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, October 11, 2006

Virtual Girl Friend

There's nothing like baseball's postseason, about which I write for my own baseball blog and a sports Website or three, to interrupt your regularly scheduled programming here. So with profound apologies to my readers here (all four of you), it is back to the business of classic radio pleasure. Which is something along the line of what a Texas lady transplanted to Dayton via Hollywood sought to deliver five nights a week for a few years between the late 1940s and the very early 1950s.

I was damned lonely in Dayton. So I just hooked into this idea and talked about my loneliness. And, you know, I found out there are a lot of lonesome people in this world.

---Jean King, classic radio's Lonesome Gal, to Time, 26 June 1950.

Sweetie, she began, typically, in a voice that sounded six parts temptress and half a dozen parts as isolated as the audience she imagined, no matter what anybody says, I love ya better than anybody in the whole world.

Missing no beat, she began to croon, over a muted sweep of electric organ. And if you were one of the lonely men who fastened tight to her nightly, fifteen-minute romancings for a period between the late 1940s and early 1950s, perhaps you couldn't help noticing that there was at least a pinch of mothering to this dream girl friend.

Lonesome/I'm a real lonesome gal
I can't stop feeling lonesome/Heaven knows when I shall . . .

A softly punched, single-note piano line picked up the melody where her croon left off as she addressed you once again, this time leaving just about all the implicit mothering pinch all the way out of her delivery.

Hi, baby. This is your lonesome gal. And I don't know why, but if you don't stay and visit with me I'll be the unhappiest girl in the whole world. I wonder how that could be possible. While I'm wondering, light up a pipe of Bond Street now. You know I love you

And, once again, barely having made even a non-smoker hunger for a small load of her sponsoring tobacco, she crooned.

Who knows what tomorrow can bring?
I wonder whether I'll know/why my heart wants to sing.

The piano took over the melody once more, fading slowly behind the unseen lady with the smoky voice. She spoke as if she were taking your hand, holding it warmly between hers, and locking your eyes onto her own, expecting to keep you within her power until she was good and ready to release you, if you really were as lonely as she portrayed herself to be.

Lover, did you ever stop to think how you'd react to sudden wealth? I think most women who suddenly inherit a million dollars would probably buy lots of clothes and furs and jewels. As to how a man would react to such an inheritance, I only know of incident to recite:

There was this cute little old man who for years walked the streets with his popcorn machine, selling peanuts and popcorn to all those kids in the poor neighbourhood. One day, a rich old lady, who'd been rather eccentric, left him all her money. With that money he adhered to his greatest desire, he bought a big black limousine and hired a chauffeur. But for two months before the car ever drove off the premises of his home, he practised all day long getting in and out of the car gracefully. I hear that, sometimes, he even repeated that practise in the still of the night.

Habitually, she crafted her little pattering monologues to end in a line that just so happened to be the title of the song she'd instructed her engineer to play next. For the most part, these would be recordings of arrangements that plunged deep enough into swollen sugar, once in awhile with a chorale that could have been rented right from the sentimentalistic division of the Disney studios---the take she used of "In the Still of the Night" (not to be confused with the eventual rock and roll hit of the same name) sounded like a discard from Pinocchio's soundtrack. Once in awhile, however, they'd be more of the burry, atmospheric, jazz-overtoned style refined soon enough into art by Nelson Riddle charting Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and others.

Whether a sugar-swollen weepie or a jazz-undertoned soft swinger, her prelude aimed to send you lost in the thought of her tugging you up off the sofa for a quiet dance or a balcony caress, her hands never far from yours, perhaps her face leaning against your shoulder, interrupted only to sip a cold drink or exhale a smoke, before she might turn to face you after putting your arms around her and hers around yourself. She did the talking and if she had her way you were in little enough position to object.

Sweetie, did you ever wonder about the things that last, the things that endure? The good things that were put on this earth for us to share and to enjoy? The beautiful sunset that we watched today will be just as beautiful a hundred years from now. The song that was lovely in Shakespeare's time is just as lovely now. And, Angel, the deep, rich, wonderful pleasure of smoking mellow Bond Street tobacco is another experience that will never change . . .

She was hard pressed to make personal appearances, the demand for which appears to have been profound enough; some surviving accounts say she preserved her mystique at such dates by wearing a cat-eye-shaped mask. Then, in 1950, the mask was lifted by Time. The magazine described her as a tall, slender woman with a resemblance to Rosalind Russell, who'd tried to make it in Hollywood (she sang, she appeared in a few of the Tarzan films and as a guest performer on radio's I Love a Mystery) before ending up in Dayton, somehow, and talking her way into a gig on WING radio.

At first that voice, weaving from smoky to honeyed and back to flickering temptress and around again to hopeless romantic, must have sounded as though she were waiting for him, whomever he was, to walk through her door, or greet her in a cafe, with a warm, insistent hug, a lingering kiss, and a promise never to leave her alone for too long again. In short enough order Lonesome Gal became phenomenon enough out of Dayton---fifty regional stations picked her up, and her income approached six figures, according to she decided to return to Hollywood and try to break it nationally.

In a plot that could have been a dream enunciated in one of her between-song mini-fantasies, she met and married a Dragnet co-producer, William Rousseau, and it was his influence that landed her sponsored syndication on several hundred local stations. She even developed the practise of keeping regular touch with chambers of commerce wherever her show aired, the better to keep current on locations, activities, and people, so she could tailor her broadcasts specifically to those locales. She recorded over three hundred such versions a week of her fifteen-minute romancings to satisfy that tailoring.

She also had to contend with what Time called being misunderstood by her fellow women. "Some girls think I'm trying to steal their guys," she told the magazine, "but I'm not. I just say things a lot of girls don't have the nerve to say to their men. I never say more than 'I'd like to kiss you on the end of the nose'---something impersonal like that. I might tell a guy how nice it would be to spend a weekend in a small and charming hotel---but I always add: 'If we were married'."

Angel, sometimes I get to sitting here wondering just what I ought to do about you. I'm in pretty deep, you know, 'cause you're definitely a part of my life. You're the greatest part of all my dreams and plans. What if I made up my mind to stop seeing you, to forget you, I ask myself. But that's an impossibility, my dream, because your smile is imprinted happily and joyfully in my mind. Your eyes laughing and saying unspoken words are firmly attached to my sentimental side. And you, Angel---all of you, every tiny hair on your head, every wrinkle on your brow, every mood you know, make me realise that it's too late now.

This was virtual seduction filtered through a kind of sly sentimentalism, years before anyone even thought of telephone or cybersex, stopping well short of prurience.

A generation and a half of men, whose postwar domestic lives may have been less than their dressings made them appear, from bewildered singles and awakening widowers to disillusioned husbands and shamed ex-husbands, lost themselves for fifteen minutes a night in the dream of so undemanding a lover, whose actual loneliness made their own seem lighter, if not necessarily more bearable.

Maybe her worst mistake was letting Time in, to even the small extent that she allowed. The magazine acknowledged she wasn't exactly that anxious to reveal the woman behind the virtual lover, and she may have been right. Within short of two years following Time's gentle exposure, as best as I can determine, Lonesome Gal slipped off the air almost as unobtrusively as she had first slipped on, becoming a pleasant if very distant memory almost as swiftly as she had become a radio date.

Well, Angel, there comes a time and this is it. Saying “so long” is not of my doing, but I relent on the condition that I can be with you again tomorrow night. And I’ll be back thanks to Bond Street Tobacco. But meantime, keep one thing in mind: Your Lonesome Gal loves you better than anybody in the whole world.

(singing) Who knows what tomorrow may bring?
I wonder if I’ll know when my heart starts to sing.
If you have love to spare, lips to share,
why don’t you be a pal
and share them with your lonesome gal?

(speaking) Good night, baby.

She died quietly 19 August 1993 in North Hollywood. Presumably, her real-life marriage lasted as long as the quiet memory her audience kept of the half-decade-plus she was their virtual girl friend.


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