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Oboler, Arch

Entry updated 29 May 2023. Tagged: Author, Film, Radio, Theatre.

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(1909-1987) US scriptwriter, playwright and author, involved in Radio from the early 1930s; he was extremely prolific in that decade, writing and usually producing an estimated 400 radio plays by 1940. His first script, "Futuristics", was broadcast by NBC in celebration of its parent firm's move to the Rockefeller Center in Manhattan; laced with touches of Satire, the script is a paean to the future as seen through the prism of New York. Oboler's best work was heard on two anthology series. For Lights Out (following seasons only: 1 January 1934-10 April 1935 WENR Chicago; 17 April 1935-16 August 1939 NBC) he wrote over 100 separate stories between 1936 and 1938, many of them fantastic, the most famous being the Disaster tale "Chicken Heart", first broadcast in 1937, in which the eponymous organ, over-stimulated by growth hormones, engulfs the entire world. For Arch Oboler's Plays (25 March 1939-23 March 1940 NBC; 5 April-11 October 1945 Mutual), he wrote several plays about Nazi Germany and the threat of World War Two, including "This Precious Freedom" (30 December 1939) (see below); "Rocket from Manhattan" (20 September 1945) is about a rocket returning from the Moon in the year 2000 to an Earth in the grips of World War Three, and was later expanded into a theatrical play, Night of the Auk (performed 1956; 1958). Some of his radio work was assembled as Ivory Tower and Other Radio Plays (coll 1940), Fourteen Radio Plays (coll 1940), This Freedom: 13 New Radio Plays (coll 1942), Free World Theatre: Nineteen New Radio Plays (coll 1944) and Oboler Omnibus: Radio Plays and Personalities (coll 1945; vt Oboler Omnibus: A Kaleidoscope of Madness 1971).

Oboler's involvement in sf Cinema included writing and directing Strange Holiday (filmed 1940; cut print 1945), based on "This Precious Freedom" (see above); it is a Hitler Wins tale in which America is taken over by Nazis, but was shelved by its producer, General Motors, until after its point had been lost. Bewitched (1945) is a melodrama in which the bad half of a split personality takes over (see Psychology). Oboler's most familiar sf films are Five (1951) and The Twonky (1953), though The Bubble (1966) – made in 3D like his own Bwana Devil (1953), the first 3D film – is also of some interest in its depiction of a small village whose inhabitants are kept in Suspended Animation by Aliens. House on Fire (1969), a novel, is supernatural horror.

Oboler's technical innovations in radio soon became absorbed into standard practice; his highly rhetorical, rather "poetic" polemical style, highly redolent of the 1930s when he was most productive, has not worn well: but he was a writer whose passions about the state of the world were intense, and he may be remembered for that intensity. [JC]

Arch Oboler

born Chicago, Illinois: 6 December 1909

died Westlake Village, California: 19 March 1987


  • House on Fire (New York: Bartholomew House, 1969) [hb/John Harrington]


works as editor


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