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.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

"Animal, Mineral, or Vegetable": The Way It Was, 2 February

1946---Already a parlour game-cum-weary dismissal of the excessively or annoyingly inquisitive who didn't get it the first time ("I'm not in the mood for twenty questions from you!"), Twenty Questions---adapted for old-time radio by well-rated New York (WOR) newscaster Fred Van Deventer and hosted by sportscaster Bill Slater---premieres on Mutual.

Listeners will send panelists subjects to be guessed within the space of twenty questions---after they were told whether it was "animal, mineral, or vegetable," a phrase that went almost immediately into the lexicon---with Winston Churchill's stogie thought to be the most popularly-submitted subject, and listeners stumping the panel winning lifetime subscriptions to Pageant magazine.

The show's panelists will include Van Deventer and his wife Florence Binard, who'd been playing the game at home long before adapting it to radio; their children, Bobby (who went by Bobby McGuire on the air) and Nancy; and, Herb Polesie. The mystery voice chores---giving the answer to the home audience---will be handled by Jack Irish, Bruce Elliott, and Frank Waldecker, the latter also serving as the show's announcer.

Ronson Lighters sponsors the show through 1951, when Wildroot Cream Oil takes the show.

The cast will remain in place for the most part until Slater is succeeded in 1953 by Jay Jackson, who stays with it until its 1954 finish. Bobby Van Deventer's high school graduation and enrollment in Duke University compelled him to ask a friend, Johnny McPhee, to take his place, McPhee attending Princeton and thus available for the show. McPhee's own graduation compelled his succession by Dick Harrison, who stayed until Van Demeter (McGuire) returned at age 22 and stayed until the end of the show's life.

Twenty Questions will also have a television life from 1949-1955.

Jay Jackson will become a familiar if obscure memory for television fans, however, when he plays fictitious quiz show host Herb Norris in one of the most memorable of the "Original 39" episodes of The Honeymooners---nervous Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason), the man who "brives a dus," going for broke to win "The $99,000 Answer."


1890: HE FIRST PLAYS IN PEORIA . . . --- . . . and, his first known punch line is the mighty cry at the doctor's slap: Charles Correll, the co-creator/co-writer/co-star of old-time radio titan Amos 'n' Andy, is born.

He will work as a labourer and a silent movie house pianist as a young adult, before he's sent to North Carolina to stage a local lodge hall show. That's where he will meet Freeman Gosden, with whom he becomes fast enough friends that the two men become roommates as well as collaborators.

They will stage amateur acts for six years and become song-and-dance men otherwise (Correll at the piano, Gosden with a ukulele), before landing a weekly late-night slot on a small Chicago-area radio station. The Chicago Tribune will hear them and bring them to the larger station they happen to own, WGN . . . where the two white partners develop a character comedy about two black small business partners that becomes Sam 'n' Henry in 1925.

For a pair who think of radio as nothing more than a step toward the vaudeville bigtime, Correll and Gosden will make a local hit out of Sam 'n' Henry. They will learn the hard way, two years later, that they can't take it with them---the name, anyway---when they ask the Trib to let them record and syndicate the show to a thirty-five station chain. They move to WMAQ as Jim 'n' Charley and, later, Tom 'n' Harry, before finally settling for the name under which they will become a national phenomenon.

When a New York newspaper and a Chicago advertising executive (William Benton) notice the show, the ad exec will decide they're just what the dentist ordered for launching Pepsodent toothpaste. His superior, Albert Lasker, convinces NBC likewise---and Amos 'n' Andy go network 29 August 1929, with Correll and Gosden earning princely salaries ($50,000 a year).

Charlie Correll was more down-to-earth and blue-collar (than his partner Freeman Gosden)---he'd been a bricklayer---and much easier to talk to.

---Hal Kanter, a writer on the later, weekly half hour variety-comedy version of the show.

We weren't kidding race. We were kidding people---human nature---things that happened to anybody and everybody. Our characters depicted cross-sections of life. Everybody knew a wheeler-dealer like the Kingfish, living off his wits; or a blustering Andy, who never learned from experience. I knew a lot of people like that---they were relatives of mine.

---Charles Correll, in 1972, recalling debates over whether two white men playing two black men was or wasn't racially demeaning.


1948: THE RED HEAD---She's the new girl in the office of Jane's (Cathy Lewis) boss and would-be love (Leif Erickson), and she has Jane seeing enough red and green to ponder quitting, on tonight's edition of My Friend Irma. (CBS.)

Irma: Marie Wilson. Al: John Brown. Mrs. O'Reilly: Gloria Gordon. Professor Kropotkin: Hans Conreid. Writer: Parke Levy.

1948: THE PATHETIC FALLACY---A scientist (Ernest Chappell, who also narrates) may assure the press a huge computer doesn't really think in spite of its vast electronic brain, but the computer (voice: Vicki Vola) develops other ideas, on tonight's edition of Quiet, Please. (Mutual.)

Alice: Charita Bauer. Sandy: Michael Fitzmaurice. Writer: Wyllis Cooper.

1951: A STRANGE ALLERGY---A series of allergies that begin on Monday, end on Friday, have weird timing, and bear obscure enough roots, compels Kildare (Lew Ayers) to consider suggesting his wealthy, influential patient look elsewhere for relief---risking the displeasure of a slightly awestruck board and Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore), on tonight's edition of Dr. Kildare. (Syndicated, based from New York WMGM.)

Virginia Gregg, Ted Osborne, Georgia Ellis, Wilms Herbert, Margie List. Announcer: Dick Joy. Writer: Paul Franklin.

1960: AUDIENCE QUESTIONS---Approached and answered in their customary style of quiet absurdity, to open up today's edition of Bob & Ray Present the CBS Radio Network. (Three guesses.)

Writers: Bob Elliott, Ray Goulding.


1888---Frank Lloyd (director: Screen Guild Theater), Glasgow, Scotland.
1893---Len Doyle (actor: Mr. District Attorney), Toledo, Ohio.
1898---William Costello (actor: Betty Boop Fables), Rhode Island.
1899---Benny Rubin (actor/comedian: The Jack Benny Program, Benny Rubin's Whirligig Revue), Boston.
1901---Jascha Heifetz (violin virtuoso: The Bell Telephone Hour), Vilnius, Lithuania.
1911---Everett Freeman (writer: The Chase & Sanborn Hour [Eddie Cantor]; Baby Snooks), New York City.
1912---Stefan Schnabel (actor: Herbert Yost, Joyce Jordan, Girl Intern/Joyce Jordan, M.D.), Berlin.
1915---Frank Telford (producer: This Is Our Enemy), unknown.
1923---Bonita Granville (actress: Continental Celebrity Club, Stars Over Hollywood), Chicago; Haleloke Kahuaolapus (singer: Arthur Godfrey Time), Hilo, Hawaii.


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