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October 31, 2009



Ahhh - that comforting, crackling sound of the needle hitting the the crackling of a warm fire -

What better way to end a rainy Halloween evening than with the voice of the inimitable Mason enacting the words of the master Poe.

Thanks so much for making vintage recordings like these accessible. It would be fun to hear Side A too.

As a side note - wasn't Humbert Humbert an expert in Poe? And any more Mason recordings available? Supposedly there is a fine one of him reading Lolita.

Andrew Tonkin

Stockpiling materials to geek out on Poe NEXT Halloween, I came across this last night... James Mason narrating an animated short based on Tell-Tale Heart. Of course Mason's not reading the entire text, but this provides a nice bonus track to the wonderful LP side above. And the animation is very artsy.


Hmmm, I'd forgotten about the Humbert connection-! Funny, since Mr. Mason himself was a well-known Poe expert. Was that the Humbert in the NOVEL, or the film---if it was the film, then it would have been written in FOR Mason. I do remember him reading some Poe to Lolita in the Kubrick film, which of course doesn't set her afire exactly.
The animated short is very famous and has a whole load of stories attached to it, it's a UPA classic, I believe, one of their best shorts.
As for SIDE A of the lp----yup, normally I would have ripped it as well, as I love Agnes Morehead too, but the other side of the record had been damaged long ago by a bad needle or something, and was too far over the surface-noise line for me to consider transferring. In face there's a handwritten note on my radio station copy of the disc warning the DJs that side A has 'bad sound'; so I'll have to leave that to someone someday with a better copy of the record to transfer that side. It occurs to me it'd be fun to do an audio cut-up using James Mason reading Lolita and Poe blended together. A Nabokov/Poe salad as it were.

Vague Stranger

The Poe/Lolita connection originated in the novel. Humbert cites "Annabel Lee" as a template for his relationship with the girl... a combination of the character's romantic yet decaying nature (with extra points for anyone who remembered Poe married a teenager).

The "Sorry Wrong Number" performance is almost certainly a recording of a 1940s "Suspense" episode (William Spier was that program's producer), and finding a decent MP3 file of that online should be much easier than tracking down another copy of the record. It was a justly-famed episode that Moorhead recreated many times for the program, though one is best off listening to the second or third try since the first was marred by an actor missing a cue at the climax and later versions had material removed to accommodate more commercials.

Richard Brandt

That may be the record of "Sorry, Wrong Number" that we listened to in one of my high school classes. Does Harvey Lembeck show up at the end?


A Mason Nabokov/Poe salad! That would be food for thought - and you would be just the fellow to toss it together, Mr. Mindwrecker.

So is that Mason-Lolita reading downloadable somewhere?


OK- since no one's mentioned it yet, let's nerd out still further- who knows who the author of "Sorry, Wrong Number" was married to when she wrote that and also "The Hitchhiker"? Well, she was of course Mrs. Bernard Herrmann for many years, and her writing career took off during that time. I always enjoyed this Morehead/Welles/Herrmann/classic radio/etc. axis of influence and connection. Also a tip of the thinking cap to Vague Stranger for some excellent filling-in of pertinent details, thanks.


Goodness--I forgot to mention her name: Louise Fletcher.


No matter how often I see his middle name misspelled, it's still depressing.


Phew-! Michael, you scared me for a minute there---I thought I had typed this post up correctly (as my sloppy writing EVER is), and gotten Edgar's name right. I did laugh when I saw that is indeed misspelled in the next post above this one (which looks like and interesting one, by the way). Well, spelling and diction are of course enduring a slow(?) death on the internet...

Vague Stranger

I don't know about Harvey Lembeck (of Bilko and Beach Movies) doing Sorry Wrong Number... the last time Suspense presented Agnes in the lead role was in 1960, but that was probably a recording of her EIGHTH rendition of the piece in 1957. The killer was originally played by Hans Conried (of Peter Pan and 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T) who was a regular supporting player on the program for years.

Moorehead/Fletcher fans may be interested in checking out a lesser-known collaboration between the two that appeared on Suspense a month before the premiere of "Sorry Wrong Number." Fletcher tailored "The Diary of Saphronia Winters" as a duet of insanity between Agnes and Ray Collins, another Mercury Theater alumni. It was first heard in April 1943, while "Number" was performed at the end of May (and again in August, since people went crazy trying to figure out the botched ending, as noted above. The slip created such a flood of confused calls and letters that the show's announcer was called on to explain the story's climax at the end of the next episode, promising that the play would be done properly at the next open week).

Both plays feature extremely deadly marriages, so it's no wonder Lucille and Bernie eventually went their separate ways.

In 1958, Suspense revived "Saphronia Winters" with Mercedes McCambridge (another expert in hysteria) in the title role.


very very very awesome!

good work friend.


thanks admin
Are you really cool


I've been looking everywhere to find a copy of James Mason reading Annabel Lee. Can anyone tell me where I might purchase one?

Morten Bo Johansen

Thanks for this! For a long time, I had been looking high and low for the complete version of Mason's reading of The Tell-Tale Heart, and you provided it. Thanks a lot!

Diane Grey

As a child in the late 40's I listened to and loved a 78 recording of Anabel Lee. I think that it was read by Edmund O'Brien and may have been on a Mercury labe. Any suggestions?

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