Just about anyone can walk into your parlor, give it the onceover and imagine you out of the way. That is something you have to put up with when you put your home up for sale, as we have done a few weeks ago. Last Friday, we were supposed to have moved into town, but the deal fell through earlier this month after our buyer pulled out; and now we are trying to attract others without having any place else to go at present. I do not thrill to the prospect of having to be ready at a moment’s notice, or even a day’s, to make way for a parade of strangers traipsing in, to get cobwebs out of corners and the lawn neatly cropped only to vacate the premises to facilitate the inspections.
Yesterday, a rather po-faced lady from England stopped by for a viewing of our Welsh cottage, gliding across the threshold like a dark cloud. Her parting words, the remark that we should not have any trouble selling the place, only underscored what her dour expression could not cover up. She hadn’t found what she was after. Her crystal, she later told the estate agent, just did not swing the right way.
As it turns out, she was after something very particular, indeed: the very place she once called home. Now, last summer, we’ve had someone stopping by all the way from Pittsburgh, showing up unannounced and claiming that her ancestors had once dwelled under our roof. She had no intention to buy the house; but we gladly bought her story, until we eventually proved that she had been mistaken. The dame with the crystal, on the other hand, was not simply catching up with her past. She was on a mission to find the house she had inhabited . . . in a past life. Who sent her? Shirley MacLaine?
As I said, you have got to be prepared for all sorts. In view of such strange visitations and the negotiations that may ensue, I began to wonder whether I am to be the spider or the fly, the one that catches or the one getting caught. I was a latchkey child, so yarns spun from such material have always made a great impression on me. Grimm’s “The Wolf and the Seven Kids” was an early favorite. I, of course, cast myself in the role of the littlest kid, hiding inside the grandfather clock while my older sister was being devoured by a predatory trespasser whose entrance did not so much depend on brute force but on the slyness (and the piece of chalk) with which he altered his voice to impersonate a trusted caregiver.
The soft-spoken, smooth-talking outsider who draws you in or cajoles his way inside is a figure cut out for radio drama. Yes, radio drama. If that cooky cat can dangle her crystal, let me romance a whole set. The long-running Suspense program, for instance, offered its listeners some memorable updates of the lupine intruder sneaking in and the arachnoid charmer sneaking up on its prey. “To Find Help” comes to mind. In it, homeowner Agnes Moorehead is being harrassed by young Frank Sinatra (18 January 1945) and Ethel Barrymore struggles to fend off Gene Kelly (6 January 1949). It is an edge-of-your-contested-porch melodrama commenting on and deriving its poignancy from the post-war demobilization and the subsequent housing crisis (a contemporary edge removed from Beware, My Lovely , the inferior screen adaptation starring Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan).
On this day, 30 August, in 1945, it was Peter Lorre’s turn to come a-knocking. Co-written by Academy Award nominated Herbert Clyde Lewis, “Nobody Loves Me,” is a slight yet ideal vehicle for the aforementioned Mr. Lorre, who inhabits the role of an armed man forcing himself inside a police station to relieve himself of a burdensome tale many of the folks he encountered did not live to tell. Leave it to Lorre to make the wolf sound like a poor kid, to give the spider the qualities of a hapless fly.