Tangent Online

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

The Mysterious Traveler, "Murder is My Business"

E-mail Print

The Mysterious Traveler (1943-52) aired "Murder is My Business" on June 8, 1948 as the 157th of its approximately 400 episodes, of which only 71 are now believed to still exist. (Some sources place the show count at 370 and the extant episodes at 85, so take both sets of figures with a grain of salt. Either way, a relatively small percentage of the shows exist today, which is a shame.)

The Mysterious Traveler's story is a fascinating one. Produced, directed, and written by David P. Kogan (photo lower left) and Robert Arthur (photo lower right), its popular nine-year run would come to a halt due to pressure from the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and its witchhunt for Communists, or those believed to have Communist sympathies. We ran our first offerings of the show in June of 2009, detailing not only this unfortunate set of circumstances, but also a mention of the magazine of the same name (cover top left is the final issue, #5, dated September 1952) springing from the radio show, but also the comic (photo above right is #3 of the 13 issue run from 1956-59, and is cover-dated May 1957). This back story can be found here. Also worthy of note for those coming here for the first time (though long-time listeners will remember our mention of it in past MT episodes), is that shortly after posting the pair of MT episodes back in June of 2009, I received an email from David Kogan (1916-2009), the surviving member of the famed MT writing duo (Robert Arthur having passed away in 1969). What a rare treat to learn that not only had Kogan found our presentation of two classic MT episodes, but that he would take the time to write! Sadly, three weeks later I received an email from Kogan's son informing me of his father's passing at age 92. One of the few remaining, and well beloved figures from the Golden Age of Radio was gone. I appended both Mr. Kogan's and his son's correspondence to the end of those MT episodes, and they are available at the above link.

"Murder is My Business" is a story every writer can identify with at some level and at one time or another in their writing career, though perhaps not to the extent portrayed here. A competent, talented script writer for radio shows is contacted by the producer of the most popular detective radio show in the country. The producer is known--and hated--for his ego, outrageous demands, and the inability of previous writers to work for him for long. Other writers have left the show due to ulcers or depression, while others have been fired for failing to please the producer and his ridiculously unreasonable demands when it comes to the quality of the scripts. High expectations on the part of the producer have led to his detective show being the most popular in the country, with the highest ratings bringing in the accompanying ad revenue, but he goes through--and destroys--writers at an alarming pace. So when the producer calls our writer and offers him $600 a week (an exorbitant sum back in the day), his first impulse is to jump at the opportunity. After all, the money would solve a lot of his problems and be a major step up in the world and for his career. His loving wife advises against it, happy with their situation as is and fearing that what has happened to previous writers would certainly be a strong possibility for her husband--but to no avail. What happens next, in a series of encounters with the producer, endlessly rewritten scripts, excess drinking and smoking on the part of the writer, and total frustration turning to outright hatred for the producer, forms the body of this taut, emotion-packed tale--with a fitting denouement, of course.

For writers this episode will prove powerfully cathartic; for editors who treat their writers like the worst scum of the earth, take themselves too seriously, and think they know it all and that their (supposed) literary acumen comes straight from God, not so much. So for all interested parties--including those of us witnessing this scenario play out from a distance--it will be well for us to remember that, as the poor writer here reminds his editor, "Murder is My Business." Writers, you can thank me later. Publishers and editors, lock your doors.

Play Time: 29:44

{Early June of 1948 would find the neighborhood gang sprinting to the corner newsstand on a sunny Saturday morning with coins jangling in their pockets and smiles on their scrubbed faces (mom's being notoriously persuasive about the Friday night bath), so they could pick over at their leisure from the many SF magazines spread before them on several wall shelves. Magazines selected, they would head for the fountain counter and wobbly stools, there to order cherry, vanilla, or chocolate cokes on ice while flipping through their purchases. Astounding was rock steady with its monthly publishing schedule in 1948. Famous Fantastic Mysteries was bi-monthly, ran from 1939-53 and ended up with 81 issues before closing shop, and featured reprints of classic weird, fantasy, and SF stories. Startling Stories, also a bi-monthly, saw its first issue in 1939 as well, and would finally peter out in 1955 after a solid run. Though not consdered a top market, some of SF's most enduring, popular, and even classic tales saw print within its pages, a fine example being Henry Kuttner's short novel The Mask of Circe in the issue featured below.}

[Left: Astounding, June 1948 - Center: Famous Fantastic Mysteries, June 1948 - Right: Startling Stories, May 1948]

             

To view the entire list of weekly Old Time Radio episodes at Tangent Online, click here.