Quiet, Please! was an old-time radio fantasy and horror program created by Wyllis Cooper, also known for creating Lights Out. Ernest Chappell was the show's announcer and lead actor. Quiet, Please! was first broadcast by on June 8, 1947 by the Mutual Broadcasting System, and its last episode ran on June 25, 1949, by ABC. A total of 106 shows were broadcast, with only a very few of them repeats.
Earning relatively little notice during its initial run, Quiet, Please! has since been praised as one of the finest efforts of the golden age of American radio drama. Professor Richard J. Hand of the University of Glamorgan (author of probably the most detailed critical analysis of the series) argues that with Quiet, Please, Cooper and Chappell "created works of astonishing originality" (Hand, 145); he further describes the program as an "extraordinary body of work" (Hand, 158), which established Cooper "as one of the greatest auteurs of horror radio." (Hand, 161) Similarly, radio historian Ron Lackmann declares that the episodes "were exceptionally well written and outstandingly acted" (Lackmann, 226), while John Dunning describes the show as "a potent series bristling with rich imagination." (Dunning, 559)
Each episode began with Chappell intoning the show's title, followed by a long pause (sometimes up to seven seconds), before repeating the title. Then, the show's theme music was played, a dirgey, funereal organ and piano version of a portion of the second movement of César Franck's 1899 Symphony in D Minor. The introduction established the sparse, understated tone of the show, and has inspired collectors and reviewers to remark upon Cooper's use of the dramatic power of silence.
Though the general thrust of the stories were fantasy, horror and suspense, Cooper's Quiet, Please! scripts covered a broad thematic range, including romance, science fiction, crime, family drama and humor (some of it quite self-deprecating). Dunning describes the show as "outstanding dark fantasy;" (Dunning, 559) Hand notes that this description is broadly accurate, but that there are a few humorous or sentimental Quiet, Please episodes which "aren't particularly 'dark'". Hand also suggests that "any attempt to categorize the series feels like diminishing its scope of achievement." (Hand, 145)Regardless of content, most episodes had a dreamlike, surreal quality: Odd or paranormal events were not always explained: Dunning wrote that the show's "characters walked in a fuzzy dream world where the element of menace was ripe and ever present." (Dunning, 559)
Hand writes that "Cooper was a master of the opening line. Almost every episode of Quiet, Please begins with a sentence or two that hooks the listener, commanding their attention and their curiosity." (Hand, 147)
Most episodes featured no more than two or three actors, with Chappell taking the first person voice in all but a handful of episodes, usually telling the tale via flashbacks. Dunning writes that "Cooper's pet hate was of 'acting' and he wanted [each story] related with a deadpan sense of here's how it happened.'" (Dunning, 559) Chappell usually took a conversational tone, relating the stories slowly and casually; he frequently played a specialist worker, giving Cooper a chance to add background details from his own earlier jobs as a soldier, gandy dancer or oil rig worker. At the end of each program, Cooper offered a teaser for the next show. These were usually unrehearsed, and often displayed Cooper's wry or morbid humor: "My story for you next week is called 'A Night to Forget'. It's about a man who wished he could –- and couldn't." Cooper's teaser was always followed by Chappell's sign-off: "And so, until next week at this same time, I am quietly yours, Ernest Chappell."
Compared to other contemporary radio dramas, Quiet, Please! used fewer sound effects and less dialogue, relying instead on first person narration to drive each play. As noted above, silence was often used masterfully; a 1949 Oakland Tribune article by John Crosby notes, "There are long, long pauses, so long sometimes you wonder if your radio has gone on the blink. Networks are horrified at the amount of dead air they purchase along with Cooper. (A half hour Cooper script played at ordinary tempo would run about 11 minutes.)" Though Crosby praised Quiet, Please!, he thought the dramas sometimes employed confused, deus ex machina endings and characters were occasionally underdeveloped. He also wrote that Cooper "avoids clichés with such intensity that he's creating his own."
Most episodes had a strongly moralist tone: evildoers were nearly always punished, and good was typically rewarded. In 1949, Harriett Cannon write, "Although in no sense a 'religious' show, [Quiet, Please!] has some of its strongest supporters among the clergy." In fact, Cooper often drew upon the Bible for inspiration, though he generally tweaked the stories and plots past the point of easy recognizability. Even the easily recognizable Bible stories are given a twist: "The Third Man's Story" (6 September 1948) retells the story of Cain and Abel, suggesting that Cain's act was motivated by Abel's arrogance and taunts. Cooper's scripts were, arguably, among the best of their era; Hand argues that "Cooper employs excellent structuring devices in creating 30-minute radio drama," even comparing one episode ("Three Sides to a Story") to Sartre's No Exit. Love triangles were another frequent plot device for Quiet, Please.
As with many radio programs to feature prominent organ accompaniment, Quiet, Please! was a rather low-budget undertaking. The show's keyboardist (Albert Berman for most of the episodes), however, arguably utilized the instruments in a more innovative way than others—not only for punctuation of climactic moments, but also as an element of the scripts, as in the lazy, boogie woogie riffs in the clandestine casino scenes in "Good Ghost" (24 November 1948). The show's theme was used as a plot device in at least three episodes: as a post-hypnotic trigger in by a hypnotist in "Symphony in D Minor" (13 September 1948), "The Evening and the Morning" and in "Come In, Eddie".
Unusually for episodic radio drama, several episodes were sequels of earlier broadcasts, or at least recycled the same ideas: A character and setting from the very first episode "Nothing Behind the Door" (8 June 1947) are referenced in one of the last episodes, "The Other Side of the Stars"; in "The Man Who Knew Everything" (6 March 1949) the titular character seems to die at the episode's end, only to return in "The Venetian Blind Man" (3 April 1949). Another pair of episodes, though not directly sequels, both feature an enchanted watch that allows its bearer to time travel: ("It's Later Than You Think" (8 February 1948) and "Not Responsible After Thirty Years" (14 June 1948)
Despite some positive reviews (and a loyal audience that might be classified as a cult following, based on Crosby's claim the network received more requests from fans for Quiet, Please! scripts than for any other radio program) the show never established itself and never attracted a sponsor. Quiet, Please! might have suffered from poor scheduling, which was often dependent upon a regular sponsor. During its first year, Quiet, Please! was broadcast at 3.30 pm, a time slot usually reserved for after-school programming aimed at juveniles. Its second season found the show at a more appropriate 9.30 pm, but its third and final season the show was bumped again, this time to 5.30pm (noted times are Eastern Standard Time)
Probably the most highly regarded episode of Quiet, Please! is "The Thing on the Fourble Board" (August 9, 1948), about an oil-field worker who encounters a mysterious subterranean being hiding on the derrick's catwalk. The unusual title is a bit of oil worker argot: the "fourble board" of an oil derrick is a narrow catwalk that is as high up as four lengths of drilling pipe placed vertically (two lengths of pipe are a "double", three are a "thribble" and four are a "fourble."
While working on the rig, Porky and his friend Billy pull up a core sample which includes a human finger, which feels like it's made of stone. They rub the dirt and grime from the strange finger, and are surprised to see it disappear, as though it was invisible. The stone finger drops to the floor of the oil derrick, and the men are unable to recover it. Startled, they begin drinking whiskey, and hear strange noises high up on the oil rig.
That night, Billy dies in a fall from the oil rig. Another worker dies soon after, and the spooked workers refuse to return to the derrick. Haunted by dreams of the oil rig and spiders, Porky later visits the abandoned work site, and discovers the monster is still there. After paint is spilled on the creature, Porky learns that it is a strange spider-like being that communicates only via a high-pitched wail, though its face is that of a beautiful girl. Though it had killed his friends, Chappell's character takes pity on the lost monster: he is at once repelled by its arachnid body, but attracted to its lovely face.
Porky says it had,
Mike likes to eat people, and, at gunpoint, Porky forces the listener to stay seated while his wife enters the room, mewling eagerly.
According to Hand, Cooper's script for the episode was dizzyingly multilayered, blending authentic details of oil rig workers' daily activities, with elements of what might be termed "subterranea" or Hollow Earth lore, yet managing to faintly invoke nautical stories like the kraken.
Mike is one of the strangest creatures not only in radio, according to Hand, but in all of horror fiction, with uniquely transgressive qualities. It is not unreasonable to suspect that Porky has sexually consummated his unorthodox "marriage" to Mike, leading to a bizarre and horrifying blend of bestiality (the spider-like body) and pedophilia (arousal by the pretty, "little girl" face). Additionally, according to Hand, the use of the masculine "Mike" instead of the feminine "Maxine" adds an element of homosexuality to the story.
In 2004 at the Sacred Fools Theater in Los Angeles, Corey Klemow directed stage adaptations of two of the best-regarded Cooper scripts, The Thing on the Fourble Board and Whence Came You? See "external links" below for further information.
Though many radio programs used various meta-fictional ploys, Quiet, Please! arguably offered some of the most effective and intriguing examples.
Hand writes that Cooper "enjoys creating roles for the audience: passive listener, surreptitious eavesdropper, or even someone implicated in the action of the story itself." (Hand, 148) Scripts often broke down the fourth wall by speaking directly to the listener. On "The Other Side of the Stars", (broadcast May 8, 1949), Chappell appeared as Esau (the name is another of Cooper's many Biblical touches), a character who narrates the story as though he were broadcasting it on live radio; a show within a show. Esau relates the tale of his girlfriend's odd fate after she discovered a conquistador's armor while exploring a well in Arizona, but he is repeatedly interrupted by her brother, who arrived uninvited for the broadcast. Chappell's character in "Inquest" is forced to stand in front of a vast visible radio audience, while being assured that he will be supplied with sound effects as they are necessary to accompany the story he tells.
Several episodes blurred the distinction between performer and fictional character: In a few episodes (such as "Is This Murder"), Ernest Chappell portrayed a man named "Ernest". In "Where Do You Get Your Ideas?" Cooper played himself, while Chappell portrayed a drunken barfly, pestering the writer. In the episode "12 to 5" (broadcast April 12, 1948), Chappell plays a disk jockey who delivers an on-air commercial for "Chappell's Apples" (as well as a portion of the Cesar Franck theme).
The fact that any episodes of Quiet, Please survive in general circulation might well be due to Chappell's efforts. He wrote to Cooper's widow Emily in 1966, to report that he owned copies of all but 11 episodes on transcription discs, and had copied them all to reel to reel tape. Stating that he would happily copy any episodes for Emily, Chappell further wrote:
In a newspaper column originally printed in 1981, Ellison wrote that he stumbled across one particular episode in his childhood, and afterwards, became a devoted Quiet, Please listener. He remembers the title of that episode as "Five Miles Down," though no episode logs list a that title. Ellison writes that of that episode, "I heard something I have never forgotten ... What I heard that Sunday afternoon, so long ago, that has never left my thoughts for even one week, through all those years, was this:
Ellison goes on to relate the plot (at least as he remembers it after several decades, admitting that time might have altered some of the details), and asks, "How many stories you heard or saw or read 15 years ago, ten years ago, even five years ago, do you remember that clearly today? I heard "'Five Miles Down' at least 40 years ago. And it's still with me." (Ellison, 77) Incidentally, Ellison's recollection is a little inaccurate: he thinks that the episode was broadcast "Early in the forties" (Ellison, 76), while Quiet, Please was in fact broadcast in the mid-to-late 1940s.