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 16, 2009

His Brother-in-Law's Keeper: The Way It Was, 16 January

"The characters in this story are not fictitious. Very often, I wish they were." Thus does Goodman Ace open the audition performance of his new, expanded, half-hour version of his classic Easy Aces domestic comedy.

The audition introduces changes enough to the format that charmed an audience that wasn't a ratings buster but was loyal for fifteen years. They merely begin with the end of the serial format---continuing storylines in fifteen-minute episodes---as has fallen upon such other serial comedies as Vic & Sade, Lum & Abner, and the granddaddy of the lot of them, Amos 'n' Andy.

Instead, in comes a format slightly more normalised to the situation comedy style, though Ace provides a small twist by acting as wry narrator (and, concurrently, subtle editorialist) as well as co-starring harried husband.

From the old Easy Aces cast, he and Jane have retained Ken Roberts, who had played slow-witted orphan Cokie, whom the Aces had semi-adopted, but is now the new show's announcer, both in fact and in character, cast as a radio announcer living next door to the Aces in New York City, visiting at least once a day and often doing miniature satires of radio commercials (a favourite target of Ace), including this jewel: This show is brought to you by the Krubner Company, makers of those delicious tasting after-shave lozenges . . . The Krubner Company, for over fifty years dispensers of quality products. Yes, fifty years ago the Krubner Company dispensed with quality.

Ace also decides to switch himself from the real estate game to the advertising game. This necessitates the introduction of another pair of characters later in the series' brief life: his ulcers. He also disappears Easy Aces's resident brother-in-law/pest, Johnny, in favour of a new brother-in-law/pest, Paul, played smugly enough by Leon Janney. This switch falls very profoundly under the banner of what can happen when you're not careful about what you wish for. Johnny was merely allergic to work. Compared to Paul, Johnny was merely frustrated on convalescent leave. Radio veteran Eric Dressler will also have a recurring role as Jonathan Norris, the chief of the advertising firm ("Sutton, Dutton, Mutton, and Norris---I can't imagine how he got in there") for which Ace's character now works.

What doesn't change: Jane Ace's supremacy as the show's malaproprietess, dropping her casually effective mangles with the kind of aplomb that comes from fifteen years' experience as the best, or at least the most individual, of her breed. John Crosby will have it exactly right, reviewing the new show, when he writes in the New York Herald-Tribune, "There are a lot of Malaprops in radio but none of them scrambles a cliche quite so skillfully as Jane. In fact, many of Jane's expressions are great improvements over the originals."

What makes mr. ace and JANE's audition significant, too, is that the Aces find a way to keep the quiet ambience that helped make Easy Aces effective even as they concede to the new sitcom order. Ace introduces musical interjections between scenes that reference action in the scene just closed ("O Britannia," for example, transitioning scenes off a joke referring to the Bank of England), with the music accompaniment by a solo pianist with a very low-volume style (one passage will cause you to imagine ambient ragtime, if you dare), whether playing the familiar opening and closing theme (Louis Salter's "Manhattan Serenade") or the tartly chosen scene transitions. There is no studio audience or large orchestra such as enter when CBS agrees to pick up the show as a regular series later in the month.

Big mistake. The Aces' contrapuntal conversational collages worked best when the show was kept calm. Had they kept the audition atmosphere (the plot, combining Jane and Paul's outlandish attempt to borrow from a loan company with Paul's stealthy bid to snatch a cigarette advertising account from Ace, would be broken into individual episodes later in the series), expanding without exactly abandoning what made Easy Aces work so long, so well, mr. ace and JANE might last (as Jane might say) more than a single Caesar.


THE SHADOW: SUBTERRANEAN SABOTAGE BLUES (MUTUAL, 1938)---Stealthy shipyard attacks bedevil the maritime world until Lamont (Orson Welles) finds a way to its skittish source. Margot: Agnes Moorehead. Additional cast: Unknown. Writers: Possibly Peter Barry, Max Ehrlich.

THE PHIL HARRIS-ALICE FAYE SHOW: THE BAND IS NOT INVITED TO THE PRESIDENT'S BALL (NBC, 1949)---It seems to be Harry Truman who's not so wild about Phil (Harris), who's not so wild about the President being not so wild about inviting his band to perform at the Inaugural Ball. Willie: Robert North. Little Alice: Jeanine Roos. Phyllis: Anne Whitfield. Remley: Elliott Lewis. Music: Walter Sharp, Phil Harris Orchestra. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.


1878---Harry Carey (actor: Lincoln Highway; Suspense), New York City.
1894---John B. Kennedy (commentator: Collier's Hour; The RCA Magic Key), Wales.
1901---Sid Silvers (actor: The Phil Baker Show; The Jack Benny Program), Brooklyn.
1907---Alexander Knox (actor: Document A/777), Strathroy, Ontario.
1909---Ethel Merman (singer/actress/comedienne: The Ethel Merman Show; Home Front Matinee; The Big Show), Astoria, New York.
1910---Dwight Weist (actor: Mr. District Attorney; The Second Mrs. Burton), Palo Alto, California.
1911---Dizzy Dean (commentator: St. Louis Cardinals baseball; Game of the Week), Lucas, Arkansas.
1914---Roger Wagner (chorale conductor: It's Time for Johnny Mercer; America Sings; This Is Our Music), Le Puy, France.
1918---Buddy Weed (musician: Old Gold Party Time; The Lanny Ross Show), Ossining, New York.
1920---Elliott Reed (actor: Pepper Young's Family; Against the Storm), New York City.
1930---Rita Lloyd (actress: Let's Pretend), Brooklyn.


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