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.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Are You Kiddin': The Way It Was, 2 June

1915: YOU'RE GONNA BE A BRIIIII-IIIIIGHT BOY, LEROY---His voice will be trapped forever as that of a borderline adolescent thanks to an unusual hormonal condition, but Mother and Father Tetzlaff little suspect the son who arrives today will become one of old-time radio's most enduring comic actors because of that condition---mostly, as The Great Gildersleeve's spunky nephew Leroy, and concurrently as obnoxious grocery boy Julius Abruzzio on The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show.

But even before those career-making roles, he will be familiar enough in various adolescent roles for Fred Allen's groundbreaking Town Hall Tonight and Sal Hepatica Revue hourlong shows of the 1930s.

And, until he is left wheelchair bound following a reported motorcycle accident in 1971, he will go on to become one of the most sought-after vocal artists for children's and adolescent's roles even though he will be in his forties by the time his old-time radio career winds down---most familiarly, as the voice of the nerdy pet son of a warped, time-traveling scientist beagle, in the famous Peabody's Improbable History segments of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show

I wondered what a radio show would be like if the audience could see the actors on stage. But then they couldn’t be allowed to read scripts. It would be like a movie. That wouldn’t be any good. Radio would then be the same as movies.

---From one of the only interviews he was known to have given.

This kid . . . steals our show every week!

---Phil Harris, to his studio audience, following a warmup routine before recording The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show each week.

Happy birthday, wherever you are, to the singular Walter Tetley.


27 DECEMBER 1939: DR. ALLEN'S CLINIC---After spoofing the opening of Gone With the Wind and "interviewing" humourist Robert Benchley, three from the audience host a roundtable chat with the master on whether spouses should vacation together after each year's living together; and, the Mighty Allen Art Players (John Brown, Charles Cantor, Minerva Pious, Walter Tetley) spoof the analyst's office, on tonight's edition of The Fred Allen Show (An Hour of Smiles). (NBC.)

With Portland Hoffa. Announcer: Harry Von Zell. Music: Peter Van Steeden Orchestra, Wynn Murray. Writers: Fred Allen, Arnold Auerbach, Herman Wouk.

27 DECEMBER 1942: LEROY MAKES NITRO---Leroy's (Walter Tetley) anxiety to experiment with his new Christmas present---a chemistry set---may just be enough to make Gildy (Harold Peary) explode, on tonight's edition of The Great Gildersleeve. (NBC.)

Birdie: Lillian Randolph. Marjorie: Lurene Tuttle. Hooker: Earle Ross. Peavey: Richard LeGrand. Writers: John Whedon, Sam Moore.

23 JANUARY 1944: DOES LEROY NEED A MOTHER?---Six months after his wedding plans with Leila collapse, still hesitant about romancing randy nephew Leroy's principal Eve Goodwin (Shirley Mitchell), Uncle Mort (Harold Peary) wonders whether Leroy (Walter Tetley)---whose solicitousness of late seems a shade suspicious until he finally takes his report card out of its three-week hiding---isn't missing something without the maternal touch, on tonight's edition of The Great Gildersleeve. (NBC.)

Marjorie: Lurene Tuttle. Birdie: Lillian Randolph. Writers: John Whedon, Sam Moore.

3 FEBRUARY 1946: GILDY THE DIPLOMAT---After Leroy (Walter Tetley) falls out with his best friend and finds himself bored, Gildy (Harold Peary) suggests more of an interest in worldly affairs, among other ideas both may live to regret, on tonight's edition of The Great Gildersleeve. (NBC.)

Birdie: Lillian Randolph. Marjorie: Lurene Tuttle. Hooker: Earle Ross. Peavey: Richard LeGrand. Writers: John Whedon, Sam Moore.

1 MAY 1949: CLEANING THE CHIMNEY---The attempt at which by Phil (Harris), Remley (Elliott Lewis), and Julius (Walter Tetley) leaves the Harris household one flue over the cuckoo's nest, on tonight's edition of The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show. (NBC.)

Alice: Alice Faye. Little Alice: Jeanine Roos. Phyllis: Ann Whitfield. Willie: Robert North. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.

5 MARCH 1950: SAVING MARJORIE FROM HER LOVER---First, sponsor Scott (Gale Gordon) dresses down the clueless band (once again); then, he wants Phil (Harris), Alice (Faye), and Remley (Elliott Lewis) to pry his daughter (Louise Erickson) from the older man she's been dating. The fun begins when, somehow, obnoxious grocery boy Julius (Walter Tetley) attracts her attention---and affection, on tonight's edition of The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show. (NBC.)

Little Alice: Jeanine Roos. Phyllis: Ann Whitfield. Willie: Robert North. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.

12 MARCH 1950: TRYING TO BREAK UP JULIUS AND MARJORIE---That's the mission of the hour when Julius (Walter Tetley), engaged to sponsor Scott's (Gale Gordon) niece (Louise Erickson), starts throwing his miniscule weight around to Phil (Harris), Alice (Faye), and Remley's (Elliott Lewis) annoyance, on tonight's edition of The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show. (NBC.)

Willie: Robert North. Little Alice: Jeanine Roos. Phyllis: Anne Whitfield. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.


2 JUNE 1884: THE STRAIGHT SOAP---One-half of old-time radio's most prolific team of soap opera producers, Frank Hummert, is born in St. Louis, and will grow up to become a prominent enough Chicago advertising executive and---in partnership with his wife, the former Anne Ashenhurst (it was her second marriage; the marriage endured until his death)---the co-producer/co-head writer of numerous soaps (Just Plain Bill, The Romance of Helen Trent, Our Gal Sunday, Joyce Jordan, Girl Intern, Amanda of Honeymoon Hill, Mary Noble-Backstage Wife, the comic soap Lorenzo Jones, and far, far more) and a few other serials such as Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons . . . not to mention a children's classic (Terry and the Pirates) or two.

To fuel their repertoire of soap operas, the Hummerts employed a bank of sixteen to twenty writers, who worked from a brief outline supplied by the feisty, indefatigable, and high-strung Mrs. Hummert, though the Hummets were the only ones ever credited (" . . . created and written by Frank and Anne Hummert" became a familiar daytime radio chant). Her husband eventually ran the mystery-and-music program end of the business. The astonishingly prolific but remote Hummerts rang an amazing number of changes on the reliable theme of female unfulfillment, male unreliability, and general domestic knavery . . .

---Gerald Nachman, in "The Soap Factory," from Raised on Radio. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.)

They may be very successful in family life, or in the way they manage to help their neighbours and friends, they're everyday people---[with] stories that can be understood and appreciated on Park Avenue and on the prairie.

---Frank Hummert, describing the couple's basic, rarely-wavering soap formula, as cited by Nachman.

In 1927, Frank Hummert . . . became a vice president of Blackett & Sample, a Chicago advertising agency. The Messrs. Blackett and Sample wanted to round out their firm with a topflight idea man. Hummert was one of the best-paid men in advertising . . . He had been a reporter for awhile in his younger days, but his recessive temperament was not suited to that aggressive calling. He liked to work at home, and during his seven years as a copywriter he rarely showed up at the office. He had hit on the idea of writing advertising as if it were feature news, and the idea was successful. The one thing he enjoys remembering from the old advertising days is the work he did on behalf of the Brunswick New Hall of Fame, which brought new voices to the operatic and concert stages. Blackett & Sample became Blackett Sample Hummert, though the new man was not a partner. The change was made because it was felt that his name would lend a certain prestige to the agency, and he began to build up a unit of his own in the company for the production of radio programs.

Sample introduced Hummert, one day, to a small, smartly dressed young woman named Anne S. Ashenhurst, and later suggested to him that she might develop into a useful assistant. Hummert said he was skeptical, but he was persuaded to give the young woman a trial . . . Her lack of radio and advertising experience was offset by what proved to be a sound understanding of how to catch and hold the ear of the woman radio listener. Like Hummert, she had an inventive mind and could make up a story line and write nimble dialogue. Hummert and Mrs. Ashenhurst figured that the largely dallow daytime air of twenty years ago could be transformed into valuable advertising time.

---James Thurber, in "O Pioneers!" from "Soapland," republished in The Beast in Me and Other Animals: A New Collection of Pieces and Drawings About Human Beings and Less Alarming Creatures. (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1948.)

As might be expected often enough, not everyone will see the Hummerts' success in terms strictly glowing.

[W]hy, outside of the circle of media historians . . . are they largely forgotten today? [Jim] Cox [in Frank and Anne Hummert's Radio Factor; Jefferson, NC: McFarland Publishing] attributes it in part to “their preferred reclusive lifestyle” (p. 150)but also to their methodical, at times harsh, entrepreneurial approach to producing radio programming: “mass production, low costs, standardization, and specialization” (p. 36).

. . . [The Hummerts] are not warm and fuzzy characters. As Cox tells us, they would routinely conduct surreptitious auditions for their lead characters when they thought a change would add to the bottom line of their production empire. And their “assembly-line approach to producing drama” (p. 134) was nothing if not effective; Anne Hummert died in 1996 a multimillionaire.

2 JUNE 1959: OUT OF THE FRYING PAN?---Alan Freed opens for business on New York's WABC, not too long after WINS chose not to renew his contract in the wake of violence at a Boston rock and roll show he promoted and hosted which got him charged with inciting a riot. (The charges would be dropped in due course.)

Freed will be on the air at WABC for barely a few months when the station fires him, after he refuses to sign a statement saying he never took money to play certain records on the air. The payola scandal will destroy Freed's career as a radio big-timer.


1957: CROSSING PARIS---Cupidity and retribution are the order of the day in wartime, Nazi-occupied Paris, on tonight's edition of Suspense. (CBS.)

Cast: Hans Conreid, John Dehner. Writer: John Messner, adapting a story by Martell Heimay.


1879---Florence Edney (actress: Amanda of Honeymoon Hill), London.
1889---Martha Wentworth (actress: Cinnamon Bear; The Witch's Tale), New York City.
1902---Jimmie Lunceford (bandleader: numerous radio remote performances), Fulton, Missouri.
1908---Ben Grauer (annonucer: Information Please), Staten Island.
1914---Nicholas Saunders (actor: Martin Kane, Private Eye), Kiev.


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