Inspired by Ron Smith’s upcoming book The Mesmerist, an adventure steeped in the dark seance rooms of the mediums and mentalists of the Victorian era, the writers of Awake at Midnight here unveil a new series of monthly posts specifically related to clairvoyants and the art of contacting the other side with necromancy! We will be reviewing books, movies, and old time radio shows that deal with a different aspect of the undead: Spiritualism and the occult.
On old time radio, psychics were debunked by heroes who attended seances undercover, such as The Shadow, The Fat Man, and Johnny Dollar, while mentalists like Dunninger did their act live just like NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!
To kick off the new series, Psychics & Seances, we have curated the 20 best OTR shows that capture the essence of popular culture’s take on mentalists and mediums, that you can listen to now!
The Great Barastro (1947)
(Peter Lorre) A fellow psychic becomes obsessed with Barastro’s wife and trains himself to mimic his “friend”. She is fooled by the doppelganger and dies from the strain. Now Barastro is determined to kill Rico Consoni in revenge.
The Evil of Adelaide Winters (1951)
A psychic becomes indispensable to a man who lost his son. She allows him to hire her services permanently, despite warnings from her assistant, and marries the widower who now believes his son wants them all to be a family… forever!
A Moment of Darkness (1943)
(Peter Lorre, George Zucco) A woman asks her family lawyer to prove medium George Ravel (Lorre) is a phony in order to protect her wealthy aunt from being taken advantage of. The handsome young lawyer (Zucco) is murdered in a locked room… but what if I told you Ravel was really Secret Service? A mentalist trade secret is revealed! [Adapted from John Dickson Carr]
The Great Horrell (1946)
A mentalist control’s his wife’s mind completely. She tries to escape but is unable to ask for a divorce. Afraid she will be his puppet forever, she shoots The Great Horrell– but was it really him on stage? Was it… all in her mind?
Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1949)
(Edward G. Robinson) A mind reading act goes south when the medium receives real visions. He sees his assistant/lover die, so he leaves to avoid its possibility. She marries and has a child while he lives as a hermit, but she cannot escape fate. He then sees the daughter’s death… by a lion! Guess what just escaped the zoo? (by Screenwriters Playhouse)
Pass to Berlin (1950)
Just after the war, an American soldier soldier on leave in Germany kills a woman. At a psychic show, the mentalist detects a murderer in the audience! When her husband, The Great Stanley, craftily tries to blackmail the killer, he is murdered. The blind psychic Mona won’t let him off easy! [*The script was done earlier as Leona’s Room with Vincent Price for the Philip Morris Playhouse.]
Speak of the Devil (1974)
Aunt Jeanie holds a seance to raise her dead husband before their daughter’s wedding. Something else breaks through. When the newlyweds discover they are pregnant, the husband is trampled to death. A second seance is held, and the husband’s spirit tells his bride the baby isn’t his. Echoes of Rosemary’s Baby, The demon’s growling is unsettling.
Medium Rare (1974)
A medium calls forth the spirit of Handsome Harry, who was swindled and needs to clear his heart to pass beyond Limbo. He wants to release this anger through revenge, but the medium shows him there is still good in the ex-girlfriend who left him for the swindler.
The Big One (1952)
(Robert Griffin) A bum offers to tell a pub patron his story for a hamburger. The blue plate special gets you a doosey. A mentalist agrees to read a woman’s mind to discover the location of her daughter, a lost heir she has been hiding. When he discovers she is dead, he plays the old gypsy switch with his own estranged daughter. The tragedy is, the ruse succeeds!
Chance of a Ghost (1953)
During a seance, the ghost of a dead man is heard, but it was not spoken by the medium! Next time, her dead brother returns to set her straight.
A Delicate Case of Murder (1942)
A medium tricks her husband’s lover during a seance when he asks for a divorce. After a car accident involving both women that kills the medium, the mistress has brain surgery and survives… with the medium’s voice!
A medium is killed by his new assistant and his cheating wife, who continue his seance routine… until ghostly laughter elicits a confession!
The VanDyke Seance (1949)
Dick Diamond is hired to protect Mrs. VanDyke from phony psychic crooks. He proves Professor Leonardo is a bunko artist. Tongue-in-cheek humor gets out of hand when undercover character Lulabell laughs. But VanDyke dies that night. Diamond hunts down the Doc, but who’s got the jewels? After a gunfight, Diamond reveals the true plot! Then he sings “Don’t Blame Me” at the end. (Not horror. Crime/Detective? Comedy? Variety? It’s a weird ride.)
The Carey Salt Magic Shadow Ring:
A Seance With Death (1947)
Consuelo’s father is killed by a criminal racket he was about to crack. After the inheritance, her psychiatrist and a psychic have her convinced her mother’s lonely spirit killed him! The Swami (and her father’s spirit) convince her lawyer to sign over the money. When the Shadow investigates, the Doc gives her a post-hypnotic suggestion to kill Lamont Cranston! (It is repeatedly stated in this episode that Spiritualism is a legitimate religion …as if Mutual feared it might get sued by a psychic association!)
A Guest Spirit at The Seance
A journalist attempts to debunk a medium, but gets killed instead. His wife, seeking her still-missing spouse, attends a seance. This time the medium gives an authentic one!
Thought, The (1945)
A mentalist foresees a woman being murdered by a guest of his show. He calls to warn her! All clues lead to her husband who invites her on an isolated camping trip, joking about “the perfect crime.” She survives being shot! Will the psychic be able to save her?
Murder is the Medium (1949)
In this detective drama based on a Dashiell Hammett character, The Reynards are invited to a “manifestation” where Harriet speaks to her departed first husband, who asks for money. When the undercover Detective Runyon (The Fat Man) exposes the fraud, the medium, Sala, is killed! Her assistant is then poisoned. Runyon discovers the film and voice track used at the seance came directly from the Reynard house itself…
The Matter of the Medium, Well Done (1956)
Five-Part Serial (15 Minute Episodes)
Johnny is asked to investigate why a wealthy woman has suddenly changed the beneficiaries of her sizeable life insurance policy to a medium and a thug.
Johnny meets the gorgeous Carol Sharpe, who invites him to see her psychic in action. He lies that he has seen her before in a veridical dream. The thug, Tony Ricardo, threatens Johnny’s life.
In order to better understand how the seance racket works, Police Sergeant Singer takes Johnny to see the fake psychic Miss Clarabel. She gives pretty good insurance advice while in a trance, then Singer reveals the badge. Miss Clarabel comes clean when they promise not to pinch her.
Johnny has a date with Carol to attend a seance of top-notch medium Celia Morgana-Morgana. Ricardo meets Johnny, but is genuinely concerned for Carol. He preps Johnny for what to expect at the seance. Expense item #15: Special infra-red camera! Carol’s father talks to her through a trumpet. So does Johnny’s brother… except he never had one!
Exposed, Morgana-Morgana claims she offers comfort and solace to the grieving. Carol, Johnny, and Tony then drive back to Jersey where Carol’s adopted brother is waiting. He pulls a gun, but Tony is quicker! He was jealous that Carol had received most of the inheritance.
On the lighter side…
The Ghost of Diamond Jim Brady, (1954)
Jack and his crew go to a seance where the spirit of Diamond Jim Brady tells Jack to have fun and spend, spend, spend! But the effects man in charge of the crew’s ghost prank was also Jack’s stage manager, so the staff doesn’t get a raise. (Episode also called: Seance)
…And a small taste of the real thing:
Guest: Raymond Edward Johnson (7/26 1944)
Dunninger answers unspoken questions from the audience, often curtly reminding them to speak into the microphone rather than nod. They are shocked he knows their phone number! “There’s someone asking, “Where am I from?” The answer is Chicago. Who does this fit?” There is a musical interlude, then the guest judges present Dunninger with a “mental challenge”, each playing a character in a murder mystery skit. Raymond asks, “When does the mayhem begin?” Dunninger states he is not a fortune-teller: “Someone wants to know where to get ten thousand dollars… My good friend, you tell me, and I’ll split it with you!” (“If money could think, I’d tell you where it is.”)
Broadcast on the tenth anniversary of his death: October 31, 1936
It is explained that Bess and Harry Houdini had made a pact that if either of them should die, they would attempt to come back on the anniversary of their death, but to call it done after ten years. There was a secret code pre-arranged so there would be no question. Presided over by Doctor Saint, the participants encourage Harry’s spirit to appear, but he doesn’t. At the end Bess pronounces that she does not believe there is any way back from the other side.
Psychics & Seances: