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.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Sweetest Comedy This Side of Heaven: The Way It Was, 15 February

1932: GRACIE, HOW'S YOUR BANDLEADER?---Old-time radio may never quite be the same---which is saying something, considering it's barely a decade old as we know it to this point---after vaudeville and film short veterans George Burns and Gracie Allen premiere as 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, unfortunately. As Burns himself will relate later in life (in his memoir, The Third Time Around), an indignant fraternity complained that their weekly house dances, when they invite their girlfriends to come and dance to half an hour of "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. 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 spreading cheer on the verge of tears) 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 1940 presidential campaign---right to the day they graduate to television in 1950.


1941: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY---Real enough tragedy attaches to popular, semi-comic old-time radio soap opera Myrt & Marge---28-year-old co-star Donna Damerel Fick, who has played chorus trouper Marge Minter since the soap was born, dies while giving birth to her third son.

Fick is the real-life daughter of creator-writer Myrtle Vail (Myrt Spear), who's based the show on her own vaudeville experiences and plays the hard-patinaed veteran chorus trouper who took innocent newcomer Marge under her wing 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.)

Possibly as a way to salve grief---though Movie-Radio Guide says she believes her daughter wanted the show to continue no matter what---Vail continues Myrt & Marge, writing Marge out of the script entirely for a short spell, until Fick's successor can be chosen. Vail simply writes a plotline involving Marge's hiding in the hills until a mixup involving a murder is cleared.

Following what Time will call arduous auditions (at one point taking over CBS studios for them), including sponsor Colgate-Palmolive-Peet interviewing a reported two hundred possible new Marges and presenting sixty before Vail herself pared the candidates down to 35, film actress Helen Mack---perhaps familiar most as a streetwalker in His Girl Friday---becomes the new Marge Minter.

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

Myrt & Marge will continue on radio until 1946. But Fick's death 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 dies after midnight, technically 15 February, shortly after her new 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.

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.)


THE RALEIGH-KOOL PROGRAM WITH JACK PEARL: RIO DE JANEIRO (NBC, 1937)---Rio just won't be the same after The Baron (Jack Pearl) gets through with it. Charlie: Cliff Hall. Additional cast: Mae Questel, Morton Bowe. Music: Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra with Jack Leonard. Writers: Possibly Parke Levy, Billy K. Wells, George Wells.

THE BURNS & ALLEN SHOW: FRED ASTAIRE DRIVES GEORGE CRAZY (CBS; ARMED FORCES RADIO SERVICE REBROADCAST, 1944)---George (Burns) complains to his office landlord about the constant racket from the dancer rehearsing in the office above . . . unaware it's Fred Astaire "You tell him," Astaire indignantly rejoins to the landlord, "that when he sings 'Ain't Misbehavin', tell him it sounds like plumbing that's working"), auditioning for a new dance partner---and unaware Gracie (Allen) has just the candidate for the job. Tootsie: Elvia Allman. Himself: Bill Goodwin (announcer). Music: Felix Mills Orchestra, Jimmy Cash. Writers: Paul Henning, George Burns.

YOU BET YOUR LIFE: THE SECRET WORD IS 'SUGAR' (NBC, 1950)---And the none-too-secret word is humour, beginning with a milkman partnered with a brewer. Host: Groucho Marx. Announcer: George Fenneman.

FIBBER McGEE & MOLLY: WHAT'S IN THE ATTIC? (NBC, 1954)---The Squire of 79 Wistful Vista (Jim Jordan) and his missus (Marian Jordan) struggle to rent their neighbour's house as a favour to him, but nobody wants it so long as the owner doesn't want the attic opened. Dowager: Natalie Masters. Mr. Clark: Parley Baer. Announcer: John Wald. Writers: Phil Leslie, Ralph Goodman.


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; The Mel Blanc Show), Muncie, Indiana.
1919---Frank Behrens (actor: Billie the Brownie; Jack Armstrong, All-American), Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
1930---Mary Lee Robb (actress: The Great Gildersleeve), Chicago.


Blogger ZZMike said...

I heard a very early Fibber McGee & Molly, one where they're on the road, travelling. Molly has an Irish accent, and McGee is mostly apologetic and not sure of himself.

The next time a FM&M comes up, could you give us a little history on how the show turned into the success it became when they settled down in #79 at Wistful Vista?

3:56 PM  

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