Sunday, June 6, 2010

R.I.P, Himan Brown

One of the true pioneers of old-time radio has closed the creaking door of the Inner Sanctum for the final time—Himan Brown, the creator-director-producer of that legendary radio horror series passed away Friday at the age of 99, just a little more than a month shy of his centennial birthday. Born in 1910 and spending his childhood in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, the acting bug took hold of him while attending Brooklyn College and Brooklyn Law School (author Irwin Shaw was one of his classmates)—and by the time he graduated in 1931 he was already producing live theater, Catskills revues and radio—at that time still in its “infancy.”

Radio would bring him his greatest prominence, however. His first radio program appeared in 1927, a series entitled Hi Brow Readings…and he would go on to create, direct and/or produce nearly 30,000 radio programs over a span of six-and-a-half decades. Among his “radio children”: The Adventures of the Thin Man, The Affairs of Peter Salem, Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator, Bulldog Drummond, City Desk, Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon, Grand Central Station, Green Valley, USA, The Gumps, Joyce Jordan, M.D., Marie, the Little French Princess, The NBC Radio Theater, The Private Files of Rex Saunders, The Rise of the Goldbergs, Terry and the Pirates and numerous daytime soap operas.

Brown’s most famous radio creation premiered over the Blue Network on January 7, 1941 for Carter’s Little Liver Pills—and was inspired by a squeaky basement door in a studio where Himan once worked. He vowed one day to make that door “a star”…and did so with Inner Sanctum Mysteries, a campy horror program that featured, according to radio historian John Dunning, “some of the most farfetched, unbelievable and downright impossible murder tales ever devised in a medium not known for restraint.” Hosted at various times by Raymond Edward Johnson, Paul McGrath and House Jameson, the series was such a success that it attracted the likes of horror icons Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre as frequent guest stars—and entertained listeners with spine-tingling stories until the summer of 1952. Brown also produced a television series adapted from Sanctum in 1954…but it did not share the success of its radio father, lasting but a single season in syndication. Other forays by Himan in the boob tube universe include His Honor, Homer Bell and The Chevy Mystery Show. Himan also briefly dabbled as a movie producer on such projects as That Night! (1957) and The Violators (1957).

In 1974, Brown attempted to reintroduce radio drama to a wistfully nostalgic audience with The CBS Radio Mystery Theater—an ambitious program (hosted by E.G. Marshall) that, sadly, didn’t bring back radio but did manage to win a Peabody Award the following year and stay on the Columbia Broadcasting System until 1982. (A second attempt, The General Mills Radio Adventure Theater, went on the air in 1977 but lasted only a season.) For his tireless efforts in promoting and shaping both old- and new-time-radio, he was inducted into the Museum of Broadcast Communications’ Radio Hall of Fame in 1995 (his signature shows, Sanctum and Mystery Theater were also inducted) and made an American Broadcast Pioneer in 1997.

R.I.P, Himan. Good niiii-iiight…pleasant…dreeeeeaaaaammmmmssssss…

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shahn said...

Rest in Peace, Mr. Brown

Harry Heuser said...

Thanks for this, Ivan.

michvinmar said...

When Himan Brown encountered public radio he found a perplexing world of "funders" but also a budding crop of radio enthusiasts. Read about my encounter with Hi here:
He was quite an inspiration!

Melina said...

Thanks for your great post on my grandpa!
He would really appreciate your words.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...


Your grandfather was an important individual to me growing up. The CBS Radio Mystery Theater was an indelible part of my childhood, and when I got my first tape recorder I tried to duplicate that famous creaking door for my own amateur productions. When I mentioned your grandfather's passing to my own father, he related how he and his brothers were big fans of Inner Sanctum Mysteries...which is unusual in light of how he rarely talks about listening to the radio as a kid.

His absence will most assuredly be missed.


Thanks so much for pointing me to that great article. I enjoyed it tremendously.

Anonymous said...

I loved cbsrmt in the 70s.It was my late father's way of sharing his passion with me.Mr.brown's contribution will be with us for countless generations to come.Rarely does a day go by that I don't listen to otr programs. Thank you,MR.Brown.