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.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"Am I My Brother-in-Law's Keeper?": The Way It Was, 16 January

1948---"The characters in this story are not fictitious. Very often, I wish they were." Thus did Goodman Ace open the audition performance of his new, expanded, half-hour version of his classic Easy Aces domestic comedy, mr. ace and JANE.*

The audition episode, "Paul Tries to Borrow $200 Dollars," introduces changes enough to the format that charmed an audience that wasn't a ratings buster but was loyal for fifteen years. The changes only began with the end the serial format of continuing storylines in fifteen-minute episodes, changes that also fell upon such other serial comedies as Vic & Sade, Lum & Abner, and the granddaddy of the lot of them, Amos 'n' Andy.

Instead, in came a format slightly more normalised to the situation comedy style, though Ace provided a small twist by acting as wry narrator (and, concurrently, subtle editorialist) as well as co-starring harried husband.

From the old Easy Aces cast, Ken Roberts---who had played slow-witted orphan Cokie, whom the Aces had semi-adopted---is now the show's announcer, both in fact and in character, cast as a radio announcer living next door to the Aces in New York City, visiting at least once a day and often doing miniature satires of radio commercials (a favourite target of Ace), including this jewel: "This show is brought to you by the Krubner Company, makers of those delicious tasting after-shave lozenges . . . The Krubner Company, for over fifty years dispensers of quality products. Yes, fifty years ago the Krubner Company dispensed with quality."

Ace also decided to switch himself from the real estate to the advertising business. This would necessitate the introduction of another pair of characters later in the series' brief life: his ulcers. He also disappeared Easy Aces's resident brother-in-law/pest, Johnny, in favour of a new wastrel brother-in-law, Paul. This switch fell very profoundly under the banner of what can happen when you're not careful about what you wish for. Johnny was merely allergic to work. Compared to Paul, Johnny was merely frustrated on convalescent leave.

Ace also introduced musical interjections between scenes that referenced action in the scene just closed. ("O Britannia," for example, transitioning scenes off a joke referring to the Bank of England.)

What didn't change: Jane Ace's supremacy as the show's malaproprietess, dropping her casually effective mangles with the kind of aplomb that came from fifteen years' experience as the best, or at least the most individual, of her breed.

What makes the mr. ace and JANE audition significant, too, is that the Aces keep the quiet atmosphere that helped make Easy Aces effective. The music accompaniment is by a solo pianist, with a very low-volume style (one passage will cause you to imagine ambient ragtime, if you dare), whether playing the familiar opening and closing theme (Louis Salter's "Manhattan Serenade") or the tartly chosen scene transitions. There is no studio audience or large orchestra such as enter when CBS agrees to pick up the show later in the month.

Big mistake. The Aces' contrapuntal conversational collages worked best when the show was kept calm. Audience and orchestra may have made it only too tempting to try the kind of now-typical sitcom the Aces usually belied and belittled in their arch way.

Had they kept the audition atmosphere (the plot, combining Jane and Paul's outlandish attempt to borrow from a loan company with Paul's stealthy bid to snatch a cigarette advertising account from Ace, would be broken into individual episodes later in the series), expanding without exactly abandoning what made Easy Aces work so long, so well, mr. ace and JANE might have lasted (as Jane might say) more than a single Caesar.

* --- Alas, the recording linked is a shortened and awkwardly edited version of the audition. You can still have a good taste of the audition's feel and potential.


1938: SUBTERRANEAN SABOTAGE BLUES---Stealthy shipyard attacks bedevil the maritime world until Lamont Cranston finds a way to its source, on tonight's episode of The Shadow. (Mutual.)

1949: PUZZLED---That's Dan Holliday (Alan Ladd), who can't quite understand why elderly, wealthy, disillusioned recluse Matilda Cortlandt wants his involvement at all, never mind why she'll tell him nothing beyond a dinner invitation with herself, her grandson, and "a woman," not to mention insisting Holliday behave non-chalantly no matter what she says at dinner---at first, on tonight's episode of Box 13. (Mutual.)

1949: NOT SO WILD ABOUT HARRY?---Actually, it seems to be Harry who's not so wild about Phil (Harris), who's not so wild about the President being not so wild about inviting his band to be among the performers at the Inaugural Ball, on tonight's edition of The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show. (NBC.)


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