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.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Little Margaret and the Three Wisenheimers: The Way It Was, Christmas Eve

'Tis the night before Christmas (and smack in the middle of Hanukkah), and all through the house, not a creature is stirring . . . except for those who bring us some of the most pleasant---occasionally jarring, but still pleasant---holiday entertainment lingering from the legacy of old-time radio.

And, with wishes for an edifying season and year to come, we will launch with a bang and take things from there . . .

First, your hostess opens with a variation upon her standard introduction.

TALLULAH BANKHEAD: To the men and women in service all over the world on this Christmas Eve, through the cooperation of the Associated Services of the Armed Forces, you are about to be entertained by some of the biggest names in show business. For the next hour and thirty minutes, this program will present in person such bright stars as . . .

Then, as is the custom established already by this last-gasp, big-bucks old-time radio variety offering, the stars introduce themselves. Jimmy Durante. Bert Lahr. Robert Merrill. Margaret O'Brien. Edith Piaf. Fran Warren. Ed Wynn. Meredith Willson. And, following that soaring theme music around and behind Ed Herlihy's introduction, back comes Madame Tallu.

BANKHEAD: A safe and Merry Christmas, darlings, to all our Armed Forces, wherever you may be. And to you here at home, I hope all your stockings are hung, and that you find in them all the things you wished for. I know what I'm going to find in mine---a run! I always do on this show!

But when I heard that one of our guests today would be Margaret O'Brien, I decided to make it my business to see that this child has a Merry Christmas away from her home. After all, it's only been a few years since I was a child, heh heh heh. (Laughter.) Those darling writers---they'll stop at nothing for a Christmas present. And that's exactly what they're getting.

But to make sure little Margaret has a wonderful Christmas, I invited three of the theater's greatest clowns---Jimmy Durante, Bert Lahr, and Ed Wynn.

JIMMY DURANTE, BERT LAHR, and ED WYNN (in unison): Hello, Tallulah! (Applause.)
BANKHEAD: Hello Ed, Jimmy, Bert. Hello Bert, Ed, Jimmy. Hello Jimmy, Bert, Ed. Well, now that I've given you all equal billing, we can get down to our problem. We've got to arrange a wonderful Christmas party for this little girl. Anybody have an idea what to give her?
LAHR: I've got an idea, Tallulah.
BANKHEAD: Uh, huh.
LAHR: Something that's very popular this time of the year.
BANKHEAD: Oh, really, darling? What is it, Bert?
LAHR: How about givin' her a Christmas present?
BANKHEAD (lowers voice smugly): Uh, now, isn't that brilliant?

From there, the foursome swap gags about Christmas bed jackets, horses, and John Dillinger, before Lahr reprises "If I Was The King of the Forest" from The Wizard of Oz (with a little help from O'Brien, of course); before Durante suggests a toy-spangled Christmas tree and finds a way to sing "Isn't It A Shame That Christmas Comes But Once A Year"; before Wynn and company try to prove Santa Claus; and, before some stunning music from Warren ("Look to the Rainbow"), Metropolitan Opera star Merrill ("O Holy Night") and the tragic French chanteuse Piaf. (A beautiful "Autumn Leaves.")

There is also a gentle message from Army Gen. Jonathan Wainwright at Camp Breckenridge (Kentucky). The message could be deployed today without losing a beat or a drop of relevance.

I'm happy to join with all your folks at home in bringing a Christmas greeting to you, my comrades of the armed forces, wherever you may be. We have shared the joy of other Christmas days together, and we look forward as a united people to that time when peace on earth and good will to men may again prevail. May God be with you.

And I didn't even stop to mention the soaring, caroling almost-finale. But I'm leaving you to hear it for yourself, along with the rest of tonight's Christmas Eve edition of this near-impeccable variety series.

Music: Meredith Willson with the Big Show Orchestra and Chorus. Writers: Goodman Ace, George Foster, Mort Greene, Frank Wilson.

Second, we'll continue the wisenheimer tradition by turning to old-time radio's favourite misogynist marrieds . . .

Herewith the likely inspiration---derived likewise from "The Gift of the Magi"---for the eventual classic Honeymooners [the Original 39] episode about Ralphie Boy having to hock his brand-new bowling ball to buy Alice the Christmas present for which he forgot (as usual) to sock a few simoleons away, and to retrieve his jaw from the floor when he saw what she got him . . .

Only here, it's weary husband John (Don Ameche) snoring on the ladder while trimming the tree, shrewish wife Blanche (Frances Langford) snorting him awake and into one of their usual arguments, from John's daily bag lunch to his reputedly forgotten Christmas card (he didn't forget, by the way---but you'll have to listen to learn where it turned up), the bill money spent on presents . . .

But then bourbon-loving John and highfalutin' Blanche end up opening their presents to each other just past midnight---and discovering just what each sold to buy the other's gift (hint: What the other could have used with his or her gift), not to mention an unexpected (for audience as well as for couple) revelation.

Writer: Philip Rapp.


FIBBER McGEE & MOLLY: GILDY'S RADIO PHONOGRAPH (NBC, 1940)---Gildersleeve's (Harold Peary) new radio-phonograph combine is delivered---to the McGees (Jim and Marian Jordan), by mistake---but they get a bigger shock when they plug it in and play it. Doc: Arthur Q. Bryan. The Old-Timer: Bill Thompson. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra. Writer: Don Quinn.

NORMAN CORWIN'S WORDS WITHOUT MUSIC: THE PLOT TO OVERTHROW CHRISTMAS (CBS, 1942)---Norman Corwin's vintage verse satire gets a tour de force treatment from Will Geer (as the Devil) and House Jameson (The Aldrich Family's Sam Aldrich) as Santa Claus, when some of history's most notorious convene a meeting Down Under (it isn't Australia tonight, kiddies) to plan Christmas's downfall---if only they can quell this little family squabble, first, between Haman and Ivan the Terrible---after Lucrezia Borgia dreams up the winning idea. Additional cast: Unknown. Writer/director: Norman Corwin.

THE LUCKY STRIKE PROGRAM STARRING JACK BENNY: TRIMMING A TREE (NBC, 1944)---Jack (Benny) and Mary (Livingstone) finish trimming Jack's tree . . . and the first results come as quite a shock to the pregnant pausing, electricity-challenged miser. Cast: Eddie Anderson, Phil Harris, Larry Stevens, Don Wilson. Music: Phil Harris Orchestra, Larry Stevens. Announcer: Don Wilson. Writers: George Balzar, Milt Josefsberg, Sam Perrin.

THE OLD GOLD COMEDY THEATER: BACHELOR MOTHER (NBC, 1944)---Brenda Marshall and Louis Hayward step into the Ginger Rogers and David Niven roles from the 1939 film about a department store clerk (Marshall) selling ducks until she's canned the day before Christmas for obscure reasons---and getting a shock on her doorstep that leads to a few odd events and her re-hiring. Host/director: Harold Lloyd. Adapted from the screenplay by Norman Krasna.

RICHARD DIAMOND, PRIVATE DETECTIVE: A CHRISTMAS CAROL (NBC, 1949)---The jaunty gumshoe (Dick Powell) casts his own usual suspects---most of whom are the police with whom he normally works and/or fences---into an analogic interpretation of the Dickens classic. Levinson: Ed Begley. Helen: Virginia Gregg. Otis: Wilms Herbert. Announcer: Eddie King. Writer: Blake Edwards.

BOB & RAY PRESENT THE CBS RADIO NETWORK: ONE FELLA'S FAMILY---MERRY CHRISTMAS, ONE AND ALL (NO COACHING FROM THE AUDIENCE, PLEASE, 1959)---From Book Eye Ex, Chapter Eye Eye, Pages Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, and the bottom of Page Seventeen. Writers: Bob Elliot, Ray Goulding.


1886---Michael Curtiz (director: Screen Guild Theater; Screen Director's Playhouse), Budapest.
1895---Ruth Chatterton (actress: Lux Radio Theater), New York City.
1906---Franz Waxman (conductor/composer: Good News of 1939), Konigshutte, Germany.
1910---Mitchell Ayres (bandleader: The Dunninger Show; The Chesterfield Supper Club), Milwaukee; Fritz Lieber (writer: X Minus One; Future Tense; Audition Theater), Chicago.
1915---Helen Brown (actress: Big Town), Washington.
1920---John Barron (actor: Dad's Army; Brothers-in-Law), London.
1922---Ava Gardner (actress: So Proudly We Hail; The Prudential Family of Stars; Lux Radio Theater), Grabtown, North Carolina.


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