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.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

But He Hated Radio (He Said): The Way It Was, 4 November

1879: "A SOOTHING HEADACHE FOR THE NATIONAL HANGOVER"---The Rogers family in the Oklahoma Territory little suspects their boy Will will grow up to bring touring stardom to old-time radio . . . even though he will claim he actually hates the medium, even while he helps revolutionise it by getting away with political satire despite the Federal Radio Commission's strictures by never using a script.

. . . With his relaxed, shambling, cud-chewing style, Rogers endeared himself to listeners as he had on stage and in movies, where he played himself---a sort of country slicker . . . He didn't play to audiences as most comics do. He was just a natural-born crowd pleaser who adapted without fuss to radio, just as he had gone from rope tricks to the Ziegfeld Follies to movies to newspaper columns, and then on to radio variety shows like The Eveready Hour, where he built his greatest constituency.

. . . Rogers arrived on radio's [Good Gulf Program] already a full-blown star . . . but it was radio that brought him to everybody all at once and cemented his stature, though he was to die only a few years into his radio career. He played the role of rube, the only part he ever really played, both on screen and on the air, an act that everyone was on to . . . his aw-shucks style was his public role, like a character out of Frank Capra.

Rogers, on the air and everywhere he spoke, personified the anti-intellectualism that America still harbours. Americans are suspicious of book learning, especially in their entertainers, and love to believe that great stars evolve from the people and, like Forrest Gump, are just nice folks who got lucky. But Rogers didn't crawl out of the haystack one morning and start making incisive wisecracks. He pretended to hide his light under a bushel, one firmly planted by him very early.

What shone through everything he did . . . was his essential Americanness (he never let audiences forget he was one quarter Cherokee), his basic decency, and his horse sense. In no way was he common, but he had the common touch and appealed to America's best instincts. His career timing was as perfect as his comic timing: Rogers entered radio in the middle of the turbulent twenties, for which he was a sober antidote. He then stood by during the Depression as the country's conscience, a soothing headache tablet for the National Hangover, reminding America of its roots. He was a constant, a man whose mere presence cheered people up. When he died at fifty-six in a plane crash over Alaska, said Stephen Chodorov in his Will Rogers documentary, "it seemed like the passing of a president."

---Gerald Nachman, in "Wise Guys Finish First," from Raised on Radio. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.)

To have to line up there and try to get some laughs, I want to tell you it's the toughest job I ever tackled.

---Will Rogers.


1934: YOU ASKED FOR IT---The world's first radio program presenting music based entirely on listeners' requests is presented by Eesti Raadio, Estonia. (Unable to determine just which music was performed, however, your chronicler would be grateful to anyone who can provide such information for an update.)


1938: GAUCHO HALEY---That would be Jack's (Haley) second cousin on his grandfather-in-law's side of the family, celebrating 'round an Argentine campfire until they receive a few not necessarily welcome guests, on tonight's edition of The Wonder Show Starring Jack Haley. (CBS.)

Additional cast: Lucille Ball, Virginia Verrill, Artie Auerbach. Announcer: Gale Gordon. Music: Ted Fioretto and His Orchestra. Writers: Unknown.

1940: WUTHERING HEIGHTS---Emily Bronte's classic of Cathy and Heathcliff, wild on the Moors, defying early family resentments, until along comes the wealthy neighbour's son, on tonight's edition of Lux Radio Theater. (CBS.)

Cathy: Ida Lupino. Heathcliff: Basil Rathbone. Host: Cecil B. DeMille. Adapted from the screenplay by Charles MacArthur.

1942: THE MAYOR HELPS A DISCREDITED SURGEON---A disillusioned surgeon (Eddie Marr)---who gave up surgery after he was blamed falsely and malevolently for failing to save a boy who couldn't be saved after a grotesque accident---is needed to retrieve his scalpel when the local hospital falls short of doctors, on tonight's edition of Mayor of the Town. (NBC.)

The Mayor: Lionel Barrymore. Toni: Agnes Moorhead. Dr. Case: Sidney Blackmer. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Writer: Jean Holloway.

1949: MOTHER-IN-LAW---It's one thing when George's (Richard Denning) mother moves to town to be closer to him, but something else again when she moves in with George and Liz (Lucille Ball) until she finds her own home, on tonight's edition of My Favourite Husband. (CBS.)

Katie: Ruth Perrott. Atterbury: Gale Gordon. Iris: Bea Benaderet. Additional cast: Hans Conreid, Eleanor Audley, Peter Leeds. Writers: Bob Carroll, Jr., Madelyn Pugh, Jess Oppenheimer.


1893---Howard Hoffman (actor: Chandu the Magician), Ohio.
1896---Harry Woods (composer: Great Moments to Music), North Chelmsford, Massachussetts; Ian Wolfe (actor: Suspense; Cavalcade of America; Escape), Canton, Illinois.
1906---Bob Considine (announcer: The Fred Waring Show), Washington, DC.
1910---Abby Lewis (actress: House in the Country), Mesilla Park, New Mexico.
1911---Dixie Lee Crosby (actress: Shell Chateau; The Bing Crosby Show), Harriman, Tennessee.
1912---Humphrey Davis (actor: Life Can Be Beautiful; Tennessee Jed), Meriden, Connecticut.
1916---Walter Cronkite (newscaster: KCMO Kansas City; WKY Oklahoma City; CBS Radio), St. Joseph, Missouri.
1918---Art Carney (actor/comedian: Joe and Ethel Turp; The Henry Morgan Show; Living 1948), Mount Vernon, New York; Cameron Mitchell (actor: Crime Does Not Pay; Lux Radio Theater), Dallastown, Pennsylvania.
1919---Martin Balsam (actor: Cloak and Dagger), New York City; Shirley Mitchell (actress: Fibber McGee and Molly; The Great Gildersleeve; Kay Kyser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge; McGarry and His Mouse), Toledo.


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