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, January 30, 2009

"Above More Ordinary Sagebrush": The Way It Was, 30 January

1933---The overture finale for Rossini's operatic interpretation of William Tell's story isn't exactly remembered half as much for introducing that operatic interpretation as it is for introducing old-time radio's all-time most remembered (if not quite best) Western.

And The Lone Ranger* hi-yos Silver for the first time tonight, on the three-station hookup of its creator, George Trendle.

George Stenius plays the title role for its first four months, director James Jewell and actor Jack Deeds will play it for an episode each, Earl Graser will assume the role until he's killed in a 1941 automobile accident, and---after five episodes in which the Ranger himself is bedridden, injured, and barely able to whisper (faithful companion Tonto, played by John Todd, carries much of the storytelling)---Brace Beemer, originally the show's narrator in 1941, will play the Silver Bullet Man for the rest of his radio life.

Within four years the show's popularity spreads it nationwide and instigates the formal creation of the Mutual Broadcasting System------"an outgrowth," historian Gerald Nachman will record in due course, "of the half-dozen stations that originally signed on to air the hit Western.".

The Lone Ranger may have been the first "adult Western," a phrase that began to be heard in the 1950s to describe movies like High Noon and Shane, not to mention the 1950s radio program often cited as the first grown-up horse opera---Gunsmoke. Gunsmoke was decidedly better written and acted, but The Lone Ranger was mythic---the first such show to employ a loner hero and moody effects, a kind of noir Western.

The Lone Ranger shows sound no less hackneyed today than others of the era, yet something elevated the program above more ordinary sagebrush series with Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy, Red Ryder, Roy Rogers (anointed "King of the Cowboys"), and his slick rival Gene Autry . . . Other heroes wore masks . . . and others bent the law for their own purposes . . . but none in Western lore had near the appeal of a "lone ranger." That was the show's basic grabber, along with the fact that . . . the Lone Ranger was modest almost to a fault, so pathologically shy that he refused to stick around for even a simple thank-you . . .

What ennobled him was that he seemed aloof and above the fray---a snob, almost, who, rather than hang around to take his bows after he'd brought the bad guys to justice, beat a hasty retreat. He was utterly humourless---no comic sidekicks for him---and had no time for obsequious thank-yous and small talk. Was it humility, boredom, timidity, or arrogance? He disliked having grateful townsolk slobbering all over him, that was clear, but it seemed impolite for him to exit so quickly. Yet you never tired of the famous fade-out: "Who was that masked man, anyway?" "Why, don't you know? That was . . . the Lone Ranger!" As if there were lots of other cowboys on white horses sporting black masks who handed out silver bullet mementoes and had Indian assistants . . .

In some ways, it was just another schlock Western, but to those who refused to miss a single chapter, The Lone Ranger took on the aura of art. Not even the fairly faithful TV version had the hypnotic power of its radio predecessor.

---Gerald Nachman, in "Saddle Sore," from Raised on Radio. (New York: Pantheon, 1998.)

Trendle has softened the original character sketch from his writer Fran Striker, whose vision of the Ranger as "a laughing macho Robin Hood" (Nachman) is transformed into the sober, occasionally soapboxing, formal guardian angel, "the embodiment," Trendle is quoted as saying, "of granted prayer."

And Striker will engage writers over the years who keep the Ranger precisely that way, including Dan Beatty, Tom Dougall, Gibson Scott Fox, Bob Green, Felix Holt, Bob Shaw, and Shelley Stark.


FIBBER McGEE & MOLLY: FIBBER'S OLD SUIT (NBC, 1940)---It's the old worn-out, ill-fitting blue serge Molly (Marian Jordan, who also plays Teeny) is desperate to convince Fibber (Jim Jordan) to lose, but trying to lose it almost causes him to lose his---I hate to use a four-letter word---mind. Mrs. Uppington: Isabel Randolph. Old-Timer/Nick/Officer Kelly: Bill Thompson. Stranger: Gale Gordon. Gildersleeve: Harold Peary. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King's Men. Writers: Don Quinn, Phil Leslie.

BOX 13: THE PHILANTHROPIST (MUTUAL, 1949)---A semi-hobo piques Dan's (Alan Ladd) interest with a small note written on the back of an old handbill and his unkempt appearance---but when he asks Dan to try his idea for finding his traveling pal, after being separated during one railroad hop, Dan gets a different view of the down-and-out. Suzy: Sylvia Picker. Writer: Russell Hughes.

THE FRED ALLEN SHOW: FRED TRIES TO GET RUDY VALLEE INTO TELEVISION (NBC, 1949)---After Main Street's meanderers (sponsor Ford, of course, has long since prompted the relocation from Allen's Alley) mash the weekly newspaper's call on outstanding women, Fred (Allen) bumps into the old crooner at the bus station, thinking he can get him on the small screen to dissuade his swank retirement. With Portland Hoffa. Claghorn: Kenny Delmar. Titus: Parker Fennelly. Mrs. Nussbaum: Minerva Pious. Ajax: Peter Donald. Announcer: Kenny Delmar. Music: Al Goodman Orchestra. Writers: Fred Allen, Robert Schiller.

OUR MISS BROOKS: CUSTODIAN OF STUDENT FUNDS (CBS, 1949)---That would be Connie (Eve Arden), when Conklin (Gale Gordon) implements a student banking system, but she regrets her foray into low finance soon enough when the money she holds onto gets mistaken for a rent payment. Mrs. Davis: Jane Morgan. Walter: Richard Crenna. Mr. Pearson: Frank Nelson. Miss Atterbury: Possibly Mary Jane Croft. Harriet: Gloria McMillan. Boynton: Jeff Chandler. Announcer: Bob Lamond. Writer: Al Lewis.

I LOVE A MYSTERY: BATTLE OF THE CENTURY (MUTUAL, 1950)---That may be what they all say, but this happens to be part two of an eighteen-part Western in which Jack Packard (Russell Thorson) and Reggie York (Tony Randall) agree to help a rich rancher's runaway daughter (Mercedes McCambridge) bent on marrying a poor farmhand. Writer: Carlton E. Morse.


1896---Joseph Gallicchio (music: Amos 'n' Andy, Music from the Heart of America), Chicago.
1907---Lois Wilson (actress: numerous programs, including The Jack Benny Program), Iowa.
1911---Hugh Marlowe (actor: Ellery Queen, Brenda Curtis), Philadelphia.
1914---John Ireland (actor: MGM Theater of the Air, U.S. Steel Hour), Vancouver, B.C.; David Wayne (actor: Eternal Light, Lux Radio Theater, Stars in the Air), Traverse City, Michigan.
1915---Dorothy Dell (actress: Stars of Tomorrow), Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
1925---Dorothy Malone (actress: Lux Radio Theater), Chicago.
1931---Conrad Binyan (actor: Mayor of the Town; The Life of Riley), Hollywood.

* -- Just in case you might have forgotten (some do) or never have known (some don't, believe it . . . or not), the Lone Ranger is lone in the first place because he, John Reid, is the only survivor of the Cavendish Gang's wipeout of a troop of Texas Rangers (no, silly, we're not talking about a pitcher named Cavendish who no-hit a certain baseball team), and Tonto, the Indian who brought him back to health, tells him the bad news about his fellow Rangers, punctuating it with, "You only Ranger left. You lone Ranger now."


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