19 January 2007

The Interrupted Broadcast

“Mrs. Warren’s Lodger,” the episode of The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes broadcast on NBC Radio 7 December 1941, is remarkable for several reasons. It’s among only several dozen plays in the series that have been preserved, out of more than 200 that were produced. To my knowledge, it’s one of just five Rathbone/Bruce shows surviving from the first five seasons of the series, which began in 1939 (and one of the others is incomplete). Most of the salvaged broadcasts date to 1945 and 1946. By that time, the writers long since had depleted the plots of Doyle’s original story collection and were on their own, improvising altogether new tales. “Mrs. Warren’s Lodger,” by contrast, adhered closely to the story line of Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Red Circle” (although Inspector Gregson and Leverton, the American detective, were written out, apparently to shorten the production to the half-hour constraint of the radio format).

Most fascinating is the network announcer’s interruption, a third of the way into the broadcast, stating that President Franklin Roosevelt would address a joint session of Congress the following day at noon. What momentous event could have prompted such an intrusion into one of the most popular radio shows of the era? In a word: war.

We remember 7 December 1941 as “Pearl Harbor Day.” In Hawaii that morning, Japanese planes had attacked and crippled America’s Pacific naval fleet. In the next day’s address, Roosevelt would ask Congress to declare war, citing 7 December as “a date which will live in infamy.”

Daniel Elton Harmon

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