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 25, 2008

Old-Time Radiyule: The Way It Was, 25 December

Now that you've opened the presents, it's time to open our holiday cybergreetings with a trio of remarkable classics, two of which hook around a department store, and each of which features a twist no old-time radio fan should avoid . . .

A treat for any old-time radio fan: the oldest-known surviving program hosted by the singular Fred Allen, in whose spotlight sketch he plays a man with a sometimes unenviable profession---managing a department store . . . on the day after Christmas.

Cast: Portland Hoffa, Sheila Barrett, Roy Atwell, Charles Carlile. Announcer: Ken Roberts. Music: Lou Katzman Orchestra, Mary Leaf at the organ. Writer: Fred Allen.

Just what is that, Sade (Bernadine Flynn) wants to know? "It's a gay boyish wintertime prank," explains Vic (Art Van Harvey) about the shivaree-like reputed custom for newlyweds, leaving Sade and Rush (Bill Idelson) just a little curious as to whether they're to be part of the gag, when Vic's old friend Y.I.I.Y. Skeever plans to lead a contingent of wintertime pranksters to the Gook abode for a fast hello en route. Announcer: Ed Herlihy. Writer: Paul Rhymer.

A surprising Yuletide twist from the popular mystery-twist series.

Six months after his release from prison for a one-time petty crime, successful department store clerk Michael Cobb's (unknown) holiday spirit is shattered when, following a series of thousand-dollar cash thefts from the store, he's fired suspiciously by a superior who thinks his recent past means guilty until proven innocent.

But a music box playing "Silent Night" that he buys as a Christmas present for his wife (possibly Cathy Lewis), while trying to shake a pair of detectives he discovers following him, may turn from a farewell to the life he might have had into the punctuation for the proof of his innocence---and a jarring revelation, tied to his severance pay and to a loan a store co-worker repaid him---after he allows himself to be distracted from a small plot to get even.

Additional cast and writers: Unknown. The Whistler: Joseph Kearns. Announcer: Bob Anderson. Music: Wilbur Hatch Orchestra. (Note: This episode is introduced, mistakenly, as "Lies and Consequences," which was the name of an episode that aired two weeks previous.)


1931: SO PLUMP YOU CAN TASTE THE JUICES---With Lawrence Tibbett as featured vocalist, the Metropolitan Opera is featured in an old-time radio broadcast for the first time, performing Hansel and Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck (no relation to the British pop singer, who borrowed the composer's name as his own stage name beginning in 1966) on NBC.

1937: THE SYMPHONY IS ON THE AIR---The maestro Arturo Toscanini---for whom the legendary NBC Symphony was created, with Toscanini himself hiring most of the musicians---conducts the symphony on the air for the first time, with the premiere of Symphony of the Air on NBC.

1938: 'TWASN'T IT SUPPOSED TO BE THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS?---Old-time radio's first known Christmas Day performance of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol is delivered on CBS by Orson Welles and Lionel Barrymore---who has been playing Ebenezer Scrooge in various radio programs since 1934, making the role something of an annual tradition.


THE CHRISTMAS PACKAGE (NBC, 1943)---A special broadcast, coordinated with the U.S. War Department---a charming 1943 holiday half-hour, hosted by film star Linda Darnell, featuring music by the Andrews Sisters, Ginny Simms, and Lena Horne; messages from the Army and Navy's chiefs of chaplains; a comedy monologue from Bob Hope ("our Santa Claus for tonight---the man who's been trying to get me on his lap all afternoon to whisper what I want for Christmas," cracks Darnell); and, a sweet but not sugary holiday sketch from Jim and Marian Jordan as Fibber McGee, Molly, and Teeny ("Whatcha doin' Mister?") with the Wistful Vista kids. Writers and director: Unknown.

LUX RADIO THEATER: THE VAGABOND KING (CBS, 1944)---Dennis Morgan and Kathryn Grayson step into the Dennis King and Jeanette MacDonald roles remaking the 1930 Ernst Lubitsch film of the rogue poet sentenced to hang for verses against Louis XI but offered a reprieve if he can defeat the invaders of Burgundy---and win the heart of the king's angelic niece. Additional cast: J. Carroll Naish. Host: Cecil B. DeMille. Adapted from the screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz, based on the operetta by Rudolf Firml.

THE RALEIGH CIGARETTE PROGRAM STARRING RED SKELTON: CHRISTMAS TREES (NBC, 1945)---Somewhere in the middle of bantering about Raleigh's then-contest to win a new Chevrolet (you had to complete the sentence, "We should all buy Victory Bonds because . . .," in twenty-five words or less), Red (Skelton) and company manage to swap Christmas gifts, Anita Ellis manages to sing "Toyland," and Clem Kadiddlehopper ("I wish they had winter in the summer, then it wouldn't be so cold") lands a gig selling Christmas trees around the corner. Additional cast: Lurene Tuttle, Verna Felton, GeGe Pearson. Guest star: Arthur Q. Bryan. Writers: Edna Skelton, Jack Douglas, Ben Freedman, Johnny Murray.

THE HENRY MORGAN SHOW: A CHRISTMAS STORY; OR: THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS (ABC, 1946)---The cheerfully cantankerous comedian's opening monologue does a subtly racy job of setting it up:

Not so many Christmases ago, we broadcast a little Christmas story for children. And, ah, it was definitely for children, but we heard later that a number of grownups sneaked out of bed and listened.

Welllllll, you know how parents are, kids. Just when you think they're asleep, they come out of the bedroom with all kinds of excuses. They want a drink of water . . . or, uh, there's a tiger in the room . . . or, their blanket fell on the floor, or something. So this year, ah, we might as well let 'em stay up and listen.

But parents---no snickering. We're not gonna stand for a lot of grownups listening to the radio and shaking their heads doubtfully, as though we were making the whole thing up. Now, kids, if you notice your mommy or your daddy saying things like, um, "ohhhhh, nonsense! or, uh, "Well, that couldn't happen," just look 'em in the eye and say, "I find this story thoroughly credible!"

Of course, I don't have that kind of trouble with my parents. If they say "oh, nonsense!" to me, I just don't give 'em tickets to my show.

Then, the story: Little Joey sits examining the ruins of an electric train "that took a dozen graduate engineers to put together" . . . and which his father wrecked when the kid let the old man fool around with it until he came up with a theory about how to make it run different.

"What's a theory?" asks little Norman. "I dunno," answers Joey. "Something ya father has when tells ya to hand him a screwdriver."

All little Norman had to worry about was getting Santa into the house---because they had not a chimney but radiators. What the kids had to worry about was being careful what they wished for. Especially if they were audacious enough to ask Congress for it.

But for further details, you'll just have to listen.

Cast: Arnold Stang, Pert Kelton, Fran Warren, Ben Brower, Art Carney, Jack Albertson, Joan Gibson. The children: Butch Cabell, David Anderson, Joan Laser. Music: Bernie Green Orchestra. Writers: Henry Morgan, Carroll Moore, Jr., Aaron Ruben, Joseph Stein.

MY FAVOURITE HUSBAND: NUMEROLOGY (CBS; ARMED FORCES RADIO AND TELEVISION SERVICE REBROADCAST, 1948)---"Oh, that stuff, that's a lot of nonsense," snorts George (Richard Denning) to Liz (Lucille Ball), who's become enamoured with a book she's been reading on the subject. Iris: Bea Benaderet. Atterbury: Gale Gordon. Writers: Jess Oppenheimer, Bob Carroll, Jr., Madelyn Pugh.

FIBBER McGEE & MOLLY: SPENDING CHRISTMAS AT HOME (NBC, 1953)---It's where Molly (Marian Jordan) decides she'd rather spent it with McGee (Jim Jordan), who was just as bent on taking her out for a fancy holiday dinner. Doc: Arthur Q. Bryan. Wimpole: Bill Thompson. Writers: Phil Leslie, Ralph Goodman.


1886---Kid Ory (as Edward Ory; trombonist/bandleader: This is Jazz; Radio Almanac; Here's to Veterans), LaPlace, Louisiana.
1889---Nat Shilkret (conductor: The Eveready Hour; Music That Satisfies; Palmolive Beauty Box Theater), Queens, New York.
1893---Robert L. Ripley (host: Colonel Beacon Light; Baker's Broadcast; Believe It . . . or Not), Santa Rosa, California.
1899---Humphrey Bogart (actor: Bold Venture; Stars in the Air; Streamlined Shakespeare; Lux Radio Theater; The Fred Allen Show), New York City.
1902---Barton MacLane (actor: Thirty Minutes in Hollywood), Columbia, South Carolina.
1904---Gladys Swarthout (singer: Palmolive Beauty Box Theater; The Prudential Family Hour; The Voice of Firestone), Deepwater, Missouri.
1907---Cab Calloway (The Hi-De-Ho King; bandleader: Quizzical), Rochester, New York.
1909---Mike Mazurki (actor: Lux Radio Theater), Tarnopol, Austria.
1912---Tony Martin (as Alvin Morris; singer/actor: The Burns & Allen Show; The Tony Martin Show), Oakland.
1913---Candy Candido (comedian: Sealtest Village Store; The Jimmy Durante Show), New Orleans.
1915---Richard Wilson (actor/writer/director: Mercury Theater On the Air), McKeesport, Pennsylvania.
1924---Rod Serling (writer/host: Zero Hour), Syracuse, New York.
1932---Mabel King (as Donnie Mabel Elizabeth Washington; actress/singer: Camel Rock and Roll Party), Charleston, South Carolina.



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