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March 19: Lights Out with Arch Oboler

March 19, 2014
Arch+Oboler+with+Tommy+CookRadio writer Arch Oboler, whose 1937 parody about Adam and Eve (“Forbidden Fruit”) got Mae West banned from NBC radio for more than fifteen years, died at 77 on this date in 1987. Oboler was the precocious son of Latvian Jewish immigrants and sold his first short story, about an amorous dinosaur, at age 10. He wrote pulp fiction throughout his early career, and was also in the running to be a Golden Gloves boxing champion. Oboler was best known for his work on Lights Out, a weekly midnight horror program on NBC radio, in which he periodically overwhelmed his audience with hopeless situations and unhappy endings. The show was very successful, but he left it when the threat of fascism arose in the world, finding “myself wanting the dimensions,” he said, “of that half hour on the air expanded to take in the actual horror of a world facing, with half-shut eyes, the fascistic Frankenstein’s monster moving over Europe.” The result was Plays For Americans, a star-studded half-hour show meant to inspire and brace America for war, and then a series of other patriotic, anti-fascist radio shows, including Letters to the President. Oboler also wrote and directed radio sketches for Hollywood stars on Your Hollywood Parade before landing his own show, Arch Oboler’s Plays, on NBC. He then became a film director, one of the first to use 3-D effects, in Bwana Devil (1952). To hear an episode from Lights Out, look below. To hear Oboler’s radio version of Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, starring James Cagney, look below that. To hear an excerpt from the controversial Mae West show (with dummy Charlie McCarthy), look all the way below. “NBC and the commercial sponsors of the program knew Mae West. They knew her technique. They’d heard her and seen her. They coached her in rehearsals. but when the public protests swamped them they pretended they had Mae all mixed up with Mary Pickford or Shirley Temple.” —Chicago Daily News
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