Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Late, Great Himan Brown

Himan Brown, who created such radio dramas as The Inner Sanctum Mysteries (better known simply as The Inner Sanctum), The Adventures of the Thin Man, and Dick Tracy passed on June 4, 2010. He was 99 years old.

Himan Brown was born in Brooklyn, New York on July 21, 1910. His parents were immigrants from the Ukraine, and when Mr. Brown entered school he could not speak English (only Yiddish having been spoken at home).. He learned of radio from a shop teacher when he was attending Brooklyn Boys High School. He convinced radio station WNRY to let him read poetry on the air.

Himan Brown's stint on WNRY led to an audition with the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), where he performed routines based on the characters from Milt Gross' comic strips. His skill in Jewish dialect and Yiddish brought him to the attention of Gertrude Berg. She asked Himan Brown for help in selling her idea for a radio show. Mr. Brown packaged and sold the show, the legendary Rise of of the Goldbergs. The series debuted on November 20, 1929 on NBC. Mr. Brown played Jake Goldberg in the earliest episodes of the show. Unfortunately, after six months Gertrude Berg fired him and bought his share of the show out for $200.

Himan Brown moved on from The Goldbergs to acting as an independent producer of radio shows while attending Brooklyn College. He developed a knack for matching concepts for radio shows with sponsors. He created Little Italy for Blue Coal and The Brooklyn Marriage Bureau for Goodman's Matzos. He also acted on both shows. Mr. Brown would also work with Anne Ashenhurst, who with Frank Hummert, produced many of the soap operas in the Thirties. Mr. Brown produced and directed such Ashenhurst soap operas as Marie, the Little French Princess, John's Other Wife, and Way Down East.

Mr. Brown would eventually graduate from Brooklyn Law School, which would help greatly in obtaining licenses for some of the most popular characters of the day, including Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon, and Nero Wolfe. Indeed, it was in 1934 that Himan Brown brought Dick Tracy to radio. The show proved incredibly popular, running for fourteen years. In 1935 he produced an adaptation of the comic strip Flash Gordon under the title of The Amazing Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon. It was in 1937 that he created one of his most legendary shows,Grand Central Station. Grand Central Station was an anthology series in which every episode was linked to the famous terminal. It ran for seventeen years.

Himan Brown would bring some of the most popular comic strip and literary characters  to the air. In 1937 he adapted Terry and the Pirates  as a radio show. It proved to be another success, running for eleven years. In 1941 he brought Dashiell Hammett's popular crime solving couple Nick and Nora Charles to radio in The Adventures of the Thin Man. The show ran for nine years. In 1941 he also adapted Bulldog Drummond as a radio show. It also ran for nine years.

It was also in 1941 that what may have been Himan Brown's most famous show debuted. The Inner Sanctum Mysteries (better known simply as The Inner Sanctum) debuted on January 7, 1941 and ran until October 4, 1952. The show was an anthology of horror, suspense, and mystery episodes. What set it apart from many other similar anthology was its tongue in cheek introductions from its hosts. The show would open with the sound of a creaking door (one of the first sounds ever trademarked), followed by the introduction of the host. The host of The Inner Sanctum Mysteries was perhaps it best known, Raymond Edward Johnson, who would begin each show with the greeting "Good evening" and "This is your host, Raymond." Raymond would leave the show in 1945, and its other hosts would simply refer to themselves as "Your host." The show was incredibly successful, ranking in the top twenty for many years. Its success would lead to a series of six Inner Sanctum horror movies produced by Universal Pictures in the Forties.

Himan Brown would go onto produce The Adventures of Nero Wolfe (1942-1943) and Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator (1951 to 1955). With television rapidly driving radio dramas into extinction, Mr. Brown would turn to television himself. In 1954 he produced the syndicated series Inner Sanctum, based on his most famous radio show. He also produced the films That Night (1957) and The Vialators (1957), as well as the television drama Summer of Decision. In 1992 his most famous radio show would provide the basis for the telefilm Seduction: Three Tales From the "Inner Sanctum."

In 1974, well after the age of Old Time Radio had ended, Himan Brown would once more see success with a radio show. CBS Radio Mystery Theatre was largely patterned after The Inner Sanctum. It would begin with a creaking door, after which the show's host (originally E. G. Marshall) would introduce himself. For a series which debuted after Old Time Radio had ended, CBS Radio Mystery Theatre proved very popular. It ran until 1982 and has been reran a few times since then.

Himan Brown would create another radio show in the Seventies, General Mills Radio Adventure Theatre. General Mills Radio Adventure Theatre debuted in 1977. Its target audience were children, with adaptations of such classic works as Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne,  and The Last of the Mohicans  by James Fenimore Cooper, as well as original episodes. Unfortunately, General Mills Radio Adventure Theatre would end its run after only a year on the air.

Arguably, Himan Brown was the greatest producer of radio shows of all time. He worked in the medium for over six decades, far longer than most radio drama producers. Mr. Brown also produced some of the most successful radio shows of all time: Dick Tracy, Grand Central Station, Terry and the Pirates, Inner Sanctum, and The CBS Radio Mystery Theatre. It is estimated that he produced or otherwise took part in around 30,000 different programmes. Indeed, the first radio show I ever heard was CBS Radio Mystery Theatre. I would later seek out many of the Old Time Radio Shows, many of which (like The Inner Sanctum Mysteries) were produced by Himan Brown.

Even if Himan Brown had only created The Inner Sanctum Mysteries, he would have been a legend in radio. Along with Lights Out, it was the greatest horror radio anthology ever produced. The series not only had one of the most memorable openings in the history of radio, but it attracted some of the best known actors in the Forties, including Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Orson Welles, and Claude Rains. It inspired a series of movies, a TV show, a TV movie, and numerous parodies. To this day it remains one of the most famous radio shows of all time. The secret of the success of Inner Sanctum was much the same as with Mr. Brown's other shows. Quite simply, he could do more with sound effects, creepy music, and talented actors, than many producers could do with a big budget feature film.

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