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, November 30, 2008

. . . Into the Home Stretch: The Way It Is, 30 November

It's only 25 days to Christmas. Crunch time arrives soon enough. So relax. Listen. Laugh . . .


FIBBER McGEE & MOLLY: TEENY'S MISSING DOG (NBC, 1943)---For once in his life, McGee (Jim Jordan) doesn't want to brain the usually pesty Teeny (Marian Jordan, who also plays Molly)---when the little girl practically begs him to help find her dog. Mr. Meyerhoff: Possibly Bill Thompson. Doc: Arthur Q. Bryan. Alice Darling: Shirley Mitchell. Mr. Wellington: Lansing Sherman. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills and his Orchestra, the King's Men. Writer: Don Quinn.

DUFFY'S TAVERN: ARCHIE INHERITS HALF A RACEHORSE (NBC, 1951)---Actually, Archie (Ed Gardner) buys in on a hot tip . . . from a weighing machine. Eddie: Eddie Green. Finnegan: Charles Cantor. Miss Duffy: Gloria Erlanger. Writers: Ed Gardner, unknown.

THE ALDRICH FAMILY: SAM IS SICK (NBC, 1952)---And the household may come apart bending over to keep him comfortable, while Sam (House Jameson) chafes over Alice's (Katherine Raht) overdone protectiveness. Henry: Bobby Ellis. Homer: Jack Ryan. Mary: Mary Rolfe. Announcer: Dick Dudley. Writer: Clifford Goldsmith.


1873---Frederic William Wile (commentator: Political Situation in Washington), La Porte, Indiana.
1894---David Ogden Stewart (humourist: Lux Radio Theater), Columbus, Ohio.
1913---John K.M. McCaffrey (newscaster: The Author Meets the Critics), Moscow, Idaho.
1914---Charles Hawtrey (comedian/actor: Just William), Hounslow, Middlesex, UK.
1915---Brownie McGhee (as Walter McGhee; blues singer/guitarist: New World A'Coming; This Is Jazz), Knoxville, Tennessee.
1919---Joe Cabbibo (sound: Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar; Tennessee Jed; Counterspy), unknown.
1920---Virginia Mayo (as Virginia Clara Jones; actress: Lux Radio Theater), St. Louis.
1923--Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (actor: Lux Radio Theater), New York City.
1926---Richard Crenna (actor: A Date With Judy; Our Miss Brooks), Los Angeles.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

"Throw Down Those Little Old Guns": The Way It Was, November 29

1900---You can believe Mother and Father Sisk in Portland, Maine, have no clue their newborn daughter will grow up to become perhaps the single most notorious American to become an enemy broadcaster of World War II---after adopting the surname of her stepfather, studying music and drama in Dresden and teaching English at Berlin's Berlitz School of Languages, then hiring on as an announcer/actress with Radio Berlin.

At first, she will broadcast news and entertainment to English-speaking people in Europe. In due course, however, while stranded in Germany once the United States declares war, she will shift to propaganda broadcasting (with scripts written by others, but delivered in her seductive voice)---possibly under the influence of a German Foreign Service officer with whom she falls in love.

Introducing herself as "Midge at the Mike," she will earn a more infamous nickname from the Allied forces against whom she broadcast. And, after her conviction for treason over a single example of her propaganda broadcasts---the infamous D-Day lead-in, "Vision of Invasion" (11 May 1944)---and parole after serving twelve years of her ten-to-thirty sentence, the now-former Axis Sally will finish her life more quietly than ended the lives of those against and on behalf of whom she propagandised. She will earn a college degree from Ohio Wesleyan in 1973, and she will even teach music to kindergarten students at one time.


1927: THE VOICE---A Manhattan couple little suspects their newborn son will develop a mellifluous voice, a quick mind and wit, and a knack for phrasemaking enough to make him perhaps the greatest baseball announcer ever heard, once he's hired by Red Barber to join the Brooklyn Dodgers' broadcast team in 1950.

Almost sixty years later, he still presides over the Dodgers' telecasts in Los Angeles, simulcast on radio for the first three innings, and he still sustains a love affair with southern California and the country (he will be a longtime NBC national game-of-the-week and postseason voice) for his still-mellifluous voice, his continuing phrasemaking virtuosity, and his near-seamless transitions and parenthetical asides.

Eighty-one years young. The longest-serving voice with any major league baseball team. And, as if to secure his stature, a 2007 Internet poll named him---not a player, not an executive, not a manager---as the face of the Dodgers, never mind the voice.

There is but one Vin Scully. But if you don't believe me, don't ask him. He still thinks he's a lucky guy who's just going to work every day.


THE GRAPE-NUTS FLAKES PROGRAM STARRING JACK BENNY: GOING AFTER ROMMEL; OR, THREE MEN IN A TANK (NBC, 1942)---From Camp Young, Palm Springs: Three American tank troops (Jack Benny, Phil Harris, Don Wilson) make mincemeat of capturing the hidden Nazi general (Dennis Day)---and whatever remains of the northern African campaign, for that matter. Additinoal cast: Mary Livingstone, Dennis Day, Eddie (Rochester) Anderson. Music: Phil Harris and his Orchestra, Dennis Day. Writers: George Balzar, Sam Perrin, Milt Josefsberg.

BOSTON BLACKIE: THE SIMMONS CONSTRUCTION MURDER; OR, THE MAN WHO WAS SHOT ON THE 21st FLOOR (Blue Network/Frederick Ziv Company, syndicator, 1945)---When a popular construction foreman, seemingly without enemies, is shot to death from above the top of the project, Faraday (Maurice Tarplin) suspects the victim's hospitalised wife, but bedridden Blackie (Richard Kollmar) suspects the next victim---another popular foreman, also killed by the same high-powered weapon---killed the first. Mary: Jan Minor. Shorty: Tony Barrett. Additional cast: Unknown. Announcer: Larry Elliott. Writers: Kenny Lyons, Ralph Rosenberg.

THE GREEN HORNET: THE GAS STATION PROTECTION RACKET (ABC; possible repeat of an earlier Mutual broadcast; 1945)---After Lowry (Jack Petruzzi) gets punched out by a gas station bombing victim who's afraid to talk publicly, Britt (Al Hodge) has a daring idea---he steals the protection money the victim was going to pay his tormentors, in a bid to lure him to talk and the tormentors into a trap. Lenore Case: Lee Allman. Kato: Raymond Hayoshi. Axford: James Irwin. Writer: Fran Striker.

THE LIFE OF RILEY: THANKSGIVING WITH THE GILLISES (NBC, 1947)---The Rileys and the Gillises planned for their friendly-rivalry families to share Thanksgiving---until both husbands invite the boss to dinner, to butter him up over a newly-vacant plant foreman's job. Riley: William Bendix. Gillis: Possibly Sidney Tomack. Peg: Paula Winslowe. Babs: Sharon Douglas. Junior: Scotty Beckett. Additional cast: Unknown. Announcer: Ken Carpenter. Writers: Ruben Schipp, Ashmael Scott.


1895---Yakima Canutt (actor: Daredevils of Hollywood; Hollywood Rodeo), Colfax, Washington.
1905---Mario Braggiotti (composer/pianist: Fray and Braggiotti), Florence; Chester Erskine (director: Lux Radio Theater), Hudson, New York.
1906---Luis van Rooten (actor: County Seat; John's Other Wife; Nero Wolfe), Mexico City.
1913---Harry Bartell (actor: Nero Wolfe; The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes; Gunsmoke), New Orleans.
1917---Merle Travis (singer/guitarist: Hollywood Barn Dance), Muhlenberg County, Kentucky.
1921---Dagmar (as Virginia Egnor; actress/panelist: Stars on Parade; Says Who?), Huntington, West Virginia.
1926---Naomi Stevens (actress: One Man's Family; Brenthouse), Trenton, New Jersey.

Friday, November 28, 2008

We Know a Guy . . . : The Way It Was, 28 November

1917---His parents have no clue that their newborn son will become a prime candidate, if one were choosing an old-time radio most valuable player---indeed, he'll be nicknamed Mr. Radio with far more justice than that by which Milton Berle will be nicknamed Mr. Television.

Comic (Archie Goodwin, and especially The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show) and dramatic (Suspense, The Whistler, The Clock, The Adventures of Maisie, others) actor; writer (The Whistler, Suspense); director (Suspense, Broadway Is My Beat, Voyage of the Scarlet Queen, others), producer (numerous enough, with and without his first wife, Cathy Lewis); one of the select about whom one can say without contradiction that he does everything, just about.

As one of the busiest---and best---radio actors in Los Angeles, [he] had worked with all the top directors in the business. But radio acting never satisfied him, and in the early 1940s he started writing scripts . . . [Suspense creator/producer William] Spier respected Lewis's work, and even let him direct from time to time . . . it gave Lewis his baptism of fire as a radio director, and after World War II, he tried to ease out of acting and onto the other side of the control-room window . . . As an actor, [he] had railed at what he felt were inefficiencies in the production of many shows---particularly the big, prestige programs that took days to prepare. As a director and producer, he practised economy without sacrificing quality . . .As actor, writer, and director, he embodied the best the medium had to offer.

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

Happy 91st birthday to Elliott Lewis, wherever you are . . .


1925: CAN'T KEEP 'EM DOWN IN THE BARN---Little does WSM know that the show debuting tonight as Barn Dance is destined for immortality under another name: Grand Ole Opry.

1932: "BESIDES, THE RAILROAD WON'T ASK FOR ALIMONY"---A programming experiment between the NBC Blue Network and Standard Oil of New Jersey puts Groucho Marx---teaming with wastrel brother Chico---on old-time radio for the first time in a series of his own.

Beagle, Shyster, and Beagle stars Groucho as wastre attorney Waldorf T. Beagle and Chico as his useless aide, Emmanuel Ravelli, in one of a series of weekly NBC Blue broadcasts, five nights weekly, under the rubric of Five Star Theater, which also includes music and dramatic programming in addition to the Marxian comic antics, sponsored by Standard for Esso gasoline and Essolube motor oil.

Written by Nat Perrin and Arthur Sheekman (who'd just done heavy doctoring on the film scripts for Monkey Business and Horse Feathers), the new show will combine choice grafts from the Marx Brothers' previous films, such as the famous musicians' sketch from Animal Crackers, with new material some of which ends up in the next Marx Brothers film, Duck Soup.

Thanks to the lack of humour of an actual attorney named Beagle, a litigation threat prompts a change in the show's name beginning with the fourth episode . . . to Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel, Attorneys at Law. But thanks most likely to an unfavourable time slot (Monday nights, 7:30 p.m., a time in which Fortune surveys only forty percent of radio owners tuning in), Standard Oil---misinterpreting the whopping ratings Ed Wynn's Texaco Fire Chief earns in a 9 p.m. (60 percent of radio owners tuning in, says Fortune)---chooses not to renew Flywheel after its first and only season . . . even though it actually out-rates The Shadow, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and Kate Smith.

Groucho, of course, will remember the cancellation in his own inimitable way in due course . . .

Company sales, as a result of our show, had risen precipitously. Profits doubled in that brief time, and Esso felt guilty taking the money. So Esso dropped us after twenty-six weeks. Those were the days of guilt-edged securities, which don't exist today.

---From The Secret Word is Groucho. (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1976.)

I do recall writing the first episode with Arthur, Groucho, and Chico on the train coming East. Later the show would be done on the West Coast, so this was just the first of many train rides back and forth from Hollywood to New York . . .

We only had a couple of rehearsals for Flywheel on the day it was broadcast---everything was done live at the time---but Chico had trouble making even those. He'd always be late, and usually I'd have to stand in for him on the read-throughs. When he finally did show up, he'd be reading Ravelli's lines and Groucho would tell him to stop. "Deacon," he'd say to me---he always said I looked like a crooked deacon because of the steel-rimmed glasses I wore---"show him how the line should be read." My Italian accent was better than Chico's, you see. But Chico didn't care. All he really cared about was the horses and cards, especially bridge. He was a very undisciplined guy, but he negotiated all their deals, and he was the one who mingled with the movers and shakers . . .

I'm not really sure why Flywheel went off the air---maybe expectations were too high---but none of us really minded. For one thing, we had Duck Soup ready to go back in Hollywood, and for another, we all liked living in California very much indeed. So much for growing up in New York!

---Nat Perrin, to Michael Barson, for Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel: The Marx Brothers' Lost Radio Show. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988.)

Exactly one complete episode of Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel---the final episode---will survive in a recording available to future old-time radio fans.

As for the Marx Brothers on radio, Flywheel will prove the actual highlight in a checkered enough radio side of their careers . . . at least until Groucho acquiesces to producer John Guedel in the mid-1940s and decides a quiz show that's as much room to ad lib as an actual game might not be such a bad idea at that . . .

1944---The Allied advance following D-Day, which provokes hope in the Netherlands that they'll be liberated soon enough from Nazi occupation, doesn't arrive soon enough for Joop Brouwer de Koning: he becomes, at age 25, the youngest Dutch radio operator ever to be executed. The Dutch liberation will arrive just over five months later.

1960---Amidst the apparent and continuing phasing-away of classic radio as a nation once knew it, CBS secures its portion of the transition even further by expanding its hourly radio news coverage from five to ten minutes, just days after it lopped six radio soap operas and one radio Western from its regular programming schedule.


THE FRED ALLEN SHOW: GEORGE JESSEL TRIES TO SNEAK INTO THE ROXY (NBC, 1948)---After Fred (Allen) and Portland (Hoffa) scope the Main Street (the former Allen's Alley) demimonde on whether radio comedy suffers monotony and malnourishment, Fred meets Jessel at Lindy's . . . and tags along when Jessel has to sneak into his own film's premiere. Sergei Stroganoff: Kenny Delmar. Titus Moody: Parker Fenelly. Mrs. Nussbaum: Minerva Pious. Humphrey Titter: Alan Reed. Music: Al Goodman and His Orchestra, the Five DeMarco Sisters. Writers: Fred Allen, Robert Weiskopf, possibly Bob Schiller.

QUIET, PLEASE: MY SON, JOHN (ABC, 1948)---A widowed father (Ernest Chappell, who also narrates), bereaved anew after his son was killed in World War II action, turns to an occultist who warns the quest could destroy him. Writer: Wyllis Cooper.

THE HALLS OF IVY: A DINNER PARTY; OR, PROFESSOR WARREN'S ROMANTIC FOLLY (NBC, 1951)---The Halls (Ronald Colman, Benita Hume Colman) are surprised when breathless bachelor Professor Warren (Arthur Q. Bryan) wants to borrow their lace tablecloth for an unexpected dinner party---which he hopes will impress a woman (Sarah Selby) he met on a lecture tour. Announcer: Ken Carpenter. Writers: Don Quinn, Barbara and Milton Merlin.


1894---Frank Black (conductor: The Jack Benny Program; NBC String Symphony; Cities Service Concert), Philadelphia.
1895---Jose Iturbi (pianist/conductor: The Bell Telephone Hour; Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra), Valencia, Spain.
1906---Helen Jepson (soprano: Kraft Music Hall; Show Boat), Titusville, Pennsylvania.
1909---Rose Bampton (mezzo soprano: The Palmolive Beauty Box Theater), Cleveland.
1925---Gloria Grahame (as Gloria Hallward; actress: Hollywood Star Playhouse), Los Angeles; Virginia Hewitt (actress: Space Patrol), Shreveport, Louisiana.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Paladin's Last Ride: The Way It Was, 27 November

1960---Old-time radio's fadeaway continues, sort of: two days after Black Friday, CBS cancels a show that was one of an extremely few television hits to take up a radio presence after its birth on the tube.

Starring radio veteran John Dehner (Escape, The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, Gunsmoke, Frontier Gentleman) as Paladin, the gentlemanly, intellectual former soldier and knight-for-hire based out of late-19th century San Francisco, Have Gun, Will Travel, which premiered on radio two years earlier, is written for radio by Ken Kobe, Marian Clark, and Les Crutchfield. Co-stars include Ben Wright (Heyboy) and Virginia Gregg (Miss Wong).

Like Gunsmoke, Have Gun, Will Travel is fashioned as a genuinely adult Western. But the show has something in common, too, with the like of What's My Line, My Little Margie, and Space Patrol---all were born first on television.

The show's final radio episode involves a couple out to kill Paladin because the husband stands to inherit six figures from his late wife---Paladin's aunt---but, the attempt thwarted, Paladin is off to New England to settle his aunt's estate.

Two and a half years later, Richard Boone---whose portrayal of Paladin on television has made him a star---will come to believe the premise has more than run its course, and Have Gun, Will Travel will leave television as well.


TOWN HALL TONIGHT: VOOPIE ON THE VOLGA; OR, THEY DRANK AND DRANK UNTIL THEY BORSCHT (NBC, 1935)---"A fear-raising melodrama of darkest Russia," as Fred Allen describes the classic---and recently-exhumed---Mighty Allen Art Players sketch, surrounding which come the usual lacerations of the news, a quick plug for Allen's appearance in the Dick Powell film Thanks a Million, and a round of amateurs competing for prizes and a week's stand at the Roxy Theater. With Portland Hoffa. The Mighty Allen Art Players: Jack Smart, Eileen Douglas, Minerva Pious, Lionel Stander. Announcer: Harry Von Zell. Music: Peter van Steeden and his Orchestra. Writers: Fred Allen, Harry Tugend.

THE JELL-O PROGRAM STARRING JACK BENNY: FLASH BENNY, FOOTBALL COACH; OR, HOLD THAT LINE (NBC, 1938)---The gridiron becomes more like a flat iron. Cast: Mary Livingstone, Eddie Anderson, Phil Harris, Kenny Baker. Announcer: Don Wilson. Music: Phil Harris and his Orchestra, Kenny Baker. Writers: Sam Perrin, George Balzar, Milt Josefsberg, John Tackaberry.

FIBBER McGEE & MOLLY: FIBBER CHOPS DOWN THE OLD OAK TREE (NBC, 1945)---And he (Jim Jordan) does it reluctantly, after a tree surgeon (possibly Jackson Beck) pronounces it a long-dead hunk of perpendicular firewood. Molly: Marian Jordan. Doc Gamble: Arthur Q. Bryan. Mrs. Carstairs: Bea Benaderet. LaTrivia: Gale Gordon. Writers: Don Quinn, Phil Leslie.

VIC & SADE: SADE'S PARADE OF INTERRUPTIONS (CBS, 1945)---That'll teach Sade (Bernadine Flynn) to think of such heinous acts as cleaning the attic. Vic: Art Van Harvey. Rush: Johnny Coons. Uncle Fletcher: Clarence Hartzell. Writer: Paul Rhymer.

MY FAVOURITE HUSBAND: IS THERE A BABY IN THE HOUSE? (CBS; rebroadcast: Armed Forces Radio Service, 1947)---While the new neighbours moving into the building pique Liz's (Lucille Ball) curiosity, George (Richard Denning) is the designated supervisor for an orphan's group run by a major bank client. Iris: Bea Benaderet. Atterbury: Gale Gordon. Additional cast: Unknown. Writers: Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll, Jr.

GUNSMOKE: AMY'S GOOD DEED (CBS, 1955)---It's one thing knowing a lot of people are just looking to get killed, but Dillon (William Conrad) gets a real jolt when Amy Slater (Virginia Gregg) hits town asking him to kill her. Chester: Parley Baer. Doc: Howard McNear. Kitty: Georgia Ellis. Additional cast: John Dehner. Writer: John Meston.


1890---Gladys Rice (singer: Roxy's Gang; Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra; The Voice of Firestone), Philadelphia.
1893---Harry Foster Welch (actor: Shell Chateau), Annapolis, Maryland.
1897---Vera Allen (as Vera Klopman; actress: Hilltop House; Young Doctor Malone; Big Sister; Joyce Jordan, Girl Intern; Thanks for Tomorrow; Wendy Warren and the News), New York City.
1902---Jack Smart (a.k.a. J. Scott Smart; comedian/actor: Town Hall Tonight; Hour of Smiles; Texaco Star Theater with Fred Allen; The Fat Man), Philadelphia.
1904---Florence Lake (actress: David Harum; Charlie and Jesse), Charleston, South Carolina.
1915---Ralph Bell (actor: Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator; This is Nora Drake), New York City.
1916---Chick Hearn (as Francis Dale Hearn; sportscaster: Pabst Blue Ribbon Bouts; play-by-play, Los Angeles Lakers basketball), Buda, Illinois.
1925---Marshall Thompson (actor: Free World Theater; Lux Radio Theater), Peoria, Illinois; Michael Tolan (a.k.a. Mickey Tolan; actor: The Green Hornet), Detroit; Ernie Wise (as Ernest Wiseman; comedian: The Morecambe and Wise Radio Show; Bandwagon), Leeds, UK.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Cerebral Brother: The Way It Was, 26 November

1912:---He will become perhaps the most gently cerebral of Murrow's Boys, that CBS team whose radio coverage of World War II---adventurous to many and foolhardy to some, considering their eagerness to risk their lives on behalf of reporting the war---set a standard many would come to believe abrogated only too soon by all news networks, including CBS itself in due course.

None of which crosses the minds of Mor og Far Sevareid in Velva, North Dakota, as newborn son Arnold Eric---who will drop his first name professionally---gives his first known broadcast upon the stimulus of a doctor's hand across his minature derriere.

We were like a young band of brothers in those early radio days with [Edward R.] Murrow/---Eric Sevareid.


2003: "IT WAS NICE TO KNOW SO MANY PEOPLE"---Washington, D.C. radio legend Eddie Gallaher, who has spent over half a century on the air of the nation's capital, dies at 89.

Succeeding Arthur Godfrey at WTOP, following Godfrey's move of his own base to New York WCBS, Gallaher became perhaps the capital's most influential disc jockey, famous for a sonorous baritone voice and a dry wit. He was also famous for celebrities from Bob Hope to Jayne Mansfield and back making a point to sit for his interviews.

Gallaher moved to WASH-FM in 1968, after WTOP's switch to an all-talk format; and, in due course, to WWDC-AM (ultimately a Clear Channel station, with call letters changing to WGAY) in 1982, where he stayed until he retired in 2000.

His vision was failing him and Clear Channel . . . had hired helpers for him for the last couple of years of his career -
people that would read for him and help him with his program.

---Walt Starling, fellow Washington radio personality and a longtime friend, upon Gallaher's death.

This is no 'being forced to retire. I would say that, at 85, it's a good time to call it a day.

---Eddie Gallaher, to the Washington Post.

Famous in Washington for his tag line, "It was nice to know so many people," Gallaher may well have left enough people in Washington and elsewhere thinking, surely, that it was nice to know him, too.


THE OLD GOLD COMEDY THEATER: CLARENCE (NBC, 1944)---Fools rush in, case in point recently-discharged soldier Clarence Smith (Joseph Cotten), hired as an odd-jobs man in a rather dysfunctional---and insane---household whose affairs entangle him, to say the least. Additional cast: Unknown. Host/director: Harold Lloyd. Announcer: Bob Williams. Adapted from the screenplay by Grant Garrett and Seana Owen; based on the story by Booth Tarkington.

THE MEL BLANC SHOW: THE THANKSGIVING SHOW (CBS, 1946)---Amidst holiday spirit, other courageous suitors approach their prospective fathers-in-law confidently, but our hero (Mel Blanc) needs to throw a brilliant Thanksgiving party to get to within a hundred nautical miles of Mr. Colby's (Joseph Kearns) good side. Betty: Mary Jane Croft. Cushing: Hans Conreid. Additional cast: Jerry Hausner, Earle Ross. Music: Victor Miller Orchestra, the Sports Men. Writer: Mac Benoff.

THE BIG SHOW: WHERE THE ELITE MEET TO EAT? (NBC, 1950)---Fred Allen and Tallulah Bankhead reprise for a third time one of the best-loved old-time radio satires: "Mr. and Mrs. Breakfast Show," which they did twice on the old Fred Allen Show, during the height of Allen's radio career. In due course, the evening's company is invited (well, hauled off might be more appropriate) to Duffy's Tavern, by malaproprietor Archie (Ed Gardner) himself. Additional cast: Jack Carson, Mindy Carson, Lauritz Melchior, Ed Wynn, Meredith Willson. Announcer: Ed Herlihy. Music: Meredith Willson and his Orchestra, the Big Show Chorus. Writers: Goodman Ace, Selma Diamond, George Foster, Mort Greene, Frank Wilson.


1907---Francis Dee (actress: Lux Radio Theater), Los Angeles; Hot Lips Levine (as Henry Levine; trumpeter: Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street; Strictly From Dixie), London.
1910---Cyril Cusack (actor: Great Expectations), Durban, South Africa.
1915---Earl Wild (pianist: NBC Symphony Orchestra), Pittsburgh.
1917---Adele Jergens (actress: Stand By For Crime), Brooklyn.
1933---Robert Goulet (singer/actor: Guard Session; Voices of Ameria), Lawrence, Massachussetts.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Seven Farewells: The Way It Was, 25 November

1960---Black Friday didn't always refer to the smashmouth first shopping day following Thanksgiving Day. For old-time radio's remaining fans and eventual historians, it referred to the final first-run network radio airings of a once-groundbreaking comedy duo and six once-venerated soap operas.

Long converted to a musical variety format, its heyday as a master serial comedy-drama seeming centuries old by now, Amos 'n' Andy---now known as The Amos 'n' Andy Music Hall---says farewell with creators/original writers/co-stars Freeman Gosden (Amos Jones) and Charles Correll (Andy Brown) ending the broadcast by speaking retrospectively about their phenomenon, right back to the day it was born in Chicago as Sam 'n' Henry

But saying goodbye on Black Friday, too, are

The Right to Happiness, a signature creation of soap pioneer Irna Phillips.

Young Doctor Malone, starring Sandy Becker (at the time beginning, also, his career as a titan of metropolitan New York children's programming) as the wise-beyond-his-years but concurrently star-crossed suburban physician.

The Second Mrs. Burton, whose title refers to a put-upon young wife against her meddling mother-in-law, with four actresses including one-time Life of Riley cast member Sharon Douglas playing the title role.

Whispering Streets, the youngest of the now-executed radio soaps.

The Romance of Helen Trent, one of the melodramatically treacly of the Frank and Anne Hummert creations, hooked around a costume designer (Julie Stevens, succeeding Virginia Clark since 1946) with an active enough love life even after age thirty, and an equally active shortfall when it came time to approach the altar.

Ma Perkins, created and long enough written by a Hummert discovery, former newspaper reporter Robert Hardy Andrews, and almost a twin (in terms of age, not characters: both were born in 1933) to Helen Trent, with Virginia Payne as the redoubtable, widowed lumberyard owner whose nurturing of her two daughters---and genteel demurral from serious romance---is equaled only by her becoming a whole town's maternal shepherd.

Of the four, The Romance of Helen Trent and Ma Perkins willdeliver the most memorable endings. Listeners are left to wonder whether Helen Trent is even alive---a balcony, on which Helen and her incumbent beau, politician John Cole, have discussed whether she'll wait until his senatorial campaign concludes to ponder marriage, collapses cacophonously . . . with Helen's longtime truest love, attorney Gilbert Whitney, calling to her, "Helen, it's Gil . . . Helen!"

With this broadcast, we bring to an end the present series of The Romance of Helen Trent.

---The terse final words to be heard as the soap signs off permanently.

Ma Perkins ends with a lot less calamity and a lot more heartfelt folksiness . . . from the star herself.

This is our 7,065th broadcast, and I want to thank you all for being so loyal all these years . . . If you write to me, I'll try to answer all your letters. Goodbye, and may God bless you.

---Virginia Payne, signing off as Ma Perkins for the final time. (The pause: she reads the show's credits between each part of her personal farewell.)

If Amos 'n' Andy's farewell seems anticlimactic (what they have become by 1960 is too much a shell of what they were at the height of their fame and influence), the abrupt farewell of the radio soaps---even as they have faded slowly for several years, notwithstanding their flaws and cliches---secures the point that, now, it is only a question of how long it will take old-time radio's corpse to go from the autopsy table to the grave at long enough last.

The answer, of course, proves to be just shy of two full years . . .


THE WONDER SHOW WITH JACK HALEY: SERGEANT O'HALEY (CBS, 1938)---Gale (Gordon) has a hard time recovering from Thanksgiving indigestion, and Jack (Haley) imagines himself of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police saving mountain goats from extinction. Cast: Lucille Ball, Arti Auerbach, Virginia Verill. Music: Ted Fioretto and his Orchestra. Writers: Unknown.

TEXACO STAR THEATER WITH FRED ALLEN: THE BBC, TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT (CBS, 1942)---The March of Trivia's weekly lowlights from the news hits the coming prohibition against Christmas telegrams, and musical star Gracie Fields helps Fred (Allen) kill two birds with one gun---imagining the British Broadcasting Company having a whack at a rising American quiz show. Additional cast: Portland Hoffa, Alan Reed, Minerva Pious, Parker Fennelly. Announcer: Arthur Godfrey. Music: Al Goodman and his Orchestra, Hi-Lo Jack and the Dame. Writers: Fred Allen, Bob Weiskopf, possibly Herman Wouk.

THE ABBOTT & COSTELLO SHOW: FORMAL THANKSGIVING DINNER PARTY (NBC, 1943)---Lou (Costello) invites Bud (Abbott) for a Thanksgiving dinner---at Bud's place, but Bud already has plans to host a Thanksgiving bash for an exclusive club. Music: Freddie Rich and his Orchestra, Connie Haines. Writers: Parke Levy, Martin A. Ragaway, Pat Costello.

GUNSMOKE: TAIL TO THE WIND (CBS, 1956)---A chicken coop is burned to the ground by a father-and-son team whose victim (Ralph Moody) is reluctant to give Dillon (William Conrad) details. Chester: Parley Baer. Doc: Howard McNear. Kitty: Georgia Ellis. Additional cast: John Dehner, Helen Weed. Announcer: George Fenneman. Writer: Les Crutchfield.

BOB & RAY PRESENT THE CBS RADIO NETWORK: LAWRENCE FECHTENBERGER'S NEW RECRUIT (TUNE IN TOMORROW, 1959)---Still failing to reach Planet Polaris, "Lawrence Fechtenberger, Interstellar Officer Candidate" and crew break (in) a new recruit in the space academy lab. Writers: Bob Elliott, Ray Goulding.


1896---Virgil Thomson (composer: Columbia Workshop), Kansas City.
1899---Kay Strozzi (actress: I Love Linda Dale; Our Gal Sunday; Young Widder Brown; Young Doctor Malone; Lights Out), Swan's Point Plantation, Virginia.
1900---Helen Gahagan Douglas (actress: A Report to the Nation; Hollywood Fights Back), Boonton, New Jersey.
1904---Jessie Royce Landis (as Jessie Royce Medbury; actress: The House on Q Street), Chicago.
1904---Will Osborne (bandleader/singer: The Abbott & Costello Show), Toronto.
1916---Peg Lynch (as Margaret Frances Lynch; writer/actress: Ethel & Albert; The Couple Next Door), Lincoln, Nebraska.
1920---Ricardo Montalban (actor: Lux Radio Theater), Mexico City.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Three Hit the Air: The Way It Was, 24 November

1923---Radio Belgium goes on the air for the first time.

1925---KRO (Katholieke Radio Omroep), a radio station originating with the Catholic church but in due course becoming as much a non-religious programmer, premieres in the Netherlands.

1926---KVI-AM is born in Tacoma, Washington, moving to Seattle before decade's end and becoming in due course one of the first radio stations in the United States to adopt an all-conservative talk radio format.


LUM & ABNER: $100 FOR A BROKEN LEG (CBS, 1941)---Adding insult to fake injury, Lum (Chester Lauck)---who faked a broken leg to get out of an unwanted date---gets peanuts in a settlement compared to what Squire (Norris Goff, who also plays Abner) took him for in a faith-healing scamWriters: Chester Lauck, Norris Goff, Jay Sommers.

FIBBER McGEE & MOLLY: FIBBER GETTING IN CONDITION (NBC, 1942)---Winter brings out the bad enough in McGee's (Jim Jordan) lack of good physical conditioning---but his attempts at diet and exercise may bring out the worse. Molly/Teeny: Marian Jordan. Mrs. Uppington: Isabel Randolph. Wimpole: Bill Thompson. LaTrivia: Gale Gordon. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills and his Orchestra. Writer: Don Quinn.

THE CLOCK: THE STORY OF JOHN LITTLEFIELD (ABC, 1946)---He's a man (John McCormick) going to unusual lengths enough to change his identity. The Clock: Hart McGuire. Additional cast: Ken Maine, Frank Waters, Georgia Sterling. Writer: Lawrence Klee.

QUIET, PLEASE: IN MEMORY OF BERNADINE (MUTUAL, 1947)---A former soldier (Ernest Chappell, who also narrates) is haunted by the wife (Nancy Sheridan) he left behind and lost during the war. Harriet Foster: Melba Lewis. Writer: Wyllis Cooper.


1888---Cathleen Nesbitt (actress: Philco Radio Playhouse), Belfast.
1900---Ireene Wicker (The Singing Lady; actress/singer: The Road of Life; Today's Children), Quincy, Illinois.
1905---Harry Barris (singer, with the Rhythm Boys: Paul Whiteman Presents), New York City.
1906---Don McLaughlin (actor: Counterspy; The Road of Life), Webster, Iowa.
1910---Pegeen Fitzgerald (host: Fitzgeralds), Norcatur, Kansas.
1912---Garson Kanin (actor: Lux Radio Theater), Rochester, New York; Teddy Wilson (pianist, Benny Goodman orchestra and small groups: Let's Dance; Camel Caravan; Saturday Night Swing Club), Austin, Texas.
1913---Geraldine Fitzgerald (actress: Arthur Hopkins Presents; Ford Theater; Cavalcade of America), Dublin.
1927---Eileen Barton (singer: The Frank Sinatra Show; The Eileen Barton Show; MGM Musical Comedy Theater), Brooklyn.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Midday's Monarch: The Way It Was, 23 November

1916---Little enough do Mother and Father Foote realise their newborn daughter, Harriet, will assume the mantle as Queen of the Soaps at the ripe young age of twenty-eight---and, under the stage name Julie Stevens---when she succeeds Virginia Clark in the title role of Frank and Anne Hummert's phenomenally popular, long-living The Romance of Helen Trent (1933-1960) on CBS.

[T]o the counterpoint of jangling commercials and top audience ratings, Helen Trent has threaded her perilous way toward true love for 15 minutes a day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year for the past 23 years. In those 23 years The Romance of Helen Trent (Mon.-Fri. 12:30 p.m., CBS Radio) has glowed during 5,900 chapters lasting 88,508 roseate minutes, to demonstrate "what so many women long to prove—that because a woman is 35 or more, romance in life need not be over." Bringing this inspiring message of hope to almost 4,000,000 listeners over the facilities of 203 nation-spanning stations, Helen has developed into 1) the queen of soap operas; and 2) the ideal of the romantically minded U.S. housewife of a certain age.

Helen is a beautiful, poised, glamorous costume designer, aged 35 (no change in 23 years). She is a widow, but not even her scriptwriters know who her husband was, or what ever became of him. Helen never tells. She is invincibly pure, relentlessly humorless (because her fans want heartthrobs, not laughs). Once, seven years ago, she walked uninvited into the stateroom of a man she had just met on shipboard. Faithful listeners were scandalized. Helen is now allowed to wear tight skirts and low-cut gowns, but she neither smokes nor drinks. Helen's enemy, Gossip Columnist Daisy Parker, drinks a "martini on the rocks," always specifying, "and no olive"—thus conclusively demonstrating her low moral stature.

Over the years Helen has materialized in the voices of only two women, the current one belonging to pert, blonde Actress Julie Stevens, 39-year-old wife of a TV executive, who has suffered through Helen's daily tribulations for the past twelve years. Just now Actress Stevens is pregnant. Helen would never get herself in such an unromantic predicament. She has been engaged for 23 years to honest Gil Whitney (David Gothard), but fate keeps her from the altar. In this, fate has been aided by a series of villains of whom Kurt Bonine is merely the latest. Almost all of them are millionaires, and the effect Helen has on them is generally deadly. She drove Brett Chapman, millionaire ' rancher, to exile in South America. Dwight Swanson, oilman, piloted his plane into a crash and died. Kelcey Spencer, motion-picture tycoon, went off a cliff to his death. But Dick Waring, a madman, was sane only with Helen.

---From "Ageless Heroine," Time, 6 August 1956.

An experienced stage actress, Julie Stevens will play Helen Trent to the end of the soap's life, while also appearing in the television series Big Town (1951-52). After The Romance of Helen Trent ends its long and distinguished run, Stevens retires to Cape Cod, finishes raising her family and---among other activities, until her death in 1984---hosts a regional radio show featuring theater reviews and other subjects.


VIC & SADE: FIVE SLEEPING BEAUTIES (CBS, 1945)---Vic (Art Van Harvey), Sade (Bernadine Flynn), and Rush (Bill Idelson) have a pleasant evening's newspaper reading interrupted when Uncle Fletcher (Clarence Hartzell) announces his plan to sleep in the courthouse yard. Writer: Paul Rhymer.

THE FITCH BANDWAGON: PHIL SEES THE DOCTOR (NBC, 1947)---Alice (Faye) wants overworked Phil (Harris) to see his doctor, who scares him into taking things easier. Willie: Robert North. Little Alice: Jeanine Roos. Phyllis: Anne Whitfield. Remley: Elliott Lewis. Julius: Walter Tetley. Music: Walter Sharp, Phil Harris Orchestra. Announcer: Bill Forman. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat. (Warning: Aborted ending.)

YOU BET YOUR LIFE: THE SECRET WORD IS "SKY" (NBC, 1949)---And those getting a crack at it---after Groucho Marx gets his cracks at them, of course---include the father of a bride and the mother of a groom (who aren't marrying each other); a butcher and a housewife; and, a bail bondsman and a process server. Announcer: George Fenneman. Music: Billy May and his Orchestra. Writers: Bernie Smith, Hy Freedman, Groucho Marx.

DUFFY'S TAVERN: ARCHIE OPENS A TEA ROOM (NBC, 1951)---A wealthy widow catches Archie's (Ed Gardner) eye . . . enough that he tells her he's managing a tea room. Eddie: Eddie Green. Finnegan: Charles Cantor. Miss Duffy: Gloria Erlanger. Writers: Ed Gardner, Larry Rhine, possibly Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf.

THE PHIL HARRIS-ALICE FAYE SHOW: CHLOE, THE GOLD DIGGER (NBC, 1952)---Phil (Harris), Alice (Faye), and Elliott (Lewis) have to act fast---and Oscar-worthy---if they want to stop a fortune hunter (Phil: "It ain't gonna do her nooooooo good---I know, I been diggin' around for years") from marching Willie (Robert North) off to the preacher. Little Alice: Jeanine Roos. Phyllis: Anne Whitfield. Julius: Walter Tetley. Music: Walter Sharp, Phil Harris Orchestra. Announcer: Bill Forman. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.

BOB & RAY PRESENT THE CBS RADIO NETWORK: ONE FELLA'S FAMILY---HOMECOMING HOPE (WE'RE THINKING IT OVER, 1959)---From Book Cee Vee El Eye Eye, Chapter Em El Cee Vee Eye, page one; also, Wally Ballou visits a turkey farm, a chat with some of the audience young fry, and closing remarks as time evolves. Writers: Bob Elliott, Ray Goulding.


1887---Boris Karloff (as William Pratt; actor/host: Starring Boris Karloff; Creeps By Night; The Fred Allen Show; The Martin & Lewis Show), London.
1888---Al Bernard (singer: The Dutch Masters Minstrels; The Molle Merry Minstrels), New Orleans; Nana Bryant (actress: The Fabulous Dr. Tweedy), Cincinnati; Harpo Marx (as Arthur Marx; comedian---and, believe it or not, the first Marx Brother to speak on radio: Various guest spots), Yorkville, New York.
1894---Ken Christy (actor: Fibber McGee & Molly; The Great Gildersleeve), Pennsylvania.
1896---Ruth Ettig (singer: Music That Satisfies; The Oldsmobile Show; The Kellogg College Prom), David City, Nebraska.
1903---Victor Jory (actor: Matinee Theater; Crisis in War Town; Hallmark Playhouse), Dawson City, Yukon Territory.
1912---Tyree Glenn (trombonist/vibraphonist, with Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Numerous radio broadcasts and specials), Corsicana, Texas; George O'Hanlon (actor: The George O'Hanlon Show; Me and Janie), Brooklyn.
1915---John Dehner (actor: Gunsmoke; Frontier Gentleman; Have Gun, Will Travel), Staten Island; Ellen Drew (actress: Lux Radio Theater; Screen Guild Theater; Suspense), Kansas City; Natalie Park Masters (actress: Candy Matson), San Francisco.
1917---John Newland (actor: NBC University Theater of the Air), Cincinnati.
1925---Jeffrey Hunter (as Henry Herman McKinnies, Jr.; actor: Lux Radio Theater), New Orleans.
1930---Bob Easton (actor: Family Theater), Milwaukee.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

They're Even? The Way It Was, 22 November

1950: JACK BENNY VISITS---In spring 1948, recurring guests Ronald and Benita Hume Colman, playing his neighbours, provided the set-up on The Jack Benny Program for one of the single most hilarious moments in old-time radio history---triggered with the loaning of Colman's Oscar to mildly envious Benny, whom the couple tolerated with bemused weariness . . . and who was mugged while carrying the statuette home.

SFX: (Kitten mewing.)
JACK: (sort of muttering) Got away . . . would have made a wonderful A string.
SFX: (footsteps, JACK humming to himself)
STRANGER: Hey, buddy . . . buddy, got a match?
JACK: (slightly startled) Huh? . . . (pause) . . . Yes, I have one right---
STRANGER: (softly but sharply) Don't make a move, this is a stickup!
JACK: (startled): Wha---?
STRANGER: You heard me.
JACK: (anxiously) Mister, put down that gun!
STRANGER: (sharply) Shut up! Now, come on---your money, or your life . . . (pause, laughter, short pause) . . . Look, bud, I said your money, or your life---
JACK: (hollers) I'm thinking it over!

---From "The Stolen Oscar," The Jack Benny Program; CBS, 28 March 1948.

Over two and a half years later, Benny affords the Colmans a chance for a little good-natured revenge, ribbing him cheerily through the gently clever script, as a guest star on their own sophisticated comedy series.

The scenario: Benny agrees to entertain at Ivy College's annual benefit, at Victoria Hall's (Benita Hume Colman) persuasion, amusing husband and Ivy president William Todhunter Hall (Ronald Colman)---who seems barely aware of Benny's existence at first---almost as much as the ersatz showbiz lingo and breakfast habits ("two boilermakers and a Benzedrine") of Benny's advance man.

Leave it to stuffy Ivy board of governors chairman Wellman (Herbert Butterfield) to be anything but amused by a "radio buffoon" befouling the hallowed halls at all, never mind one trying his usual side profiting from the evening by way of bagging the concessions normally hosted by local businesses.

None of which prevents Benny from delivering his usual low-keyed drollery, at his own as often as anyone else's expense---including his neighbour Ronald Colman's!---on tonight's edition of The Halls of Ivy. (NBC; rebroadcast: Armed Forces Radio Service.)

Announcer: Ken Carpenter. Writer: Don Quinn.


THE WHISTLER: THE OTHER WOMAN (CBS, 1942)---Olivia Martin (possibly Betty Lou Gerson) isn't the only one in her indifferent husband's life with an interest in obstructing his romance with a comely advertising colleague (possibly Lurene Tuttle), but she's the one planning an elaborately deadly resolution. The Whistler: Joseph Kearns. Additional cast: Unknown. Writer: Possibly J. Donald Wilson.

BOSTON BLACKIE: BLACKIE KIDNAPPED (Blue Network, 1945)---A rival mob wants the jailed Johnson mob's missing bank haul . . . and hopes an anesthesiologist drugs Blackie (Richard Kollmar) into revealing the haul's location, which he learned from a jailed Johnson sister. Shorty: Tony Barrett. Faraday: Maurice Tarplin. Mary: Jan Minor. Additional cast: Unknown. Writers: Kenny Lyons, Ralph Rosenberg.

THE DURANTE-MOORE SHOW: CASANOVA MOORE (CBS, 1946)---Jimmy (Durante) is held up making the show; the grand turkey is raffled and then some; Garry (Moore) and Suzanne (Ellis) mull the pending death of etiquette; and, Garry recalls the inventor of the kiss---his Uncle Cas. Announcer: Howard Petrie. Music: Ray Bargy and his Orchestra. Writers: Sid Zalinka, possibly Sid Reznick, Jack Robinson, Leo Solomon.

THE MARRIAGE: FRED HERTZELL VISITS FROM KANSAS (NBC, 1953)---Never say "If you're ever in New York, look me up" casually, even from gratitude, as Ben (Hume Cronyn) is reminded the hard way, thanks to an old acquaintance (Wendell Hall) who once helped Ben and Liz (Jessica Tandy) out of a nasty jam, and who's just telegrammed that he's coming to town . . . on Thanksgiving. Pete: David Pfeffer. Emily: Denise Alexander. Announcer: Bob Denton. Writer: John McGifford.


1875---Elizabeth Patterson (actress: The Halls of Ivy), Savannah, Tennessee.
1899---Hoagy Carmichael (singer/composer: The Hoagy Carmichael Show), Bloomington, Indiana.
1904---Roland Winters (actor: My Best Girls; Highways in Melody; The Milton Berle Show), Boston.
1907---Howard Petrie (announcer: Abie's Irish Rose; Big Sister; The Camel Caravan; Blondie and Dagwood; The Ray Bolger Show; The Jimmy Durante Show; The Judy Canova Show), Beverly, Massachussetts.
1913---Benjamin Britten (composer: Columbia Workshop; An American in England), Lowestoft, Suffolk, UK.
1914---Frank Graham (actor: Lum & Abner; The Lion's Eye), Michigan.
1921---Rodney Dangerfield (as Jacob Cohen; comedian: Voices of Vista), Babylon, New York.
1924---Geraldine Page (actress: Arch Oboler's Plays), Kirksville, Missouri.

Friday, November 21, 2008

It's All But Goodbye: The Way It Was, 21 November

1959: ---This time, it is not good night, it's all but goodbye: Just over five months after he joins the station, Alan Freed is canned by WABC New York, for refusing to sign an affidavit stating he had never taken money in exchange for playing particular records on his popular radio show.

Freed himself announces his departure on the air. Coming as it does as a partial side effect of the quiz show scandal rocking television, the payola scandal will help destroy Freed's career as a radio big-timer.

A mere six months after he's fired by WABC, Freed will face the House Oversight Committee investigating the scandals; he will refuse to testify despite being granted immunity, and in short order he'll plead guilty to twenty-nine counts of commercial bribery, receiving a $300 fine and six months sentence (suspended).

Freed will end up destroying himself as he tries and fails to reclaim his once-glittering career, drinking heavily enough to contract uremia and die, penniless, in 1965, shortly after he is hit with tax evasion charges. At one point, in 1960, he will have a chance at reviving his big-time career, when Los Angeles KDAY hires him, but he will leave when the station refuses to sanction his promoting of the kind of live rock and roll spectaculars that helped swell his name in New York---or the kind that got him fired from WINS, a Boston show that ended in a riot and with charges lodges (though eventually dropped).

It bears repeating: Freed's ethics would be questioned often enough. (Like many in the day, he claimed songwriting credits as possible promotional payoffs; he was also accused of underpaying talent who appeared in his famous rock and roll spectacular shows and tours before the payola scandals.) But no one could or would really question his rock and roll heart.


THE GREAT GILDERSLEEVE: A ROYAL VISIT (NBC, 1943)---An old college mate of Gildersleeve's (Harold Peary), whose son visited a year ago, is now married to a countess---and they plan a Summerfield visit that ramps up the ongoing household cleaning and repainting into overdrive. Marjorie: Lurene Tuttle. Leroy: Walter Tetley. Hooker: Earle Ross. Birdie: Lillian Randolph. Leila: Shirley Mitchell. Additional cast: Unknown. Writers: Sam Moore, John Whedon.

BOX 13: DIAMOND IN THE SKY (Mutual, 1948)---William Martin's (possibly Frank Lovejoy) invitation to a Parisian adventure has Suzy (Sylvia Picker) skeptical, and Dan (Alan Ladd) learns soon enough how right she is---he's needed to help retrieve a pricey diamond with only too much interest elsewhere. Kling: Edmund MacDonald. Additional cast: Alan Reed, Luis Van Rooten, John Beal, Lurene Tuttle. Writer: Russell Hughes.

OUR MISS BROOKS: THE MODEL TEACHER (CBS, 1948)---Connie (Eve Arden) hopes a magazine interviewing her as a model teacher makes Boynton (Jeff Chandler) take notice . . . until he notices the predatory editor (Mary Jane Croft) doing the interview instead. Mrs. Davis: Jane Morgan. Walter: Richard Crenna. Harriet: Gloria McMillan. Conklin: Gale Gordon. Writer: Al Lewis.

QUIET, PLEASE: ONE FOR THE BOOK (ABC, 1949)---A twelve-year-old snafu continues, to the consternation of the science fiction obsessed Air Force major (Ernest Chappell, who also narrates) who was there as an Army Air Corps sergeant when it began in the first place. Sergeant: Dan Sutter. Colonel: Melva Lewis. Doctor: Sal Vickerson. General: Floyd Butler. Writer: Wyllis Cooper.

THE RED SKELTON SHOW: THINGS TO BE THANKFUL FOR (CBS, 1951)---One of them isn't the high price of turkey; another isn't such a husband as grumpy Willy Lump Lump (Red Skelton). Additional cast: Lurene Tuttle, Pat McGee, Dick Ryan. Music: David Rose and his Orchestra, the Smith Twins. Announcer: Rod O'Connor. Writers: Edna Skelton, Jack Douglas, possibly Ben Freedman and Johnny Murray.


1882---Alfred White (actor: Abie's Irish Rose), unknown.
1905---Ted Ray (comedian: Ray's a Laugh), Wigan, Lancastershire, UK.
1908---Mary Young Taylor (commentator: The Martha Deane Show), Star Lake, New York.
1912---Eleanor Powell (singer/dancer: The Flying Red Horse Tavern), Springfield, Massachussetts.
1919---Steve Brodie (actor: Mike Mallory), El Dorado, Kansas.
1920---Ralph Meeker (actor: Crime Does Not Pay), Minneapolis.
1921---Vivian Blaine (actress: Lux Radio Theater), Newark.
1927---Joseph Campanella (actor: Zero Hour), New York City.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Place in Every Heart, and a Finger in Every Pie: The Way It Was, 20 November

1929: YOO-HOO! IS ANYBODY?---What was born as a series of sketches its creator composed as a teenager, to amuse guests at her family's Catskills resort, launches on NBC today, beginning a journey that would make it one of old-time network radio's most important and enduring shows.
Known at birth as The Rise of the Goldbergs, the fifteen-minute show is the creation of writer/co-star/director Gertrude Berg, one of the first women to create and sustain such broad impact on a broadcast series.

By 1936, the series will move to CBS and be known from then on as, simply, The Goldbergs.

Like Amos 'n' Andy, The Goldbergs is a serial comedy with understated dramatic elements. Unlike the former, however, this show carries a bold enough subtext of generational conflict, between immigrant Jewish parents and their Americanising children, first in an urban and later a suburban setting---enough to cause many to think the show as much of a soap opera as a comedy.

[The Goldbergs] differed from most of the other 'soaps' in that its leading characters lived through relatively normal situations. Even though it was the story of a poor Jewish family in New York, it had identification for a wide segment of listeners.

---Frank Buxton and Tim Owen, from The Big Broadcast, 1920-1950. (New York: Flame/Avon, 1971.)

Undeniably the most beloved ethnic radio show after Amos 'n' Andy was The Goldbergs, a creation of writer-actress Gertrude Berg . . . [it] was about cultural assimilation and the desire to make it in America. It was a new kind of program---a radio "mixed marriage" that wedded soap opera to the situation comedy, creating the first "dramedy."

. . . Molly Goldberg was a bridge between generations. While she still spoke with an inflection and respected her parents' ways, she had modern ideas and an American sensibility and, to be sure, two American-born kids. What gave the show its humour, appeal, and tension was the pull between old and new, tradition and change . . .

The clash between old and new was more poignantly felt on The Goldbergs . . . because in the 1940s memories of repressive European regimes cast a shadow on American life. Consider how Molly meekly but overpolitely asks a mounted policeman directions in Central Park: "Mr. Policeman, officer of the law, Your Honour, could you be so kindly if you would to inform me of the location of where is Fourteenth Street?" Berg noted in her memoirs, "Molly's reaction is the relief of many immigrants at not only having found their way but also of not being arrested for asking a simple question" . . .

Much of what radio had been, its heart and spirit, was The Goldbergs.

---Gerald Nachman, in "No WASPs Need Apply," from Raised on Radio. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.)

Also like Amos 'n' Andy, the show becomes popular enough that fan mail is addressed to the show's characters equal to the performers who play them---though a notable exception will be the flood of mail reaching Gertrude Berg when she misses two weeks ill.

Which may perpetuate the impression that The Goldbergs was at least as much soap opera as comedy, an impression taken somewhat to heart by no less than James Thurber, while researching and writing his landmark New Yorker series, "Soapland," in 1948-49, and including Berg among his pioneers of the genre.

Mrs. Berg, a New York woman who did some of her early writing in Chicago, was one of the first of the pioneers to come up with a popular and durable soap opera . . . [it] began as a nighttime show twenty years ago and and took to the daytime air several years later. It ran until 1945, when Procter & Gamble, who had had it since 1937, dropped it. This incredibly long and loving saga of Molly Goldberg, her family, and her friends had become such an important part of Gertrude Berg's life that she was lost and bewildered when the serial ended its run. She herself had played Molly Goldberg and had come to identify herself completely with the character. For sixteen years, she had been known to her intimates as Molly. She found it impossible to give up the Goldbergs, and two years ago she set about putting them on stage. In Me and Molly, the old family reached Broadway last February, with Mrs. Berg in the leading role. She demonstrated, even to those critics who saw no art or significance in her play, why her beloved family had lasted for nearly two decades on the air. Mrs. Berg, as author and actress, had transferred to the stage the simplicity, honesty, and warm belief in common humanity that had distinguished her serial, for all its faults . . . [and] won the applause, however mild, of gentlemen who up to that point had probably said of The Goldbergs no more than "Shut that damn thing off before I throw it out the window." Clarence L. Menser, later chief of program production for NBC in Chicago, likes to feel that he had an influence on the early scripts of The Goldbergs, but Mrs. Berg wrote them herself and the serial bore the lusty stamp of her own vitality.

---James Thurber, in "O Pioneers!" from "Soapland," The New Yorker; republished in The Beast in Me and Other Animals. (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1949.)

And it began with those ancient teenage sketches, hooked around a character named Maltke Talnitzky, whom Berg would develop into Molly Goldberg.

Gradually Maltke began to turn into a woman from an extreme caricature. She became more human when I gave her a new husband, one who wasn't so much trouble and was a little more helpful. I made her younger, about thirty-five or forty, and I gave her two children, a boy and a girl more than a little like my own two. Her name changed, too, Maltke became Molly. And Talnitzky was no longer suitable. It was too much, it was trying too hard. I changed the name to Goldberg because it sounded right. After awhile Molly Goldberg began to sound euphonious and so I kept it.

---Gertrude Berg, from Molly and Me. (1961.)

The show will also shed its few sterotypes gradually over the years, though Molly's malaprops (nicknamed Mollyprops) will prove at least as memorable as those of Jane Ace: "Enter, whoever"; "If it's nobody, I'll call back"; "Give me a swallow the glass"; "It's late, Jake, and time to expire"; and, "We're at the crossroads and the parting of the ways" will be a few of the most memorable.

And, like Easy Aces or Vic and Sade, The Goldbergs will make quietly clever dialogue and not bellicose banter its comic hallmark. Colgate-Palmolive-Peet will pick the show up after Procter & Gamble drops it, and The Goldbergs will remain on network radio until 1950, when it makes a remarkable if star-crossed transition to television.


1938: BLAMING THE VICTIMS---Even as The Goldbergs finishes a tenth season on network radio, the first known commentary that could have been called anti-Semitic emits from Father Charles E. Coughlin during his weekly broadcast, when the Radio Priest (as he was known due to his remarkable popularity) blames Kristallnacht, in which Jewish properties were vandalised and burned and Jews around Nazi Germany were attacked and killed a fortnight prior to the broadcast, on . . . the victims.

Coughlin's two major New York outlets (WINS and WMCA) cancel his broadcasts, helping to launch the scrutiny---including from within his own Roman Catholic church (as will be learned later, the Vatican itself is among those who want him silenced)---leading to at least the ultimatum Coughlin will receive from his direct superior, the Archbishop of Detroit, in 1942: give up broadcasting, or surrender the priesthood.

Coughlin will choose the former option, remaining the pastor of the Shrine of the Little Flower, which he built himself, until his quiet retirement in 1966.

2007: RONNIE BURNS, RIP---The news arrives that the handsome adopted son of old-time radio titans George Burns and Gracie Allen died of cancer at his Pacific Palisades, California home two days earlier.

He was once a familiar television presence in his own right---he once played himself as a withering dramatic student looking down his nose at his parents' comedy on their 1950s television show; he and adopted sister Sandy (playing a non-relative fellow student) performed a memorable impersonation of George and Gracie on one Burns & Allen episode; he once played, most memorably, the jive-talking boyfriend of a teenage neighbour on The Honeymooners; his credits also included Playhouse 90, Bachelor Father, The Jack Benny Program and his own short-lived Happy (1960); he also produced his father's short-lived series, Wendy and Me.

But he tired of any sort of spotlight and retired from show business in 1965, spending the rest of his life in real estate, racing boats, and in due course managing memorabilia for his parents.


VIC & SADE: A MISERABLE OBJECT OF PUBLIC RIDICULE; OR, RUSH IS HUMILIATED ON THANKSGIVING (NBC, 1941)---Vic (Art Van Harvey) and Sade (Bernadine Flynn), enjoying a quiet evening of dreamy gazing and reading, are alarmed when Rush (Bill Idelson) is ready to paste one on Blazer Scott's nose over revealing . . . the dinner utensils Sade leaves for him at each meal. Annoucer: Ed Herlihy. Writer: Paul Rhymer.

VIC & SADE: SMELLY CLARK, THE BARBER (NBC, 1942)---Rush (Bill Idelson) may be taking a big risk letting his buddy give him a haircut. Announcer: Ed Herlihy. Writer: Paul Rhymer.

THE CLOCK: LOVER BOY (ABC, 1947)---A self-doubting playboy (Ken Wayne) who still manages to fleece his lovers now has more than he can handle, including a sexy drive-in waitress (Wynne Nelson) who only seems numb from the neck up . . . and whose steady boyfriend resembles him almost exactly. The Clock: Hart McGuire. Additional cast: Moyer Redmond, John Urich, Brian James. Writer: Lawrence Klee.

OUR MISS BROOKS: THE PARTY LINE (CBS, 1949)---Nothing to do with politics, everything to do with the telephone, on which a party line's incessant gossip may block Connie (Eve Arden) from hooking up with the district official who may promote her to department head. Mrs. Davis: Jane Morgan. Conklin: Gale Gordon. Walter: Richard Crenna. Boynton: Jeff Chandler. Writer: Al Lewis.

THE PHIL HARRIS-ALICE FAYE SHOW: THE TALENTED CHILDREN'S SCREEN TEST (NBC, 1949)---After watching the girls in their first school play, a studio scout wants Phyllis (Anne Whitfield) for a film, Little Alice (Jeanine Roos) handles it the typical Harris manner (withering sarcasm), and Alice (Faye) blanches at what it might do to both girls. Willie: Robert North. Remley: Elliott Lewis. Mrs. Miller: Lois Forman. Julius: Walter Tetley. Announcer: Bill Forman. Music: Walter Sharp, Phil Harris, Alice Faye. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.

GUNSMOKE: DUTCH GEORGE (CBS, 1955)---A hustling horse thief (John Dehner) with an apparent knack for evading jury convictions puzzles Matt (William Conrad), who once knew him as a legitimate enough businessman. Kitty: Georgia Ellis. Chester: Parley Baer. Additional cast: Vic Perrin, Jim Hunter. Writer: John Dunkel. (Advisory: Flawed tape recording.)


1890---Robert Armstrong (actor: Lux Radio Theater), Saginaw, Michigan.
1891---Reginald Denny (actor: Cavalcade of America; Screen Guild Theater; Texaco Star Theater), Richmond, Surrey, UK.
1907---Fran Allison (actress/singer: The Breakfast Club; National Barn Dance; Uncle Ezra), La Porte City, Iowa.
1908---Alistair Cooke (historian/host: Transatlantic Quiz; Letter to America; Stage and Screen), Manchester, UK.
1916---Judy Canova (as Juliette Canova; comedienne/singer: Paul Whiteman's Musical Varieties; The Charlie McCarthy Show; The Abbott and Costello Show; Texaco Star Theater Starring Fred Allen; The Judy Canova Show), Stark, Florida.
1919---Evelyn Keyes (actress: Lux Radio Theater), Port Arthur, Texas.
1920---Gene Tierney (actress: Lux Radio Theater), Brooklyn.
1921---Phyllis Thaxter (actress: Lux Radio Theater), Portland, Maine.
1926---Kaye Ballard (as Catherine Gloria Balotta; actress: Stars for Defence; Bud's Bandwagon), Cleveland.