Airwaves Full of Stars: The Top 25 Box Office Big Shots of SUSPENSE

By John C Alsedek:

Horror/mystery-themed radio programs were all the rage in the Thirties and Forties. Lights Out! (which was the subject of the previous column) is perhaps the best-remembered because it was outrageous for the time and was a primary catalyst for the popularity of such shows. But there were plenty of others, such as The Witch’s Tale (1931–1938, Mutual Broadcasting), Inner Sanctum Mysteries (1941–1952, Blue Network), The Whistler (1942–1955, CBS), and The Mysterious Traveler (1943–1952, Mutual Broadcasting). But the original SUSPENSE, which ran from 1942–1962, is generally considered the pinnacle of the genre. And the single-biggest reason for that was its star power.


Most of its contemporaries were based in New York City and worked almost exclusively with local actors—not a problem when those local actors included the likes of radio greats Ralph Bell, Mercedes McCambridge, Leon Janney, and Santos Ortega. But SUSPENSE had a distinct advantage in its casting because it regularly tapped the major Hollywood studios for the best-known actors of the day. It was a terrific arrangement for both the show and the studios; a star would appear on SUSPENSE immediately before the release of his or her newest motion picture, giving it a free plug on a program heard by tens of millions weekly. And of course, it was a great ratings booster for SUSPENSE.

When I started researching this story, I knew that the original SUSPENSE had drawn a ton of major stars into its studios at one time or another: anyone from Jimmy Stewart to Boris Karloff, Lucille Ball to Joan Crawford. But it wasn’t until I actually went through the list of Top 100 Stars of the 1940’s (from the Ultimate Movie Rankings) that I realized just how many of them had starred on SUSPENSE. So I decided to go with a Top 25 instead of the planned Top 10.



The near-misses for the Top 25 alone could take up a block of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They included Ronald Reagan (#42, 2 episodes), Gregory Peck (#43, 5 episodes), Tyrone Power (#46, 1 episode), Edward G. Robinson (#47, 5 episodes), Ginger Rogers (#48, 1 episode), Joseph Cotton (#49, 5 episodes), Van Heflin (#51, 10 episodes), Bette Davis (#52, 1 episode), Olivia de Havilland (#53, 1 episode), Henry Fonda (#55, 1 episode), and Vincent Price (#56, 11 episodes).





And so, without further ado . . . the Top 25 1940's box office stars of SUSPENSE!


25. Peter Lorre

· ‘The Devil’s Saint’ (1-19-43)

· ‘Moment of Darkness’ (4-20-43)

· ‘Back for Christmas’ (12-23-43)

· ‘Nobody Loves Me’ (8-30-45)

24. Gene Kelly

· ‘Thieves Fall Out’ (11-16-43)

· ‘Death Went Along for the Ride’ (4-27-44)

· ‘The Man Who Couldn’t Lose’ (9-28-44)

· ‘To Find Help’ (1-6-49)

23. Greer Garson

· ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ (12-24-51)

· ‘The Night Before Christmas’ (12-21-53)

22. Red Skelton

· ‘Search for Isabel’ (11-3-49)

21. Donald Crisp

· ‘Banquo’s Chair’ (6-1-43)

· ‘Case History on Edgar Lowndes’ (6-8-44)

· ‘Banquo’s Chair’ (8-3-44)

20. John Garfield

· ‘Reprieve’ (5-10-45)

· ‘Death Sentence’ (11-4-48)

19. Linda Darnell

· ‘A Killing in Las Vegas’ (2-25-52)

18. Alan Ladd

· ‘One Way Ride to Nowhere’ (1-6-44)

· ‘The Defense Rests’ (3-9-44)

· ‘Motive for Murder’ (3-16-50)

· ‘A Killing in Abilene’ (12-14-50)

17. Jane Wyman

· ‘Catch Me If You Can’ (2-17-49)

16. Lana Turner

· ‘Fear Paints a Picture’ (5-3-45)

· ‘The Flame Blue Glove’ (12-15-49)

15. Claude Rains

· ‘The Hands of Mr. Ottermole’ (12-2-48)

14. Anthony Quinn

· ‘Suspicion’ (2-10-44)

13. Barbara Stanwyck

· ‘The Wages of Sin’ (10-19-50)

12. Mickey Rooney

· ‘The Lie’ (4-28-49)

· ‘For Love or Murder’ (12-8-49)

· ‘Alibi Me’ (1-4-51)

11. Robert Young

· ‘Friend to Alexander’ (3-8-43)

· ‘The Night Reveals’ (12-9-43)

· ‘High Wall’ (6-6-46)

· ‘You’ll Never See Me Again’ (9-5-46)

· ‘Crossfire’ (4-10-48)

· ‘A Murder of Necessity’ (3-24-52)

10. Maureen O’Hara

· ‘The White Rose Murders’ (7-6-43)

· ‘The Black Shawl’ (7-27-44)

9. Betty Grable

· ‘The Copper Tea Strainer’ (4-21-49)

8. Fred MacMurray

· ‘The Windy City Six’ (2-8-51)

· ‘The Flight of the Bumblebee’ (5-19-52)

· ‘The Great Train Robbery’ (4-13-53)

7. Cary Grant

· ‘The Black Curtain’ (12-2-43)

· ‘The Black Curtain’ (11-30-44)

· ‘Black Path of Fear’ (7-3-46)

· ‘On a Country Road’ (11-16-50)

6. Judy Garland

· ‘Drive-In’ (11/21/46)

5. Humphrey Bogart

· ‘Love’s Lovely Counterfeit’ (3-8-45)

4. Ray Milland

· ‘Night Cry’ (10-7-48)

· ‘Chicken Feed’ (9-8-49)

· ‘Pearls are a Nuisance’ (4-20-50)

· ‘After the Movies’ (12-7-50)

· ‘Log of the Marne’ (12-2-51)

3. Bob Hope

· ‘Death Has a Shadow’ (5-5-49)

2. Dana Andrews

· ‘Two Birds with One Stone’ (5-17-45)

· ‘Over the Bounding Main’ (9-14-50)

· ‘The Crowd’ (9-21-50)

And, at #1…

1. Van Johnson

· ‘The Defense Rests’ (10-6-49)

· ‘Salvage’ (4-6-50)

· ‘Around the World’ (4-6-53)


One actor who didn’t quite make the cut was Robert Montgomery, 98th on the list. And yet, Montgomery was the major star who had the single greatest influence on the entire series.


Find out how next time . . . until then, thanks for tuning in!

15 views