Inner Sanctum Mysteries
was a popular old-time radio
program that aired from January 7
to October 5
. Created by Himan Brown
, the anthology series
featured stories of mystery, terror and suspense. The tongue-in-cheek introductions were in sharp contrast to shows like Suspense
and The Whistler
. A total of 526 episodes are known to have been produced.
The early 1940s programs opened with Raymond Edward Johnson introducing himself as, "Your host, Raymond," in a mocking sardonic voice. A spooky melodramatic organ score punctuated Raymond's many morbid jokes and playful puns. Raymond's closing was an elongated "Pleasant dreaaaams, hmmmmmmm?" His tongue-in-cheek style and ghoulish relish of his own tales became the standard for many such horror narrators to follow, from fellow radio hosts like Ernest Chappell (on Wyllis Cooper's later series, Quiet, Please) and Maurice Tarplin (on The Mysterious Traveler) to EC Comics' Crypt-Keeper in various incarnations of Tales from the Crypt. In interviews, EC publisher Bill Gaines stated that he based EC's three horror hosts not on Raymond but on Old Nancy, host of radio's earlier The Witch's Tale (1931-38).
When Johnson left the series in 1946, he was replaced by Paul McGrath, who did not keep the "Raymond" name and was known only as "your host" or "Mr. Host". Beginning in 1945, Lipton Tea sponsored the series, pairing first Raymond and then McGrath with cheery commercial spokeswoman Mary Bennett (aka the "Tea Lady"), whose blithesome pitches for Lipton Tea contrasted sharply with the macabre themes of the stories, and who primly chided the host for his trademark dark humor and creepy manner.
The creaking door
Apart from the ghoulish host, another show trademark: the eerie creaking door, which opened and closed the broadcasts.
Commonly unknown is the fact that the door sound was actually made by a rusty desk chair. The program did originally intend to use a door, but on first use the door did not creak. Undaunted, Brown grabbed a nearby chair, sat in it and turned, causing a hair raising squeak. The chair was used from then on as the sound prop. On at least one memorable occasion, a staffer innocently repaired and oiled the chair, thus forcing the sound man to mimic the squeak orally.
Plots and guest stars
Its campy comedy notwithstanding, the stories were usually effective little chillers, mixing horror and humor in equal doses. Memorable episodes included "Terror by Night" (September 18, 1945) and an adaptation of "The Tell-Tale Heart
" (August 3, 1941). The latter starred Boris Karloff
, who was heard regularly in the first season, starring in more than 15 episodes and returning sporadically thereafter. Other established stars in the early years included Peter Lorre
, Mary Astor
, Helen Hayes
, Claude Rains
, Paul Lukas
, Frank Sinatra
and Orson Welles
. Most of the lead and supporting players were stalwarts of New York
radio, including Larry Haines
, Stefan Schnabel, Berry Kroeger
and a few who would go on to greater fame in film or television, such as Richard Widmark
, Everett Sloane
and Burgess Meredith
Of more than 500 programs broadcast, only about 200 remain in circulation, sometimes minus dates or titles. The 1954 syndicated television
series featured Paul McGrath as the off-camera host/narrator. In the 1970s, with his CBS Radio Mystery Theater
series, Himan Brown recycled both the creaking door opening, and to a lesser extent, the manner of Raymond, as that show's hosts (including E. G. Marshall
and Tammy Grimes
. In later repeats during the 1990s, Brown himself mimicked Raymond's "Pleasant dreaaaams, hmmmmmmm?" for the familiar closing.
and Will Elder
satirized the series in Mad
's fifth issue (June-July 1953) with "Outer Sanctum!" In the opening panels, host Ramon greets the reader: "Come in, I've been waiting for you! I've been waiting for you to fix my squeaking door!... What?... You say you're not the carpenter?... You have come to hear a story?... Very well!"
In the Three Stooges short The Ghost Talks, a creaking door prompts Shemp to parody the opening narration of the program, naming it "The Outer Sanctorum."