The Suspense episode "The Hitchhiker" is well known because the radio play was transformed into a television episode, and it has since lived on in reruns. In this story, a supernatural hitchhiker follows the main character on a trip across the country.
Orson Welles, for whom the role was written, first performed "The Hitchhiker" on the CBS network's Mercury Theater on the Air in 1941, and then again on Suspense in 1942. The radio play was written by Lucille Fletcher, who also wrote Suspense's most famous episode, "Sorry, Wrong Number." (This episode also features her husband, legendary film-composer Bernard Herrmann, who composed and conducted the music.) In 1960, "The Hitch-Hiker" became an episode of the CBS television show, The Twilight Zone but with Inger Stevens in the lead role.
The radio version has chilling sound effects. Well, chilling or hokey. It depends on your point of view. Listen for the sound effects of the phone call made by Welles. The suspense builds as his call goes from operator to operator across the country, but it also shows how many people had to be involved just to make a phone call back then!
This episode was broadcast on September 2, 1942.
The original presentation of "The Hitchhiker" performed by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater aired on November 17, 1941, but no recording of that broadcast is known to exist at this time. However, a 1946 version performed by Orson Welles for The Mercury Summer Theater is available below.
(Visit The Digital Deli Too for more information about the The Mercury Theater on the Air and its various name changes and program logs.)
Many old radio shows have stories that include hitchhikers. Often, they play on the urban legends of "The Vanishing Hitchhiker" or "The Two Hitchhikers".
Here is an episode from the radio series The Clock (1946-1948) that is also called "The Hitchhiker". It is a spin on the urban legend where one of two hitchhikers is dangerous but appearances turn out to be deceiving.
This episode was broadcast on February 9, 1947.
For more information about urban legends about hitchhikers consult The Encyclopedia of Urban Legends by Jan Harold Brunvand.
For more information about the Twilight Zone episode "The Hitch-Hiker" consult The Twilight Zone Companion by Marc Scott Zicree.
(Photo by Robb Kiser)