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.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Appropriate Atmosphere: The Way It Was, 19 April

Not to be confused with the book and film about the Titanic disaster, by any means: A wife (Ann Sothern) renting a cozy little Greenwich Village apartment for her mystery writing husband (Robert Young) hopes it provides a more appropriate atmosphere for him to work in---which they get only too quickly, when a corpse turns up among the decor.

Based on the screenplay by Richard Fluornoy and Jack Henley, from a story by Kelley Roos.


1965: ALL NEWS, ALL THE TIME---Once one of New York's premiere rock and roll stations (and once the New York home of the man who gave the music its name, Alan Freed), WINS goes all news, all the time, in due course becoming trademarked by the sound of a ticker machine running behind the desk anchors (a sound effect still in use at the station in 2007) and by a long-running slogan, "You give us twenty-two minutes, we'll give you the world."

From our WHY ON EARTH SHOULD AN OLD-TIME RADIO FAN CARE? department: The station was born in 1924 as WGBS, owned as many stations of the day were by a major department store (Gimbel's, in this case), and its premiere broadcast should be considered a classic radio lover's dream: hosted by Eddie Cantor, featuring guests including George Gershwin, Ukulele Ike Edwards, Rube Goldberg, the Dolly Sisters, Rudolf Friml, and the Vincent Lopez Orchestra.

Not that the station wasn't an old-time radio fan's delight in its latter day life as WINS: even as the station graduated toward rock and roll (at one time being even competition for the like of WABC, WMGM, and WMCA), it had room in 1954 for a morning show featuring Bob & Ray, who moved from WNBC.

WGBS (and its sister station in Philadelphia, WIP) might have become one of the great majors of the classic radio era had it not been for the Federal Radio Commission---the FRC in in 1928 ordered Gimbel (which had organised its radio arm into the Gimbel Broadcasting Service a few years earlier) to move both WGBS and WIP to share time on the same frequency, which ended up undermining them in both markets, three years before Gimbel sold the station to William Randolph Hearst . . . who changed the call letters to WINS.

You can read more about the foregoing here


THE GOLDBERGS: ROSALIE IS BACK HOME (CBS, 1942)---Everyone seems anxious to know what happened when Rosalie (Roslyn Siber) visited Walter (Edward Trevor), but nobody seems in a big hurry to do much other than let her rest from the long trip home---almost, given Jake (John R. Waters) is even more anxious than Molly (Gertrude Berg) usually would be, considering Rosalie came home almost as fast as she took off in the first place. Sammy: Alfred Ryder. Seymour: Arnold Stang. Announcer: Clayton (Bud) Collyer. Writer/director: Gertrude Berg.


1897---Vivienne Segal (actress: Jantzen Radio Program), Philadelphia,
1913---Sylvia Froos (singer: The Sylvia Froos Show, The Fred Allen Show), New York City.
1914---Betty Winkler (actress: the third of five to play the title role in Joyce Jordan, Girl Intern/Joyce Jordan, M.D.; also, Abie's Irish Rose, Theater of Romance), Berwick, Pennyslvania.
1920---Frank Fontaine (comedian/singer: The Jack Benny Program, The Bob Hope Show), Cambridge, Massachussetts.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Fore and Aft: The Way It Was, 18 April

A raw British regiment, sent to the front against a fanatical Muslim troop during the Afghan War, is shamed back to battle after a crushing retreat by a pair of young drummer boys (Gil Stratton, Jr., Jimmy Ogg).

Rudyard Kipling: Eric Walsh. Writer: Les Crutchfield, based on a story by Rudyard Kipling.


1945: TURNABOUT'S FAIR PLAY; OR, AS THE WORM TURNS---Radio 1212---the so-called "black propaganda" operation based at Radio Luxembourg (who turned its facilities over to the U.S. Army after the Grand Duchy had been liberated) and operated by the U.S. Office of War Information's Psychological Warfare Division (supervised by CBS chief William S. Paley), whose mission it was to broadcast as though from Nazi Germany and gain an audience of loyal Nazis before using that influence against them---turns its worm and cranks up a broadcast effort that trapped 350,000 German troops: the 1212 effort's finale includes a farewell broadcast of a sort, giving the impression that the Allies have captured their fictitious station.


THE JELL-O PROGRAM STARRING JACK BENNY: LADY MILLICENT'S HUSBAND (NBC, 1937)---Jack (Benny) being announced and interviewed as a great romantic film star to open the show is only begging for problems of the usual kind. Cast: Mary Livingstone, Phil Harris, Don Wilson (announcer). Music: Phil Harris Orchestra. Writers: Al Boasberg, George Balzar, Milt Josefsberg.

THE GREEN HORNET: THE CORPSE THAT WASN'T THERE (NBC BLUE, 1943)---The problem is that he is there, when Britt (Al Hodge) and Kato (Rollon Parker) deliver a found letter to what proves the home of a war plant official . . . but he isn't there after Britt returns from phoning police to revive a knocked-out Kato. Miss Case: Lee Allman. Lowry: Jack Petruzzi. Writer: Fran Striker.


1880---Donald Crisp (actor: Jonathan Trimble, Esquire), Aberfeldy, Scotland.
1882---Leopold Stokowski (conductor: NBC Symphony of the Air), London.
1887---Bill Hay (announcer: Amos 'n' Andy), Dumfires, Scotland.
1889---Gene Carroll (comedian: Fibber McGee and Molly, Quaker Early Birds, Gene and Glenn), Chicago.
1902---Harry Owens (bandleader: Hawaii Calls), O'Neill, Nebraska.
1904---Pigmeat Markham (as Dewey Markham; comedian/singer: Jubilee), Durham, North Carolina.
1907---Miklos Rozsa (composer: Lux Radio Theater), Budapest.
1912---Wendy Barrie (as Marguerite Wendy Jenkins; actress/hostess: Detect and Collect, The Jack Haley Show, Star for a Night), Hong Kong.
1913---Al Hodge (actor: The Green Hornet, Columbia Workshop), Ravenna, Ohio.
1918---Page Gilman (actor: One Man's Family), San Francisco; Tony Mottola (jazz guitarist: The Gordon McRae Gulf Spray Show), Kearney, New Jersey.
1922---Barbara Hale (actress: Lux Radio Theater, Screen Guild Theater, This Is Hollywood), DeKalb, Illinois.
1925---Bob Hastings (actor: Archie Andrews, Sea Hound), Brooklyn.

Friday, April 17, 2009

So What's In a Name? The Way It Was, 17 April

Betty (Ethel Blume) says "Sheila"; Carl, apparently, says "Susan"; and, Jane (Ace), as usual, says a mouthful, after allowing Betty to stay with the Aces until the whole megillah blows over.

Ace: Goodman Ace. Marge: Mary Hunter. Announcer: Ford Bond. Writer/director: Goodman Ace.


BOX 13: SEALED INSTRUCTIONS (MUTUAL, 1949)---A proposition promising Dan (Alan Ladd) ten thousand dollars "if you'll go through with it" brings him to an uneasy correspondent, a sealed envelope, a trip to the Philippines to retrieve an unnamed valuable, a phony Manila police lieutenant might have killed to keep Dan from retrieving for him, a troubling revelation about his original correspondent, and half a mysterious map. Suzy: Sylvia Packer. Additional cast: Possibly Alan Reed, Luis Van Rooten, John Beal. Announcer: Vern Cartensen. Writer: Charles Gannett.

THE PHIL HARRIS-ALICE FAYE SHOW: DINNER FOR TEACHER (NBC, 1949)---More accurately, for principal---the children's principal (possibly Elvia Allman), whom Alice (Faye) invited for Easter dinner, making her nervous about randy Remley (Elliott Lewis) making hash of the evening . . . until everyone gets a taste of the principal's haughty manner and her badly browbeaten husband. Phil: Phil Harris. Phyllis: Anne Whitfield. Little Alice: Jeanine Roos. Willie: Robert North. Julius: Walter Tetley. Announcer: Bill Forman. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.

OUR MISS BROOKS: PSEUDO MAGAZINE ARTICLES (CBS; REBROADCAST: AFRTS, 1955)---Ducking Conklin's (Gale Gordon) wrath for moonlighting at all, never mind writing magazine articles on the side, is child's play compared to the dilemna Connie (Eve Arden) faces now: she wrote fictitiously as the mother of one of the legendary Quiz Kids . . . and her editor is coming to town to verify the story before paying her. Mrs. Davis: Jane Morgan. Harriet: Gloria McMillan. Boynton: Jeff Chandler. Walter: Richard Crenna. Writers: Arthur Alberg, Lou Derman.


1898---Howard Claney (announcer: American Album of Familiar Music, NBC Symphony), Pittsburgh.
1903---Gregor Piatigorski (cellist, Pittsburgh Symphony: The Pause that Refreshes On the Air), Yekaterinoslav, Russia.
1905---Arthur Lake (actor: Blondie), Corbin, Kentucky.
1910---Ivan Goff (writer: Lux Radio Theater), Perth, Australia.
1911---George Seaton (actor: The Lone Ranger, Screen Director's Playhouse), South Bend, Indiana.
1918---John Hess (writer: The Human Adventure), Chicago; William Holden (actor: Hour of Mystery, The Smiths of Hollywood, So Proudly We Hail), O'Fallon, Illinois; Anne Shirley (actress: Lux Radio Theater), New York City.
1923---Harry Reasoner (CBS News), Dakota City, Iowa.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dead on Second: The Way It Was, 16 April

A baseball player with no known vices is shot to death while sliding into second with a double, in a game before which he was switched in the batting order . . . and was overheard trying to reach Blackie (Dick Kollmar), who also finds a murdered scoreboard operator later that day, and an ancient motive the day after.

Faraday: Maurice Tarplin. Mary: Jan Miner. Shorty: Tony Barrett. Writers: Kenny Lyons, Ralph Rosenberg.


1935: FROM SMACKOUT TO WISTFUL VISTA---After four years as The Smackouts, two former vaudevillians graduate to new characters, a new sponsor, and practically a new show, written by their collaborator Don Quinn.

They're moved from the small general store to a pleasant little home in which the head of the household blusters and blunders his way into and out of schemes and dreams only to be brought down to earth---sometimes with a crash, sometimes with a mere slow burn, and abetted especially by his gently tart but loving wife, to say nothing of a small host of quirky neighbours.

And if it takes five full years to hit complete stride, hit it they will, their own formidable talent buttressed by Quinn's clever writing and one of old-time radio's most dependably facile supporting casts.

No twosome was more perfectly attuned to middle-class 1930s sensibilities . . . The show, which seamlessly blended vaudeville high-jinks with radio's cozier atmospherics, came along at the right time---a home remedy for a shaken, insecure, Depression-era America that needed reassuring that its values were still intact, alive and well at 79 Wistful Vista.

---Gerald Nachman, in "Nesting Instincts," from Raised on Radio. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.)

And you can probably presume that very few of its fans ever address or refer to the new show it by its longtime official title: The Johnson Wax Program with Fibber McGee & Molly.


HERE'S MORGAN: CATCH AS CATCH CAN FRED WARING (MUTUAL, 1942)---Lamenting who has to leave the game before the ninth, Greater Deep in the Heart of Texas Week, and a new game in which the object is to catch a certain bandleader, among other hits and runs in one of the very few surviving editions of Henry Morgan's earliest radio comedy. Writer: Henry Morgan.

BRIGHT STAR: PATIENCE'S ROMANCE (NBC, 1953)---Susan (Irene Dunne) thinks George (Fred MacMurray) may be the intended target when her housekeeper runs a lonelyhearts ad in the Morning Star---until the ad draws at least five replies. Sammy: Possibly Richard Crenna. Announcer: Wendell Niles.Writers: Unknown.

FATHER KNOWS BEST: THE FAMILY GETAWAY (NBC, 1953)---It was just an overnight business trip for Jim (Robert Young)---at first. Margaret: Dorothy Lovett. Bud: Ted Donaldson. Betty: Rhoda Williams. Kathy: Helen Strom. Announcer: Bill Forman. Writers: Paul West, Roswell Rogers.


1889---Sir Charles Chaplin (actor: Dodge Brothers Hour), London.
1895---Mischa Mischakoff (violinist: NBC Symphony), Proskourov, Russia.
1897---Milton J. Cross (announcer/commentator: The Voice of the Met,General Motors Concerts
1898---Marian Jordan (comedienne: Smackout, Fibber McGee & Molly), Peoria, Illinois.
1913---Les Tremayne (actor: Adventures of the Thin Man, The Falcon), London.
1914---John Hodiak (actor: L’il Abner, The Lone Ranger), Pittsburgh.
1918---Spike Milligan (comedian: The Goon Show), Ahmednagar, India.
1921---Sir Peter Ustinov (actor: Freedom Forum), London.
1924---Henry Mancini (conductor: Family Theater, Voices of Vista), Cleveland.
1930---Herbie Mann (jazz flutist: Voices of Vista), New York.
1931---Edie Adams (singer/comedienne: The Stewart Foster Show), Kingston, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Farewell to a President: The Way It Was, 15 April

This afternoon, there is white snow on the mountains that view Hollywood from the distance. The sun shines brightly, the sky is blue, and the air is warm with spring. It might be any day in California, for nature neither knows nor cares about the trials and tribulations of man, whom she both fights and serves. She looks upon life and death as one, for she has long fashioned either from the same material. And just as the one is interchangeable with the other, so in nature's book is each indestructible . . . Life is eternal; death is eternal. Today, in Hollywood, we in the entertainment unite to pay tribute to one whose death, as is nature's work, will likewise prove eternal.

Thus does Ronald Colman open for a small phalanx of film and old-time radio stars rounding up in a sometimes mawkish, sometimes wishfully wistful, sometimes moving, music-wrapped farewell to President Roosevelt.

The stars also include Jim and Marian Jordan (in character as Fibber McGee & Molly and Teeny), Ginny Simms, Ed Gardner (Duffy's Tavern), Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll (who created and play Amos 'n' Andy but speak as themselves), Bette Davis, Robert Young, Harold Peary (The Great Gildersleeve), James Cagney, Jack Benny, Ingrid Bergman, Shirley Roth, and others. (NBC.)


1945: While some of a country's most popular entertainers say a final farewell to a freshly-interred Franklin D. Roosevelt, one of her most signature broadcast journalists says a harrowing hello to the Holocaust's actuality, while an Englishman introduces the world to a second such notorious camp . . .

"FOR MOST OF IT, I HAVE NO WORDS" (CBS)---There still exist numerous examples of what made Edward R. Murrow's reputation as a larger-than-life journalist with the gift of the prose poet. But among them there exists no equal to his harrowing "rather mild" report from Buchenwald. We need almost no visual evidence to know its grotesquery. Almost. The mute horror underwriting Murrow's understatement is only too vivid.

"HERE, OVER AN ACRE OF GROUND . . . " (BBC)---Richard Dimble is almost as harrowing in this brief, jarring extract from his report on the liberation of another notorious Nazi camp: Bergen-Belsen, which will prove among other things to have been the camp in which died a young Dutch Jew whose diary, discovered by her father after his liberation and return home, will grip numerous readers around the world in due course---Anne Frank.

"NOW, EVEN THE MUFFLED DRUMS ARE QUIET" (CBS)---Anchored by Robert Trout, a report from Hyde Park conveys the graveside service and morning burial of FDR on the grounds of his primary home. Meanwhile, Eric Sevareid, freshly dispatched to the United Nations's founding conference in San Francisco, delivers his first report from that milieu, including a retrospective on his most recent coverage of the war abroad; and, Charles Collingwood, from Paris, reflects on further reaction to FDR's death and further war advance news.


NICK CARTER, MASTER DETECTIVE: THE CAT BRINGS DEATH; OR, THE MISSING PERSIAN (MUTUAL, 1944)---Already pressured by a rash of unsolved jewel robberies, the last thing Lt. Riley (Humphrey Davis) needs is a dowager (Bryna Raeburn) demanding her missing and possibly stolen expensive Persian cat be returned post haste. Carter: Lon Clark. Patsy: Helen Choate. Writer/director: Jock MacGregor.

FAMILY THEATER: WANTED---ONE BABY (MUTUAL, 1948)---A tiremaker's manager (Kenny Baker) is driven to two-front desperation: at work from his indifferent boss (Alan Reed); and, at home after he and his wife (Marla Dwyer) think they've conceived at last only to learn otherwise yet again. Additional cast: Daws Butler. Host: Paul Henreid. Writers: Frances Rickett, Van Rodden.

BOB & RAY PRESENT THE CBS RADIO NETWORK: HIDING EASTER EGGS (THREE GUESSES, 1960)---On One Fella's Family, Book Ex Eye Eye, Chapter Vee Eye, among other tender mercilessness. Writers: Bob Elliott, Ray Goulding.


1900---Eddie Garr (actor: The Fleischmann Hour), Philadelphia.
1907---Theodore Granick (moderator: American Forum of the Air), Brooklyn.
1915---Hans Conreid (actor: Lux Radio Theater, The Great Gildersleeve, Mickey Mouse Theater of the Air, My Friend Irma, Life with Luigi), Baltimore.
1933---Roy Clark (singer/guitarist: Town and Country Time), Meherrin, Virginia.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Talking Dead: The Way It Was, 14 April

An anthropologist (possibly Sidney Ellstrom) may take a little too much pride in his otherwise well-received film and specimens of an unusual Brazilian headhunting tribe for his own good . . . particularly after specimens of the tribe's gift for shrinkage, displayed only too vividly, begin talking to him.

Additional cast: Unidentified, but possibly Ted Maxwell, Raymond Edward Johnson, Templeton Fox. Announcer: Marvin Miller. Writer: Arch Oboler.


1945: A SIMPLE FUNERAL FOR A COMPLEX PRESIDENT---A nation pauses for the funeral of its most old-time radio-friendly President.

"IT WAS THAT SIMPLE" (CBS)---Franklin D. Roosevelt apparently asked for, and received, a simple funeral . . . even with a phalanx of flowers in the East Room of the White House that contravened a reported request from Eleanor Roosevelt. Ray Henley and Carlton Smith give a simple report.

REPORT TO THE NATION: "THIS IS A SOLEMN HOUR IN AMERICAN HISTORY" (CBS)---Between the funeral and the final journey to Hyde Park, including Charles Collingwood (from Paris, reporting on American GIs' reaction to Roosevelt's death), Frederick March (no known relation to the actor), and John Daly (who covered the White House for part of the Roosevelt Administration), the third analysing particularly the President's reputed personal touch and the the exhausted final months of his life.


THE WHISTLER: MAID OF HONOUR (CBS, 1947)---Radio actress Elaine Brand (Lurene Tuttle) has to convince the sister of the bride to stand as maid of honour despite her disapproval of the groom-to-be . . . before she learns the bride is dead. Margaret: Mary Lansing. The Whistler: Bill Forman. Announcer: Marvin Miller. Writer: Brian Thorn. Sound: Bernard Surrey, Gene Twombly.

THE ALDRICH FAMILY: HENRY THE SHORTSTOP (NBC, 1949)---Alice (Katherine Raht) and Sam (House Jameson) think the good news is Henry (Ezra Stone) bagging the highest grade on the history exam, but Henry has other ideas about what makes good news. Homer: Jackie Kelk. Kathleen: Jean Gillespie. Agnes: Judith Abbott. Willie: Norman Tokar. Mr. Bradley: Bernard Lenrow. Writers: Norman Tokar, Ed Jurist. Sound: Bill Brinkmeyer.


1904---Sir John Gielgud (actor: Sherlock Holmes, Theater Guild On the Air), London.
1913---John Howard (actor: Lux Radio Theater, Hollywood Hotel), Cleveland.
1914---John Hubbard (actor: The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show), East Chicago.
1917---Valerie Hobson (actress/contestant: One Minute Please), Larne, Ireland.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Risky, Expensive, Surprising: The Way It Was, 13 April

Desperate to pay for a risky but expensive surgery that might prevent his wife from a bedridden life, thirtysomething locksmith Joe Harrison (Joseph Julian)---who can't get a loan, either from institutions or from a wealthy boyhood friend---stumbles into a surprising way to raise it.

Mary Harrison: Elaine Kemp. The Traveler: Maurice Tarplin. Additional cast: Palmer Ward, Kenny Lynch, Bill Smith. Announcer: Carl Caruso. Writers: Robert Arthur, David Kogan. Sound: Jack Amerine, Jim Goode, Ron Harper.


1945: THE DEATH OF A PRESIDENT, CONTINUED---Radio accompanies a country stricken by the death of its President yet reminds it of further advances toward triumph in war.

"THE TRAIN HAS JUST ARRIVED . . . "---The train carrying President Roosevelt's coffin arrives in Washington after a baleful journey from Warm Springs, and there forms a procession to bring him to the White House.

"THE TRIUMPH THAT WILL BE DEDICATED . . . " (NBC)---The network's continuing coverage of the death of FDR includes a Senate Republican pledge (there were forty Republican Senators at the time) to join the rally behind newly-sworn President Truman and news of Vienna falling to Soviet troops as American Ninth Army troops advance as close as fifteen miles from Berlin.

"THE CONGREGATION BEARS JUST ABOUT EVERY KIND OF AMERICAN . . . "---A report from memorial services around the United States begins with a quiet, almost unassuming description of a service in Chicago.


MR. KEEN, TRACER OF LOST PERSONS: THE CASE OF THE LEAPING DOG (CBS, 1944)---It's an otherwise friendly Belgian shepherd named Tony, whose elderly owners may have gone from vacationing to missing, and whose hopping up and down outside the ground-floor office window leads Keen (Bennett Kilpack) and Clancy (Jim Kelly) to an apartment complex across the street---and to two gamblers who think the two investigators' interest in Tony equals snooping around their doings. Miss Ellis: Florence Malone. Announcer: Larry Elliott. Writers: Barbara Bates, Lawrence Klee, Robert Shaw, Charles Gussman, Stedman Coles, David Davidson.

THE JUDY CANOVA SHOW: TRADING IN THE OLD CAR (NBC, 1946)---Bent on going back home for the spring, Judy (Canova) first has to unload the old heap that'll barely make it out of California. Aunt Aggie: Ruth Perrott. Geranium: Ruby Dandridge. Pedro: Mel Blanc. Brenda: Sharon Douglas. Benchley: Joseph Kearns. Announcer: Howard Petrie. Music: Charles Dant and His Orchestra, the Sports Men. Writers: Fred Fox, Henry Hoople.


1887---Christian Rub (actor: Lux Radio Theater), Austria.
1899---Larry Keating (actor: Murder Will Out; announcer: Scramby Amby; This Is Your FBI), St. Paul, Minnesota.
1906---Bud Freeman (as Lawrence Freeman; jazz saxophonist: Camel Caravan, Fats Waller Jam School, Doctor Jazz), Chicago.
1919---Howard Keel (actor: Lux Radio Theater), Gillespie, Illinois.
1923---Don Adams (comedian: Kraft Music Hall), New York City.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Next Half-Hour Report: The Way It Was, 12 April

Almost five decades later, a television series, Early Edition, will center around a disillusioned young man who receives the following day's daily newspaper and finds himself trying to change the coming news and the lives it might destroy.

That series may well have been inspired by this installment, in which an easygoing disc jockey (Ernest Chappell, who also narrates) receives an unexpected visitor who reads the news on the air, with only one problem---the events described are half an hour from actually happening.

Intruder: Jack LaSculi (an actual disc jockey and commentator). Additional cast: Connie Linton, Merrillee Joel, Ed Lattimer. Writer/director: Wyllis Cooper.


1924: PASSING THE TESTS---After two days' testing, Chicago's Sears, Roebuck & Company launches their new radio station officially, assigning it call letters that stand acronymously for "World's Largest Store."

As I remember, the call letters WLS were not definitely selected until that afternoon (of April 12th). Much consideration had been given to other call letters, among them, WBBX, WJR and WES.

---George C. Biggar, WLS farm/market director and eventual program director.

Launching WLS officially at 6 p.m. Central Time: stage/screen legend Ethel Barrymore . . . whose attack of mike fright caused her to launch the station on-the-air rather unforgettably: Turn the damned thing off!

1945: THE DEATH OF A PRESIDENT---His thinning, weakened appearance has startled some of those who've seen him in person, as Congress did upon his return from the Yalta conference two months earlier. At his retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia, preparing for an anticipated appearance at the founding conference of what will be the United Nations, the 32nd President of the United States, who has made old-time radio his own via his Fireside Chat series and other appearances, dies of a cerebral hemorrhage after complaining of a severe headache while sitting for a portrait.

Franklin D. Roosevelt's death probably hits with such ferocity of grief because---aside from the shock of any President dying in office, never mind one conducting a war of the magnitude and ultimate ramifications of World War II---his presidency coincided with radio's unquestioned height as a primary and rapid mass medium. And radio now brings so stunning a death (such were the times that Roosevelt's health issues and private life were not dissected contemporarily, as will occur in later generations to later Presidents) to the country's homes with shattering immediacy.

The place for analysing Roosevelt's life, work, and legacy is not here. The place for reviewing the manner in which radio accepted, conveyed, and discussed his death and its immediate impacts, and shepherded a nation if not a world through its gravity, is.

A BULLETIN---Breaking into a broadcast to announce the news of Roosevelt's death from a cerebral hemorrhage.

A NEWS SUMMARY (CBS)---CBS World News editor John Daly and correspondent Robert Trout review the doings and undoings surrounding the President's death immediately, including early reaction from around the world and a report of the last legislation Roosevelt was known to have signed as President.

A REPORT FROM WARM SPRINGS (CBS)---Don Fisher delivers a gentle report from Warm Springs itself, including reaction to Roosevelt's death from around the small region he made his second home.

THE ORDER OF SUCCESSION (CBS)---From Washington, Bill Henry delivers a formal introduction of newly-sworn Harry S. Truman and a discourse on the constitutional order of succession.

A CRITIC EMPATHISES (MUTUAL)---A frequent, often unapologetic critic of Roosevelt's New Deal delivers a brief, sober, but implicitly empathetic report: Fulton Lewis, Jr.

"MR. ROOSEVELT PILOTED THE NATION TO WITHIN SIGHT OF VICTORY" (BLUE NETWORK)---The Blue Network, not quite yet known entirely as ABC (it was spun off from NBC following a Federal Trade Commission round a few years earlier), with continuing coverage of the President's death.

"THE GREATEST CASUALTY" (WNYC)---New York's usually ebullient Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia sounds anything but, when he discusses Roosevelt's death.


THE JELL-O PROGRAM STARRING JACK BENNY: EASTER SHOW (NBC, 1938)---Of Easter parades, squeaky shoes, funny suits, mixed-up musicians, sneeze-shrunk coats, Fred Allen's hash, Easter doggerel, and the Easter circus. Additional cast: Mary Livingstone, Don Wilson. Music: Phil Harris and His Orchestra, Kenny Baker. Writers: Nat Perrin, Milt Josefsberg, John Tackaberry.

THE GREAT GILDERSLEEVE: EASTER RABBITS (NBC, 1943)---On the day before Easter, Gildersleeve's (Harold Peary) victory garden pondering is interrupted by the whiff of Easter cake frosting (and his demand to lick the beaters of the frosting), an unexpected crateful of rabbits, and a chicken fricasee dinner with Leila (Shirley Mitchell)---not to mention a special Easter message from his sponsor's chieftain. Birdie: Lillian Randolph. Marjorie: Lurene Tuttle. Leroy: Walter Tetley. Peavey: Richard LeGrand. Writers: John Whedon, Sam Moore.

OUR MISS BROOKS: DYEING EASTER EGGS (CBS, 1950)---It's to dye for when Stretch (Leonard Stern) unwittingly refills Mrs. Davis's (Jane Morgan) suddenly busy powdered soap dispenser with Walter (Richard Crenna)'s newly-invented, delayed-action, powdered Easter egg colouring---but the mishap's an unexpected blessing for at least one victim. Connie: Eve Arden. Harriet: Gloria McMillan. Stretch: Leonard Smith. Conklin: Gale Gordon. Boynton: Jeff Chandler. Writer: Al Lewis.


THE LIFE OF RILEY: MARRIAGE CAN BE BEAUTIFUL (NBC, 1947)---A newspaper article cautioning against taking marriage for granted catches Peg's (Paula Winslowe) eye and Riley's (William Bendix) cynicism ("I'm particular about the kind of trash that goes in my head")---until it begins getting into his head after Peg questions his attentiveness following an evening out. Junior: Scotty Beckett. Babs: Sharon Douglas. Waldo: Dink Trout. Writers: Alan Lipscott, Robert Sloane.


1899---Boake Carter (as Ephraim Boake Carter; news commentator), Baku, Russia.
1902---John White (singer/actor: Death Valley Days), unknown.
1904---Lily Pons (as Alice Josephine Pons; singer: The Voice of Firestone, The Bell Telephone Hour), Draguigan, France.
1912---Herbert B. Mills (singer, The Mills Brothers: The Fleischmann Hour, The Mills Brothers Show, Piqua, Ohio.
1914---Ken Williams (actor: David Harum), Canada.
1918---Helen Forrest (as Helen Fogel; singer: Artie Shaw and His Orchestra, Benny Goodman and His Orchestra, Harry James and His Orchestra), Atlantic City, New Jersey.
1923---Ann Miller (as Lucille Ann Collier; dancer/actress, Forecast, Hollywood Hotel), Chireno, Texas.
1926---Jane Withers (actress: Lux Radio Theater), Atlanta.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"The Netwoik's Just Doin' It fa Prestige": The Way It Was, 11 April

And thus is an old-time radio audience invited for the first time to audition a rather informal evening . . . at a rather cozily crumbling New York dive, whose ill-tempered (and terminally unseen) owner is feeling as kvetchy as an Irish barkeep can feel, when his shiftless manager, Archie (Ed Gardner) can't seem to find one Irish tenor in the whole of New York to enhance its first known radio appearance.

Additional Cast: Gertrude Niessen, F. Chase Taylor (Col. Stoopnagle), Larry Adler. Music: Don Kirby and His Orchestra. Writers: Ed Gardner, Abe Burrows. Announcer (believe it . . . or not): Mel Allen. (Yes, children---that Mel Allen.)


1921: IN THIS CORNER . . .---Already the first old-time radio station known to have aired a commercial broadcast (the returns of the 1920 presidential elections), Pittsburgh's KDKA jumps into another ring first---a boxing ring: the station broadcasts live the bout between Johnny Ray and Johnny Dundee.

Dundee and Ray fight to a draw on this night and in a rematch in mid-May, also held in Pittsburgh. Dundee, will stop George (KO) Chaney later the same year to win the world junior lightweight title.

Come summer, KDKA will also have the real answer to "Who's on first": the station will become the first ever to broadcast a live major league baseball game.


MY FRIEND IRMA: A DINNER PARTY FOR JANE'S BOSS (SERIES PREMIERE; CBS, 1947)---Airheaded receptionist Irma Peterson (Marie Wilson) and sensible secretary Jane Stacy (Cathy Wilson) become accidental roommates, following a sidewalk collision---but that may be nothing compared to the collision Jane fears after Irma invites her boss and would-be boyfriend (Leif Erickson) to a dinner party . . . in their two-room flat. Al: John Brown. Mrs. O'Reilly: Jane Morgan. Professor Kropotkin: Hans Conreid. Writers: Stanley Adams, Parke Levy, Roland MacLane.

THE FRED ALLEN SHOW ONE LONG PAN ANSWERS BASIL RATHBONE (CBS, 1948)---After he mulcts thoughts and asides on exaggeration in advertising from the Allen's Alley demimonde, Fred (Allen) answers Basil Rathbone's (himself) call for new mystery scripts---with a new yarn for One Long Pan. With Portland Hoffa. Senator Claghorn: Kenny Delmar. Titus: Parker Fennelly. Mrs. Nussbaum: Minerva Pious. Ajax Cassidy: Peter Donald. Music: Al Goodman and His Orchestra, the Five DeMarco Sisters. Writers: Fred Allen, Nat Hiken, Bob Weiskopf.


1893---Lou Holtz (comedian: The Fleischmann Hour, Kraft Music Hall), San Francisco.
1904---Paul McGrath (host: The Inner Sanctum Mysteries; actor: My Son Jeep), Chicago.
1907---Paul Douglas (actor: Meyer the Buyer), Philadelphia.
1909---Sylvia Picker (actress: Box 13), New York City.
1912---John Larkin (actor: Perry Mason, Dimension X, Ford Theater), Oakland.
1921---Toni Darnay (actress: Just Plain Bill, The Strange Romance of Evelyn Winters, Nona from Nowhere), Chicago.

Friday, April 10, 2009

"I Can't Wait to Be Your Guest Star This Week": The Way It Was, 10 April

After their usual insane song-and-clowning, Dino and the Stooge answer a telegram from the film and Life of Riley star, visiting him at the studio where he takes a break from rehearsing his own hit radio show. As you might imagine, the hits just keep on coming . . .

Additional cast: Flo McMichael, Michael Roy. Music: Dick Stabile and His Orchestra, the Martingales. Writers: Norman Lear (yes, children---that Norman Lear), Ed Simmons.


NIGHT BEAT: I KNOW YOUR SECRET (NBC, 1950)---What begins with stopping a suicidal young woman (Joan Banks) from drowning in the Chicago River turns into a troubling travel for Stone (Frank Lovejoy), when he discovers she isn't the only one someone's driving out of an apartment building for a slightly jarring reason. Additional cast: Colleen Collins, Jeff Corey, Betty Lou Gerson, Martha Wentworth, Will Wright. Writer: Joel Hunt.

GUNSMOKE: GREATER LOVE (CBS, 1954)---Disillusioned Doc (Howard McNear), pondering a move to San Francisco, is taken hostage by a stagecoach robber whose accomplice is already dead. Dillon: William Conrad. Chester: Parley Baer. Miss Kitty: Georgia Ellis. Additional cast: Frank Churchill, John Dehner, George McCluskey, Ralph Moody. Writer: John Meston.


1868---George Arliss (actor: Lux Radio Theater), London.
1885---Sigmund Spaeth (commentator: True Detective, Fun in Print), Philadelphia.
1902---Mark Warnow (conductor: We, the People, Your Hit Parade), Monastricht, Russia.
1906---Lili Darvas (actress: We Love and Learn), Budapest.
1910---Peg LaCentra (singer/actress: The Court of Human Relations, For Men Only, Gulden Melodies), Boston.
1915---Harry Morgan (as Harry Bratsburg; actor: Mystery in the Air), Detroit.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Follow: The Way It Was, 9 April

Adapted from the Ralph Bates short story, in which three men won't let anyone obstruct their claim to a lost treasure . . . not even the right hand man (Paul Duval) of a blind racketeer (Herbert Butterfield).

Additional cast: Harry Bartell, Jeff Corey, Barney Phillips, Julius Mathews. Writers: Les Crutchfield, John Dunkel.


1897: A FOUNDING FATHER---He is born in Norwich, England, but it will be in New York where he leaves his radio legacy: he will become an engineer at WOR who is given announcing chores as well, until host Bernarr MacFadden---publisher and "physical culturist," who has created the first known wake-up radio show in New York---calls in ill one day in 1925 and, apparently, gives the station a convenient reason to sever ties with MacFadden's difficult enough self ("few people in any field of endeavor," the historian Elizabeth McLeod will write, "were able to get get along with MacFadden for any length of time, it would seem").

Thus he takes over the show and turns it into his own version of the original exercise (in part, the show is kind of the Jack La Lanne Show of the old-time radio generation), music, and patter program. His style is modesty, enthusiasm, and morning pleasantry, including the first known announcements of school closings due to inclement or dangerous weather in the New York metropolitan area.

But he also hosts an afternoon exercise that moves to become his own morning lead-in by the 1940s, and it's the afternoon show's title that soon enough applies to the entire morning exercise. And he will continue hosting the show (the exercise segments are long gone) until his retirement in 1959, when his almost-namesake son---a production engineer who also hosts a show, Music From Studio X---takes over the program and continues it until 1991.

He is John B. Gambling, and his transgenerational creation (his son John A. will ride it to induction into the Radio Hall of Fame and his grandson John R. would be fated with a temporary exile when WOR, at long enough last, will decide to dump its morning mainstay in 2000) is Rambling With Gambling.


THE PEPSODENT SHOW STARRING BOB HOPE: BRENDA AND COBINA (NBC, 1946)---Live from the Pasadena Community Playhouse, Brenda and Cobina (actually Blanche Stewart and Elvia Allman) want to act in Bob (Hope)'s new play---provided he can convince a cantankerous playhouse producer (Jerry Colonna) to put it on in the first place. Additional cast: Frances Langford, Trudy Erwin. Music: Skinnay Ennis and His Orchestra.


1899---Efrem Zimbalist, Sr. (violinist: The Magic Key, Lux Radio Theater), Rostov-on-Don, Russia.
1892---Mary Pickford (actress/hostess: Mary Pickford Dramas, Parties at Pickfair), Toronto, Ontario.
1898---Paul Robeson (singer/actor: The Pursuit of Happiness), Princeton, New Jersey.
1900---Allen Jenkins (actor: Old Gold Comedy Theater, Hollywood Hotel, Lux Radio Theater), New York City.
1903---Ward Bond (actor: Screen Director's Playhouse), Denver.
1906---Antal Dorati (conductor: The CBS Symphony Orchestra), Budapest.
1911---Jim Bannon (announcer/narrator: The Joe Penner Show, The Eddie Bracken Show), Kansas City.
1920---Art Van Damme (jazz accordionist: The Dave Garroway Show), Norway, Michigan.
1921---Frankie Thomas (actor: Tom Corbett, Space Cadet), New York City.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

"You Gotta Be More Careful, Gabe": The Way It Was, 8 April

---Back in New York after a previous week's broadcast from Hollywood, a stirring performance of scenes from the revival of Green Pastures---with William Marshall as God, Ossie Davis as Gabriel, and Alanzo Bosan as Noah and Abraham---highlights a show that also features musical comedy from Rudy Vallee and Jimmy Durante (when they're not trying to bag dates with women in the eighth row, that is), comedy comedy from Fred Allen and Portland Hoffa, and a satire of the vintage radio soap John's Other Wife . . . prodded by the special appearance (you'll have to listen to discover precisely why) of legendary New York Herald-Tribune radio/television critic John Crosby. (His Out of the Blue, a collection of choice radio/television/miscellaneous criticism, is a treat if you hunt it down in your favourite used book stores.)

Additional guests: Vivian Blaine, Jane Morgan, and a second special presentation from scholar/diplomat/Nobel laureate Ralph Bunche. Music: Meredith Willson, the Big Show Orchestra and Chorus. Writers: Goodman Ace, Fred Allen, Selma Diamond, George Foster, Mort Greene, Frank Wilson.


2004: FAREWELL, TREVOR, HELEN, SY, NAT, VIC, AND EMILIO---Trevor Traffic, Sy Kology, Mr. Nat, Victor Verse, Helen Copter, and Emilio Percolator die at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, all of multiple myeloma---because they were all the old-time radio brainchildren of comedian/disc jockey Gene Klavan, whose partnership with Dee Finch from 1952-1968 was, all things considered, the edgier cousin to New England's Bob & Ray. Even if neither Bob nor Ray could have been called the straight man that Finch was content to remain.

Not bad at all for a fellow who came from Baltimore/Washington to New York on a television invitation, allowed a friend to cut him off at the proverbial pass, and took said friend up on the news that Rayburn & Finch, WNEW's popular morning team, were splitting up after five years because Gene Rayburn was jumping to NBC.

[I]f I died up here on TV, I was really dead; on the other hand, if I died on New York radio, nobody'd be the wiser.

---Gene Klavan, to the New York Times, in a 1971 interview . . . three years after Dee Finch decided to retire.

Klavan stayed solo on WNEW after his partner's retirement. (Finch died in 1983.) If you care to consider him such, call him New York's first genuine shock jock, his exuberant ad-libs and zingers a contrast to the station's customary servings of American pop music standards.

Like Fred Allen and Henry Morgan before him, Klavan loved to zap his sponsors now and again, though perhaps he'd learned a lesson from those two and, while sometimes stunning them, never veered over the cliff entirely. He also loved to mix up WNEW's music style---he was likely to follow a Broadway musical selection with art-rockers 10cc, which must have seemed anathematic to pop traditionalist William B. Williams, who followed his solo show for a time.

The Times said in 1971 that, at one point, an estimated third of WNEW's earnings tied directly to Klavan & Finch or to Klavan in the Morning, as the comedian called his solo program until leaving WNEW in 1977.

Klavan's style was popular enough in New York that when he once threatened to can Trevor Traffic, WNEW was smothered with calls of protest.

Klavan kept it up until 1980, when he left radio entirely following three years on WOR. You may remember him as an American Movie Classics host; he also wrote a column for Newsday and offered comic commentaries now and then on New York WCBS-TV.

I would like to speak to you briefly, if I may, about your financial situation. I have several ways for you to economise, and to save your money. One of these ways is for you to send me all of your available cash and let me invest it for you. This way, at least if I make the mistake, you can't blame yourself.

---Gene Klavan, from a 5 August 1975 program . . . just before playing a commercial for the Beneficial Finance Company.

Keep away from your friends, because your enemies are gonna find you anyhow.

---Klavan, from the same show, giving a horoscope reading as Helen Copter.

Klavan has also bequeathed something to the world of crime fiction: one of his three sons. Andrew Klavan, a one-time journalist, has become a best-selling crime novelist and screenwriter. His best-sellers include a little tome called True Crime, with which you may be familiar as the novel that inspired the Clint Eastwood film of the same name.


FAMILY THEATER: TOLEDO SMITH (MUTUAL, 1948)---Siblings from a broken home reunite, but the elder (Dan Duryea) lures the reluctant younger (Skip Homeier) into his shady dealing. Norma: Ann Tobin. Mabel: Rita Lynn. Judge: Cy Kendall. Host: Shirley Temple. Writers: Mark Carney, Lewis Reed.

MY FAVOURITE HUSBAND: DEMAND YOUR RIGHTS (CBS, 1949)---Liz (Lucille Ball) has to light a fire under George (Richard Denning) to get him out from under his morning paper for a morning kiss . . . but she flinches when George tries firing her up to be more assertive whether cancelling maid Katie's Saturday off, reproaching the milkman for a prematurely sour bottle of cream, or demanding money back on a defective gumball machine. Katie: Ruth Perrot. Officer: Possibly Frank Nelson. Writers: Bob Carroll, Jr., Madelyn Pugh, Jess Oppenheimer.


1882---Lulu McConnell (panelist: It Pays To Be Ignorant), Kansas City.
1887---Walter Connolly (actor: Charlie Chan), Cincinnati.
1896---Yip Harburg (as Isidore Hochburg; lyricist: Columbia Presents Corwin), New York City.
1900---Bert (The Mad Russian) Gordon (comedian: The Abbott & Costello Show, Texaco Star Theater with Fred Allen, Duffy's Tavern), New York City.
1905---Ilka Chase (panelist/hostess: Leave It to the Girls, Luncheon at the Waldorf), New York City.
1915---Fred Flowerday (director: The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, Challenge of the Yukon), unknown.
1919---Virginia O'Brien (actress: Blue Ribbon Town), Los Angeles.
1930---Dorothy Tutin (actress: Before the Party), London.
1941---Peggy Lennon (singer, with the Lennon Sisters: Music on Deck, Guest Star), Los Angeles.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

For Mrs. McGee: The Way It Was, 7 April

It's even money which is worse---McGee (Jim Jordan) having the problem in the first place, or Molly (Marian Jordan) having to listen to just about anyone's suggestions for remedies. Wimpole: Bill Thompson. Doc: Arthur Q. Bryan. Additional cast: Mary Lee Hansen. Writers: Phil Leslie, Ralph Goodman.


1961: AU REVOIR, MRS. McGEE---The coal miner's daughter whose career as her husband's comedic companion reputedly began on a bet with her brother-in-law goes to her reward too soon for island earth today---Marian Jordan, who once fought a battle against alcoholism that would be known barely if at all until after her death---finally loses a valiant fight against cancer at age 61.

Still charming listeners as half an American old-time radio (and otherwise) institution---the patiently loving wife of foible-prone Fibber McGee---she played her patient, honey-natured alter ego from 1935 practically until her death. Long a weekly half-hour comic exercise, Fibber McGee & Molly, changed in 1953 to a daily fifteen-minute, semi-serial comedy sans studio audience and orchestral interludes, often recorded in one or two days to enable her proper rest. (This, ironically, was well enough after a small preponderance of classic fifteen-minute serial comedies---Amos 'n' Andy, Easy Aces, Vic & Sade, Lum & Abner---tried converting to half-hour weeklies, only Amos 'n' Andy showing staying power if not quite its former genius in the new format.)

Only when her health turned irrevocably for the worse did the McGees---by then an old-time radio institution who could have gone on interminably (they were believed on the threshold of signing a new three-year NBC deal when her illness worsened in 1959, by which time they were down to five-minute segments on NBC's legendary weekend block Monitor)---leave entirely the medium through which they amused and charmed a country for twenty-four years.

I said it for her husband, and I will repeat it for her, with no apologies:

Small town without being small or narrowly humoured. A half-dreaming, half-scheming, never malicious husband, brought firmly but gently to earth by a tartly loving wife and a host of neighbours who rattled but never really rolled him. Resplendent enough in the old virtues and verities without collapsing in preachiness or under saccharine or sap, defying and transcending time.

And funnier than hell.


LUX RADIO THEATER: STAND-IN (CBS, 1941)---Adapted from the 1937 film farce, based on the Clarence Budington Kelland novel, about efficiency expert Atterbury Dodd (Walter Baxter, in the Leslie Howard film role), who discovers filmmaking isn't exactly easy to compress into his usual mathematical rigidity. Lester Plum (film role by Joan Blondell): Joan Bennett. Douglas Quintain (film role by Humphrey Bogart): Hans Conreid. Adapted from a screenplay by Gene Towne and C. Graham Baker.

THE HALLS OF IVY: TODDY PLAYS HOOKEY (NBC, 1950)---All Dr. Hall (Ronald Colman) wants is one day's loafing on a beautiful day, and all he and Victoria (Bonita Hume Colman) seem to get is several reasons why they can't sneak out either their front or rear doors. Eddie: Gil Stratton, Jr. Professor Quincanon: Frank Martin. Writers: Don Quinn, Walter Brown Newman.

BOB & RAY PRESENT THE CBS RADIO NETWORK: CANDY, DEBATE, AND HACKSAW (DON'T TELL ME, LET ME GUESS, 1960)---Wally Ballou reports from the Lucy Luscious Candy Factory in Woonsocket, Rhode Island; Lawrence Fechtenberger, Interstellar Officer Candidate debates his rival at the Interstellar Space Academy; and, Webley Webster and his players act a segment from The Hacksaw Manual. Writers (it is alleged): Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding.


1893---Irene Castle (panelist: Twenty Questions), New Rochelle, New York.
1895---Frank Wheeler (comedian: The Frank Sinatra Show, The New Old Gold Show), Paterson, New Jersey.
1897---Walter Winchell (host: Lucky Strike Dance Hour; commentator, various programs but especially Jergen's Journal), New York City.
1899---Robert Casaseus (pianist: The Bell Telephone Hour), Paris.
1901---Gavin Gordon (actor: Brenthouse), Chicora, Mississippi.
1908---Percy Faith (conductor: The Carnation Contented Hour, The Pause That Refreshes On the Air), Toronto, Ontario.
1915---Stanley Adams (writer: My Friend Irma, The Mel Blanc Show), New York City.
1916---Anthony Caruso (actor: This Is Your FBI), Frankfort, Indiana.
1918---Peanuts Hucko (as Michael Andrew Hucko; clarinetist: Swing Shift, Doctor Jazz), Syracuse, New York.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Meow, Baby: The Way It Was, 6 April

Whether this will turn up in the top ten of old-time radio's all-time greatest horror episodes depends upon a listener's point of view, but there will be no question as to whether this helps make the bones of one of the art's classic writers, with no little help from one of horror's most memorable actors.

It involves a troubled marriage going from bad to worse, when the husband (Boris Karloff, in the third of five consecutive anniversary appearances from the show's Chicago base) bars his wife's (Betty Winkler) friends from their home and comes to regret calling her a heartless cat . . . after the lady undergoes a peculiarly literal transformation.

Writer: Arch Oboler.


1931: WHO'S THAT LITTLE CHATTERBOX?---Already a local hit on Chicago's WGN, cartoonist Harold Gray's spunky ten-year-old, carrot-topped orphan, taken in with her dog by a rich industrialist, becomes old-time radio's first children's afternoon network serial today, beginning a decade-plus life on NBC. Who can that be? It's Little Orphan Annie.

With one interruption---a 1934-35 contract dispute, during which Bobbie Dean stands in for her for a short while---Shirley Bell will play Little Orphan Annie for a decade, until she's succeeded by Janice Gilbert in 1940. (A West Coast version, using the same scripts as the Chicago-based original, will run from 1931-33 with Floy Hughes in the title role.) And, in due course, as Shirley Bell Cole, she will write a memoir, Acting Her Age: My Ten Years as a Ten Year Old (2005), enjoying a long late life making personal appearances to talk about her Little Orphan Annie career.

The original cast also includes Henry Saxe as Daddy Warbucks, Allan Baruck as Joe Corntassle (he was the shy boy down the road with a ferocious crush on Annie), Jerry O'Mera as Mr. Silo, Henrietta Tedro as Mrs. Silo, Olan Soule as Aha, the Chinese cook, the inadvertently appropriately named Brad Barker as the voice of Sandy, the dog, and Pierre Andre (a.k.a. Uncle Andy) as the show's announcer. The writers include Roland Martini, Ferrin N. Fraser, Day Keene, and Wally Norman.

Sponsored by Ovaltine, the chocolate milk mix whose promotional premiums become almost as famous as the show itself, Little Orphan Annie stays on NBC through 19 January 1940, with Mutual airing it concurrently in 1937-38. With Janice Gilbert as Annie, the show will be taken full by Mutual (sponsored by Quaker Puffed Wheat Sparkies) from 22 January 1940-26 April 1942.

The little red adventuress's radio life won't quite end when her serial does, however. Not so far as New York mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia will be concerned. During a 1945 newspaper strike, he'll sit down in front of a microphone on city-owned WNYC, one fine Sunday morning, and read the comics to children in the New York metropolitan area . . . including Little Orphan Annie.


SUSPENSE: FIRE BURN, AND CAULDRON BUBBLE (CBS, 1943)---Opening night of Macbeth in Drury Lane is compromised for a retired, remarried actress who just wants to enjoy the evening on her first wedding anniversary: she's haunted by a threat against her remarriage, purportedly from her late first husband, prompting her new husband to express alarm to the show's producer/star (Paul Lukas), who knew the dead actor. Additional cast: Unknown. Writer: John Dickson Carr.

DUFFY'S TAVERN: ARCHIE AND FINNEGAN DOUBLE DATE (NBC, 1949)---After Archie (Ed Gardner) wins the coin flip with Eddie (Eddie Cantor) for who gets the night off after the bar's spring cleaning, he lands a prize date---after he agrees to bring a friend for the friend she won't leave behind. Miss Duffy: Hazel Shermet. Eddie: Eddie Green. Finnegan: Charles Cantor. Writers: Ed Gardner, Bob Schiller, Larry Rhine.


1884---Walter Huston (as Walter Houghston; actor: Cavalcade of America, Theater Guild On the Air), Toronto, Ontario.
1892---Lowell Thomas (news commentator: Lowell Thomas and the News), Woodington, Ohio.
1895---Dudley Nichols (writer: Cavalcade of America, Lux Radio Theater), Wapakoneta, Ohio.
1924---Mimi Benzel (singer: The Railroad Hour, The Raleigh-Kool Program, Best of All), Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Whatfore Wert Thou Thinking, Romeo? The Way It Was, 5 April

A now-struggling Shakespearean actor (Ernest Chappell, who narrates as well) makes Romeo his stage specialty and actresses who play Juliet (Margaret Draper, Abby Lewis, Ann Seymour) his romantic specialty . . . until his defiance of the tragic storyline haunts him well enough.

Shakespeare: James Monk. Writer/director: Wyllis Cooper.


1922: A PAIR ON THE AIR---Two radio stations come on line and on the air today.

Ten years after New Mexico becomes a state, the radio station of New Mexico College of Agriculture (now New Mexico State University) in La Crueces receives its commercial radio license and the call letters KOB, launching with news from the El Paso Times and El Paso Herald-Post, stock reports from the U.S. Bureau of Markets, and music from El Paso's Tri-State Phonograph Company.

KOB will be sold to the Albuquerque Journal in 1931 with the final La Cruces-based broadcast 24 April 1932. By 1937 it will become New Mexico's first NBC affiliate, the fifth anniversary of which will be commemorated with a live broadcast featuring announcer Don Wilson (The Jell-O Program with Jack Benny) and jazz singer Martha Tilton (known best, perhaps, for her work with Benny Goodman).

The station will change owners a few more times before Citadel buys it in the 1990s and settles it as news and talk KKOB.

And Illinois's first radio station, WDZ, launches from its new home in Decatur, after having been born in Tuscola. By the 21st Century, it will feature an urban format of R and B/old school targeted toward its preponderantly but not exclusively black audience.


THE RALEIGH-KOOL PROGRAM: ON BROADWAY (NBC, 1937)---Baron von Munchausen (Jack Pearl) decides to stroll a Broadway to which he hasn't been in several years. Additional cast: Charlie Cliff Hall, Mae Questel. Music: Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra, Edythe Wright, Morton Bowe. Writers: Unknown.

RICHARD DIAMOND, PRIVATE DETECTIVE: WILLIAM LOGAN AND THE IVORY STORE (NBC, 1950)---After cleaning out his desk, Diamond (Dick Powell) gets a visit from an anxious man who hands him a package to hide---right before dropping dead in the office, and shortly before another visitor has ideas about plugging the package's possessor before jumping out the office window as the law arrives. Helen: Virginia Gregg. Levinson: Ed Begley. Otis: Wilms Herbert.


1900---Spencer Tracy (actor: Lux Radio Theater, Good News of 1938), Milwaukee.
1901---Melvyn Douglas (as Melvyn Edouard Hesselberg; actor: Lux Radio Theater), Macon, Georgia.
1908---Bette Davis (as Ruth Elizabeth Davis; actress: Cresta Blanca Hollywood Players, Prudential Family Hour of Stars), Lowell, Massachussetts.
1911---Gordon Jones (actor: Meet Mr. McNutley), Alden, Iowa.
1912---John Le Mesurier (actor: Dad's Army), Bedford, U.K.
1916---Gregory Peck (actor: Doctor Fights, Sealtest Variety Hour), La Jolla, California.
1917---Robert Bloch (writer: Stay Tuned for Terror), Chicago.
1922---Gale Storm (as Josephine Cottle; actress: My Little Margie), Bloomington, Texas.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

A Tale of Two Husbands: The Way It Was, 4 April

Roused from a lavish bath run by her romantic second husband, a remarried former actress (Agnes Moorehead) is stunned when news photographers and reporters barge into her home with the news that she has a winning sweepstakes ticket---bought in her name by her late first husband.

Steven Archer: Joseph Kearns. Writer/editor/director: William Spear.


LUM & ABNER: LUM FALLS IN LOVE WITH ZENORA (CBS, 1935)---Abner (Norris Goff) and Squire (also Goff) get a mild surprise when Lum (Chester Lauck) suddenly wants to travel more with the circus after all . . . thanks to a rather comely bareback rider who's just joined the show. Also Grandpappy Spears: Chester Lauck. Also Dick Huddleston: Norris Goff. Writers: Chester Lauck and Norris Goff.

THE JELL-O PROGRAM STARRING JACK BENNY: BACK FROM NEW YORK (NBC, 1937)---Following a jaunt to New York, and an anticlimax to his feud with Fred Allen, Jack (Benny) marvels over spring in Los Angeles, Mary (Livingstone) brags about her garden and her technique for growing mashed potatoes, Don (Wilson) mangles his ranch into a Jell-O spot, Phil (Harris) snorts at the whole gardening idea . . . and Jack's the only one who doesn't think Allen planted him in New York when Phil lets him in on a little secret, until he thinks the bawdy bandleader's stirring up trouble. Music: Phil Harris and His Orchestra, Kenny Baker. Writers: Milt Josefsberg, Nat Perrin, John Tackaberry.

VIC & SADE: RUSH MUST MAKE A CALL (NBC, 1940)---Rush (Bill Idelson) is mildly antsy: he's only going over to study algebra with a girl his buddies think is his big romance---and they're scoping the house hoping to stalk the great lover. Sade: Bernadine Flynn. Vic: Art Van Harvey. Writer: Paul Rhymer.


1889---Dorothy Gordon (moderator: Dorothy Gordon's Youth Forum), Odessa.
1898---Lee Tracy (actor: Martin Kane, Private Detective), Atlanta.
1901---Gay Seabrook (actress: The Joe Penner Show), Seattle.
1902---Bernice Berwin (actress: One Man's Family), San Francisco.
1904---John Brown (comedian/actor: Texaco Star Theater with Fred Allen, The Life of Riley, A Date with Judy, My Friend Irma), Hull, U.K.; Martin Wolfson (actor: Into the Light), New York City.
1906---Bea Benaderet (actress/comedienne: The Burns and Allen Show, The Great Gildersleeve, The Jack Benny Program, A Date with Judy, My Favourite Husband), New York City.
1914---Richard Coogan (actor: Young Doctor Malone, Abie's Irish Rose), Short Hills, New Jersey; Frances Langford (singer/comedienne: Drene Time, The Bickersons, The Frances Langford Show, The Bob Hope Show, Lux Radio Theater), Lakeland, Florida.
1932---Anthony Perkins (actor: Guest Star), New York City.
1938---Susan Luckey (actress: One Man's Family), unknown.

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Marriage? Of Andrew H. Brown? The Way It Was, 3 April

The perennial bachelor (Charles Correll) has come close to the proverbial altar often enough . . . and his talent for eluding it when it comes into sight has gotten him into at least one of old-time radio's more ticklish (and widely heard) legal situations, but it looks as though Walida Green (possibly Madaline Lee) has him ready to say he do at last.

The evidence: a full church rehearsal the night before; an elaborate canopy and carpet from stone sidewalk to church steps set; the ushers seating the guests, who include a few of the groom's past paramours; best man Amos (Freeman Gosden) securing the ring; the Kingfish (also Gosden) agreeing to give away something---the bride; a very nervous Andy receiving instructions from his best man; and, a very curious disclosure from the Kingfish as to the bride's pre-nuptial doings . . .

Then Amos escorts Andy to the altar as the bridal procession begins and the ceremony begins; however, it'll be the end of the ceremony that carries the unexpected bang---but the precise calibre is for you to learn.

Writers: Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll. Announcer: Bill Hay.

(Note: This is one of the few surviving editions of the original fifteen-minute serial comedy-drama to remain completely intact, including opening and closing theme music and Campbell's Soup commercials, and with above-average sound quality.)


THE HINDS HONEY AND ALMOND CREAM PROGRAM WITH GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN: TILL THE COWS COME HOME (CBS, 1940)---Gracie (Allen) is full swing into her presidential racie . . . kvetching about Congress's rules on campaign spending limits ("Three million dollars for a campaign fund---why, they spend more than that to run the government!") . . . and this is the woman who once dropped ten thousand dollars on tips at a convention ("It was a Shriner's convention and I thought they were redcaps") and thinks the cows will tell her everything. Additional cast: Frank Parker, Truman Bradley. Music: Ray Noble Orchestra. Writers: Keith Fowler, Frank Galen, Paul Henning, George Burns.

mr. ace and JANE: THE CIGARETTE SLOGAN (CBS, 1948)---In my office, I'm known as the idea man. Every time Mr. Norris catches me lounging around, he says, "What's the idea?" He doesn't know I do my important thinking when I'm lounging. And (Goodman) Ace finds out the hard way that his clever idea for a cigarette ad campaign---on NO SMOKING signs, no less---was smoked right out from under him by brother-in-law Paul (Leon Janney), who lives by his wits, which is living by half. Jane: Jane Ace. Norris: Eric Dressler. Sally: Florence Robinson. Himself: Ken Roberts (announcer). Writer: Goodman Ace.

THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM: JOURNEY TO THE SURFACE OF THE EARTH (CBS, 1955)---After descending to The Vault for a little spending money (!) for a night on the town, Jack (Benny) invites trusty vault guard Ed (Mel Blanc) to come up and see a bit of home and the surface world---which the skittish watchman probably hasn't seen since the McKinley Administration, proving more than he can handle on a day when Jack has to help Rochester (Eddie Anderson) finish his income tax return and handle Dennis (Day)'s latest suicide threat. Himself: Don Wilson (announcer). Missing Persons Clerk: Frank Nelson. Music: The Sports Men. Writers: George Balzer, Milt Josefsberg, Nat Perrin, John Tackaberry.


1893---Leslie Howard (actor: Leslie Howard Theater, Streamlined Shakespeare), London.
1894---Dooley Wilson (as Arthur Wilson; actor: Theater of Romance, New World A-Coming, Jubilee), Tyler, Texas.
1898---George Jessel (comedian: Town Hall Tonight, Texaco Star Theater, Command Performance, The Fred Allen Show, The Big Show), New York City.
1904---Peter van Steeden (bandleader: Town Hall Tonight, Duffy's Tavern, Mr. District Attorney), Amsterdam.
1906---Iron Eyes Cody (as Esper de Corti; actor: Straight Arrow Pow-Wow), Kaplan, Louisiana.
1919---Miyoshi Umeki (singer/actress, numerous Japanese radio programs), Otaru, Hokiaido.
1921---Jan Sterling (as Jan Sterling Adriance; actress: Screen Director's Playhouse), New York City.
1924---Doris Day (as Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff; singer/actress: Your Hit Parade, The Bob Hope Show), Cincinnati.
1925---Jan Merlin (actor: Tom Corbett, Space Cadet), New York City.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Radio v. Television: The Way It Was, 2 April

The man who would say in due course that he knew why television was called a new medium ("because nothing is well done") engages a debate on the matter, aided and abetted by Jack Haley---whom he spots in a television studio after slipping aboard a radio studio tour in search of a guest for the show in the first place.

First, however, he is compelled to glean thoughts on an egg surplus from the scrambled Allen's Alley demimonde.

With Portland Hoffa. Senator Bloat: Jack Smart. Mrs. Florence: Minerva Pious. Mr. Rappaport: John Brown. Falstaff: Alan Reed. Announcer: Jimmy Wallington. Music: Al Goodman Orchestra, Hi-Lo Jack and the Dame. Writers: Fred Allen, Bob Weiskopf.


TEXACO STAR THEATER WITH FRED ALLEN: ONE LONG PAN SOLVES CHARLIE CHAN'S MURDER (CBS, 1941)---Who says there's such a thing as too much of a good Fred Allen show---especially when disaster sleuth One Long Pan (Allen) is dispatched to solve the murder of no less than the Oriental flatfoot he usually satirises . . . who's been shot outside a Hollywood gathering, no less. First, however, the Texaco News analyses a judge's theory as to the cause of divorce---namely, working wives, nonworking husbands, tin-can meals, and interfering in-laws; and, the Texaco Roundtable discusses the impact of digest reading in an age of speed. With Portland Hoffa; guest: Lionel Stander. The Texaco Workshop Players: Charlie Cantor, Minerva Pious, Alan Reed, Jack Smart. Music: Al Goodman Orchestra, Kenny Baker, Wynn Murray. Writers: Fred Allen, Arnold Auerbach, Herman Wouk.

THE PHIL HARRIS-ALICE FAYE SHOW: REMLEY'S FLYING SAUCER SAGA; OR, LEAN OVER HERE AND BREATHE OUT, CLYDE (NBC, 1950)---In a show done from Palm Springs, it takes a little convincing for vacationing Phil (Harris) to buy it when Remley (Elliott Lewis) swears to have seen flying saucers and their extraterrestrial occupants out on the desert . . . until Remley reveals just whom he said saw the saucers landing, alarming Alice (Faye). Little Alice: Jeanine Roos. Phyllis: Ann Whitfield. Willie: Robert North. Julius: Walter Tetley. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.



1886---Wallace Beery (actor: Shell Chateau, Lux Radio Theater), Kansas City.
1904---Sidney Field (writer/comedian, The Abbott & Costello Show, others), Birmingham, U.K.
1909---Eddy Duchin (pianist/bandleader, numerous radio broadcasts), Cambridge, Massachussetts.
1912---Lou Merrill (actor: Crime Classics, Point Sublime), Canada.
1917---Leon Janney (actor: The Life of Mary Sothern, The Parker Family, mr. ace and JANE), Ogden, Utah; Mel Shavelson (writer: The Bob Hope Show), New York City.
1923---Bobby Jordan (actor: Texaco Star Playhouse, Wheatenaville Sketches), New York City.
1926---Jack Grimes (actor: Archie Andrews, The Aldrich Family), New York City.
1929---Jane Powell (actress/singer: A Date with Judy, The Chase & Sanborn Hour), Portland, Oregon.
1934---Don Hastings (actor: Theater Guild on the Air, Radio City Playhouse), Brooklyn.


1878---Leon Curley (actor: Mary Noble, Backstage Wife, Tom Mix, Ralston Sheriff), New York City.
1908---Buddy Ebsen (actor: Hollywood Hotel), Belleville, Illinois.
1911---Bill Days (singer, with the Sportsmen Quartet: The Jack Benny Program, My Friend Irma), St. Louis.
1913---Fran Carlon (actress: Big Town, The Story of Mary Marlin), Indianapolis.
1914---Sir Alec Guinness (actor: Kaleidoscope), London.
1917---Gertrude Warner (actress: The Shadow, Against the Storm), Hartford, Connecticut.
1920---Jack Webb (actor/producer/director: Dragnet, Pete Kelly's Blues), Santa Monica, California.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

T'ain't Funny, McGee: The Way It Was, 1 April

1) Molly (Marian Jordan, who also plays the Little Girl---she isn't always known as Teeny just yet) can't get a word in edgewise when she tries to tell Fibber what's missing after she drove Mrs. Uppington (Isabel Randolph) home from the market.

Gildersleeve: Harold Peary. Himself: Harlow Wilcox (announcer). Boomer: Bill Thompson. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King's Men. Writers: Don Quinn, Phil Leslie.

2) Mayor La Trivia (Gale Gordon) drops in for tea with the McGees while launching a safe driving campaign---and encouraging McGee to stay home until the campaign ends, rather than risk yet another traffic citation . . . such as the one he's getting, even as they speak, even with his car parked in front of his own house.

The Maid: Gene Carroll. Doc: Arthur Q. Bryan. Mr. Wimpole: Bill Thompson. Himself: Harlow Wilcox (announcer). Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King's Men. Writers: Don Quinn, Phil Leslie. (Note: This recording includes a break-in for election updates in some city's ward elections . . . )

3) If you have to ask, he can probably sell you ice cream in a winter storm.

The Old-Timer: Bill Thompson. Frisbee: Cliff Arquette. Blankentop: Joe Forte. Doc: Arthur Q. Bryan. Mother in Bon Ton Store: Jean Vander Pyl. Boy in Bon Ton Store: Jeff Silver. La Trivia: Gale Gordon. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King's Men. Writers: Phil Leslie, Keith Fowler.


1988: FAREWELL, FIBBER---You can be forgiven if the news strikes you as somebody's idea of a thoroughly tasteless April Fool's joke.

You can be forgiven if you think you hear ol' Doc Gamble, through a spasm of laughter. (You've lived with a blood clot in your brains for all these years, O Man from Outer Taste!).

And, you can be forgiven likewise if you believe his beloved wife and partner, long awaiting his return to her, greets Jim Jordan thus, as he passes to his reward today, at age 91: A long, tight embrace; then, her hands thrust to her hips, her foot tapping gently but firmly, the soft frown creasing the firmly pretty face he missed for his final twenty-seven years on this island earth, and the singular, feminine, Midwestern-cured Irish trill.

'Taiiiin't funny, McGee!

If it seems a little cruel for one of old-time radio's genuine comic greats to be taken from the mortal world on a day set aside particularly for comedy and prankishness, it seems only just that, for whatever this journal is worth, it should yield each year's day of comedy and prankishness to Fibber McGee and Molly alone.

The fact that at least three known April Fool's Day broadcasts will survive for 21st Century listening is, as McGee might say, completely irrevocable.

Small town without being small or narrowly humoured. A half-dreaming, half-scheming, never malicious, husband, brought firmly but gently to earth by a tartly loving wife and a host of neighbours who rattled but never really rolled him. Resplendent enough in the old virtues and verities without collapsing in preachiness or under saccharine or sap, rarely caught with his alliterative pants down, defying and transcending time.

And funnier than hell.