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, July 27, 2007

The Son Who Saved The Father: The Way It Was, 27 July

1916---When vaudeville clown and future old-time radio legend Ed Wynn (b. Isaiah Edwin Leopold) becomes the father of Keenan today, he little knows just how devoted his new son will prove to become when he is at the absolute depth of his career.

For it will be Keenan Wynn---himself to become a distinguished character actor in his own right (including a few appearances on old-time radio's Lux Radio Theater, but probably remembered best as the second and final Digger Barnes on the 1980s television hit Dallas)---who finds his father a new set of bootstraps by which the old man will pick himself up, following the collapse (hardly his fault) of his fourth-network experiment (the Amalgamated Broadcasting System), the end of his radio stardom, a nasty public divorce in the wake of the collapse, and a soul-wrenching mental breakdown.

With the help of his son Keenan, Ed Wynn gradually re-emerged from seclusion in the early 1940s, venturing first onto the stage and then back into radio in 1944 for one of the most unusual series ever broadcast. Entitled "King Bubbles of Happyland," the new show presented Wynn as the monarch of a fairytale kingdom in which he traveled about helping his subjects with their problems. The show was fully-staged for its live audience, with elaborate sets and costumes for Wynn and his entire cast, and sponsor Borden's Dairies had high hopes when the series premiered in September 1944 . . .

It was at the instigation of son Keenan that Ed Wynn turned to straight acting in the late fifties. The senior Wynn knew that comedy had changed, that his style was outmoded and old-fashioned -- but he still wanted to work. Keenan had been cast in a "Playhouse 90" television drama by Rod Serling, a compelling story of the seamy world of small-time boxing entitled Requiem For A Heavyweight. The play contained a key role for a trainer -- a wistful, elderly man named "Army" who represented the faint voice of decency in an otherwise corrupt business. In a suggestion that might have seemed bizarre, Keenan approached producer Martin Manulis and reccomended his father for the role -- and Manulis took the idea to Serling, who against his better judgment, agreed. Ed Wynn himself was terrified, certain he would fail and ruin the show -- but at Keenan's prodding, he reluctantly took the part.

Requiem For A Heavyweight aired live on October 11, 1956---and was one of the true high points of the Golden Age Of Television. Keenan Wynn played Maish, a corrupt fight manager ruthlessly manipulating the career of the simple-minded boxer Mountain McClintock, played by Jack Palance. And Ed Wynn, as Army, surprised everyone----critics and author alike----by turning in an extraordinary, searing performance in his first real dramatic role.

Over the next decade, Wynn would appear in twenty films---sometimes in comedy relief roles as gently-batty old men, and sometimes in touchingly-dramatic parts. His work as the gentle Mr. Dussell in the 1959 film adaptation of The Diary Of Anne Frank earned him an Academy Award nomination in the category of Best Supporting Actor. Two years later, he returned to the Disney Studios for a part in the Fred MacMurray family comedy The Absent Minded Professor, and his role in this film was an inside joke for old-time radio fans---he appeared as a dithery small-town Fire Chief. Somewhere, Graham McNamee was smiling.

Few fathers were ever so loved and tended by their sons.


1890---Judith Lowry (actress: Valiant Lady; Welcome Valley), Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
1905---Leo Durocher (baseball manager/personality: The Fred Allen Show; The Big Show), West Springfield, Massachussetts.
1918---Veola Vonn (actress: Blondie; Chandu the Magician), New York City.
1919---David Swift (writer: The Opie Cates Show), Minneapolis.
1920---Homer Haynes (as Henry Haynes; musician/comedian, Homer & Jethro: Town and Country Time; Grand Ole Opry), unknown.
1928---Barbara Eiler (actress: The Life of Riley; A Day in the Life of Dennis Day), Los Angeles.


Blogger Mike Hobart said...

I haven't heard that story about Ed Wynn and Rod Serling before. Interesting stuff.

5:40 AM  
Blogger Jeff Kallman said...

Mike---I was pleasantly surprised by that revelation myself. "This sweet, sad man," as Ms. McLeod described Ed Wynn, deserved every success he gained.---Jeff

3:40 PM  

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