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.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Great Gildersleeve's Ghost

A few days ago, I mentioned the distinction between the audition show of mr. ace and JANE (the expanded, slightly updated version of Easy Aces that bowed in 1948) and what came to be when the short-lived series was picked up by CBS.

The audition wasn't done before a studio audience; the soundtrack, such as it was, involved a lone pianist playing the familiar theme ("Manhattan Serenade") and scene-shift punctuations (a novelty for the Aces); and, the conversational character humour and language play that made Easy Aces so brilliant was left unmolested. Oops. In full series, in came a live audience, out went the solo pianist, in came a full orchestra for theme and punctuations, and out went the comfort zone to the Aces' conversational style. Witty as it was in its own right, mr. ace and JANE barely lasted a full year as uneasy Aces.

The Aces didn't have as much to lose as others among the classic radio coterie who reached for the repairman when something wasn't broken. Harold Peary chafed over not getting more room to flex his passable singing voice on The Great Gildersleeve, and the producers chafed over reminding Peary that, whatever Gildersleeve was (he was, in fact, a stentorian-sounding bachelor uncle with a soft heart, a stumbling head, and a winking but not leering eye for the ladies), it didn't leave much if any room to croon.

But Peary's agents at MCA convinced him he couldn't really be replaced. And he proved in the breach how right they were, when CBS talent raiders (who had already siphoned Jack Benny from NBC and whooped it up when Benny convinced some of his fellow NBC stars to join him) caught his ear. He jumped to CBS in 1950 and wanted The Great Gildersleeve to jump with him. Sponsor Kraft Foods didn't ask "How high?" They kept it on NBC and replaced him with his old friend Willard Waterman, while he launched his own CBS show.

Waterman refused (admirably) to appropriate the sliding, implicitly bawdy laugh Peary made famous. The Great Gildersleeve devolved its title character to a less endearing stumbler and a more womanising womaniser. (He looked even less likeable doing so on television for a year.) The Harold Peary Show on CBS turned out to be Great Gildersleeve's Ghost with a singing voice who didn't have Judge Hooker to kick around anymore.

Peary eventually made a long career as a cartoon voice actor. It kept him gainfully employed the rest of his life, and it was a long jump from the height he reached after first proving himself more than merely Fibber McGee's next-door nemesis.


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