Escape — “Papa Benjamin”

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Escape (1947-54) aired “Papa Benjamin” on January 21, 1948 as its 26th episode. This well produced and acted story takes us to New Orleans and its famous jazz district. Nationally celebrated jazz band leader Eddie Bloch has for some time been packing them in at the club where he plies his trade. Lately, however, interest and attendance are down, to the point where the club owner, though he likes Eddie, tells him he will have to let him go and bring in another popular jazz band from St. Louis if revenue doesn’t increase by the end of the week. It’s purely a bottom line financial decision. Eddie understands and sets out to find that one new sound or piece of music that will put him on top again. It is this search and where it leads him–to the dark back alleys near the iconic Congo Square section of New Orleans and an old man known as Papa Benjamin–that is the focus of the story. Eddie is soon convinced that his mind is being influenced by this old black man known as Papa Benjamin through evil “thought waves,” and that he must take ultimate action in order to end his mental torture. As we will see, when even seeking to take his own life fails he must resort to an even more dire solution. The local police get involved from the outset, and their attitude toward the band leader–a celebrity–after what he tells them, will be shocking to some and not so shocking to others. It certainly raised an eyebrow from me. Another surprise, this a welcome one, were the actual short jazz riffs spicing up the musical score, which brought to mind one of my favorite Jump/Swing Blues Bands, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.

“Papa Benjamin” is a retitling of, and is based on Cornell Woolrich’s (1903-1968) novella “Dark Melody of Murders.” Over the past few years we have run a number of Woolrich’s stories that were adapted for radio, and there were quite a few. In fact, it was radio adaptations of his stories that gave him the exposure and eventual acclaim that the printed word never had to that point in his literary career. Universally recognized as one of the masters of suspense, crime and mystery stories, Woolrich also wrote a number of supernatural tales of which “Dark Melody of Murders” is one of the most famous and oft reprinted. It originally appeared in the June 1935 issue of Dime Mystery Magazine (cover above left), and was even made into an episode of the Boris Karloff-hosted TV series Thriller, airing on March 21, 1961.

Play Time: 29:31

{The dreary cold of Janaury in 1948 was not enough to deter young SF fans from bundling up and trudging to the corner newsstand for the exciting adventures of the future and on other worlds they knew awaited them inside the pages of their favorite magazines. Then as now, Astounding (now Analog) led the pack with its quality and the solid monthly schedule it adhered to (with one exception early on) since its first issue in January of 1930. Famous Fantastic Mysteries saw its first issue in 1939 and through 1942 was quite erratic, publishing anywhere from 3 to 9 issues per year until it was hit hard during the war years where from 1943-45 it managed only 11 issues total. 1946 saw the magazine right itself with a steady 6 issues per year which lasted until its demise in June of 1953. Weird Tales saw its first issue in March of 1923 and through 1939 (with a blip or two along the way) was a relaible monthly magazine. From 1940 until its first demise (long story) in 1954 it was a rock solid bi-monthly.}

[Left: Astounding, Jan. 1948 – Center: Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Feb. 1948 – Right: Weird Tales, Jan. 1948]


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