The Strange Dr. Weird — “He Woke Up Dead”

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The Strange Dr. Weird aired “He Woke Up Dead” on March 27, 1945 as its 21st episode out of 29. We have run only two earlier episodes of this show, the last being over a year ago in December of 2018. The show ran from November of 1944 through May of 1945 in short 15-minute episodes (a few minutes less without commercials), and was dubbed by some as a poor man’s Mysterious Traveler. Indeed, there are similarities between the shows, though MT had a much longer run of nine years (1943-52) and was a full half-hour program. Maurice Tarplin (photo at right, 1911-1975) was the host/narrator for both shows, and one of the writers for MT, Robert A. Arthur (photo lower right, 1909-1969), also penned the scripts for The Strange Dr. Weird. While MT‘s shows included tales of mystery and suspense along with SF and the supernatural, The Strange Dr. Weird concentrated mostly on the supernatural. Both shows opened with the narrator setting the stage with a tease for what was to follow, but where MT stories were told in conversation while on a train and ended with the narrator beginning another story only to stop when the unnamed passenger to whom the story was being told had to get off, The Strange Dr. Weird ends with a variation on the same gimmick, the narrator beginning a story just as his “guest” has to leave. As you might imagine, with actual story lengths running to around a scant 12 minutes, there’s not much room for characterization or extraneous detail, so only the essentials are conveyed–the idea or dilemma takes center stage and remains front and center. And there is always an unexpected twist at the end, providing the moral comeuppance knife in the heart for the bad guy or evil doer. Short and to the creepy point, there’s no lavish musical score or expensive production values here, the quintessential organ riffs manipulating and accentuating listener emotion at the proper moments in conjunction with the plights of the actors.

“He Woke Up Dead” is the sorry tale of two brothers, one who murders his brother because he won’t agree to grant him the sum of $100,000 from the family foundation to further his supernatural research into communicating with the dead, the now dead brother having decried the foolishness of it all. And then, buy a quirk of fate and in the heat of a discussion, the murderer falls and strikes his head, only to wake up in a cemetery’s mortuary, awaiting burial. What happens next I’ll leave for you to find out, to learn what grim fate awaits his dark soul, and the reason “He Woke Up Dead.”

Play Time: 12:26

{It was impossible to tell which issues of which pulp magazines would catch the eye of any of the neighborhood gang on their regular trips to the corner newsstand, and after listening to the above episode of The Strange Dr. Weird in March of 1945 their eclectic choices shown below supported that observation. Doc Savage (1933-49) provided all sorts of edge-of-the-seat adventure fare during its lengthy run, and with a cover story involving snakes–and ten tons of them!–this issue was bound to excite its young male readership. And never one to discard a proven spine-tingling creature guaranteed to shock an audience, fill theaters and sell popcorn, Hollywood would dust off its own ready-made reptiles with 2006’s Snakes on a Plane. I don’t thik we’ve seen the last of snakes featured in popular culture, not as long as Hollywood knows it can rely on making money with giant Anacondas in some South American jungle, ready to devour the unsuspecting Americanos poling their way slowly down some narrow river in search of something of supposed great value. Doc Savage was a monthly in 1945. New Detective (1941-55) would go through a number of name changes, including switching to True Adventures in the middle of 1955 and becoming a men’s magazine until it folded in 1971. If you look closely in the lower left corner of this issue’s cover you will see that Ray Bradbury contributed a story. A little research reveals that the story was “Hell’s Half Hour.” New Detective was a bi-monthly in 1945. Weird Tales (1923-54) was the standard bearer of the macabre and supernatural tale, routinely featuring what would become classic tales penned by many of the recognized masters of the genre. WT was a bi-monthly in 1945.}

[Left: Doc Savage, March 1945 – Center: New Detective, March 1945 – Right: Weird Tales, March 1945]


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