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Happy Birthday, Raymond Edward Johnson!

Johnson, Raymond Edward

He was a respected Broadway thespian who depended on radio to pay the bills…and for Raymond Edward Johnson, born on this date in 1911, his contributions to the aural medium would make him immortal in the eyes of old-time radio fans.  Of particular interest was an over-the-top horror program known as Inner Sanctum Mysteries, which he would host (identified only as “Raymond”) from 1941 to 1945.

johnson1Born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Raymond Edward Johnson seemed destined to live out his days working as a bank teller—it was only after studying acting at the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago that he decided to pursue his flair for the buskin as a career.  Johnson soon sought work in the center of radio activity (not radioactivity) at that time.  His earliest gigs found him playing “The Forest Ranger” in the dramatic skits on The National Farm and Home Hour (a role also played at one time by Don Ameche) and “Bill Sutter” on a soap opera entitled Welcome Valley from 1932 to 1937.  Raymond made an excellent living on such programs as The Guiding Light, Brave Tomorrow, Kate Hopkins, Angel of Mercy and Valiant Lady.  (Daytime drama was apparently in the blood of the Johnsons: his sister Dora Johnson-Remington, emoted as “Evey” on the long-running serial Ma Perkins.)

johnson5Later, Raymond made the acquaintance of Arch Oboler, who was directing and writing Lights Out for NBC at that time.  He would go on to appear frequently on that program, and when both men eventually moved to New York.  Johnson worked on the playwright’s Arch Oboler’s Plays series—notably in the productions of “The Ugliest Man in the World” and “This Lonely Heart.”  Relocating to The Big Apple also allowed Raymond to start a stage career: his best known stage role was his starring turn as “Thomas Jefferson” in The Patriots, the acclaimed play written by Dead End’s Sidney Kingsley and produced in 1943 (he would appear in the play at the same time that he was appearing on Inner Sanctum).

RaymondJohnson was hired to be the host of Inner Sanctum Mysteries, a series created by director-producer Himan Brown (Flash Gordon, Terry and the Pirates) and loosely based on the popular series of pulp novels published by Simon and Schuster.  The half-hour program dramatized tales of horror and featured a creaking door that would soon become—with the exception of Fibber McGee’s closet—radio’s best-known sound effect.  As “Raymond,” Johnson would sardonically invite listeners to each broadcast, often cracking macabre jokes and puns during his introductory remarks and his exchanges with “Mary the Tea Lady” when the series was sponsored by Lipton Tea.  As the proceedings came to a close, Raymond would bid his fans a fare-thee-well with “Pleasant dreeeeaams…hmmmmm?”  (The same sign-off would later be used by host E.G. Marshall on The CBS Radio Mystery Theater—the old-time radio drama revival also produced by Sanctum’s Brown.)

Johnson, Raymond Edward 2Johnson would host Inner Sanctum until May 15, 1945, when he left to serve a hitch in the U.S. Army.  He would be replaced on the program by Berry Kroeger and Paul McGrath; Raymond wasn’t re-hired once he was discharged because according to Brown the actor “wanted too much money” (newspaper accounts at the time also reported that Raymond feared being typecast)—but there is also evidence to support the thesis that Johnson’s struggles with multiple sclerosis was beginning at about this time; he lost out on a movie role because he was too dependent on a cane, unable to hide a noticeable limp.  Raymond’s radio career didn’t completely come to a halt—he would later serve as the host (as “The Librarian”) on the anthology series Crime Club, and also narrated Tales of Tomorrow, the radio version of the science fiction TV series.  The many radio shows on Johnson’s resume include Cavalcade of America, Cloak and Dagger, Dimension X, Don Winslow of the Navy, Famous Jury Trials, Gangbusters, Mandrake the Magician, Mr. District Attorney, X-Minus One and You are There.

20252In later years, before his death in 2001, Raymond Edward Johnson would appear as a guest at old-time radio conventions…though his medical condition often dictated that he give his performances from a portable bed or wheelchair.  He remains the most popular of the Inner Sanctum hosts, and you can listen to surviving broadcasts featuring his puckishly ghoulish humor on such Radio Spirits collections as Inner Sanctum: Romance Gone Wrong and No Rest for the Dead.  Other sets featuring the birthday boy include Arch Oboler: Retrospective (“The Ugliest Man in the World”), Gangbusters: Crime Wave (“The Case of Robert Lee Robertson”), Suspense: Final Curtain (“Heads You Lose”) and Police and Thieves: Radio Crime Drama (“The Case of the Unfaithful Wife”).


  1. Amanda says:

    I absolutely love him on Inner Sanctum. One of my all-time favorite shows.

  2. Beth Ann says:

    I enjoyed learning more about Raymond Edward Johnson. He was great host on Inner Sanctum. His interactions with Mary the Tea Lady were funny, too. I’ll have to check out his other work!

    • bob carrico says:

      Yes, I’m amazed by the trivia I pick up. To say nothing of the photos. So this is what they looked like. Speaking of which Radio Spirits, in your lead photo, please identify all the actors. Is that Randy Stone on the left?

  3. Kendall says:

    I had the good fortune to be at the Friends of Old-Time Rdaio Convention in 1997, in Newark, NJ, when Raymond Edward Johnson, gave a reading from a hospital bed. My daughter got to attend with me.

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