"And now...another tale well-calculated to keep you in...SUSPENSE!"
When the dramatic anthology series "Suspense" premiered over CBS Radio on June 17, 1942, it did so as both a summer series and as a sustaining program. The network had no idea how well the series would perform - its only previous showcase was as an hour-long audition on the 1940 series "Forecast" - so running out and getting a sponsor didn’t seem to be important at that particular stage. Besides, in the show’s salad days, the guest stars that did appear were of considerably low wattage.
But as "Suspense" grew in popularity and began to attract a more upscale acting clientele anxious to participate in “radio’s outstanding theater of thrills,” finding someone to pick up the weekly tab became a top priority for CBS. Luckily, in December 2, 1943, the series found its 'angel' in the sponsorship of Roma Wines. "Suspense’s" long association with Roma (and co-branded Cresta Blanca) was good for both the series and the company; a bigger budget attracted bigger guest stars and, as the program began to climb in the ratings, the company began to enjoy substantial profits.
This fruitful arrangement came to an end on November 20, 1947. Roma had been admittedly seeing other programs behind "Suspense’s" back and the bright array of top Hollywood talent began to dim a bit as many of the stars began to tire of the program. CBS rolled the dice and took one heck of a chance in keeping "Suspense" on the air; the network still felt that the series was popular with audiences and they agreed to sustain the program until another sponsor could be found.
How serious was CBS about keeping its prestige show? Beginning January 3, 1948, "Suspense" was moved to Saturday nights and was broadcast from 8:00 to 9:00 PM Eastern Standard Time. That’s right: a full hour of “Suspense.” Hour-long dramatic shows were a gamble at best; many stars tended to shun these programs - a half-hour show was grueling enough to get through - and only a few, "The Lux Radio Theater" being the best example, managed to continue on the air for very long. But Lux had a sponsor all too willing to write checks on a weekly basis...while CBS, without a sponsor to back them up, was still the sole support of "Suspense." What's more, the network learned soon enough that by doubling the show from half-hour to hour-long status, they had to double the pay of the individuals working on the show as well. (Networks, as a rule, cringe at the thought of giving money away.)
To jazz up "Suspense," CBS hired actor Robert Montgomery to be the host and occasional performer, figuring that on the weeks when they had to resort to a less-than "A" list of guest stars, at least Montgomery would be around to provide a certain degree of glitter. Montgomery, at it turned out, made appearances in quite a few of the hour-long shows, including both the premiere, “The Black Curtain”, and most notably in “Night Must Fall”, which allowed him to reprise the role he had created in the 1937 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture of the same name.
Many of the hour-long "Suspense" shows were movie adaptations in the "Lux Radio Theater" mold, including “Deadline at Dawn,” “Crossfire” and “Nightmare” -- the last of which was filmed in 1947 as “Fear in the Night”. There were even two productions that, it could be said, acted as previews of coming attractions: the series’ 1948 productions of “In a Lonely Place” and “The House by the River” were brought to the silver screen in 1950. Several of "Suspense’s" celebrated classics were also repeated during the hour-long experiment, having been lengthened to fit the new format. They included such audience favorites as “The Lodger,” “Donovan’s Brain,” and “Love’s Lovely Counterfeit.”
Perhaps the most memorable of the hour-long "Suspense" shows was the second program in the short-lived sixty minute series: an entertaining sequel to Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” entitled “The Kandy Tooth.” What made this installment so entertaining was that it had the novelty of Howard Duff and Lurene Tuttle appearing in the familiar roles of Sam Spade and Effie Perrine from the popular CBS detective show "The Adventures of Sam Spade." In addition, host Montgomery provided a funny cameo as Spade's fellow detective Philip Marlowe — a part he had played in the 1946 noir "The Lady in the Lake."
"Suspense’s" hour-long experiment closed up shop on May 15, 1948 and, close to two months later, the show moved back to its cozy Thursday night berth in its familiar half-hour form with a new sponsor, Autolite. The show experienced a re-emergence in popularity and, while the merits of the hour-long broadcasts must ultimately be decided upon by the listener, the decision by CBS to keep the series in production certainly seems in retrospect to have been the right call; "Suspense" would continue to be heard on the network for the next fourteen years, closing the curtain for the last time in September 1962.
The Black Curtain
starring Robert Montgomery
Saturday, January 3, 1948 - 60:00 - CBS, sustaining
The Kandy Tooth
starring Howard Duff and Lurene Tuttle
Saturday, January 10, 1948 - 60:00 - CBS, sustaining
Love's Lovely Counterfeit
starring James Cagney
Saturday, January 17, 1948 - 60:00 - CBS, sustaining
The Black Angel/Eve
starring June Havoc
Saturday, January 24, 1948 - 60:00 - CBS, sustaining
starring Robert Montgomery
Saturday, February 7, 1948 - 60:00 - CBS, sustaining
starring Robert Montgomery
Saturday, February 14, 1948 - 60:00 - CBS, sustaining
The House by the River
Saturday, February 28, 1948 - 60:00 - CBS, sustaining
starring Sam Jaffe
Saturday, April 3, 1948 - 60:00 - CBS, sustaining
starring Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, and Robert Ryan
Saturday, April 10, 1948 - 60:00 - CBS, sustaining
The Blind Spot
starring Jeff Corey
Saturday, May 1, 1948 - 60:00 - CBS, sustaining