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.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Deck the Halls With Phil and Alice . . .

. . . or any classic radio programs you can find. If you thought you needed a respite from Thanksgiving's array of parades, football games, weepie television movies/specials, and the like, 'tis the season of you ain't seen nothin' yet. So if you'd like to have something just a little bit different, once again I leave it to you to sift the weep from the chafe and listen to classic radio's winter wonderland.

The Bickersons, "Christmas Eve"---This episode probably inspired Jackie Gleason's Honeymooners classic about Ralphie Boy having to hock his brand-new bowling ball at the last minute to buy Alice a Christmas present for which he forgot (as usual) to sock a few simoleons aside . . . and the dent his jaw put in the floor when he saw what Alice got him.

The Bickering Bickersons opened this Christmas Eve with husband John snoring on the ladder and shrewish wife Blanche awakening him off the ladder, after he faded away following his usual spurn of her dinner. They continued with one of their usual arguments, this time about John's daily bag lunch, the money for the bills (Blanche spent it on Christmas presents, including a $24 bottle of perfume called "Perhaps"; John: For $24 they should call it "Positively"), and the Christmas card Blanche thought John didn't send. (He sent it---but you'll have to listen to learn where it ended up.)

Then bourbon-loving John and highfalutin' Blanche ended with opening their presents at just past midnight . . . and discover just what each sold (hint: each sold what the other could have used with their gifts) to buy the other's gifts. I won't reveal just what they said once the shock eroded, but the Bickering Bickerson's closing exchange beats the living tinsel out of Ralph and Alice's. Practically.

(First broadcast: NBC, exact date unknown; co-stars: Don Ameche, Frances Langford. Writer: Philip Rapp. Sponsor: Drene Shampoo.)

Lux Radio Theater, "Song of Songs"---Not quite a Christmas story but, rather, what host Cecil B. DeMille called Lux Radio Theater's Christmas gift to America: a radio adaptation of Marlene Dietrich's 1933 film, Song of Songs, co-starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and poignant again for it coming on the threshold of Dietrich's becoming an American citizen. That's plenty good enough for me.

(First broadcast: CBS, 20 December 1937; stars: Dietrich, Fairbanks, Lionel Atwill, Pedro DeCordoba; special guest: Walt Disney. Sponsor: Lever Brothers.)

You can also land Lux Radio Theater's adaptation of It's a Wonderful Life (ask not what possessed them not to deliver and air it for the first time until March 1947), with James Stewart and Donna Reed reprising their film roles.

Not to mention the Lux adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street with Edmund Gwenn reprising his Academy Award role, in TV Guide's memorable description, "as the department store Santa who goes on trial to prove he's the real Kris Kringle," and concurrently giving a new insight to a stubborn, slightly embittered mother.

Lum and Abner, "Christmas Story"---Grandpap asks Lum and Abner to drag through the Pine Ridge snow with him, following the east star, bringing supplies for a couple expecting a baby find another place to stay after Doc reveals they're staying in an abandoned barn. Lum offers to put the family up for awhile after the baby is born, with Abner's approval. And the old friends salute the coming of 1939. And the trio wait outside as Doc brings and arranges the supplies inside for the couple . . . a carpenter and his pregnant wife.

(First broadcast: CBS, 23 December 1938; co-stars/co-writers: Chester Lauck, Norris Goff. Sponsor: Postem.)

Vic and Sade, "Five Christmas Card Salesmen"---Vic and Rush are amused when Sade receives five letters from an "ardent gentleman" out of a Toledo, Ohio company. It's charming enough to cause Sade to giggle and Vic to mock---and it's tied to Sade's Christmas card business. Such as it is. "Maybe it's like you say," Sade muses. "The Christmas card people figure they'll get better results sending everybody five letters." And you thought our era was the season to be starting Christmas shenanigans almost three months early!

(First broadcast: NBC, 30 October 1939; stars: Bernadine Flynn, Art Van Harvey, Bill Idelson. Writer: Paul Rhymer.)

■ Various NBC Performers, "The Christmas Package"---A special coordinated with the U.S. War Department---a charming 1943 holiday half-hour, hosted by film star Linda Darnell, featuring music by the Andrews Sisters, Ginny Simms, and Lena Horne; messages from the Army and Navy's chiefs of chaplains; a comedy monologue from Bob Hope ("our Santa Claus for tonight---the man who's been trying to get me on his lap all afternoon to whisper what I want for Christmas," cracked Darnell); and, a sweet but not sugary holiday sketch from Jim and Marian Jordan as Fibber McGee, Molly, and Teeny with the Wistful Vista kids.

(First broadcast: Christmas Day 1943.)

Fibber McGee and Molly, ”Fibber Paints The Christmas Tree White”---Fibber’s dreaming of a white Christmas too far: he thinks a white Christmas tree is the coming thing, the modern way. Molly wonders when the chartreuse snow is coming. Of course, you have to remember that Fibber is a man who thinks mistletoe is only poison ivy with berries. May he get a lump of Gamble in his stocking . . . but not before Teeny and the kids steal the show right out from under his flattened ego. Again.

(First broadcast: NBC, 18 December 1945; starring Jim and Marian Jordan; co-stars: Arthur Q. Bryan, Harlow Wilcox, Isabel Randolph, Bill Thompson. Writer:s Don Quinn, Phil Leslie. Sponsor: Johnson's Wax.)

The Raleigh Cigarette Program Starring Red Skelton, "Christmas Trees"---Somewhere in the middle of bantering about Raleigh's then-contest to win a new Chevrolet (you had to complete the sentence, "We should all buy Victory Bonds because . . .," in twenty-five words or less), Skelton and company manage to swap Christmas gifts, Anita Ellis manages to sing "Toyland," and Clem Kadiddlehopper ("I wish they had winter in the summer, then it wouldn't be so cold") lands a gig selling Christmas trees around the corner.

(First broadcast: NBC, 25 December 1945; co-stars: Lurene Tuttle, Verna Felton, GeGe Pearson; guest star: Arthur Q. Bryan. Sponsor: Raleigh Cigarettes.)

Duffy’s Tavern, ”Miracle in Manhattan”---One measly egg nog atop some bad nutmeg put Archie in a slightly sour mood. So does Duffy’s snide Christmas card. Special guest: future Our Miss Brooks co-star Jeff Chandler, who tries to convince Archie a spell in church might lift his spirit. “There’s two kinds of guys go to church,” Archie rejoins. “Them that doesn’t and them that don’t.” But he isn’t prepared for the moment of faith Chandler opens to him. And, a miracle before his very eyes.
(First broadcast: NBC, 22 December 1948; starring Ed Gardner as Archie; co-stars: Eddie Green, Charles Cantor, Sandra Gould. Writers: Ed Gardner, Vinnie Bogert, Robert Schiller. Sponsor: Bristol-Myers.)

The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, "Jack Benny as Santa"---It sounds slightly unbelievable if you remember Benny's character as a skinflint. It sounds just as unbelievable if you don't. But it's funny.

(First broadcast: NBC, 19 December 1948; re-broadcast Christmas Day, 1949; starring Phil Harris and Alice Faye; co-stars: Elliott Lewis, Gale Gordon, Jeanine Roos, Ann Whitfield. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat. Sponsor: Rexall.)

My Favourite Husband, "The Sleigh Ride"---George butchers the Christmas tree so far as Liz is concerned ("We've got the only Christmas tree on the block with a butch haircut"), and that only begins Liz's lament against George's lack of romance. Then she suggests they find a sleigh and round up some Christmas carolers . . .

(First broadcast: CBS, 23 December 1949; starring: Lucille Ball, Richard Denning; co-star: Ruth Paret. Writers: Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll, Jr. Sponsor: Jell-O, Log Cabin Syrup.)

Gunsmoke, "Christmas Story"---Stranded after he has to put his injured horse out of his misery as Christmas Eve arrives, Matt Dillon is offered a ride the rest of the way home by a drifting former sailor. Forced to make camp when the sailor's old mare tires, Matt tells a story of last year's Dodge Christmas, and it moves the sailor to unburden a terrible secret and make a major decision.

(First broadcast: CBS, 20 December 1952; star: William Conrad; co-stars: Georgia Ellis, Parley Baer, Howard McNear. Writer: Antony Ellis. Sponsor: Sustaining.)

The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, "Alice Volunteers to Play Santa Claus"---Or, MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM ALICE FAYE AND HUSBAND!. ("I'm planning on using the sign again next year," Willie warbled, "and there's no telling if you'll still be with us.") It started with Alice springing on Phil that he's playing Santa in her women's club play. "I'm not the Santy Claus type---you know, I'm a lover," Harris crooned. "How would I know?" Faye cracked. Neither will you until you listen . . .

(First broadcast: NBC, 21 December 1952; starring Phil Harris, Alice Faye, Elliott Lewis, Jeanine Roos, Ann Whitfield. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat. Sponsor: RCA Victor.)


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