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, January 07, 2009

A Creature of Show Business: The Way It Was, 7 January

1888---Mother and Father Vail of Joliet, Illinois, have no hint, so far as is known, that the daughter to whom Mother has just given birth will grow up to create and co-star in one of old-time radio's comparative rarities: a soap opera that played it as often for laughs as for bathos.

She will base her creation on her own experiences as a vaudeville trouper who never quite cracks the big time, until she lands in Chicago with her husband (a professional singer) and children and hits upon the idea for the show, selling it to the Wrigley's chewing gum company.

Selling the company on the show won't exactly be hurt by the surnames she hands her lead characters---Spear and Minter. Neither will her establishing the premise as the tribulations, trials, and occasional triumphs of a veteran trouper and her youthful protege, played by herself and her real-life daughter, Donna Damerel.

And, in 1932, the soap premieres for what turns out a fourteen-year radio life that will not be without tragedy: she herself will be injured seriously in a road accident, a year after the soap premieres, compelling her to hand the writing to a colleague who writes her off the show temporarily as having been kidnapped by gangsters; she will recover, but she will be widowed three years after her accident (and never, so far as known, remarry); and, she'll be thunderstruck when her daughter dies, eight years later, while giving birth.

Thunderstruck but not doomed: believing her daughter wished it that way (having performed an episode of the soap earlier in the day), she writes the character out of the action as hiding in the hills until a murder is solved, and auditions over sixty actresses before choosing Helen Mack for the soap's final five seasons.

After the soap ends, she will make a low-keyed but distinguished career as a supporting actress, including an appearance in a film written by one of her own grandchildren---Little Shop of Horrors---before retiring.

Happy 121st birthday to Myrtle Vail.


1904: HELP!---The Marconi Company proposes an international radio distress signal, CQD, thought to mean "come quick---danger" but actually meaning "all stations---distress," the D standing for "distress" following CQ, then the original code for a landline wire call.

One month after the Marconi proposal, CQD goes into general radio use. Four years later, it will be succeeded by SOS---which, contrary to popular mythology, stood for nothing. "This signal," according to the 1918 Marconi Yearbook of Wireless Technology,"was adopted simply on account of its easy radiation and its unmistakable character. There is no special signification in the letters themselves, and it is entirely incorrect to put full stops between them."

1940: SING 'EM, COWBOY---Country music and Western film star Gene Autry brings Gene Autry's Melody Ranch to CBS for the first time. The show will air for sixteen years.


WOODY HERMAN AND THE BAND THAT PLAYS THE BLUES (NBC, 1940): The amiable, blues-influenced clarinetist and bandleader---and occasional vocalist (let's just say that, as a vocalist, he was a helluva clarinetist, though he isn't horrible by any means), as witness "Faithful Forever" and "The Little Ol' Dutch Garden"---spends half an hour of airtime jazzing the blues at the Famous Door along New York's celebrated jazz strip, 52nd Street. Other selections include "Choppin' Wood," "South of the Border" (vocal by Carol Kay), "Midnight Echoes," and Herman's 1939 hit and signature song, "Woodchopper's Ball," among others. Announcer: Jack Costello.

THE BIG SHOW AN EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES (NBC, 1951)---It just might be, when the evening lineup includes Fred Allen, Phil (Mr. Take It or Leave It) Baker, Marlene Dietrich, Portland Hoffa, Edward G. Robinson, Danny Thomas, Fran Warren, and Meredith Willson. Announcer: Ed Herlihy. Music: Meredith Willson and the Big Show Orchestra and Chorus. Writers: Goodman Ace, George Foster, Mort Greene, Frank Wilson.

THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR: HOME MOVIES (CBS, 1958)---Whether or not they go with an evening of bridge is almost anyone's guess---anyone but mother's (Peg Lynch). Father: Alan Bunce. Carol: Nancy Sheridan. Harry: Jay Bonney. Writer: Peg Lynch.


1889---Baukhage (as Hilmar Robert Baukhage; news commentator: Four Star News; News and Comment; Baukhage Talking), La Salle, Illinois.
1896---Arnold Ridley (actor: The Archers; Dad's Army), Bath, Somerset, UK.
1898---Art Baker (host: People Are Funny; announcer: The Dinah Shore Show), New York City.
1903---Betty Hanna (actress: Ma Perkins; Kay Fairchild, Stepmother), unknown; Alan Napier (actor: Campbell Playhouse), Birmingham, UK.
1913---Shirley Ross (actress/singer: The Raleigh-Kool Cigarette Program; The Bob Burns Show), Omaha.
1922---Vincent Gardenia (as Vincenzo Scognamiglio; actor: The CBS Radio Mystery Theater), Naples, Italy.
1930---Douglas Kiker (news correspondent: Meet the Press), Griffin, Kansas.


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