By John C. Alsedek:
As a kid of the 1970’s, I grew up with the great CBS Radio Mystery Theater—the show of the creaking door and solemn narration of E.G. Marshall. In the late 80’s or early 90’s, I stumbled across a collection of old Suspense episodes on cassette, giving me a glimpse into what the "Golden Age of Radio" was all about.
However, it was only in the past year or two that I learned that what I knew about the period in between the end of Suspense (and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar) in 1962 and the brief renaissance of radio drama in the early Seventies was wrong. There was radio drama in the mid-1960’s—and its name was Theatre-Five.
Even with the Internet at my fingertips, there’s not a whole lot of information about Theatre-Five beyond the very basics. Theatre-Five was a radio drama series that aired on the ABC Radio Network from 5:00 p.m. (hence the name) until 5:30 p.m., with episodes averaging around 20–22 minutes in length. An anthology series, Theatre-Five covered a wide range of genres: mystery, melodrama, science fiction, comedy, even some light horror.
The specifics of why ABC Radio decided to create Theatre-Five are largely lost to time, so I’m taking a guess here. But from the quality of the episodes, it seems like ABC was taking one last shot at reviving radio drama. They certainly didn’t skimp on the talent involved, that’s for sure!
The show’s host was Fred Foy, even then a household name as well as a near-legend in radio circles for his narration on hit shows The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet. There were over a dozen writers who contributed to Theatre-Five, but for me the most interesting name was that of Romeo Muller. Originally a Broadway actor and later a prolific voice actor, Muller also did a considerable amount of writing, in particular for Rankin/Bass Productions, where Muller scripted such classic TV specials as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and Frosty the Snowman.
But the greatest strength of Theatre-Five was in its acting. The show had a core cast that appeared in the bulk of the shows, including Jackson Beck, Court Benson, Brett Morrison, George O. Petrie, Bryna Raeburn, and Elliott Reid. And the guest stars included 1962 Oscar winner Ed Begley (in the episode "The Pigeon"), future Oscar/Emmy/Tony winner James Earl Jones (in "Incident on U.S. 1"), and future Emmy/Golden Globe winner Alan Alda (in "A Bad Day’s Work").
Is Theatre-Five a lost classic? Hmmmm . . . I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it’s definitely worth a listen. And we’re fortunate that 256 episodes of Theatre-Five survived to the present day; you can listen to them here.
And speaking of Theatre-Five . . . one of its other alums ended up having one of Hollywood’s most storied careers, both on radio and television. Join me next time as we talk about the late, great Bob Hastings. Until then, thanks for tuning in!
Writer, producer, and radio-drama aficionado, John C. Alsedek, shares the history of radio and the impact it has made on the world of entertainment.