Sorry Wrong Number Essay

"Sorry, Wrong Number" was the Suspense radio play that not only gave the series its biggest success, but it also became "radio's most famous play." This story was presented eight times between 1943 and 1960, and it created a phenomenon of its own by provoking tremendous listener response. The radio play was written by Lucille Fletcher and, aside from "The Hitchhiker," it is her best known work. "Sorry, Wrong Number" was the only Suspense story to be made into a film.

Lucille Fletcher had an exceptional flair for writing terror for radio, and nothing demonstrated that more than "Sorry,Wrong Number." The collection of episodes written by Fletcher and presented on Suspense includes "The Hitchhiker," "Fugue in C Minor," "Dark Journey," "The Thing in the Window," "The Diary of Safronia Winters," "The Furnished Floor," and "The Night Man."

In the sixty or so years since "Sorry, Wrong Number" was first presented on radio, it has made the transition to film, television, novel, and play. In recent years, it has made its way on to the internet via old time radio websites and YouTube videos.

However, to fully appreciate Fletcher's unique style of conjuring up suspense, one must listen to the story as it was presented on radio.

All eight versions of "Sorry, Wrong Number" starred Agnes Moorehead in the lead role of Mrs. Elbert Stevenson.

The first time this story was presented was on May 25, 1943. In the East Coast version, there was a flubbed line at the end that made the end of the story confusing. The performance done for the West Coast has the correct ending. William Spier directed.

. Download suspense_1943.05.25_ Sorry, Wrong Number (EAST COAST).MP3

. Download suspense_1943.05.25_Sorry, Wrong Number (WEST COAST).MP3

The second performance was on August 21, 1943.

. Download suspense_1943.08.21_Sorry Wrong Number.mp3

In response to listener requests, the story was presented again on February 24, 1944. William Spier directed.

. Download suspense_1944.02.24_Sorry, Wrong Number.mp3

Again, due to requests from the public, Suspense presented this story again on September 6, 1945.

. Download suspense_1945.09.06_Sorry Wrong Number.mp3

"Sorry, Wrong Number" was presented on Suspense for the fifth time in 1948 to coincide with the release of the film.

. Download suspense_1948.11.18_Sorry Wrong Number.mp3

The sixth version of this episode was presented on September 15, 1952, but there is no known recording of that episode at this time.

In 1957, William N. Robson brought "Sorry, Wrong Number" back to Suspense. As he states in his introduction, he felt that great radio plays, like great stage plays, should be revived from time to time.

. Download suspense_1957.10.20_ Sorry Wrong Number.MP3

Suspense presented this story for the last time on Valentine's Day in 1960.

.  Download suspense_1960.02.14_Sorry, Wrong Number.mp3

In the 1948 film Sorry, Wrong Number, the role of Mrs. Stevenson was played by Barbra Stanwyck, for which she later received an Academy Award nomination.  Stanwyck performed the role of Mrs. Stevenson once on radio, along with her costar Burt Lancaster, in an hour long adaptation of the film for Lux Radio Theater. This episode aired on January 9, 1950.

.  Download LuxRT.1950.01.09_Sorry_Wrong_Number.mp3

Here also, is the movie trailer for Sorry, Wrong Number. It mentions Suspense and how the craze over the radio version brought the story to the big screen.

  • Leona Stevenson is sick and confined to her bed. One night, whilst waiting for her husband to return home, she picks up the phone and accidentally overhears a conversation between two men planning a murder. She becomes increasingly desperate as she tries to work out who the victim is so the crime can be prevented.

    —Col Needham

  • Leona Stevenson is an alluring, wealthy, and irritating hypochondriac whose psychosomatic illness has her bedridden. Leona's only lifeline is the telephone, which she uses to excess. One evening, Leona impatiently tries to locate her henpecked husband Henry who is late in coming home. However, when phone lines cross, she overhears two thugs plotting a murder. Desperate to thwart the crime, Leona begins a series of calls--to the operator, to the police, and others--and eventually deduces the shocking identity of the victim. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Leona, Henry is having problems of his own--he's become involved in a swindle and is being blackmailed. The film follows Leona, trapped in her lush apartment, as she tries to prevent an innocent from being murdered.

    —alfiehitchie

  • In New York, Leona Stevenson is the invalid wife of the VP of a pharmaceutical industry Henry J. Stevenson and becomes aware of a murder that would be committed late night of that day through a "cross-wire", when she overhears two men planning the murder. Leona tries to find the right number to tell the police and she discovers that her former friend and ex-girlfriend of Henry, Sally Hunt Lord, had lunch with him. She recalls the first encounter with her husband and parts of her life with him through flashbacks. Along the night, she learns dirty secrets about her husband Henry as she attempts to find the intended victim.

    —Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

  • While on the telephone, an invalid woman overhears what she thinks is a murder plot and attempts to prevent it.

    —David Rush

  • The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

    Synopsis

    • Wealthy invalid Leona Stevenson finds herself completely alone in her New York City townhouse. Thinking that her husband Henry would be home, she gave her nurse and the servants the night off. But Henry never came home from work and Leona is frantically trying to locate him. His office number is busy. In desperation, Leona telephones her husband's secretary, Miss Jennings, at home. She learns that Henry left the office with a Mrs. Lord and did not return.

      In flashbacks, it is revealed that Leona is the spoiled only child of J.B. Cotterell, the owner of a pharmaceutical company based in Chicago. Her mother died in childbirth and Leona grew up believing that she had a heart ailment. In college she met Henry Stevenson, who came from a dirt-poor background. Although he is dating her best friend Sally, Leona makes a play for him and succeeds in taking him away from Sally.

      Against the wishes of her father, Leona marries Henry and he goes to work for her father. But he is unsuccessful in persuading Leona that they need a home of their own instead of living with Mr. Cotterell. Leona has a fainting spell and requires a nurse to take care of her. This has happened many times over the years and Mr. Cotterell blames Henry for this latest episode. Henry tries to find other employment but Mr. Cotterell has put the word out not to hire him.

      Returning to the present time, Leona takes a call from a Mr. Waldo Evans. He has called several times wanting to speak to Henry but won't say what he wants. In telephoning Henry's office again, Leona is accidentally connected to a conversation in which two men are talking. They cannot hear her but she hears them plotting a murder. A woman is to be killed in her home at 11:15 that night. An overheard train will cross the tracks and the cop on patrol always takes a break at that time. No one else will be in the house and their client has arranged to leave a downstairs window unlocked. Their client wants them to make it look like a robbery and he doesn't want the woman to suffer.

      Leona is horrified and calls the operator, demanding that the call be traced. But the operator doesn't understand what she means about being cut in on a conversation and refers her to the police. The officer who takes Leona's call doesn't believe her. In frustration, Leona hangs up but continues to worry about the unfortunate woman who is set to die.

      In looking through the telephone messages that came in earlier that day, Leona finds one from the mysterious Mrs. Lord. She telephones the woman and demands to know what is going on with her and Henry. To her surprise, Mrs. Lord turns out to be her old friend Sally. By now Leona is thoroughly bewildered. Sally explains in a low voice that her husband works for the District Attorney and that Henry is in trouble. She came to his office to warn him. Then she hangs up abruptly after telling Leona that she will call back when she can speak privately, as her husband is home.

      Leona cannot imagine what sort of trouble Henry could be in. She telephones her father in Chicago but he is having a party and doesn't give her a chance to explain why she is calling. He is surprised and angry that she is in the house alone and promises to have a talk with Henry.

      The phone rings again and it is Western Union with a telegram from Henry. He is enroute to a pharmaceutical convention and will telephone her later. Then Sally calls from a pay phone, having told her husband that she was going out for beer. She doesn't know exactly what trouble Henry is in, only that it is very serious. Earlier that week she followed her husband and one of his colleagues to a deserted house on Staten Island. It appeared to be a drop-off point and Sally heard Henry's name mentioned. Sally is forced to hang up because the drugstore is closing, leaving Leona frustrated and upset.

      Mr. Evans calls again and this time Leona demands to know why he keeps bothering her. She is a bedridden invalid and cannot take this kind of stress. Mr. Evans reveals that he knows all about her, having been a Cotterell employee for many years. He is in charge of a laboratory; first in Chicago and now in New Jersey. One night when he was working late, Henry stopped by. He looked around the laboratory and asked where the narcotics were kept. Mr. Evans showed him but felt uneasy about it, even though Henry was the boss's son-in-law. Later Henry offered Mr. Evans a ride home as it was raining and his bus was late. During the ride, Mr. Evans shared his desire to retire and return to England. He would like to purchase a horse farm but doubts he will be able to afford it. Henry agrees and offers to cut Mr. Evans in on a deal. If he will hold back some of the narcotics, Henry has a purchaser. They will each receive a large cut, which will go a long way toward purchasing the horse farm. Mr. Evans is horrified and refuses, but greed overtakes him and eventually he agrees.

      All goes well until Mr. Evans receives a sudden transfer to the New Jersey plant. Henry assures him that it is routine, as he would have been arrested if they were found out. Mr. Evans declares that he wants out but Henry won't allow it. He has already decided to act on his own instead of going through their purchaser, a Mr. Morano. Their share of the money will be a lot more. Henry and Leona move to New York, where Mr. Evans purchased the deserted house on Staten Island. He takes the drugs there and someone in a boat picks them up.

      Unfortuately, Mr. Morano traces them there and is waiting in the house when Mr. Evans arrives. He wants $150,000 as compensation for the business they took away from him. If they don't pay, they will be killed. When Henry protests that he doesn't have that kind of money, Mr. Morano reminds him that he has a rich wife. An accident can be arranged and he would inherit her money. Henry is sickened but realizes he has no choice. Mr. Evans closes the conversation by giving Leona a message for Henry. The game is up as the police have arrested Mr. Morano. Mr. Evans has burned down the Staten Island house. After midnight he can be reached at a certain number, which Leona writes down. It turns out to be number of the city morgue. Mr. Evans obviously intends to commit suicide rather than be arrested.

      Leona telephones her father again but there is no answer. She begins to realize that the phone conversation she overheard was about her. She is the woman who is to be killed that night. Believing that her heart is about to give out, she telephones her doctor and begs him to come over. He can't, although he tells her that the results of a recent examination were very good. She does not have heart trouble at all. The doctor sent her a letter with this information but Leona never got it.

      She calls a nurse's registry but they don't have anyone they can sent over at a moment's notice. Hysterically, Leona tries to get out of bed but she can't make her legs move. Then Henry telephones from the train station in Connecticut and Leona tells him she knows everything. She asks why he didn't come to her for the money, that she would gladly have given it to him because she loves him so much. Then she hears a noise downstairs and screams at Henry that someone is in the house. He orders her to get out of bed and yell out the window for help. But Leona is paralyzed by terror. He admits to having arranged her murder and tells her unless she does as he says, he will burn. The two plainclothes detectives who have been following Henry close in on the phone booth. Then Henry hears Leona's dying scream as she is stabbed. The killer picks up the phone, says "Sorry wrong number" and hangs up.

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