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, December 05, 2008

But Did He Stir Their Nerves? The Way It Was, 5 December

1906---Little enough suspense is involved when Mother and Father Spier become the parents of newborn son William. They suspect even less that their boy will grow up to become one of old-time radio's most deft directors of the mysterious and the thrilling, and perhaps one of the two best-remembered directors---not to mention the credited tone-setter---for the much-beloved, much-honoured Suspense.

It was [he], called "the Hitchcock of the Air," who set the original tone of impending doom and established the show's life-or-death format.

---Gerald Nachman, in "Radio Noir---Cops and Grave Robbers," from Raised on Radio. (New York: Pantheon, 1998.)

[He] was so perceptive as to the capabilities of each individual. He might say, "Listen, John or Jeanette, why don't you try this?" And he was right. That was one good reason for having stock companies.

---John McIntire, actor, to Leonard Maltin, for The Great American Broadcast. (New York: Dutton, 1977).

He had a great sense of how to use humour. He'd take a script that was pretty good and when he got done with it it would have that something extra.

---E. Jack Neuman, one of our man's top writers, to Maltin.

A happy birthday, then, to William Spier, who intrigued us, stirred our nerves, and never once insulted our intelligence in the doing.


1892: THE BATHTUB JOKES---Jack Benny, to whom he'd provide gags on and off the air until his too-early death, would come to call him the greatest natural gag man of them all. Numerous vaudeville and radio comedians were believed to be earning a large enough chunk of their keep on the gags he'd provide. Indeed, the first radio routine for which Benny would become more than just a dry master of ceremonies will be composed largely by this distinguished gentleman.
Uh, thank you, Mr. Thorgeson, that's pretty good from a man who doesn't even know me. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Jack Benny talking, and making my first appearance on the air professionally. By that, I mean I'm finally getting paid, which of course will be a great relief to my creditors.

I, uh, I really don't know why I'm here, I'm supposed to be a sort of a master of ceremonies, and tell you all the things that will happen, which would happen anyway. I must introduce the different artists, who could easily introduce themselves, and also talk about the Canada Dry made-to-order by the glass, which is a waste of time if you know all about it. You drink it, like it, and don't want to hear about it.

So, ladies and gentlemen, a master of ceremonies is really a fellow who is unemployed and gets paid for it.

---The Canada Dry Program, 2 May 1932.

And the last line he will ever write for Benny, or so the legend has it, is a line for Eddie Anderson, who made his first known appearance on the Benny program just a couple of months before our hero's unexpected death at 45.

Seldom did he write an entire [script]; instead, he was what now would be called a script doctor, punching up and improving the work of other writers. Disdaining the regimen of studio life, [he] preferred working at home, sitting in a huge bathtub and firing off jokes into a Dictaphone.

The exponential sorrow is that he will die the day after he signs an absolute dream contract: $1,500 per week from Jack Benny, merely to be on call if and when needed to punch up a Benny radio script.

None of which---to say nothing, too, of work he will do for Burns & Allen (their legendary "Lamb Chops" routine), Bob Hope, Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers---especially the famous stateroom scene of A Night at the Opera---and even Myrt & Marge (the comic soap ladies' film debut as headliners in their own right, a film now remembered best for being the screen premiere of a trio known as Moe, Larry, and Curly)---even hints at crossing the minds of the couple who become the proud parents today of Al Boasberg in Buffalo, New York.


SUSPENSE: THE HOUSE IN CYPRESS CANYON (CBS, 1945)---A couple (Robert Taylor, Cathy Lewis) terrorised out of their would-be new home haunts in turn a realtor who finds the story in a boxed manuscript left at the now-finished home. Additonal cast: Hans Conreid, Jim Backus, Howard Duff, Paul Frees, Wally Meher. Writer: Robert L. Richards.

THE PHIL HARRIS-ALICE FAYE SHOW: REMLEY WANTS TO BORROW PHIL'S FAMILY (NBC, 1948)---There's even better reason than usual for Phil (Harris), Alice (Faye), Willie (Robert North), and the children (Jeanine Roos, Anne Whitfield) to quake when Remley (Elliott Lewis) needs yet another favour---the shifty guitarist wants to rent Alice and the girls a few hours: his wealthy aunt's named him her heir, after he lied about being married with children. Aunt Harriet: Mary Voland. Julius: Walter Tetley. Announcer: Bill Forman. Music: Walter Sharp, Phil Harris Orchestra. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.

QUIET, PLEASE : A VERY UNIMPORTANT PERSON (ABC, 1948)---An aviation worker (Ernest Chappell, who also narrates), his wife (Nancy Sheridan), and---to their surprise---a now-former VIP (James Monks) with a surprising secret, escape narrowly by air, as the world is destroyed in a series of seemingly unplanned atomic explosions. Additional cast: Frank Thomas. Music: Albert Buhrmann. Writer: Wyllis Cooper.

THE RED SKELTON SHOW PEOPLE WHO BRAG (CBS, 1951)---This time, it's a cowboy named Deadeye (Red Skelton), who never squeezed a shot except in his tale telling, and Cauliflower McPug (Skelton) is caught shadow boxing in front of a store mirror.
Cast: Lurene Tuttle, Pat McGeehan. Music: David Rose and His Orchestra, the Smith Twins. Announcer: Rod O'Connor. Writers: Edna Skelton, Jack Douglas, possibly Johnny Murray.


1901---Grace Moore (soprano: General Motors Concerts; Vicks Open House), Jellico, Tennessee; Walt Disney (host/actor: Mickey Mouse Theater of the Air), Chicago.
1903---Fred Vandeventer (newscaster/panelist: Vendeventer and the News; Twenty Questions), Tipton, Indiana.
1904---Harold Huber (actor: Hercule Poirot; The Shadow of Fu Manchu), New York City.
1922---Alan Freed (as Albert James Freed; disc jockey: The Moon Dog Rock and Roll House Party; The Alan Freed Show; Jamboree [Radio Luxembourg]), Windber, Pennsylvania.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home