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.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Brother-in-Law's Keeper; A Stepmother Who Tries: The Way It Was, 16-17 January

16 JANUARY 1948: AM I MY BROTHER-IN-LAW'S KEEPER?---"The characters in this story are not fictitious. Very often, I wish they were." Thus did Goodman Ace open the audition performance of his new, expanded, half-hour version of his classic Easy Aces domestic comedy, mr. ace and JANE.

The audition episode, "Paul Tries to Borrow $200 Dollars," introduces changes enough to the format that charmed an audience that wasn't a ratings buster but was loyal for fifteen years. The changes only begin with the end the serial format of continuing storylines in fifteen-minute episodes, changes that have also fallen upon such other serial comedies as Vic & Sade, Lum & Abner, and the granddaddy of the lot of them, Amos 'n' Andy.

Instead, in comes a format slightly more normalised to the situation comedy style, though Ace provided a small twist by acting as wry narrator (and, concurrently, subtle editorialist) as well as co-starring harried husband.

From the old Easy Aces cast, Ken Roberts---who had played slow-witted orphan Cokie, whom the Aces had semi-adopted---is now the show's announcer, both in fact and in character, cast as a radio announcer living next door to the Aces in New York City, visiting at least once a day and often doing miniature satires of radio commercials (a favourite target of Ace), including this jewel: "This show is brought to you by the Krubner Company, makers of those delicious tasting after-shave lozenges . . . The Krubner Company, for over fifty years dispensers of quality products. Yes, fifty years ago the Krubner Company dispensed with quality."

Ace also decides to switch himself from the real estate to the advertising business. This necessitates the introduction of another pair of characters later in the series' brief life: his ulcers. He also disappears Easy Aces's resident brother-in-law/pest, Johnny, in favour of a new wastrel brother-in-law, Paul, played by Leon Janney. This switch falls very profoundly under the banner of what can happen when you're not careful about what you wish for. Johnny was merely allergic to work. Compared to Paul, Johnny was merely frustrated on convalescent leave.

Eric Dressler will also have a recurring role as Jonathan Norris, the chief of the advertising firm ("Sutton, Dutton, Mutton, and Norris---I can't imagine how he got in there") for which Ace's character now works.

Ace also introduces musical interjections between scenes that referenced action in the scene just closed. ("O Britannia," for example, transitioning scenes off a joke referring to the Bank of England.)

What doesn't change: Jane Ace's supremacy as the show's malaproprietess, dropping her casually effective mangles with the kind of aplomb that comes from fifteen years' experience as the best, or at least the most individual, of her breed.

What makes the mr. ace and JANE audition significant, too, is that the Aces keep the quiet atmosphere that helped make Easy Aces effective. The music accompaniment is by a solo pianist, with a very low-volume style (one passage will cause you to imagine ambient ragtime, if you dare), whether playing the familiar opening and closing theme (Louis Salter's "Manhattan Serenade") or the tartly chosen scene transitions. There is no studio audience or large orchestra such as enter when CBS agrees to pick up the show later in the month.

Big mistake. The Aces' contrapuntal conversational collages worked best when the show was kept calm. Audience and orchestra may have made it only too tempting to try the kind of now-typical sitcom the Aces usually belied and belittled in their arch way.

Had they kept the audition atmosphere (the plot, combining Jane and Paul's outlandish attempt to borrow from a loan company with Paul's stealthy bid to snatch a cigarette advertising account from Ace, would be broken into individual episodes later in the series), expanding without exactly abandoning what made Easy Aces work so long, so well, mr. ace and JANE might last (as Jane might say) more than a single Caesar.

17 JANUARY 1937: A STEPMOTHER WHO TRIES---And, who is introduced thus: "Can a stepmother successfully raise another woman's children? Colgate All-Purpose Tooth Powder presents the real life story of Kay Fairchild, a stepmother who tried."

Presented as a soap opera, Kay Fairchild, Stepmother premieres on CBS, from Chicago, starring Sunda Love and, later, Janet Logan, in the title role; and, Francis X. Bushman, Bill Green, Charles Penman, and Willard Waterman playing husband and Walnut Grove mayor John Fairchild over the life of the show.

The stories will center around Kay Fairchild's effort to raise her husband's daughter, Peggy (Peggy Wall, later Barbara Fuller), while contending with husband John's struggles against a political machine almost constantly trying to compromise his mayoral administration. Thirteen episodes, from between late July 1940 and late August 1941, will be known to survive* for future radio collectors.


17 JANUARY 1949: "YOO-HOO! IS ANYBODY WATCHING?"---Having enjoyed a seventeen-year radio life, and three years after it finished its radio run in favour of a Broadway adaptation (Molly and Me), The Goldbergs graduates to television, on CBS---after creator/chief writer/star Gertrude Berg has to convince network executives that the longtime favourite is workable on the small screen.

As on radio and stage, Gertrude Berg---the show’s creator, chief writer, and star---plays Molly Goldberg, whom Bud Collyer (under his given name, Clayton) had introduced on radio as having “a place in every heart, and a finger in every pie.” On television, however, she is joined by a new husband Jake, Philip Loeb. The family---Jake, Molly, and children Sammy and Rosalie---is moved back to the Bronx, after having moved to the suburbs of Connecticut at the height of the radio original’s influence and popularity. And, Sammy and Rosalie are cast once again as teenagers, despite having matured into married adults on radio---and Berg almost looking (and almost sounding) old enough to be their grandmother. Almost.

A pioneering serial comedy on radio, The Goldbergs on television will become a more conventional situation comedy as the world will come to know it. Sometimes, it will blur the line between comedy and drama; other times, it will allow the drama govern the episode with the comedy seeming almost incidental.

As one of the earliest such television offerings, however, The Goldbergs will help prove the format’s viability. But it will pay a certain price to do so: Despite the universally appealing situations depicted (as had been done in the radio years, a major factor in the show's popularity), the show’s unapologetic ethnicity, and its gently unmistakeable tension between ethnic/religious grounding and social assimilation, will make it anomalous by the end of its television run, as television inclines more toward portraying actual or alleged suburban homogeneity, an incline that endures for the better part of a decade.

The rest of the original television cast: Larry Robinson (as son Sammy), Arlene McQuade (as daughter Rosalie), and Eli Mintz (as Uncle David). Berg, McQuade, and Mintz will be the only cast members to stay with the show for its entire television life.



1938: SUBTERRANEAN SABOTAGE BLUES---Stealthy shipyard attacks bedevil the maritime world until Lamont Cranston (Orson Welles) finds a way to its source, on tonight's episode of The Shadow. (Mutual.)

Margot: Agnes Moorehead. Additional cast: Unknown. Writers: Possibly Peter Barry, Max Ehrlich.

1949: THE BAND IS NOT INVITED TO THE PRESIDENT'S BALL---It seems to be Harry Truman who's not so wild about Phil (Harris), who's not so wild about the President being not so wild about inviting his band to be among the performers at the Inaugural Ball, on tonight's edition of The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show. (NBC.)

Willie: Robert North. Little Alice: Jeanine Roos. Phyllis: Anne Whitfield. Remley: Elliott Lewis. Music: Walter Sharp, Phil Harris Orchestra. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.


1945: DOUBLE INDEMNITY; OR, "THANK YOU, HARRY VON SO FORTH, FOR THAT SO-SO INTRODUCTION"---Gloria DeHaven (singing "I'm In The Mood For Love"); a jazz trio of Gene Krupa, Charlie Ventura, and Teddy Napoleon (playing a remarkable "Stompin' at the Savoy"); and, Ida Lupino, Robert Benchley, and Groucho making mischief with Double Indemnity, highlight tonight's edition of Mail Call. (Armed Forces Radio Service; this is a series designed exclusively for American troops fighting World War II in which shows were cobbled together largely based upon their entertainment requests. The "Harry Von So Forth" crack, perhaps needless to say, refers to the show's announcer, Harry Von Zell.)

1948: PROMISES, PROMISES---Eddie Cantor, running for President, has promised Judy a movie career if she gets him the votes from Cactus Junction. "A radio comedian for President?" asks Geranium, who seems to have slept through Gracie Allen's 1940 campaign, on tonight's edition of The Judy Canova Show. (NBC.)

Additional cast: Mel Blanc, Ruby Dandridge, Verna Felton, Sheldon Leonard. Music: Bud Dant Orchestra, the Sports Men. Writers: Fred Fox, Henry Hoople.



1878---Harry Carey (actor: Lincoln Highway; Suspense), New York City.
1894---John B. Kennedy (commentator: Collier's Hour; The RCA Magic Key), Wales.
1901---Sid Silvers (actor: The Phil Baker Show; The Jack Benny Program), Brooklyn.
1907---Alexander Knox (actor: Document A/777), Strathroy, Ontario.
1909---Ethel Merman (singer/actress/comedienne: The Ethel Merman Show; Home Front Matinee; The Big Show), Astoria, New York.
1910---Dwight Weist (actor: Mr. District Attorney; The Second Mrs. Burton), Palo Alto, California.
1911---Dizzy Dean (commentator: St. Louis Cardinals baseball; Game of the Week), Lucas, Arkansas.
1914---Roger Wagner (chorale conductor: It's Time for Johnny Mercer; America Sings; This Is Our Music), Le Puy, France.
1918---Buddy Weed (musician: Old Gold Party Time; The Lanny Ross Show), Ossining, New York.
1920---Elliott Reed (actor: Pepper Young's Family; Against the Storm), New York City.
1930---Rita Lloyd (actress: Let's Pretend), Brooklyn.


1875---Minetta Ellen (actress: One Man's Family), Cleveland.
1884---Noah Beery (actor: Campbell's Playhouse; Lux Radio Theater), Kansas City.
1891---Marjorie Gateson (actress: Lux Radio Theater), Brooklyn.
1903---Warren Hull (actor: The Gibson Family), Gasport, New York.
1904---Knox Manning (announcer: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; Headlines on Parade), Worcester, Massachussetts; Grant Withers (actor: Calling All Cars; Screen Guild Theater), Pueblo, Colorado.
1914---Howard Marion Crawford (actor: BBC Home Theater), United Kingdom.
1919---Dallas Townsend (newscaster: The CBS World News Roundup; The World Tonight), New York City.
1921---Herb Ellis (actor: The Adventures of Nero Wolfe), Cleveland.
1922---Betty White (hostess: On Animals), Oak Park, Illinois.
1927---Eartha Kitt (as Eartha Mae Keith; singer/actress: Here's to Veterans; The Big Show), North, South Carolina.
1930---Dick Contino (musician: Horace Heidt Youth Opportunity Hour), Fresno, California.
1931---James Earl Jones (actor: We Hold These Truths), Akabutla, Mississippi.
1941---Clive Elvyn Rice (actor: Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders), Haslemere, Surrey, UK.

*---A fourteenth episode, from 1939, is known to survive as well, in the middle of a block with historical significance: Kay Fairchild, Stepmother was one of the regularly-scheduled offerings when WJSV, a Washington (D.C.) CBS affiliate, decided to record its entire broadcast day of 21 September 1939. Kay Fairchild, Stepmother will air at the end of a broadcast hour (9:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m. Eastern standard time) that includes, in order, Pretty Kitty Kelly, Myrt & Marge, and Hilltop House.


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