Nelson Olmsted, (January 28, 1914, Minneapolis, Minnesota - April 8, 1992, Torrance, California) was an actor in films, recordings, radio and television from the 1950s to the 1970s. Sometimes billed as Nelson Olmstead, he was best known for an unusual NBC radio series, Sleep No More(1956-57), in which he narrated his own adaptations of terror tales and science-fantasy stories. Ben Grauer was the program's announcer.
After study at the University of Texas, Olmsted began in radio in the late 1930s as an announcer for WBAP in Fort Worth, Texas. When he launchedBlack Night (1937–39), a late night 30-minute horror series, it was only a local program, but it created a sensation, with mail arriving at WBAP from ten states. A review in Radio News took note of the chilling music (by Gene Baugh) and horrific sound effects (by A.M. Woodford). Produced by Ken Douglass, the series began November 5, 1937 with Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell Tale Heart" and then continued on with original scripts by Virginia Wiltten. Olmsted starred and was heard in a variety of different roles.
Within a year, the impact of Black Night catapulted Olmsted to New York, where he was immediately established as NBC's resident storyteller, a position he held for over a decade, beginning with The World's Greatest Short Stories (1939, 1944, 1947) and Dramas by Olmsted (1940–41).
Today, Olmsted is best remembered for his spoken word recordings released by the Vanguard Recording Society. One of these was the LP version ofSleep No More! The album's back cover featured a box in which Olmsted delivered a capsule summary of his life:
- Now that I think of it, we had a sort of Golden Age of Drama down in Austin, Texas, during those depressed middle thirties. There was the Curtain Club of the University of Texas and Austin’s Little Theatre, and working between them were such aspirants as Zachary Scott, Elaine Anderson Scott, Eli Wallach, Walter Cronkite, Brooks West and Alma Holloway, whom I had sense enough to marry. Most of them came on to New York, fought the actor’s battle, and made it one way or another. I stayed behind with the security of a radio announcer’s job. By the time I moved to WBAP, in Fort Worth, this security was pulling, and the announcer’s life seemed endlessly sterile. What to do about it? Dramatic shows cost money and there were no budgets. The cheapest drama for radio I could think of was good literature, read aloud. Especially the work of that great dramatist who never wrote a play -- Edgar Allan Poe. WBAP gave me some time with which to experiment. That was way back in 1939 -- and it worked. By 1940, the storytelling show was on NBC for a ten-year run. There were a couple of years out for the Army, but even so I managed to tell stories over the Army radio network in Italy. Television brought rough competition to the industry. Rather than fight, I joined by adapting some of the best stories into plays, selling them to Fred Coe, and playing a part in them -- sometimes the lead. So -- in the long run -- I got to New York, too, and made it as an actor, literally by telling stories!