It Ain't Louis v. Schmeling, Kiddies: The Way It Was, 14 March
It's a purported climax to old-time radio's most successful and famous verbal running gag*, which was launched inadvertently in the first place, when one of the combatants wisecracked about the other after an eight-year-old violin prodigy performed a breathless interpretation of "The Bee." Tonight, the Grand Ballroom of New York's Hotel Pierre hosts the allegedly climactic rumble, allegedly.
The famous feud will continue on and off, for another decade at minimum, and sometimes beyond. Never mind that the two master comedians were actually good friends in real life; and, that a) writers from each man's staff consulted the others on each installment of the feud; or, b) when either Benny or Allen guested on the other's show, the guest combatant often as not got the better laugh lines, right up to the end, at least where The Fred Allen Show was concerned. (And, with Henry Morgan, of all people, as the catalyst, yet . . . )
In fairness, Fred Allen will enjoy an advantage in due course---moving at last to Sunday nights, his show airs after the Benny show. Allen himself or one of his staffers would listen, allowing either a) a fresh crack or two's insertion into the Allen script about to be performed on the air; or, b) one or two of Allen's deadly ad-libs to jab back at any Benny jibe.
But one man's end may be another man's beginning, as Allen will prove on the premiere edition of The Big Show, when he reworks a sketch from one of his earlier classic shows, a Benny parody he called "The Pinch Penny Program."
So what of the child prodigy who inadvertently instigated the whole thing in the first place?
When young Stuart Canin played The Bee on Fred Allen's Town Hall Tonight, Allen couldn't resist a wisenheimer remark about a certain violin player who ought to have been ashamed of himself. After the Benny-Allen feud hits fever pitch for keeps, the boy receives an unexpected gift: Both Allen and Benny will pony up the starting financing for his eventual musical education.
The long-term picture? New York-born Canin will study at Juilliard School of Music; win the International Paganini Competition and the Handel Medal; become a respected violin virtuoso; and, in due course, become the concertmaster for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Hollywood studio orchestras---his performances in film music will include the soundtracks to Forrest Gump and Schindler's List---while also founding the New Century Chamber Orchestra in 1992, and serving as its first music director until 1999.
Meanwhile, you might care to note that tonight's Benny show has a little more going for it than bringing the Benny-Allen feud to a boil.
■ Jack and Mary (Livingstone) get a wire from Kenny Baker, advising how much Hollywood's changed---then, they realise he didn't send it from Hollywood.■ Jack learns at least one secret of how tough men make a sweet-swinging orchestra.■ Jack and Mary ponder their income tax filings.■ An elder singer eeks an audition, and Mary and Jack sing instead. (Guess which one's merely passably amatuerish.)■ There's an, ahem, interruption to Jack's singing turn and, in due course, a duet even more off key than Mary and Jack's.
But you'll have to listen for yourself.
Additional cast: Don Wilson. Music: Abe Lyman and His Orchestra. Writers: Al Boasberg, Sam Perrin, George Balzar.
AIRWAVES . . .
1919: "IT COULD BE . . . IT MIGHT BE . . . IT IS!"---Madre and Padre Carabina have no clue that the son who has just arrived, Harry Christopher Carabina, is destined to become one of baseball's most beloved broadcasters---for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Oakland Athletics, the Chicago White Sox, and (especially) the Chicago Cubs---in old-time radio and forward to television, under his Anglicised name Harry Caray.
Though he will achieve broad appeal during his tenure with the Cardinals (whose KMOX broadcasts helped build the team into a full Midwest force because of the station's range and Caray's earthy style), Caray will become a national and even international phenomenon, when he lands with the Cubs and the Cubs' owners (the Tribune Company, who buy the team from the Wrigley family) turn their local/regional television anchorage into a nationwide cable television superstation.
Caray's shameless homerism (more for the home fans than the team), his seventh-inning stretch singing (an accident that began when the White Sox flipped his mike on after he was seen singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in the booth; he'd originally rejected the idea of doing it on mike), his catch phrases ("Holy Cow!"; "It could be . . . it might be . . . ," a phrase he used calling potential home runs and, at the end of the ninth, team wins), his periodic habit of calling a game shirtless from the bleachers, and his endearing malaprops (he often confused player names, such as "Ryne Sundberg" or "Jim Sandberg," and he frequently botched the lyrics of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"), will make him a kind of national grandfather, until the day he dies following a Valentine's Day collapse in 1998.
He would be allowed to skirt WGN's then-mandatory retirement age because of his phenomenal popularity.
Caray's career will not be without its controversy, however. He will endure speculation that he wielded powerful enough influence on Cardinals' player and personnel decisions---including the 1964 firing of their legendary general manager, Bing Devine, who built the team's 1960s contenders, before moving on to perform much of the building of what became the Miracle Mets; several player transactions; and, a reputed maneuver to bring aboard former Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants manager Leo Durocher as the Cardinals' manager, if incumbent Johnny Keane was to be fired, also in 1964; and, that his unexpected firing as the Cardinals' lead broadcaster sprang from an affair he was reputed to have had with a daughter-in-law of the team's owner. (Caray, for his part, neither confirmed or denied the rumour.)
When he returns to the Cubs' booth following convalescence from a mild stroke, Caray will enjoy a poignant moment as he shares the WGN booth with a one-time old-time radio broadcaster who transcribed Cub games on Iowa WHO by forging a play-by-play off telegraph reports---President Ronald Reagan, whose first professional ambition was to become a sports broadcaster, and who cracks, "You know, in a few months I'm going to be out of work, and I thought I might as well audition." (Reagan, in fact, will do a very credible inning and a half of actual play by play on that broadcast.)
Caray---whose son, Skip, and grandson, Chip, become respected baseball broadcasters in their own right---will be elected to the broadcaster's wing of the baseball Hall of Fame in 1989, and to the Radio Hall of Fame in 1990.
CHANNEL SURFING . . .
SUSPENSE: NO MORE ALICE (CBS, 1946)---Haunted by his failing marriage as it is, troubled psychiatrist Warren Rice (Paul Henreid) lets an escaped bank robber/killer commandeer him while driving through the mountains . . . and hide in his own home, where the escapee can't understand Dr. Rice's interest in analysing him. Additional cast: Unknown. Writer: Martin Ryerson. Director: William Spear.
THE HAROLD PEARY SHOW: INCOME TAX (CBS, 1951)---Alas, 'tis that time of year---and, naturally, Harold (Peary) doesn't want to be late, even if he's doing it on the final day . . . which is more than Doc Yak-Yak (Joseph Kearns) can say. Additional cast: Gloria Holiday (in real life, Mrs. Harold Peary), Parley Baer, Jane Morgan, Mary Jane Croft. Writers: Bill Danch, Jack Robinson, Gene Stone.
NBC SHORT STORY: THE LOTTERY---Thought allegoric to the true story of Anne Hutchinson, whose Calvinism-influenced antinomianism caused her to be excommunicated to Massachussetts during the American colonial era, Shirley Jackson's rural chiller---in which an annual ritualistic human sacrifice by community stoning, on behalf of a good harvest, is the subject of some small joking by a woman (Margaret Brighton) until her family is drawn to provide the annual sacrifice: herself---gets a sober radio treatment. Cast: Louis Larimer, Charles Seale, Gail Bonney, Joni McGovern, Jeff Corey, Jeffrey Silver, Stephen Chase, Irene Tedrow, Jim Nusser. Announcer: Don Stanton. Music: Morris King. Writer: Ernest Kinoy, adapting the short story by Shirley Jackson.
PREMIERING TODAY . . .
1912---Les Brown (bandleader: Fitch Bandwagon, The Bob Hope Show), Reinerton, Pennsylvania.
1918---Dennis Patrick (actor: Shakespeare Festival), Philadelphia.
1918---Dennis Patrick (actor: Shakespeare Festival), Philadelphia.
* - By far, the most successful and famous aural running gag in classic radio history has to be Fibber McGee's infamous clattering closet . . . with, perhaps, Jack Benny's subterranean vault alarm a close enough second.