Quiet Please

Courtesy Wikipedia

Courtesy Wikipedia

Quiet, Please! was a 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! debuted June 8, 1947 on the Mutual Broadcasting System, and its last episode was broadcast June 25, 1949, on the 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, in a detailed critical analysis of the series, argued that 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)

Quiet, Please had its roots in The Campbell Playhouse (1938–1941), the successor to Orson Welles’s The Mercury Theatre on the Air, which achieved notoriety with its 1938 adaptation of H. G. Wells’s novel The War of the Worlds. Cooper was a writer for The Campbell Playhouse, and Chappell was the announcer. They became friends, though Chappell had little (if any) acting experience, Cooper imagined him as the star of a new radio program. Cooper’s earlier Lights Out was famous for its gruesome stories and sound effects, but for Quiet, Please, Cooper would cultivate a subdued, slower-paced, and much quieter atmosphere that could still, at its best, match Lights Out for frights and thrills. Chappell had ample experience in radio, but mostly as an announcer. As Hand writes, “With Quiet, Please, Cooper gave Ernest Chappell the chance to act, and the result was a revelation. Chappell proved himself to be versatile in accent and delivery.” (Hand, 146) The differences could be broad or subtle, but in nearly every episode, Chappell created a distinctive character, rarely using the same traits in multiple episodes. Writer Harlan Ellison, a longtime Quiet, Please fan, writes, “[t]the programs were backed by sound effects and music … but it was essentially Chappell, just speaking softly. Quietly. Terrifyingly.” (Ellison, 77) Ellison also describes Chappell as having “one of the great radio voices. A sound that combined urbanity with storytelling wisdom.” (Ellison, 76)

Quiet, Please was produced at WOR in New York City, and began on the Mutual Network on June 8, 1947. Beginning in September, 1948, it was syndicated by ABC, though CBS executive Davidson Taylor expressed an interest in the show, writing in a memo in March 1948, “I like this show a lot and believe we could get it if we wanted.” (Hand, 146)

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 (with the closing describing him as “the man who spoke to you”), 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 platform worker. Though supporting players were sparse, a group of New York radio veterans were heard on a frequent basis: as female characters, in male bit parts, or as the supernatural or otherworldly beings the ordinary Chappell character encounters. Most notably, radio star Claudia Morgan (longtime voice of Nora Charles on The Adventures of the Thin Man, and not coincidentally, Ernest Chappell’s wife) was an occasional female lead, usually in tragic romances, and was heard in the final show (the appropriately titled “Quiet, Please,” a meditation on war and peace). In one lost show, “Three Sides to a Story,” Morgan’s father Ralph Morgan was also a guest.[1] J. Pat O’Malley, later a familiar TV character actor, was another frequent voice, heard in more than a dozen shows throughout the run, beginning with the first broadcast “Nothing Behind the Door.” He played foreman Ted in “The Thing on the Fourbleboard” and was often used in parts requiring Irish or Scottish accents. Radio commentator and disc jockey Jack Lescoulie guest starred in the radio-themed “Twelve to Five.”

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.”[1] 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 wrote, “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)

“The Thing on the Fourble Board”

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.”)


EPISODE LISTING:

470608 e001 Nothing Behind The Door
470615 e002 I Have Been Looking For You
470622 e003 We Were Here First
470629 e004 The Ticket Taker
470720 e005 Cornelia 2
470727 e006 I Remember Tomorrow
470803 e007 Inquest
470810 e008 Bring Me to Life
470910 e014 How Are You Pal
470922 e016 Be A Good Dog Darling epartial)
471006 e018 Not Enough Time
471013 e019 Camera Obscura
471027 e021 Don’t Tell Me About Halloween
471103 e022 Take Me Out to the Graveyard
471110 e023 Three
471117 e024 Kill Me Again
471124 e025 In Memory of Bernadine
471201 e026 Come In, Eddie
471208 e027 Some People Dont Die
471215 e028 Little Fellow
471229 e030 Rain On New Years Eve
480105 e031 Little Visitor
480112 e032 The Room Where the Ghosts Live
480119 e033 Bakers Dozen
480126 e034 Green Light
480202 e035 Pathetic Fallacy
480209 e036 A Red and White Guideon
480216 e037 Whence Came You
480223 e038 Wear The Dead Mans Coat
480301 e039 Sketch For A Screenplay
480308 e040 Never Send To Know
480322 e042 A Night to Forget
480405 e044 I Always Marry Juliet
480412 e045 Twelve To Five
480419 e046 Clarissa
480428 e047 13 and 8
480503 e048 How Beautiful Upon The Mountain
480510 e049 There Are Shadows Here
480517 e050 Gem Of The Purest Ray
480524 e051 In The House Where I Was Born
480614 e054 Not Responsible After 30 Years
480628 e055 Let the Lillies Consider
480705 e056 Wahine Tahiti
480719 e057 As Long As I Live
480726 e058 The Man Who Stole A Planet
480802 e059 It’s Later Than You Think
480809 e060 The Thing on the Fourble Board
480816 e061 Presto-Change-O
480823 e062 3000 Words
480906 e064 Third Man’s Story, The
480913 e065 Symphony In D Minor
480919 e066 Anonymous
480926 e067 Light The Lamp For Me
481003 e068 Meet John Smith
481010 e069 Beezers Cellar
481017 e070 And Jeannie Dreams Of Me
481024 e071 Good Ghost
481031 e072 Calling Alll Souls
481107 e073 Adam And The Darkest Day
481114 e074 The Evening And The Morning
481121 e075 One For The Book
481128 e076 My Son John
481205 e077 Very Unimportant Person
481226 e080 Berlin 45
490102 e081 The Time Of The Big Snow
490109 e082 Portrait Of A Character
490116 e083 Is This Murder
490123 e084 Summer GoodBye
490130 e085 Northern Lights
490206 e086 Tap The Heat Bogdan
490213 e087 Valentine
490220 e088 Where Do You Get Your Ideas
490227 e089 If I Should Wake Before I Die
490306 e090 The Man Who Knew Everything
490313 e091 Dark Rosaleen
490320 e092 The Smell Of High Wines
490327 e093 A Time To Be Born
490410 e095 Dialogue for A Tragedy
490417 e096 Shadow Of The Wings
490424 e097 The Veil Of Glencove
490501 e098 Dark Gray Magic
490508 e099 The Other Side Of The Stars
490515 e100 The Little Morning
490522 e101 The Oldest Man In The World
490528 e102 In The House Where I Was Born
490604 e103 Tanglefoot
490611 e104 The Hat The Bed And John J Catherine
490618 e105 Pavanne
490625 e106 Quiet Please