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, February 28, 2007

"Rearranging Living Rooms": The Way It Was for the Past Three Days

27 FEBRUARY 1891---Helping to re-arrange America's living room furniture irrevocably will be the destiny of a child born today in Uzlian, Russia: David Sarnoff, who would parlay fame as a fast-fisted wireless operator who picked up a message from the Atlantic that the Titanic was sinking from his post at a Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company station in the Wanamaker department store . . . and stayed with it for 72 hours, giving (so the legend would go) perhaps the only continuing news of the world's worst passenger shipping disaster.

Sarnoff will make a career and reshape his adopted country out of being likewise in the right place at the right time. In due course he will turn his eventual employer, Radio Corporation of America (formed, according to Time, by General Electric to absorb Marconi's American assets), into a radio broadcasting pioneer when, as the company's general manager, he forms the National Broadcasting Company as an RCA subsidiary by linking several hundred radio stations.

He will prove at once a visionary and a man of short enough sight. He will anticipate television acutely enough, setting up an experimental television station in the late 1920s, after becoming convinced of the potential of Vladimir Zworykin's iconoscope; having NBC begin commercial telecasts in 1941. But he will also appreciate his radio talent absently enough; he will seem to believe mostly that radio is a marketing tool. And it will help cost him his major radio star, Jack Benny, who jumps to CBS in 1948-49 and takes a truckload of NBC talent (some of whom are also Benny friends) with him.

Sarnoff will also inadvertently midwife another major broadcasting network (the others at the time: CBS, NBC Red, and Mutual), when he's forced to sell his Blue Network in the 1940s after a federal anti-trust investigation. The Blue network becomes the American Broadcasting Company.

Sarnoff, a runty, remote, frosty-eyed boy tycoon---the Bill Gates of the 1920s---was [NBC]'s technician and field manager, and a self-proclaimed "General"; he was only a reserve officer but with all the chutzpah of General Patton. Pat Weaver, the revered NBC programming innovator who worked with him for years, later wrote that Sarnoff was a publicity-seeking "monster" who cared only about radio as hardware. Weaver called him "General Fangs." The joke on Wall Street, recalled Weaver, was that if RCA stock opened at ten and Sarnoff dropped dead, it would close at a hundred.

---Gerald Nachman, Raised on Radio. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.)

I realised I couldn't compete with gentiles in a gentile industry if I were merely as good as they were. But if I were, say, twice as good, they couldn't hold me down.

---David Sarnoff, cited by Nachman.

Mr. Sarnoff was a genius in his own way at NBC, [but] it was just one entity of the RCA corporation. It was a pure business thing, so there was a whole different attitude. [CBS chairman William S.] Paley would come down once in awhile; you had these very intimate studios . . . You'd see him in the doorway, interested in what you were doing. He was right there.

---Phil Cohan, radio writer/producer (for legendary jazz bandleader Paul Whiteman and Jimmy Durante).


27 FEBRUARY 1922: LET'S CONFER---U.S. Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover rounds up the first National Radio Conference, leading in due course to the formation of the National Radio Commission. Five years and one day later, of course, President Calvin Coolidge will create the NRC when he signs the Radio Act.

27 FEBRUARY 1942: THE WAVES OF THE SUN---British Army research officer J.S. Hey discovers the sun emits radio waves, a discovery crucial in the development of radio astronomy.



1944: DEAD WITNESSES---They amplify Nick's (Lon Clark) anxiety trying to put a major gangster away, especially when he and Mathison (Ed Latimer) see him kill a rival, on tonight's edition of Nick Carter, Master Detective. (Mutual.) Additional cast: Helen Choate, John Kane, John Raby. Writers: David Kogan, Milton J. Kramer.

1950: STRETCH IS IN LOVE---More's the pity for Madison High's ace athlete (Leonard Smith): his paramour is the daughter of rival Clay City High's principal, who'd like nothing better than to wear Stretch out the better to keep him out of Saturday's key game, on tonight's edition of Our Miss Brooks. (CBS.) Cast: Eve Arden, Jeff Chandler, Richard Crenna, Gale Gordon, Gloria McMillan, Jane Morgan.


1942: SPAWN OF THE SUBHUMAN---A soprano's (Eleanor Nalin) premonition of danger disturbs her patron beau (Ben Morris) on a private flight, after she remembers a similar feeling leading to her road crash . . . the day her former fiance disappeared, on tonight's edition of Dark Fantasy. (NBC.) Additional cast: Garland Moss, Muir Hite. Writer: Scott Bishop.

1944: THE GIRL IN THE PARK---Taking a shortcut through Lincoln Park to get to his car, Randy Stone (Frank Lovejoy) is halted when he lights up a cigarette and the flame illuminates a fear he's heard in the voice of a nightclub singer (Joan Banks) he runs into, a girl who thinks she has only this last night to live, on tonight's edition of Night Beat. (NBC.) Writer: Larry Marcus. Additional cast: Paul Duboff, Ken Christie, Georgia Ellis, Carol Richards.


1948: HIRING A MAID; OR, HOW TO GROW OLD GRACEFULLY---IN ONE HOUR---There comes a time in every man's life when he has to bring a prospective customer home for dinner. In a situation like that, a man likes to think of his wife as the little woman who helps him close the deal. I like to think of Jane that way. Excuse me a minute while I do . . . Well, enough daydreaming. All (Goodman) Ace wants to do for one night is hire a maid for dinner, to impress his new client, a rich soapmaker whose wife inadvertently hires Jane (Ace) as his maid---after she mistakes Jane for a job seeker at an employment agency, on tonight's edition of mr. ace and JANE. (CBS.) Additional cast: Evelyn Barton, Eric Dressler, John Griggs, Cliff Hall, Pert Kelton, Ken Roberts. Writer: Goodman Ace.



1887---William Frawley (actor: Hallmark Playhouse, Hollywood Hotel), Burlington, Iowa.
1891---Joseph Bonime (conductor: Death Valley Days), Vilna, Poland.
1906---Madeleine Carroll (actress: The Circle, NBC Radio Theatre), West Bromwich, U.K.
1914---Robert Alda (actor: Rudy Vallee Presents The Drene Show), New York City.
1916---Jackie Gleason (comedian/actor: The Les Tremayne Show), Brooklyn.
1918---Theodore Sturgeon (writer: Beyond Tomorrow, X Minus One), Staten Island.
1919---Mason Adams (actor: Pepper Young's Family), New York City.
1920---Tony Randall (actor: I Love a Mystery), Tulsa, Oklahoma.
1921---Betty Hutton (singer: U.S. Steel Hour, Radio Hall of Fame), Battle Creek, Michigan.
1926---David Frankham (actor: One Man's Family), London.
1932---Johnny Cash (singer/composer: Louisiana Hayride), Kingsland, Arkansas.
1933---Godfrey Cambridge (actor: Voices of Vista), New York City.


1880---Georgia Burke (actress: When a Girl Marries), Atlanta.
1888---Lotte Lehman (soprano: Command Performance), Perleburg, Prussia (Germany).
1892---William Demarest (actor: The Eddie Bracken Show), St. Paul, Minnesota.
1894---Upton Close (news commentator: Close-Ups of the News), Kelso, Washington.
1902---John Steinbeck (writer: Radio Hall of Fame, Lux Radio Theater), Salinas, California.
1905---Franchot Tone (actor: Arch Oboler's Plays), Niagara Falls.
1907---Mildred Bailey (singer: The Mildred Bailey Show), Tekoa, Washington; Kenneth Horne (comedian: Round the Horne, Beyond Our Ken), Wimbledon.
1909---Carl Frank (actor: Young Doctor Malone, Betty and Bob), unknown.
1910---Joan Bennett (actress: MGM Theatre of the Air), Palisades, New Jersey.
1913---Irwin Shaw (actor: Columbia Workshop), New York City.
1932---Elizabeth Taylor (actress, believe it . . . or not: Theatre Guild on the Air, Lux Radio Theater), London.


1893---Ben Hecht (writer/panelist: Information, Please), New York City.
19141914---Jim Boles (actor: I Love a Mystery, King's Row), Lubbock, Texas.
1915---Zero Mostel (actor/comedian: The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street), Brooklyn.
1922---Joyce Howard (actress: Mary Noble, Backstage Wife), London.
1928---Louise Erickson (actress: A Date With Judy, The Great Gildersleeve), Oakland.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the 4077th: The Way It Was, February 25

1923: "A REAL FIND"---Before helping a certain mobile Army surgical hospital graduate from film to television as one of its co-creators and writers for its first four seasons, he would make his bones putting numerous old-time radio audiences to laughter by way of his writing for Maxwell House Coffee Time (when it was the seedbed for Fanny Brice and Baby Snooks), Duffy's Tavern, Command Performance (the Armed Forces Radio Service variety series), The Eddie Cantor Show, The Jack Carson Show, and The Bob Hope Show. Just so long as you didn't mind Larry Gelbart's having to be born in the first place, as he was today.

And he would prove a kind of anomaly when he began writing for radio---being sixteen years old.

A fellow from the William Morris Agency named George Gruskin said that if I wanted to do more, he thought I had a future. He arranged for [Duffy's Tavern star/co-creator/co-writer] Ed Gardner to take a chance. He signed me, and got me a position on Duffy's Tavern at $50 a week . . .

I saw [Gardner] once reading some material that one of the people he'd hired had written, and he read the first page and said, "This stinks, this is really terrible." And he called the guy up and fired him on the phone. And then read the next page and liked that, called him back and rehired him . . . He was a piece of work . . . [but] I will say this---his eccentricities didn't get in the way of his selectivity. He was . . . the best editor for that show, of anybody around. He really knew the characters.

---On Ed Gardner and Duffy's Tavern, to Jordan R. Young for The Laugh Crafters. (Beverly Hills, California: Past Time Publishing, 1999.)

I remember once writing a sketch for George Burns and Gracie Allen---and being told that Burns wouldn't do anything unless his own writers did it, because only they knew how to write for them. So I just put Paul Henning's name on it when I sent it over, and George said, "Fine. Good. I'll do it."---On writing for a Burns & Allen appearance on Command Performance, to Young.

Larry Gelbart once said the definitive line about the painful side of bringing in a musical comedy. At this time he was out of town with the tryout of his first show, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, for which he had written the libretto. Larry's tryout was taking place at the same time Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi war criminal, was on trial in Israel. There was a great deal of talk about how Eichmann should be punished. Hanging? Firing squad? Poison? Larry Gelbart said, "I know what they should do with Eichmann. They should send him on the road with the tryout of a musical."

---Abe Burrows (who called Gelbart "a real find" when the lad was hired for Duffy's Tavern), from his memoir, Honest Abe: Is There Really No Business Like Show Business?. (Boston: Atlantic Little, Brown, 1980.)


1942: FIBBER'S BOTTLE COLLECTION---Pack rat McGee (Jim Jordan) hopes the collection bottles up a nice little profit for himself when he takes it downtown (Teeny on a rebate: "It's when ya put another worm on the hook"), on tonight's edition of Fibber McGee & Molly. (NBC.) Cast: Marian Jordan (as Molly and Teeny), Arthur Q. Bryan, Harold Peary, Isabel Randolph, William Thompson, Harlow Wilcox. Writer: Don Quinn. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the Kingsmen.

1947: THE COMEDY TEAM---That's what Mel (Blanc) thinks will entertain a visiting caliph well enough to impress Betty's (Mary Jane Croft) father enough that he'll let Mel take Betty to the upcoming big dance, on tonight's edition of The Mel Blanc Show. (CBS.) Cast: Hans Conreid, Joseph Kearns, Alan Reed, Joe Walker. Writer: Mack Benoff. Music: Victor Miller Orchestra, the Sportsmen Quartet.

1954: DER DIMPLE AND DER BINGLE---Peggy Lee actually puts a little subtle, resuscitating fire into such an otherwise dry chestnut as "Golden Earrings." Then, some good natured banter with Der Bingle telegraphs the pair taking up a set similar to one he did with Dinah Shore some weeks back: a round of forgotten pop songs called Your Flop Parade, Lee's smoky style a pleasant contrast to Crosby's easygoing style . . . and it almost atones for the slightly recycled jokes (you can have fun recalling which earlier comedians first deployed some of the lines where) on tonight's edition of Philco Radio Time. (NBC.) Cast: Ken Carpenter, the Rhythmaires. Orchestra: John Scott Trotter.


1879---Frank McIntyre (actor: Maxwell House Showboat), Ann Arbor, Michigan.
1901---Zeppo Marx (as Herbert Marx; actor: American Review), Yorkville, New York.
1906---Warren Hymer (actor: Screen Guild Theatre), New York City.
1912---Richard Wattis (actor: Brothers-in-Law), Wednesbury, U.K.
1913---Jim Backus (actor: The Alan Young Show, Sad Sack), Cleveland.
1917---Brenda Joyce (actress: Stars Over Hollywood, American Showcase), Kansas City.
1927---Dickie Jones (actor: The Aldrich Family), Snyder, Texas.
1938---Diane Baker (actress: CBS Radio Mystery Theatre), Hollywood.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

"What Can She Do With a Bagpipe?": The Way It Was, 24 February

1946: THE WINNERS GET THE WRONG THINGS---Fred Allen has suffered neither fools nor giveaway shows gladly. And here the master ad-libber and satirist takes one of his best pokes at the surging radio trend. He zaps the seeming nonsensibility of some prizes and the implicit absurdity of others, before sauntering to The Alley to discuss hobbies (home movies for Senator Claghorn, putty saving and deer end mounting for Titus Moody, cooking for Mrs. Nussbaum---"I'm throwing in two horseshoe crabs for luck!") and sliding into a clever hillbilly satire . . . with Arthur Treacher, as Britain's first hillbilly star, on tonight's edition of The Fred Allen Show. (Original broadcast: NBC; rebroadcast: Armed Forces Radio Service.)

Additional cast: Kenny Delmar, Peter Donald, Parker Fennelly, Portland Hoffa, Minerva Pious, Alan Reed. Music: Al Goodman Orchestra; vocals: the DeMarco Sisters. Writers: Fred Allen, Nat Hiken, Bob Weiskopf. Original sponsors: Tender Leaf Tea, Blue Bonnet Margarine.

(Bonus material: The AFRS recording of the show edits out the commercials but fills in the time with an extra selection of the harmony-rich DeMarco Sisters, whom arranger-composer Gordon Jenkins recommended to the Allen staff after hearing the five siblings in the elevator of his office building---and, the story has gone, was so impressed he re-ran the elevator its full length so the quintet could sing another song for him. At their absolute best, the DeMarco Sisters were a match for the Andrews Sisters aesthetically, if not commercially.)


1942: LUM AN AIR RAID WARDEN---It might be something to break the monotony of Lum (Chester Lauck) fearing he might wreck Diogenes Smith's confidence in him as circulation manager for the war preparedness pamphlets---and his own chances for a prize as Pine Ridge's model citizen---on today's episode of Lum & Abner. (CBS.)

Co-star/co-writer: Norris Goff.

1944: THE WALSH GIRL---Elizabeth Janeway, new to the best-seller lists with her first novel, The Walsh Girls (and the wife of Roosevelt Administration economic advisor Eliot "Calamity" Janeway), joins composer/critic (and frequent radio guest) Deems Taylor as the guest panelists lined up with regulars John F. Kieran and Franklin P. Adams under Clifton Fadiman's baton, on tonight's edition of Information, Please. (NBC.)

1952: BUYING A NEW CAR---That would be Jack (Benny), who sees a circular advertising "liberal trade-in allowances" and decides that's a good reason to unload the old Maxwell at long enough last (Mary Livingstone: "What are you gonna get---an Essex or a Stutz?"), on tonight's edition of The Jack Benny Program. (CBS.)

Additional cast: Eddie Anderson, Dennis Day, Phil Harris, Mary Livingstone, Don Wilson. Writers: Milt Josefsberg, Sam Perrin, John Tackaberry.


1876---Victor Moore ("The Lothario of the Lumbago Set"; comedian: The Jimmy Durante Show), Hammonton, New Jersey.
1890---Marjorie Main (actress: Columbia Presents Corwin), Acton, Indiana.
1914---Zachary Scott (actor: Suspense, Encore Theatre, U.S. Steel Hour, Screen Guild Theatre), Austin, Texas.
1919---Betty Marsden (actress: Beyond Our Ken, 'Round the Horne), Liverpool, U.K.
1921---Abe Vigoda (actor: CBS Was There/You Are There), New York City.
1924---Steven Hill (actor: Treasury Salute, Up For Parole), Seattle.

Friday, February 23, 2007

"Don't Slow Our Effort": The Way It Was, 23 February

1942---With the United States at war around the anniversary of George Washington, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asks Americans not to allow "our effort" to be slowed by "sniping at each other," thus retorting none too subtly against critics questioning both the reality of the New Deal and the actuality of the war, in tonight's Fireside Chat. (All networks.)

For eight years, General Washington and his Continental Army were faced continually with formidable odds and recurring defeats. Supplies and equipment were lacking. In a sense, every winter was a Valley Forge. Throughout the thirteen states there existed fifth columnists and selfish men, jealous men, fearful men, who proclaimed that Washington's cause was hopeless, and that he should ask for a negotiated peace.

Comprehending and embracing radio to a greater extent than perhaps any American politician of his era (Calvin Coolidge was merely the first President to appreciate the medium's potential), Roosevelt introduced the Fireside Chats during his first year in office, when he went on the air 12 March 1933 at the height of the Depression-seeded bank crisis.

Whether they concurred or demurred from his pronouncements or stated plans, whenever he stated them, Roosevelt's listeners responded broadly enough that the Fireside Chats have been a longtime, semi-regular feature of the Roosevelt presidency. The final Fireside Chat, concurrent to the opening of the fifth War Drive, was broadcast 12 June 1944 . . . six days after D-Day launched. (The night before D-Day, Roosevelt's Fireside Chat celebrated the liberation of Rome from Axis control.)

The Fireside Chats were broadcast live at 10 p.m. Eastern standard/daylight/war time, the late hour allowing Roosevelt to transcend the time difference and reach West Coast families. Roosevelt gave four such Chats in 1933, 1942, and 1943; two each in 1934, 1937 (in one of which Roosevelt discussed his controversial and rightly doomed plan to pack the Supreme Court), 1938, 1940, 1941, and 1944; and, one each in 1935, 1936, and 1939.


1910: CREDIT OR BLAME IT ON PHILADELPHIA---It is the first known radio contest.

1927: SPEAKING OF CALVIN COOLIDGE . . .---said President signs into law the 1927 Radio Act, formally creating the Federal Radio Commission---the forerunner of the Federal Communications Commission.


1948: GIVE HIM THE SIMPLE LIFE---A benign, content family business treasurer heretofore content in his work takes a course toward murder, after his uncle and cousin rebuff his partnership bid and his avaricious wife gives him an ultimatum, on tonight's edition of Diary of Fate. (Syndicated.) Cast unknown: Writer/director/producer: Larry Finley.

1949: ARCHIE WANTS TO PATENT ELECTRICITY---The only problem Archie (Ed Gardner) has is, he's only a few decades late and about five dollars short---it's what he owes the electric company---on tonight's edition of Duffy's Tavern. (NBC.) Co-stars: Charles Cantor, Sandra Gould, Eddie Green, Alan Reed. Writers: Ed Gardner, Larry Gelbart, Larry Marks, Manny Sachs.


1883---Victor Fleming (director: Gulf Screen Theatre), Pasadena, California
1899---Norman Taurog (director: Biography in Sound, Bud's Bandwagon), Chicago.
1904---William L. Shirer (reporter/analyst, CBS European News, CBS World News Roundup, William L. Shirer: News and Comment), Chicago.
1909---Anthony Ross (actor: Broadway Is My Beat), New York City.
1913---Jon Hall (actor: Texaco Star Theater, Screen Guild Theater), Fresno, California.
1935---Gerrianne Raphael (actress Let's Pretend), New York City.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Revengeful Ghost: The Way It Was, 22 February

1952---A wealthy New York suburbanite's fiancee believes he was killed on the eve of his remarriage by a ghostly presence . . . the ghost of his late wife, that is, on tonight's installment of Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons. Cast: Arthur Hughes, Jim Kelly, Florence Malone. Writers: Barbara Bates, Charles Gussman, Lawrence Klee, Robert J. Shaw.


1942: SELLING THE DRUG STORE---The continuing operating debt on the drugstore the Forrester estate owns threatens Gildersleeve's (Harold Peary) executorship of the estate---and spoils an otherwise pleasant Washington's Birthday-tribute breakfast with which Birdie (Lillian Randolph) surprises the family---until Gildy finally finds a buyer, on tonight's installment of The Great Gildersleeve. (NBC.) Cast: Richard Legrand, Earle Ross, Walter Tetley, Lurene Tuttle. Writers: Sam Moore, John Whedon.

1950: THE SPY---A British spy captured near Tarrytown during the U.S. War of Independence, following a long search, escapes disguised as a peddler---to the consternation of the Army captain (Robert Stack) who laboured so arduously to capture him in the first place and fears prosecution for the escape, on tonight's edition of Family Theater. (Mutual.) Co-stars: Lillian Biaff, Jack Grayson. Adapted from the story by James Feinmore Cooper.


1857---Heinrich Rudolf Hertz (pioneer: credited with the first known transmission and reception of radio waves, in 1888; the hertz measurement of frequency is named for him), Hamburg, Germany.
1890---Enid Markey (actress: Woman of Courage), Dillon, Colorado.
1907---Sheldon Leonard (comedian/actor: The Judy Canova Show, The Jack Benny Program, Screen Directors' Playhouse), New York City; Robert Young (actor: Lux Radio Theater, Passport for Adams, Father Knows Best), Chicago.
1910---Gene Hamilton (announcer: The Voice of Firestone, The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street), Toledo, Ohio.
1915---Jules Munshin (actor: MGM Musical Comedy Theatre), New York City; Dan Seymour (actor: Aunt Jenny's Real Life Stories, War of the Worlds), New York City.
1918---Sid Abel (sports announcer: Detroit Red Wings hockey), Melville, Saskatchewan; Don Pardo (announcer: The Magnificent Montague), Westfield, Massachussetts.
1925---Stratford Johns (actor: Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile), Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
1926---Kenneth Williams (actor: Hancock's Half Hour), Islington, U.K.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Land of the Free: The Way it Was, 21 February

1943---What should have been a steady success, to gather by its mastermind and the performers attracted to its productions, is born today---Free World Theatre, on NBC's Blue Network.

The show is the creation of Arch Oboler, who took Lights Out from Wyllis Cooper and fortified it even further as a master thriller, and who will produce and direct Free World Theatre as well as adapt all its material from their sources.

In spite of that, and in spite of such film and radio titans joining in as Edward Arnold, Kenny Baker, Lee J. Cobb, Ronald Colman, Joseph Cotten, Judy Garland, Paul Henreid, Lena Horne, Charles Ruggles, and Orson Welles, Free World Theatre will run for nineteen installments only.

Among its more distinctive productions: the all-black adaptation of "Something About Joe," featuring Lena Horne, Rex Ingram, Hazel Scott, the Charioteers, and the Hall Johnson Choir, on 23 May 1943.


1943: DESERT HEAT---The 21st Ferrying Group of the Ferrying Division, Air Transport Command in Palm Springs gets some additional live heat from Carmen Miranda in the middle of the usual wisenheimer mayhem, on tonight's edition of The Chase & Sanborn Show Starring Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy. (NBC.) Additional cast: Don Ameche, Bill Forman, Joan Merrill, Mortimer Snerd. Music: Ray Noble. Writers: Possibly Joe Bigelow, Joe Connelly, Dick Mack, Bob Mosher.

1948: YOU DON'T BRING ME FLOWERS---"First, I want to say I'd like to dedicate this story to all the husbands who will some day marry Jane," drawls (Goodman) Ace. What a surprise, after her usual complications set in, between Jane (Ace)'s indignation over Ace forgetting their fifteenth-and-a-half wedding anniversary, and the comely candy manufacturer (Gertrude Warner) who is his new advertising client, on tonight's edition of mr. ace and JANE. (CBS.) Cast: Leon Janney, Florence Robinson, Eric Dressler, Ken Roberts, Michael Abbott. Writer: Goodman Ace.

1950: THE RED MARK---The prison island of New Caledonia hosts a grisly clash between an inmate (William Conrad) and the island's grotesque official executioner (Will Geer), on tonight's edition of Escape. (CBS.) Cast: Harry Bartel, Paul Frees, Julius Mathews, Barbara Whiting. Adaptation (from a story by John Russell): Les Crutchfield, John Dunkel.


1880---Frank Orth (actor: Boston Blackie), Philadelphia.
1893---Ernest Whitman (actor: Beulah, Circus Days), Fort Smith, Arkansas.
1907---W.H. Auden (poet/writer: Columbia Workshop), York, U.K.
1915---Ann Sheridan (The Oomph Girl; actress: The Smiths of Hollywood, Stars in the Air), Dallas.
1916---Norman Jolley (actor: Space Patrol), Adel, Iowa.
1921---Shirley Bell (actress: the title role of Little Orphan Annie; Captain Midnight), Chicago.
1929---James Beck (actor: Dad's Army), Islington, North London, U.K.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Vaudeville Made the Radio Star: The Way It Was, 19 February

1922: A DECADE LATER, THE PROGRAM'S GONNA BE DIFFERENT---Somebody has to do it: Vaudeville star Ed Wynn (born Isaiah Edwin Leopold; he adapted his middle name into his stage name, reputedly, to spare his family the embarrassment of having a mere comedian in the family) becomes the first such performer to sign a radio contract. Perhaps naturally enough, the clown known as the Perfect Fool signs to perform in a show called The Perfect Fool for Newark, New Jersey station WJZ.

The effort unnerves him enough that he avoids the medium for the remainder of the decade. But a decade later---after a certain oil company lured him back with a reported $5,000 per week salary---the Perfect Fool will become one of the United States' major radio stars with The Fire Chief Program, sponsored by Texaco and featuring music by ill-fated piano virtuoso and orchestra leader Eddy Duchin.

In the ten years since the ill-fated Perfect Fool experiment, Wynn's mike fright had only escalated, and he approached the opening broadcast in a cold sweat. It was [announcer/second banana Graham] McNamee who calmed him down each week, McNamee who gave him the courage he needed to face that forbidding black enamel box. The two men became close friends---and McNamee's regular-guy enthusiasm acted on the air as the perfect complement to Wynn's manic comedy. But even with McNamee's friendship, support and encouragement, Wynn was still frightened, still insecure about his ability to perform as a radio comedian -- and to help him get thru each week's program, the show was made to be as much like a stage performance as possible. The Fire Chief Program was aired from the rooftop stage of the New Amsterdam Theatre---former home of the Ziegfeld Follies---before an enormous live audience. Wynn appeared in full costume---scooting out onto the stage each week on a toy fire engine, wearing a tiny Texaco Fire Chief helmet, and proclaiming "I'm the Chief tonight, Graham! Tonight's the program's gonna be different!"

But it really wasn't that different from what Wynn had been doing on stage for more than twenty years. The program was a series of short exchanges of revue-type jokes, broken up by musical interludes performed by Don Voorhees' Orchestra. During the musical numbers, Wynn would dart backstage and quickly change his costume---each outfit more outlandish than the last. But unlike Eddie Cantor, Wynn was able to keep the visual joke of his appearance separate form his verbal comedy---he didn't refer to his costume gags on the air, didn't make them part of the show targeted at listeners at home. In short, the theatrical trappings were there only to keep Wynn from panicking and freezing before the microphone. With the costumes, with the audience, he could pretend he was still in the theatre, and forget all about that frightening little box. Although "The Fire Chief Program" quickly became one of the most popular new shows of 1932, Wynn never overcame his terror of broadcasting, and it was a constant psychological struggle to face the microphone each Tuesday night.

However, Wynn's early, terrifying experience will not dissuade radio from inviting vaudeville's best to cross over. The door he opens will not close until the like of Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Stoopnagle and Bud, and numerous others have crossed from vaudeville to radio with historic results.


1947: THE RADIO PROGRAM BLOOD TEST---Well, the man never exactly denied he was out for blood, did he? But first he proposes some money-saving ideas for the government after examining the new national budget. That'll teach him, on tonight's edition of The Henry Morgan Show. (ABC.) Cast: Arnold Stang, Florence Halop, Art Carney, Madaline Lee, Alice Pearce. Writers: Henry Morgan, Carroll Moore, Jr., Aaron Ruben, Joseph Stein. Music: Bernie Green Orchestra.


1893---Sir Cedric Hardwicke (actor: BBC Home Theatre), Stourbridge, U.K.
1895---Louis Calhern (actor: Radio Reader's Digest), New York City.
1896---Eddie Jackson (comedian: The Jimmy Durante Show, Mail Call, The Big Show), unknown.
1901---William Post, Jr. (actor: John's Other Wife), unknown.
1915---Dick Emery (comedian: Educating Archie), London.
1915---Fred Frielberger (writer: Suspense, Family Theater), New York City.
1922---Sandy Becker* (as George Sanford Becker; actor: Young Doctor Malone, Backstage Wife; announcer: The Shadow), New York City.
1924---Lee Marvin (actor: Dragnet), New York City.

* -- This is, indeed, the same Sandy Becker who went on to teach and charm a generation or two of metropolitan New York area children with what proved a gift for verbal, physical, and even silent comedy (ask such children even now about doubletalking DJ Hambone or silent, stumbling Norton Nork) and a knack for puppeteering---all spun, reputedly, from the manner in which he entertained and taught his own three children at home.

After helping to found legendary Sunday morning learn-and-laughfest Wonderama (he was the show's first host), Becker handed that show off to Sonny Fox and created his own daily (even twice-daily) learn-and-laughfest, The Sandy Becker Show. Developing characters and themes out of his home skits, Becker---a movie-star handsome young man but with a gentle, accessible manner---became one of New York's most popular children's comedians while earning a parallel reputation for treating the children who watched him exactly the way he once said he set out to do: the way their own parents might if they, too, were on television.

Becker became respected especially for introducing children to news through puppeteering the lighter side of the news but, also, for the poignant yet non-maudlin manner in which he told them about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Becker retired from on-camera work in 1968 but became a mentor and puppetmaking teacher to new children's hosts in the years until his death in 1996. The bad news is that most of Becker's own telecasts died as well. He did the show live every day and almost no kinescopes or videotapes were known to have been made.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Action Packed Expense Account: The Way It Was, 18 February

1949---The man with the action-packed expense account premieres on CBS: Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, named for his invariable sign-off after itemising his case expenses, tracks a crime-solving insurance investigator with a withering wit and a habit of tossing silver dollars as tips.

Starring Charles Russell in the title role at first, the series is believed to have hit its first stride when veteran film star Edmond O'Brien takes the title role in 1950, keeping it through 1952 and making it more of the hard-boiled detective stereotype secured by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.

John Lund, Bob Bailey (the former star of Let George Do It), Bob Readick, and Mandel Kramer will also play the role before the series concludes in 1962. With Bailey in the role, the series will convert to a fifteen-minute daily serial style in 1955 and the character will take on a few nuances without losing the hard boil entirely. It will revert to a weekly half-hour come 1956; Bailey will leave the series when it moves to New York, Readick plays the role for six months, and Kramer will take it for the rest of its life---adding even more cynical wit.

Although the show will hold up in its own right, its unique place in radio history secures when---joining Suspense---its final first-run broadcast in September 1962 becomes marked, by many if not most radio historians, as the day old-time network radio truly concluded after a decade of slow and (depending upon whom you ask) painful erosion.

Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar's writers included Les Crutchfield, Gil Doud, Paul Dudley, Jack Johnstone (who also created and produced the show), Sidney Marshall, Jack Newman, and Bob Ryf.


1927: ---The Cities Service Concert, a pleasant, low-keyed broadcast of music (the sponsor is a petroleum company that graduates in due course to Citgo), premieres on NBC.

On the highways, in the homes, on the farms, in the factories, Cities Service petroleum products lead the way.---The customary promotional line that opened the broadcast.

Over the years of its long life (the show will be heard as late as 1945), featured performers will include Frank Banta, the Ross Bordon Orchestra, the Cavaliers Quartet, Jessica Dragonette, Ross Graham, Dorothy Kirsten and Milton Rettenberg. Paul LaValle will organise and conduct the show's house orchestra in due course, while Easy Aces announcer Ford Bond and, eventually, Roland Winters will serve as this show's primary announcers as well.

In later years, the show will be known as Cities Service Highways in Melody.


1951: NOW THEY BRING BOSTON TO ME---With an audience packed with folk who took a special show train from New England ("And they're all here for an evening of laughs---except 243 daily commuters who got off the train from force of habit and went to their offices"---hostess Tallulah Bankhead), and a cheerful clash of appropriate cracks from Fred Allen ("It just goes to show you what people will do to get away from television"), Jack Carson ("Big deal---you can't get an audience any other way, you railroad 'em into the theater"), and Ed Wynn ("Ten years ago I opened a show of mine in Boston and twelve hundred people got up in the middle of the first act and took a train to New York"), thus launches tonight's edition of The Big Show. (NBC.) Also features: Portland Hoffa, Dennis King, Bea Lillie, Lauritz Melchior, and the West Point Choir. Music: Meredith Willson. Writers: Goodman Ace, Fred Allen, Selma Diamond, George Foster, Mort Greene, Frank Wilson. Announcer: Jimmy Wallington.

1952: THE SYMBOL THREE---A client (Jean Bates) is troubled by telephone calls from a tough implying blackmail over accidents involving her husband's successful building business, on Let George Do It. (Mutual.) Starring: Bob Bailey, Virginia Gregg; other cast: Theodore von Els, Myron Cain, Donald Randolph. Writer: David Victor, Jackson Gillis.


1890---Edward Arnold (actor: Mr. President), New York City; Adolphe Menjou (host: Texaco Star Theater, Eternal Light, Hallmark Playhouse), Pittsburgh.
1892---Wendell L. Willkie (politician, guest panelist: Information Please), Elwood, Indiana.
1901---Wayne King (The Waltz King) (bandleader: The Lady Esther Serenade), Savannah, Illinois.
1907---Billy de Wolf (actor: The Ginny Simms Show, The Philco Radio Playhouse), Wollaston, Massachussetts.
1913---Dane Clark (actor: Passport for Adams, The Crime Files of Flamond), New York City.
1917---Jack Slattery (announcer: Art Linkletter's House Party, You Bet Your Life), Missouri.
1920---Bill Cullen (announcer: Arthur Godfrey Time; host: Beat the Clock, Winner Take All), Pittsburgh.
1924---Sam Rolfe (writer: Suspense; creator/writer: Have Gun, Will Travel), New York City.
1925---George Kennedy (actor: Suspense), New York City.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Rhubarb of the Catbird Seat: The Way It Was, 17 February

1908---The rhubarb from the catbird's seat, as the doctor slaps it: Red Barber---arguably, the man who will introduce an element of objectivity into the old-time radio play-by-play booth, through his groundbreaking work with the Cincinnati Reds and, especially, the Brooklyn Dodgers---is born in Columbus, Mississippi.

And, as he will discuss in due course in his memoir, Barber will have Larry MacPhail to thank once for each of those two gigs, MacPhail having hired Barber when the former was president first of the Reds and, in short order, the Dodgers. Which didn't exactly come easy, as nothing involving Dem Bums in those years ever really did.
MacPhail was violently pro-radio. He knew it was the strongest single promotional tool he could have, and he wanted it. [A] five-year anti-radio ban then in existence among the New York clubs was expiring after the 1938 season, and almost before MacPhail had warmed the executive chair at 215 Montague Street in Brooklyn he notified the Giants and the Yankees that he was not going to renew it. He was going to broadcast in 1939. They protested but MacPhail told them flatly that he would not be a party to another five-year ban, he would not be a party to a five-month ban, he would not be a party to a five-minute ban. He was going to broadcast.

It created a big rhubarb. The Giants and the Yankees blustered and threatened. They said, "We'll run you out of town if you broadcast." MacPhail said, "You go right ahead and run me out of town all you want to. I'm going to broadcast. Next season. 1939."

And he did, and this is where I came in . . . In March of 1939, I left my friends and associates at the radio station in Cincinnati and drove down with [my wife] Lylah and the baby down to Clearwater, Florida, where the Brooklyn club was training. I was to spend a couple of weeks with the team to get acclimated and then I was going to drive on up to New York and get settled before the ball club got there . . .

. . . [O]ne day that spring MacPhail and I had been sitting out in the sun watching practise, not saying much of anything, and when it was over he got up to leave. On the spur of the moment, I asked, "Larry, do you have any instructions for me about this job in Brooklyn?" . . . MacPhail just said, "No," and started to walk away. he had never given me an instruction in Cincinnati as to how he wanted a broadcast done, and never in the years to come at Brooklyn did he ever give me an instruction.

He walked away about ten or fifteen feet and then . . . all of a sudden he whirled around and his face was furious. He came striding back to where I was and he bellowed, "Yes! Yes, I have! . . . When I told the Yankees and the Giants that I was not going to be a party to that anti-radio ban any more and that I was going to broadcast, that [Eddie] Brannick [Giants team secretary] said to me, 'If you dare broadcast, if you dare break this agreement, we'll get a fifty thousand watt radio station and we'll get the best baseball broadcaster in the world and, MacPhail, we'll blast you into the river'."

MacPhail's face got even redder, and the veins stuck out another inch or two, and he yelled, "That's what that [and I won't quote exactly what he called him] Brannick said to me. He threatened me! Now, yes, I have an instruction for you. I've got a fifty-thousand-watt radio station: WOR. Whether you knot it or not . . . there's not a bigger one. And I've got you." He let that sink in, and then he said, "And I don't want to be blasted in the river."

He glared at me and then he spun around and walked away. This time he kept walking.

---Red Barber (with Robert W. Creamer), from Rhubarb in the Catbird Seat. (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1968.)

He became as famous for his repertoire of folksy colloquialisms ("tearin' up the pea patch" for a team mounting a ferocious rally; "we have quite a rhubarb going, folks" for an on-field argument or brawl; "the catbird seat" for his own spot in the broadcast booth) as for his refusal to root overtly for the teams who hired him. Until subsequent Dodger boss Walter O'Malley began to object to his pointing forth shortcomings as well as strengths in various Dodger players' games, Barber never had to deal with even sponsors trying to pressure him to root in the booth.

He also possessed a dryly Southern wit that never abandoned him, entirely.

BOB EDWARDS: Are hearts still heavy in Tallahassee this week?
RED BARBER: Well, I'll tell you something. I was around the Ohio State-Notre Dame game in 1935, and the Bobby Thomson home run, and the Mickey Owen dropped third strike, and the Chicago Bears' 73-0 win over the Redskins. And I saw the FSU-Miami one-point game, and you know what happened the next morning?
BARBER: The sun rose right on time.

---An exchange between Red Barber and his producer/host, Bob Edwards, for Barber's regular Friday morning segments on National Public Radio's Morning Edition, November 1991. Cited in Bob Edwards, Fridays with Red: A Radio Friendship. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.)

Red Barber's most remembered sports call was probably the following. It is the sixth game of the 1947 World Series, Brooklyn Dodgers versus New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium. Joe Hatten is on the mound for the Dodgers; the Bums have an 8-5 lead, Joe DiMaggio is at the plate and the Brooklyn outfielder includes a runt named Al Gionfriddo.

Joe DiMaggio up, holding that club down at the big fellow, Hatten, sets and pitches---a curveball, high outside for ball one. So---the Dodgers are ahead, 8-5. And the crowd well knows that with one swing of his bat this fellow's capable of making it a brand-new game again . . . Joe leans i---he has one for three today, six hits so far in the Series . . . Outfield deep, around toward left, the infield overshifted . . . Swung on---belted! It's a long one deep into left center---back goes Gionfriddo! Back, back, back, back, back, back, back, back, back he makes a one-handed catch against the bullpen! Ohhh-hooo, Doctor!

Red Barber's second-most remembered sports call? Most likely, two games earlier, from his own catbird seat in Brooklyn's Ebbets Field---when Yankee pitcher Bill Bevens, despite surrendering ten walks, stood on the threshold of consummating the first no-hit, no-run game in World Series history. Up to hit for the Dodgers: Eddie (The Brat) Stanky, a man who had broken up a no-hit bid by Cincinnati pitcher Ewell (The Whip) Blackwell with two outs to go in that game.

The scenario as Stanky comes up: Al Gionfriddo is the runner on second (and he's there in the first place after a daring steal against an extremely young Yogi Berra behind the plate), Eddie Miksis is the runner on first.

So Stanky's up with the idea of trying to---wait a minute! Stanky is being called back from the plate and [Cookie] Lavagetto goes up to hit . . . Gionfriddo walks off second, Miksis off first . . . they're both ready to go on anything . . . Two out, last of the ninth . . . the pitch---Swung on---there's a drive hit out toward the right field corner. Henrich is going back---he can't get it! It's off the wall for a base hit! Here comes the tying run . . . and here comes the winning run!

A rift over O'Malley's failure to support him in negotiating his annual World Series contract with Gillette sent him across the rivers and into the enemy camp, Barber joining the Yankees for a memorable decade's run. A firing, likely provoked when Barber ordered a near-empty Yankee Stadium panned by camera at the climax of a very bad Yankee season (1966, their first in the cellar since before Babe Ruth's time), sent him out of full-time baseball broadcasting at long enough last.

But the Dodgers didn't go quietly without a Barber protege: it was Barber in 1950 who hired the man who's been their primary voice since 1954, perhaps the only man (though many have tried) who's ever really earned the right to be considered Red Barber's equal.


1942: HANK GUTSTOP, HOSTESS---Taking the family out to dinner as a favour to Hank is one thing, but the reason Vic (Art Van Harvey) wants to do the favour surprises Sade (Bernadine Flynn) a moment, on today's edition of Vic & Sade. Also stars: Bill Idelson. Writer: Paul Rhymer.


1881---Arthur Judson (impresario; created United Independent Broadcasters, which became in due course the Columbia Broadcasting System), Dayton, Ohio.
1908---Staats Cotsworth (actor: Front Page Farrell, Mark Trail), Oak Park, Illinois.
1914---Wayne Morris (actor: Radio Reader's Digest, NBC University Theater of the Air, Lux Radio Theater), Los Angeles.
1919---Kathleen Freeman (actress: California Artists Radio Theatre), Chicago.
1924---Margaret Truman (singer: The Big Show), Independence, Missouri.
1925---Hal Holbrook (actor: Brighter Day), Cleveland.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The KID Signs On: The Way It Was, 16 January

1929---KID (those are the actual call letters, kiddies) signs on in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Today it is owned by Clear Channel Communications and holds to a predominantly news format.


1943: IN FEAR AND TREMBLING---A clifftop mansion wreaks a supernaturally ruinous effect upon a formerly happy couple, after the wife's half sister (Mary Astor) comes to live with them, on tonight's edition of Suspense. (CBS.) Based on a story by J. Donald Wilson.

1947: UNPLEASANT SUBJECTS---Such is the appellation affixed to Edgar Bergen's birthday by his ever-trenchant marionette about town, Charlie McCarthy, on tonight's edition of The Charlie McCarthy Show (as announcer Ken Carpenter calls it). (NBC.) Co-stars: Nelson Eddy, Anita Gordon. Additional guest: Billie Burke. Music: Ray Noble.

1949: FRED PALMER'S DOCK RACKET---In a story paralleling Malcolm Johnson's shattering New York Sun series on waterfront crime, Blackie (Dick Kollmar) gets drawn in when a new dockworker hungry just for a job learns the hard (and fatal) way just how much control Fred Palmer has over life and death on the Boston waterfront, on tonight's edition of Boston Blackie. (Mutual, syndicated by Frederick W. Ziv Company.) Co-stars: Jan Minor, Maurice Tarplin, Herbert Vigran.


1893---Katherine Cornell (actress: A Tribute to Ethel Barrymore, Kate Smith Sings), Berlin.
1901---Chester Morris (actor: Boston Blackie, The Great Merlini), New York City.
1903---Edgar Bergen (ventriloquist/comedian: The Chase & Sanborn Hour, The Charlie McCarthy Show), Chicago.
1909---Hugh Beaumont (actor: known to have appeared in various radio roles in the early 1930s), Lawrence, Kansas; Jeffrey Lynn (actor: Lux Radio Theater, Hallmark Playhouse), Auburn, Massachussetts.
1910---Jerry Lester (actor: The Life of Mary Sothern), Chicago; Del Sharbutt (actor: Hobby Lobby, Victory Theatre, The Jack Benny Program), Fort Worth, Texas.
1918---Patty Andrews (singer, with the Andrews Sisters: The Andrews Sisters Revue, Lux Radio Theater, The Big Show), Minneapolis.
1926---Vera-Ellen (born Vera-Ellen Westmeier Rohe; actress: The Martin & Lewis Show), Norwood, Ohio.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

"Gracie, How's Your Brother?" The Way It Was, 15 February

1932---George Burns eventually makes that question a kind of retrospective running gag in due course ("All I had to do was ask, 'Gracie, how's your brother?' and she talked for 38 years"), but that is well in the future as Burns & Allen premiere as old-time radio regulars on The Guy Lombardo Show. (CBS.)

The couple---who will not present themselves on air as the married couple they actually are until over a decade later---are not unanimously acclaimed. As Burns will relate later in life, an indignant fraternity complained that their weekly house dances, when they invite their girlfriends to come and dance to "the sweetest music this side of heaven," is so rudely interrupted by these interlopers.

It depends, of course, on what your definitions of "sweet" and "this side of heaven" are.

Said fraternity will prove a minority, of course, as Burns & Allen go on to become radio fixtures---including a few memorable characters (most notably, the Mortons next door and Mel Blanc as the Happy Postman who was always on the verge of tears as he spoke of cheerful things) and at least two of the most memorable gags in the history of the art (the search for Gracie's brother, and Gracie's mock presidential campaign in 1940)---right to the day they graduate to television in 1950.


1943: IT ISN'T THE JIVE FIVE, KIDDIES---My True Story, a dramatic anthology, premieres on NBC's Blue Network (which is just months away from being sold to Edward J. Noble, who will rename it the American Broadcasting Company in due course) and will stay on radio until 1962---the year considered the last year of old-time radio. Written by Margaret Sangster, announced by Glenn Riggs, directed by Martin Andrews, Charles Warburton, and George Wiest, My True Story will feature various performers and no known regular cast. On television (ABC), it will last a single season. (1950-51.)


1950: THE SECRET WORD IS 'SUGAR'---And the none-too-secret word is humour, beginning with a milkman partnered with a brewer, on tonight's edition of You Bet Your Life. (CBS.) Host: Groucho Marx. Announcer: George Fenneman.


1882---John Barrymore (actor: The Rudy Vallee Show, Lux Radio Theater), Philadelphia.
1893---Walter Donaldson (composer: "Theme For The Fitch Bandwagon"), New York City.
1896---Arthur Shields (actor: Cavalcade of America), unknown.
1899---Gale Sondergaard (actress: Columbia Presents Corwin), Litchfield, Minnesota.
1907---Cesar Romero (actor: Movietone Radio Theatre), New York City.
1908---William Janney (actor: We're Always Wrong, Howie Wing), New York City; Hartzell Spence (writer: Cavalcade of America, Lux Radio Theater), Clarion, Iowa; Hugh Wedlock, Jr. (writer: The Jack Benny Program, Lum & Abner, That's My Pop), unknown.
1914---Kevin McCarthy (actor: Richard Lawless, The CBS Radio Mystery Theater), Seattle.
1916---Mary Jane Croft (actress/comedienne: Beulah, The Story of Sandra Martin, Our Miss Brooks), Muncie, Indiana.
1919---Frank Behrens (actor: Billie the Brownie, Jack Armstrong, All-American), Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
1930---Mary Lee Robb (actress: The Great Gildersleeve), Chicago.

1941: DONNA DAMEREL FICK---The co-star of popular, semi-comic soap opera Myrt & Marge, dies while giving birth to her third son.

Fick is the real-life daughter of creator-writer Myrtle Vail, who's based the show on her own vaudeville experiences and plays the hard-patinaed veteran chorus trouper Myrt Minter, who took under her wing an innocent newcomer named Marge Spear a decade earlier. (Vail is believed to have thought of the idea while unwrapping a stick of Wrigley's Spearmint---which became the show's original sponsor.)

Myrtle Vail will continue the show regardless, perhaps as a way to salve grief (Movie-Radio Guide says she believes her daughter wanted the show to continue regardless), and write Marge out of the script for a short while (sending her hiding in the hills, as it happens, until a mixup involving a murder can be cleared) until a successor can be chosen, presiding (according to Time) over arduous auditions for a new Marge.

To get Marge out of the hills took a lot of doing on the part of Colgate-Palmolive-Peet, which sponsors the show. The company interviewed 200 possible Marges, paraded 60 of them before Myrt, let her reduce the crowd to 35. Then it took over a couple of CBS studios, crowded advertising executives and the program director in one, put Myrt in the other. Forthwith auditions commenced. It took three days to pick the new Marge. Unanimous choice for Marge was pert, black-haired Cinemactress Helen Mack, who had the role of a streetwalker in His Girl Friday.

---Time, 31 March 1941.

Fick was married to former Olympic swimmer Peter Fick at the time of her death (they married over a year before her death); her two previous marriages produced her two older sons, Charles Griffith (a future screenwriter) and William Kretsinger.

Myrt & Marge continued on radio until 1946.

Donna Damerel Fick's death at age 28 will be listed sometimes as 14 February because she had done into labor on that date, after performing a Myrt & Marge episode earlier in the day; she died after midnight, technically 15 February, shortly after her son was born.

In later years, there will be those believing Fick died in a road accident, garbling her death (according to radio historian Elizabeth McLeod) with the accident that hospitalised Myrtle Vail for several weeks in 1933 . . . and provoked a Myrt & Marge storyline involving Myrt Spear's kidnapping (by gangsters) and Marge Minter's hunt for her, a storyline that allowed Vail a full recovery.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Well!!!: The Way It Was, 14 February

1894---Whether or not it means romance takes a back seat---or the cheap seats---probably depends on your point of view. But thus is born on Valentine's Day old-time radio's classic comic skinflint fall guy: Jack Benny (as Benjamin Kubelsky, in Chicago), destined to reshape his art, probably the only man of his time who could get laughs merely by arching his brow, shooting a quick glance, or leaning upon his palm in a pause so pregnant it would mean sextuplets in the maternity ward.

Practically all the comedy shows owe their structure to Benny's conceptions. The Benny show was like a One Man's Family in slapstick. He was the first comedian in radio to realise you could get big laughs by ridiculing yourself instead of your stooges.

---Fred Allen.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is Jack Benny talking. There will be a slight pause, while you say, "Who cares?"

---Jack Benny, beginning his first known radio appearance.

O, Jack Benny; O, Jack Benny
you've had birthdays, but how many?
Is it 21 and more
or twice that much, and more and more?
Years ago, in old Waukegan
in the state of Illinois
A child was born unto the Bennys
and it wasn't Myrna Loy.
'Twas a boy, they called him Jackie
and even then, he looked quite whacky . . .

I see you, Jack, at the age of two
glowing curls and eyes of blue.
And then I see you three years old
with silver threads among the gold.
At twelve you said you'd run away
unless the fiddle you could play.
And when you got one, what do you think?
Were you good or did you 'tink?
(JACK: Tink?
MARY: Yeah---baby talk.)
O, Jack Benny; O, Jack Benny---
you've had birthdays, but how many?
So happy returns and all good wishes
from us and Jell-O, so delicious.

---Birthday doggerel, read by Mary Livingstone, on the broadcast of 12 February 1939.

As a matter of fact, Benny was a generous and appreciative audience for anyone else's wit. He was a fine performer, a funny comedian and actually a very skillful actor. He never missed praising his writers---people like Bill Morrow, Ed Beloin, Milt Josefsberg, and Sam Perrin. There was once a joke about Benny that went around. I don't know where it started but Jack himself used to quote it. He said: "Ad-lib? Me? I couldn't ad-lib a belch after a Hungarian dinner." However, witty or not witty, Benny was damned funny. Wherever the dialogue came from, no one else could have done what Benny did. He created the character he played, he was a skillful editor, and every one of his writers gave him full credit for whatever went over the air.

---Abe Burrows, Duffy's Tavern head writer, from his memoir, Honest Abe. (Boston: Atlantic Little, Brown, 1980.)

Almost as many years since his death as he claimed for his age, he will continue to inspire respect and affection. And, he will still get laughs with impeccable timing, nuanced understatement, and pauses so pregnant they'd mean sextuplets in the maternity ward.


1924: OVER TO YOU, MR. PRESIDENT---It is an era in which politicians are not universally anxious to use it. Some pols and a few influential journals (including The Nation, hardly the last time that journal was wrong about something) think it's a fad that's likely to be dead by decade's end. But President Calvin Coolidge isn't exactly allergic to radio. He becomes the first sitting American President to deliver a purely political speech on radio. (His predecessor, Warren G. Harding, had inaugurated a new, high-power RCA antenna with a broadcast speech three years earlier.)

The normally reticient Coolidge will take such a comfortable liking to radio that it will help provoke the image of the coming election campaign (Coolidge's first and only shot at seeking the White House in his own right) as "The Radio Election."

1924: IT WOULD KEEP GOING . . . AND GOING . . . AND GOING---While Silent Cal was being anything but on the air, the National Carbon Company was becoming the first major sponsor of a network radio program. Name the famous battery that was promoted on The Eveready Hour . . .

1949: "IT'S A MAN! HE'S COMING RIGHT AT US!"---The generally-accepted formal premiere of Superman, "Clark Kent, Reporter," is broadcast on WOR, New York City's Mutual Broadcasting System flagship. The star---whose identity is kept secret by, apparently, formal edict, at least until he steps into a Time interviewer's phone booth in 1946---is Clayton Collyer, familiar at the time as the announcer for The Goldbergs and destined to become famous as the host of television's Beat the Clock and To Tell The Truth.

The actual premiere of the series aired two days earlier. But it may be understandable why it isn't considered Superman's radio premiere: the episode covers the doom of his home world and his launch toward earth therefrom as a sleeping infant, an episode called "The Baby From Krypton."


I'm breaking the customary pattern and listing not so much shows that were aired on this specific date but some particularly amusing shows that had something---anything---to do with Valentine's Day at all. Even if it involved a couple to whom marriage could have been murder . . . if one or the other could have gotten away with it.

UNDATED: MISSING IN ACTION---Doesn't it figure that, on Valentine's Day, the usually snoring John (Don Ameche) isn't snoring . . . because he isn't even home from work yet? That leaves Blanche (Frances Langford) to fret on the phone, to her sister, Clara, until exhausted John finally makes it home from a long day---turning Blanche from worried to her usual sniping, shrewish self, on this installment of The Bickersons. (NBC.) Writer: Philip Rapp.

UNDATED: ACE TELLS JANE ABOUT LOSING ALL HIS MONEY---It seems only appropriate to play this for Valentine's Day, even for harried, cynical Ace (Goodman Ace) and scattered but dreamy Jane (Jane Ace): Ace finally screws up the courage to tell Jane he lost his business and his money, after sinking everything into a low-income housing deal he still doesn't know was a setup on the part of the local pol who owns the property in question. What he still doesn't have the heart to reveal: Jane herself inadvertently torpedoed Ace's deal, when she landed big publicity for a women's group protesting on behalf of a different deal, on this installment of Easy Aces. (Original broadcast: CBS; syndicated repeat: Frederick W. Ziv Company.) Co-stars: Mary Hunter, Helene Dumas. Writer: Goodman Ace.

1949: SOMEONE SENDS ALICE FLOWERS FOR VALENTINE'S DAY---The trouble is, they're coming several times during the day, beginning with a dozen astertiums . . . and it isn't exactly forgetful Phil's doing ("Good! Good! Dip 'em in butter and sautee 'em!"), on the 13 February edition of The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show. (NBC.) Co-stars: Elliott Lewis, Jeanine Roos, Ann Whitfield, Walter Tetley. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.


1884---Grace Valentine (actress: Stella Dallas), Springfield, Ohio.
1900---Eddie Marr (actor: The Jack Carson Show, The Jack Benny Program, I Fly Anything), New Jersey.
1902---Stu Irwin (comedian: Phone Again, Finnegan)
1904---Jessica Dragonette (singer: Philco Hour Theatre of Memories), Calcutta, India.
1905---Thelma Ritter (actress: The Aldrich Family, Big Town), Brooklyn.
1908---Lonnie Glosson (musician, harmonica: Grand Ole Opry), Judsonia, Arkansas.
1912---Tyler McVey (actor: One Man's Family), Bay City, Michigan.
1913---Mel Allen (as Melvin Israel; announcer/play-by-play, New York Yankees; announcer: The White Owl Sports Smoker, Truth or Consequences), Birmingham, Alabama.
1921---Hugh Downs (announcer: The Dave Garroway Show; host: Doctors Today), Akron, Ohio.
1931---Phyllis McGuire (singer, with the McGuire Sisters: Arthur Godfrey Time), Middletown, Ohio.
1934---Florence Henderson (singer/actress, Coke Time with Eddie Fisher), Dale, Indiana.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

"Let's Dedicate It To Your Family": The Way It Was, 13 February

1947---The launch can't be more auspicious---with Loretta Young and Don Ameche starring, and James Stewart hosting, Family Theater premieres on Mutual with "Flight From Home."

Y'know, since this is our first program, maybe we oughta have a dedication. So right now, let's dedicate The Family Theater to your family, with the hope that families everywhere will always be together, and that your home will be a happy one, with the conviction that prayer, simple prayer, will help to keep it that way.

Now (soft chuckle) maybe you're thinking this is sort of an odd way to start a series of radio programs, a program from Hollywood, with movie stars, actors, and musicians. Maybe you're wondering what it's all about. Well, why don't you just sit back and listen?

---The premiere episode's introduction, as delivered by James Stewart.

Meredith Willson---who has done music for Burns & Allen's radio shows and will become the musical director for Tallulah Bankhead's The Big Show in due course, serves as Family Theater's first music director. John Kelley and Robert O'Sullivan (who will also serve as directors) will write the bulk of the stories.

But a wealth of film and radio stars will participate over the years, including Fred Allen, Lucille Ball, Ethel Barrymore, Ann Blyth, Beulah Bondi, Walter Brennan, Macdonald Carey, Perry Como, Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Irene Dunne, Kathryn Grayson, Ray Milland, Marvin Miller, Harold Peary, Vincent Price, Maureen O'Sullivan, Shirley Temple, Jane Wyatt, and Robert Young will perform in the series dramas before its run finishes in 1969.

Family Theater was created by Father Patrick Peyton (who hosts the series as it progresses) with reported and considerable help from Loretta Young. Peyton, known as the Rosary Priest, who survived tuberculosis in his final year in seminary (inspiring him to launch famous Prayer Crusades focusing on family prayer), also creates the Family Rosary organisation in Albany, New York.

The network chief said that Mutual Radio would give Father Peyton a half hour of radio time if he could come up with a good idea and a big star. Though Father Peyton had no knowledge of show business, he went to work. He persuaded the mother and father of the famous Sullivan brothers to lead the Rosary on the radio show. The five Sullivan brothers had recently become national heroes and headline news: They had all given their lives for their country on a battleship that sank in the Pacific. Next, Father Peyton picked up the phone and asked the operator to contact Bing Crosby in Hollywood. Somehow he reached Crosby, one of the biggest superstars of the era, and the singer agreed to be part of the program!

The program, which aired on Mother’s Day, May 13, 1945, reached a tremendous audience, so much so that Father Peyton began searching for a way to get a half-hour weekly show on Mutual Radio. Later that year, Father Peyton traveled by train from New York to Hollywood on a donated ticket to begin laying the groundwork for a network radio show for the family. In less than two years, Father Peyton’s long-running series of radio shows, known as Family Theater, was ready to be launched on Mutual Radio . . .

Each Sunday night, a celebrity host would make similar comments about prayer and family unity before and after that week’s radio drama. No mention was made of the Rosary or the Catholic Church. Nonsectarian in its approach, Family Theater’s basic message was simply that of strengthening the family through faith in God and prayer. Each program was preceded by the familiar announcement: “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of”—a quote from Alfred, Lord Tennyson. And always worked in somewhere before the end of the show was the famous slogan that became Peyton’s signature: “The family that prays together stays together!”

In due course, Loretta Young will be honoured as a series co-creator for doing a large share of work in recruiting other major Hollywood stars to participate in the series, with her son and grandson accepting her award.

THE PREMIERE EPISODE: "Flight From Home"---Written and acted with remarkable understatement. A once-loving marriage is paralysed by a grief-and-guilt stricken husband (Ameche)---he can't accept his wife's (Young) forgiveness or alternative, several years after he insisted on driving her through a storm to give birth to their first child in a proper hospital . . . but a road accident killed the unborn child. Director: Richard Sandville. Writer: Drew Boardman.


1906---Pauline Frederick (newscaster: The News of Tomorrow, Pauline Frederick News, Second Sunday), Gallitzin, Pennsylvania.
1908---Lennie Hayton (conductor: Your Hit Parade, Ipana Troubadors), New York City.
1915---Lyle Bettger (actor: Lux Radio Theater, Family Theater), Philadelphia.
1916---James Griffith (actor: Gunsmoke), Los Angeles.
1920---Joan Edwards (singer: Your Hit Parade, Chesterfield Presents), New York City.
1920---Eileen Farrell (singer: Prudential Family Hour), Willimantic, Connecticut.
1930---Frank Buxton (co-author/historian: Radio's Golden Age, subsequently updated as The Big Broadcast 1920-1950), Wellesley, Massachussetts; Dorothy McGuire (singer: Arthur Godfrey Time, with the McGuire Sisters), Middletown, Ohio.
1932---Susan Oliver (actress: Zero Hour), New York City.
1933---Kim Novak (as Marilyn Pauline Novak; actress: Bud's Bandwagon), Chicago.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Guess They Didn't Get The Memo: The Way It Was, 12 February

1949---Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre On the Air version of War of the Worlds is old-time radio by the time Quito, Ecuador gets punk'd with a freshly-fashioned, freshly-localised, new version of the drama that first activated the panic buttons in Grover's Mill, New Jersey.

This new version is the creation of Radio Quito art director Leonardo Paez and dramatic director Alfredo Vergara Morales, alias Eduardo Alcaraz. What they wanted: A little something interesting and exciting to get Quito thinking about their station, and having hearing of the earlier Mercury Theatre exercise the duo decided a Quito-localised War of the Worlds would do the job very nicely. Why, they'd even plan the broadcast secretly enough, making no advance air announcement, the better to enhance the shock and awe factor.

They weren't exactly being careful what they wished for, senors and senoras. They are, probably, very lucky that the whole little town (population: an estimated 200,000) isn't incinerated by the time the fracas their little broadcast inspires is finito. As it is, only the radio station and part of the facility of the newspaper that owns it will burn. In terms of structural damage, that is.

Some listeners are said to believe it isn't Martians hitting the ground, levelling the small city of Latacunga, and advancing on the Ecuadorian capital---because they seem to believe it's Peruvians, with whose neighbouring country Ecuador has had a few border disputes and a couple of wars in the previous decade. And those among them who don't believe it's Peruvians are reputed to believe it's Soviets.

Still others among the panicked believe justice should be done post haste, once they realise they've been had. Those natives get restless enough to hit El Comercio, the newspaper that owns Radio Quito. Some throw dry projectiles at the place. Others incinerate copies enough of that day's edition and throw those at the place. Others upend a few fire hydrants, reportedly, the better to help ensure El Comercio burns to the suelo. A few more see four of la policia arrive and clobber one of them pronto.

Both El Comercio and Radio Quito will suffer considerable equipment damage, but the newspaper at least won't take long to get back in business.

There will even come reports that at least one priest is conducting an open-air mass of absolution for panickers who fear el fin está cerca and demand to make peace with God.

Just as happened with the original Mercury Theatre broadcast, when the Federal Communications Commission decided it had best investigate that fracas, Radio Quito's War of the Worlds will catch the Ecuadorian government's attention, the Defence Ministry assigned to investigate. Twenty-one arrests are made, of rioters and Radio Quito staffers alike, though the trial records will seem to be buried in time enough according to several sources.

Morales will be among the cuffed and stuffed while Paez will be reported as vanishing completely. That allows Morales to throw him under the proverbial bus, claiming him the mastermind behind the surprise broadcast, charging concurrently that he even kept the performers under lock and key to keep the surprise intact.

The bad news: Quito's citizens would need longer to recover from their unfortunate new nickname than from the panic itself. They will be known for a very long time as Los Mercians---The Martians.

The worse news: This isn't exactly unprecedented in Latin American radio history. Five years before Los Mercians tried to upend Quito in panic, a few towns in Chile hit the panic buttons running when a Santiago station staged a likewise localised version of The War of the Worlds.

Unlike the hapless Quitonians, the Chileans couldn't exactly claim they'd been had. The station had published enough advance notice that the show was going on, and in the intended Wellesian style, complete with warnings that it was a work of ficcion.


1945: NOW, THERE'S A PAIR---Romance novelist Faith Baldwin and master satirist Fred Allen join the panel (John Kieran, Franklin P. Adams, Oscar Levant) and host (Clifton Fadiman) tonight on Information, Please. (NBC.)

1956: THE WOMAN FROM HORSE CREEK---Taking up contributions to help Mrs. Dennis get back home, on tonight's episode of Fort Laramie. (CBS.) Cast: Raymond Burr, John Dehner, Sam Edwards, Virginia Gregg, Barney Phillips, Larry Dobkin, Ben Wright, Jeanette Nolan, and Harry Bartell. Writer: Kathleen Hite.


1888---Victor Kolar (conductor: Ford Sunday Evening Hour), Budapest, Hungary.
1898---Wallace Ford (actor: Hollywood On the Air, Royal Gelatin Hour), Batton, U.K.
1899---Ray Knight (actor: The Cuckoo Hour, House in the Country), Salem, Massachussetts.
1904---Joseph Kearns (actor: A Date with Judy, The Adventures of Sam Spade, The Burns & Allen Show, The Judy Canova Show, The Cinnamon Bear, Frontier Gentleman, Our Miss Brooks), Salt Lake City; Ted Mack (master of ceremonies: Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour), Greeley, Colorado.
1910---Ken Roberts (actor: Easy Aces, The Shadow; announcer: Al Pearce and His Gang, Baby Snooks, Grand Central Station, mr. ace and JANE; host, Quick as a Flash), New York City.
1912---Stan Kenton (pianist/composer/bandleader, The Bob Hope Show, Stan Kenton Concerts in Minature), Wichita, Kansas.
1915---Lorne Greene (actor/host: "Western Night," Sears Radio Theatre), Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
1919---Forrest Tucker (actor: Lux Radio Theater), Plainfield, Indiana.
1920---Shirley Yamaguchi (actress: The New Edgar Bergen Hour), Manchuria, Japan.
1927---Bobby Winkler (actor: Big Town), Chicago.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

WOTR In Cincinnati: Archie and Company

It ain't Archiedamanagehspeakin' Duffyainhere, kiddies.

But it is for fans of the Archie comic book series, especially, including radio's Archie Andrews. (NBC Blue, 31 May-24 December 1943; Mutual, 17 January-2 June 1944; NBC, 2 June 1945-5 September 1953.)

They should love this year's Cincinnati Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention, set for 20-21 April at Ramada Plaza on Sheraton Lane---because three of the Archie Andrews cast are scheduled to appear: Bobby Hastings (the fourth and final Archie, later a co-star of television's McHale's Navy), Rosemary Rice (the third and final Betty Cooper), and Harlan (Hal) Stone, Jr. (Jughead).

The convention's scheduled guests also include actress/musician Esther Geddes and Ruth Last, who performed in numerous East Coast-based radio programs before making a second career in films and as a voiceover artist, and often appears at old-time radio gatherings performing in re-creations of vintage radio shows---even if they came from genres in which she was never known to perform.

As for Archie Andrews? Think of it as The Aldrich Family wearing its puberty a little more on its sleeve, if you must. Given its limitations thereby, think of Archie Andrews as maybe a little less self-consciously cliched than the late-1960s animated version and bubblegum hit singles.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Rudely Interrupted

An audition script I have yet to finish for a new old-time radio show . . .

HUSBAND: I'd like to begin by saying that there's nothing equal to coming home, kissing your wife hello, mixing drinks, sitting down to a wonderful dinner together, and then spending the evening just huddling by the fire, in front of a good movie, or listening to good music. (Pause.) That's how I'd like to begin.

WIFE: And, he's right. There's nothing equal to coming home, kissing your husband hello, mixing drinks, sitting down to a wonderful dinner together, and spending the evening just huddling by the fire, in front of a good movie, or listening to good music. (Pause.) That's how we did begin.

HUSBAND: And that's the way it was.

WIFE: But he's not Walter Cronkite.

HUSBAND: And she's not just whistling Beethoven's Ninth. (Pause.) Our romantic beginning was rudely interrupted.

WIFE: We didn't have a fireplace.

HUSBAND: What we had was children.

WIFE: And I couldn't have had them without him.

HUSBAND: And the way things turned out, we wouldn't be where we are without them. (Pause.) We loved them dearly. Taught them everything we could. The virtue of honesty. The value of learning. The importance of industriousness. The beauty of culture. Belief in God.

WIFE: And now they're all grown up and out on their own. And they show us every day how well they learned.

HUSBAND: Yes, they do. (Pause.) Our first born's shown us the virtue of honesty. That's him, serving ten years' honest time. For perjury.

WIFE: Our second born's shown us the value of learning. That's her, learning to live a valuable life. Served without parole. For blowing up the campus library as a protest.

HUSBAND: Our third born's shown us the importance of industriousness. That's him, surviving very industriously on a remote island. With no place to spend his embezzlement and arrest warrants awaiting his return eagerly.

WIFE: And, our youngest born's shown us the beauty of culture. That's her, serving twenty years for those beautifully forged Warhols.

HUSBAND: That's beautiful service. But it's all our fault.

WIFE: (Slight indignance.) What do you mean, our fault?

HUSBAND: We paid their legal fees, dear.

WIFE: Well, darling, they had no place else to turn.

HUSBAND: Well, darling, they had to plead not guilty.

WIFE: Well, there went the honesty.

HUSBAND: Shows you what they learned.

WIFE: They'll have to be industrious where they are now.

HUSBAND: That's the beauty of it.

WIFE: And here we are today.

HUSBAND: We had to sell our big house.

WIFE: We're the next best thing to broke.

HUSBAND: We are broke, dear.

WIFE: You finally paid off the last of the legal bills.

HUSBAND: Thank God.

WIFE: Anyway, we're happy now in our little three-room apartment. (Pause.) Just---the two of us.

HUSBAND: But we still don't have a fireplace.

WIFE: So, we can huddle in front of the oven.

HUSBAND: The last time we did that, we wanted to put our heads in it.

WIFE: For the perjurer?

HUSBAND: No, dear.

WIFE: For the bomber?

HUSBAND: No, dear.

WIFE: For the embezzler?

HUSBAND: No, dear.

WIFE: For the forger?

HUSBAND: For all of the above.


HUSBAND: (Romantically.) Then come, my love. Let's huddle in front of the oven.

WIFE: (Romantically.) Mmmmmmm, yes. Let's.

MUSIC: (Beethoven, Symphony No. 9 in D Minor: Adagio molto e cantibale; up, then back.)

WIFE: (almost whispering) I could huddle with you all night long.

HUSBAND: (almost whispering) No, you couldn't.

WIFE: (startled a little) Why not?

SFX: (Single ping of a tiny bell.)

HUSBAND: That's why not.

WIFE: (sighs) I'll set the table and you serve up?

HUSBAND: That's better than things others from this household are serving.

SFX AND MUSIC: (Sounds of a meal being served; Beethoven, Symphony No. 9 in D Minor: Adagio molto e cantibale; comes up, then all fade out.)