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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Dark Fantasy -- "The Demon Tree"

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Dark Fantasy aired "The Demon Tree" on December 5, 1941 as its 4th episode out of approximately 31. While popular with the public and generally considered a fine example of its kind (it featured stories of the supernatural, horror, SF, mystery, and the uncany and bizarre on a relatively shoestring budget compared to more high end shows like Suspense or Escape), it lasted less than a year, from November of 1941 through June of 1942. The show came out of local station WKY in Oklahoma City and was syndicated through the parent company, NBC. NBC execs thought the show too scary for children below a certain age, so Dark Fantasy was forced to air very late at night, which may account for a smaller listenership than was required to keep the show afloat. Most of the episodes were written by the show's talented creator, Scott Bishop, who also created such popular shows as The Mysterious Traveler and The Sealed Book.

(Above left: Ad in The Oklahoma City Times promoting the first episode of Dark Fantasy on 11-14-41.)

"The Demon Tree" offers dark fantasy/horror fans a retelling of what some have suggested comes from a 14th century Welsh legend, that of "Hollow Tree of the Demons." We begin with four travelers enjoying a short stay at a resort inn and recalling the disturbing story of the Demon Tree told by the night clerk the evening before. The story goes that a witch has cursed an oak (which grew from an acorn the witch planted after dripping her blood on it), and whosoever wanders intothe nearby forest will be strangled by the oak. Of course, our bored travelers dismiss the legend as hogwash and go searching in the forest for the supposed "strangling oak." You can guess what they find, but it is so well done that despite knowing what will happen next you end up squirming in your seat anyway. The acting is solid and the players have a fine flair for the dramatic, making the frightful tale come alive.

Note that this late Friday episode of Dark Fantasy aired only two days before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 1941, bringing America into World War II in the Pacific. The country was in such shock that along with what I am sure were many other programs being pre-empted over the next days and weeks, the following week's episode of Dark Fantasy was cancelled. It would not air its next show until the following Friday, December 19th, 1941.


Karl Schadow, a regular fan of these OTR episodes, is also an Old Time Radio historian and scholar. One of his specific areas of expertise is Dark Fantasy (for which he wrote the booklet notes for the Radio Spirits Dark Fantasy CD linked to at top left.) Karl has been helpful in aiding my research for several OTR episodes in the past, along the way making it clear that in far too many instances the "scholarship" surrounding the history of Old Time Radio shows is either blatantly false, unresearched, or non-existent, and that relying on any one, or two, or several sources for information does not guarantee accuracy. Unfortunately, such is the case with the historical notes I wrote for this episode, which Karl points out are just plain wrong, are the result of shoddy research on the part of the websites from which I gathered the information (there were several), and with the goal being to promote Old Time Radio to new audiences in its proper light, decided to write to set the record straight on some of the history of Dark Fantasy. With permission, I am including Karl's comments and corrections to my intro notes, and realize that I am (as are all who do this sort of thing) at the mercy of the available sources we find on the internet. In this case, I sourced from three different OTR sites, all of which parroted essentially the same information about Dark Fantasy--which as Karl points out was wrong. So with my gratitude and thanks, Karl corrects the inaccurate information:

"Dave,

Unfortunately, many of those sites use verbatim, the info from the DigitalDeli. It has been a struggle to get others to realize that the articles I wrote which came from the best sources available, (WKY and NBC) have utterly blown away the rest of the competition for Dark Fantasy. Anyhow, here's the lowdown:

1. The date and episode #4 for the 1941-42 series are correct. However, there were more than 31 episodes as Dark Fantasy was syndicated by WKY during the 1942-43 and also the 1943-44 seasons. (Episode/log lists for these two seasons are unknown.) Moreover, there was a 1944 local series on WKY of approx 8-9 episodes, with at least two new scripts.

2. Dark Fantasy was not syndicated by NBC but was broadcast as a network venture from November 14, 1941 through June 19, 1942. It originated from WKY and was heard on NBC for its entire network run.

3. The "Too scary for children" aspect is absolute BS. NBC was interested in adding programs to its network schedule to replace dance bands. Moreover, Dark Fantasy aired at 8:30 pm on some West Coast stations.

4. Scott Bishop was the pen name of George Marion Hamaker. He wrote extensively for WKY and previously WIBW (Topeka, KS). I'm not sure how much drama he did later when he moved (in 1944) to WKAT and then WIOD (Miami Beach). There is absolutely no proof that he wrote for The Mysterious Traveler, The Sealed Book, The Strange Dr. Weird or any of the other Kogan/Arthur collaborations.

As you know, the attempt in OTR and sharing my research with you is that I wish to correct all of the inaccuracies out there. Of course, the main goal is to promote OTR itself.

Best,
Karl"

Play Time: 24:35

{Oblivious to what would take place two days after their trek to the local newsstand on December 5, 1941, the bundled-up and rosy-cheeked neighborhood gang found the usual array of their favorite reading material awaiting them, among them those pictured below. Astounding was forever and always a monthly publication and 1941 was no example. Captain Future began as a quarterly in 1940 and ran for 17 issues until its demise in 1944, nearly all being penned by "world-wrecker" (named such because of his early action-packed galactic space operas) Edmond Hamilton. At this point in its history (1939-55) Startling Stories was bi-monthly and never seemed to shrink from its spectacularly garish covers, each promising danger and adventure aplenty to excite young, impressionable minds.}

[Left: Astounding, Dec. 1941 - Center: Captain Future, Fall 1941 - Right: Startling Stories, Nov. 1941]

         

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