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.

Friday, March 14, 2008

"It Could Be . . . It Might Be . . . It Is! ": The Way It Was, 14 March

1919---Madre and Padre Carabina have no clue that the son who has just arrived, Harry Christopher Carabina, is destined to become one of baseball's most beloved broadcasters---for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Oakland Athletics, the Chicago White Sox, and (especially) the Chicago Cubs---in old-time radio and forward to television . . . under the Anglicised Harry Caray.

Though he will achieve broad appeal during his tenure with the Cardinals (whose KMOX broadcasts helped build the team into a full Midwest force because of the station's range and Caray's earthy style), Caray will become a national and even international phenomenon when he lands with the Cubs, and the Cubs' owners (the Tribune Company, who buy the team from the Wrigley family) turn their local/regional television anchorage into a nationwide cable television superstation.

Caray's shameless homerism (more for the home fans than the team), his seventh-inning stretch singing (an accident that began when the White Sox flipped his mike on after he was seen singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in the booth; he'd originally rejected the idea of doing it on mike), his catch phrases ("Holy Cow!"; "It could be . . . it might be . . . ," a phrase he used calling potential home runs and, at the end of the ninth, team wins), his periodic habit of calling a game shirtless from the bleachers, and his endearing malaprops (he often confused player names, such as "Ryne Sundberg" or "Jim Sandberg," and he frequently botched the lyrics of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"), will make him a kind of national grandfather until the day he dies following a Valentine's Day collapse in 1998.

He would be allowed to skirt WGN's then-mandatory retirement age because of his phenomenal popularity.

Caray's career will not be without its controversy, however, from speculation that he wielded powerful enough influence on Cardinals' player and personnel decisions (including the 1964 firing of their legendary general manager, Bing Devine, who built the team's 1960s contenders, several player transactions, and a reputed maneuver to bring aboard former Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants manager Leo Durocher as manager if incumbent Johnny Keane was to be fired, also in 1964) to speculation that his unexpected firing as the Cardinals' lead broadcaster sprang from an affair he was reputed to have had with a daughter-in-law of the team's owner. (Caray, for his part, neither confirmed or denied the rumour.)

When he returns to the Cubs' booth following convalescence from a mild stroke, Caray will enjoy a poignant moment as he shares the booth with a one-time broadcaster who transcribed Cub games on Iowa WHO by forging a play-by-play off telegraph reports---President Ronald Reagan, who cracks, "You know, in a few months I'm going to be out of work, and I thought I might as well audition." (Reagan, in fact, will do an inning and a half of actual play by play on the broadcast.)

Caray will be elected to the broadcaster's wing of the baseball Hall of Fame in 1989, and to the Radio Hall of Fame in 1990.


1937: IT AIN'T LOUIS V. SCHMELING, KIDDIES---It's a purported climax to old-time radio's most successful and famous verbal running gag*, launched inadvertently when one of the combatants wisecracked about the other after an eight-year-old violin prodigy performed a breathless interpretation of "The Bee."

Tonight, the Grand Ballroom of New York's Hotel Pierre hosts the climactic rumble, allegedly, on The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny. (NBC.)

Climax, schmimax.

The famous feud will continue on and off for another decade at minimum, and sometimes beyond. Never mind that the two master comedians were actually good friends in real life; and, that a) writers from each man's staff consulted on each installment of the feud; or, b) when either guested on the other's show the guest combatant often as not got the better laugh lines, right up to the end . . .

(In fairness: Fred Allen will have a kind of advantage in due course---when his show joins Jack Benny's on the Sunday night lineup, Benny's show will precede Allen's show . . . and Allen or a staffer would be listening, allowing a fresh crack or two's insertion into the script about to be performed on the air, either pre-written or by way of one of Allen's deadly ad-libs.)

Of course, one man's end may be another man's beginning, as Fred Allen will prove on the premiere edition of The Big Show, (also NBC), when he reworks a sketch from one of his earlier classic editions, a Benny parody he called "The Pinch Penny Program."

The sidebar to the Allen-Benny feud: The child prodigy who launched the whole thing in the first place, Stuart Canin (when he played on Fred Allen's Town Hall Tonight, Allen couldn't resist a wisenheimer remark about a certain violin player who ought to have been ashamed of himself), received an unexpected gift: Both Allen and Jack Benny will pony up the starting financing for his eventual musical education.

The long-term picture: New York-born Stuart Canin will study at Juilliard School of Music, win the International Paganini Competition and the Handel Medal, and become a respected violin virtuoso and, in due course, concertmaster for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Hollywood studio orchestras (his performances in film music will include Forrest Gump and Schindler's List), while also founding the New Century Chamber Orchestra in 1992 and serving as its first music director until 1999.

Meanwhile, otherwise on tonight's show, Jack and Mary (Livingstone) get a wire from Kenny Baker advising how much Hollywood's changed---then realise he didn't send it from Hollywood; Jack learns at least one secret of how tough men make a sweet-swinging orchestra; Jack and Mary ponder their income tax filings; an elder singer seeks an audition; and, Mary and Jack sing instead. (Guess which one's merely passably amatuerish.) Then comes an, ahem, interruption to Jack's singing turn . . . and, in due course, a duet even more off key than Mary and Jack's, but you'll have to listen for yourself.

Additional cast: Don Wilson. Music: Abe Lyman and His Orchestra.

* - By far, the most successful and famous aural running gag in classic radio history has to be Fibber McGee's infamous clattering closet . . . with, perhaps, Jack Benny's subterranean vault alarm a close enough second.


1946: NO MORE ALICE---Haunted by his failing marriage as it is, troubled psychiatrist Warren Rice (Paul Henreid) lets an escaped bank robber/killer commandeer him while driving through the mountains . . . and hide in his own home, where the escapee can't understand Dr. Rice's interest in analysing him, on tonight's edition of Suspense. (CBS.)

Additional cast: Unknown. Writer: Martin Ryerson. Director: William Spear.

1951: INCOME TAX---Alas, 'tis that time of year, and naturally Harold (Peary) doesn't want to be late even if he's doing it on the final day. Which is more than Doc Yak-Yak (Joseph Kearns) can say, on tonight's edition of The Harold Peary Show. (CBS.)

Additional cast: Gloria Holiday (in real life, Mrs. Harold Peary), Parley Baer, Jane Morgan, Mary Jane Croft. Writers: Bill Danch, Jack Robinson, Gene Stone.


1912---Les Brown (bandleader: Fitch Bandwagon, The Bob Hope Show), Reinerton, Pennsylvania.
1918---Dennis Patrick (actor: Shakespeare Festival), Philadelphia.


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