« ‘A face like an oyster, huh?‘ Danny Lomax repeated, and swallowed hard. ‘That’s what it’s going to look like?‘ Nick Deene chuckled and nodded. ‘If there’s anything deader-looking than a watery blue oyster that’s been open too long,‘ he said, ‘I don’t know what it is.‘ » — Robert Arthur, The Believers (1941)
Today, we’ll peer through filmy years past at another example of cultural cross-pollination: a notion is born, seemingly out of nowhere, then it ineffably catches the collective fancy and is in some fashion absorbed into folklore, scattered like grain by wind and whisper. Then some soul, blessed with a way with words, polishes it for publication and some editor buys it for peanuts. Another wordsmith reshuffles and refines it, sprinkling some notions of his own, perhaps a glint of sardonic humour. Hungry for material, radio gets hold of the setup and reshapes it a little to fit another medium. Late one night, some comic book hack hears that presentation, and recollects its essence, some years on, in a frantic rush to fill some pages and scrape together a meagre living. Or perhaps he saw it in a competitor’s rag. Bah, no-one’ll remember… or give a toss. “I’ll give it a stab from another angle!“
First, there was… well, I’m not sure. But let’s begin with Henry Russell Wakefield‘s short story Ghost Hunt (either 1938 or 1948… sources differ), in which…
A radio host broadcasts a live ghost hunt in a house in London where there have been “no less than thirty suicides”. Most have run from the house at night to throw themselves off the cliff and into the nearby river. The radio broadcaster is joined by a paranormal investigator. The investigation proves all-too successful in this chilling story.
The Believers is a classic horror story by Robert Arthur. It’s about a radio host who decides to broadcast a live show from a haunted house. This story is also known as “Do You Believe in Ghosts?” and it was based on an older story by H. Russell Wakefield called “Ghost Hunt”. It also inspired a horror comic story and an episode of Tales From The Crypt, both of which were called “Television Terror”.
And more that just the one ‘horror comic story’ was inspired by this singular scenario. In 1952, The Unknown (or at least uncredited, which amounts to the same thing) Writer came up with The Walking Ghost, which will now break up the tedium of text, text, text, and provide you with some welcome visuals by Messrs. Mike Sekowsky on pencils and Bill Walton on inks.
The Walking Ghost was reprinted decades later in Crypt of Shadows no. 3 (May, 1973, Marvel), where I first encountered this tale, and this bit of dialogue was modified to better (but not by much) fit the times: