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WVXU To Produce Rare Rod Serling Show About Cincinnati Reds

Courtesy CBS
Rod Serling, who lived in Cincinnati 1950-54, wrote "O'Toole From Moscow" about confusion between the Soviet Union and Cincinnati Reds.

WVXU-FM will produce Rod Serling's O'Toole From Moscow, a 1955 TV comedy about confusion between the Soviet Union and the Cincinnati Reds, as a radio drama.

Serling, who started his career in 1950 at WLWT-TV, wrote the one-hour television play for NBC Matinee Theatre. It was broadcast only once -- on Monday, Dec. 12, 1955 – at one o'clock in the afternoon two weeks before Christmas! The performance was not filmed or recorded.

Credit Courtesy ABC
Actor Chuck Connors played for the Dodgers and Cubs before becoming TV's "Rifleman."

In the play, at the height of the Cold War "Red Scare," a Russian consulate staffer named Mushnick is being sent back to Moscow from New York because of his high absenteeism due to attending Brooklyn Dodgers games at Ebbets Field.

So Mushnick and a strapping young, naive Russian bodyguard named Joseph Bishofsky (played by Chuck Connors, who had a brief career with the Dodgers and Cubs before starring as TV's Rifleman) hop a train and go as far as their money will take them – which was Cincinnati.

In Cincinnati,  Bishofsky goes to the Reds office to turn himself in to a bewildered general manager.  Mushnick bursts in and explains that Joseph – whom he calls "O'Toole" – is an outfielder wanting a tryout. The Reds give O'Toole a shot, and he ends up being a better slugger than Ted Kluszewski – until the Russians find him.

Cincinnati Post TV columnist Mary Wood called O'Toole From Moscow "delightfully fantastic" in her review the next day. "The Reds – both Cincinnati's favorite baseball team and the Moscow variety – were mixed up in the most hilarious comedy Rod Serling has written so far," she wrote.

Credit Courtesy Mark Dawidziak
Rod Serling at his typewriter.

I've known about O'Toole From Moscow since the late 1980s, when I first wrote about Serling's Cincinnati life as Enquirer TV columnist. After graduating from Antioch College in Yellow Springs in 1950, Serling was hired to write for WLW radio and TV, and wrote his first TV dramas for WKRC-TV 's The Storm live anthology series in 1951-52.  He quit WLW to freelance, and sold scripts from here for live network TV productions in New York until moving to Greenwich CT in 1954. O'Toole aired the next year.

Last year, a three-page synopsis of O'Toole From Moscow appeared in Nick Parisi's new book, Rod Serling: His Life, Work and Imagination.

Through my connections with Serling historians, I finally tracked down the O'Toole script for Cincinnati Public Radio.  We've met with Anne Serling, the writer's daughter, and she has given her blessing to our project. It's been my dream for more than 30 years to find and revive Serling's story involving the Cincinnati Reds.

Our O'Toole From Moscow will be a co-production with the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. CCM students will perform the roles under the direction of Richard Hess, professor of acting and directing; Cincinnati Public Radio will add the sound effects, music and narration.

The script was adapted for radio by …... me.  Yes, I spent part of my summer rewriting Rod Serling. How many can say that?

Credit Courtesy CBS
Actor John Banner was best known for "Hogan's Heroes."

Not much is known about NBC's original O'Toole From Moscow in 1955, which was performed live in a New York TV studio before the use of video tape was common by the networks.

The O'Toole cast included John Banner (later known as Sergeant Schultz on Hogan's Heroes) and a half-dozen '50s era actors; and Hall of Fame baseball manger Leo Durocher playing the Reds manager.

Serling, who created The Twlight Zone (1959-64), obviously was inspired by the 1950s "Red Scare" during the cold war between the Soviet Union and the United States, and Reds slugger Ted Kluszewski. 

In 1953, the Reds changed their name to the Redlegs.  In 1954, Congress held the televised Army-McCarthy hearings during which Sen. Joseph McCarthy claimed that the Army was "soft" on Communism.

Credit Courtesy Baseball Digest
Ted Kluszewski led the National League with 49 home runs in 1954.

Also in 1954, "Big Klu" led all of Major League Baseball with 49 home runs and 141 runs batted in.  Yet the 1955 Reds struggled through their 11th consecutive losing season despite Klu's heroics.

Serling's script has references to baseball's biggest stars at the time: Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Klu. One of the characters is named "Lippy," a nod to combative Leo "The Lip" Durocher. The Reds' business manager is named Gabe; the Reds general manager at the time was Gabe Paul.

In one scene, the Russian officer preparing to send Mushnick home for re-education tells him: "You were overheard commenting favorably about YANKEES!"

CCM students will record the show later this fall. The plan is for WVXU to broadcast O'Toole From Moscow next year as the baseball season begins.

In her review, Mary Wood wrote: "As a matter of fact, it was such a funny play that I hope it will be repeated for a night-time audience so the male baseball fans can share the laughs."

It's taken nearly 65 years, but Serling's lost O'Toole From Moscow is coming back to the airwaves.

Stay tuned.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.