arch Oboler, a man who has been accused of introducing the stream-of-consciousness technique into radio drama.  "It started," says Mr. Oboler dreamily, "Long, long ago.  I remember that Tuesday afternoon as if it happened yesterday.  It was hot that day and the sky was vivid with blue and the air was redolent with oxygen and . . . nitrogen.  And I was sitting in my office breathing the oxygen, ignoring the nitrogen, and I heard it!  That noise!  Closer and closer!  Footsteps, but they weren't ordinary footsteps.  They were--(Sting)--ACTORS' footsteps!
 
     "I knew there was something odd about this couple the moment they walked in, but it wasn't till the man spoke that I knew what it was."
 
     MASON:  (Through a filter) We're looking for a writer to write a special LIMITED series of plays.
     OBOLER.  Then I knew!  They were--(Sting)--British!
 
     WELL, ANYHOW, there are, as I hope I made clear, fundamental differences in temperament between Oboler, one of the most self conscious of radio dramatists, and the Masons, who are as reserved as tongue-tied halibut, and these differences were bound eventually to make trouble.  But Oboler and the masons did collaborate on three transcribed plays, the first of which was presented last Thursday night.
 
     Very tricky piece it was, too.  James Mason was Sir Geoffrey, an Englishman with something obviously on his mind.  But he wouldn't say what it was.  In fact, he said virtually nothing for half an hour and, when you consider this was a radio play and that Sir Geoffrey was the hero of it, the protagonist and also--as it developed later--the antagonist, well, you can see difference of opinion between actor and author developoing right there.  The Masons must have kept Oboler away from his typwriter with gunfire.
 
     Mr. Mason was overhead to say:  "Why-uh-yes." Or "Why-uh-no."  Several times he said, "R''lly!"  Still, the story, cryptic as it was, came across clearly.  Sir Geoffrey was visiting Africa and, while he told everyone this was his first trip, you and I recognized instantly that it wasn't.  This suspicion was confirmed when the native chief, a man almost as laconic as Sir Geoffrey, exclaimed:  "At last you come back to kill the man."
 
     FINALLY PAMELA, a girl whose husband had died of blackwater fever, wrests Sir Geoffrey's secret from him.  He'd come back to kill a man who had abandoned his wife to a hungry lion at one of the local waterholes.  The man who did this cowardly deed was Sir Geoffrey himself and he then shoots himself, cleanly and without any fuss about it.
 
     It's oneof those tales told backward that radio does so well and has done so well for too many years.  Oboler, a gifted, imaginative and courageous writer, did as much as anyone to introduce this sort of radio drama which, at the time, was hailed as daring and original.  The trouble is that serious radio drama appears to have bogged down at just about the point where Oboler, who has been out of radio for  years, and Norman Corwin left it before the war.  We need some new young men who are as unafraid of Oboler and Corwin as those two were unafraid of the hacks who preceded them.

Series Derivatives:

The James and Pamela Mason Show
Genre: Anthology of Golden Age Radio Psychological Dramas
Network(s): NBC
Audition Date(s) and Title(s): Unknown
Premiere Date(s) and Title(s): 49-07-14 01 African Story
Run Dates(s)/ Time(s): 49-07-14 to 49-09-01; NBC; Eight, 30-minute programs;
Syndication:
Sponsors: Sustained
Director(s): Arch Oboler, William Spier [Producer-Director]
Principal Actors: James Mason, Pamela Kellino, Lurene Tuttle
Recurring Character(s):
Protagonist(s):
Author(s): None
Writer(s) Arch Oboler, John Dawson, Peter St. Cloud, Richard Bodreau, Joseph Cochran
Music Direction: David Raksin
Musical Theme(s): "Illusion" by David Raksin
Announcer(s): Frank Barton
Estimated Scripts or
Broadcasts:
8
Episodes in Circulation: 0
Total Episodes in Collection: 0
Provenances:

Billboard reviewer Jerry Franken panned Illusion in his July 23rd 1949 review of the series' premiere.
Billboard reviewer Jerry Franken panned Illusion in his July 23rd 1949 review of the series' premiere.
.

Notes on Provenances:

The most helpful provenances were newspaper listings.

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[Date, title, and episode column annotations in
red refer to either details we have yet to fully provenance or other unverifiable information as of this writing. Red highlights in the text of the 'Notes' columns refer to information upon which we relied in citing dates, date or time changes, or titles.]







Illusion Radio Program Log

Date Episode Title Avail. Notes
49-07-07
--
--
49-07-07 Wisconsin State Journal
8:30 p.m.--Variety Theater (WIBA): Hal "Gildersleeve" Peary visits Dorothy Lamour and Eddie Bracken.
49-07-14
1
African Story
N
August 1949 Radio and Television Mirror
James Mason and his wife, Pamela Kellino, auditioning for a new mystery series over NBC .

49-07-14 Wisconsin State Journal
8:30 p.m--Illusion (WIBA): new series with Mr. And Mrs. James Mason (Pamela Kellino), produced by Arch Oboler.

49-07-14 Chicago Daily Tribune
8:30 p.m.-WMAQ-Illusion, with Mr. And Mrs. James Mason and Arch Oboler.

49-07-14 Danville Bee
Summer show due tonight: NBC 9:30 James and Pamela Mason in "Illusion," adaptations by Arch Oboler of psychological mystery novels and plays, to replace Dorothy Lamour, who is not returning in the fall.

49-07-14 Morning Herald
New York, July is—This week is just about winding up the summer scheduling on the four networks. One of the last ones to appear is due on NBC at 9:30, in the Dorothy Lamour time.
She by the way, is not returning in the fall. The replacement will be provided by .lames Mason and his wife Pamela under the dramatic title of "Illusion." The scripts by Arch Oboler are to be adaptations of psychological mystery novels and plays.

49-07-14 New York Times
9:30-10--Illusion: "Run, Man, Run," With James Mason and Pamela Kellino--WNBC (Premiere).

49-07-14 Mt Vernon Register News
SUMMER SHOW DUE TONIGHT: NBC 8:30 James and Pamela Mason in "Illlusion", adaptations by Arch Oboler of psychological mystery novels and plays, to replace Dorothy Lamour, who is not returning in the fall.

49-07-21
2
Gentleman Caller
N
49-07-17 Canton Repository
Studio Notebook
Arch Oboler has announced that he has resigned as producer, director and writer of the new mystery series "Illusion," which just began Thursday at 9 p.m. over NBC. He said the break was due to a difference of opinion with James and Pamela Mason, the stars of the show.

49-07-21 Wisconsin State Journal
WIBA 8:30 Illusion

49-07-21 Berkshire Evening Eagle
9:30—WNBC—Illusion, Play. With James Mason, Pamela Kellino

49-07-28
3
Envelope
N
49-07-28 Wisconsin State Journal
WIBA 8:30 James and Pamela Mason

49-08-04
4
Hired Innocent
N
49-08-04 Wisconsin State Journal
WIBA 8:30 James and Pamela Mason

49-08-11
5
Hitchhike Murderer
N
49-08-11 Wisconsin State Journal
WIBA 8:30 James and Pamela Mason

49-08-18
6
Wet Saturday
N
49-08-18 New York Times
9:30 WNBC--James and Pamela Mason Show

49-08-25
7
I'll Tell My Husband
N
49-08-25 Wisconsin State Journal
WIBA 8:30 James and Pamela Mason

49-09-01
8
Naked Man
N
49-09-01 San Diego Union - Drama: The final program of the James and Pamela Mason series, "The Naked Man," will be aired tonight at 6:30 over KFSD.

49-09-01 Wisconsin State Journal
WIBA 8:30 James and Pamela Mason

49-09-08
--
--
49-09-08 Wisconsin State Journal
WIBA 8:30 Music of America







Illusion Radio Program Biographies




Archibald Oboler
(Writer, Director, Producer)

Stage, Screen, Radio and Television Writer, Director, Producer; Playwright; Mineralogist
(1907-1987)

Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.

Radiography:
1937 Your Hollywood Parade
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
1943 Free World Theatre
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
1953 Think
1956 Biography In Sound
1970 The Devil and Mr O
1972 Same Time, Same Station
1979 Sears Radio Theatre
Drop Dead!
Arch Oboler Drama
AFRTS Playhouse 25
The Joe Pyne Show
Treasury Star Parade
Hollywood Calling
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 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 with Raymond Edward Johnson rehearsing at the MBS Mike

Arch Oboler goes over a script with Nazimova circa 1940
Arch Oboler goes over a script with Nazimova circa 1940

Arch Oboler gives direction to Nazimova circa 1940
Arch Oboler gives direction to Nazimova circa 1940

Arch Oboler with Norma Shearer conferring on Escape (1940)
Arch Oboler with Norma Shearer conferring on Everyman's Theater (1940)

Oboler's post-Apocalyptic film Five (1951)
Oboler's post-Apocalyptic film Five (1951)

Arch Oboler on the set of Five circa 1951
Arch Oboler on the set of Five circa 1951

Perky piece punctuates penta-psychodrama proposing pitiful post-pandemic panic.
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)
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 in Malibu Canyon
The gatehouse of Oboler's Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home, 'Eaglefeather,' in Malibu Canyon.

Arch Oboler's Twonky (1953)
Arch Oboler's Twonky (1953)

Oboler's Bwana Devil boasted its claim as the first feature length 3-D film
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.
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.

Three-Dimensional Movie

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 and the various writing, Film, Radio and Television projects Oboler managed through it.




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