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, January 02, 2008

The Beginning of the End? The Way It Was, 2 January

1959: THE COUNTDOWN BEGINS---In a sign of things to come, and sooner than aficionados might think, the continuing death of old-time radio takes another turn when CBS cancels four venerable enough radio soaps today, including two from the titanic Hummert factory.

OUR GAL SUNDAY---Of the four, perhaps the most venerable was this Hummert vehicle, based on the 1904 Broadway play Sunday about a Colorado orphan who marries a British aristocrat and starring Ethel Barrymore in the title role. Adapted for a radio serial beginning in 1937, Dorothy Lowell inaugurated the title role that eventually went to Vivian Smolen.

Once again we present Our Gal Sunday...the story of an orphan girl named Sunday...from the little mining town of Silver Creek, Colorado, who in young womanhood married England's richest, most handsome lord, Lord Henry Brinthrope. The story that asks the question...Can this girl from a little mining town in the West find happiness as the wife of a wealthy and titled Englishman?

---The usual introduction to Our Gal Sunday.

The show took one detour before emerging as Our Gal Sunday: the Hummerts also drew from an earlier, shorter-lived radio soap known as Rich Man's Darling to inform it.

The first Lord Brinthrope on the show was Karl Swenson, later to become familiar as the title character of the comic soap Lorenzo Jones. The cast over the years also included Van Heflin, Irene Hubbard, Anne Seymour, Hugh Marlowe, Carleton Young, and Joan Tompkins. Announcers included Art Millett, Ed Fleming, John Wolfe, Bert Parks (yes---that Bert Parks), Charles Stark, and John Reed King. The show's writers included Jean Carroll and Helen Walpole.

MARY NOBLE, BACKSTAGE WIFE---Nearly as venerable---and a two-years-older a Hummert creation---was this favourite satirical target of Bob & Ray (their famous "Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife" routines). Starring Vivian Fridell and later Claire Niesen in the title role, the soap tracked the Iowa stenographer who married stage idol Larry Noble (Ken Griffin, James Meighan, Guy Sorel) and moved to New York, where she strained to keep the duplicities and avarices of the theater world and a periodically fickle husband from getting the better of her.

The Hummerts themselves often pitched in with the show's writing, but the writers also included Elizabeth Todd, Phil Thorne, and Ruth Borden. Cast members over the years included Gail Henshaw (sometimes in multiple roles), Dorothy Francis, Sherman Marks, Leo Curley, Marvin Miller (also in multiple roles), Bonita Kay, George Ansell, and Bartlett Robinson. Announcers included Harry Clark, Ford Bond (once the announcer for Easy Aces), Sandy Becker (no small irony there: Becker was the lead in Young Doctor Malone), and Roger Krupp.

THE ROAD OF LIFE---This wasn't a Hummert creation---it was the brainchild of Chicago-based soap giant Irna Phillips, in Chicago, in 1937.

But The Road of Life did begin as something somewhat different than the way it would become most familiar. Remembered best as the doctors-and-nurses standard fans would remember for years, a standard that eventually became a standard for several television soaps (helped, perhaps, in no small measure by this show itself, which appeared on television for a year beginning in 1954), The Road of Life was born as the original introduction had it: the story of an Irish-American mother and her troubles raising her children.

The final Dr. Jim Brent, Don MacLaughlin, would play the role on television, as would radio's second Jocelyn Brent, Virginia Dwyer; the former role was played previously on radio by Ken Griffin and Matt Cantor, with David Ellis and Howard Teichman succeeding MacLaughlin. Others in the radio cast over the years included Barbara Becker (the original Jocelyn), Betty Lou Gerson, Carlton Kadell, Lawson Zerbe, Joan Winters, Marvin Miller, Betty Arnold, Hugh Studebaker, Bob Bailey (the longest serving Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar), Bret Morrison (once The Shadow), Guy Sorel, John Briggs, and John Anthony.

As with her other soap projects, Phillips did much of the writing in the beginning, usually---as the Museum of Broadcast Communications notes memorably---by acting out scenes and assuming her characters' identities while a secretary transcribed, a technique most of her proteges adopted.

No other woman writer of soap operas has written as many words as Irna Phillips, or made as much money . . . When she discovered, to her surprise, that she would get fifty dollars a week for (writing a serial for Chicago WGN in the 1930s), she unpacked and went to work. She spent the next seven months writing a serial called Painted Dreams, and her salary rose to a hundred dollars a week. It wasn't long before the ambitious lady learned that the studio intended to peg her salary permanently at fifty-two hundred dollars a year. She instantly resigned and went to work for NBC in Chicago, once again for no money at all but with the hope and determination to make a financial success of her writing and acting this time.

Miss Phillips began to write, and to act in, a serial called Today's Children . . . Once she got into the swing of things, she invented story lines with such facility that she could dictate six scripts a day. Soap operas involving family life were easy for her, since she was one of ten children. Painted Dreams had been ignored by the sponsors of soap operas for many months, but Today's Children was snapped up by a sponsor almost at once, and so were her subsequent ones---Woman in White, The Right to Happiness, The Guiding Light, The Road of Life, and Lonely Women . . . In the beginning, she had typed her scripts, and then she sometimes ran so close to the broadcast deadline that pages were whipped out of her typewriter, mimeographed, and handed to the actors without editing. When she took up dictating, she could turn out sixty thousand words a week, or around three million a year. She learned a lesson in the tough field of radio when WGN and the Chicago Tribune, which owns that station, claimed the ownership of Painted Dreams and were sustained by the courts. She had copyrighted several of the scripts of this serial, but her claim that it was her property was disallowed, since it was held that she had been hired to write the serial and had not actually created it. This technical point has been a source of disagreement and litigation ever since soap operas began. Facing the hard commercial world, Miss Phillips developed a shrewd business personality . . . The Painted Dreams case had taught [her] the art of establishing beyond legal doubt her rights to her own material. At the height of her productio, in the middle ninteen-thirties, she is said to have made in some years as much as a quarter of a million dollars. The vast volume of scripts eventually became too much for her to handle by herself, and she hired a staff of assistants.

---James Thurber, in "Soapland: O Pioneers," The New Yorker, 1947-48; republished in The Beast in Me and Other Animals. (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1948.)

The Road of Life's eventual writers included William Morwood, John M. Young, and Howard Teichmann.

THIS IS NORA DRAKE---The youngest of the newly-canceled soap quartet (born in 1947), This is Nora Drake featured Charlotte Holland, Joan Tompkins, and Mary Jane Higby in the title role. Other cast included Everett Sloane, Ralph Bell, Leon Janney (brother Paul in mr. ace and JANE), Mercedes McCambridge, Alan Hewitt, Grant Richards, and Irene Hubbard. Announcers included Ken Roberts and Bill Cullen (you guessed it---that Bill Cullen), with Milton Lewis as the show's primary writer.


1921: GOD SIGNS ON?---Pittsburgh's KDKA introduces the first known religious program on radio, a service and sermon by pastor Dr. E.J. Van Etten of Calvary Episcopal Church.


1947: THE HOUSEWIVES' GUILD UPGRADE---Gracie (Allen) and Blanche (Bea Benaderet) feel let down having to go home to their mere husbands (George Burns, Hal March) after seeing a Gregory Peck film, prompting them to teach the men how to treat their wives after they're married, on tonight's edition of Maxwell House Coffee Time with Burns & Allen. (NBC.)

The Happy Postman: Mel Blanc. Additional cast: Unknown. Announcer: Bill Goodwin. Music: Meredith Willson Orchestra. Writers: Paul Henning, possibly Hal Block, George Burns.

1949: THE BETTER MAN---Wealthy Charles Winthrop (possibly Frank Lovejoy) offers Holliday (Alan Ladd) $100,000---assuming the sleuthing writer can find the hidden cash before three others do, and in any one of several places, based on mailed clues to all the hunters, on tonight's edition of Box 13. (Mutual.)

Suzy: Sylvia Picker. Kling: Edmund MacDonald. Additional cast: Alan Reed, Lurene Tuttle, Luis Van Rooten. Writer: Russell Hughes.

1949: PHIL THINKS HE'S BEING DRAFTED---So much for Phil (Harris) thinking he was too old to be drafted ("They retire old destroyers, the least they could do is give me the same consideration!") and a World War II Navy vet to boot, on tonight's edition of The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show. (NBC.)

Willie: Robert North. Remley: Elliott Lewis. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.

1950: NC9-8012---Mallard (Henry Leff) asks Candy (Natalie Masters) to probe the legitimacy of an insurance claim tied to a local small plane accident, on tonight's edition of Candy Matson, Yukon 2-8209. (NBC.)

Watson: Jack Thomas. Ayers: Lew Tobin. Folger: Harry Bechtel. Cranston: Jack Cahill. Writer: Monty Masters.


1904---Bernadine Flynn (actress: Vic & Sade), Madison, Wisconsin; James Melton (singer: The Palmolive Hour; Harvest of Stars), Moultrie, Georgia.
1913---Anna Lee (actress: Soldiers in Greasepaint; The Lifebuoy Show; Screen Guild Theater), Ightham, Kent, UK.
1930---Julius LaRosa (singer: Arthur Godfrey Time; Arthur Godfrey and His Friends), Brooklyn.


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