Radio drama adaptations of popular films were all the rage during the 1930s, ‘40s, and into the 1950s — until Americans started to replace their radio sets with televisions. Many of the adaptations even featured the films’ original stars, which made them enticing to audiences hanging on every happening in Hollywood.
Today marks the 74th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller Suspicion, which was a popular adaptation for radio, performed six times. Other Hitchcock films were given the radio play treatment, including Strangers on a Train.
With so many movies featured in radio dramas throughout the golden age of entertainment, we picked some of our favorites (including two from the 1980s) that you can listen to right now.
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1941 thriller Suspicion was adapted six times for radio, from 1942 to 1949. The Lux Radio Theater version starred some of the original cast, including Joan Fontaine and Nigel Bruce. Brian Aherne replaced Cary Grant’s playboy character Johnnie.
Starting in 1981, NPR produced a radio dramatization of the original Star Wars trilogy. The broadcasts, also airing in 1983 and 1996, were made with the full cooperation of Star Wars creator George Lucas. The first adaptation featured Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, with Perry King (Riptide, The Possession of Joel Delaney) as Han Solo, Ann Sachs (Out of the Darkness) as Princess Leia, and Brock Peters (To Kill a Mockingbird, Porgy and Bess) as Darth Vader.
The Lord of the Rings
BBC Radio 4 broadcast a 26-part dramatization of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in 1981. Peter Jackson’s epic film adaptations of the novels had yet to appear on screen, and the radio version does omit some aspects of the original tale, but the British company’s version is beloved by fans. Ian Holm, who played Bilbo Baggins in the Jackson films, voices the role of Bilbo’s cousin Frodo in the radio version.
The Mercury Theatre on the Air, a radio drama series created by Orson Welles, debuted the group’s first literary adaptation in the summer of 1938. Dracula, starring Welles in the role of Dr. Seward and the Count, Elizabeth Fuller (Lucy Westenra). George Coulouris (Jonathan Harker), Agnes Moorehead (Mina Harker), and Martin Gabel (Dr. Van Helsing), created a sensation with its never before heard sound effects (a stake through the heart was created with a hammer and watermelon) that frightened and fascinated audiences.
Gloria Swanson recreated her role of the faded silent movie star Norma Desmond for a 1951 radio play adaptation of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. William Holden also reprised his original role as Joe, a screenwriter down on his luck.
The Philadelphia Story
From YouTube user Dennis Morrison, about the 1942 radio play version of The Philadelphia Story:
Here is a wonderful and somewhat rare radio presentation from the golden age. This is a production of the “Victory Theater,” which in essence was the “Lux Radio Theater,” except produced by the United States Government to raise money for the war effort. This was even produced by [Cecil B. DeMille]. The story is, “The Philadelphia Story,” based on the movie of the same name and with the original stars: Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart and Katherine Hepburn. A true audio gem that was aired on July 20, 1942.
Bette Davis won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her appearance in William Wyler’s Jezebel. She reprised her role as the stubborn Southern woman during the Antebellum era for a 1949 episode of the Screen Director’s Playhouse Radio Show. Proceeds were donated to the Motion Picture Relief Fund, created by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and D.W. Griffith, to help the entertainment community when they were sick, out of work, or no longer able to care for themselves. Other radio companies joined in the charitable giving.
The Postman Always Rings Twice
Lana Turner and John Garfield heated up the screen in the 1946 noir The Postman Always Rings Twice as two lovers with murderous plans. Stars Richard Widmark and Eleanor Parker step into the roles for a 1952 Screen Guild Players/Hollywood Sound Stage adaptation.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
fLux Radio Theater producer and host Cecil B. DeMille introduces this 1938 adaptation of the Walt Disney classic Snow White. During the program, DeMille interviewed Disney. Voice actors from the original film included Roy Atwell (Doc), Billy Gilbert (Sneezy), Moroni Olsen (Mirror), and Stuart Buchanan (Huntsman). Buchanan also played the voice of Grumpy. Thelma Hubbard played Snow White, with James Eagles as the Prince and Gloria Gordon as the witch. Read more about the production over here.
Alice in Wonderland
Just months after Disney’s popular 1951 animated adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Lux was at it again with a radio play. More from Old Time Radio Downloads:
Alice’s adventures are based on the 1951 Disney version of the famous children’s story. William Keighley is not heard in this rehearsal; his part is read by the announcer, John Milton Kennedy. One of the Lux commercials is delivered by Adriana Caselotti, who was the voice of “Snow White” in the Disney film.
Listen over here.