Once Upon a Midnight
Once Upon a Midnight (ABC Radio)
Once Upon a Midnight was a proposed radio series for the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) which would have been hosted by Alfred Hitchcock. Despite having the director's name attached to the project, it apparently failed to find a sponsor and went unbroadcast on American radio.
- Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door —
Only this, and nothing more."
The series concept was for Hitchcock to be both host and narrator and each episode would offer "a different story based on a previously published short story, personally chosen by [the director]. Felix Mills was hired as the chief musician, and at Hitchcock's insistence the music was used more for emphasizing verbal and physical actions than for forming musical bridges between scenes. The music was also used to make plot points and to add impact and sharpness to the dialogue."
The pilot episode (recorded 11/May/1945) was based on the 1931 novel Malice Aforethought — which Hitchcock had at one point wanted to adapt into a film with actor Alec Guinness — and starred uncredited married couple Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn.
The pilot's opening narration included this introduction:
Suspense, shock, murder. All the makings of a spine-tingling mystery drama, in the hands of a past master of theatrical illusion, Alfred Hitchcock. We of the American Broadcasting Company believe this new series has the opportunity of becoming the most important and distinguished of its kind in radio. Mr. Hitchcock will appear in every program as the narrator and will personally supervise the writing and direction of each highly dramatic tale. It is our good fortune that Alfred Hitchcock has an enormous interest in radio. In fact, the idea of this series originated with him. This is important because it means we have the great asset of a star, with a personal enthusiasm in making the series a true milestone in radio.
Listen to Once Upon a Midnight...
The Alfred Hitchcock Show (ABC Radio)
Despite ABC not picking up the pilot, according to Martin Grams, Jr., Hitchcock recorded a second audition show, based on a new script for Malice Aforethought, titled The Alfred Hitchcock Show. The recording was apparently made in 1947 or 1948.
Actor Joseph Kearns, who had voiced Hitchcock in an early radio adaptation of The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), played the lead role of the doctor who decides to kill his wife. The rest of the cast included Jeff Corey, Edmund McDonald, Janet Waldo, Norman Field, Tom Holland, Margaret Breighton and John Dehner, and the announcer was Owen James.
I'm a little worried about mysteries these days. I think we're getting altogether too many sinister looking butlers, hands coming through sliding panels and such. You see, I'm interested in people, in characters ... horrible characters. I like to crawl inside a man's mind if I can possibly do so, and find out what makes him behave like a madman — or an imbecile. That's why I took fancy to this story by Francis Isles called "Malice Aforethought." The shutter Isles doesn't tease you. He comes right out and tells you what happens. But he doesn't tell us why. He leaves that up to us ... up to you and me. Well, let's have a listen and see what we can make of it. What do you say?
The credits for The Alfred Hitchcock Show were:
- Jerome Lawrence — producer and scriptwriter
- Robert E. Lee — scriptwriter
- Claude Sweeton — composer and conductor
- David Stress — music arranger
- Dr. Samuel J. Hoffman — player of theremin
- Owen James — announcer
Transcript: Once Upon a Midnight
- Once Upon a Midnight. A presentation of the American Broadcasting Company, dedicated to the hardy listener, who favours the tale spiced with mystery and imagination. What time is it in your house? 8? 9? 10? Set the clock ahead and make it 12 — midnight’s the time for these stories. And now, here’s your host, the noted director and producer — an expert guide along the path of dark adventure — Mr. Alfred Hitchcock.
- It was not until several weeks after he had decided to murder his wife that Dr. Bickleigh took any active steps in the matter. Murder is a serious business, a tiny slip may be disastrous and Dr. Bickleigh had no intention of risking disaster. This was to be the most delicately perfect of all perfect crimes.
- Suspense, shock, murder. All the makings of a spine-tingling mystery drama, in the hands of a past master of theatrical illusion, Alfred Hitchcock. We of the American Broadcasting Company believe this new series has the opportunity of becoming the most important and distinguished of its kind in radio. Mr. Hitchcock will appear in every program as the narrator and will personally supervise the writing and direction of each highly dramatic tale. It is our good fortune that Alfred Hitchcock has an enormous interest in radio. In fact, the idea of this series originated with him. This is important because it means we have the great asset of a star, with a personal enthusiasm in making the series a true milestone in radio.
- The music score is handled by Felix Mills. Instead of simply using music as a bridge between scenes, each episode will be especially scored for dramatic value — the music used to make plot points, to add impact to the action and sharpness to the dialogue. We feel that, in every way, this new radio series offers an unusual opportunity to combine broad popular appeal with truly distinguished radio treatment. We leave it to you to judge.
- You were saying, Mr. Hitchcock, that murder is a serious business?
- Oh, yes, murderers are serious people. You know, one thing that has always fascinated me about criminals is that when you walk down the street, any passerby might be a murderer. They don't all wear black moustaches. I imagine most murderers behave just like mild, ordinary people until suddenly one day they turn and stab you in the back or drop a lump of cyanide in a friend’s tea.
- I think this idea must have intrigued Frances Iles too, for the murderer in his story “Malice Aforethought”, the Dr. Bickleigh I mentioned, was certainly an ordinary person — a little fellow, lightly built, around 38 I imagine, sandy hair, a bit thin on top, small sandy moustache. You’ve seen him, on top of a bus, perhaps, or you’ve met him on a train.
- Or, if you’d lived near Wyvern Cross in England a few years back, you might have met him in the village, starting out on the morning rounds of his patients...
- Old Time Radio Researchers Group — Good Evening: Alfred Hitchcock on Radio
Notes & References
- Wikipedia: The Raven
- "Good Evening: Alfred Hitchcock on Radio" by Charles Huck and Martin Grams, Jr.