Essentially a one woman show, the radio version of Sorry Wrong Number—penned by mystery and suspense writer—Lucille Fletcher, is a grueling, half-hour tour-de-force in the hands of Agnes Moorehead.
Fletcher’s play originally aired on the Suspense radio program on May 25, 1943 with Moorehead as Mrs. Stevenson. The play with Moorehead at the helm was reprised seven times over the next two decades. The final broadcast was on February 14, 1960.
Orson Welles called Sorry, Wrong Number “the greatest single radio script ever written.”
In 2015, the May 25, 1943 broadcast was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for inclusion in the National Recording Registry.
One of Moorehead’s favorite versions of the radio script, slightly different from the 1943 recording, follows.
Theme music up and play throughout opening.
MAN IN BLACK:
This is the man in black, here to introduce this weekly half hour of (dramatically) SUSPENSE. Tonight, from Hollywood, we proudly present one of the most compelling actresses of our time, Miss Agnes Moorehead. Miss Moorehead appears in a study in terror by Lucille Fletcher called, “Sorry, Wrong Number.” This story of a woman who accidentally overheard a conversation with death, and who strove frantically to prevent from murder from claiming an innocent victim, is tonight’s tale of SUSPENSE. If you have been with us on these Tuesday nights you will know that Suspense is compounded of mystery and suspicion and dangerous adventure. In this series are tales calculated to intrigue you, stir your nerves, to offer you a precarious situation then withhold the solution until the last possible moment. And so it is with, “Sorry, Wrong Number” and the performance of Agnes Moorehead, we again hope to keep you in (dramatically) SUSPENSE.
THEME MUSIC BEGINS:
THE MAN IN BLACK:
The producers and sponsors of Suspense, the Roma Wine Company of Fresno, California, feel that tonight’s story is so unusual that it merits a departure from established radio formulas. Therefore, tonight’s Suspense will be presented without commercial interruption. And now, here is Miss Agnes Moorehead, starring in Lucille Fletcher’s, “Sorry, Wrong Number.”
THEME FADES AND PHONE NOISES BEGINS
(Clicking telephone) Oh, how awful — How unspeakably awful… Operator! Operator! I’ve just been cut off… Well, Operator, I was supposed to be calling Murray Hill 4-0098, but it wasn’t. Some wires must have got crossed. I was cut into a wrong number — and I — I’ve just heard the most dreadful thing — something about a — murder — and —
Operator, you’ll simply have to retrace that call at once … I know it was a wrong number and I had no business listening — but these two men — they were cold-blooded fiends — and they are going to murder somebody — some poor, innocent woman who was all alone — in a house near a bridge… And we’ve got to stop them — we’ve just got to …
It doesn’t matter what number I was calling. This was a wrong number and you dialed it for me. And we’ve got to find out what it was — immediately. Oh, why’re you so stupid? It doesn’t matter what number I was calling … What time is it? Oh — I don’t want the chief operator . . . I think it’s perfectly shameful. Now, look — it was obviously a case of some little slip of the finger. I told you to try Murray Hill 4-0098 for me — you dialed it — but your finger must have slipped — and I was connected with some other number — and I could hear them but they couldn’t hear me. Now — I simply fail to see why you couldn’t make that same mistake again — on purpose — why couldn’t you try to dial Murray Hill 4-0098 in the same careless way?
All right, dial Murray Hill 4-0098 — only carelessly. Please. Thank you. Oh — busy! I know Murray Hill 4-0098 is busy!
(Clicking receiver frantically) Operator! Operator! You didn’t try to get that wrong number at all. I asked you explicitly. And all you did was dial correctly. Can’t you for once forget what number I’m calling and do something for me . . . Well, I want to trace that call — it’s my civic duty — and it’s your civic duty — to trace that call — and apprehend those dangerous killers — and if you won’t —- alright, get me the chief operator . . . Oh . . . Very well, please do.
(To herself) All this talk — can’t make anyone understand … It takes so much time to get anyone …
(On phone) Chief Operator? I want you to trace a call — a telephone call. Immediately. I don’t know where it came from or who was making it, but it’s absolutely necessary that it be tracked down. Because it was about a murder that someone’s planning. A terrible, cold-blooded murder of a poor innocent woman — tonight — at 11: 15. Can you trace it for me? Can you track down those men? . . . It depends? It depends on what? Has it been disconnected ? Of course it’s been disconnected! That was at least five minutes ago — and they didn’t seem to be the type that would make a long call… My name — is Mrs. Stevenson. Mrs. Elbert Stevenson. But — listen — My telephone number is Plaza 3-2093. But — if you go on wasting all this time — Why do I want the call traced? Why? Oh — Oh, no reason. I mean — I merely felt — very strongly — that something ought to be done about it. These men sounded like killers — they’re dangerous. They’re going to murder this woman — 11: 15 tonight. And I thought the police ought to know. No … I haven’t reported it to the police … Well — no. Not yet… Yes, but mean while– Oh, or heavens sake! You mean to tell me I can’t check this call as a private individual when there’s going to be a murder, without getting tied up in all this red tape? Why — it’s perfectly idiotic! I’ll — call the police. Oh!
(SLAMS DOWN RECEIVER)
(To herself) Ridiculous! I never heard of such nonsense — police department — I can’t see why you have to go through all this business.
(Picks up phone, dials Operator)
The Police Department — get me the Police Department — please. Oh, dear — do you have to dial? Can’t you ring them direct?
(To herself) All this time wasted.
(On phone) Police Department? Oh — this is Mrs. Stevenson. Mrs. Elbert Smythe Stevenson of fifty-three, 5 – 3 –North Sutton Place. I’m calling to report a murder … I mean — the murder hasn’t been committed yet, but I just overheard plans for it over the telephone. Over a wrong number that the operator gave me. Yes, positively. It was a perfectly definite murder — I heard their plans distinctly — two men were talking — and they were going to murder some woman at 11: 15 tonight — She lived in a house near a bridge … Are you concentrating on this? You sound sleepy.
And there was a private patrolman on the street. He was going to go around for a beer on Second Avenue. And there was some third man — a client — who was paying to have this poor woman murdered. They were going to take her rings and bracelets — and use a knife … Well, — it’s unnerved me dreadfully — and I’m not well — and I’m very nervous … Oh, dear, may name is Mrs. Stevenson. Mrs. Elbert Stevenson . . . Oh, may address is Fifty-three North Sutton Place. That’s near a bridge. The Queensborough Bridge — you know — And we have a private patrolman on our street — and Second Avenue is the next street . . . Oh, well, I was calling Murray Hill 4-0098 but — that wasn’t the number I over heard. I mean, Murray Hill 4-0098 is my husband’s office. He’s working late tonight — and his line was busy and I was trying to reach him to ask him to come home … I’m an invalid, you know — and it’s the maid’s night out — and I — You’ll look into it? The whole thing calls for a search — a complete and thorough search of the whole city. I’m very near the bridge — and I’m not far from Second Avenue — and I know I’d feel a whole lot better if you sent around a radio car to this neighborhood at once … Oh, I don’t know … Only, the coincidence is so horrible. It sounds like this neighborhood. Second Avenue — the patrolman — the bridge… Yes, and maybe it wasn’t a long distance call I overheard. I’m all alone and very nervous… My maid, Eloise — she’s a big girl — she weighs two hundred pounds — she’s too lazy to bring up my breakfast tray — it’s her night out and my husband, Elbert — he’s crazy about me — he just adores me — waits on me hand and foot –scarcely left my side sick I took sick twelve years ago — he’s working at — I don’t care how many other matters you have on your desk. This is not routine! It’s murder, and it requires immediate attention… Oh — you — you — you — idiot!
Idiot! Idiot ! Stupid — stupid… Oh — why doesn’t Elbert come home? Why doesn’t he?
(To herself) I’ll dial the operator again — I just can’t —
(Into phone) Operator — for heavens sake — will you ring that Murray Hill 4-0098 number again? I can’t think what’s keeping him so long … Well, try, try — I don’t see why he doesn’t answer. It makes me so nervous. I can hear it — you don’t have to tell me — I know it’s busy.
If I could only get out of this bed for a little while. If I could get a breath of fresh air — or just lean out of the window — and see the street …
(Picking up phone instantly) Hello — Elbert? Hello. Hello. HELLO!… Oh — what’s the matter with this phone? — HELLO. HELLO —
Phone rings again once
(Picking up phone instantly) Hello? Hello … Oh, for heavens sake — who is this? Hello — hello. HELLO.
(SLAMS PHONE. PICKS UP PHONE AND DIALS OPERATOR.)
(To herself) Who is trying to call me? What are they trying to do to me?
(Into phone) Operator — I don’t know what’s the matter with this telephone but it’s positively driving me crazy. I’ve never seen such inefficient, miserable service .. Now, look — I’m an invalid, and I’m very nervous — and I’m not supposed to be annoyed much longer … Well, everything seems to be the trouble — I haven’t had one bit of satisfaction out of one call I’ve made this evening … The whole world could be murdered for all you people care. And now — my phone keeps ringing — ringing and ringing and ringing every five seconds or so — and when I pick it up — there’s no one there… I don’t want you to test my phone for me — I want you to put that call through — whatever it is… Oh — you can’t do that! And why, may I ask? And meanwhile I’ve got to sit here, in my bed, suffering every time that phone rings — imagining everything — you’re not trying to check the trouble for me! Oh — what’s the use of talking to you! You’re so stupid! But – But – I know the dial system is automatic. Oh — young woman, I don’t know your name. But there are ways of finding out. And I’m going to report you to your superiors for the most unpardonable rudeness — Oh — give me the business office at once! Dial it direct? I’ll do no such thing! I don’t even know the number… Oh — you — what’s the use!
(SLAMS PHONE. ALMOST INSTANTLY–)
(To herself) Oh, dear — oh for heavens sake!
(PICKS UP PHONE)
Hello. Hello. Stop ringing me, do you hear? Answer me! Who is this? Do you realize you’re driving me crazy? Who’s calling me? What are you doing it for? Now — stop it — stop it — stop it, I say! If you don’t stop ringing me I’m going to call the police, do you hear? HELLO — hello.
(Sobs) Yes, this is Plaza 3-2098. I’m sorry, I’m sorry… Who? Oh… Western Union… Yes, this is Mrs. Elbert Stevenson… Will you read the telegram, please.
Yes, that’s the address .. “Darling. Terribly sorry. Tried to get you the last hour but the line busy. Leaving for Boston eleven p.m. tonight on urgent business. Back tomorrow afternoon. Keep happy. Signed, Elbert.”
(Breathlessly, to herself) Oh — no….
(Into phone) No — I don’t want a copy of the message.
(Mechanically) Good night.
(To herself) Oh, Elbert — how could you? How could you?
When you knew I was going to be alone. I can’t be alone tonight. Well, if I’m alone one more second — I’ll go mad. I don’t care what he says — or what the expense is — I’m a sick woman. I’m entitled — to a little consideration.
(PICKS UP PHONE, DIALS INFORMATION–4-1-1)
Information? I want to telephone number of Henchly Hospital .. NO, I don’t know the street address. It’s a very small, private and exclusive hospital where I had my appendix out two years ago — Henchly, H – E – N -C -H – L – Y — Please hurry, and please, what is the time? Oh — for heavens sake, I’ve no time to dial! What is the number of Henchly Hospital? Butterfield 3-9970.
(HANGS UP. PICKS UP AND DIALS BU 3-9970)
Is that Henchly Hospital? I want the Nurses Registry. I said, I want the Nurses Registry, at once. I want a trained nurse. I want to hire her immediately — for the night… The nature of the case is nerves. I’m very nervous. I need soothing — and companionship. You see, my husband is away — and I’m — No, I’m not under a doctor’s care at the moment. I was a patient in your hospital two years ago and after all, I do expect to pay this person for attending me … Well, this is an emergency case and absolutely necessary. I’m a sick woman — I — I’m very upset… Very. I’m alone in this house — and I’m an invalid — and tonight I overheard a telephone conversation that upset me dreadfully. A woman is going to be murdered when a train crosses a bridge…
(beginning to yell) … in fact, if someone doesn’t come at once — I’m afraid I’ll go out of my mind! … Miss Phillips .. And do you have to wait until Miss Phillips comes in? And when do you expect Miss Phillips in? She went out to supper at eleven o’clock? Eleven o’clock! But it’s not eleven yet .. Where’s my clock? Oh — my clock’s stopped. I thought it was running down. What time is it? … Fourteen minutes past eleven? (Pause) What was that? That? Why that click — just now — in my own telephone — as though someone had lifted the receiver off the hook — off the extension telephone downstairs … But I did hear it. There’s someone in this house — someone downstairs — in the kitchen — and they’re listening to me now … There …
(To herself) I won’t pick it up. I won’t let them hear me. I’ll be quiet — and they’ll think — But if don’t call someone now — while they’re still down there — there’ll be no time.
(PICKS UP PHONE. DIALS OPERATOR)
(To herself) I’ve got to get that operator.
(Into phone) Operator! Operator! — I — I’m in desperate trouble — I — I don’t dare speak louder. I — There’s someone listening. Can you hear me now? But you’ve got to hear me. Oh — please… You’ve got to help me. There’s someone in this house — someone who’s going to murder me — and you’ve got to get in touch with the — Oh, there it is. Did you hear it? He’s put it down. He’s put down the extension phone. He’s coming up the stairs. Give me the police department. Give me the police. I can hear him. Hurry — hurry —
Noise of train crossing the bridge starts with the mounting tension. At the top of the tension the train WHISTLES and Agnes screams.
(AS TRAIN FADES, WE HEAR A PHONE RINGING AND THEN A VOICE)
Police department — Precinct 43 — Sergeant Martin speaking … (Pause) … Police department… Precinct 43 — Sergeant Martin speaking … Yes, sir — What, sir? Wrong number? Okay. Good night, sir…
Theme up loudly and play for several seconds, then come to a climactic end.
THE MAN IN BLACK:
And so closes, “Sorry, Wrong Number”, starring Miss Agnes Moorehead, tonight’s tale of …
Loud chord–fade after last word.
THE MAN IN BLACK:
Theme up and play until the end.
THE MAN IN BLACK:
This is your narrator, the Man in Black, who conveys to you Columbia’s invitation to spend this half-hour in Suspense with us again next Tuesday when Mr. Donald Crisp and Mr. John Loda will start in the Suspense play called, “The Extra Guest.”
The producer of these broadcasts William Spier, along with Norman MacDonald the director and Lud Gluskin the musical director and Lucille Fletcher, the author, collaborated on tonight’s SUSPENSE.
Money invested in War Bonds now helps to insure a healthy, prosperous post-war America–the kind of America we will want for our children as well as ourselves. Don’t forget then, join us next Tuesday for another tale well calculated to keep you in…
… (dramatically) SUSPENSE. Presented by Roma Wine. R-O-M-A, Roma Wine. Made in California for enjoyment throughout the world. This is CBS, the Columbia Broadcasting System.
THEME PLAYS A FEW SECONDS AND THEN FADES OUT.