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.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

"Gracie, How's Your Brother?" The Way It Was, 15 February

1932---George Burns eventually makes that question a kind of retrospective running gag in due course ("All I had to do was ask, 'Gracie, how's your brother?' and she talked for 38 years"), but that is well in the future as Burns & Allen premiere as old-time radio regulars on The Guy Lombardo Show. (CBS.)

The couple---who will not present themselves on air as the married couple they actually are until over a decade later---are not unanimously acclaimed. As Burns will relate later in life, an indignant fraternity complained that their weekly house dances, when they invite their girlfriends to come and dance to "the sweetest music this side of heaven," is so rudely interrupted by these interlopers.

It depends, of course, on what your definitions of "sweet" and "this side of heaven" are.

Said fraternity will prove a minority, of course, as Burns & Allen go on to become radio fixtures---including a few memorable characters (most notably, the Mortons next door and Mel Blanc as the Happy Postman who was always on the verge of tears as he spoke of cheerful things) and at least two of the most memorable gags in the history of the art (the search for Gracie's brother, and Gracie's mock presidential campaign in 1940)---right to the day they graduate to television in 1950.


1943: IT ISN'T THE JIVE FIVE, KIDDIES---My True Story, a dramatic anthology, premieres on NBC's Blue Network (which is just months away from being sold to Edward J. Noble, who will rename it the American Broadcasting Company in due course) and will stay on radio until 1962---the year considered the last year of old-time radio. Written by Margaret Sangster, announced by Glenn Riggs, directed by Martin Andrews, Charles Warburton, and George Wiest, My True Story will feature various performers and no known regular cast. On television (ABC), it will last a single season. (1950-51.)


1950: THE SECRET WORD IS 'SUGAR'---And the none-too-secret word is humour, beginning with a milkman partnered with a brewer, on tonight's edition of You Bet Your Life. (CBS.) Host: Groucho Marx. Announcer: George Fenneman.


1882---John Barrymore (actor: The Rudy Vallee Show, Lux Radio Theater), Philadelphia.
1893---Walter Donaldson (composer: "Theme For The Fitch Bandwagon"), New York City.
1896---Arthur Shields (actor: Cavalcade of America), unknown.
1899---Gale Sondergaard (actress: Columbia Presents Corwin), Litchfield, Minnesota.
1907---Cesar Romero (actor: Movietone Radio Theatre), New York City.
1908---William Janney (actor: We're Always Wrong, Howie Wing), New York City; Hartzell Spence (writer: Cavalcade of America, Lux Radio Theater), Clarion, Iowa; Hugh Wedlock, Jr. (writer: The Jack Benny Program, Lum & Abner, That's My Pop), unknown.
1914---Kevin McCarthy (actor: Richard Lawless, The CBS Radio Mystery Theater), Seattle.
1916---Mary Jane Croft (actress/comedienne: Beulah, The Story of Sandra Martin, Our Miss Brooks), Muncie, Indiana.
1919---Frank Behrens (actor: Billie the Brownie, Jack Armstrong, All-American), Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
1930---Mary Lee Robb (actress: The Great Gildersleeve), Chicago.

1941: DONNA DAMEREL FICK---The co-star of popular, semi-comic soap opera Myrt & Marge, dies while giving birth to her third son.

Fick is the real-life daughter of creator-writer Myrtle Vail, who's based the show on her own vaudeville experiences and plays the hard-patinaed veteran chorus trouper Myrt Minter, who took under her wing an innocent newcomer named Marge Spear a decade earlier. (Vail is believed to have thought of the idea while unwrapping a stick of Wrigley's Spearmint---which became the show's original sponsor.)

Myrtle Vail will continue the show regardless, perhaps as a way to salve grief (Movie-Radio Guide says she believes her daughter wanted the show to continue regardless), and write Marge out of the script for a short while (sending her hiding in the hills, as it happens, until a mixup involving a murder can be cleared) until a successor can be chosen, presiding (according to Time) over arduous auditions for a new Marge.

To get Marge out of the hills took a lot of doing on the part of Colgate-Palmolive-Peet, which sponsors the show. The company interviewed 200 possible Marges, paraded 60 of them before Myrt, let her reduce the crowd to 35. Then it took over a couple of CBS studios, crowded advertising executives and the program director in one, put Myrt in the other. Forthwith auditions commenced. It took three days to pick the new Marge. Unanimous choice for Marge was pert, black-haired Cinemactress Helen Mack, who had the role of a streetwalker in His Girl Friday.

---Time, 31 March 1941.

Fick was married to former Olympic swimmer Peter Fick at the time of her death (they married over a year before her death); her two previous marriages produced her two older sons, Charles Griffith (a future screenwriter) and William Kretsinger.

Myrt & Marge continued on radio until 1946.

Donna Damerel Fick's death at age 28 will be listed sometimes as 14 February because she had done into labor on that date, after performing a Myrt & Marge episode earlier in the day; she died after midnight, technically 15 February, shortly after her son was born.

In later years, there will be those believing Fick died in a road accident, garbling her death (according to radio historian Elizabeth McLeod) with the accident that hospitalised Myrtle Vail for several weeks in 1933 . . . and provoked a Myrt & Marge storyline involving Myrt Spear's kidnapping (by gangsters) and Marge Minter's hunt for her, a storyline that allowed Vail a full recovery.


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