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, April 20, 2007

The Big Finish: The Way It Was, 20 April

1952---Throwback and forward pass at once, a valiant, usually engaging bid to preserve big-time, old-time radio variety programming against the swelling of television ends tonight with a lineup of performers just as arresting as any presented in the show's two-year history.

Big budget, big losses (NBC is believed to have lost a million dollars, big money for 1952, trying to sustain the show it produced at $100,000 per show), big hostess ("the glamorous, unpredictable Tallulah Bankhead"), and big writing talent behind it. (Goodman Ace, heading up a staff of Selma Diamond, George Foster, Mort Greene, Frank Wilson, and---for those shows on which he appeared---Fred Allen.) The Big Show closes forever with Fred Allen (practically the show's co-host, for having appeared 25 times), Eddy Arnold, Phil Foster, Julie Harris, Groucho Marx, Ethel Merman, William Prince, and George Sanders.

Remarkably, its entire first season will survive on full recordings, most in good-to-excellent condition, for future radio collectors' enjoyment. At its absolute best, The Big Show lived up to its slightly hyperbolic name. At its absolute worst, The Big Show was still a far more ambitious and earnest player than nine-tenths of what television threw up (I leave it to my readers, all nine of them, to decide whether a pun was present, never mind intended) in a comparable genre. (If it tells you anything, let it be noted that Milton Berle, Mr. Television himself, appeared on The Big Show exactly twice . . . far less often than other performers who had made their television bones or weren't too far from it.)

It was in practically every respect a perfectly wonderful show---witty, tuneful, surprisingly sophisticated and brilliantly put together . . . one of the fastest and funniest ninety minutes in my memory.

---John Crosby, The New York Herald-Tribune.

If radio was to go out with a bang, there was nobody who gave audiences a better bang than Tallulah Bankhead, but it was the wrong sort of explosion. Running scared, radio was trying to turn itself into TV, not that anything would have helped. TV then was far worse---ragged, raw, and stumbling---but it was something that radio could never be again: novel.

The Big Show was not just more grand than most radio shows---it was also more witty, smoothly produced, smart, and ambitious, with an interesting juxtaposition of guests, but it wasn't significantly different. It was just a more lavish, inflated revival of radio's earliest form---the variety showcase; you could almost hear the sequins . . . It was all fairly sophisticated, but nothing could pry audiences from their expensive new glass boxes, and nothing could induce NBC to keep the lavish show on as a partly sustaining enterprise forever.

---Gerald Nachman, from "We're A Little Late, Folks, So Good Night," in Raised on Radio. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.)

---[The Big Show was] good enough to make one wish he could have seen it.

---Jack Gould, The New York Times.

Mayhap someone instructed the smugger-than-thou Mr. Gould that he'd have been sorely disappointed to "see" that The Big Show never crossed the line from mere contrast to following a powerfully condensed dramatic adaptation or classical music performance with a wild animal act?


1943: KILL---A biology teacher accused murderer awaiting his trial verdict tries to take his mind off the jury deliberations by recalling the events leading to the crime he's accused of committing---and his pre-trial confession, on tonight's edition of Lights Out. (NBC.)

Cast: Unknown. Writer/host/producer: Arch Oboler.

1947: THE DISINTEGRATING FAMILY---A doting young father (Ozzie Nelson) is impatient to get home to his family after getting an interesting perspective on modern family security from a stranger (Jeff Chandler) he meets at a bus stop, on tonight's edition of Family Theater. (Mutual.)

Harriet: Harriet Nelson. David: Tommy Bernard. Ricky: Henry Blair. Additional cast: Janet Waldo, John Brown. Writers: Ozzie Nelson, John Kelley, Robert O'Sullivan.

(Program note: This is usually listed and labeled, in both the available MP3 file and in various episodic logs, as an episode of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.)

1958: ACES AND EIGHTS---While probing around the Dakota territory, Kendall (John Dehner) discovers just how the hand known as the dead man's hand earns its name, on tonight's edition of Frontier Gentleman. (CBS.)

Additional cast: John McIntire, Jeanette Nolan, Jack Moyles, Larry Dobkin, Stacy Harris, Vic Perrin. Writer/director: Antony Ellis.


1893---Harold Lloyd (director/host: Old Gold Comedy Theater), Burchard, Nebraska.
1897---Gregory Ratoff (panelist: Information, Please; actor: The Fred Allen Show), St. Petersburg, Russia.
1904---Bruce Cabot (actor: Hollywood On the Air), Carlsad, New Mexico.
1908---Lionel Hampton (jazz vibraphonist: One Night Stand, Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra), Louisville, Kentucky.
1914---Betty Lou Gerson (actress: The Story of Mary Marlin, The Guiding Light, The Road of Life, The Whistler, Crime Classics, Escape, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, Lux Radio Theater), Chattanooga, Tennessee.
1923---Tito Puente (percussionist/bandleader: Manhattan Melodies), New York City.
1924---Nina Foch (actress: Lux Radio Theater, Suspense, Cavalcade of America), Leyden, The Netherlands.
1926---Elena Verdugo (actress: Meet Millie), Paso Robles, California.


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