Nostalgia for the Old Time Radio Shows

By Nora Vasconcelos

It was the just the second decade of the past century when the radio stations found the way to keep an ample audience captive with programs that broadcasted live theater plays specially adapted for the radio format.

The lack of other forms of entertainments, such as television and the turbulent economic situation that came after the Great Depression, make these shows grow as the listeners found a way to escape from reality, even if just for a short while.

Radio stations in the U.S. such as National Broadcasting Company (NBC), Radio Corporation of America (RCA), Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), and Mutual Broadcasting System, offered all sort of programs that ran from about half an hour up to one hour.

Mystery, Drama, Suspense, Fantasy and Romance dominated the plots of original stories that were performed live by professional actors whose voices match perfectly with effect sounds that have managed to impress people up to these days.

As the documentary Back of the Mike (presented by Old Time World) shows: “rain was created by pouring sand over a spinning potters wheel which sent it down a metal funnel onto a microphone which was covered by a paper bag. Fire was created by wadding up plastic wrap close to the microphone”.

It was so that from the 30’s up to the late 50’s, detectives like Sam Spade and Boston Blackie came to live, as well as crime drama series such as The FBI in War and Peace and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, the same as superheroes such as Superman, Flash Gordon, Batman and Planet Man.

The broadcasts also included romantic stories, like the series Theater of Romance, produced by the CBS; Westerns, like Tales of Texas Rangers and The American Trail, and Comedy shows, including Abbot and Castello, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and the Bob Hope show.

Mystery play a special role in the success of radio shows as it attracted for many years famous actors such as Orson Wells, who was part of the Campbell Playhouse, and E.G. Marshall, host of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. Other famous starts that joined the casts of some radio plays were Marlene Dietrich, Vincent Price and Mike Wallace.

When the radio stations didn’t play original scripts, they share with the audience adaptations of the works of famous authors such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Allan Poe and Oscar Wilde. In the same way, books like Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Hamlet by Shakespeare, Jane Eyre by Emily Bronte and Around the World in 80 days by Jules Verne, were adapted into radio theaters that were able to present in a short time the essence of these works.

The magic produced by these broadcasts was increased with the rhythmic tunes coming from the live performance of the Big Bands, very popular at that time, swinging the audiences away with performers like Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Artie Show.

Music and radio theaters helped many people get through the difficult years of the Second World War, as the audience used to keep their radios on hoping to catch the latest news from the troops abroad. Once again, radio shows gave them some solace.

Reknown brands took also advantage of the popularity of the shows, becoming sponsors of different series, such as Sears, Colgate, Palmolive, the same as hotels like the Lincoln and the Pennsylvania, in New York, joined their names to the Big Bands that performed their shows in there.

Unfortunately, as contracts and legal recording and broadcasting issues affected live performances of the musical groups, and with the recent popularity or commercial Television in color, the popularity of the radio shows gradually decreased until they weren’t popular anymore and their broadcasts ended.

Fortunately, the Golden Age of Radio has remained alive in the minds of many people who have shared their love for old time radio shows to new generations. At the same time, international organisms such as The International Archive have compiled and preserved many of this radio shows for all people to listen to them.

And now it’s time to say: Lights out!

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‘The spirit man’ – Short story

By Nora Vasconcelos

(Part 2)
— — —
[You can read the first part of this story on Obinna Udenwe’s blog]

…Father and the neighbours couldn’t believe it!

Everybody in our street had felt relieved when the spirit man had died. Things were supposed to go back to normal. Why was this happening to us? We all wondered.

As soon as the news went around, people gathered outside the building were the spirit man used to live. Nobody really knew why we were there. The spirit man was dead, so why we should expect to get any sort of explanation by standing in front of his apartment.

May be we wanted to be sure that he was really dead. After all, he was the spirit man, and his feet never touched the pavement, or so the kids said.

Would it be our collective guilt that had brought us here? I thought.

What if the spirit man didn’t have anything to do with our misfortunes and he’d been killed for no reason at all..? No! That couldn’t be. Everybody in the neighbourhood said that he was guilty because people had died just because they had looked at him…

All these ideas tormented me over and over while I was standing there. Then something happened… Something nobody expected.

As a big gray cloud covered the sky, we saw how some light was coming from the spirit man’s apartment.

How was that possible? We wondered, asking each other if we had actually seen what we thought we had seen.

Silence invaded us. Then we watched more attentively. A chill was felt around our paralysed bodies. There was not only light coming from his apartment, but also noise…

‘Someone is there!’ A woman screamed.

‘That can’t be true!’ A young man said. ‘We got rid of the body at the lagoon… Even more, we saw it disappear as it sank in the muddy waters.’

It couldn’t be the owner of the building as he was away this week, visiting his family in the countryside.

So, who was there?

The uncertainty was terrible. But nobody dared to get closer to look inside the place. A young boy had passed away even after the spirit man had died, so, it was for sure that whoever looked through those windows would share the same faith…

‘Spirits don’t died, that’s why!’ A young boy said, hiding among the crowd.

Was that true? Had the spirit man come back from the land of the death…?

‘I’ll go and see!’ An old man said. ‘Cancer has already taken the best of my years, pain’s unbearable and one less day on this earth won’t really matter.’

We all looked at him when he started to approach the place.

As he was getting really close to one of the windows, the lights in the apartment went out.

Anyway, the old man had the chance to get a glance. ‘It’s empty!’ He yelled, just before he fell onto the floor and died.

Screams filled the air… Then everybody ran away, leaving the body of the poor man lying there.

When we got home, father said he had to come back. ‘It is not right to leave him there,’ he told us. But little time passed before he came back.

‘He wasn’t there anymore!’ He said. His face pale and his hands shaking.

‘What happened?’ Mother asked. ‘Please don’t tell me that you saw the spirit man?’ She begged.

‘I cannot say it was him, his features were different, his face was different and yet, there was something familiarly odd…’ Father said. Then he remained silent for a while, his eyes fixed on the wall, his body leaning on the door.

‘I can’t stay here with all of you! Not now that I’ve been haunted. I have to go somewhere far away from you. I can’t allow my family to get what I might have…’

And in a second, father was gone.

Mother ran to the door, but when she got close to it, she stopped, afraid of touching it.

What if ‘it’ was contagious even through the objects…? We all dreaded.

Then we cried all the evening until our bodies couldn’t take it anymore and we felt asleep. Only mother remained awake. A candle on the window, a chair blocking the door…

The next morning our doorbell rang. Mother didn’t dare to answer.

The bell didn’t ring again. Only the sound of someone going away was heard.

I shouldn’t have done it. But I did it anyway. While mother was still trying to make sure that whoever had been there was really gone, I looked through the window. A man with a limp was leaving our place …His feet barely touched the street.

I didn’t recognize him. But when I was about to go back to the room, I saw his face as he was turning his head toward our door. His nose was twisted, the same as one of his eyes and one of his ears… His eyes were as brown as the light that appears right after the sun has set and just before the night comes to rule its realm.

An hour passed before mother gathered the courage to open the door. And when she did it we noticed that our house number had disappeared. What did that mean? Were we condemned as well…? Were we going to be the next…?

‘The man with the limp had taken it for sure. But why?’ I said.

‘Let’s go kids!’ Mother ordered, gathering a few clothes in a hurry. ‘We can’t stay here!’

A friend of the family had a small apartment on the corner of our street because it was convenient for him to stay there any time he visited his grandparents who lived two blocks from here.

Mother and father took care of the apartment when he was away, making sure that it remained functional. Now, it would be our hideaway house. Nor the spirit man nor the man with the limp would ever know that we were there. Or so we thought…

The following morning everything was silent. Not even the wind blew around.

When we were getting ready to have our breakfast a bang on the door made us jump from our chairs. Nobody was supposed to know we were there!

Trying to be quiet, mother got near the door and looked through the peephole. ‘Nobody’s there,’ she said. So, she opened the door.

The house number had disappeared again!

Mother went out, hoping a mischievous kid had taken it, but we all knew that it had been the man with the limp.

Then we went out and walked along the street. There were no people outside and all the numbers of all the houses had disappeared. The same as it had happened to us!

Faraway… almost on the opposite corner, we managed to see the man with the limp entering the building where the spirit man used to live.  Were they one and the same?

At least no more people had died during the night. Or none that we were aware of. We still didn’t know what had happened to father. It’d be better if we went back to our new place. After all, it had been him who had suggested that we moved there in case things turned more complicated, so he should know where to find us when he felt it was safe.

A few hours later, a note was left under our door. We all thought it’d be from father, so we rushed to pick it up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. The note wasn’t sign, it only said: Meet me at the apartment in an hour.

We all knew what apartment was that.

At 2pm all the neighbours got together at the spirit man’s place. Even father was there. Then we were certain that nobody else had died in the last hours, so we felt it should be safe for us to be there. Even so, no one dare to get too close to the apartment.

The man with the limp opened the door and looked at us. His expression was a puzzling one. Who was this man?

‘You all have been part of a terrible crime here,’ he said with a severe voice. ‘You’ve killed a man who never said anything . If he was a spirit or no, you’ll never know.’ The man paused and studied our faces.

‘I’ve come all the way from Gabon, where a cholera epidemic destroyed our hometown. People blamed the spirit man, but there was no way to probe it was his fault even when death became his constant companion…”

‘Oh’s!’ Were heard from the people around us.

‘By taking off the numbers of your homes I’ve prevented the disease from knowing where you live, so it won’t be able to kill anyone else. I’ve also cleaned this apartment with all the herbs and chants I know, so no one will get sick anymore. But remember, what you have done here it will remain for the spirits to be judged, so you might as well never be safe again…”

* * *

croosover artwork OK
* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project

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The Hidden Talent of Fictional Writers

By Nora Vasconcelos

Anthony_TrollopeFor many years I’ve been fascinated by the enormous ability shown by different authors who are able to create not only believable characters but also very skillful imaginary narrators who come to life on the pages of books, telling readers the story the author has plotted.

These fictional writers narrate the story from their personal point of view, both as a witness and main characters of the story they’re telling, bringing the readers inside the story and making them confidents of their troubles, thoughts, fears and accomplishments.

Of those imaginary authors who have captivated my imagination, here are my three favorites:

The noble efforts of Dr. Watson

"Strand paget" by Sidney Paget (1860-1908) - Strand Magazine. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
“Strand paget” by Sidney Paget (1860-1908) – Strand Magazine. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

It was around 1880 when John H. Watson met Sherlock Holmes for the first time.

Dr. Watson was looking for “less pretentious and less expensive domicile”. At the same time, Sherlock Holmes had found a nice place and was trying to find “someone to go halves with him”. A mutual friend introduced them, and the next day Watson and Holmes went to inspect the rooms at No. 221B, Baker Street.

“They consisted of a couple of comfortable bed-rooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows. So desirable in every way were the apartments, and so moderate did the terms seem when divided between us, that the bargain was concluded upon the spot, and we at once entered into possession. That very evening I moved my things round from the hotel, and on the following morning Sherlock Holmes followed me with several boxes.” (*)

Holmes, a consultant detective, solved problems and puzzles when others had failed. Watson, curious about his flat mate abilities, observed him closely, and as confidence grew between the new friends, he became Sherlock’s partner.

Just a few days later they became flatmates, Watson came up with the following list related to Sherlock Holmes limits:

1. Knowledge of Literature.—Nil.
2. Philosophy.—Nil.
3. Astronomy.—Nil.
4. Politics.—Feeble.
5. Botany.—Variable. Well up in belladonna,
opium, and poisons generally.
Knows nothing of practical gardening.
6. Geology.—Practical, but limited.
Tells at a glance different soils
from each other. After walks has
shown me splashes upon his trousers,
and told me by their colour and
consistence in what part of London
he had received them.
7. Chemistry.—Profound.
8. Anatomy.—Accurate, but unsystematic.
9. Sensational Literature.—Immense. He appears
to know every detail of every horror
perpetrated in the century.
10. Plays the violin well.
11. Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
12. Has a good practical knowledge of British law. (*)

As the time passed by, the knowledge and care that Dr. Watson developed by watching his friend in action led him to write down his adventures and later on, to become his biographer.

Using the first person, Dr. Watson describes with great detail the cases Holmes solved, presenting him as a skillful and quick thinker. The chronicles written by Watson started with A Study in Scarlet and then they were divided into a series of stories with different headings put together under the title of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

With a big heart and an instinct to find precision, Watson put up with his friend’s insolence, as more than once Holmes fiercely criticized the doctor’s efforts to present him as an extraordinary detective with humane sparks and an avid hunger for the truth.

The endless enthusiasm of Snoopy

Snoopy, the beloved cartoon dog created by Charles M. Schulz, has captivated kids and adults for over 60 years with his charm, contagious happiness and extraordinary imagination, which makes him the same become a war pilot or an elegant gentleman.

In his daily life, Snoopy does what most dogs do, claims his food, sleeps over the roof of his house, enjoys the company of his bird friend Woodstock, and spends time with his owner Charlie Brown and his friends.

It’s often that Snoopy also gets inspired and takes his typewriter out in hopes of being published one day. Throughout his life, this doggy writer has received many letters of rejection with devastating answers such as “Dear contributor, we have received your latest manuscript. Why did you send it to us?..” or “To save time we’re enclosing two rejection slips, one for this story, and one for the next story you send us…”

However, Snoopy has the enthusiasm of all those authors who keep on sending their manuscripts to publishing houses despite continuous rejections. He never loses hope and keeps on trying, even when inspiration is not always on his side.

The funny thing is that, even when Snoopy has never been published, he has a faithful readership which has increased lately thanks to social media where his attempts appear frequently, getting the support of people who are convinced that, at some point, he’ll got it right and we’ll be able to make his dream come true.

In my case, I have to say that I would really love to read Snoopy’s manuscripts, which I think, they should be fun and entertaining.

Mrs. Fletcher’s curiosity

Cabot cove house

Originally created as a character for a TV program, Jessica Fletcher, an English teacher living in the fictional town of Cabot Cove, wrote her first crime novel as a way to overcome the death of her husband. As her book becomes an immediate success, she starts a career as a writer, at the same time that her skills as a keen observer become helpful when solving “real” crimes along with the police force.

“Murder She Wrote” was broadcasted between 1984 and 1996, composed by 12 seasons and 264 episodes in which, Jessica shares with her closest friends, her concerns about deadlines, book tours and writers block.

Throughout the years, she also faces the challenges that come with the evolution of technology, since the moment her old typewriter loses some keys up to the moment when she decides to attend a computing school to adjust her writing routine to the modern times.

As times passes by and she becames worldwide famous, Jessica Fletcher starts teaching at a University in New York, where she shares her experience as a writer with future authors and police officers.

In 1989, Donald Bain and the fictional Jessica Fletcher started publishing a number of books based on the TV program. The book series, which continues until now, has over 40 titles, all of them depicting Mrs. Fletcher the same as her character on TV, with all her friends, her home town, the trips, troubles and endless curiosity that often places her at the wrong place at the wrong time, only to save her seconds later thanks to her quick thinking.

(*) A study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle.

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My favorite ghost stories

Text and photo by Nora Vasconcelos

Fear is in the air...
Fear is in the air…

Now that Halloween is around the corner, I’ve been remembering some of the ghost stories I’ve heard while traveling around.

Some of them are quite funny, like the one that talks about an Irish goblin whose spirit likes to go around the London Pubs to drink the customers beers while they’re distracted, or the adventurous stories that are told around the blacksmith shop located on Bourbon street, New Orleans, which it is said housed many of the plots developed by the pirate Jean Lafitte, whose ghost is either present around that city, or navigates the waters if the Gulf of Mexico.

Some others are quite ghostly, like the one that says that a mariner, who died about two centuries ago, shows up once in a while on the deck of the USS Constellation Ship, currently docked at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. According to the legend, this ship is haunted by three ghosts, but this particular mariner, shows himself to the visitors, who think he’s another memeber of the crew until they realize that the mariner is a vanishing apparition.

Other ghost stories I’ve heard come from Mexico. The first one, called in Spanish “La Llorona” (The Weeping Woman), takes place in Mexico city some time after the Spaniards came to this country. According to the story, one day, a woman drown her children out of pain after her man told her he didn’t love her.

Gone crazy out of pain, the woman drowns herself afterwards, but due to her crimes, she’s condemned to dwell between two words, and the legend says that every now and then, the white figure of a woman can be seen floating around the place the kids were drowned while she cries aloud “Ay mis hijos” (“Oh! My Children!”).

The next story also happens in the same time (around the XVII century) and it’s called “La Calle de Don Juan Manuel” (Mr. Juan Manuel Street). This legend tells the story of a man that blinded by jealousy, walks every night around 11 pm and whenever he sees a man getting closer to his wife’s balcony, he asks the man about the time, and when the unfortunate man answers “it’s 11 pm”, Don Juan Manuel tells him “You’re blessed, because you know the exact time when you’re going to die.”

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On terror and beloved dramas: Me and Mr. King

Text and Photo by Nora Vasconcelos

Fear is in the air...
Fear is in the air…
It was when I was a little girl when I first discovered that clowns might be something children could get afraid of.

Those were the times when after several times watching the circus shows, I happened to watch, by a mere accident, some scenes of the movie It.

I was then, when I also learn that Stephen King was the master of terror and for that reason, I thought I’d never read a book written by him.

However, as it always happens, life has a funny way to take us to unexpected paths, and the same as I happened to watch the IT scenes by a mere accident, one day I happened to watch on TV the movie Misery, based on King’s novel under the same title.

As shocked as I was for all the terrible things that happened to the kidnapped writer, I barely moved during the whole movie until it finished.

This movie left a deep impression in my mind, however I didn’t make much of it until many years later when a good friend of mine made me watch The Shawshank Redemption.

With not more expectations besides the enthusiasm of my friend, I watched the movie with great attention, up to the point when the intense drama caught my whole attention.

I like the story so much that I got curious about it and immediately I check on it on the internet, to learn (for my surprise) that the film was based on the book Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption, by Stephen King.

That moment completely changed my perception about Mr. King’s work.

I was absolutely impressed by the depth of the story and the extremely detailed work made by the author to create this intense characters with all shades of emotions and thoughts.

I was also then when I remember that while watching Misery, I had the exact same impression. In both cases, it was like being inside the story, like a silent witness, living intensely the drama, sharing the suffering of the characters, the same as one does when a dear friend is in trouble.

This thoughts made me see Stephen King’s work from a new perspective. Of course, I still avoid the horror genre, and I’m still refusing to read most of King’s work, but I’ve come to the terms that there are many things that one as a writer can learn from him, and, of course, Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank, is already one of my favorite books.

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When book characters become alive

Text and images by Nora Vasconcelos

Books by NVS

It’s funny how many books I’ve read after I’ve seen a movie I’ve totally loved based on those works, but how few movies I’ve seen after reading a book.

The reason for that is that when I read a book I create all sort of images in my mind about the characters, their image, their behaivor, their feeling and even the way they dress every day. I also picture all their world around, their houses, workplaces, cities and even their friends.

So it’s really hard for me to watch a movie based on book I loved because in the movie everything is different. Stating from the appereance of the characters and contunuing with all the rest. Everything is different from the vivid images I have in my head, and it’s a difficult thing to face, specially because characters from books have the amazing capacity to make reader feel close to them, even attached to them.

Many times, after I finish reading a book, I keep on wondering what else could’ve happened to this or that particular character, and I even dare to imagine new adventures for those lovely characters.

There’s also the factor of feeling that a particular scene, or several, have been omitted, and most of the time, the dissapoinment shows up after seen the movie.

Although, I have to say that there are some books I really wish they were made into a movie such as Final Theory by Mark Alpert or The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl, and The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomanson

On the other hand, when I see a movie at the cinema and I like it a lot, if it was based on a book I usually enjoy reading the book, with this nice sensation that something new might appear at any given time. One of my favorite books that I read after seen the movie, is P.S I love you by Cecilia Ahern.

And one movie I absolutely loved, that I wish it was based on a book is The red violin, but it’s not, it only seems so because of the magnificent way it was developed and presented.

A couple of TV Series besed on a book that I really liked were Noble House and Shogun, both by James Clavell.

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Ups and downs of a Dream

Recipes for life.
One year after the Great Depression in the United States (1929), Mildred Pierce, a mother of two and recently divorced, faces the question: How would she be able to support her family?

After looking for a long time, she finally takes a job as a waitress in a dinner. It’s in this place where she finds out that her ability to bake wonderful and delicious desserts can give her the opportunity to start her own business.

With the help of a friend, and a business partner to be, Mildred opens her first restaurant offering only one dish: Chicken. The catch for the customers is that they won’t be able to resist the temptation of taking one of the delicious fresh made pays made by the same pierce.

As time passes by, her fame as a cook grows, that much that she opens two more restaurants, with a great success and becomes a very wealthy woman.

But things won’t remain so “sweet” for this character created in 1941 by James Cain (the same author of The Postman always ring twice).

So, as the novel under the name Mildred Pierce goes, this successful woman who has been strong enough to conquer the top of the business world with her restaurants, has also to deal with the drawbacks of her personal life.

It so that a series of reckless decisions related to her lovers and her older daughter, make Mildred lose her money and her whole restaurant empire.

At the end, Mildred, reconciles with herself after taking some time to understand who something that was so good went so wrong, and gets the strength that she hadn’t found before to cut all the strings with the people that she loved but that were the cause of her ruin.

It’s then when she feels free and happy again. Ready to start a new life.

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