Ceiling Unlimited

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Ceiling Unlimited
Boeing B-17D in flight.jpg
Genre
Running time
  • 15 minutes (1942–1943)
  • 30 minutes (1943–1944)
Country United States
Language(s) English
Home station CBS
Host(s)
Starring Various
Creator(s) Orson Welles
Writer(s)
  • Orson Welles (episodes 1–13)
  • Arthur Miller
  • Harry Kronman
  • Winston Norman
  • Mandred Lloyd
  • Harry Kronman
  • others
Director(s) Orson Welles (episodes 1–13)
Producer(s)
  • Orson Welles (episodes 1–13)
  • Thomas Freebairn-Smith (after February 1943)
Narrated by Orson Welles (episodes 1–13)
Air dates November 9, 1942 to April 30, 1944
No. of series 2
No. of episodes 78

Ceiling Unlimited (later known as America — Ceiling Unlimited) (1942–1944) is a CBS radio series created by Orson Welles and sponsored by the Lockheed-Vega Corporation. The program was conceived to glorify the aviation industry and dramatize its role in World War II.

"Welles wrote, produced, and narrated this show, and his work was considered a prime contribution to the war effort," wrote the Museum of Broadcasting.[1]

At the end of Welles's 13-episode contract (November 9, 1942–February 1, 1943), Ceiling Unlimited was hosted by a variety of personalities including Charles Boyer, Joe E. Brown, Ronald Colman, Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, Alan Ladd, William Powell, Basil Rathbone, Edward G. Robinson and writer James Hilton.

Ceiling Unlimited began as a 15-minute drama series broadcast Mondays at 7:15 p.m. ET. The program changed format for its second season, becoming a half-hour variety show hosted by Joseph Cotten. Retitled America — Ceiling Unlimited, the program featured vocalists Nan Wynn and Constance Moore, and music by Wilbur Hatch. The show aired Sundays at 2 p.m. ET beginning August 8, 1943, and ending April 30, 1944.

Production[edit]

Orson Welles and Col. Arthur I. Ennis of the U.S. Department of War's Bureau of Public Relations discuss plans for the new radio series Ceiling Unlimited (October 26, 1942)
P-38 Lightning assembly line at the Lockheed aircraft plant, Burbank, California, c. 1942[2]
Production line at the Vega aircraft plant in Burbank, California, c. 1941
Riveter at the Lockheed aircraft plant in Burbank, California
Douglas Dauntless production line at the Douglas aircraft plant in El Segundo, California, 1943

Orson Welles returned to the United States August 22, 1942, after six months of filming in Latin America at the behest of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs and serving as what Welles termed "a kind of Ambassador extraordinary." [3]:150 Within weeks he began to plan two CBS radio dramas to be broadcast on consecutive nights: Ceiling Unlimited, and Hello Americans, a docudrama to promote inter-American understanding and friendship during World War II.[4]:351

Ceiling Unlimited was a morale-boosting anthology of stories about heroic tales of aviation. Described by radio historian John Dunning as "aggressively patriotic," the program was sponsored by the Lockheed-Vega Corporation. There were no commercial breaks; the company was content to have just three one-line mentions throughout each show. It was noted in the contemporary press that as Lockheed and Vega had only one lucrative customer — the wartime Allied governments — they did not need to advertise.[5]

"Its purpose, one of simple propaganda, was to boost morale within the industry in order to underpin the vast increase in productivity the war demanded," wrote Welles biographer Simon Callow.[6]:157

"Ceiling Unlimited accomplished news reportage, entertainment and education while its ever changing format kept the listener interested in the material presented," wrote biographer Bret Wood. "The purpose was not to strike fear into the hearts of Americans or to develop overconfidence, but to exemplify a confident, knowledgeable attitude of the war effort and to make the public aware of the sacrifices necessary to win the war."[7]:123

Lockheed-Vega established a research bureau in Washington, D.C., to develop story ideas and identify true stories in the files of disparate government agencies. For his part, Welles acquainted himself with the Flying Fortress and other aircraft at the Lockheed-Vega plants in California, wrote biographer Frank Brady: "Sporting an employee's identification badge and wearing a silver-colored hard hat, he poked his nose into machinery, ate box lunches with executives, and talked to the workers on the assembly lines. He became enmeshed in the love of flight."[4]:351–352

Welles titled the series Ceiling Unlimited. "He thought it both romantic and evocative," wrote biographer Frank Brady, "but the sponsors disagreed. For weeks, in publicity releases and other references the program was called 'the new Orson Welles Show,' and it wasn't until two days before the broadcast, when it appeared that Orson would not relent, that Ceiling Unlimited became official."[4]:351

Playwright Arthur Miller was one of the writers for the show, and Welles asked him to create its format. Miller and Welles were the same age, 27; both were veterans of the Federal Theatre Project and they worked together easily.[4]:351–352 They had worked together once before; Welles performed a nuanced drama about Benito JuárezJuarez: Thunder from the Hills, a verse play written by Miller — before a live audience on the September 28, 1942, broadcast of Cavalcade of America. [8][3]:372

Ceiling Unlimited began November 9, 1942. Each week, announcer Pat McGeehan repeated, "Man has always looked to the heavens for help and inspiration, and from the skies too will come his victory and his future."[9] Welles cast many of his Mercury Theatre company of actors, including Ray Collins, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead and Everett Sloane.[10] Bernard Herrmann created the music for the first 13 shows.[11]

Welles's run on the program overlapped with his other CBS radio series, Hello Americans, which was broadcast on Sunday nights while Ceiling Unlimited aired on Monday nights. His radio success was "a psychic exhilarant" for Welles, wrote biographer Frank Brady: "After the difficulties of It's All True and the discredit of Ambersons, compounded by the humiliation of being turned away by RKO, he began to regain his confidence with the positive radio reviews that appeared across the nation."[4]:353

"Ceiling Unlimited demonstrated Welles's talent when taken to extremes," summarized biographer Bret Wood. "Fifteen minutes was hardly enough time to accomplish the different goals set forth, but he did his best to cover the spectrum of emotions and topics, sometimes to great effect but more often with campy results. The context in which the program was originally heard can never be recreated, so Ceiling unlimited is impossible to objectively assess. Its sister program Hello Americans is less dated and for various reasons is superior to its less subdued counterpart."[7]:124

Welles left Ceiling Unlimited at the end of his 13-episode contract, concluding the broadcast on February 1, 1943, with a statement: "For a while, the Mercury Theatre is going off the air. Next week my friend Ronald Colman will tell you the story about the Douglas Dauntless, the world's greatest dive bomber. We very much wish it were possible to go on writing and producing these radio plays. We've never been happier. … We leave with real regret."[12][13]

Welles began shooting the film Jane Eyre February 3, 1943,[14] and started to prepare The Mercury Wonder Show, a 1943 magic-and-variety stage show for U.S. soldiers.[3]:177–180

Guest hosts[edit]

Ronald Colman was the guest host on the February 8, 1943, edition of Ceiling Unlimited, the first to be broadcast after Welles's departure. Future shows of the season would continue to use celebrity guest hosts, including Marlene Dietrich, Alan Ladd, Brian Donlevy, Frank Morgan, Ralph Morgan, Basil Rathbone, Robert Young, Cary Grant, Claire Trevor, Edward G. Robinson, Adolphe Menjou, and Walter Abel.[15]

From June 28 through August 2, 1943, Ceiling Unlimited was hosted by author James Hilton.[16]:145 [17] Reviewing a July broadcast, Billboard wrote, "Hilton's ceiling is zero-zero … Like many other ideas, James Hilton as a radio program sounded like a million dollars on paper and a thin dime on the air."[18] Hilton published Ceiling Unlimited (1943), a boxed limited edition of 100 signed copies of his six scripts for the program.[19]

Second season[edit]

The second season of the series began August 8, 1943 and followed more of a musical/variety format, with the series retitled America — Ceiling Unlimited. It was presented by Welles's friend and collaborator Joseph Cotten. It contained 39 episodes, the last of which was broadcast on April 30, 1944.[20]

Such were the differences from the first season format that Old Time Radio enthusiast website The Digital Deli argues, "Any attempt to simply conflate Ceiling Unlimited and America, Ceiling Unlimited is just silly. They're entirely different formats … The only elements common to both programs were their sponsor and the phrase, Ceiling Unlimited".[21]

John Steinbeck stories[edit]

As part of the January 25, 1943, episode of Ceiling Unlimited, Welles presented a John Steinbeck short story written specifically for broadcast. Called "Flyer Come Home with Your Wings"[3]:376[7]:128 or simply "With Your Wings", it relates the homecoming of a decorated pilot, later revealed to be black, and his realization of the meaning that his achievement has for his family and community. The script and recording are included with the Orson Welles materials at the Lilly Library.[22][23] Welles presented the story once more, to conclude the final episode of his CBS radio series, The Orson Welles Almanac, broadcast July 19, 1944.[24]

Virtually forgotten, the story was published in November 2014, after a transcript of the broadcast was found in the archives of the University of Texas at Austin by Andrew Gulli, managing editor of The Strand Magazine.[25] "With Your Wings" appeared in the quarterly magazine's holiday issue. "To the best of my knowledge, and that of the Steinbeck estate, it's never been published before," Gulli wrote.[26][27]

Another Steinbeck story, "Letter to Mother", was presented on Ceiling Unlimited January 18, 1943. The Lilly Library also holds this manuscript and recording with its Orson Welles materials.[23][22]

In addition to working for the Writers' War Board,[28] Steinbeck was one of the writers who contributed to the Voice of America, a service of the United States Office of War Information.[29]:65 John Houseman, Welles's erstwhile partner in the Mercury Theatre, was chief of radio programming for the Overseas Branch of the OWI and ran the Voice of America from February 1942 through June 1943.[29]:96, 104[30]

Episodes[edit]

The vast majority of episodes are believed to be missing, although they may still exist in private collections. Currently, six first-season episodes and four second-season episodes are in circulation among fans of Old Time Radio.[31]

Ceiling Unlimited[edit]

Audiotapes of 12 of the 13 Ceiling Unlimited programs produced by Orson Welles are in the collection of the Lilly Library at Indiana University Bloomington. Missing from the collection is the December 7, 1942, broadcast, in which Welles reads Norman Rosten's poem, Back to Bataan; only the bound script is in the collection.[22][23]

Where indicated, some recordings are available at the Internet Archive. A trial recording of the first program, "Flying Fortress", can be heard at the Old Time Radio Researchers Group Library.[32]

"War Workers" is one of four of Welles's wartime radio broadcasts included as supplementary material in the Kino Classics restoration of The Stranger (1946), released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc in October 2013.[33]

# Date Program
1 November 9, 1942 Flying Fortress by Ranald MacDougall and Norman Rosten
Cast: Orson Welles, Erskine Sanford, Ray Collins; music by Bernard Herrmann
2 November 16, 1942 Air Transport Command
Cast: Orson Welles; music by Bernard Herrmann
3 November 23, 1942 The Navigator by Orson Welles and Milton Geiger
Cast: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Ray Collins, Agnes Moorehead, Elliott Reid; music by Bernard Herrmann
Promoting the third broadcast in the series Welles stated, "Everyone knows the skill and courage it takes to become a pilot, but few realize the concentration, knowledge, quick wit and steady nerves required of the navigator."[34]
4 November 30, 1942 Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, adapted by Orson Welles
Cast: Orson Welles, Burgess Meredith; music by Bernard Herrmann
5 December 7, 1942 Ballad of Bataan by Norman Rosten
Cast: Orson Welles; music by Bernard Herrmann
6 December 14, 1942 War Workers by Hans Conreid[12]
Cast: Orson Welles; music by Bernard Herrmann
Welles "interviews" members of the diverse workforce at the Vega airplane factory[35]
7 December 21, 1942 Gremlins by Lucille Fletcher[12]
Cast: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, Lou Merrill; music by Bernard Herrmann
Christmas episode[36]
8 December 28, 1942 Pan American Airlines by Milton Geiger[12]
Cast: Orson Welles; music by Bernard Herrmann[37]
9 January 4, 1943 Anti-Submarine Patrol
Cast: Edward G. Robinson substituting for Orson Welles;[38][39] music by Bernard Herrmann
10 January 11, 1943 Finger in the Wind by Myron Dutton
Cast: Orson Welles; music by Bernard Herrmann
11 January 18, 1943 Letter to Mother by John Steinbeck
Cast: Betty Garde (Mother), Orson Welles; music by Bernard Herrmann
12 January 25, 1943 John Steinbeck's Flyer Come Home with Your Wings[3]:376[7]:128 (also titled With Your Wings[22][23])
Mrs. James and the Pot of Tea by John Tucker Battle
Cast: Orson Welles; music by Bernard Herrmann
13 February 1, 1943 The Future[12]
Cast: Orson Welles (final show in his 13-episode contract); music by Bernard Herrmann
Set three years in the future at La Guardia Airport
14 February 8, 1943 Dive Bomber
Cast: Ronald Colman
15 February 15, 1943 Drama about a German mother whose son is fighting for Hitler
Cast: Marlene Dietrich, Maria Riva
16 February 22, 1943 Arctic Rescue
Cast: Alan Ladd
17 March 1, 1943 Flight Surgeon
Cast: Ralph Morgan, Frank Morgan
18 March 8, 1943 Cast: James Gleason, Pat O'Malley
19 March 15, 1943 Air Transport Command
Cast: Agnes Moorehead
20 March 22, 1943 Alberto Santos-Dumont
Cast: Charles Boyer
21 March 29, 1943 Mr. Split-Second
Cast: Basil Rathbone
22 April 5, 1943
23 April 12, 1943
24 April 19, 1943 God's Corporals and Hymn to a Hero
Cast: William Powell[40]and Agnes Moorehead
25 April 26, 1943 Big Town, 1955 A.D.
Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Ona Munson
26 May 3, 1943 Cast: Walter Abel, Claire Trevor
27 May 10, 1943 Rulers of Earth aka Dictators Meeting in Hell[12]
Cast: Orson Welles (The Devil), George Coulouris (Napoleon), Pedro de Cordoba (Philip), Joe Kearns (Louis) Lou Merrill, Hans Conreid (The Kaiser); music composed and conducted by Anthony Collins[41]
28 May 17, 1943 I Saw War
Cast: Joe E. Brown
29 May 24, 1943 Island in the Sky
Cast: Cary Grant
30 May 31, 1943
31 June 7, 1943
32 June 14, 1943 First Mission
Cast: Joseph Cotten
33 June 21, 1943 Cast: Robert Young
34 June 28, 1943 Radar, the Secret Weapon
Cast: James Hilton
35 July 5, 1943 Cast: James Hilton
36 July 12, 1943 Cast: James Hilton
37 July 19, 1943 Cast: James Hilton
38 July 26, 1943 Cast: James Hilton
39 August 2, 1943 Cast: James Hilton

America — Ceiling Unlimited[edit]

Beginning Sunday, August 8, 1943, Joseph Cotten hosted the 30-minute variety series still sponsored by Lockheed and Vega but now titled America — Ceiling Unlimited. In his 1987 autobiography, Cotten recalled that at the end of the first broadcast he was summoned to the control booth for a telephone call: "It was Groucho Marx. He congratulated me and said that he had not only enjoyed the show, but had also been completely sold by the commercial. 'Just where can I buy a P-38?' he asked."[42]

# Date Program
1 August 8, 1943 Cast: Joseph Cotten, Nan Wynn
2 August 15, 1943 Cast: Joseph Cotten
3 August 22, 1943 Cast: Joseph Cotten
4 August 29, 1943 Cast: Joseph Cotten
5 September 5, 1943 A Smart Soldier Like Me
Cast: Joseph Cotten
6 September 12, 1943 Cast: Joseph Cotten
7 September 19, 1943 Cast: Joseph Cotten
8 September 26, 1943 Johnny Flynn and the Scourge of the Desert
Cast: Joseph Cotten
9 October 3, 1943 Cast: Joseph Cotten, Ben Lyon
10 October 10, 1943 Cast: Joseph Cotten
11 October 17, 1943 Cast: Joseph Cotten
12 October 24, 1943 Cast: Joseph Cotten
13 October 31, 1943 Cast: Joseph Cotten
14 November 7, 1943 Cast: Joseph Cotten
15 November 14, 1943 Cast: Joseph Cotten, Constance Moore
16 November 21, 1943 Cast: Joseph Cotten, Constance Moore
17 November 28, 1943 Cast: Joseph Cotten
18 December 5, 1943 Cast: Joseph Cotten
19 December 12, 1943 Cast: Joseph Cotten
20 December 19, 1943 A Letter to an Unborn Son[12]
Cast: Joseph Cotten, Constance Moore; music by Wilbur Hatch
With Agnes Moorehead, Pedro de Cordoba, Hans Conreid, Lou Merrill
21 December 26, 1943 Flight Report
Cast: Joseph Cotten, Constance Moore
22 January 2, 1944 Custody of the Cook
Cast: Joseph Cotten
23 January 9, 1944 Cajun Cradle
Cast: Joseph Cotten
24 January 16, 1944 The Little People by Frank Richardson Pierce
Cast: Joseph Cotten
25 January 23, 1944 Girl Adrift by Richard Howels Watkins
Cast: Joseph Cotten
26 January 30, 1944 Cast: Joseph Cotten
27 February 6, 1944 Cast: Joseph Cotten
28 February 13, 1944 Remember This Day
Cast: Joseph Cotten, Constance Moore
29 February 20, 1944 Those Who Were On the Ferry
Cast: Joseph Cotten, Constance Moore
30 February 27, 1944 Comes the Devil
Cast: Joseph Cotten, Constance Moore
31 March 5, 1944 Situation Well in Hand by Vina Delmar
Cast: Joseph Cotten, Constance Moore
32 March 12, 1944 Cast: Joseph Cotten, Constance Moore; music by Wilbur Hatch
33 March 19, 1944 Cast: Joseph Cotten
34 March 26, 1944 The Bride and Delehanty
Cast: Joseph Cotten
35 April 2, 1944 George is a Noble Guy by George F. Jenkins
Cast: Joseph Cotten, Constance Moore
36 April 9, 1944 Hymn to a Hero and God's Corporals[12]
Cast: Joseph Cotten, Constance Moore; music by Wilbur Hatch
With Agnes Moorehead
37 April 16, 1944 A Date in Bethesda
Cast: Joseph Cotten, Constance Moore
38 April 23, 1944 Cast: Joseph Cotten
39 April 30, 1944 Cast: Joseph Cotten

References[edit]

  1. ^ Orson Welles on the Air: The Radio Years. New York: The Museum of Broadcasting, catalogue for exhibition October 28–December 3, 1988, page 64
  2. ^ Parker, Dana T. Building Victory: Aircraft Manufacturing in the Los Angeles Area in World War II, pp. 59, 75-6, Cypress, CA, 2013. ISBN 978-0-9897906-0-4.
  3. ^ a b c d e Welles, Orson and Peter Bogdanovich, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum, This is Orson Welles. New York: HarperCollins Publishers 1992 ISBN 0-06-016616-9
  4. ^ a b c d e Brady, Frank, Citizen Welles: A Biography of Orson Welles. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1989 ISBN 0-385-26759-2
  5. ^ John Dunning, On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998) page 145
  6. ^ Callow, Simon, Hello Americans. New York: Viking, 2006 ISBN 0-67087256-3 hardcover
  7. ^ a b c d Wood, Bret, Orson Welles: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1990 ISBN 0-313-26538-0
  8. ^ Frohlich, Shirley, "Comment," The Billboard, October 10, 1942, page 7
  9. ^ John Dunning, On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998) p.145
  10. ^ Old Time Radio log for Ceiling Unlimited
  11. ^ Radio Music, The Bernard Herrmann Web Pages; retrieved June 7, 2012
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h "Ceiling Unlimited". Internet Archive. Retrieved 2014-11-23. 
  13. ^ "The Future" (February 1, 1943), Welles's last episode as host, 12:12–13:11.
  14. ^ "Jane Eyre". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. November 4, 1986. Retrieved 2014-11-25. 
  15. ^ The Digital Deli listing for Ceiling Unlimited
  16. ^ Dunning, John, On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1998 ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3 hardcover; revised edition of Tune In Yesterday (1976)
  17. ^ Hilton, James, Ceiling Unlimited. Burbank, California: Columbia Broadcasting System, 1943; title page notes six broadcasts from June 28 to August 2, 1943
  18. ^ J. M. K., Billboard, July 31, 1943
  19. ^ Hilton, James, Ceiling Unlimited. Burbank, California: Columbia Broadcasting System, 1943; details at Between the Covers Rare Books and Live Auctioneers; retrieved June 5, 2012
  20. ^ Old Time Radio log for Ceiling Unlimited
  21. ^ The Digital Deli listing for Ceiling Unlimited
  22. ^ a b c d "Orson Welles Papers — Tapes". Lilly Library. Retrieved 2014-11-06. 
  23. ^ a b c d "Orson Welles Papers — Manuscripts". Lilly Library. Retrieved 2014-11-06. 
  24. ^ "440719_Ruth_Terry, Orson Welles Almanac—Part 2". (23:37–28:30), Internet Archive. Retrieved 2014-11-06. 
  25. ^ "Rare Steinbeck WWII story finally published". The Washington Post (Associated Press), November 6, 2014. Retrieved 2014-11-06. 
  26. ^ "Holiday Issue of The Strand with the Unpublished Steinbeck Story (#8569)". The Strand Magazine, November 2014–February 2015. Retrieved 2014-11-22. 
  27. ^ The Strand Magazine, Issue XLIV 2014. Editorial by Andrew F. Gulli, p. 2. Steinbeck, John, "With Your Wings", pp. 6–7.
  28. ^ Coers, Donald V., John Steinbeck Goes to War: The Moon is Down as Propaganda. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2006. ISBN 9780817353285 Originally published as John Steinbeck as propagandist, 1991.
  29. ^ a b Houseman, John, Front and Center. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979. ISBN 0671243284
  30. ^ "John Houseman". Contemporary Authors Online, Thomson Gale, 2007.
  31. ^ The Digital Deli listing for Ceiling Unlimited
  32. ^ "Flying Fortress" (mp3) in the Old Time Radio Researchers Group Library; retrieved June 4, 2012. The program is prefaced by the following statement: "— follows will not be broadcast in its present form. None of the material has received official clearance. This is a trial record only."
  33. ^ The Stranger at Kino Lorber, Inc. Retrieved 2013-10-05.
  34. ^ "Navigator on 'Ceiling Unlimited'"; The San Antonio Light, November 23, 1942
  35. ^ Ceiling Unlimited — "War Workers", Paley Center for Media; retrieved May 28, 2012
  36. ^ Ceiling Unlimited — "Gremlins", Paley Center for Media; retrieved May 28, 2012
  37. ^ Ceiling Unlimited — "Pan American Airlines", Paley Center for Media; retrieved May 28, 2012
  38. ^ At the last-minute rehearsal before the January 4 broadcast, Welles clashed with a newly appointed advertising agency account executive and walked off the set. Leaming, Barbara, Orson Welles: A Biography New York: Viking, 1985, p. 255.
  39. ^ Welles had missed the January 3 broadcast of Hello Americans due to illness. Welles, Orson and Peter Bogdanovich, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum, This is Orson Welles. New York: HarperCollins Publishers 1992 ISBN 0-06-016616-9 p. 376
  40. ^ Cedar Rapids Tribune, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, April 15, 1943, page 2. "William Powell of the movies is spokesman on God's Corporals, the Ceiling Unlimited story dramatizing the giant planes which carry wounded men from battlefields to base hospitals … The nurses are trained in aerial gunnery so they can take part in actual combat in case of attack. These intrepid young women are capable, in extreme emergency, of performing operations."
  41. ^ Ceiling Unlimited, Paley Center for Media; retrieved May 28, 2012
  42. ^ Cotten, Joseph, Vanity Will Get You Somewhere. San Francisco: Mercury House, 1987 ISBN 0-916515-17-6 page 69. Cotten remembered the program's title as Ceiling Zero.

External links[edit]