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, February 04, 2009

Cabbage Patch Kids: The Way It Was, 4 February

1935---Adapted by Frank and Anne Hummert into a radio soap from the novel by Alice Caldwell Rice, Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch premieres on CBS, with old-time radio mainstay Betty Garde (see below) in the title role (she would be succeeded by Eva Condon). The soap will move to NBC a year later and end production 23 December 1938.

One year before the soap's premiere, the 1901 novel by Alice Caldwell Hegan became a film hit with Pauline Lord in the title role and W.C. Fields as Ellsworth Stubbins. The soap, too, follows the title widow whose family and friends lead her through tribulations while she strains to stay cheerful, even as her character and life setting graduate, perhaps too swiftly, from simple life and angst slices into none-too-simple slabs of near-relentless, often straining action.

Th[e] isolation of soap opera characters [from animation of community life] was brought about by the interminability of daytime serials, some of which began as authentic stories of small town life. The inventiveness of writers flagged under the strain of devising long plot sequences, one after another, year after year, involving a given family with the neighbours and other townsfolk. Furthermore, the producers and sponsors of soap opera and the alert advertising agencies set up a clamour for bigger and wider action and excitement. The original soap opera characters are now often nothing more than shadowy and unnecessary ficelles, awkwardly held onto as confidants or advisers of the principal figures in the melodramas that come and go in chaotic regularity. Even Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch followed the formula and degenerated into radio melodrama after six months. Its heroine spent her time dodging the bullets of gangsters and the tricks and traps of other scoundrels from the city.

---James Thurber, in "Soapland: Ivorytown, Rinsoville, Anacinburg, and Crisco Corners," The New Yorker, 1947-1948; republished in The Beast in Me and Other Animals. (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1948.)

The radio cast will also include Robert Strauss (Pa Wiggs), Andy Donnelly (Billy), Joe Lathan (Stubbins), Frank Provo and then Bill Johnstone (Mr. Bob), Agnes Young then Alice Frost (Miss Hazy), and Marjorie Anderson (Lucy Redding), with George Ambro as the show's announcer.

But the soap will also be remembered as one of old-time radio's very few early soap operas that wasn't sponsored by a soap maker or soap brand: the show's sponsors included Jad Effervescent Salt, Hill's Nose Drops, and Olde English Wax.

As for Betty Garde, she will fashion a fine career as a stage, film, and television actress, with radio credits to include America's Hour, Front Page Farrell, Easy Aces, The Henry Morgan Show, Jane Arden, Joe and Mabel, and---especially---Lorenzo Jones, the comic soap on which she played, as the announcer will intone in the standard introduction, "his devoted wife, Belle. Lorenzo's inventions have made him a character to the town, but not to Belle, who loves him."


1922: WOLFISHNESS---WGY goes on the air for the first time in Schenectady, New York. Seven months later, beginning with a broadcast adaptation of Eugene Walter's play, The Wolf, after actor Edward Smith convinces program director Kolin Hager to give the idea a try, the station's WGY Players launch radio's first regular drama series, with forty-three plays adapted for forty-minute radio productions over the following year.

1927: WASHINGTON CALLING---KGA goes on the air for the first time in Spokane, Washington. It becomes an NBC Blue Network affiliate in due course and, eventually, a Citadel Broadcasting Corporation outlet whose programming includes conservative talk-show hosts Mark Fuhrman, Laura Ingraham, Rollye James, Bill O'Reilly, and Michael Savage.

1952: FIGUREHEAD, NOT FOUNTAINHEAD---At the height of his groundbreaking career with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and in the thick of the seasons by which those teams would become immortalised in due course as The Boys of Summer, future Hall of Fame infielder Jackie Robinson achieves another first: he becomes the first black executive to be hired by NBC, which names him a vice president and director of community services during baseball's off-season.

But Robinson will come to believe he is more a figurehead than a genuine leader, and resign the position two years after landing it . . . and two years before he plays his final season of major league baseball.


BOSTON BLACKIE: BLACKIE LOVES HELEN (SYNDICATED, 1948)---Mary (Jan Minor) finds out the hard way, but she doesn't think it's the real thing---and with good reason, considering for whom Helen Carver works and what she really wants from Blackie (Richard Kollmar). Faraday: Maurice Tarplin. Writer: Ralph Rosenberg.

THE BIG SHOW: PLAY BALL! (NBC, 1951)---Or, as spring training looms, play a little friendly husband-and-wife rivalry between (it depends on a) your point of view; or, b) whether you are a Brooklyn Dodgers fan) a famous/infamous manager and his tart spouse (Leo Durocher, then manager of the rival New York Giants, and actress Laraine Day, then his real-life wife). Otherwise, enjoy Fred Allen, Bob Cummings, Jimmy Durante, Portland Hoffa (Mrs. Allen, of course), and Judy Holliday. Hostess: Tallulah Bankhead. Announcer: Ed Herlihy. Music: Meredith Willson, the Big Show Orchestra and Chorus. Writers: Goodman Ace, Fred Allen, Selma Diamond, Mort Greene, George Foster, Frank Wilson.

THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR: THE JEWELRY STORE ROBBERS (CBS, 1958)---The police are on the phone with disturbing news that perplexes half the Arbuckles (Alan Bunce)---who may have heard what turned out to be a robber in his office building---and unnerves the other half (Peg Lynch). Writer: Peg Lynch.


1889---Walter Catlett (actor: This Is Your FBI; Escape; Campbell's Playhouse), San Francisco.
1901---Tom McKnight (writer/producer/director, Beulah; The Gibson Family), unknown.
1904---MacKinlay Kantor (writer: Lest We Forget; Author's Playhouse), Webster City, Iowa.
1908---Gordon Fraser (newscaster, NBC Blue Network), Lawrence, Massachussetts; Manny Klein (trumpeter: The Ipana Troubadors), New York City.
1909---Robert Coote (actor: Campbell's Playhouse), London.
1912---Erich Leinsdorf (conductor: The NBC Symphony), Vienna.
1918---Ida Lupino (actress/panelist: Hollywood Byline; Screen Guild Theater; Duffy's Tavern), London.
1918---Janet Waldo (actress: Meet Corliss Archer; One Man's Family), Grandview, Washington.


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