Escape With Us Now -- To the Bookstore

Cover of Alfred Hitchcock anthology 13 More Stories They Wouldn't Let Me Do on TV

In the seven years that Escape was on the air, over 200 broadcasts were made. If, in retrospect, the years 1947 through 1954 were some of radio's best years, this body of Escape programs is one very good reason why.

I think that one of Escape's strengths was in the careful selection of material on which writers based their scripts. Many of the shows, especially in the '40s, were adapted from outstanding works by American and British authors. Great stories, put into radio play form by talented writers, proved to be an unbeatable formula. No show, not even Suspense, was as consistently exciting and entertaining as Escape.

I thought it would be interesting to dig through the fiction in my basement and see how many of the progenitors of the old Escape shows I could find. I followed this up with a trip to the Waldenbooks and B. Dalton bookstores in the Aurora Mall, and can now recommend several books one might turn to to find some of the tales of adventure immortalized on Escape. The advantage in doing so is the inevitable discovery of stories which were not turned into radio dramas, but nevertheless provide top-notch plots and exciting locales to which the old time radio buff can once more Escape.

In 12 Stories They Wouldn't Let Me Do on TV, Alfred Hitchcock supplies us with "How Love Came to Professor Guildea" by Robert S. Hichens, and "Casting the Runes" by Montague R. James. Both are entertaining stories of the supernatural, and in the '50s the latter was made into an engrossing movie, whose title I now forget, starring Cornell Wilde. Another Hitchcock collection, 13 More Stories They Wouldn't Let Me Do on TV, contains "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell. This unusual story of hunter and hunted had already been made into a movie in 1932 (being shot at the same time as King Kong, on the same set, and with some of the same actors), and adapted for radio by Arch Oboler during the war years before ever coming to Escape. The movie was remade in 1946 as Game of Death, and in 1956 as Run for the Sun. It is obviously a worthy piece of fiction. The anthology Masterpieces of Adventure, edited by Louis Morris, also contains the story, plus another selection which inspired one of the most famous of all Escape shows, "Leinengen Versus the Ants" by Carl Stephenson.

"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," which translated into an exceptional drama, even for Escape, can be found in Ghost and Horror Stories of Ambrose Bierce, published by Dover, and I also found it in another collection of Bierce's stories in a Waldenbooks store. She, by H. Rider Haggard, was the author's second, and perhaps most outstanding novel, but many of its fascinating details and plot devices were left out of the 30-minute radio version. The book is readily available in a Ballantine paperback, and I highly recommend it. This story also appeared on the silver screen, twice.

"The Open Boat" by Stephen Crane is included in a Signet Classic The Red Badge of Courage and Other Stories, and the highly enjoyable "A Diamond as Big as the Ritz" is in Babylon Revisited and Other Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I also found "Typhoon" in Great Short Works of Joseph Conrad, a Perennial Classic. "The Fall of the House of Usher" is often included in collections of Edgar Allen Poe's stories, and there are many of these. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells is likewise easy to come by.

All of the above stories were done on Escape at least once, and all books listed are paperbacks still available through the publishers, if not directly off the bookstore shelves. I've recently purchased two hardbacks from B. Dalton which contain reprints of stories from London magazine of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including all the original illustrations. At $6 apiece, I considered them to be a rather good buy.

The first of the two, Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Alan K. Russell, should not be confused with a paperback by the same title edited by Hugh Greene. The Russell book contains a completely different collection of stories, including "The Story of the Lost Special" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself. Sherlock Holmes does not appear in the story, nor in any of the other three Conan Doyle stories included in this collection. Still, having read "The Lost Special," I cannot help but feel that the services of London's greatest detective were sorely missed by Scotland Yard.

The Collector's Book of Science Fiction by H.G. Wells is a bonanza, containing "The Country of the Blind," which was done three times on Escape, and "The Man Who Could Work Miracles," which was done twice. Also included is a novel whose title should be somewhat familiar to old time radio fans -- The War of the Worlds.

As you see, Escape's sources for stories were somewhat varied, but always excellent -- just witness the number of them that attracted the attention of Hollywood script writers. I hope you'll soon be reading your way through some of the above mentioned books, and pausing now and then to say, "Ah, but wouldn't this have been a great story for Escape!"

Daniel Daugherty in Return With Us Now, January 1979