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.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Three Firsts on Christmas Day: The Way It Was, 25 December

Even Christmas Day proves to have had significance in the history of the medium, three events in particular standing forth.

1931: SO PLUMP YOU CAN TASTE THE JUICES---With Lawrence Tibbett as featured vocalist, the Metropolitan Opera is featured in an old-time radio broadcast for the first time, performing Hansel and Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck (no relation to the British pop singer, who borrowed the composer's name as his own stage name beginning in 1966) on NBC.

1937: THE SYMPHONY IS ON THE AIR---The maestro Arturo Toscanini---for whom the legendary NBC Symphony was created, with Toscanini himself hiring most of the musicians---conducts the symphony on the air for the first time, with the premiere of Symphony of the Air on NBC.

1938: 'TWASN'T IT SUPPOSED TO BE THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS?---Old-time radio's first known Christmas Day performance of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol is delivered on CBS by Orson Welles and Lionel Barrymore---who has been playing Ebenezer Scrooge in various radio programs since 1934, making the role something of an annual tradition.


1932: THE MAMMOTH DEPARTMENT STORE---The oldest-known surviving program to feature master satirist Fred Allen as its host, here he plays a man with a sometimes unenviable profession---a department store manager on and the day after Christmas, on tonight's edition of The Linit Bath Club Revue. (CBS.)

Cast: Portland Hoffa, Sheila Barrett, Roy Atwell, Charles Carlile. Announcer: Ken Roberts. Music: Lou Katzman Orchestra, Mary Leaf at the organ. Writer: Fred Allen.

1943: THE CHRISTMAS PACKAGE---A special broadcast, coordinated with the U.S. War Department---a charming 1943 holiday half-hour, hosted by film star Linda Darnell, featuring music by the Andrews Sisters, Ginny Simms, and Lena Horne; messages from the Army and Navy's chiefs of chaplains; a comedy monologue from Bob Hope ("our Santa Claus for tonight---the man who's been trying to get me on his lap all afternoon to whisper what I want for Christmas," cracked Darnell); and, a sweet but not sugary holiday sketch from Jim and Marian Jordan as Fibber McGee, Molly, and Teeny ("Whatcha doin' Mister?") with the Wistful Vista kids, on tonight's special broadcast, The Christmas Package coordinated with the U.S. War Department on NBC.

1944: THE VAGABOND KING---Dennis Morgan and Kathryn Grayson step into the Dennis King and Jeanette MacDonald roles remaking the 1930 Ernst Lubitsch film of the rogue poet sentenced to hang for verses against Louis XI but offered a reprieve if he can defeat the invaders of Burgundy---and win the heart of the king's angelic niece, on tonight's edition of Lux Radio Theater. (CBS.)

Additional cast: J. Carroll Naish. Host: Cecil B. DeMille. Adapted from the screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz, based on the operetta by Rudolf Firml.

1945: CHRISTMAS TREES---Somewhere in the middle of bantering about Raleigh's then-contest to win a new Chevrolet (you had to complete the sentence, "We should all buy Victory Bonds because . . .," in twenty-five words or less), Red (Skelton) and company manage to swap Christmas gifts, Anita Ellis manages to sing "Toyland," and Clem Kadiddlehopper ("I wish they had winter in the summer, then it wouldn't be so cold") lands a gig selling Christmas trees around the corner, on tonight's edition of The Raleigh Cigarette Program Starring Red Skelton. (NBC.)

Additional cast: Lurene Tuttle, Verna Felton, GeGe Pearson. Guest star: Arthur Q. Bryan. Writers: Edna Skelton, Jack Douglas, Ben Freedman, Johnny Murray.

1946: A CHRISTMAS STORY; OR: THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS---The cheerfully cantankerous comedian's opening monologue does a subtly racy job of setting it up:

Not so many Christmases ago, we broadcast a little Christmas story for children. And, ah, it was definitely for children, but we heard later that a number of grownups sneaked out of bed and listened.

Welllllll, you know how parents are, kids. Just when you think they're asleep, they come out of the bedroom with all kinds of excuses. They want a drink of water . . . or, uh, there's a tiger in the room . . . or, their blanket fell on the floor, or something. So this year, ah, we might as well let 'em stay up and listen.

But parents---no snickering. We're not gonna stand for a lot of grownups listening to the radio and shaking their heads doubtfully, as though we were making the whole thing up. Now, kids, if you notice your mommy or your daddy saying things like, um, "ohhhhh, nonsense! or, uh, "Well, that couldn't happen," just look 'em in the eye and say, "I find this story thoroughly credible!"

Of course, I don't have that kind of trouble with my parents. If they say "oh, nonsense!" to me, I just don't give 'em tickets to my show.

Then, the story: Little Joey sits examining the ruins of an electric train "that took a dozen graduate engineers to put together" . . . and which his father wrecked when the kid let the old man fool around with it until he came up with a theory about how to make it run different.

"What's a theory?" asks little Norman. "I dunno," answers Joey. "Something ya father has when tells ya to hand him a screwdriver."

All little Norman had to worry about was getting Santa into the house---because they had not a chimney but radiators. What the kids had to worry about was being careful what they wished for. Especially if they were audacious enough to ask Congress for it.

But for further details, you'll have to listen to tonight's edition of The Henry Morgan Show. (ABC.)

Cast: Arnold Stang, Pert Kelton, Fran Warren, Ben Brower, Art Carney, Jack Albertson, Joan Gibson. The children: Butch Cabell, David Anderson, Joan Laser. Music: Bernie Green Orchestra. Writers: Henry Morgan, Carroll Moore, Jr., Aaron Ruben, Joseph Stein.


1886---Kid Ory (as Edward Ory; trombonist/bandleader: This is Jazz; Radio Almanac; Here's to Veterans), LaPlace, Louisiana.
1889---Nat Shilkret (conductor: The Eveready Hour; Music That Satisfies; Palmolive Beauty Box Theater), Queens, New York.
1893---Robert L. Ripley (host: Colonel Beacon Light; Baker's Broadcast; Believe It . . . or Not), Santa Rosa, California.
1899---Humphrey Bogart (actor: Bold Venture; Stars in the Air; Streamlined Shakespeare; Lux Radio Theater; The Fred Allen Show), New York City.
1902---Barton MacLane (actor: Thirty Minutes in Hollywood), Columbia, South Carolina.
1904---Gladys Swarthout (singer: Palmolive Beauty Box Theater; The Prudential Family Hour; The Voice of Firestone), Deepwater, Missouri.
1907---Cab Calloway (The Hi-De-Ho King; bandleader: Quizzical), Rochester, New York.
1909---Mike Mazurki (actor: Lux Radio Theater), Tarnopol, Austria.
1912---Tony Martin (as Alvin Morris; singer/actor: The Burns & Allen Show; The Tony Martin Show), Oakland.
1913---Candy Candido (comedian: Sealtest Village Store; The Jimmy Durante Show), New Orleans.
1915---Richard Wilson (actor/writer/director: Mercury Theater On the Air), McKeesport, Pennsylvania.
1924---Rod Serling (writer/host: Zero Hour), Syracuse, New York.
1932---Mabel King (as Donnie Mabel Elizabeth Washington; actress/singer: Camel Rock and Roll Party), Charleston, South Carolina.



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