Suspense Original Radio Broadcast LP

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Suspense Album Sleeve

Originally released in 1973 by Mark 56 Records, this LP features Bela Lugosi’s only appearance on the famous CBS radio mystery series Suspense. The Doctor Prescribed Death was first broadcast on February 2, 1943 with Lugosi as Professor Antonio Bacile, a psychologist who believes that someone who has decided to commit suicide can be persuaded instead to kill another person. When his theory is mocked by his editor, the professor decides to prove it and exact revenge upon his detractor. The script by J. Donald Wilson was reused for an episode of The Whistler radio show broadcast on June 11th 1944 with William Conrad in the title role.

Known as “radio’s outstanding theater of thrills”, Suspense was one of the premier drama programs during the Golden Age of Radio. On the air for twenty years, from 1942-1962, the series employed the talents of Hollywood’s leading actors in its 947 episodes, many of which are acknowledged classics of radio drama. When Suspense was adapted for television in 1949 Lugosi starred in an adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s A Cask of Amontillado. (See Suspense (1949))

Based on what we currently know of Lugosi’s radio career, despite having a distinctive voice ideally suited to the medium, he seems to have appeared in surprisingly few radio dramas. Details of his known credits can be found on our Bela Lugosi On The Radio page.

In addition to a complete transcription of The Doctor Prescribed Death, the Mark 56 release features a “narrative introduction” by Bela Lugosi, Jr., who shares his memories of his father to the accompaniment of a musical backing. The following transcription of his introduction was provided by Frank J. Dello Stritto, author of A Quaint & Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore, I Saw What I Saw When I Saw It, and, with Andi Brooks, Vampire Over London: Bela Lugosi in Britain (www.cultmoviespress.com).

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Bela and Bela Jr

Bela Lugosi and his son pose outside the County Playhouse in Fayetteville, New York, between July 11-16, 1949.

‘I remember—I think it was when I was age 12—I had one of the most wonderful summers of my life, when my dad took me on a summer stock tour with him around the East, and I remember almost every moment of that during that summer. And during that summer is when I learned more about my Dad, I suppose because I was older I was more cognizant of him. I remember him being very conscientious with his work, very demanding of himself as an artist, taking pride in his work, being impatient with those who flubbed scenes and did not bring themselves up to the quality of the acting that he thought ought to be given by performers. My dad never did compromise his quality. He was a great artist, a great actor in my estimation.

I think he realized his powers over people, his magnetism. I just remember observing him. I was fascinated with the reaction of others to my father. Everybody remembered him, they had to. I could just see his influence over people. Although I wasn’t too aware of what was happening at the time, I think now that he had probably a tremendous appeal to women. He had a powerful voice, a style about him, which I wish I had. What a tremendously strong-willed individual, and brave individual my father was, and how much he knew. He read constantly in all fields: areas of medicine, law, film making, astronomy, almost any area you could name.

He had phrases in almost every common language—I mean German, French, Italian. He had a saying in almost every language for any occasion that presented itself. He had a working knowledge of many languages. In other words, he wouldn’t starve to death. He’d have food on the table and a place to sleep in almost any country that you’d want to put him in. He could talk to people.  

He regretted the fact that he had become typecast. He wished that he would have had the opportunity to give the world all that he had to offer. I mean, here was a man who had a gift, the ability to entertain by portraying various roles. And the industry in the United States gave him the opportunity with very little exception to play just one role, and that was a horror character. In Europe, it was utilized. In America, it was a mere potential that never was developed except to the extent that he was allowed to play horror roles, with, as I say, very few exceptions. And by the way, those exceptions were refreshing breezes in the night.’

 

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Suspense Album Sleeve Rear

 

In addition to impressive artwork featuring Lugosi as Dracula, the Suspense album sleeve contains an appreciation of the actor by Jim Harmon (21 April 1933-16 February 2010). A noted editor and writer of science fiction, Harmon was a pioneer in documenting the Golden Age of Radio. His The Great Radio Heroes (Doubleday, 1967; revised edition by McFarland & Company, 2002), was the first of several volumes he wrote on the subject.

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‘To America in the thirties, Bela Lugosi was Dracula, the vampire. Even today, after many more later films of the vampire legend, Lugosi’s image persists due to television, books and magazines. The exclusive club of movie prototypes has selective entrance requirements indeed and few are the stars who have lived up to them. Valentino, the Latin lover; Tom Mix, the Cowboy (in the silent era); John Wayne, the Cowboy (modern era); Boris Karloff, the Frankenstein Monster; Lugosi, Dracula.

Of course, Lugosi was not always the vampire, and perhaps at times he regretted having become one. In his native Hungary, he was a romantic leading man on the legitimate stage. He came to the United States in the twenties, not completely familiar with the English language. In a recent interview with actor-writer-director Duncan Renaldo I learned that Renaldo produced a short silent film with Lugosi as Punchinello, the tragic clown – a showcase for Lugosi’s commanding body movements (also used as a live model for the animated demon in Walt Disney’s Fantasia many years later).

When he played Dracula (before turning down the monster’s role in Frankenstein) Lugosi’s English was still stiff, unpracticed, but highly distinctive. He seemed rightly to be of another world, the Land of the Undead. The audience was attracted by the representation of Man’s greatest fear, death. Instead of being repelled, we want to look closer into the eyes of the empty skull, to make it seem less awful by making the unknown more familiar. It was Lugosi who assured us “There are worse things awaiting Man than Death!”

There were dark moments ahead for Bela Lugosi. He considered himself a working actor, and took whatever role offered him – a red-herring butler suspect in a murder mystery, mad scientist, villains in serials (such as The Phantom Creeps), a serial hero in one case (Return of Chandu the Magician) but usually some variation of Dracula even if not by that name (Mark of the Vampire). It was a career providing steady employment but not the financial security and status such a unique screen personality deserved.

He left a legacy of chills and solid fun for film freaks of all ages with a few bright moments for fans of vintage radio drama as well.

Jim Harmon

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Founded by musician and producer Georģe Garabedian (born Marcus W. Garabedian) in Anaheim, California, the Mark 56 label specialized in releasing recordings of vintage radio shows, sponsored compilations and novelty records. The album was re-released by the Tin Toy label with its original sleeve artwork on October 14, 2013, and digitally with new artwork on February 3, 2014.

The Doctor Prescribed Death

Tin Toy’s 2014 digital re-release sleeve.

The Doctor Prescribed Death was also released on vinyl by Command Performance Records with a performance of Arsenic and Old Lace featuring Boris Karloff, and by Radiola Records in 1967  under the title Bela Lugosi Meets Alfred Hitchcock (on the radio!), complete with Jim Harmon’s sleeve notes. The Hitchcock story, broadcast in 1945 on the ABC Blue Network, was entitled Once Upon A Midnight.

Command Performance

 

Bela Lugosi Meets Alfred Hitchcock (on the radio!)

Courtesy of www.zomboscloset.com

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Listen to the complete radio broadcast of The Doctor Prescribed Death

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