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.

Monday, December 24, 2007

'Tis the Night Before Christmas: The Way It Was, 24 December

. . . and all through the house, there are those of us who still find some of the most pleasant and occasionally jarring holiday entertainment wafting up from the legacy of old-time radio. Herewith one way to make your hunt a little simpler, with wishes for an edifying season and year to come.


1950: And, first, your hostess opens with a variation upon her standard introduction.

TALLULAH BANKHEAD: To the men and women in service all over the world on this Christmas Eve, through the cooperation of the Associated Services of the Armed Forces, you are about to be entertained by some of the biggest names in show business. For the next hour and thirty minutes, this program will present in person such bright stars as . . .

Then, as is the custom established already by this last-gasp, big-bucks old-time radio variety offering, the stars introduce themselves. Jimmy Durante. Bert Lahr. Robert Merrill. Margaret O'Brien. Edith Piaf. Fran Warren. Ed Wynn. Meredith Willson. And, following that soaring theme music around and behind Ed Herlihy's introduction, back comes Madame Tallu.

BANKHEAD: A safe and Merry Christmas, darlings, to all our Armed Forces, wherever you may be. And to you here at home, I hope all your stockings are hung, and that you find in them all the things you wished for. I know what I'm going to find in mine---a run! I always do on this show!

But when I heard that one of our guests today would be Margaret O'Brien, I decided to make it my business to see that this child has a Merry Christmas away from her home. After all, it's only been a few years since I was a child, heh heh heh. (Laughter.) Those darling writers---they'll stop at nothing for a Christmas present. And that's exactly what they're getting.

But to make sure little Margaret has a wonderful Christmas, I invited three of the theater's greatest clowns---Jimmy Durante, Bert Lahr, and Ed Wynn.

JIMMY DURANTE, BERT LAHR, and ED WYNN (in unison): Hello, Tallulah! (Applause.)
BANKHEAD: Hello Ed, Jimmy, Bert. Hello Bert, Ed, Jimmy. Hello Jimmy, Bert, Ed. Well, now that I've given you all equal billing, we can get down to our problem. We've got to arrange a wonderful Christmas party for this little girl. Anybody have an idea what to give her?
LAHR: I've got an idea, Tallulah.
BANKHEAD: Uh, huh.
LAHR: Something that's very popular this time of the year.
BANKHEAD: Oh, really, darling? What is it, Bert?
LAHR: How about givin' her a Christmas present?
BANKHEAD (lowers voice smugly): Uh, now, isn't that brilliant?

From there, the foursome swap gags about Christmas bed jackets, horses, and John Dillinger, before Lahr reprises "If I Was The King of the Forest" from The Wizard of Oz (with a little help from O'Brien, of course); before Durante suggests a toy-spangled Christmas tree and finds a way to sing "Isn't It A Shame That Christmas Comes But Once A Year"; before Wynn and company try to prove Santa Claus; and, before some stunning music from Warren ("Look to the Rainbow"), Metropolitan Opera star Merrill ("O Holy Night") and the tragic French chanteuse Piaf. (A beautiful "Autumn Leaves.")

There is also a gentle message from Army Gen. Jonathan Wainwright at Camp Breckenridge (Kentucky). The message could be deployed today without losing a beat or a drop of relevance.

I'm happy to join with all your folks at home in bringing a Christmas greeting to you, my comrades of the armed forces, wherever you may be. We have shared the joy of other Christmas days together, and we look forward as a united people to that time when peace on earth and good will to men may again prevail. May God be with you.

And I didn't even stop to mention the soaring, caroling almost-finale. But I'm leaving you to hear it for yourself, along with the rest of tonight's Christmas Eve edition of The Big Show. (NBC.)

Music: Meredith Willson with the Big Show Orchestra and Chorus. Writers: Goodman Ace, George Foster, Mort Greene, Frank Wilson.


1940: GILDY'S RADIO PHONOGRAPH---Gildersleeve's (Harold Peary) new radio-phonograph combine is delivered---to the McGees (Jim and Marian Jordan), by mistake, but they get a bigger shock when they plug it in and play it, on tonight's edition of Fibber McGee & Molly. (NBC.)

Doc: Arthur Q. Bryan. The Old-Timer: Bill Thompson. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra. Writer: Don Quinn.

1942: THE PLOT TO OVERTHROW CHRISTMAS---Norman Corwin's vintage verse satire gets a tour de force treatment from Will Geer (as the Devil) and House Jameson (Sam Aldrich, in The Aldrich Family) as Santa Claus, when some of history's most notorious convene a meeting Down Under (it isn't Australia tonight, kiddies) to plan Christmas's downfall---if only they can quell this little family squabble, first, between Haman and Ivan the Terrible---after Lucrezia Borgia dreams up the winning idea, on tonight's edition of Norman Corwin's Words Without Music. (CBS.)

Additional cast: Unknown. Writer: Norman Corwin.

1944: TRIMMING A TREE---Jack (Benny) and Mary (Livingstone) finish trimming Jack's tree . . . and the first results come as quite a shock to the pregnant pausing, electricity-challenged miser, on tonight's edition of The Lucky Strike Program Starring Jack Benny. (NBC.)

Additional cast: Eddie Anderson, Phil Harris, Larry Stevens, Don Wilson. Music: Phil Harris Orchestra, Larry Stevens. Announcer: Don Wilson. Writers: George Balzar, Milt Josefsberg, Sam Perrin.

1944: BACHELOR MOTHER---Brenda Marshall and Louis Hayward step into the Ginger Rogers and David Niven roles from the 1939 film about a department store clerk (Marshall) selling ducks until she's canned the day before Christmas for obscure reasons---and getting a shock on her doorstep that leads to a few odd events and her re-hiring, on tonight's edition of The Old Gold Comedy Theater. (NBC.)

1948, POSSIBLY: CHRISTMAS EVE---The likely inspiration---derived likewise from "The Gift of the Magi"---for the classic Honeymooners [the Original 39] episode about Ralphie Boy having to hock his brand-new bowling ball to buy Alice the Christmas present for which he forgot (as usual) to sock a few simoleons away, and to retrieve his jaw from the floor when he saw what she got him . . .

Only here, it's weary husband John (Don Ameche) snoring on the ladder while trimming the tree, shrewish wife Blanche (Frances Langford) snorting him awake and into one of their usual arguments, from John's daily bag lunch to his reputedly forgotten Christmas card (he didn't forget, by the way---but you'll have to listen to learn where it turned up), the bill money spent on presents . . . and, bourbon-loving John and highfalutin' Blanche ending by opening their presents just past midnight---and discovering just what each sold (hint: what the other could have used with their gifts), on tonight's edition of The Bickersons. (NBC.)

Writer: Philip Rapp.

1949: A CHRISTMAS CAROL---The jaunty detective (Dick Powell) casts his own usual suspects---most of whom are the police with whom he normally works and/or fences---into an analogic interpretation of the Dickens classic, on tonight's edition of Richard Diamond, Private Detective. (NBC.)

Levinson: Ed Begley. Helen: Virginia Gregg. Otis: Wilms Herbert. Announcer: Eddie King.

1959: ONE FELLA'S FAMILY---MERRY CHRISTMAS, ONE AND ALL---From Book Eye Ex, Chapter Eye Eye, Pages Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, and the bottom of Page Seventeen, on tonight's edition of Bob & Ray Present the CBS Radio Network. (No coaching from the audience, please . . . )

Writers: Bob Elliot, Ray Goulding.


1886---Michael Curtiz (director: Screen Guild Theater; Screen Director's Playhouse), Budapest.
1895---Ruth Chatterton (actress: Lux Radio Theater), New York City.
1906---Franz Waxman (conductor/composer: Good News of 1939), Konigshutte, Germany.
1910---Mitchell Ayres (bandleader: The Dunninger Show; The Chesterfield Supper Club), Milwaukee; Fritz Lieber (writer: X Minus One; Future Tense; Audition Theater), Chicago.
1915---Helen Brown (actress: Big Town), Washington.
1920---John Barron (actor: Dad's Army; Brothers-in-Law), London.
1922---Ava Gardner (actress: So Proudly We Hail; The Prudential Family of Stars; Lux Radio Theater), Grabtown, North Carolina.


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