The anthology series featured stories of mystery, terror and suspense, and its tongue-in-cheek introductions were in sharp contrast to shows like Suspense and The Whistler. The early 1940s programs opened with Raymond Edward Johnson introducing himself as, "Your host, Raymond," in a mocking sardonic voice. A spooky melodramatic organ score (played by Lew White) punctuated Raymond's many morbid jokes and playful puns. Raymond's closing was an elongated "Pleasant dreeeeaams, hmmmmm?" His tongue-in-cheek style and ghoulish relish of his own tales became the standard for many such horror narrators to follow, from fellow radio hosts like Ernest Chappell (on Wyllis Cooper's later series, Quiet, Please) and Maurice Tarplin (on The Mysterious Traveler).
When Johnson left the series in May 1945 to serve in the Army, he was replaced by Paul McGrath, who did not keep the "Raymond" name and was known only as "Your Host" or "Mr. Host". (Berry Kroeger had substituted earlier for a total of four episodes). McGrath was a Broadway actor who turned to radio for a regular income. Beginning in 1945, Lipton Tea sponsored the series, pairing first Raymond and then McGrath with cheery commercial spokeswoman Mary Bennett (aka the "Tea Lady"), whose blithesome pitches for Lipton Tea contrasted sharply with the macabre themes of the stories. She primly chided the host for his trademark dark humor and creepy manner.
The creaking doorEdit
The program's familiar and famed audio trademark was the eerie creaking door which opened and closed the broadcasts. Himan Brown got the idea from a door in the basement that "squeaked like Hell." The door sound was actually made by a rusty desk chair. The program did originally intend to use a door, but on its first use, the door did not creak. Undaunted, Brown grabbed a nearby chair, sat in it and turned, causing a hair-raising squeak. The chair was used from then on as the sound prop. On at least one memorable occasion, a staffer innocently repaired and oiled the chair, thus forcing the sound man to mimic the squeak orally.
Its campy comedy notwithstanding, the stories were usually effective little chillers, mixing horror and humor in equal doses. Memorable episodes included "Terror by Night" (September 18, 1945) and an adaptation of "The Tell-Tale Heart" (August 3, 1941). The latter starred Boris Karloff, who was heard regularly in the first season, starring in more than 15 episodes and returning sporadically thereafter.
Other established stars in the early years included Mary Astor, Helen Hayes, Peter Lorre, Paul Lukas, Claude Rains, Frank Sinatra, Orson Welles. Most of the lead and supporting players were stalwarts of New York radio. These included Santos Ortega, Larry Haines, Ted Osborne, Luis van Rooten, Stefan Schnabel, Ralph Bell, Mercedes McCambridge, Berry Kroeger, Lawson Zerbe, Arnold Moss, Leon Janney, Myron McCormick, Ian Martin, and Mason Adams. Players like Richard Widmark, Everett Sloane, Burgess Meredith, Agnes Moorehead, Ken Lynch, Anne Seymour, and Santos Ortega also found fame or notability in film or television.
Of more than 500 programs broadcast, only about 200 remain in circulation, sometimes minus dates or titles.
Sound effect: A door with squeaky hinges is slowly opened. Organ begins to play.
Raymond: Good evening, friends of the Inner Sanctum. This is Raymond, your host. I'm glad you came tonight, because we have a very special guest of horror with us. I'd like you meet the late Johnny Gravestone. The most celebrated member of the Inner Sanctum Ghost Society. He's the best haunter of the all. Johnny's the tall figure in the white sheet wearing the blue ribbon. He's haunted everything from a palace to a telephone booth. And uh, if you're very nice to him, he'll be glad to consider giving your house the once over. Who knows? He might even haunt you? Ha-ha-ha-ha!
Raymond: Well, we're about to begin our story. Oh, I forgot to warn you about the Tremblins. They're those pesky, invisible cousins of the gremlins. They uh, saddle up to [sic] you, give quick little shoves, and give the false impression that you're trembling. If you're being troubled by a Tremblin, just grab him by his invisible little horns and stick him into the nearest pin cushion.
A series of six low-budget Universal Horror movies starring Lon Chaney, Jr. and based on the radio show was produced in the 1940s: Calling Dr. Death (1943), Weird Woman (1944), Dead Man's Eyes (1944), The Frozen Ghost (1945), Strange Confession (1945) and Pillow of Death (1945). A Film Classics release Inner Sanctum was made in 1948.
"Pleasant dreeeeaaams, hmmmmm?"Edit
In the 1970s, with his CBS Radio Mystery Theater series, Himan Brown recycled both the creaking door opening, and to a lesser extent, the manner of Raymond. The hosts were E. G. Marshall and Tammy Grimes. In later repeats during the 1990s, Brown himself mimicked Raymond's "Pleasant dreeeeaaams, hmmmmm?" for the familiar closing.
Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder satirized the series in Mad's fifth issue (June-July 1953) with "Outer Sanctum!" In the opening panels, host Ramon greets the reader: "Come in, I've been waiting for you! I've been waiting for you to fix my squeaking door!... What?... You say you're not the carpenter?... You have come to hear a story?... Very well!"
The opening of an Inner Sanctum episode was used to open one side of The Whole Burbank Catalog, a 1972 compilation album in the Warner/Reprise Loss Leaders series from Warner Bros. Records. The announcer's jokey pun in this case concerned an author friend, specializing in best-sellers, who "tried to bury [him] in one, because all the very best sellers (cellars) have corpses in them." A backwards version of the creaking door sound effect led directly into "Get It On" by T. Rex.
The 1946 Warner Brothers Bugs Bunny cartoon, Racketeer Rabbit had Bugs enter an abandoned Victorian house (which was actually the gangsters' hideout) that had a squeaky door. Bugs said as he was entering the house, "Huh? Sounds like Inner Sanctum!"
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 Himan Brown's Audio Theater
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 Kuersteiner, Kurt. Inner Sanctum Mysteries: 1941-1952.
- ↑ Vintage Horror
- ↑ The Astounding B Monster Archive
- ↑ New York: The Movie Lover's Guide: The Ultimate Insider Tour of Movie New York - Richard Alleman - Broadway (February 1, 2005) ISBN 0-7679-1634-4
- Further reading
- Ohmart, Ben. It's That Time Again. (2002) (Albany: BearManor Media) ISBN 0-9714570-2-6
- Grams, Martin. Inner Sanctum Mysteries: Behind the Creaking Door (2002) (Churchville: OTR Publishing) ISBN 0-9703310-3-7
- Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs: Inner Sanctum Mysteries
- "Existing Episodes of Inner Sanctum Mysteries" by Martin Grams, Jr.
- OTR Network Library: Inner Sanctum Mysteries (106 episodes)