Pekin, Illinois was the birthplace of radio, television and film creator/writer, Wyllis Cooper, on January 26, 1899. After graduating from Pekin High School in 1916, Cooper joined the U.S. Cavalry and fought on the Mexican Border. After the war, he moved to Chicago and wrote advertising copy, but he soon found his niche in writing scripts for the NBC radio program, The Empire Builders.
Cooper began to create radio programs and became best known for writing and directing a late night radio series called Lights Out, a horror-filled program that was recognized for its realistic sound effects. Cooper would go on to write numerous series and programs for radio networks, including The Campbell Playhouse, Quiet, Please, and NBC’s Whitehall 1212.
When the call came to write and direct the new crime-drama, Whitehall 1212, in 1951, Cooper was working on Lights Out. Arch Oboler took over writing scripts for the show when he left and later gave Cooper credit for being the first to write “radio drama.”
Whitehall 1212 was based on “the most baffling cases of Scotland Yard,” and starred a cast of all British actors including Winston Ross, Horace Braham and Patricia Courtleigh. The true stories were based on tales surrounding actual relics at Scotland Yard’s “Black Museum,” and were introduced by a hysterical female voice shouting, “Whitehall 1212!” The answer to her call was always, “This is Scotland Yard.”
CBS broadcast Whitehall 1212, but the show only lasted one season because of its similarity to Orson Welle’s The Black Museum, which was broadcast on Mutual at the same time Whitehall 1212 was running. It was known in radio circles that because Whitehall 1212 used the facts behind Scotland Yard’s crime cases, Cooper never got to show the creativity that was obvious on Quiet, Please and Lights Out.
Because of the success of Lights Out, Cooper resigned from NBC and moved to Hollywood, California where he wrote for several film studios. He wrote the screenplay for the classic film, “Son of Frankenstein” and also penned several “Mr. Moto” films. “Ygor,” a character in “Son of Frankenstein” was one of the most memorable that Cooper created.
Wyllis Cooper was 56 years old when he died on June 22, 1955 at a local hospital near his neighborhood of Glen Garden, New Jersey.
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