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“Murray Hill 4-0098…”

Sixty-nine years ago on this date, “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills,” Suspense, first presented the most popular episode in its nearly twenty-year broadcast history (1942-62). Written by Lucille Fletcher (who was inspired by a disagreement she had with an elderly woman at a drugstore), “Sorry, Wrong Number” told the story of an invalid who overhears a phone conversation between two men who are carrying out plans for a murder. The role of Mrs. Elbert Stevenson, the woman who inadvertently receives “too much information,” was played by one of the premier actresses in the history of the medium: Agnes Moorehead. Her tour-de-force performance in the tense half-hour drama is one of the most memorable from the Golden Age of Radio. The response to the program was such that “Sorry, Wrong Number” would be featured on Suspense an additional seven times (its last presentation was on February 14, 1960, although that broadcast was a repeat of a performance from 1957).

The thirty-minute drama was later expanded into a 1948 film that, sadly, did not use Moorehead. The movie version relied on the services of Barbara Stanwyck, who received an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress that year for her performance. (Stanwyck would also play the part of Mrs. Stevenson in a Lux Radio Theater adaptation of the film, which was broadcast on January 9, 1950.) The Fletcher play was also modified a number of times for television (notably for a 1954 episode of TV’s Climax! and a 1989 TV-movie starring Loni Anderson). But, when the balance sheet is tallied up, it’s still the Agnes Moorehead version that stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Fletcher was dubbed “that most original of radio writers” by no less an authority than Orson Welles (who would go on to turn her script for “The Hitch-Hiker” into another memorable radio highlight).

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