WVXU Debuts Rod Serling's 'O'Toole From Moscow' Cincinnati Reds Show March 25
Rod Serling's 1955 comedy involving the Cincinnati Reds – broadcast only once on NBC Television – will premiere as a radio play on WVXU-FM 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 25.
Written during the Cold War, Serling's O'Toole From Moscow is about confusion between Russians and the Reds in which a Soviet Union embassy staffer ends up playing outfield for the Cincinnati Reds.
Eight students from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music recorded the play in November at Cincinnati Public Radio under the direction of Richard Hess, CCM professor of acting and directing.
Anne Serling, daughter of the prolific TV writer who created The Twilight Zone, was the studio announcer and narrator. Reds organist John Schutte, who also plays keyboards for the Rusty Griswolds, provided "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" and other ballpark organ music for the show. WVXU producer Josh Elstro edited the program, and added the sound effects and music.
Rod Serling, who started his career in 1950 at Cincinnati's WLWT-TV, wrote the one-hour television play for NBC Matinee Theatre. It was broadcast live at 3 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 12, 1955. The performance was not filmed or recorded.
Full disclosure here: I've known about Serling's O'Toole From Moscow since 1989, when I first wrote a story for the Cincinnati Enquirer about Serling's life here. After graduating from Antioch College in Yellow Springs in 1950, he wrote for WLW radio and TV, and freelanced his first TV drama scripts for WKRC-TV's The Storm series, 1951-52. He moved to Connecticut in the fall of 1954, a year before O'Toole aired, then moved to Los Angeles before The Twilight Zone premiered in 1959.
It's been my dream for three decades to find and revive Serling's story involving the Cincinnati Reds. Through my connections with Serling historians, I tracked down the O'Toole script for Cincinnati Public Radio. We met with Anne Serling, and she gave us her blessing to our project.
One more full disclosure: The script was adapted for radio by… me. Yes, I spent part of last summer rewriting Rod Serling. (Who can say that?) I'm also a producer on the project.
In the play, set at the height of the "Red Scare," a Russian embassy worker named Mushnick is being sent back to Moscow from New York for re-education because of his high absenteeism due to attending Brooklyn Dodgers games. So Mushnick and a muscular 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, to Cincinnati.
In Cincinnati, Bishofsky panics and goes to the Reds offices to turn himself in. Then Mushnick bursts in to explain that Joseph – whom he calls "O'Toole" – is an outfielder wanting a tryout. The Reds give O'Toole a shot, and he ends up hitting the ball farther than real-life Reds slugger Ted Kluszewski.
In her review the next day, Cincinnati Post TV columnist Mary Wood wrote: "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."
Not much is known about NBC's original O'Toole From Moscow, performed live in a New York TV studio before the use of video tape was common. The cast included John Banner (later known as Sergeant Schultz on Hogan's Heroes) and Hall of Fame baseball manger Leo Durocher playing the Reds manager.
O'Toole was broadcast in 1955, two years after the Cincinnati team changed its name to the Redlegs as Cold War tensions heightened. In 1954, Congress held the televised hearings during which Sen. Joseph McCarthy claimed that the U.S. Army was "soft" on Communism. Also in 1954, Kluszewski led Major League Baseball with 49 home runs and 141 runs batted in.
Serling's script also references 1950's baseball stars Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Stan Musial and Yogi Berra. Mushnick's nickname is "Lippy," a nod to combative manager Leo "The Lip" Durocher. Serling calls the Reds' business manager "Gabe," a reference to Reds general manager Gabe Paul at the time.
In one scene, the Russian officer preparing to send Mushnick back to Moscow tells him: "You were overheard commenting favorably about YANKEES!"
Wood wrote in her review: "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.
"I think my dad – for the first time in his life – would have been speechless to know that after all these decades his script has come back to life," Anne Serling told me in November.
"I am thrilled to be a part of this recording ... I am so appreciative to you for doing this and grateful to be a part of it," she said
"O'Toole From Moscow" airs 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 25, on WVXU-FM and WMUB-FM, and streamed on wvxu.org.
This story has been updated to reflect the correct date "O'Toole From Moscow" will air.