The Witch’s Tale — “The Priest of Sekhet”

The Witch’s Tale (1931-38) aired “The Priest of Sekhet” on May 8, 1936, though there is doubt about the precise date, many of the episodes being destroyed by the show’s creator Alonzo Deen Cole (1897-1971) who believed them to be of no commercial value. A scant 54 episodes are known to still exist of the estimated 150 produced (although this number varies too), and only a third of those remaining 54 are from the US series, the remainder coming from the Australian airings (1938-43). This is only the third episode of The Witch’s Tale we have showcased, the first being 13 years ago on October 31, 2009, with the second coming on October 31, 2015. The show has a fascinating history, the highlights being that the show was the first all-original horror series on radio, and it was the first to introduce a narrator for an on-going series, that of “Old Nancy.” Old Nancy’s influence paved the way for other radio narrators such as Raymond of Inner Sanctum fame, and Bill Gaines, of the legendary EC Comics who took Cole’s witch “Old Nancy” as the idea for the Old Witch in his horror comic The Haunt of Fear, for yet another example. And how can we forget the Crypt Keeper from television’s excellent series Tales from the Crypt? All owe a debt to Alonzo Deen Cole’s The Witch’s Tale and Old Nancy.

The radio series, usually airing at midnight, proved popular enough that a magazine with the slightly altered title of The Witch’s Tales, saw its first issue with the November 1936 issue. Unfortunately, due to magazine publishing inexperience and lack of cross media advertising (there were no ads for the radio show in the magazine, and vice versa), the magazine folded with its second issue dated December 1936 (cover top left) The photo top right is a 1930 publicity shot featuring Cole menacing his wife Marie, with the original Old Nancy, Adelaide Fitz-Allen lurking above. Fitz-Allen was the voice of Old Nancy until her death at age 79 in 1935, at which point a 13-year old Miriam Wolfe (1935 photo at right) would shock Cole with her Old Nancy impression and was hired on the spot. Wolfe would go on to have an impressive career in radio, Broadway, and other endeavors, gaining the respect and accolades of her peers.

“The Priest of Sekhet” involves archaeologists exploring the thousands of years old tomb of the goddess Sekhet in search of whatever treasures were entombed with this mummified deity, known by one of her names as the Destroyer. As this kind of story is known to unfold–usually turning deadly via some curse or other–so too does this one involve death, but not as you might expect, which marks it as a cut above the others. Enjoy the interesting turn in this spooky tale, perfect for All Hallows Eve when spirits are wont to roam.

Astute listeners may note that Old Nancy can never remember how old she is, in this episode or any other. In this one she claims to be 104 at the beginning, then at the end will be 112 for the next week’s episode. Just one of the old Salem witch’s endearing qualities, and which inconsistency her feline familiar Satan never seems to notice.

Play Time: 26:38

{The neighborhood gang was still a little too young to assemble at the nearby newsstand on their own in 1936, so had to settle for those pulp magazines chosen by their parents, longtime enthusiasts of the fantastic who would be bringing up another generation of youngsters in search of the ever-elusive Sense of Wonder. Fortunately, most of these magazines included interior art which helped our up and coming young readers to make at least partial sense of the wild stories their parents were enjoying. Astounding (1930-present, now Analog) was edited by F. Orlin Tremaine in 1936, and though it was the leading SF pulp in 1936, it wouldn’t begin to take on the vision and formative influence that shaped several generations of SF writers and readers until March of 1938 when the now legendary John W. Campbell, Jr. (1910-1971) ascended to the magazine’s editorial throne. That said, the pre-Campbell Astounding published some early space opera classics such as the Jack Williamson offering of “The Cometeers” in the issue below. It would be combined in a single volume with another now classic story in what would come to be known as the Legion of Space series, “One Against the Legion” (Astounding, 1939), published in a limited edition in 1950 by Fantasy Press. Astounding was a monthly on 1936. Blue Book (1905-1956) was one of the great early pulp magazines. One never knew what kind of stories each issue would provide, they were literally all over the geographical and genre map, though adventure fare in all its glory seemed to be the predominant selling point. Readers of the May 1936 issue pictured below no doubt had just finished the six-part serial that ran from the October 1935-March 1936 issues. It was the first appearance of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel Tarzan and the Immortal Men, which Burroughs himself would publish later in 1936 in a single volume as Tarzan’s Quest. Blue Book was also a monthly in 1936. Spicy Adventure Stories (1934-1946) was one in the same “spicy” stable as Spicy Detective Stories and Spicy Mystery Stories. All 3 pulps began in 1934 with action stories “laced with sex” as one historian put it. And all 3 magazines eventually dropped the “spicy” descriptor and toned down the sex in their stories due to evolving societal norms, becoming, respectively, Speed Detective, Speed Mystery, and Speed Adventure stories beginning with their January 1943 issues. It too was a monthly in 1936.}

[Left: Astounding, 5/36 – Center: Blue Book, 5/36 – Right: Spicy-Adventure Stories, 5/36]


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