“Worried about the price of butter and eggs? Fed up with the housing shortage? Want to get away from it all? CBS offers you Escape!” These words open October 1st, 1947’s broadcast adaptation of “The Most Dangerous Game,” Richard Connell’s safari culture-satirizing short thriller about a New York big-game hunter en route to Rio who falls off his yacht, swims to shore, and soon finds himself evading an eccentric Cossack aristocrat who hunts human beings for sport on his own private island. Not exactly the sort of material that takes all one’s cares away, but Escape, it seems, had its own definition of escapism.
Originally airing on CBS radio between 1947 and 1954 — time that, without a regular sponsor, it spent in eighteen different time slots — the program’s 230 episodes took material from all over the literary landscape: Ray Bradbury’s “Mars Is Heaven,” Daphne du Maurier’s “The Birds,” H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine” (among several other of his tales), F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost Special,” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” You can listen to almost all its broadcasts, which mix then-new writers in with the established or already canonized ones, at the Internet Archive. (Stream all the episodes right above.) “Escape brings together everything that was good about old-time radio drama rolled into one,” say the notes there, calling each episode “a micro drama carefully planned to capture the listener’s attention for thirty minutes.”
“Many of the stories were later reused by more high profile shows such as Suspense, but on the whole the Escape versions were of equal quality and sometimes more dramatically focused and atmospheric. When Radio Life wrote ‘These stories all possess many times the reality that most radio writing conveys,’ it hit the nail on the head.” At the time, the show’s creators must have constantly worried that all their sponsorship troubles and time-slot changes would keep the show from lasting, but even listeners now, more than sixty years after the Golden Age of radio and with our own concerns about egg prices and housing shortages, can find in it a quality of escapism still unmatched by most popular culture.
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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.