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, December 06, 2006

Of Christmas Ducks and Christmas Conspiracies . . .

'Tis still the season to be seeking relief from the usual onslaught of yuletide parades, football, weepie TV movies and specials, and relentless debates whenever this joker decides that piece of holiday spirit is someone else's offencive weapon. I think that's the way the arguments have gone for the last couple of decades. On a stupid scale of one to ten, I'd rate those arguments off the chart.

Fair disclosure: I'm Jewish. I've got no problems with Christmas. Why shouldn't a nice Jewish boy say "happy birthday!" to a nice Jewish boy? He'd say "Happy Hanukkah" to me, wouldn't he? (Although he might draw the line at one gift for each of the eight days, on his salary. And, now that I think of it, I can't remember if Hanukkah became an actual Jewish holiday before or after Mr. Pilate reached for the Ivory.)

I have no desire for plenipotentiary political power. But if I had it for five minutes with a choice of one sweeping ruling to hand down, I'd decree that any and every town voting to stick Christmas in the back of the shack should have their public address systems hacked to play nothing but those insufferable yapping dogs yapping the single most insufferable version of "Jingle Bells" ever devised by the singularly insufferable.

For everybody else, I'd decree that the P.A.'s should be performing the public service of giving citizens such alternatives to the annual invasion of drivel, dreck, and decking the halls with boughs of dopey with . . .

Well, let's admit it. A lot of classic radio Christmas fare was just as drivelous, dreckable, and dopey as a lot of television Christmas fare is. But at least with radio you don't have to look. Just listen. And laugh, if you must. (I think I've said it before, but since I wasn't able to post for over a week it doesn't hurt to refresh the memory of my readers---all five of them.) Here, now, a few more Christmas cullings from the ghosts of radio past.

The Aldrich Family, "Christmas Program"---Yes, it's beginning to look a lot like a pain in the rump roast to find a few too many classic radio holiday episodes called, "Christmas Program" or "Christmas Show."

Never mind. Here, 'twas the week before Christmas, and all through the house, Father thinks Henry's solicitous of late carries an ulterior yuletide motive; Mother thinks Father's being too suspicious for his own good; and, Hennn-reeeeeeeeeeeeee! really is maneuvering for a particular Christmas present---unsuspecting that Mother and Father think he's angling for something else.

(First broadcast: NBC, 23 December 1948; starring Ezra Stone, House Jameson, Katharine Raht. Writer: Clifford Goldsmith. Sponsor: Jell-O.)

The Burns and Allen Show, "Santa and the Wicked Pirate"---Two days before Christmas, while trimming the tree, Gracie fears her favourite duck, Herman, is missing. Until he returns home after eluding Akim Tamiroff's hands around his neck, Tamiroff tiring of the duck's poaching his goldfish. But will Herman quack up listening to Gracie telling him a Christmas story?

(First broadcast: CBS, 22 December 1942; starring George Burns and Gracie Allen; co-stars: Elvia Allman, Jimmy Cash, Lawrence Nash; announcer: Bill Goodwin; music: Paul Whiteman. Sponsor: Swan Soap.)

Fibber McGee and Molly, "Mailing Christmas Packages" (first broadcast: NBC, 10 December 1940) and "Gildy's Radio Phonograph" (first broadcast: NBC, 24 December 1940)---First: Fibber's mood drops when he learns Uncle Dennis is going to be staying for the holiday. That's almost nothing compared to how hard it is to get the packages to the post office before somebody else knocks on the door. And it only begins when Gildersleeve wants Fibber to get him some four-cent stamps.

Second: Gildersleeve's new radio-phonograph combine is delivered---to the McGees, by mistake. And they get a bigger shock when they plug it in and play it . . .

(Stars: Jim and Marian Jordan; co-stars: Arthur Q. Bryan, Harold Peary, Bill Thompson; announcer: Harlow Wilcox; music: Billy Mills. Writer: Don Quinn. Sponsor: Johnson Wax.)

The Henry Morgan Show, "Christmas Story (The Day After Christmas)"---The cheerfully cantankerous comedian's opening monologue did a pretty good (and subtly racy) job of setting it up:

Not so many Christmases ago, we broadcast a little Christmas story for children. And, ah, it was definitely for children, but we heard later that a number of grownups sneaked out of bed and listened.

Welllllll, you know how parents are, kids. Just when you think they're asleep, they come out of the bedroom with all kinds of excuses. They want a drink of water . . . or, uh, there's a tiger in the room . . . or, their blanket fell on the floor, or something. So this year, ah, we might as well let 'em stay up and listen.

But parents---no snickering. We're not gonna stand for a lot of grownups listening to the radio and shaking their heads doubtfully, as though we were making the whole thing up. Now, kids, if you notice your mommy or your daddy saying things like, um, "ohhhhh, nonsense! or, uh, "Well, that couldn't happen," just look 'em in the eye and say, "I find this story thoroughly credible!"

Of course, I don't have that kind of trouble with my parents. If they say "oh, nonsense!" to me, I just don't give 'em tickets to my show.

Then, he presents the story, which begins the day after Christmas. Little Joey sits examining the ruins of an electric train "that took a dozen graduate engineers to put together" . . . and which his father wrecked when the kid let the old man fool around with it until he came up with a theory about how to make it run different. "What's a theory?" asks little Norman. "I dunno," answers Joey. "Something ya father has when tells ya to hand him a screwdriver." All little Norman had to worry about was getting Santa into the house---because they had not a chimney but radiators.

What the kids had to worry about was being careful what they wished for. Especially if they were audacious enough to ask Congress for it. For details, you'll have to listen.

(First broadcast: ABC [former NBC Blue], 25 December 1946; star: Henry Morgan; co-stars: Arnold Stang, Pert Kelton, Fran Warren, Ben Brower, Art Carney, Jack Albertson, Joan Gibson, and children Butch Cabell, David Anderson, Joan Laser. Writers: Henry Morgan, Carroll Moore, Jr., Aaron Ruben, Joseph Stein.)

Norman Corwin's Words Without Music, "The Plot to Overthrow Christmas"---The first work Corwin wrote for CBS in the late 1930s, a broadcast repeated often enough and set in hell, and delivered in verse (some of it, admittedly, is a little on the awkward side but the archness of the delivery and the quality of the bulk makes up for it).

In sum: Some of history's most notorious villains through that point convened a meeting to plan Christmas's demise. First, however, they've got to quell this little, ahem, family squabble.("Sit down, Haman---for I am Ivan the Terrible!" "Brother Ivan is a demagogue/with the brain like a fly and the manners of a hog") Also in on the plot: Lucrezia Borgia, Caligula, Medusa, and Nero, among others. I'll tell you only that Caligula has visions of men hanging from Christmas trees and let you take it from there, Nero's a little snippy ("Today I note with a bitter shrug/They've made Scheherezade a jitterbug"), and the ayes have it for Dame Borgia's idea . . .

(First broadcast: CBS, 1939; stars: Will Geer, as the devil; House Jameson [The Aldrich Family,] as Santa Claus; other cast may have included Orson Welles, but I'd be grateful to anyone who can provide the rest of the original cast. Writer: Norman Corwin.)


Blogger The Great Gildersleeve said...

As everywhere I go in the UK regarding the net I use a well known OTR character as my identity, I just had to link your blog to mine.

Hope that you don't mind...lets hope it brings you many more people linking to you. You and your sight deserve it and as I am already a great fan of OTR anything that helps promote it and anywhere that we can read the stories and reminisces about this time deserves to be helped.

Good Luck...and yes, Happy Christmas ;-)

4:15 AM  
Blogger Jeff Kallman said...

Mind? I'm flattered! And I'll return the favour and link to you, too!

5:07 AM  

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