Of all the elements that go into a detective thriller program, the voice actors, the announcers, the music, production, and sound effects, none are as important as the story.
Mystery fans will only tune in for finely crafted, suspense filled and often very personal plots. It is little wonder that some of the best writers of this kind of material, writers like Cornell Woolrich, Patricia Highsmith, John Dickson Carr and Dashiell Hammett were all in their own ways just a little cuckoo. Knowing this, it if a little surprising to find that one of the greatest writers of "Radio Noir" was a pretty normal, albeit gifted person.
Lucille Fletcher was born to middle class parents in Brooklyn in 1912, went to PS 168 and the Maxwell Training School before entering high school where she began to distinguish herself. She was president of the Arista Honor Society and editor of the school newspaper. At 17, she entered an oratory contest and was the only female finalist from the New York area, and in the national competition she placed third after speaking before five Supreme Court Justices on "The Constitution: A Guarantee of the Personal Liberty of the Individual."
Lucille began her association with CBS after graduating from Vassar in 1933. At first she worked as music librarian, clerk and publicity writer, but cemented her ties to the network when she began dating the conductor of the CBS Orchestra, composer Bernard Herrmann. The couple tied the knot in 1939 (the marriage would end in divorce after Herrmann was caught having an affair with her cousin in 1948).
Lucille's story telling talent was "discovered" by Norman Corwin who adapted one of her stories, "My Client Curly" for the Columbia Workshop. The delightful fantasy small time con artist who discovers a boy who has taught his pet caterpillar to dance to the tune "Yes Sir, That's My Baby". Our hero is soon rich beyond his wildest dreams, but in the end discovers that it is not as important as the faith of a little boy (and that you cannot keep caterpillars from doing what caterpillars are designed to do!) "My Client Charlie" was adapted as Once Upon A Time (1944) by Columbia Pictures starring Cary Grant.
Shortly after their marriage, Herrmann and Fletcher began "commuting" between New York and Hollywood where Herrmann was working on the score for Orson Welles' first feature film, Citizen Kane. One of the trips was in couple's Packard convertible when Lucille became fascinated with "an odd looking man" on the Brooklyn Bridge and the Pulaski Skyway. The incident was the inspiration for "The Hitchhiker", one of OTR's all time classic horror stories.
In 1943, Suspense presented for the first time what Orson Welles would call "the greatest single radio script ever written". "Sorry, Wrong Number" would be reprised seven times on Suspense, and the movie adaptation is considered a classic of film noir. In an interview years later, Ms. Fletcher revealed that "Sorry, Wrong Number" was inspired when she struck up a conversation with her neighborhood pharmacist, a long time friend. An old biddy in line interrupted, in a shrill voice, to complain about the poor service and insisted on knowing whom the "interloper" was who held up the line. Fletcher used the demeanor and shrill voice of the incident to create the helpless character facing an impossible situation.
The Lucille Fletcher Collection includes both acclaimed radio shows "The Hitchhiker" and "Sorry Wrong Number." Also included are her old time radio episodes on Columbia Workshop, Inner Sanctum, Mercury Summer Theater, and Suspense.