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For more than 30 years, John Kiesewetter has been the source for information about all things in local media — comings and goings, local people appearing on the big or small screen, special programs, and much more. Contact John at johnkiese@yahoo.com.

WVXU Repeating Rod Serling's 'O'Toole From Moscow' Reds Comedy Wednesday


WVXU helps Reds fans get ready for Opening Day by repeating its production of Rod Serling's Reds baseball comedy, O'Toole From Moscow, at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 31.

Written during the Cold War, Serling's O'Toole From Moscow is about confusion between Russians and the Reds which results in a Soviet Union embassy staffer playing outfield for the Cincinnati baseball club.

O'Toole premiered last year on March 25, the evening before the Reds' original Opening Day canceled by the coronavirus.  The Reds open the 2021 season 4:10 p.m. Thursday against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park. Due to COVID-19, there will be no Opening Day parade and limited attendance.

o'toole from moscow ccm
Credit John Kiesewetter / WVXU

Eight students from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music recorded the play in November 2019 at Cincinnati Public Radio under the direction of Richard Hess, CCM professor of acting and directing.  Anne Serling, Rod's daughter, (center above with cast) is host and narrator for the one-hour radio program.

Rod Serling, the Twilight Zone creator, started his career in 1950 at Cincinnati's WLW TV and radio. He  wrote the one-hour television play for NBC Matinee Theatre after the team changed its name to the Redlegs when "Reds" became headline shorthand for Communists.  The teleplay was broadcast live at 3 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 12, 1955. It was not filmed or recorded.

Credit Courtesy ABC

Unlike most of his TV scripts, O'Toole is a comedy. In the play, set at the height of the "Red Scare," a Russian Embassy staffer named Mushnick was 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 Russian security officer named Joseph Bishofsky (played by Chuck Connors before TV's Rifleman) hopped a train and go as far as their money would take them – to Cincinnati.

In Cincinnati, Bishofsky panics and goes to the Reds offices to turn himself in. Mushnick burst in to explain that Joseph – whom he calls "O'Toole" – was an outfielder wanting a tryout. The Reds give O'Toole a shot, and he ends up hitting the ball farther than Reds slugger Ted Kluszewski.

Credit Courtesy John Schutte

The ball park music was provided by John Schutte, the Reds organist. Cincinnati Public Radio's Josh Elstro was the master engineer, and inserted the sound effects.

Full disclosure here: I've known about O'Toole From Moscow since 1989, when I first wrote a story for the Cincinnati Enquirer about Serling's life here. It's been my dream for three decades to find and revive Serling's story involving the Reds. I'm also a producer on WVXU's show, and adapted Serling's teleplay for radio.

O'Toole From Moscow airs 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 31, immediately after NPR's All Things Considered. It can also be heard at wvxu.org.

John Kiesewetter's reporting is independent. Cincinnati Public Radio only edits his articles for style and grammar. 

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.