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, January 15, 2007

"I Can't Help But Dream Out Loud a Little Here": The Way It Was, 15 January

1953---Harry S. Truman, at 10:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, becomes the first American President to say farewell to the American people on radio and television.

When Franklin Roosevelt died, I felt there must be a million men better qualified than I, to take up the Presidential task. But the work was mine to do, and I had to do it. And I have tried to give it everything that was in me.

The outgoing President delivers the address from the Oval Office, saying he was doing it solely because he wanted "to say ‘goodbye’ and ‘thanks for your help.’ And I want to talk to you a little while about what has happened since I became your President."

Mr. Truman had declined to run for a second full term of office, despite the fact that the 22nd Amendment limiting a President to two terms had grandfathered him the opportunity to run once more, exempting the incumbent from its clause denying a chance for a third term to any man who had succeeded to the office and served over two years before running for a term in his own right. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Republican nominee, defeated Adlai E. Stevenson, the Democratic nominee, in the November 1952 election.

Among other things, the outgoing President predicts the end of the Cold War with a Communist collapse.

As the free world grows stronger, more united, more attractive to men on both sides of the Iron Curtain--and as the Soviet hopes for easy expansion are blocked--then there will have to come a time of change in the Soviet world. Nobody can say for sure when that is going to be, or exactly how it will come about, whether by revolution, or trouble in the satellite states, or by a change inside the Kremlin.

Whether the Communist rulers shift their policies of their own free will--or whether the change comes about in some other way-I have not a doubt in the world that a change will occur.

Decide for yourself the proper place in history for Mr. Truman. Begin, or return, with a small array of observations and valedictories that present in toto a President, if not a man, who was at once more and less than he appears to have been the further removed we are from his time and place.

Unhampered by anything resembling a coherent body of ideas, he was ready to believe up to the extreme limits of human credulity. If he did not come out for spiritualism, chiropractic, psychotheraphy, and extrasensory perception, it was only because no one demanded that he do so. If there had been any formidable body of cannibals in the country he would have promised to provide them with free missionaries fattened at the taxpayers' expense.

So we now have him for four years more---four years that will see the country confronted by the most difficult and dangerous problems presented to it since 1861. We can only hope that he will improve as he goes on. Unhappily, experience teaches that no man improves much after 60, and that after 65 most of them deteriorate in a really alarming manner. I could give an autobiographical example, but refrain on the advice of counsel. Thus we seem to be in for it. I can only say in conclusion that the country jolly well deserves it.

---H.L. Mencken, "Truman's Election," Baltimore Sun, 7 November 1948; republished in The Impossible H.L. Mencken (Mary Elisabeth Rogers, editor; 1991).

I always felt we knew where we stood with Harry.

---Barry Goldwater, from With No Apologies (1979).

Three of the eight postwar Presidents have been "accidental," and the first of them was an especially fortunate accident. In the nick of time---the 83rd day of FDR's fourth term---the nation acquired a President with the realism and stamina to contain communism. Had FDR died a year earlier---and from what is now known of his condition, it is a wonder he did not---Henry Wallace would have become President as the Red Army poured into Europe.

---George F. Will, "The Unsentimental Man from Missouri" (3 May 1984), republished in The Morning After: American Successes and Excesses 1981-1986 (1986).

He stood for common sense, common decency. He spoke the common tongue. As much as any president . . . he brought to the highest office the language and values of the common American people. He held to the old guidelines: work hard, do your best, speak the truth, assume no airs, trust in God, have no fear. Yet he was not and had never been a simple, ordinary man . . . He was the kind of president the founding fathers had in mind for the country.

---David McCullough, author of Truman (1992).

Truman’s iconographers have endorsed George Marshall’s assessment of "the integrity of the man" . . . Yet corruption was one of the trio of issues that sank the Democrats in 1952 . . . Between Teapot Dome and Watergate, no administration was as severely buffeted as Truman’s by allegations of influence peddling, most of them true: government loans were directed to prominent Democrats and their friends, administration officials accepted gifts large and small, and old war buddies of Truman’s accumulated tidy fortunes as "five percenters." For the sake of his party, Truman was prepared to make all sorts of ethical compromises . . .

Of course, if the only flaws marry Harry Truman’s reputation were his personal flaws or his administration’s improprieties, recalling them now would be ridiculously beside the point. What president or presidency has gone unscathed by those? Nobody should begrudge a few bouts of irascibility to the president who saved Western Europe from starvation and communism, who imposed democratic institutions on Germany and Japan, and who won the Korean War. Unfortunately, though, history records some far more significant debits in the ledger of Truman’s achievements . . .

No American president ever imposed worse economic policies than Harry Truman. The great postwar economic boom that began in 1945 appalled and disgusted Truman, and he exerted all his political power in an attempt to shut it down. Truman wanted to impose a permanent war economy on the United States: a comprehensive system of wage, price, and credit controls; state allocation of investment capital; and confiscatory taxation---all supervised by a bureaucracy left almost entirely to its own discretion. It could even be argued, in fact, that Truman’s most important personal contribution to the nation’s future prosperity was his unpopularity: dislike of him helped elect the conservative postwar Congresses that rejected statism at precisely the moment of its maximum prestige . . . He sent up obnoxious bill after bill, knowing that each would be rejected, justifying his claim that the Eightieth was a "do-nothing" Congress. Now, take a look at the content of his bills: price controls again, a huge expansion of the federal housing program already transforming poor neighbourhoods into nightmarish slums, national health insurance, federal support for and regulation of local school boards, and a renewed commitment to federal water projects to produce subsidised electricity. It was the Lyndon Johnson program, fifteen years early. And if we believe that Johnson’s huge expansion of the federal government between 1965 and 1973 shut down the postwar expansion of the American economy, we ought to wonder: Would there have been a postwar economic expansion in the first place if Harry Truman’s legislative program had succeeded?

. . . The nostalgic memory of the "Give ‘em hell Harry" whistlestop campaign of 1948 has softened our recollection of the extraordinary savagery of Truman’s campaign rhetoric . . . Incessantly, Truman warned that (Thomas E.) Dewey’s election wold bring back the Depression . . . None of Truman’s railway car orations, however, quite matched in viciousness the speech he gave to a huge crowd and nationwide radio audience in Chicago on October 15, vilifying Dewey’s campaign themes of national unity and administrative efficiency.

---David Frum, "Not So Wild About Harry," from What’s Right (1996).

Now, he went further, charging that Dewey’s party paid only ‘lip service’ to democracy itself. ‘In our time we have seen the tragedy of the Italian and German peoples, who lost their freedom to men who made promises of unity and efficiency and sincerity . . . and it could happen here.’ Pointing a finger at ‘powerful reactionary forces which are silently undermining our democratic institutions,’ Truman accused Dewey of being a ‘front man’ for the same cliques that had backed Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, and Tojo in Japan.

---Richard Norton Smith, in Thomas E. Dewey and His Times (1982), from a passage cited by Frum.

Perhaps the saddest background to Mr. Truman’s groundbreaking radio/television farewell: he was, as Mr. Frum pointed out, sunken low enough in public esteem that Stevenson, his party's 1952 nominee to the White House, avoided being seen in public with him.


1940: THE BIG STINK---It’s the day after burying Belle’s entire laundry, thanks to it stinking from a thorough spraying with Lorenzo’s “waterless washing solution.” Three guesses who’s in hiding in his workshop without his breakfast, “for fear of bein’ asked embarrassing questions” such as what he was doing in the yard with a shovel at midnight, while trying to find yet another way to outwit his wife’s business manager (“Why, any invention’ll smell, at first”), on tonight’s episode of the delightful comic soap Lorenzo Jones. (NBC.)

1945: THE DARNEDEST THING---With a hodgepodge of audience participation, musical groups, guest speakers from various walks of life, and ultimately famous (and often satirized) interviews with schoolchildren up to age ten, House Party, hosted by genial comedian Art Linkletter, premieres on CBS in 1945. The show will run on radio through 1967 and on television from 1949 through 1970.

1950: WALKING THE PRANK---Harking back to Friday the Thirteenth, our heroine recalls adenoidal student Walter Denton’s prank: sending teetotaling blowhard Madison High principal Osgood Conklin literature on curing his nonexistent drinking habit---unaware at first that "Cure That Habit"'s leader shared the query with the head of the school board, on tonight's episode of Our Miss Brooks. (CBS.)


1899: "WHY DO YOU FOLLOW ME AROUND THE HOUSE ALL DAY WRITING DOWN EVERYTHING I SAY?"---Humourist Goodman Ace---who will put that line into his mother’s mouth thirty-nine years later, after having established himself as one of radio’s most facile comedy writers and wryest of straight men (if you can call him a straight man, that is)---in Kansas City. Creator/writer/co-star, Easy Aces (1930-45); head writer, The Danny Kaye Show, The Big Show; television comedy writer (Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Perry Como, others); magazine columnist (Saturday Review).

Ace will become a radio regular accidentally, in 1930, while doubling as a newspaper reporter/critic and radio critic. The program feed scheduled to follow his weekly spot reviewing movies and stage shows doesn't feed. The station needs him to fill the fifteen-minute air slot; with his wife, Jane, already in the studio waiting for him, he will bring her to the microphone and they will launch into an impromptu around their most recent bridge game and a local murder case, among other things. (Jane: "Would you care to shoot a game of bridge, dear?")

The response will be enough to compel the station, KMBC, to ask Ace to create a fifteen-minute comedy of his own. Easy Aces, arguably, is radio’s first prominent husband-and-wife comedy. The show will run for fifteen years, gaining a loyal if not ratings-breaking following for wife Jane’s impeccable malapropriety and husband Ace's own wry interjections. It will not fare well, however, in an expanded, half-hour, live-audience version (mr. ace and JANE, 1948-1949) or in its original fifteen-minute format on television. (1949-1950, DuMont.)

Except for periodic interviews, Ace will not appear on radio again until late in life, when he holds a weekly commentary slot on WPAT in New York and, later, National Public Radio.


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