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, December 14, 2008

Come Weez Heem to Zee Casbah: The Way It Was, 14 December

Make beautiful music with Charles Boyer tonight, as he gives old-time radio a field night remaking his indelible, star-making 1938 film role as the suave jewel thief whose enchantment with a nostalgic Parisian (Loretta Young, in the Hedy Lamarr film role) rankles his Algerian mistress (Isabel Jewell, in the Sigrid Gurie film role).

Additional cast: J. Carroll Naish (the future star of Life With Luigi), Gene Lockhart. Host: Cecil B. DeMille. Adapted from the screenplay by John Howard Lawson*, based on the novel by Henri La Barthe.


1929: THE BEAST FOR THE YEAST---What The Eveready Hour began, singer/bandleader Rudy Vallee will begin to refine tonight, as The Fleischmann's Hour premieres on NBC.

Within two years of the show's premiere, Vallee's signature opening ("We earnestly crave your attention and we strive earnestly to please you") and closing ("Au revoir and goodnight") will become overly familiar catch phrases, and The Fleischmann's Hour will have graduated into the variety format that comes to dominate the genre on radio and, in due course, on television.

And, it will be the "suave, somewhat self-important" Vallee who becomes radio's first identifiable impresario as the term is understood commonly. (Not for nothing does radio historian Gerald Nachman come to call him the Ed Sullivan of his time.)

On radio, Vallee will introduce a mass audience to the kind of crooning vocal style (though Vallee himself hated the term "crooning" or "crooner") later refined and enhanced by Bing Crosby and others; he will also introduce many of the nation's future radio stars by their guest slots on The Fleischmann Hour and his future programs.

But there will also come to be great enough debate as to just how much of that has been Vallee's own doing.

Rudy Vallee's great claim to fame was that these stars were on his show. That was none of his doing---they were all chosen for him---he just fronted the band. Rudy lacked judgment. I guess he walked into what success he had. He really needed guidance every step of the way. One week we gave him a line---it got a great laugh. The following week, he used it again, apropos of nothing. Silence. He couldn't figure it out. We had to explain that it was out of context.

---Paul Henning, future head writer for George Burns and Gracie Allen, and briefly a writer on the Vallee program, to Jordan R. Young, for The Laugh Crafters: Comedy Writing in Radio and TV's Golden Age. (Beverly Hills, California: Past Times Publishing, 1999.)

The future old-time radio stars whom Vallee will introduce to America will include, and not be limited to, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Milton Berle, Fanny Brice, Burns and Allen, Alice Faye, Ed Gardner (who becomes Vallee's director when the show becomes The Sealtest Hour), Bob Hope, Beatrice Lillie, Red Skelton, Kate Smith, Mel Torme, Orson Welles, the Broadway-derived sketches that will become The Aldrich Family, and the first known radio drama sketches by the titanic Norman Corwin.

But the reviews on Vallee---as a talent and a man---will remain mixed long after he goes to his eventual reward.

[H]e is the most generous of friends, willing to go out of his way to help people. But once he feels they have violated his trust, he is the bitterest of enemies.

---From Radioland, in 1934.

[P]erspicuous, persnickety, and cantankerous, cold as a witch’s kiss.

---From Radio Guide, date unknown.

He was a kind of Jekyll and Hyde. He could be a wonderful host or a real pain in the ass. Rudy's dates had to sign a form his lawyer drew up saying they realised they were going to get screwed by a famous man. They had to agree not to make anything out of it. I must say, he was extremely nice to me and my family; he would invite us over and put out a big spread.

---Henning, to Young.

He had absolutely no talent . . . But he was a legend, in a way, because of his background and his early meteoric success; he lifted radio, too, at a point. Vallee wasn't one of our all-time favourites. He barely deigned to recognise anybody on the show.

---Norman Panama, a writer on a much later Rudy Vallee Show, to Young.

He was funny, too, without meaning to be, like [Eddie] Cantor---offstage. But he was a whole different person. Rudy was just tight, really, was what it was. He would do crazy things with money. But he tried to be a good host. He would throw wonderful parties at his house for the writers.

---Bob Weiskopf---whose radio writing credits include Eddie Cantor, Joan Davis, Fred Allen, and The Chesterfield Supper Club when Perry Como was the host---also to Young.

That, ladies and gentlemen, was our man Vallee . . .


DUFFY'S TAVERN: LEAVE US FACE IT, WE'RE IN LOVE (CBS, 1943)---In a classic installment, Archie (Ed Gardner) decides to write a hit song for guest Dinah Shore, who can't quite help wondering just what it is that hits her. Eddie: Eddie Green. Finnegan: Charles Cantor: Herself: Joan Davis. Miss Duffy: Florence Halop. Writers: Ed Gardner, Abe Burrows (who wrote "Leave Us Face It" for the occasion, as well).

SUSPENSE: THE LODGER (CBS, 1944)---Revisiting the tale that launched the series (directed by Alfred Hitchcock, adapting his own 1927 film), and in a show pre-empted from a week earlier by the Pearl Harbour attacks, Robert Montgomery narrates and plays the title role---done by Herbert Marshall in the series audition---in a tale of a traveler killing blonde women in various Whitecastle rooming and boarding houses, and baffling Scotland Yard itself. Additional cast: Unknown. Adapted from the screenplay by Eliot Stannard, based on the novel by Marie Belloc-Lowndes.


1894---Theo Goetz (actor: The Guiding Light), unknown.
1898---Lillian Randolph (actress: The Great Gildersleeve; Amos 'n' Andy), Louisville.
1911---Spike Jones (as Lindley Armstrong Jones; percussionist/vocalist/bandleader/comedian: Here's Morgan; Bob Burns, the Arkansas Traveler; The Spike Jones Show), Long Beach, California.
1912---Morey Amsterdam (comedian: The Morey Amsterdam Show; Can You Top This?; Stop Me If You've Heard This), Chicago; Gurney Bell (singer, with the Sports Men: The Jack Benny Program; The Danny Kaye Show), Los Angeles.
1914---Dan Dailey (actor/singer: King's Men; The Philip Morris Playhouse), New York City.
1915---Jerry Daniels (singer, with the Ink Spots: The Four Ink Spots; Let's Go Nightclubbing), unknown.
1934---Johnny Moore (singer, with the Drifters: Camel Rock and Roll Party), unknown.
1947---Patty Duke (as Anna Marie Duke; actress: The Brighter Day; Zero Hour), New York City.

* - This was, indeed, the same John Howard Lawson who headed the Hollywood cell of the Communist Party, USA, eventually becoming the leader of a scabrous attack on fellow screenwriter Albert Maltz, when Maltz---in the Party organ, The New Masses---called famously enough (in 1946) for an end of Party-imposed ideological censorship of writers. The Lawson-led attack, joined by fellow future Hollywood Ten writers Alvah Bessie, Ring Lardner, Jr. and Lester Cole among others, pressured Maltz into an equally-famous recantation.

Lawson was also the likely leader of the Hollywood cell's attempts to force member screenwriters---as fellow screenwriter Robert Moffitt later testified--- to slip even five minutes of the Party line "into every script you write."


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