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.

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.


Blogger Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Do you remember Elliott as the guy on Burns & Allen who was always so cheerful about his life and job? And three minutes later, he'd had done a complete 180?

Happy birthday to one of old-time radio's few Renaissance men. A major-league talent in every way.

6:30 PM  

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