Wyllis Cooper's "Quiet, Please!"

from Writer's Digest, May 1949
Radio & Television
By Harriet Cannon

"Quiet, please!" The voice is Ernest Chappell's, subdued
and full of portent. Every Sunday at 5:30 p.m., wherever the
vast network of the American Broadcasting Company reaches,
loyal fans settle down to their favorite half-hour in radio,
resolved to answer neither telephone nor doorbell, while they
listen to Quiet, Please! [The series began on the Mutual
Broadcasting System running from June '47 to September '48, 
then moved to ABC. The program ended in June '49.]

How long did it take you to read the above paragraph?
Perhaps seven seconds? That's exactly how much time elapses
on the air between Chappell's first, "Quiet, please!" and his
second repetition of the phrase. Seven seconds of dead air in
the introduction of a radio show is one of writer Wyllis
Cooper's innovations in the field.

Master of the weird and the whimsical, Cooper is both
writer and director of Quiet, Please! To date he has turned out
some 90-odd scripts, which are easy to listen to and "murder
to write."

Cooper writes to please his own taste. If other people like
his scripts, he's glad. But if they don't, he will suggest that
they turn the little knob on their radios and listen to something
else. One woman, irked by a Quiet, Please! program which
she couldn't understand, phoned Cooper and received the
usual polite answer. A little later she phoned again and when
Cooper answered, she replied, "Yah, yah, yah, drop dead!"
Then she hung up.

Cooper was at a loss for words -- but only briefly. He
seized upon the unexpected opportunity and wrote a script
called "Drop Dead!" He addressed himself to the
anonymous "dear lady," which, if she was listening, must have
filled her with remorse, demonstrating as it did the possible
and horrible consequences of her advice. [The episode was
ultimately entitled "Anonymous"]

A soft-spoken and genial man, Cooper is a newspaper
reporter "from way back when." He's been in radio, in
Chicago and New York, for twenty-one years. Lights Out, a
popular thriller of a few years ago, was his creation. He wrote
it for three years before Arch Oboler became associated with
it.

Always a prolific writer, Cooper recalls the old days in
radio, some 13 years ago, when in order to make a living from
the young medium, a writer had to turn out an inordinate
amount of material. At one time, Cooper was Continuity
Editor for NBC in Chicago, wrote Lights Out (for $13.50 a
script), had another half-hour show, and in his spare time, did
15 soap opera scripts a week. "I worked at home every
morning from five until nine," he says. "Then my secretary
would stop in, pick up the completed work and take it to the
office. I'd catch a quick nap and continue to work until eight
in the evening."

His pace hasn't slackened appreciably. Nowadays his
schedule runs something like this: Sunday: Rehearsal all
afternoon, then broadcast. Monday: Write from eight a.m. to
five p.m. Tuesday: Lay out next Sunday's show and answer
correspondence. Wednesday and Thursday. Write show.
Friday: Rehearsal.

Quiet, Please! is slow in tempo. Some of the scripts are
shorter than 18 pages, instead of the 25 to 30 that usually
comprise a half-hour dramatic show. He believes that radio
drama generally is played too fast; but he admits that he can
write in such an unorthodox manner only because he is his
own director.

"I know just what my lines are going to sound like," he
points out. Only three or four other writers in radio have the
same privilege and "all of them earned it through years of hard
work." Cooper says that writing good dialogue is harder work
than laying bricks. He ought to know -- he's laid them. He's
also worked in oil fields and on the railroads, and he’s utilized
much of this experience as background material in his scripts.
Cooper likes to think of himself as a rebel. To prove it, he
points to the fact that he has done fewer commercial shows
than any other writer in his class.

"I don't believe in too strong a story line because it's apt to
be too hard for the listener to keep in mind," he says. "The
charm in radio consists of good characterization. Plot should
consist of a twist rather than a formalized structure." He
doesn't rewrite, nor does he permit his actors to "ad lib"
although his dialogue achieves a smooth flowing naturalness.
He beats no drums, espouses no causes, says his function is
"to entertain." He admits that he is a "little hipped" on the
subject of the Atom Bomb, and tried to give his listeners "a
little extra-curricular thinking to do" in one of his scripts,
"Adam and the Darkest Day."

The ideas for Quiet, Please! are all Cooper's own. He has
no assistants. Often the casual remarks of a bartender or an
elevator boy will suggest a program theme to him. Sometimes
he'll open the Bible, which he knows well, and will select a
verse and build his script around it. Although in no sense a
"religious" show, his program has some of its strongest
supporters among the clergy.

There's no formula or pattern to Quiet, Please! other than
that it is always narrated in the first person by Ernest
Chappell, and has an eerie, slow-paced mood. Sometimes it's
macabre, sometimes hilarious, but always it is entertaining.
ABC reports that it gets more requests for Quiet, Please!
scripts than for those of any other show.

"My scripts are not intended to be read," Cooper insists.
"They're intended to be listened to." But his fans are more
insistent, and next fall will see the publication of a book of
radio scripts by Wyllis Cooper, entitled Quiet, Please!
[Alas, no such book was ever published.]


Here is our good friend, Wyllis Cooper.
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