"Quiet Please"...An Appreciation

By Ron Barnett

"I never did anything wrong in my life...
...That's why I was so upset when Schuster murdered me"

Opening line from "Good Ghost" 10/24/48

And so began another brilliantly conceived story in the Quiet Please series which was first broadcast on 8 June 1947 and was last heard on 25 June 1949. As we approach the 50th anniversary of this unique series, Quiet Please is receiving much wider recognition and appreciation by OTR enthusiasts since the recent emergence of many programs that were once thought lost forever.

What is there about Quiet Please that generates such a loyal, devoted following? As one of the most original and creative series ever heard on radio, at least four things immediately spring to mind;

With the opportunity to listen to the 80+ programs in circulation, devotees of this series now know that Quiet Please encompasses much more than the four attributes mentioned above.

Originally, there were twelve Quiet Please shows in general circulation; the most famous of which was, "The Thing On The Fourble Board" .... considered by many to be the best horror show ever broadcast. In this classic program, as an oil rig towers above the ground, a strange being emerges from the bowels of the earth. The story's conclusion contains several chilling ending lines that still leaves the listener stunned...almost a half century after it was originally broadcast.
(Now, THAT'S radio!)

On the strength of "Fourble", and the imaginative stories found among the remaining 11 shows such as a computer that falls in love with the operator ("The Pathetic Fallacy") and flowers that feel pain and emotion ("Let The Lilies Consider"), Quiet Please quickly attained near cult-like status.

With so few shows available, one could only hope that perhaps some day, more shows from this obscure series (so it seemed at the time) would be discovered. In the late 80's, six additional Quiet Please shows appeared. These were in extremely poor sound, but through painstaking studio re-mastering, listenability was dramatically improved. Two of the six shows, are regarded as radio classics:

"My Son, John"
"Shadow Of The Wings"

"My Son, John" is almost as horror-laden as "Fourble", but while "Fourble" is graphic, the degree of horror in "My Son, John" is largely determined by what the listener imagines. The story concerns a grieving father who seeks to recall his son from the dead. The ending is every bit as spine tingling as "Fourble".

On the other hand, "Shadow of The Wings" is a tender, emotionally-moving story about a dying child in whose presence the figure of death is waiting. "Wings" has a religious tone which seems to heighten the dramatic impact of this story.

Several years ago, a virtual treasure of 82 Quiet Please programs appeared. This "find" comprised approximately 75% of the total (106) shows in the series. Although many shows were in very poor sound, for the first time, it was possible for a listener to trace the evolution of this series from the first show through the last.

Fans of this series were now able to gain an appreciation of Cooper's fertile and limitless imagination as well as the unparalleled writing skills that resulted in week after week of captivating radio plays. In comparing Cooper's enormous range of stories written for a weekly radio series, only the great playwright, Norman Corwin, comes to mind.

Cooper's stories dealt with many diverse subjects and he was adept at painting a vivid picture in the listener's mind. In the story, "Tap The Heat Bogdan", we learn of the steel making process and can visualize huge vats of molten steel in an oppressive smelting factory. In "The Smell Of High Wines" Cooper describes for us, the process of making wine. "The Thing On The Fourble Board" informs us how an oil rig is setup and that a fourble board is a catwalk high on the rig.

At various times, Cooper wrote about historical and patriotic themes ("A Red and White Guidon" and "In The House Where I Was Born"). He could reach out to the child in us through a delightful childhood fantasy, ("The Time Of The Big Snow") or he could emotionally affect us through his deeply moving semi-religious stories ("Shadow Of The Wings" "The Third Man's Story" and "Berlin: 1945")

Cooper also wrote tender love stories; one concerns a young Abe Lincoln in love ("Valentine"), a man who plans to "meet" his fiance who has recently died ("The Little Morning") and a vision of the perfect love ("And Jeannie Dreams Of Me").

Scary stories abound, among the best: "Beezer's Cellar",... in which the characters are trapped in a haunted house, "The Man Who Stole A Planet"...a descent into a sacred temple, and "Whence Came You?" ...entering an Egyptian tomb.

So wide was Cooper's range of radio plays, he even wrote a program in which he poked fun of himself. ("Where Do You Get Your Ideas?") In this satire, Cooper played himself, sitting at a neighborhood bar with Ernest Chappell playing a slightly drunk lush. As usual, Chappell had the best lines and Cooper's flat speaking tone played off well against Chappell's role of the annoying but lovable bar fly.

Being a great writer and possessing a vivid imagination, alone cannot, by themselves, create a great series. A critical ingredient is the featured performer and the supporting cast. Cooper selected his long time friend, Ernest Chappell as his featured actor. (The term "star" was never used on the programs when referring to Chappell.) Chappell was often thanked at the end of the program by Cooper, calling him, "My good friend".

It would be difficult to imagine a better choice for lead actor than Ernest Chappell. Chappell could portray many believable characters including a lovable guy ("Good Ghost")...a hen-pecked husband ("Let The Lilies Consider")...a pompous actor ("I Always Marry Juliet") ...an immigrant steel worker ("Tap The Heat Bogdan") and in a voice that listeners would hardly believe was Chappell, a midget! ("Little Fellow").

Generally, there were only one or two supporting cast members per show; all were capable and effective in their roles. During the two year run, Les Tremayne ("Radio Reader's Digest" etc.), Anne Seymore ("Magnificent Montague"), and Lon Clark ("Nick Carter") appeared in some episodes.

Mood and style distinguished Quiet Please from other shows. The series was notable for its narrative style of story telling (usually by Chappell relating the tale in the first person) and for it's unmatched use of.... silence! Whereas the "ESCAPE" series had superb sound effects to accompany the stories, Quiet Please relied upon its narrative style, pauses for dramatic impact and the use of short bursts of organ cords to highlight a situation. (Though in almost all instances of radio programming, organ accompaniments were indicative of a low-budget production, in this unique series, the use of an organ made a major contribution to the mood of the Quiet Please.)

And speaking of mood, the best illustration of silence as a "mood" came at the end of the story... usually concluding with a final statement spoken dispassionately by Chappell, a pause and then the soft notes of the series' theme...Cesar Franck's, Symphony In D Minor. Brilliant!!....No need for screams, shouts or gunshots...just a quiet ending line by Chappell, a pause with absolute background silence, and then the soft strains of the theme which told listeners the story had ended. Never had the use of silence been used so effectively on radio.

In the next concluding article, additional impressions about the series, my 10 favorite shows...(as well as the worst show!), a listing of "Quiet Please" shows in circulation and a review of a recent publication on the "Quiet Please" series.

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Jerry Haendiges Productions 1996