Jeff Kallman's excellent The Easy Ace: A Journal of Classic Radio
is a wonderful place to spend hours on end, rediscovering the Golden Age of Radio
as it's meant to be discovered and celebrated. Article after article
is filled with a wonderful new vignette about Golden Age Radio History.
---The Digital Deli Online.

[I]n his matchless on-this-day approach to chronicling “yesteryear,”
he easily aces out a less organized mind like mine,
which promptly lapsed into a more idiosyncratic mode of relating the past.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Just Mad About Saffron

You can exhaust yourself thinking about the various people demanding one or another kind of official quash upon things despised for no reason better than what is feared burrowing through the soil from which grows political correctness. The weeds face left and right alike, with both sides protesting the other side's doing it worse.

They should have been there 29, 30, and 31 July 1946, when those days' editions of the New York Herald-Tribune hit the streets. Therein was a John Crosby mini-series of columns examining a particularly revealing censorship tally over much of one fourteen-year period. Ponder the following that at least one radio network thought unsuitable for American ears.

The adjective, "saffron." Saffron is either a spice derived from the saffron crocus flower or a food ingredient that can make some food rather richly yellow, thanks to the cartenoid dye known as crocin contained therein. Our network in 1946 decided saffron had a different kind of spicy connotation. It required a prompt dictionary examination to convince said network that saffron had little if anything to do with sex. At least, not until Donovan's cheery 1966 hit, "Mellow Yellow." ("I'm just mad about saffron . . . ")

Cracks about heaven. One such in one script, about a judge recently deceased and going to a higher court, was stricken because you just can't clown about heaven.

Cracks about the wedding ceremony. There would be no bride promising to love, honour, and lump it till death did she part from her lawfully-wedded husband on that network. In fairness, this was still a few years before hapless John Bickerson, fed up yet again with his shrewish wife's wee-small-hours harassment, recalled their marriage vows: "I said, I do, and you said, Oh, no you don't."

Cracks combining marriage and death. Don't even think about it. There would be no wounded feelings among the nation's morticians inspired by anything rung in by those chimes. Not after some crack about a girl who could have found a better husband at the cemetery. The writer-performer in question, Mr. Crosby noted, "got the line cleared only after pointing out that cemeteries have been topics for comedy since the time of Aristophanes."

Fictitious people. No society matron named Mrs. Biddle Pratt, nor United States Senator named Guff from Idaho, would be allowed over that network's air until or unless it was proven, incontrovertibly, that no such society matron or U.S. Senator actually existed.

Real society people. Permission from notorious debutante Brenda Frazier's family was required first before our writer-performer could say on the air how she never looked lovelier at the time of her wedding.

Fictitious first mates on British ocean liners. Not if they were endowed with Cockney accents in comedy routines. After all, the actual first mate on the actual Queen Mary was believed to be a rather cultured man in his own right. He might have taken umbrage.

Fictitious towns. No fictitious town of North Wrinkle could be a sketch subject because there just might be a real town of North Wrinkle and it just might be real offended.

The legendary Mercury Theatre of the Air broadcast of War of the Worlds---yep, the one for which Orson Welles tried to horn all the credit*. It was one thing for the original broadcast to scare half the East Coast out of its actual or alleged minds; it was another barrel of Martians altogether to poke even a little mad fun at those who ran around looking madly for the space invaders. The only surprise seems to have been that the script in question didn't include something mad fun about the invaders. But then our network might have pronounced that we weren't about to give any prospective real invaders any reason to think about a real invasion.

All the foregoing involved one man, Fred Allen, who managed regardless to shoot his arrows into the hierarchs at intervals regular enough, particularly in his final seasons as a host comedian. I hereby promise to refrain from mentioning him awhile, since I've done it often enough in this journal's first week of life, but if you've built a library of his broadcasts, and have a generous volume of 1945 forward, you know now the source of his frequent barbs at network vice presidents.

But then applying the phrase strip tease crag to Bear Mountain, along the Hudson River, required hours of persuasion, Mr. Crosby noted, before the network was satisfied there was nothing salacious about the context. It isn't known whether the Allen script in question was written during a week when one of those legendary Catskills resorts pondered trying Gypsy Rose Lee on the bill. Or, a production of Lysistrata.
* Under Welles' direction, Howard Koch---the future co-writer of Casablanca---wrote the preponderance of the radio adaptation of H.G. Wells's novel. Koch was compelled in due course to sue for his rightful recognition. And, he won that suit.


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