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.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Clubbing: The Way It Was, 31 July

1938---What was known: Jake Powell, a New York Yankees outfielder, instigated one of old-time radio's most embarrassing hours, when he was foolish enough to tell WGN sportscasting legend Bob Elson, on the air, that he kept in shape during the offseason as a Dayton, Ohio police officer "beat[ing] niggers over the head with my blackjack while on my beat."

Elson was compelled to apologise when an uproar erupted almost at once, saying Powell had offended him as deeply as he'd offended some of his friends. The Yankees planned to send Powell down to the minors (they were finally disgusted, it was said, with Powell's penchant for foul play and lack of sportsmanship), but then-Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis---perhaps duplicitously, considering his none-too-benign assent to baseball's colour line of the time---suspended him ten days.

What may not have been known, at least by many enough, until Powell's suicide in November 1948: Powell actually sought to make a kind of atonement for his blunt racism. And one of America's most virtuoso sportswriters happened to know about it.


There are probably a lot of stories that could be told about Jake Powell by people who knew him better. Here there is only one, which may help explain a couple of things. That is, it may furnish a little insight into the nature of a guy who never knew fear and never knew what was good for him, a guy who always acted on impulse and was wrong more often than not.

In the end, he was tragically wrong, of course. He killed himself. Jake Powell, who used to play the outfield for the Yankees and the Senators and any number of minor league clubs, got himself messed up the other day and gave up and shot himself. He didn't slip off and lock himself in a room and turn on the gas. He shot himself twice, once in the chest and then in the head, in a police station in Washington, D.C., with the cops looking on.

Now, as to that story. When Jake was playing ball in the American League a radio broadcaster grabbed him for one of those offhand, unrehearsed dugout interviews just before a game in Comiskey Park in Chicago. Answering questions without thinking, Powell made a thoughtless remark that offended thousands of Negroes.

A storm ensued. The American League office was flooded with protests. There was talk of a boycott against any park where Powell might be playing. Jake had been wrong as wrong could be.

Well, the next time Powell got to New York he went up to the top end of Harlem. He went alone, after dark. He worked down from north to south, stopping in every saloon he came across.

In each he introduced himself. He said he was Jake Powell and he said that he had made a foolish mistake and that he was sorry. Then he ordered drinks for the crowd and moved on to the next joint.

He did that by himself, on his own initiative, after dark, in a section where he had reason to believe feelings ran high against him.

That's one story about Jake Powell. The only one here.

---Red Smith, New York Herald-Tribune, 7 November 1948; republished in To Absent Friends from Red Smith. (New York: Atheneum, 1982.)

And, perhaps, the only story that needed to be told. Then, and now.


1854---Charles Goodell (The Shepherd of the Air; clergyman, Sabbath Reveries), Dudley, Massachussetts.
1892---Herbert W. Armstrong (preacher: Plain Truth; The World Tomorrow), Des Moines.
1894---Roy Bargy (conductor: The Jimmy Durante Show; Kraft Music Hall; Rexall Summer Theater), Newaygo, Michigan.
1900---Elmo Roper (pollster: America's Town Meeting of the Air; Word from the People), Hebron, Nebraska.
1902---Robert E. Griffin (actor: The Story of Holly Sloan; Bright Horizon), Hutchinson, Kansas.
1904---Brett Halliday (creator: Michael Shayne; host: Murder By Experts), Chicago; Billy (Trade) Hillpot (singer: The Smith Brothers: Trade and Mark; The Camel Pleasure Hour), Red Bank, New Jersey.
1908---W.F. (Bill) Shadel (newscaster, CBS: he reported the D-Day landings of June 1944, among other significant stories), Milton, Wisconsin.
1909---Roger Krupp (announcer: The Adventures of Ellery Queen; Famous Jury Trials), Minnesota.
1911---George Liberace (violinist: numerous remotes, the Orrin Tucker Band, the Anson Weeks Band; brother of the Liberace), Menasha, Wisconsin.
1912---Irv Kupcinet (sportscaster, WGN Chicago: Chicago Bears football), Chicago; Chester Stratton (actor: Pepper Young's Family; Hop Harrigan), Paterson, New Jersey.
1913---Brook Byron (actor: Top Secret; Suspense), Weakly County, Tennessee.
1915---Chet Forrest (composer/pianist: U.S. Treasury Star Parade), Brooklyn.
1916---Bill Todman (writer/producer/director: Treasury Salute; Winner Take All; Beat the Clock; Hit the Jackpot; Rate Your Mate; The Web), New York City.
1919---Norman Del Mar (conductor: Scottish Orchestra), Hempstad, U.K.; Curt Gowdy (sportscaster: Boston Red Sox baseball), Green River, Wyoming.
1921---Barbara Fuller (actress: One Man's Family; Stepmother), Nahant, Massachussetts.
1924---Garard Green (actor: Sherlock Holmes), Madras, India.
1927---Tony Thomas (announcer, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), Portsmouth, U.K.
1931---Kenny Burrell (jazz guitarist: Newport Jazz Festival; Jazz Alive), Detroit.
1936---David Halliwell (writer: Spongehenge; There's a Car Park in Whitherton), Brighthouse, U.K.


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