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, November 08, 2006

Quiz Pro Quo

How to stop radio activity and anticipate a quiz show scandal.

Such was the question and answer onto which Goodman Ace tripped, one by research and one by inadvertent design, when he devoted the 17 April 1948 chapter of mr. ace and JANE---his short-lived remake/remodel of the classic Easy Aces---to target the radio quiz hits.

"Quiz Show" launched with announcer Ken Roberts, doubling as the Aces' neighbour, who just so happened to be a radio announcer and thus had malaproprietress Jane Ace in daily rapture (according to Ace's narrations, she asked him for his autograph daily, it being so nice to have a celebrity next door), setting the table thus:

KEN ROBERTS: Tonight, Chapter Ten, entitled, "Jane Gets on a Quiz Program, and She Answers So Many Questions and is Winning So Much Money, Until Mr. Ace Discovers How She's Doing It and Puts Out the Fires of This Atomic Bombshell of the Quiz Program." Or, as Mr. Ace puts it:
ACE: How to stop radio activity.

Cut to Roberts reading his regulation spot for the U.S. Army and Air Force recruiting services, who sponsored mr. ace and JANE, and return to Ace preluding the evening's scandalous quiz show with a little story about a little family in Decatur, Illinois. Decatur may be little but I wouldn't know. I've never seen the place.

ACE: A sweet little lady, her husband, and their pretty eighteen-year-old daughter. Life was good. Father had a comfortable job at the railroad office, the daughter was going with a nice young fellow at the bank, and the sweet little lady made their modest bungalow a haven of contentment.

Then one day the phone rang, and the sweet little lady answered a question on a quiz program. She won $3,500 in cash, a trip halfway around the world, twelve rhumba lessons, and a deluxe model Piper Cub airplane.

The daughter took the twelve rhumba lessons, got mixed up with a South American dance instructor, and when last heard of was dancing in a low type waterfront saloon in Buenos Aires.

The father took the trip halfway around the world and is now stuck in Cairo, Egypt.

And the sweet little lady, left alone with the deluxe model Piper Cub airplane, tried to back it in her garage. Hospital bills and building repairs ate up the $3,500, and she is now working in her sister's beauty shop in Salt Lake City, Utah, and she's doing very well.

But how many people can be that lucky?

Please keep this story in mind when I tell you what happened to me last week, when Jane decided to get on a quiz program. And she had to pick the one quiz program which the advertising agency I work for puts on the air.

The decision was somewhat spontaneous. With a little intercession from Mr. Ace, Roberts landed a gig announcing a new quiz hit called The Sky's the Limit. He'd come by to thank Ace for the help and found Jane and her shiftlessly shifty brother Paul at home instead. He also left the script for that evening's show, including the questions and answers, on a chair by mistake. Perhaps needless to say, shiftlessly shifty brother Paul found it, read it, and prodded his gullible sister into cashing the blunder in.

At first, Jane chose the path of last resistance.

JANE: I wonder what he lost. Did you see anything, Paul?
PAUL: You mean this radio script, Jane
JANE: Paul! You were sitting on it! I'll call him back.
PAUL: Sis! Come back here---don't you realise we have a fortune here in my hands?
JANE: Hands? You were sitting on it.
PAUL: Sure. I got a quick look. And when I saw what it was I played smart and sat on it. Look. All we have to do is memorise these answers, go down to the studio, and if they call on either one of us we're a cinch to win a barrel of money.
JANE: Paul, I'm not gonna have any barrels cluttering up this house.

And that was Jane's last resistance. Gullible sister couldn't resist galling brother's powdered persuasion.

Gullible The Sky's the Limit host Robert Q. Lewis (a real-life comic and quiz host, as it happened) couldn't figure out how this brain-scrambled beauty could answer questions before he'd even caught breath enough to ask. (Full disclosure: The script called for the fictitious show's questions being sent in by its listeners, which probably ought to answer something.)

Gallible husband couldn't figure out fast enough how to hustle her the hell out of there, before he ended up answering quiz questions on an unemployment form, once his ad agency hipped up to his wife starring on the show in spite of the company rule against agency employees joining up on shows they sponsored.

First, gallible husband had to be made to listen to the program in the first place.

SAMUELS, THE SPONSOR: Mr. Ace, this is getting ridiculous! Did you hear that woman rattle off the answers on yesterday's program?
ACE: Uh, no, Mr. Samuels, I didn't hear the program yesterday, I was, uhhhh----
SAMUELS: Mr. Ace! Is it too much to ask you to listen to a quiz program?
ACE: (short pause) Uh, yes. Uh, I mean, in radio who's got time to listen to the radio?
SAMUELS: (indignant) A fine advertising agency I've got. Those schoolboy questions! Look at these questions for today. "Who was it said, 'I'd rather be right than President?'" Any child knows it was George M. Cohan.
ACE: No, but it was Henry Clay, it was Henry Clay, the answer's right there---
SAMUELS: But still, I don't care---I want proper questions!
ACE: But the listeners send the questions in, we don't make them up.
SAMUELS: Well, use the toughest questions they send in. Here, I've got some right here. Now, here's my idea of a tough question: "What is meant by a laporotomy operation?"
ACE: A laporotomy oper---I don't even know the answer to that one myself.
SAMUELS: All right. Right here, we have the answer right here.
ACE: What is it?
SAMUELS: A laporotomy is an operation on the abdomen.
ACE: On the abdomen?
SAMUELS: Yes. Use this question today, now that's a stopper, I'm sure.
SAMUELS: And, Mr. Ace---if you can possibly find the time, try to listen to our little program? Give me at least fifteen percent of your time.
ACE: I'll try.

He stretched on his office couch, flipped on his combination radio-phonograph-electric razor. "Lucky for me it wasn't a straight razor, I would have picked it up and cut my throat" over what he heard: his brain-bent wife, whipping through the suddenly-discovered brain benders.

ROBERT Q. LEWIS: Well, well, welcome back, Jane Sherwood. You're about to try for $8,192. Now, would you like to try for it? You can stop right now if you'd like to.
JANE: Stop now, while I'm going like a horse on fire? Oh, no.
LEWIS: (chuckle) That's the spirit we like. Here's the question: What is meant by a laporotomy operation?
JANE: Henry Clay.
LEWIS: (slightly aghast) What's that?
JANE: What did you ask me?
LEWIS: I said, what is meant by a laporotomy operation>
JANE: Lapero---oh, wait a minute, you're not asking the right question.
LEWIS: Well, now you wait a minute, we can ask whatever question we like.
JANE: But that's not one of the---
LEWIS: Miss Sherwood, do you know the answer?
JANE: But that's not the---
LEWIS: Miss Sherwood, you either have to answer the question or you lose your money!
JANE: Oh, that's not fair, I think that's abdominal.
LEWIS: Abdominal? Correct! (Audience reaction.) A laporotomy is an operation on the abdomen. You have $8,192.
JANE: What happened? (Audience laughter.)
LEWIS: "What happened?" she says. Miss Sherwood, you kill me!
JANE: All right.

Poor gallible husband. He regained consciousness by the time the second Army-Air Force recruiting service commercial was finished and managed to turn and flip the radio-phonograph-electric razor off. But he couldn't quite make it to the water cooler. He merely lay there an hour or more, fingers numb, feet cold, heart palpitating, all the classic symptoms of a man whose wife just won $32,000 plus of his sponsor's money on a radio quiz. Finally, he managed to find enough strength to dial a telephone and call home, telling her no one related to anyone in the agency was allowed on the show.

ACE: If he finds out, we'll lose the account, I'll lose my job. I don't know how you're answering those questions, but you've got to miss out on 'em, lose that money.
JANE: Lose that money? Just as I'm making such wonderful headwork? Tomorrow I get the $64,000 question.
ACE: Jane, when I heard you on that program I hit the ceiling.
JANE: Dear, you're not taking the right altitude.
ACE: I'm not?
JANE: After I worked my head to the bone winning all that money.
ACE: You mustn't win all that money!
JANE: Why mustn't I? If I don't win it, somebody else will. I'm as good as anybody else. We're all cremated equal.
ACE: (sotto voce, sort of) Doesn't that burn you up?

A decade later, the country was burning up with The $64,000 Question. Not to mention The $64,000 Challenge, The Big Surprise, Twenty-One, and Dotto.

Well, it had Dotto for a short while, anyway. Until one contestant (Edward Hilgemeier) found a questions-and-answers notebook belonging to another contestant (Marie Winn, future author of a bristling critique of television, The Plug-In Drug), and network executives learned the hard way that those two plus the second's on-air opponent might have been paid off to dummy up. Not to mention suspicions enough that Contestant Number One, who found the naughty notebook, might have threatened to take it all to the Federal Communications Commission unless they made it worth his while to junk that plan.

Perhaps the Easy Aces tried and succeeded in submitting a none-too-subtle satirical hint that what exploded into scandal a decade later was perhaps common enough that only the gullible could have believed the big dollar quizzes were as pure as the proverbial driven snow?

Three months after mr. ace and JANE's "Quiz Show" chapter aired, game show titans Mark Goodson and Bill Todman---whose first radio creation Winner Take All had just become the first of their creations to hit television---carried prizes from their office to the show's studio, within Goodman Ace's sight. Somehow, Todman slipped, and the armload of small appliances he carried hit the sidewalk crashing.

"Hey, Todman!" Ace is said to have hollered. "You dropped your script!"

I have yet to learn Todman's reply, actual or in his heart. Theoretically, one supposes, the latter could have been homicide.


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