Radio Memories

Young Widder Brown


Murder and Madness in Young Widder Brown

by Larry Maupin

In On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, John Dunning lists the first broadcast of the series as November 20, 1939 and the final one as November 25, 1960 (p.735). It was initially aired over the ABC Blue Network at 11:15am until April 26, 1940 and sponsored by General Foods and Post Cereals. Then it moved to CBS at 1:30pm and added Proctor & Gamble as a sponsor.

As background information Dunning notes (p.736) that "still in her early 30s, Ellen struggled to raise her children in the small-town mentality of Simpsonville, West Virginia. Here lurked an inspired string of tragedies that transcended even [producers Frank and Anne Hummert's] usual fare." Newsweek toasted a few of them as Ellen departed in 1956: "There were a false accusation of murder, amnesia, innumerable broken bones, addiction to a 'powder of forgetfulness' slipped into her drink (non-alcoholic, to be sure) by an unscrupulous painter, and blindness brought on by an allergy to chocolate cake (an affliction cured when a cake-flour cosponsor complained)."

In The Great Radio Soap Operas, author Jim Cox (p289) states that "While the hypothesis of Young Widder Brown dealt with the obstacle course that prevented Ellen from achieving a second marriage, along the way it also allowed her to become an astute businesswoman. To sustain her family she was able to purchase a tearoom in Simpsonville. Once again she had plenty of company among her peers. Several women on other dramas introduced in the 1930s demonstrated their prowess at running small business ventures. On the death of her husband, Ma Perkins took over the operation of his lumberyard. Brenda Cummings, heroine of Second Husband, and Stella Dallas both ran successful sewing shops. The title character on Jenny Peabody was the proprietress of a minor hotel. Manhattan Mother's central character became a noted businesswoman. The protagonist in Kitty Keane, Incorporated managed her own detective agency. And on Arthur Grimm's Daughter, Connie Tremayne ran a lingerie emporium. All were enterprising and at least modestly successful entrepreneurs."

By using RadioGoldindex: The Definitive Database of Old Time Radio Programs, I have been able to trace this story line from its beginning until it ends without resolution, leaving a number of intriguing unanswered questions which invite endless discussion and speculation.

Direct quotes from the GoldIndex will be attributed.

October 26, 1950: Ellen is in her home in Simpsonville "chatting with Mariah Hawkins. Mariah's big news (and a new story line) is about a wealthy widower moving into town."

October 30, 1950: "Horace Steele moves to Simpsonville."

November 9, 1950: Horace Steele and Ellen have a leisurely lunch in New River City. He mentions that Lita Haddon may come to Simpsonville.

November 10, 1950: "Jacqueline Steele is worried that Lita might be coming to Simpsonville. She is on her way!"

November 15, 1950: "Horace is very concerned that Lita will arrive this afternoon."

November 16, 1950: "Lita Haddon stops by Horace Steele's mansion, making Jacqueline Stele (sic) more angry than usual." Then Jacqueline visits Ellen to urge her to marry Horace before Lita makes his life miserable.

December 18, 1950: During a conversation with Bruce Weldon, Ellen calls Lita a "lost soul."

December 20, 1950: "Lita tells Horace that Ellen will never marry him and that she will kill herself if he doesn't marry her."

December 28, 1950: "Horace bribes Lita to leave town. She gets Horace angry enough to threaten to kill her."

[The next 3 summaries are from cassette tapes provided by Ted Davenport.]

January 3, 1951: The episode, appropriately titled "Horace Proposes To Ellen." opens with his just having asked her hand in marriage. Anthony stands miserably outside in the cold awaiting the outcome, and village gossip Mariah Hawkins spots him and comes to the rescue, driving him home with her for coffee and donuts to cheer him up. Horace thinks Ellen alone can save his life, save him from Lita Haddon, which is reflected in the desperation with which he proposes. Finally Ellen says "I can't marry you Horace. I don't love you."

The announcer concludes with "Ellen watches Horace Steele walk down the path to his car and drive away, and the tears roll slowly down her face as her heart grows heavy with the realization of how she has hurt this good man. What repercussions will follow this rejection of Horace Steele by Young Widder Brown?

January 4, 1951: After leaving Ellen's house Horace Steele goes to a drugstore in the village and telephones his daughter Jacqueline. She is downstairs having a glass of milk. He asks her if Lita has gone to bed yet. She tells him no, but to come right home and she will fix him a warm drink. She asks him where he has been, and he replies "Watching the end of a dream." Then he asks her, "Could you be packed by morning to take a plane to South America with me?" She agrees at once to go with him.

January 5, 1951: "Horace Steele comes home to a confrontation with Lita Haddon. She begs him to marry her, but he refuses her again. He says 'I have only scorn for you.' They both pull guns and shots ring out. Both are wounded in the exchange of gunfire, Horace fatally. Lita is hit in the arm and taken to the hospital. At this point faithful listeners know all the circumstances of Horace's death, and the subsequent trial of Dr. Anthony Loring for Steele's murder would seem to be anticlimactic. It might have been except for the remarkable story of Lita's background and how she came to be responsible for prosecutor Bruce Weldon's decision to indict Anthony on a charge of first degree murder.

In an undated episode which is designated Part 3 of 8 under the heading "Fiancee on Trial" in the Old Time Radio Researchers Library collection, we learn that as a girl (possibly an orphan) Lita attended Enid Scott's School for Young Ladies in Linden, Connecticut. The school was located in an old mansion, and Miss Scott came to love Lita as the daughter she never had. Many years later she remembers vividly how beautiful Lita's dark eyes were. How Lita subsequently became a New York socialite, what made her decide to go to Simpsonville, and why she fell in love with Horace Steele are and will remain matters of conjecture.

According to Jim Cox in The Great Radio Soap Operas (p.292) "Things heated up when a New York socialite, Lita Haddon, moved to town a short time later. As soon as she learned that her old flame Horace [was in love with] Ellen, she unequivocally informed Ellen that she-- Lita-- would marry Horace. She threatened Ellen, warning her that disaster would follow if Ellen pursued a friendship with Horace." It did. "A short time later Anthony was summoned to the Steele home and found Horace shot to death." Anthony is subsequently charged with Steele's murder.

[The next 2 summaries are from episodes on cassettes sent to me by Ted Davenport]

On April 2nd, the day before the trial begins, the announcer states that tomorrow the prosecutor will plead his case that Anthony murdered Horace Steele. Lita will be the star witness. A bundle of love letters written to Steele and bearing Ellen's signature will be introduced as evidence during the trial as a possible motive for Anthony's murdering him. Ellen tells Anthony that she thinks Lita forged them or possibly had someone else do it. Then she says that Horace "let her be his friend. He listened to her when she advised him about his daughter Jacqueline." After his wife's death, Horace turned to Lita for consolation and she came to believe that he was in love with her. "He led her on, and the poor girl believed it."

On April 3rd the trial begins and prosecutor Ralph Jordan lays out his case. He will contend that the love letters signed by Ellen and written to the rich widower Horace Steele were the motive that led Anthony Loring to murder him "in a fit of jealous rage." Ellen, who attended Horace's funeral instead of going to the courtroom, comes home and finds her friend Bruce Weldon waiting in her living room. He warns her that "Ralph Jordan will have no mercy when you go on the witness stand." Meanwhile, after the first day of the trial has been concluded, Anthony sits in his cell at New River City Prison reading over a letter he has just written to Ellen. He says the he noticed "your chair was empty in the courtroom. As empty as my heart."

From this point on, because Lita is prosecutor Ralph Jordan's star witness there is a desperate attempt to discredit her by those sympathetic to Anthony and Ellen, led by Ellen's friend Bruce Weldon. He hires investigator Kevin Walsh to go to Connecticut and learn all he can about Lita's background.

On April 3rd, Ellen gives Walsh "a list of questions to ask Miss Scott" when he visits her (GoldIndex).

On April 4th, Ellen has withstood interrogation by Ralph Jordan. Jacqueline tells Ellen what she remembers about Miss Scott, her old school in Connecticut, and Lita Haddon. Kevin Walsh arrives at Miss Scott's office. However, Lita has already telephoned her, and she refuses to give him any information (GoldIndex).

In Part 4 of 8 in the OTRR Library's undated sequence described as "Fiancee On Trial" Walsh phones from Connecticut to ask Ellen to describe the color of Lita's eyes because it is important to the investigation that he is conducting on her behalf. She describes them as green and yellow, and he abruptly hangs up.

As the trial proceeds, one evening Lita Haddon visits Ellen at her home in Simpsonville and angrily departs after they quarrel about Ellen's testimony.

Summaries of the following two episodes are from GoldIndex:

April 11, 1951: "Amanda Jordan, sister of the District Attorney, meets with Lita. When Amanda asks her if she was ever in a mental institution, Lita gets angry and answers "Of course not!" Then she gets a strange telephone call "from a woman about a dog."

April 18, 1951: Bruce Weldon tells Ellen that Anthony's attorney Herbert Temple "feels that they have little chance of winning."

And so the story line is left suspended here. The final dated episode that has survived is from April 24th, when the prosecutor puts Anthony on the stand, which has already occurred. April 18th is the last one in the sequence that provides any new information.

The August, 1951 issue of Radio Television Mirror (p.98) contains a brief summary of what appears to have been the final episode of the story line concerning Horace Steele's death and its aftermath. It reads "Thanks to Ellen Brown's efforts, Dr. Anthony Loring, the man she loves, is cleared of the murder of Horace Steele." By this time even occasional listeners would have been well aware that Horsce died in an exchange of gunfire with Lita Haddon, and it is significant that no mention is made of District Attorney Ralph Jordan's intention of charging Lita with a crime. She was, after all, wounded in the shootout and could have been acting in self-defense. The summary concludes with the statement that "Victoria Loring, Anthony's sister, holds Ellen responsible" for his death. "How far will she go in her resentment?

As for Lita Haddon, the star witness for the prosecution and possibly the most interesting and definitely the most intriguing character in the story line, a number of questions about her background and personality remain unexplained. How did she come to be a pupil at Miss Scott's School for Young Ladies in Linden, Connecticut? Was she an orphan? How did the shy little girl with unforgettable dark eyes grow up to be a New York socialite with eyes that were green and yellow? What were her motives in moving to Simpsonville? Was she a fortune hunter? Was she pure evil, as some believed? Was she insane? Sometimes unanswered questions can be the best ones.

Notes: (1) 12 episodes involving a different plot are now available from Ted Davenport on 2 CDs. They are dated and sequential, beginning with May 15, 1950 and ending with May 31, 1950. Their sound quality is close to perfect. To order them at a very reasonable price, contact Ted at tedotr52@gmail,com; (2) Barbara Watkins and Rick Davenport of the Old Time Radio Researchers Group contributed to this article. Barbara sent me the entire August, 1951 issue of Radio Television Mirror, and Rick sent several great visual illustrations including photographs and radio broadcast logs; (3) I wrote many of the episode summaries after listening to cassette tapes that Ted Davenport sent to me.

Note: 12 episodes following a different Young Widder Brown story line and sequentially dated beginning with May 16, 1950 and concluding with May 31, 1950 are now available on 2 CDs at a very reasonable price. The sound quality of the ones I have heard is flawless. They can be purchased by contacting Ted Davenport at