Mar 28, 2021
Lucille Fletcher (March 28, 1912 - August 31, 2000) gave radio some of its all-time classic spine-tingling thrillers. Though she penned novels, plays, and even the libretto of an opera, Fletcher remains best known for her radio plays, a roster that includes some of the best episodes of Suspense.
A graduate of Vassar College, Fletcher worked at CBS as a publicity writer and clerk. Fletcher met her future husband, Bernard Herrmann, when he was conducting the CBS orchestra. Fletcher’s radio career took off when one of her short stories was adapted for a radio script by Norman Corwin. Her original plays were presented on The Columbia Workshop, The Orson Welles Show, and more.
Fletcher’s best-known work - indeed, one of the greatest radio plays of all time - is “Sorry, Wrong Number.” The classic study in terror was presented seven times on Suspense, each time with Agnes Moorehead starring in the role of a bedridden woman who overhears a murder plot on the phone. The story was adapted into a 1948 film starring Barbara Stanwyck. According to her daughter Dorothy Hermann, Lucille Fletcher got the idea for her most famous play during a trip to the grocery store. In line to buy milk for one of her sick children, Fletcher asked a well-dressed woman if she could go ahead of the woman in line. “No, you cannot,” the woman exclaimed. “How dare you?” For her revenge, Lucille Fletcher fashioned the haughty, wealthy woman into the ill-mannered invalid at the center of the story, brought to life perfectly by Agnes Moorehead.
Her work was also adapted for the screen when Rod Serling presented Fletcher’s classic Suspense script “The Hitch-Hiker” as a first season episode of The Twilight Zone. The original radio production had starred Orson Welles as a man on a cross-country car trip who is pursued by a seemingly supernatural stranger on the side of the road.
A talented writer across multiple mediums, Lucille Fletcher seemed to be the most at home in the mystery genre. Describing mystery stories, she said “Writing suspense stories is like working on a puzzle. You bury the secret, lead the reader down the path, put in false leads and throughout the story remain completely logical. Each word must have meaning and be written in a fine literary style. Mysteries are a challenge, a double task for the writer, for the reader is aching to solve the puzzle before you do.” When her radio plays were on the air, the audience was aching for the solution to the intricate, well-calculated tales weaved by Lucille Fletcher.
In honor of her birthday, here are some of Lucille Fletcher’s fantastic plays presented on Suspense.
“The Hitch-Hiker” - This eerie story starring Orson Welles has a fantastic twist ending, but the uneasy feeling generated throughout the show will stick with you. (September 2, 1942)
“The Diary of Saphronia Winters” - The first of many scripts by Lucille Fletcher to be performed multiple times on Suspense, this tale of music and madness stars Agnes Moorehead and Ray Collins. (April 27, 1943)
“Fugue in C Minor” - Vincent Price co-stars with Ida Lupino in another mystery surrounding music (a theme in her work) set at the dawn of the twentieth century. (June 1, 1944)
“Dark Journey” - Nancy Kelly and Cathy Lewis are the only performers in this tale of the power of will, and one woman’s desire for revenge. (April 25, 1946)
“The Thing in the Window” - How can a dead body disappear, then reappear in an otherwise normal apartment? That’s the mystery at the heart of this episode starring Joseph Cotten. (December 19, 1946)