May 16, 2021
On May 16, 1942, radio listeners first heard the haunting tune of The Whistler. The anthology mystery series presented tales of murder narrated by “The Whistler,” an omniscient storyteller who boasted one of radio’s best introductions:
“I am the Whistler, and I know many things for I walk by night. I know many strange tales hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes, I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak.”
Each episode of The Whistler followed a person’s descent into crime as they carried out what they believed to be a perfect murder, only to be undone in the final scene. As the announcers described it, “The Whistler” was “unique among all mystery programs, for even when you know who is guilty you always receive a startling surprise at the final curtain.”
For most of the run, the Whistler was played by Bill Forman, but the storyteller was also voiced by Gale Gordon, Joseph Kearns, and Bill Johnstone. The casts included some of the best stars of West Coast radio, including Kearns, Hans Conried, William Conrad, Gerald Mohr, and Betty Lou Gerson. The radio series spawned a series of Columbia B-movies and ran on the West Coast until 1955.
In honor of its anniversary, here are ten of my favorite strange stories by The Whistler.
Final Return - A woman shapes her blue collar husband into a sharp politician, and he's on the eve of capturing the governor's mansion. But he's fallen in love with another woman. Will his political puppeteer leave the stage gracefully, or will she sacrifice everything to save the career she created? (10/29/45)
Boomerang - This show is unique because the main character is never heard until the very end of the broadcast. Instead, we spend the show in the mind of a housewife who decides to use the panic caused by a serial killer to do away with her husband. Can she frame him as "The Door Bell Killer" and get away with murder? (3/11/46)
Witness at the Fountain - One of the best final twists of the series undoes a murderer's perfect crime in this story starring Howard Duff. Radio's Sam Spade plays a blackmail victim who decides to do away with his tormentor, but he doesn't account for a silent witness. (9/9/46)
Brief Pause for Murder - A long-suffering radio announcer decides to rid himself once and for all of his cheating wife. He concocts a perfect alibi; he'll record himself making his news announcements and play the record while he's committing the crime. What could possibly go wrong? (9/11/49)
The Clever Mr. Farley - Gerald Mohr tries to pull off a con on a train when he meets a beautiful woman with a valuable bracelet. There are more twists and turns in this one than usual, and it all hinges on Mohr's character's pride in being able to read people. (11/27/49)
Return with the Spray - The great Hans Conried plays a man engaged to be married who drunkenly ties the knot with another woman. He tries to kill her, but she survives the attempt and returns with a marriage license and a plan for blackmail. (4/23/50)
Caesar's Wife - Gerald Mohr is back as a paranoid mob boss with a crippling fear. He's a hemophiliac and even the slightest bruise or cut could be fatal. As if that wasn't enough, he suspects his wife is having an affair with a mysterious stranger. (6/4/50)
The Clock on the Tower - A man on death row is slated to meet his fate in a few hours unless his attorney can find a witness who can prove the man's innocence. This is a race against time with a fantastic twist ending. (12/10/50)
His Own Reward - Perhaps the most unusual story presented on "The Whistler," the full details aren't revealed until the very end. It follows a man in dire financial straits who is persuaded to betray his country to a foreign rival for profit. (3/25/51)
A Law of Physics - This twist was so good, it popped up on a 90s Columbo TV movie. An advertising executive plans to bump off a rival, and he uses the brand new device called a car phone to create an alibi. (6/10/51)