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, April 26, 2008

"You Didn't Need a Narrator to Know What Was Happening": The Way It Was, 26 April

1952---Despite (even defiant of) the beginning of the end of old-time radio drama, Gunsmoke---with mellifluous William Conrad as federal marshal Matt Dillon---premieres as a regular series on CBS, almost three years after it was auditioned for the first time.

For all that it is written and acted with an intelligence and an understated realism rare among old-time radio (and, in due course, televison) Westerns, however, what many critics and historians will seem to remember most about the show was its sound, for which Tom Hanley and Ray Kemper were responsible. Kemper in due course would tell the critic Leonard Maltin that he and his sonic partner credited producer Norman MacDonald with refusing to allow any "cheating" in creating and deploying the striking, realistic sound---right down to the rumbling hooves, spurs on the floorboards, and gunshots---that helped separate Gunsmoke from its predecessors and successors. (In truth, it is ridiculous to suggest the show has peers among the horse operas.)

If you walk from Point A to Point B and then you have to return, you should walk the same amount of steps. Most directors simply wouldn't allow it. They would say, 'Turn around and walk back,' and you'd go two steps and that's it, they're into the script again. And you couldn't convince them it was important to return the same amount of steps. Norm MacDonald, if you had a particular distance to walk, gave you the time to walk back again. Once in a great while we'd cheat if we were hurting for time, but most of the time he gave us all the time we needed.

---Ray Kemper, to Leonard Maltin, The Great American Broadcast. (New York: Dutton, 1997.)

When Marshal Dillon went out on the plains, you didn't need a narrator to know what was happening. You heard the faraway prairie wind and the dry squeak of Matt's pants against saddle leather . . . When Matt opened his jail cell door, you heard every key drop on the ring. When he walked the streets of Dodge, his spurs rang with a dull clink-clink, missing occasionally, and the hollow boardwalk echoed back as the nails creaked. Buckboards passed, and you heard them behind the dialogue, along with muted shouts of kids playing in an alley, and from the next block the inevitable dog was barking.

---John Dunning, from Tune In Yesterday. (New York: Prentice Hall, 1976.)

Still, the realistic, painstakingly produced sound is far from the sole reason why Gunsmoke will be remembered and respected far beyond its predecessors or successors---including, even, its comparatively tame television interpretation.

In radio, I think the show was more authentic. The original characters were more extreme. They've mellowed with age---maybe they mellowed too much. They didn't used to be quite so warm. Kitty was more of a madam, Doc was more of an abortionist, and Matt smoked big black cigars, drank rye whiskey, and very often a man rode into town who could shoot faster and straighter than Matt Dillon.

---Norman MacDonnell, comparing the radio and television versions of Gunsmoke, as cited by Gerald Nachman, in Raised on Radio. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.)

With the writing produced mostly by Les Crutchfield, John Meston, and Marian Clark, Gunsmoke co-stars Parley Baer as Chester, Georgia Ellis as Kitty Russell, and Howard McNear as Doc, until the western rides off radio and into the sunset in 1961---still leaving the listener's nose catching as close to the smell of gunsmoke as radio drama could bring.


1929: RAISING MONEY FOR LODGE RENOVATIONS---Andy (Charles Correll) and the Kingfish (Freeman Gosden) dream up a fundraiser to pay for renovating the Mystic Knights of the Sea Lodge building, which may not exactly set Amos's (also Freeman Gosden) mind entirely at ease when he hears the Kingfish's ideas, on tonight's edition of Amos 'n' Andy. (NBC.)

Writers: Freeman Gosden, Charles Correll.

1937: THE MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION---Robert Taylor (as Robert Merrick) and Irene Dunne (as Helen Phillips) shine in this adaptation of the soap operatic 1935 film, based upon the Lloyd C. Douglas novel about a reckless, gravely injured playboy---blaming himself for his doctors' being unable to reach and save a renowned surgeon---who swaps the high life for medical school, falls in love with the surgeon's widow, and obsesses on restoring her eyesight . . . the loss of which he caused in the first place, in another accident, on tonight's edition of Lux Radio Theater. (CBS.)

Otto Kruger: Pedro de Cordova. Writers: Sarah Y. Mason, Victor Heerman, George O'Neil.

1939: SADE'S NEW LUGGAGE---Sade (Bernadine Flynn) has a challenge convincing skeptical Vic (Art Van Harvey) and Rush (Bill Idelson) just how remarkable is the new luggage set, on today's edition of Vic & Sade. (NBC.)

Writer: Paul Rhymer.

1948: THIRTEEN AND EIGHT---A newspaper photographer (Ernest Chappell, who narrates) can't prove someone was trying to get in the way of his attempt to photograph someone jumping out a high window---because the thirteen-and-eight (old-time newspeak for people trying to get in news photos just to be in the papers) doesn't turn up in anyone's photographs, including his own, on tonight's edition of Quiet, Please. (Mutual.)

Additional cast: Murray Forbes, Ann Rankin. Writer/director: Wyllis Cooper.


1890---Edgar Kennedy (actor: Screen Guild Theater, Radio Reader's Digest), Monterey, California.
1905---Cecilia Parker (actress: Good News of 1939, Mail Call, Lux Radio Theater), Fort William, Ontario.
1906---A.L. Alexander (moderator: Goodwill Court, later known as The Court of Human Relations), Winthrop, Massachussetts.
1912---John McGovern (actor: The O'Neills), unknown.
1916---Vic Perrin (actor: One Man's Family, Gunsmoke, Fort Laramie, Mutual Radio Theater), Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin; Frances Robinson (actress: Richard Diamond, Private Detective, Let George Do It), Fort Wandsworth, New York.
1918---Helen Burgess (actress: Lux Radio Theater), Portland, Oregon.


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