Apr 7, 2011

Posted in Liner Notes, What's New

‘MURDER FROM THE BRIDGE’

NOTES ON THE PROGRAMS:

‘Murder from the Bridge’

Recorded at: HT Recording Studio, Dennis, Cape Cod

Play’s location: Sagamore Bridge over the Cape Cod Canal

First broadcast:         ?

Trivia:         Although ‘Murder from the Bridge’ appeared as the fifth Captain Underhill radio mystery, it was originally composed as a short story and was the first tale to feature the character of the retired police captain.

Cast in order:

Announcer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Floyd Pratt

Doctor Alexander Scofield . . . . Wally O’Hara

Captain Waverly Underhill . . . Dave Ellsworth

Chris Blackwell . . . . . . . . . . . . Bill Dame

Author’s Notes and Recollections:

The short story begins:

The suicide rate on Cape Cod is double the national average –or is it?

The white-haired man wearing a bow-tie pulled into the driveway of the elegant, oceanside cottage on Wianno Drive and waited with the engine running . . .

Before Radio Mystery Theater was even a gleam in my eye and after a couple of fizzled attempts at writing the Great American Novel, I decided to try my hand at writing a couple of mysteries in the form of short stories.  I cast about for a dramatic venue on the Cape around which to construct a mystery which I then figured I would submit to a brand new publication, Cape Cod Life magazine.

The Sagamore Bridge came to mind. 

I have always had what I imagine is a fairly typical but fairly well developed fear of heights.  Just driving over the bridge above the Cape Cod Canal used to give me the heebee-geebees.  Then, one day, I noticed that alongside the four lanes of traffic

there was a narrow sidewalk that ran along one side of the bridge.  I thought it might be a thrill and a challenge and perhaps good material to attempt to walk over it.  This was in 1980, a year before the 12 foot high ‘suicide fences’ were put up on both the Sagamore and Bourne bridges in an attempt to curb and discourage leapers whose numbers were beginning to grow and rival the annual toll on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Parking at Friendly’s Restaurant on the mainland side, I climbed onto the sidewalk and began walking up.  This turned out to be just as harrowing as I thought it would and became more and more so the farther up I went.   I walked carefully, hewing to the middle of the sidewalk, not daring to look over the side and down, knowing that two errant steps or a stumble in one direction and I would be mowed down by a speeding car (55,000 a day, double in summertime) or two errant steps or a stumble in the other direction and I would be plummeting to my death.

When I finally reached the apex of the brontosaurus curve, I stopped and then gingerly took two steps to the railing, gripping it tightly (although trying to look nonchalant for the sake of the traffic).  Standing looking Northeast, I enjoyed the view and the exhilaration, watching boats go by and under, and seeing the activity at the Sandwich Marina.  Peering cautiously over, I felt some of the vertigo Jimmy Stewart exhibits in the Hitchcock movie of the same name. For those who have experienced it, it compares to the same groin-clenching feeling you get standing alongside the crest of Niagara Falls, especially on the Canadian side.  You know it is totally unnecessary, but some part of your brain (is it the ego, the id or the superego?) keeps repeating, “Don’t jump, don’t jump, don’t jump.”  You know perfectly well you have no intention to.

As I was standing there, someone in a car speeding by with its window open shouted, “Jump!”.

If I had been quick-witted enough I might have called back

“Crash!”

I felt indignant.  What a cloddish thing to call out.  What if I had been contemplating suicide?

Actually, in fact, I was thinking about suicide, at least to the degree that anyone standing there is forced to imagine what it would feel like to go over the brink.  However, I elected not to take the caller up on his thoughtful suggestion and, as I walked back off the bridge and back to my car, I was already working on a story that would involve a killer, a retired police detective and a murder-for-suicide plot.

The story would be a cat-and-mouse style mystery like the sort Richard Levenson and William Link pulled off so masterfully in their TV series Columbo. I wrote the story and sent it off to Cape Cod Life magazine.   They accepted it immediately, but then sat on it for two years without publishing, eventually sending it back with apologizes, explaining that they felt the theme of senior suicide was too delicate a subject matter for their readership.

Their rejection proved fortuitous, as a couple years later, I was able to dust it off, add the opening scene with Doctor Scofield that takes place at the Dock Street Chowder House in which the Good Doctor is given a lesson by his friend in the art of deductive reasoning when he is invited to play a game of Twenty Questions. Underhill asks, “A man dies on board a sailboat in the waters off Cape Cod.  How does he die?”   (Connecticut high school teacher, Tom Brown, liked this story and, developing his own lesson plan to accompany it,  has used it for years to teach logic to his students).

John Todd put it all together in his studio.  Again Mark Birmingham‘s music sets the atmosphere.   Floyd Pratt’s announcing is good.  Bill Dame, fresh from The Hypnotist, proved an excellent choice to play the halting-voiced killer.  Once again he kept us all in stitches on the set. Dave Ellsworth was solid on every line, and, with these types of performances mounting, Wally O’Hara was beginning to develop his loyal and affectionate fan base.   Scott Dickie, did a marvelous black and white drawing of the bridge.   He and I also worked together recording the sound effects on location.  We were particularly looking for that suspenseful thump-thump, thump-thump sound that cars make as they pass onto and off the bridge, a wonderful percussive drumming.  The actual location recording was fine, but we also discovered that using a toilet bowl plunger against the bottom of a copper washtub mimicked the sound even better.

  1. Lanna Seuret says:

    First, I love the story, being prickled up and down my spine; then, rather afterwards, I love to know what the author went through to create it. This is, if not a short short story, then a real life essay that gets me right into
    the action, and feelings, the same way the CD does.
    Well, of course!! Here is a consistently good writer!! I feel
    so lucky to have stumbled upon one of the mysteries on
    PBS or NPR now long ago!! It took a while to find CCRMT, but at last I swell the ranks of confirmed fans.

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