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.

Friday, February 23, 2007

"Don't Slow Our Effort": The Way It Was, 23 February

1942---With the United States at war around the anniversary of George Washington, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asks Americans not to allow "our effort" to be slowed by "sniping at each other," thus retorting none too subtly against critics questioning both the reality of the New Deal and the actuality of the war, in tonight's Fireside Chat. (All networks.)

For eight years, General Washington and his Continental Army were faced continually with formidable odds and recurring defeats. Supplies and equipment were lacking. In a sense, every winter was a Valley Forge. Throughout the thirteen states there existed fifth columnists and selfish men, jealous men, fearful men, who proclaimed that Washington's cause was hopeless, and that he should ask for a negotiated peace.

Comprehending and embracing radio to a greater extent than perhaps any American politician of his era (Calvin Coolidge was merely the first President to appreciate the medium's potential), Roosevelt introduced the Fireside Chats during his first year in office, when he went on the air 12 March 1933 at the height of the Depression-seeded bank crisis.

Whether they concurred or demurred from his pronouncements or stated plans, whenever he stated them, Roosevelt's listeners responded broadly enough that the Fireside Chats have been a longtime, semi-regular feature of the Roosevelt presidency. The final Fireside Chat, concurrent to the opening of the fifth War Drive, was broadcast 12 June 1944 . . . six days after D-Day launched. (The night before D-Day, Roosevelt's Fireside Chat celebrated the liberation of Rome from Axis control.)

The Fireside Chats were broadcast live at 10 p.m. Eastern standard/daylight/war time, the late hour allowing Roosevelt to transcend the time difference and reach West Coast families. Roosevelt gave four such Chats in 1933, 1942, and 1943; two each in 1934, 1937 (in one of which Roosevelt discussed his controversial and rightly doomed plan to pack the Supreme Court), 1938, 1940, 1941, and 1944; and, one each in 1935, 1936, and 1939.


1910: CREDIT OR BLAME IT ON PHILADELPHIA---It is the first known radio contest.

1927: SPEAKING OF CALVIN COOLIDGE . . .---said President signs into law the 1927 Radio Act, formally creating the Federal Radio Commission---the forerunner of the Federal Communications Commission.


1948: GIVE HIM THE SIMPLE LIFE---A benign, content family business treasurer heretofore content in his work takes a course toward murder, after his uncle and cousin rebuff his partnership bid and his avaricious wife gives him an ultimatum, on tonight's edition of Diary of Fate. (Syndicated.) Cast unknown: Writer/director/producer: Larry Finley.

1949: ARCHIE WANTS TO PATENT ELECTRICITY---The only problem Archie (Ed Gardner) has is, he's only a few decades late and about five dollars short---it's what he owes the electric company---on tonight's edition of Duffy's Tavern. (NBC.) Co-stars: Charles Cantor, Sandra Gould, Eddie Green, Alan Reed. Writers: Ed Gardner, Larry Gelbart, Larry Marks, Manny Sachs.


1883---Victor Fleming (director: Gulf Screen Theatre), Pasadena, California
1899---Norman Taurog (director: Biography in Sound, Bud's Bandwagon), Chicago.
1904---William L. Shirer (reporter/analyst, CBS European News, CBS World News Roundup, William L. Shirer: News and Comment), Chicago.
1909---Anthony Ross (actor: Broadway Is My Beat), New York City.
1913---Jon Hall (actor: Texaco Star Theater, Screen Guild Theater), Fresno, California.
1935---Gerrianne Raphael (actress Let's Pretend), New York City.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The IRS went after all War Bond volunteers (as income not received but income value for their volunteer time). Lou Costello had a heart attack while attempting to work off this perceived debt created by the IRS. Many actors at that time fell into this category with the IRS.

The way you painted Lou Costello was accurate but really unfair due to his big heart and big contribution to the war bond effort. We had guys on the battle field with no bullets and actors over here willing to donate time to help them out. After the war was over, the IRS decided to go after these actors (Lou Costello, Bud Abbott and W.C. Fields were some of the biggest volunteers for the War Bond effort) and forced many of these volunteers back to work when they really were too old and worn out. The IRS essentially sent them into bankruptcy.

Just a stinky piece of US history.

9:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S. FABULOUS SITE! Just thought it was unfair to paint such a dark picture of Abbott and Costello considering ...

9:28 PM  
Blogger Jeff Kallman said...

Ano---My notation that Abbott and Costello were wrecked in some or in large part by tax trouble was not meant to suggest that they were therefore terrible people. But I don't understand how accuracy is in and of itself unfair. It passes judgment in no manner; it merely observes.

In one way it doesn't mater how Abbott and Costello got into tax trouble in the first place. They weren't the first entertainers to get themselves in the IRS's gunsights and they weren't even close to the last, whatever the reasons. Good people have tax trouble just as surely as bad people. My personal opinion regarding taxation is the same as the ancient political analyst Frank Chodorov: Taxation is nothing more than organised robbery and there the subject should be dropped. But that's another discussion in another forum entirely.

Merely making a note that Abbott and Costello experienced tax trouble isn't and shouldn't be taken to be an automatic besmirch upon their memory or upon their war bond voluntarism. Neither, by the way, should anyone need me to remind them that such voluntarism as theirs doesn't necessarily equal their having been saintly human beings otherwise. (It should go without saying, of course, that having been less than saintly isn't the same as having been less than human.)

That said, you raise a marvelous point: I'd like to see a lot more about the government viz the war bond volunteers, though. If you are right (I note you point to no link that might provoke further, deeper available reading on the matter, though one allows that such readings might not be available online just yet), and the IRS did cause tax trouble for them after the war (one notes that Harry Truman---this is a rather conveniently forgotten point about a man now held up as something of a nostalgic figure---hankered in his way to secure the excessive taxation of the war years), it is a story that needs, if not demands, to be exhumed and re-told. And not solely because three of America's favourite entertainers were ruined and forced to return to work (assuming that they could work: W.C. Fields would be dead by 1946, to name one) beyond their time as a result.

If Abbott and Costello and W.C. Fields among others were hunted and prosecuted unfairly in the wake of their war bond voluntarism, and if indeed the IRS attempted to assess them according to the actual or alleged value of their volunteer performances (one should be asking oneself at the very same time just who conferred upon the IRS, never mind any State agency, the power to determine beyond proper market value just what such value actually is), the salient point is that they were done dirty.

But having said that it's also very fair to suggest that, perhaps, Lou Costello's fatal heart attack might have had roots planted in soils other than those of the tax man. He had suffered a long enough bout of rheumatic fever in, I believe, 1943 (it kept him off the air for a full year, as I recall reading), well enough before he was any kind of IRS target, and rheumatic fever to the best of my knowledge is a condition that leaves a human heart that much more prone to the sort of failure that claimed Costello's life in due course.

And it's further reasonable to suggest, I think, that if stress is a companion cause of heart disease and failure, the IRS could hardly have been Costello's (or Bud Abbott's, for that matter) sole source of stress. (The IRS could have turned out to be a major reason why Abbott and Costello abandoned a plan they're believed to have had about buying Universal Studios, of course, but that's something else again.) They had apparent gambling issues (mentioned in quite a number of histories of both classic radio and the A&C team). Selling their homes and the rights to a considerable enough portion of the work in which they retained sellable rights might have resolved their issues with the IRS (I don't know that the sales retired their IRS debt entirely, of course), but I wonder the extent to which gambling debts---whether one's or the other's or both's---compounded their stress.

Above all other considerations, of course, let's not forget the likely impact of the accidental death of Lou Costello's infant son, bearing in mind my note that a number of the team's associates have long since sworn Costello never really recovered from that tragedy. Who knows just how heavily that affected the heart of a man who had already survived a long bout of rheumatic fever?


P.S. For future reference: For clarity's sake, when offering a comment or rebuttal to a particular entry, you should offer it on the entry in question. Unless you were trying to say something subliminally about the New Deal's tax policies having wreaked havoc enough upon Abbott and Costello, it just doesn't seem sensible to respond to an Abbott and Costello observation through an entry addressing Franklin Roosevelt's Fireside Chats . . . ;)

10:07 PM  
Blogger Jeff Kallman said...

P.S.S. I finally managed to locate something---a 1960 Screen Stories article about Bud Abbott, for which the comedian spoke extensively enough about Abbott & Costello's tax troubles. Among other things, Abbott told the magazine that Lou Costello wasn't quite bankrupt at his death: Abbott said Costello managed to retire his debt to the IRS but actually had something left over because he owned the rights to their filmed television series of 1952-53.

Abbott also said that "disallowed" expenses on his taxes, when the government performed a seven-year audit of his tax books, accounted for the preponderance of his tax troubles (perhaps for Costello's, too, though he didn't really say for certain)---and that the duo's manager had warned them several years earlier that the only way they might survive, considering they were in the 90 percent tax bracket in force in those years for mega earners, was to take up more modest lifestyles and sell their expensive homes.

"We had to live up to our status in life," Abbott was quoted as saying.

That doesn't exactly sound to me as if Abbott & Costello got ruined only or even mostly because of a dubious tax lien assuming the indeterminate equivalence in income value of their war bond drive voluntarism. (Mistake me not: I still believe that if you were right about the IRS trying to lay tax on the actual or alleged income equivalent of all those war bonds drive activities, the story of such an outrageous lien should be exhumed and told loudly enough.)

It sounds more as though Abbott & Costello were ruined in a collision between an unconscionable enough tax bracket and a human enough inability to live within even their very considerable means. Again, that doesn't exactly besmirch their memory. Good people have been known to live beyond their means, for whatever reasons, reasons that include a real or imagined obligation to "live up" to their "status" in life.

The story is more sad than anything else.


12:12 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home