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.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Just Find Out What The Reward Is": The Way It Was, 28 November

1932: "BESIDES, THE RAILROAD WON'T ASK FOR ALIMONY"---Groucho Marx hits the old-time radio air for the first time in a series of his own, teaming with brother Chico in Beagle, Shyster, and Beagle, Attorneys at Law.

One of a series of weekly NBC Blue Network broadcasts under the rubric of Five Star Theater, sponsored by Standard Oil of New Jersey for Esso gasoline and Essolube motor oil, Beagle, Shyster, and Beagle stars Groucho as a wastrel attorney and Chico as his wastrel aide.

Written by Nat Perrin and Arthur Sheekman (who'd just done heavy doctoring on the film scripts for Monkey Business and Horse Feathers), the new show will combine choice adaptations of portions of the Marx Brothers' films, such as the famous musicians' sketch from Animal Crackers, with new material some of which ends up in the next Marx Brothers film, Duck Soup.

Thanks to the absence of humour of an actual attorney named Beagle, a litigation threat prompts a change in the show's name beginning with the fourth episode . . . to Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel, Attorneys at Law.

Thanks most likely to an unfavourable time slot---Monday nights at 7:30 p.m., a time in which Fortune surveyed only forty percent of radio owners tuned in---Standard Oil, misinterpreting the whopping ratings Ed Wynn's Texaco Fire Chief program gets at 9 p.m. (when about 60 percent of radio owners tune in, says Fortune), chooses not to renew Flywheel after its first and only season, even though the show actually outrates The Shadow, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and Kate Smith.

Groucho, of course, will remember the cancellation in his own inimitable way in due course . . .

Company sales, as a result of our show, had risen precipitously. Profits doubled in that brief time, and Esso felt guilty taking the money. So Esso dropped us after twenty-six weeks. Those were the days of guilt-edged securities, which don't exist today.

---From The Secret Word is Groucho. (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1976.)

I do recall writing the first episode with Arthur, Groucho, and Chico on the train coming East. Later the show would be done on the West Coast, so this was just the first of many train rides back and forth from Hollywood to New York . . .

We only had a couple of rehearsals for Flywheel on the day it was broadcast---everything was done live at the time---but Chico had trouble making even those. He'd always be late, and usually I'd have to stand in for him on the read-throughs. When he finally did show up, he'd be reading Ravelli's lines and Groucho would tell him to stop. "Deacon," he'd say to me---he always said I looked like a crooked deacon because of the steel-rimmed glasses I wore---"show him how the line should be read." My Italian accent was better than Chico's, you see. But Chico didn't care. All he really cared about was the horses and cards, especially bridge. He was a very undisciplined guy, but he negotiated all their deals, and he was the one who mingled with the movers and shakers . . .

I'm not really sure why Flywheel went off the air---maybe expectations were too high---but none of us really minded. For one thing, we had Duck Soup ready to go back in Hollywood, and for another, we all liked living in California very much indeed. So much for growing up in New York!

---Nat Perrin, to Michael Barson, for Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel: The Marx Brothers' Lost Radio Show. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988.)

Exactly one complete episode of Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel---the final episode---will survive in a recording available to future old-time radio fans. As for the Marx Brothers on radio, Flywheel will prove the actual highlight in a checkered enough radio side of their careers . . . at least until Groucho acquiesces to producer John Guedel in the mid-1940s and decides a quiz show that's as much room to ad lib as an actual game might not be such a bad idea at that . . .


1917: WE KNOW A GUY . . . ---His parents have no clue that their newborn son will become a prime candidate, if one were choosing an old-time radio most valuable player---indeed, he'll be nicknamed Mr. Radio with far more justice than that by which Milton Berle will be nicknamed Mr. Television.

Comic (Archie Goodwin, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show) and dramatic (Suspense, The Whistler, The Clock, The Adventures of Maisie, others) actor; director (Suspense, Broadway Is My Beat, others), and producer (numerous enough); one of the select about whom one can say without contradiction that he does everything, just about.

Happy 90th birthday to Elliott Lewis, wherever you are . . .

1925---Little does WSM know that the show debuting tonight as Barn Dance is destined for immortality under another name: Grand Ole Opry.

1960---Amidst the apparent and continuing phasing-away of classic radio as a nation once knew it, CBS secures its portion of the transition even further by expanding its hourly radio news coverage from five to ten minutes, just days after it lopped six radio soap operas and one radio Western from its regular programming schedule.

1944---The Allied advance following D-Day, which provokes hope in the Netherlands that they'll be liberated soon enough from Nazi occupation, doesn't arrive soon enough for Joop Brouwer de Koning: he becomes, at age 25, the youngest Dutch radio operator ever to be executed. The Dutch liberation will arrive just over five months later.


1948: GEORGE JESSEL TRIES TO SNEAK INTO THE ROXY---After Fred (Allen) and Portland (Hoffa) scope the Main Street (the former Allen's Alley) demimonde on whether radio comedy suffers monotony and malnourishment, Fred meets Jessel at Lindy's . . . and tags along when Jessel has to sneak into his own film's premiere, on tonight's edition of The Fred Allen Show. (NBC.)

Sergei Stroganoff: Kenny Delmar. Titus Moody: Parker Fenelly. Mrs. Nussbaum: Minerva Pious. Humphrey Titter: Alan Reed. Music: Al Goodman and His Orchestra, the Five DeMarco Sisters. Writers: Fred Allen, Robert Weiskopf, possibly Bob Schiller.

1948: MY SON, JOHN---A widowed father (Ernest Chappell, who also narrates), bereaved anew after his son was killed in World War II action, turns to an occultist who warns the quest could destroy him, on tonight's edition of Quiet, Please. (ABC.)

Writer: Wyllis Cooper.

1951: A DINNER PARTY; OR, PROFESSOR WARREN'S ROMANTIC FOLLY---The Halls (Ronald Colman, Benita Hume Colman) are surprised when breathless bachelor Professor Warren (Arthur Q. Bryan) wants to borrow their lace tablecloth for an unexpected dinner party---which he hopes will impress a woman (Sarah Selby) he met on a lecture tour, on tonight's edition of The Halls of Ivy. (NBC.)

Announcer: Ken Carpenter. Writers: Don Quinn, Barbara and Milton Merlin.


1894---Frank Black (conductor: The Jack Benny Program; NBC String Symphony; Cities Service Concert), Philadelphia.
1895---Jose Iturbi (pianist/conductor: The Bell Telephone Hour; Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra), Valencia, Spain.
1906---Helen Jepson (soprano: Kraft Music Hall; Show Boat), Titusville, Pennsylvania.
1909---Rose Bampton (mezzo soprano: The Palmolive Beauty Box Theater), Cleveland.
1925---Gloria Grahame (as Gloria Hallward; actress: Hollywood Star Playhouse), Los Angeles; Virginia Hewitt (actress: Space Patrol), Shreveport, Louisiana.


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