Historian of Horror: The Subject Was Bridges

Our theme at the moment is ‘Bridges’. Spooky things, bridges. Think of the covered bridge Ichabod Crane had to reach to escape the Headless Horseman in “The Legend of Sleepy Horror”. Or the one in Beetlejuice where the main characters had an unfortunate encounter with a stray dog.

I’ve got a certain bridge in mind to discuss in this edition. Although according to the schedule I’ve made up for myself as to which medium to write about it’s Old Time Radio’s turn in the spotlight, we’ll begin with a few words about its successor, television.

I’ve written before in this space about Rod Serling and his most influential creation, The Twilight Zone, for which the word “groundbreaking” might well have been invented. On February 28, 1964, Serling did something that, to my knowledge, had never been done before – instead of his normal programming, he presented, without commercial interruption, a short French film from 1961 entitled “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, based on a short story by Ambrose Bierce.

Groundbreaking, indeed.

The film, which had no dialogue, had won both the Oscar and the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1962 for Best Short Subject. Serling saw it in France and picked it up for a song. Showing it instead of filming a new episode for what was to be The Twilight Zone’s final season brought the show in on budget, a rarity that pleased the suits at ABC-TV. They offered Serling another season, but he was over the whole ‘monster of the week’ format the network wanted, and he declined. And so, the show was canceled.

The story had previously been adapted in 1959 for the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV program, and several times for radio, in addition to a number of times into various media since. It concerns one Peyton Farquhar, a Confederate spy during the American Civil War who is about to be hanged from the Owl Creek Bridge. When the rope breaks, he struggles to elude his Yankee pursuers and return to his home, until…

No spoilers here.

I have written before about the symbiotic relationship between the Old Time Radio shows Escape! and Suspense!, the way the two programs often shared scripts. So it was with the Bierce tale. It was aired on Escape! on December 10, 1947, starring OTR stalwart Harry Bartell. Suspense! had three performances – December 9, 1956, with Victor Jory; December 15, 1957, with Joseph Cotten; and July 19, 1959, with Vincent Price.

Since the era of Old Time Radio ended on the evening of September 30, 1962, there have been periodic attempts to revive the medium, with varying degrees of success. The most durable effort, The CBS Radio Mystery Theater, began in 1974 and ran until 1982, with a brief revival in 1998. For most of its run, it was hosted by E.G. Marshall, who played the old man terrified of bugs in the final segment of Creepshow in 1982. The show adapted the tale on June 4, 1974, the program’s 101st broadcast.

 

We have another pair of obituaries for this edition. American painter and illustrator James Bama, who contributed many covers to the long run of Doc Savage paperbacks in the 1960s and 1970s as well as the box art for the Aurora monster models kits, died on April 22, 2022, a few days before his 96th birthday. 

And the revolutionary, not to mention legendary, American comic book artist Neal Adams passed away on April 28th. He was eighty. His uncanny ability to render the human form and face elevated the art form to a level it had never seen before, or possibly since. Adams’ genre work included stories for Warren Publications’ Creepy and Eerie magazines, as well as stories and covers for DC Comics’ House of Mystery in the late 1960s, and the El Diablo stories in Weird West Tales in the early 1970s. 

Over much of his stellar career, Adams championed creators’ rights to their own intellectual property in an industry long reliant on ‘work for hire’ as its business model. He was able to get comics giant Jack “King” Kirby’s original artwork for Marvel returned to him, and garnered Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster long-overdue credit and remuneration for their seminal creation, one upon which the entire medium was built. 

His run on the Deadman feature in DC’s Strange Adventures in the late 1960s will be covered in a future podcast segment. Stay tuned.

When next we gather together in this place, Rock Bands will be the theme and television the medium. That can only mean one thing to a child of the 1960s – a certain quartet of musicians with a distinctly simian appellation. Until then, oh ye appreciators of the abhorrent…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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