Wyllis Cooper. Ernest Chappell.
The Story of a Radio Drama
Although "Quiet, Please" is nearly 70 years old, it remains fresh and undated. The productions are very basic and simple, yet it shines vibrant and distinct.
The program is unique, has a charm, and stands apart from the rest.
This is an enchanting series. A lost classic, found again, which warrants a stronger recognition in the public arena of today, I don't stand alone in admiration, it has already established a substantial cult following, which continues to expand, even extending beyond just that of the Old Time Radio fanfare realm.
'Quiet, Please' was a radio program produced at the WOR studios in New York City.
The weekly series aired a total of 105 episodes from June 8th 1947 until June 20th of 1949. It originated on the Mutual Broadcasting System, and about a year later made the jump to the more lucrative ABC radio network.
A Quiet, Small Production..
The program consist of only a few, but exceptionally vibrant, and brilliant ingredients;.. Wyllis Cooper's writing, Erbest Chappell's delivery, and a small rotating cast, all subtly tied together though the play of an organ.
This simple combination is the core of this elegant and eerie series, which, despite the poor condition of most circulating episodes, it still stands high on the list of all-time favorite radio shows, by a many collectors.
It's creation was the brain child of Wyllis Cooper, and writer of every script, but had it not been for the presentational ability of his friend Ernest Chappell (Producer, 50% partner), the program would not have been so captivating, nor be capturing the notable attention it gets now, nearly a century later.
It's presumed that Cooper and Chappell originally became friends back in the 1930's when they both worked at Orson Wells Campbell Playhouse (NBC). But when, and how the two met is besides the point.. What matters is that the united talents of these two men manifested a program so stark and unique, that the passing of years can't touch it.. it's timeless.. it doesn't age.. it's pure entertainment.. it's pure radio.
."..They have an odd flavor, extremely difficult to describe, and they represent, I should say, PURE RADIO ... That's the sort of stories they are -- just weird -- and if you're of literal mind I suggest you avoid them. Their great charm for me is that I don't know what Mr. Cooper will do next. Also, these stories are handled with extreme skill. Mr. Cooper presents you with a fantastic idea, but he never piles the unlikely on top of the unlikely. Once you accept the original premise, the rest follows logically. Incidentally, the fantasies are never fully explained. There's the secret. Never explain anything fully. Leave 'em guessing."
-- Variety Feb 4, 1948 - Radio in Review
This Program Comes To You From New York...
Every show begins the same with it's trademark disarming call of attention: "Quiet, Please!... Quiet, Please!.. ", then, as the graceful Cesar Franck's 'Symphony in D-Minor's 2nd movement' begins to play, the announcer presents tonight's episode.. the music fades.. and the story begins...
Each episode is a story in itself. The settings, characters, atmosphere, and genre all vary from show to show. It might be a ghost story, love story, an historic reckoning, religious or apocalyptic, horrific, comedic, or just plain silly.. But always a mixture of reality with surreality, delivered in a casual relaxed matter-of-fact, and even visual manner.
To define the entire series is elusive. Often times labeled as "Horror", but that's a bit deceptive, though that is the genre in which some of these episodes fall; For example, the episode entitled "The Thing on the Fourble Board" is consistently awarded the unofficial honor as being: "Best radio horror show of all time", and more so, best radio drama ever.. which all may be very well true, but that's only one of the episodes, there are 104 more, some having nothing to do with monsters, or other things that go bump in the night.
Other episodes - though still surreal - focus towards spiritual obligations, effects of actions, and personal responsibility, or simply a look at life from a different perspective...
The point is, as a whole, it's really not a horror series.
Perhaps the most accurate classification would be "Fantasy".
How ever you decide to define it, one thing can be agreed upon; the series was very original, and the first of it's kind, with it's signature laid back atmosphere.
"Cooper's Holinshed, at least his principal one, is the Bible. "Quite a source book," he explains. Cooper loves to lift stories from the Bible and then wait around for the mail to see how many people recognized the source. Biblical stories are put into modern dress and sometimes re-arranged rather dramatically to suit Cooper's peculiar point of view. In the Cain and Abel story, for example, it was all Abel's fault. Abel was such a nasty character he provoked his brother into what Cooper considered justifiable homicide. (A lot of people wrote in to say they agreed.)- Oakland Tribune Sept 5, 1949
Quiet, Please! - First Of It's Kind..
There are claims that Rod Serling had been so enthused by the Quiet Please programs, that it inspired his formulation of "The Twilight Zone". Some observe this to be only speculation since there's no direct documentation available to confirm it. Still, it's hardly a far fetched possibility, considering the similarities of the program, and that Serling was a known fan of the radio dramas of the time.
What can be confirmed however, is that in 1960, Rod Serling had explicitly attempted to contact Cooper to purchase rights to the Quiet Please script entitled "One For the Book" (episode 74), because it was virtually identical to his own upcoming tv episode titled "The Last Flight" and he did not want to risk script infringement... but Serling was unable to make contact, he did not realize that sadly, Cooper had died five years earlier. So onward into production it went, becoming a Twilight Zone episode without further consideration for Cooper. (source)
But let's back up..
Wyllis Cooper was a well established, and highly sought after talent who's primary position was that of a superb script writer in dozens of entertaining and successful radio series which were produced weekly for NBC, ABC and MBS during the 1930's, 40's, and 50's, during the time when radio was still king of the airwaves.
His most commonly known achievements include creation of the massively popular "Light's Out" beginning in 1933. Time Magazine looked back on his work on that show in their June 1941 issue, with an admiring awe, expressed in a featured article about Cooper, captioned: "This Time He's Serious".
Unfortunately, there are very few archives of those early 'Light's Out' episodes as described in the article (shown elsewhere on this page) which are known to still exist, though some still circulate.
In 1936, after the first three years of wildly successful run, Cooper opted to leave 'Light's Out' behind, so production was transferred over into the hands of Arch Oobler who became very famous because of it, and carried it on-and-off for another decade.
".. Willis Cooper was the writer who originated the show, but he left for Hollywood in 1936. Arch Obeler took it over "and made it his," according to Schaden. "Lights out, everybody," was the announcer's greeting during the show's Chicago run.." -
Chicago Tribune Feb 23, 1986 section C, pg. 7, "Way We Were. A look at Chicago's past"
Lights Out to Hollywood Lights..
Cooper's desire to leave was to satisfy an urge to pursue other ventures in Hollywood.. And so he went, and for the next 4 years he was both sole screenplay writer, and contributing writer on over a dozen motion pictures and television productions. A few notable movie mentions include 'Black Friday' (aka 'Friday the 13th), 'Mr Moto', 'Electric Man' (aka 'Man Made Monster') and at least one of 'Shirley Temple's films.
But certainly, the most famous, was his screenplay for the motion picture 'Son of Frankenstein'.. it was also the last script for a movie he'd ever write.
As successful as 'Son of Frankenstein' was, Coopers experience while scripting it, was an excessively miserable one, and undoubtedly the reason he became disenchanted with Hollywood...
(Bear with me here, the following leads to a direct relationship to 'Quiet Please'..)
The release date for the movie Son of Frankenstein had been set for January 1939. Universal Studios was still awaiting a director in September when they had hired Cooper to create the screenplay. Cooper checked in at Universal, screened both Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein to familiarize with the theme, and then set out to write the script.
On October 20, Cooper completed the screenplay for the movie. Universal was enthused over Coopers finished script, and ready to begin shooting, But their recently hired producer/director Rowland V. Lee threw a monkey wrench into the whole production, when he began re-crafting the Son of Frankenstein story in the way he envisioned it..
Cooper was then put into a constant 24/7 standby at the studio for months, and had to rewrite the script, little by little, every day, based on the the ever-changing spare-of-the-moment ideas Lee was continuously pitching at him.
The shooting finally began in November, and "Cooper was still a virtual prisoner at the studio cranking out a few pages at a time based on Lee's impromptu inspirations."
This continued on through December, on into the evening of Christmas Eve.. and on past New Years Eve..
"Son of Frankenstein has a literate story, fascinating principles, and some classic dialogue. As such, it seems almost unbelievable the story was made up day to day. Lee might have fashioned the basic story but the sole screenplay credit went to Wyllis Cooper, who'd written the original abandoned script. Now, during the shoot, Cooper was on call, apparently 24/7, to develop Lee's ideas. Was it an enjoyable challenge?".... "..it seems safe to assume that Wyllis Cooper hardly cherished his memories.. of Son of Frankenstein."- 'Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff: The expanded Story of a Haunting Collaboration' by William Mank - Page 352
The above quote from the book is but a small portion describing Coopers ordeal, you can read more of it here. How does it have a relation to 'Quiet Please'? Well, for one, the whole ordeal had so discouraged Cooper, that immediately after it, he abandoned his other screenplay obligations, and left Hollywood. Had he not left, he might not of ever created "Quiet, Please!".
"Wyllis Cooper, reported to be writing the new Karloff and Lugusi movie ["Friday the 13th"], had escaped the job -- possibly frighted of being held captive at the studio as he'd been on Son of Frankenstein". - P. 384
But the direct relationship between his work on the movie and the Quiet Please series is that, eight years later, Cooper turned that horrific ordeal into a QP episode, that he entitled "Rain on New Year's Eve" (#29). Everything that happened in the episode, corresponds almost exactly, and very thinly veiled, with what went on at Universal, but fortunately, the real life experience didn't conclude in the drastic way the episode did.. Still, it did make clear on Coopers attitude about the whole thing.
Anyway, in 1939, Cooper decided that Hollywood was not his game, so he left California for New York, and a return to his roots in radio..
"...Wyllis (his name was Willis until a numerologist advised him to change it) used to write the famous, horrible Lights Out scripts in Chicago. Then he was in Hollywood, where he adapted movies for the Hollywood Hotel program and worked in movie studios..."
- Radio Mirror - 1940
Willis to Wyllis....
On a side note: It's curios that when he left Hollywood, he also legally changed the spelling of his name from "Willis" to "Wyllis".. Radio Mirror magazine appears to be the first to mention it in 1940, saying "a numerologist advised him to change it" then Time magazine made a similar mention in 1941, but elaborated further that it was due to "his wife's numerological inclinations". Then in 1942 'Capital Times' newspaper in Madison WI seemed to merge the two previous reports as: "a numerologist told his wife it should be spelled Wyllis and he's done so ever since."
Other than the brief passages in those publications, there appears to be no specifics, and no direct quotes from Cooper on the matter found anywhere.
Upon utilizing several present day numerology calculators found online, the results conclude that both spellings have virtually identical meanings in every respect.
" ...But there may have been another, more rational, reason for it. In mid-1939, the year of the change, Cooper lost a court case to NBC. Subsequently, his wages were garnished so the network could collect what he owed them... Judging by some of the NBC papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society, Cooper resisted paying and made things difficult for his creditors. I can't prove it, but I think it's possible he changed the spelling to make it a little harder to attach his money...
Or maybe our guy was just plain eccentric; it's hard to tell."
- from a post by "MS', a senior member at quietplease.org
Then Came 'Quiet, Please!'..It was 1947 when Cooper was once again awarded the opportunity to write and direct a new original radio series of his own creation; (ironically this happened only a few months before 'Lights Out' was to air it's final show, and end it's sporadtic14 year run. )
And that's when 'Quiet, Please' came into existence..
"..The bizarre and supernatural will be the material for writer Wyllis Cooper's "Quiet Please," a new dramatic series to be heard on WOR by transcription,..."
-New York Times - July 23, 1947 - 'News of Radio' column
One of the first things Cooper did, was to urge and convince a specific, and very well known radio announcer and emcee - - not to be the announcer for the new show, - but to exclusively be the featured actor on all episodes...
Cooper must have sensed that man's talent was crucial to make Quiet Please really work.
That man was the beloved Ernest Chappell.
Chappell had next to nil on acting experience, still, he was a 25 year veteran in broadcast radio, and possessed a manner and a voice that the public had already grown to know and admire. And besides, Cooper didn't want "acting" on his show, his aim was to have the stories exhibit a more natural and realistic feel, and he insisted such deliveries from all participating cast members. Yet, it was also mandatory they stay true to the scripts.
Cooper likes to think of himself as a rebel..."I don't believe in too strong a story line because it's apt to be too hard for the listener to keep in mind," he says. "The charm in radio consists of good characterization. Plot should consist of a twist rather than a formalized structure." He doesn't rewrite, nor does he permit his actors to "ad lib" although his dialogue achieves a smooth flowing naturalness. He beats no drums, espouses no causes, says his function is "to entertain. - Writer's Digest magazine, May 1949
Yes, Cooper's superb creativity, writing, and direction was an extremely major contribution.. he was the very backbone to the Quiet Please aura. He must have possessed a tremendous energy. His seemingly effortlessly written stories week after week, month after month, year after year, never dry, never dull, always insightful, always knowledgeable, always diverse, and always entertaining. How did he tap into that never ending stream?
The question resides now as it did then: Wyllis Cooper, where did you get your ideas?
"Wyllis Cooper, a writer of eerie, sometimes incomprehensible though remarkably literate radio and television dramas, looks as if he'd stepped out of one of his own scripts. He's a short, bespectacled man, broad of brow and sweeping of girth. His double chin is an expanse of incomparable grandeur. He works, hunched over a typewriter like an intelligent spider, in a large office in the Hotel Brittany behind drawn blinds. The drawn blinds, he explains, are to protect him from street noises, which is the sort of contradiction he loves to use in his radio plays.
- Oakland Tribune, September 6, 1949
Cooper was the backbone of "Quiet, Please!', but Ernest Chappell was the very essence of the program. He made it radiate. It was Chappell who emulated Coopers stories to air, bringing words and diverse characters to life in each episode. So smooth, so casually convincing that one could not help but relate with even the most ludicrous of the surreal situations the lead character experienced. Certainly the audience knew it to be all an obvious fantasy, but Chappell could succeed in bee-lining attention on through the midst of the story, directly to the character, inclining the listener to accept that the man who was speaking to them DID indeed believe it to be all very real... Chappell's delivery made it work, and he could put the listening audience on the edge of their seats.
It was no wonder that Chappell was known as "The Man Who Spoke To You".
Which brings up another point.. An interesting feature of this program is that it intends you, the listener, as a present party. You are, in a sense a character, sometimes yourself, but other times a specific fabricated persona. But you're always there, and being spoke personally to. This is why every episodes closes credits with "..The man who spoke to you was Ernest Chappell.." It's personal, beginning with the opening lines, the conversational tone is aimed directly at you, as if you were sitting across from each other in the room. You are there together, so listen to the man who's talking to you...
-Bradford Era - June 14, 1947 - Page 9 (schedules page)
Quiet from Sponsors...
It appears evident that Cooper and Chappell may have done "Quiet Please" mostly as a labor of love. The show never drew any network sponsors, so it obviously wasn't making any money. It was what was known as a "sustainer", which basically meant that the network carried the show, but payed out of their own pocket to support it. So none of the cast, nor staff, could have been making much of an income for their work.
Cooper possibly still scripting other shows (ie: "Crime Club"), and Chappell still worked on other networks, all concurrent to doing Quiet Please. As a matter of fact, after only the fourth episode, Chappell's work on an opposing network ( ABC's the Big Story" ), interfered by being in the same time slot as Quiet Please, so they had to actually discontinue the QP series until another open time slot on Mutual could be secured to air the show.. Postponement was the only option to accompany Chappell's position.. So, in the closing comments of the 4th show on June 29, 1947, it was announced that Quiet Please would no longer be heard...
Who could have guessed what would happen next..
Conceivably, the postponement of the series may have caused more of an disruption in the mysterious scheme of things than initially anticipated, because the very next week, an shocking incident took place that still resonates today.. A flying saucer crashed in the farmlands of Roswell New Mexico.
But seriously folks... Although the the notorious event has absolutely no relation to our story, it is a wonder that Cooper had not incorporated the Roswell crash into one of his scripts!
But all nonsense aside..Quiet Please had ceased the airing of it's program, but, fortunately, it took only three weeks to find another time slot, after which Quiet Please promptly returned back on the air, resuming their weekly programing schedule as planned.
So there they are, going out of their way, securing time to do it, for little money, to make the episodes happen every week... Obviously they must have enjoyed what they were doing.. If it wasn't a labor of love, then what was it?
But of course, they must have expected a sponsor would eventually come in, and then there would be money to be made. But for some inexplicable reason that never happened.
Popularity of 'Quiet, Please!' late 1940s..
.Researchers tend to suggest that Quiet Please wasn't a very popular program at the time, and that it has a stronger following now then it did when it originally aired.. I'm not so sure if that's true or not; As a mater of fact, I disagree with that consensus altogether, not drawing in a sponsor does not equate to unpopularity with the general public.
Quite the contrary, it appears that Quiet Please was very popular; it received numerous write-ups in varied publications, managed to make the jump from the Mutual Broadcasting System (MBS) to the American Broadcasting System (ABC). Also networked on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). As well as redistributed by the Armed Forces Radio Broadcast (AFRB) to our overseas troops. The most predominate radio critic who ever lived, John Crosby, was an obvious fan, and repeatably wrote editorials praising the show, usually donning the series as "pure radio" in his nationally syndicated newspaper and magazine columns.. And let's not forget Quiet Please won national college association awards during it's 2 year run, and later became basis for a television program which Cooper scripted called "Volume One Numbers 1-6" in the early 1950's (though short lived).
So clearly, it was not, in it's time, quite so obscure or unpopular as radio historians tend to imply it was.
So, let's say it was a popular program, Yet, the sponsors shied away from it.. Why?...
The 'American Transit Association' was entertaining the idea of sponsoring Quiet Please in lieu of another program they were carrying ("Bulldog Drummond") in June of 47, but nothing ever became of it.
It is known that 'Benrus Watches' provided sponsorship in 1949 for at least two of the episodes (definitely for "In the House Where I Was Born" and "Northern Lights". though there may have been more), but they were only local spots for the New York broadcast.
Perhaps the problem was that Quiet Please was ahead of it's time.. While other drama series exhibited dramatic (over-)acting, thrilling sound effects, and adrenalin pumping action, Quiet, Please was laid back and relaxed.. mellow slow builds to a conclusion that if you were not listing to closely, you might possibly miss altogether..
Cooper has no respect for or interest in listeners who are doing the dishes or who drop out to the icebox for a beer during his stories. He never repeats himself. "Why should I make concessions to an audience that doesn't pay attention?" he says. As a matter of fact, he doesn't make very many concessions to the people who do pay attention. At the end of half an hour they may be just as baffled as the dishwashers.
- Oakland Tribune Sept 5, 1949
So, For The Last Time,
This Is Ernest Chappell Saying, Quietly Yours...
Two years after the first episode, came the last performance.
After 105 episodes, three networks, and no sponsor, the final episode aired, thanks were given, and it was done.
Quiet Please was different, maybe the sponsors just didn't get it, thought it didn't fit in the norm of radio programs, and wasn't fast paced enough. Maybe the sponsors thought that might bore the public, so they declined to support it.
Some say the multiple air time and day changes was the cause that the show never picked up a big name.
One can only speculate.
But what is clear,
is that in the future,
that is, now, today;
Quiet Please is cited as a top favorite by many collectors,
over all those other radio dramas from yesteryear.