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, July 19, 2007

The Opening Bell: The Way It Was, 19 July

1948: CLASS IS IN SESSION---Two auditions and one reworked audition script later, one of old-time radio's most beloved situation comedies premieres as a regular series.

Well, I'll tell you. I originally loved the theater. I still do. And I had always wanted to have a hit on Broadway that was created by me. You know, kind of like Judy Holliday and Born Yesterday. And I griped about it a little. And someone said to me, 'Do you realise that, if you had a hit on Broadway, probably a hundred or two hundred thousand people might have seen you in it, if you'd stayed in it long enough. And this way, you've been in [Our] Miss Brooks, everybody loves you, and you've been seen by millions.’ So, I figured I'd better shut up while I was ahead.

---Eve Arden, to radio historian John Dunning, a quarter century after school let out at Madison High forever.

Making a bona-fide star of Arden as the sardonically attractive high school English teacher, Our Miss Brooks will enjoy a ten-year radio life amidst which it enjoys a concurrent five-year television life. Pretty fly for a star who turned out to have been the third choice for the role that made her name, after Shirley Booth tried but failed an audition and Lucille Ball, reportedly, was considered next to audition but didn't because of her commitment to another CBS radio comedy, My Favourite Husband.

Written cleverly by Al Lewis (who also directed many episodes), Our Miss Brooks's radio life will make and secure the show's reputation as a thinking person's situation comedy. It also makes stars of cast members Gale Gordon (as blowhard principal Osgood Conklin), Jeff Chandler (as nebbish, almost indifferent biology teacher Philip Boynton), and Richard Crenna (as clumsy, adenoidal student Walter Denton). Rounding out the well-aligned cast are Jane Morgan (as absentminded landlady Margaret Davis), Gloria McMillan (as principal's daughter/Denton paramour Harriet Conklin), and Leonard Smith (as witless star school jock Stretch Snodgrass), with Mary Jane Croft in a recurring role as catty English teacher Miss Enright.

Rounding out the cast will be Leonard Smith as witless jock Stretch Snodgrass, Jane Morgan as absentminded landlady Margaret Davis, Gloria McMillan as principal's daughter Harriet Conklin, and jill-of-all-trades Mary Jane Croft in occasional appearances as catty fellow English teacher Miss Enright.

She never played the comedian offstage---she didn't need to be the funniest person in the room, unlike so many comics, who find it difficult to get off. She went out, got the laughs, and went back to her ranch in the [San Fernando] Valley. She was just a wonderfully unselfish actress, and was just so up all the time; she made you feel good to be around her.

---Richard Crenna, remembering Eve Arden to Gerald Nachman, in "Valued Families," from Raised on Radio. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.)

Shirley Booth, unable to find the lighter side of the put-upon teacher's life as Arden in due course did, wasn't exactly left in the cold, not with an Academy Award and a couple of Emmys (as television's sardonic housekeeper Hazel) in her not-too-distant future. Lucy? She had a pretty decent future in her own right . . .


21 NOVEMBER 1948: THE MODEL SCHOOL TEACHER---That would be Connie, who's been nominated for such a magazine citation, but the men in her life---from Dopey Denton to Blowhard Conklin to Bashful Boynton---seem more impressed with the sultry reporter who's come to profile her.

1 MAY 1949: THE GRUDGE MATCH---When Walter learns who joined Harriet when she went to the movies alone the night before, he insists on settling it in a grudge match . . . with Conklin not only setting aside his usual professed rule against school violence but looking to referee the bout himself . . . so he can watch Walter get whatever passes for his brains turned into tapioca pudding.

5 JUNE 1949: SCHOOL KEY---There's only one thing wrong on the day Madison High is supposed to receive a district attendance award---thanks to absentminded Mrs. Davis, in whose custody it was left for the morning, the key to the school is missing and nobody can get in or answer its phones.

17 JULY 1949: THE CARELESSNESS CODE; OR, GREAT CAESAR'S BUST(ED)---Levying petty fines for often spontaneously-enacted school safety rules is the way Conklin plans to finance a new bust of himself, to replace a bust of Julius Caesar in front of the school library---until frequent defendant Connie finds a way to teach him the hard way how finely pettiness comes to bury Caesar's would-be successor.

19 SEPTEMBER 1949: WEEKEND AT CRYSTAL LAKE; OR, KEEP YOUR HEAD---Boyton invites Connie to spend the weekend boating at the Conklins' Crystal Lake retreat---but with everyone seeming to think he plans to re-enact a certain scene from An American Tragedy, she may be seasick before she even steps into the boat. As Conklin puts it so inimitably, "He plans to end his romantic obligations to Miss Brooks by bashing her over the head with an oar and using her as bass bait!"

9 APRIL 1950: DYEING EASTER EGGS---It's to die for when Stretch unwittingly refills Mrs. Davis's suddenly busy powdered soap dispenser with Walter's newly-invented, delayed-action, powdered Easter egg dye---but the mishap's an unexpected blessing for at least one victim.

23 APRIL 1950: THE TAPE RECORDER---The tales of the tape don't necessarily ensure simple endings, as Connie hopes to convince penny-pinching Conklin it's not a bad idea to buy a tape recorder for school use.

5 MAY 1950: THE DEACON JONES SQUARE DANCE TROUPE---Connie balks at signing up to tutor the children of a touring square dance troupe, until she learns how generously they'll pay for one summer month---and how her favourite square might be rounded up for the gig, too.

21 MAY 1950: THE RARE BLACK ORCHID---It's what Conklin wants Connie to protect as a surprise for his wife (guest Paula Winslowe)---which probably seems akin to asking a mongoose to protect a cobra so far as Conklin's concerned.

22 DECEMBER 1950: WALTER'S RADIO BOMBAY---With Conklin delayed awaiting a bamboo furniture delivery at home, Walter's science project radio panics acting principal Connie into dismissing school early when it delivers news of an impending hurricane . . . that nobody realises is heading for Bombay, not Madison.


1891---Raymond Bramley (actor: Howie Wing; David Harum).
1901---Juano Hernandez (actor: Jungle Jim; Mandrake the Magician), San Juan.
1914---Lou Krugman (actor: The Romance of Helen Trent; Dear Mom; Gunsmoke), Passaic, New Jersey.


Blogger Ivan G said...

Joan Blondell was also considered for the part of Constance Brooks...that would have been an interesting series.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Jeff Kallman said...

It might have been . . . but this is the first time I've ever seen Joan Blondell's name mentioned in connection with the show. I don't recall either Gerald Nachman or John Dunning mentioning her, which stokes the curiosity even more for wondering whether she actually did an audition performance for the show.

11:31 AM  

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