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Death and Desire


Retired circus actors hit upon an ingenious scheme of conning people with a spirit-medium act. But trouble starts when the spirit dies.



Air Dates

  • First Run - May 8, 1978
  • Repeat - October 17, 1978





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5 Responses to Episode 0829

Two retired circus performers start a fake medium routine. When the "ghost" dies, problems arise.

Ramon Jacinto

Former circus and sideshow performers Orville and Melba (Robert Dryden and Mercedes McCambridge in two of the best characters in CBSRMT history) are in for a loop when their con job spirit-mediium act is challenged. McCambridge and Dryden's voices are like a steak dinner: meaty and flavorful for the ears. Wonderful job with the script by these two -- but McCambridge is stellar. You can see why she was picked as the demon's voice in The Exorcist during the second act. Close your eyes and think of the possessed Regan.


Don’t let the hokey teaser to ‘Death and Desire’ put you off of a great story with fantastic character performances and a warm and meaningful ending. Mercedes McCambridge and Robert Dryden play an aging married couple of ex-circus freaks forced to moonlight as psychics to make ends meet during retirement. When a séance goes south they experience events that change their lives… literally forever. McCambridge (aka “Fatso”) is incredible and I can’t recall more definitive or memorable character ownership since Arnold Moss as Roderick in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ (in ‘Death and Desire’ Moss happens to play a warmly endearing and paternally forgiving owner of the circus). Robert Dryden – the ubiquitous utility player in the CBS series – shines as well, especially during the back and forth between his character (“The Human X-ray”) and the domineering matriarch McCambridge. All performances are amazing and memorable. Writer Elspeth Eric was sometimes hit and miss on Mystery Theater but her style was always interesting and unique (case in point ‘Death’ and another episode ‘The Last Plan’). Common to her narratives was a loose but not untidy thread where the listener is forced to consider the future of the players past the story’s end. More than any other Radio Mystery episode I can recall, this one carries a strong message about the meaning of life… and beyond. Foundational Christian values abound here and I think E.G. Marshall didn’t quite know how to conclude this “story that I didn’t understand at all!” Was Marshall being overly-provocative here, or did he lack familiarity in common Christian faith modalities? Marshall’s epilogue makes me want to understand his background more. I give ‘Death’ 4 out of 5 stars. - JUROR #4


This one was so WEIRD... but delightfully quirky! Mercedes McCambridge shines! Her interpretation breathes life into this character. The story is sort of mild but I would listen to this again. Summerland...


Love Mercedes McCambridge!


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