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, 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.


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