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Therapeutic horror? Olga Druce, House of Mystery and the controversy over children’s radio thrillers

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-09, 08:49 authored by Frank Krutnik
From the 1930s to the 1950s, parents, educators, psychologists and others hotly debated the impact of US radio’s sensational genre programming on young listeners. While many condemned radio thrillers and chillers for subjecting children to excessive emotional arousal, or for encouraging juvenile delinquency, more progressive authorities argued for their cathartic potential. Drawing on a wide range of materials from contemporary newspapers, magazines, trade journals and radio shows, this article examines the post-World War 2 revival of this controversy over sensational programming. It explores the efforts of child education experts such as Josette Frank to contest the emotive denunciation of children’s radio, and children’s culture more broadly, as well as their attempt to develop child-centered programming that combined thrills with socially-enlightened content. The popular and award-winning House of Mystery (1945-49) was a key exemplification of this strategy. Building on the success Frank and producer Robert Maxwell enjoyed with the acclaimed juvenile serial The Adventures of Superman (1940-51), Maxwell’s House of Mystery was an audacious program that tailored horror scenarios to young listeners. Under the stewardship of visionary writer-director Olga Druce, this popular and award-winning program sought a strategic compromise between the pleasures and the perils of audio horror. While delivering the stimulation children desired from genre fare, House of Mystery served as a therapeutic intervention that countered both the morbid sensations peddled by crime and horror dramas and the predictable condemnation of youth programming.


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Journal Of American Culture




Blackwell Publishing





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