TORONTO, ONTARIO - Somehow, I missed the news for several days that Himan Brown died on Friday at the age of 99. I knew Brown as the producer of CBS Radio Mystery Theater, and last heard him on a National Public Radio reincarnation of Mystery Theater in 2000, but he was far more than that--he was the premiere radio drama producer of the 20th century.
CBS Radio Mystery Theater itself ran from 1974 to 1982; I heard it on re-runs later in the decade until CBS stopped nightly distribution of the series at the end of 1989. I don't remember the first time I heard the program, but I definitely remember that it became part of my routine almost immediately. The program was so well-produced that it was completely engrossing, and the plot twists could be genuinely shocking. My local affiliate, KIRO in Seattle, ran three hours on Saturday night and two hours on Sunday night, and I would religiously head to bed and not turn the radio off until the show was over.
E. G. Marshall was the host of Mystery Theater, but Brown was the driving creative force and its link to the golden days of radio, dutifully credited at the end of each show. Yet, that was far from Brown's peak accomplishment. He did his first radio drama work in 1929, and would go on to work not only through the golden era but well beyond, producing a long list of shows including Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon, and the Inner Sanctum Mysteries. The Inner Sanctum introduced the creaking door that would be an icon of the later Mystery Theater. In all, Brown produced over 30,000 dramas including 1,399 Mystery Theaters.
When Mystery Theater went out of distribution, its popularity was still so strong that many CBS affiliates tried substitute programming. Most notably, KNX in Los Angeles played other famous radio programs during its 9 PM "Drama Hour," audible at that after-dark hour up and down the west coast. KIRO in Seattle had its own Jim French go back into the production of new dramas.
Indeed, radio drama continues on. Jim French Productions does an weekly Imagination Theater hour, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation produces a weekly half-hour episode (currently running Afghanada), the British Broadcasting Corporation probably still has the highest output in the world, and there are others. However, all of these other shows have their own tone and feel; the unique style of Himan Brown has been silenced forever.
Then again, considering the plot twists inherent in Mystery Theater, can we really be sure he won't come back? Pleasant dreeeeaaams, hmmmmm?