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.)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Take Your Parades, Football Games, Weepie TV Movies and . . .

There are only so many parades, football games, weepie television movies, brain-damaged sitcoms, and badly strained holiday-tied crime dramas you can stand on any given Thanksgiving.

Somewhere in the middle of prayer, turkey, and trimmings, there might be those among you who'd like to go Elvis on the nearest television set playing the umpteen hundred thousandth such offering. Perhaps you couldn't care less whether Brummagem University flattens Huffenpuff Tech in sudden death overtime. (Perhaps you wish they'd make it real sudden death---with corpses.) And if anyone breaks out the hankies and gives you one more tearjerking soliloquy about how Thanksgiving on Walton's Mountain tugged at your heartstrings and played the Brahms violin concerto on them, it was that good, you're going to give them a reason to cry and it won't be "Good night, John-Boy," kiddies.

Well, you can remove the oppressive chains of Thanksgiving television turkeys right here and now, and in one place. Here is a reasonable selection of Thanksgiving as classic radio had it. Now, this doesn't mean that some of these offerings were any less dopey, sugary, or brummagem than what they've been throwing up on Thanksgiving television. But it does mean that you can look on the bright side because you don't have to look at all. Just listen. Especially to the stuff that isn't dopey, sugary, or brummagem . . .

The Jack Benny Program (a.k.a. The Jell-O Program), "Jack Cooks The Turkey"---Don Wilson: "That turkey looked so tough and came out so tender. What did you do?" Jack Benny: "I cooked it with a blowtorch." Mary Livingstone: "We had everything from soup to bicarbonate of soda." Them's eats! (First broadcast: NBC, 28 November 1937; co-stars: Mary Livingstone, Kenny Baker, Phil Harris, Don Wilson.)

Vic and Sade, "Christmas Suggestions For The Boss"---Well, it isn't strictly a Thanksgiving-tied episode, but since Christmas season now begins on Black Friday at the latest you might find this a dryly amusing take. And that's allowing that very little of Vic and Sade was unamusing in the first place. (First broadcast: NBC, 26 November 1943; starring Bernadine Flynn, Art Van Harvey, Bill Idelson.)

The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, "Gracie Buys a Live Turkey"---With anyone else, perhaps, the title would require an explanation. (First broadcast: NBC, 17 November 1942; co-stars: Jimmy Cash, Elvia Allman, Lawrence Nash; music by Paul Whiteman.)

The Great Gildersleeve, "The Thanksgiving B Ration Book"---A charming period piece, approaching the end of America's first full year of World War II fighting. The big man applies for a B-ration book and thinks having his friendly nemesis Judge Hooker for Thanksgiving dinner might help soften up the old grump. A denied application, an argument, a failed invitation (to Gildersleeve sweetheart Leila Ransom), and a lost church raffle turkey spin the wheels . . . particularly after Gildersleeve learns who won the bird, and after niece Marjorie invites four servicement to Thanksgiving dinner with the family. (First broadcast: NBC, 22 November 1942, starring Harold Peary; co-stars: Lurene Tuttle, Walter Tetley, Earle Ross, Lillian Randolph.)

The Durante-Moore Show, "Casanova Moore"---Includes "The Thanksgiving Pilgrim Opera" with the Old Schnozzola as Miles Standish. (First broadcast: CBS, 22 November 1946; co-stars: Jimmy Durante and Garry Moore, with Suzanne Ellers, Howard Petrie.)

The Life of Riley, "Thanksgiving With The Gillises"---What a revoltin' development that is! (First broadcast: NBC, 19 November 1947, starring William Bendix; co-stars: Paula Winslow, Scotty Beckett, Sharon Douglas, Conrad Binyon)

Fibber McGee and Molly, "Doc's Pheasants For Dinner"---It's not necessarily a Thanksgiving-centric show, but if you'd like an alternative to turkey perhaps this will do the job. (First broadcast: NBC, 23 November 1948; starring Jim and Marian Jordan; co-stars: Arthur Q. Bryan, Bill Thompson, Isabel Randolph, Harlow Wilcox.)

Our Miss Brooks, "Thanksgiving Weekend"---Or, suppose they shared a Thanksgiving dinner and the turkey (depending upon your definition) didn't show up? (First broadcast: CBS, 27 November 1949, starring Eve Arden; co-stars: Jane Morgan, Gale Gordon, Jeff Chandler, Richard Crenna, Gloria McMillan.)

The Harold Peary Show, "Thanksgiving Play"---The short-lived, deserved-better show Harold Peary developed after he jumped to CBS at the tail end of the CBS talent raids . . . and learned the hard way he couldn't take The Great Gildersleeve with him. As a wry, stentorian radio crusader ("Honest Harold" was the name of the fictitious show portrayed in the series, not the series itself) Peary just couldn't shake the Gildersleeve image. Not even a slightly altered giggle and muffled trilling sigh erased his former alter ego; not even rewriting a local stage version of "The Courtship of Miles Standish" to allow John Alden (whom Peary's character planned to play) to plant a smooch upon Priscilla (who was to be played by his current love interest). But it is charming in its loopy way. (First broadcast: CBS, 22 November 1950; co-stars: Gloria Holiday, Joseph Kearns, Mary Jane Croft, Parley Baer.)

The Red Skelton Show, "Things To Be Thankful For"---They don't necessarily include the prospect of a used turkey dealership opening the following year. (First broadcast: CBS, 21 November 1951; co-stars: Lurene Tuttle, Patrick McGehan, the Smith Twins; music by David Rose.)

The Aldrich Family, "The Thanksgiving Turkey"---One of the latter-day installments of the series, with Bobby Ellis (the only actor to play Hen-reeeeeeeeeeeee! on radio and television) playing the role first made famous by Ezra Stone. The Aldriches and the Browns fight over the last turkey. If only the turkey had seen Porky Pig hunting the last dodo . . . (First broadcast: NBC, 23 November 1952; co-stars: Johnny Fiedler, House Jameson, Katharine Raht)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Shepherd Pied

“Judging from his scripts, if [Paul] Rhymer were alive today he would probably snort in derision at the pompous tone of this foreword, but I also suspect he would secretly have enjoyed it.” So wrote Jean Shepherd, introducing an otherwise valuable book, Vic and Sade: The Best Radio Plays of Paul Rhymer.

Shepherd had the virtue of self-honesty at least. He did write rather pompously, at least in terms of introducing a collection of some of classic radio’s least pompous scripts, scripts that invested a low-keyed, semi-serial comedy that amplified absurdism by embracing it quietly as an American way of domestic survival. And he knows it.

Whether it acquits a crack he made earlier in the introduction, however, I leave to you to decide: All I remember of Fred Allen is his phony Chinese accent when he was playing a detective . . . (For the uninitiated, the reference is to Allen’s Charlie Chan parodies, the One Long Pan sketches.)

Everything Shepherd wrote in favour of Vic and Sade is true enough. (Should you pick up the book, you can debate which among Shepherd’s observations ring more true; my own choice would be his commentary about the episode known as “Vic Reviews a Vacation Week with Bess and Walter in Carberry,” and Shepherd had a point when he notes Rhymer wrote more funny lines in a month than the five leading playwrights of the day wrote combined.) So was everything Charles Emerson Winchester III said of Chopin.

But nobody ever asked M*A*S*H’s snooty surgeon to introduce a box set of Victor Borge. And even Winchester would understand that remembering nothing of Fred Allen but the phony Chinese accent compares to remembering nothing about Casablanca but the phony fog over the airport tarmac.

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.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Jingle All the Way

Silly, maybe. But there's only one radio jingle I've ever wished I could program into my alarm clock for a wakeup call.

It featured on a certain New York City station in the late 1950s and earliest 1960s, and even today I can hear the earliest bustle outside the Webb Avenue apartment in which I spent my early childhood, from the trash truck prowling down the street to other kids hustling down to the candy store to bring Mother and Dad the morning papers, and right back to hot oatmeal with sugar and a banana before hustling off to school.

One of the "Best Sound" package created by Chuck Blore, it kicks off with a mixed chorus (that's male and female to you) in stop time before slipping into a pleasant, jazzy swing, starting with the ladies singing the melody and the gentlemen warbling "Good morning" behind them for eight bars, before they join up to ride out the conclusion.

Hey, wake up!
Get up!

We can start your day with a great, big smile
Turn your radio on and stay awhile
570 on your dial
when it's morning in New York.

We bring you music old and new
and maybe a happy smile or two.
From Manhattan---Manhattan---W-M-C-A

I know, I promised this blog would stand athwart nostalgia, yelling "art!" The lyric isn't exactly the second coming of Ira Gershwin. But the breezy music requires no apology. If you think you haven't heard worse ways to wake up! get up!, you sure haven't set your alarm clock radio to whatever station has the dishonour of bringing you Mancow in the Morning.

And it's no crime every so often to be sent back to Webb Avenue in the north Bronx, sneaking a listen to WMCA on the kitchen table radio at age seven, and feeling the crisp shaft of early winter through the kitchen window as that swinging, warbling wake up! get up! wafted forth, before Mother and Dad barreled in and locked the breakfast table dial on WNEW's four-hour Klavan and Finch morning show. (Yes. Their professional name sounded more like a partnership of corrupt lawyers than a radio team. Bob and Ray they weren't.)

WMCA went from the Best Sound period to become a kind of paradox but a memorable one. The disc jockeys looked clean and played clean (they weren't exactly known as the Good Guys because it was just a cleverly catchy tag phrase), but the music they played ran such a broad spread of rock and soul (they played what the other top forty stations wouldn't touch unless it was On The Charts) that they seem now to have been the edgy cousins to such New York repositories as WABC (before the notorious "Musicradio" seven-song playlists), WMGM (before it switched to what would become known as adult-oriented radio in 1965), and WINS (before it went all news in 1964).

By 1970, the station's weaker signal (five thousand watts), ill-advised early 1969 stab at a talk-and-music format, failed bid to revive the Good Guys style later in 1969 (after fracturing it under sales staff pressure in the first place), and inability to resolve the fragmenting of music that seemed to have hitched a ride in the FM hip pocket, left WMCA weakened enough that the Straus family who owned it finally had what room they needed to force the station into what they really hoped to make it in the first place: an all-talk station.

The station became a religious "teaching and talk" outlet (the "teaching and talk" is their phrase) in due course and remains so today. Something similar happened with maybe the only New York-area station that could have been called WMCA's rock and soul mate successor, WWDJ (that's 97DJ to those who listened and loved), about which David Hinckley of the New York Daily News recalled appropriately that it aired on AM but behaved like FM before the fragmenting---much like WMCA. Low-signaled, free-wheeling, and unable to sustain advertising support. 97DJ went religious in early 1974 and remains likewise today.

It never had half as swinging a wake up! get up! as WMCA had, but that isn't exactly a smudge against its three years of rock and soul survival. Nobody else really did, either.