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, December 18, 2008

Leave Us Face It, He's a Gift: The Way It Was, 18 December

1910---Leave us let spoke for himself the child born today who'd grow up to become half the brains behind the incandescent Duffy's Tavern, before moving on to become rather splendid at his line of Broadway comedy writing . . .

I want to state flatly, unequivocally, and without any apologies, that I am a native New Yorker.

The first time I was in Paris, I thought it was absolutely wonderful. Dazzling. But when I told a Parisian friend of mine how glorious his own city was, he growled, "It's terrible now. It used to be beautiful but now it's ruined." Londoners say the same sort of thing about their Big Town. The average New Yorker is no different. A long time ago, on one of my Duffy's Tavern radio shows, Archie complained, "People are always saying New York ain't the same no more and my old man always said New York ain't the same no more and my grandfather always said New York ain't the same no more. Me personally I think New York never was the same no more."

I was born and raised in New York. My father, Louis Burrows, was born and raised in New York. My grandfather, David, came to New York from Russia when he was a young man, and my great-grandfather came to New York with my grandfather. That makes me the product of four generations of pavement . . .

. . . One of the biggest moments for me on Duffy's Tavern was the time that I actually got to write a monologue for Robert Benchley. When Benchley agreed to be a guest, he startled us by saying he didn't want to do any of his standard material; it was up to us to provide him with something new. I was frightened but excited, too. I had begun to tire of the regular weekly routine and the thought of writing a guest spot for Robert Benchley really sparked me. He liked my monologue; when he did it on the air, it went beautifully and it sounded like him.

The Hollywood Variety reviewed that show and they said something like, "With all the junk we hear on comedy shows, it was a relief to hear Bob Benchley's great humour on Duffy's Tavern." Benchley immediately dashed off a telegram to Variety. He told them that he had not written the monologue, that "it was written by Abe Burrows, America's greatest satirist." I knew damned well that I wasn't the greatest anything and I also knew that Benchley was being whimsical; but when I read this wire in Variety, I began to think that maybe I could be something besides whatever I was.

---From Honest, Abe: Is There Really No Business Like Show Business? (Atlantic Little, Brown, 1980.)

Co-mastermind and head writer for Duffy's Tavern; head writer for Joan Davis's sterling and underrated radio show of the same period; writer with Goodman Ace for Danny Kaye's short-lived but remarkable radio exercise; writer (script and song) of his own pair of radio shows; and, in due course, librettist and doctor for some of Broadway's most transcendent comedies . . .

I have... performed surgery on a few shows, but not as many as I'm given credit for. I've been involved in 19 theatrical productions, plus their road company offshoots. Only a few of these have been surgical patients. And I don't usually talk about them. I feel that a fellow who doctors a show should have the same ethical approach that a plastic surgeon has. It wouldn't be very nice if a plastic surgeon were walking down the street with you, and a beautiful girl approached. And you say, "What a beautiful girl." And the plastic surgeon says, "She was a patient of mine. You should have seen her before I fixed her nose." Doctoring seldom cures a show. The sickness usually starts at the moment the author puts the first sheet of paper in his typewriter.

Little do Louis and Julia Burowitz (the Americanisation was to follow) know what they have heaped on the world when they deliver Abram Solman Burowitz thereto today. Does it figure that this man who was so New York would find his affectionately clever memoir published out of Boston?


1890: WHAT'S THE FREQUENCY, EDWARD?---Mother and Father Armstrong, of course, don't even think to ask when their new son is born today. But they and a nation will get the answer when the lad E(dwin). Howard reaches his 43rd year . . . and patents frequency modulation radio---FM.

Now, you don't think a fellow could develop something that significant without even a little, ahem, interference, do you? Didn't think so. And you're right.

He had early set out to eliminate the last big problems of radio---static. Radio then carried the sound patterns by varying, or modulating, the amplitude (power) of its carrier wave at a fixed frequency (wavelength)---a system easily and noisily broken into by such amplitude phenomena as electrical storms. By the late 1920's Armstrong had decided that the only solution was to design an entirely new system, in which the carrier-wave frequency would be modulated, while its amplitude was held constant. Undeterred by current opinion---which held that this method was useless for communications---Armstrong in 1933 brought forth a wide-band frequency modulation (FM) system that in field tests gave clear reception through the most violent storms and, as a dividend, offered the highest fidelity sound yet heard in radio.

But in the depressed 1930's the major radio industry was in no mood to take on a new system requiring basic changes in both transmitters and receivers. Armstrong found himself blocked on almost every side. It took him until 1940 to get a permit for the first FM station, erected at his own expense, on the Hudson River Palisades at Alpine, N.J. It would be another two years before the Federal Communications Commission granted him a few frequency allocations.

When, after a hiatus caused by World War II, FM broadcasting began to expand, Armstrong again found himself impeded by the FCC, which ordered FM into a new frequency band at limited power, and challenged by a coterie of corporations on the basic rights to his invention. Facing another long legal battle, ill and nearly drained of his resources, Armstrong committed suicide on the night of Jan. 31, 1954, by jumping from his apartment window high in New York's River House. Ultimately his widow, pressing twenty-one infringement suits against as many companies, won some $10 million in damages. By the late 1960's, FM was clearly established as the superior system. Nearly 2,000 FM stations spread across the country, a majority of all radio sets sold are FM, all microwave relay links are FM, and FM is the accepted system in all space communications.

---Lawrence P. Lessing, in Dictionary of American Biography.


THE BOB HOPE SHOW: A CHRISTMAS SHOW FROM SAN FRANCISCO (NBC, 1945)---Actor and World War II flying ace Wayne Morris joins the Christmas fun with Jerry Colonna, Frances Langford, and Trudy Erwin, though Bob (Hope) may not have as much fun buying a new a house as he thinks. Announcer: Wendell Niles. Music: Skinnay Ennis and His Orchestra, Frances Langford. Writers: Possibly Jack Douglas, Hal Block, Larry Marks.

DUFFY'S TAVERN: THE RAFFLE (NBC, 1946)---Archie (Ed Gardner) wants film star Joan Bennett ("What's she got that Mrs. Duffy ain't got? Well, take a look at Mrs. Duffy---are ya lookin'? Well, whatcha don't see, Joan Bennett's got") to help him auction off a tiara for the needy---and neither they nor the winner are quite prepared. Miss Duffy: Sandra Gould. Finnegan: Charles Cantor. Eddie: Eddie Green. Announcer: Jimmy Wallington. Music: Marty Malneck and His Orchestra. Writers: Ed Gardner, Bob Schiller, unknown others.

THE PHIL HARRIS-ALICE FAYE SHOW: GETTING A CHRISTMAS TREE IN THE MOUNTAINS (NBC, 1949)---Their mayor hasn't yet put up the annual town Christmas tree, so Alice (Faye) dragoons an eager Willie (Robert North) and a reluctant Phil (Harris) and Remley (Elliott Lewis) into getting it from the mountains themselves, which may have been her first mistake. Little Alice: Jeanine Roos. Phyllis: Anne Whitfield. Julius: Walter Tetley. Announcer: Bill Forman. Music: Walter Sharp, Phil Harris Orchestra. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.

FIBBER McGEE & MOLLY: A TAX REFUND (NBC, 1953)---The Squire of 79 Wistful Vista (Jim Jordan) expects his angry calls to City Hall to pay off at last with a refund of his property tax overpayment, until the check in the mail gets blown out of his hand in a nasty wind. Writers: Phil Leslie, Ralph Goodman.


1864---S. Parkes Cadman (preacher: National Radio Pulpit), Wellington, Shropshire, UK.
1885---J. Anthony Smythe (actor: Carefree Carnival; One Man's Family), San Francisco.
1886---Ty Cobb (baseball Hall of Fame outfielder: Baseball: An Action History), Narrows, Georgia.
1888---Dame Gladys Cooper (actress: The Fleischmann's Yeast Hour), Lewisham, UK.
1897---Fletcher Henderson (pianist/arranger/bandleader: Jubilee; Magic Carpet), Cuthbert, Georgia.
1908---Dame Celia Johnson (actress: Desert Island Disks), Ellerker Gate, Richmond, UK.
1913---Lynn Bari (as Margaret Schuyler Fisher; actress: Dan Carson; The Abbott & Costello Show; Suspense; Lux Radio Theater), Roanoke, Virginia.
1915---Bill Zuckert (actor: Crime and Peter Chambers), New York City.
1916---Betty Grable (Elizabeth Ruth Grable; actress: Hollywood Showcase; Screen Guild Theater; So You Want to Lead a Band), St. Louis.
1917---Ossie Davis (as Raiford Chatman Davis; actor: Cavalcade of America; The Big Show), Cogdell, Georgia.


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