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.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Rough Cut of Justice: The Way It Was, 26 May

The night before final summations to the jury, an accused wife killer asks his attorney to get him a knife---to use against the man he claims committed the crime.

Cast: Unknown. Writer: Arch Oboler.


1993: DEATH OF A PATRIARCH---The man who sought respite from his ordinarily megahigh old-time radio dramas by creating the most popular radio serial ever to originate from San Francisco, in storyline and in broadcast origin, dies today at age 91.

Chronicling the affluent and mostly upright Barbours of San Francisco, Carleton Morse's One Man's Family was born in 1932 at NBC's Sutter Street studios in the Bay City and broke a radio soap pattern, airing weekly until 1950 and then converting to a daily fifteen-minute serial format.

The Louisiana-born Morse was the number one radio dramatist on the West Coast already---his creations included The Witch of Endor, The City of the Dead, Captain Post, Crime Specialist, The Game Called Murder, Dead Men Prowl, and a quartet of programs based on San Francisco police files---when he tired of the murder and mayhem and developed a simple but effective family drama.

After the First World War, there was a beginning of a deterioration of the family, of parent-child relationships. I had been brought up with very strict, conventional home life, and it rather appalled me to see what was going on.

---Carleton Morse, to an interviewer.

Written mostly by Morse, with One Man's Family co-star Michael Raffetto (Paul Barbour) and Harlan Ware contributing later in the show's run, One Man's Family earned the ultimate compliment in due course, when mad-lib comedians Bob & Ray developed a running satire of the soap known as "One Fella's Family," right down to satirising the show's trademark episode introductions ("Book See El See, Chapter Vee Eye Ex Eye Eye Ex Vee").

The man who once bound his One Man's Family scripts into leatherback bindings also created another rather enduring old-time radio drama. Perhaps you've heard of that one, too: I Love a Mystery.


THE JELL-O PROGRAM STARRING JACK BENNY: MR. MORTIMER'S PARTY (NBC, 1940)---He just so happens to be the show's sponsor, he just so happens to be targeted for a party in his honour, and his host (Jack Benny) just so happens to be trying to deny he's worried about his next season's option being picked up. With Mary Livingstone. Rochester: Eddie Anderson. Himself: Don Wilson (announcer). Music: Phil Harris Orchestra, Dennis Day. Writers: Howard Snyder, Hugh Wedlock, Jr., Bill Morrow, Ed Beloin.


1884---Charles Winninger (actor: Uncle Charlie's Tent Show), Athens, Wisconsin.
1886---Al Jolson (as Asa Yoelson; singer/actor: Shell Chateau; Kraft Music Hall), Srednick, Lithuania.
1887---Paul Lukas (actor: The Quick and the Dead; The Big Show), Budapest.
1893---Edward MacHugh (singer: Gospel Singer), Dundee, Scotland.
1895---Norma Talmadge (actress: Thirty Minutes in Hollywood), Jersey City.
1907---John Wayne (as Marion Robert Morrison; actor: Three Sheets to the Wind), Winterset, Iowa.
1908---Robert Morley (actor: U.S. Steel Hour), Semley, U.K.
1911---Ben Alexander (actor: Dragnet; The Great Gildersleeve), Goldfield, Nevada.
1914---Ziggy Elman (as Harry Aaron Finkelman; trumpeter, with Benny Goodman and His Orchestra: Let's Dance; Camel Caravan; Swing School), Philadelphia.
1915---Sam Edwards (actor: One Man's Family; Meet Corliss Archer), Macon, Georgia; Martin Stone (producer: The Author Meets the Critics), unknown.
1918---John Dahl (actor: Cavalcade of America; Voice of the Army), New York City.
1920---Peggy Lee (as Norma Deloris Egstrom; singer: The Jimmy Durante Show; The Chesterfield Supper Club; The Peggy Lee Show), Jamestown, North Dakota.
1931---Chet Norris (actor: Tomorrow Calling; The Cisco Kid; ABC Radio Workshop), Manhattan Beach, New York.

Monday, May 25, 2009

By the Number: The Way It Was, 25 May

Whether this proves at long enough last to be the all-time old-time radio dramatic exercise, for all its endurance and reputation and for all the riveting quality in the lead performance, will prove far more debatable than its fans might suspect.

Easily the most famous of all Suspense plays was on the face of it a straight murder story . . . It horrified the nation when it was first heard(;) the effect was potent despite an actor's gaffe at the most critical moment, when the "killer" missed his cue and for many listeners left the outcome in doubt . . .

Sorry transcended Suspense and was widely perceived to be the most effective radio show ever. In the continuing hyperbolic fallout, Orson Welles proclaimed it the greatest show of all time. It was repeated seven times over the years, the first repeat (by popular demand and because of the flawed performance in the original) coming just three months later. By its fourth airing, in 1945, the show had taken on the characteristics of an urban legend. People within the industry asked for permission to watch (neither [William] Spier nor his successors allowed a studio audience, and by air time the soundstage was crowded with onlookers . . .

Sorry, Wrong Number was always a high spot for listeners and a headace for the phone company, which could count on a spate of calls condemning the insensitivity of its operators. The company protested, to no avail.

---John Dunning, from On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (New York: Oxford University Press; 822 pages, $55.00)

And that high spot involved bedridden Mrs. Elbert Stevenson (Agnes Moorehead), whose husband is missing, panicks when she overhears two men on the telephone plotting the murder of a woman, timing the crime to coincide with a New York elevated train passing her window, and she can't convince anyone else she's heard the plot, which proves a particularly jarring happenstance when she realises just whose murder she heard being planned.

Additional cast: Unknown. Writer: Lucille Fletcher.


DUFFY'S TAVERN: ED WYNN NARRATES ARCHIE'S OPERA (NBC, 1949)---And it's even money who'll be less the same, the veteran comedian or opera. Archie: Ed Gardner. Eddie: Eddie Green. Finnegan: Charles Cantor. Miss Duffy: Possibly Sandra Gould. Writers: Ed Gardner, possibly Larry Rhine, possibly Bob Schindler.


1892---Bennett Cerf (narrator: Biography in Sound), New York City.
1907---Barbara Luddy (actress: The Road of Life; The Woman in White), Helena, Montana.
1908---Linda Watkins (actress: Amanda of Honeymoon Hill; Big Guy; The Fat Man), Boston.
1913---Richard Dimbley (first known BBC radio reporter), Richmond-on-Thames.
1916---Kenin O'Morrison (actor: Charlie Wild, Private Detective), St. Louis; Ginny Simms (singer/actress: The Ginny Simms Show; Kay Kyser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge), San Antonio.
1917---Steve Cochran (actor: Voice of the Army; Unexpected; Screen Director's Playhouse), Eureka, California.
1918---Henry Calvin (actor: Big Guy), Dallas.
1919---Lindsey Nelson (sportscaster: Monitor Preview; Biography in Sound; original team leader, New York Mets baseball), Campbellsville, Tennessee.
1921---Kitty Kallen (singer: Kitty Kallen Calling; Harry James and His Music Makers), Philadelphia.
1925---Jeanne Crain (actress: Lux Radio Theater; Hallmark Playhouse), Barstow, California.
1929---Beverly Sills (as Belle Miriam Silverman; soprano: Major Bowes' Capitol Family/Major Bowes Original Amateur Hour), Brooklyn.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Doc Boxer: The Way It Was, 24 May

Victoria (Benita Hume Colman) doesn't seem quite sure whether to be astonished or slightly appalled at Hall (Ronald Colman), when he favours a medical student with good hands in the gloves as well pursing professional boxing . . . the better to finance his eventual medical career.

Merriweather: Willard Waterman. Wellman: Herb Butterfield. Additional cast: Unknown. Writer: Don Quinn.


1878---Harry Emerson Fosdick (preacher: National Vespers), Buffalo, New York.
1883---Elsa Maxwell (socialite/pitchwoman: Suspense; Texaco Star Theater), Keokuk, Iowa.
1902---Wilbur Hatch (bandleader/conductor: Screen Guild Theater; Gateway to Hollywood; My Favourite Husband; Our Miss Brooks), Mokena, Illinois.
1907---Bill Bouchey (actor: Captain Midnight), Michigan.
1909---Howard Snyder (writer: The Jack Benny Program; Lum & Abner; That's My Pop), unknown.
1911---Lilli Palmer (actress: Lux Radio Theater), Posen, Germany.
1912---Rachel Carley (singer: Manhattan Merry-Go-Round), Brussels.
1916---Tony Barrett (actor: This Life is Mine; Pepper Young's Family), New York City.
1924---Theodore Bikel (singer/actor: Eternal Light; The CBS Radio Mystery Theater), Vienna.
1932---Elaine Malbin (singer: Serenade to America; Saturday Night with Elaine Malbin), New York City.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Is This Any Way to Film a Biography? The Way It Was, 23 May

That's what George Jessel would like to try filming, assuming they can avoid complications, which is never guaranteed whenever this pair knocks heads. But first they'll have to wait for the Alley demimonde (John Brown [John Doe], Minerva Pious [Mrs. Nussbaum], Charles Cantor [Socrates Mulligan], Alan Reed [Falstaff Openshaw]) to mull National Poetry Week.

Additional cast: Portland Hoffa, Jimmy Wallington (announcer). Music: Al Goodman and His Orchestra, Hi-Lo Jack and the Dame. Writers: Fred Allen, possibly Roland Kibbee, possibly Nat Hiken.


DUFFY'S TAVERN: ARCHIE USES PAUL LUKAS FOR PUBLICITY (BLUE NETWORK, 1944)---It's Archie's (Ed Gardner) idea for getting the dive a lot more attention, considering the actor has just bagged an Academy Award . . . but Archie's idea of giving Lukas the dive's own acting award runs into objections from Miss Duffy (Florence Halop), who'd rather see it go to Bette Davis. Eddie: Eddie Green. Clancy: Alan Reed. Finnegan: Charles Cantor. Music: Peter van Steeden Orchestra, Ann Hogan. Writers: Ed Gardner, Abe Burrows, possibly Larry Marks or Larry Gelbart.

BOB & RAY PRESENT THE CBS RADIO NETWORK: THE FIGURE PROBLEM (YOU HAVE TO ASK? WE'RE DOING IT WRONG)---That would be "One Fella's Family, Book Ex, Chapter Ex Ex, Page Two," among other typical quiet mayhem. Writers (we'll take their words for it): Bob Elliott, Ray Goulding.


1882---James Gleason (actor: Jimmy Gleason's Diner), New York City.
1883---Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (actor/commentator: KHJ Los Angeles 1921), Denver.
1890---Herbert Marshall (actor: The Man Called X; Lux Radio Theater; Old Gold Comedy Theater), London.
1898---Frank McHugh (actor: Phone Again Finnegan), Homestead, Pennsylvania.
1910---Scatman Crothers (as Benjamin Crothers; jazz singer/comedian, early radio), Terre Haute, Indiana; Artie Shaw (as Arthur Arshawsky; clarinetist/bandleader: Melody and Madness; The Burns & Allen Show), New York City.
1912---Marius Goring (actor: The Scarlet Pimpernel), Newport, Isle of Wight; John Payne (actor: Hollywood Star Preview; Lux Radio Theater), Roanoke, Virginia.
1919---Betty Garrett (actress/singer: Savings Bond Show; Guest Star; Showtime), St. Joseph, Missouri.
1921---Helen O'Connell (singer, with Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra: Kraft Music Hall; The Fitch Bandwagon), Lima, Ohio.
1928---Rosemary Clooney (singer: The Rosemary Clooney Show), Maysville, Kentucky.

Friday, May 22, 2009

"Never Mind the Bags, Carry Me": The Way It Was, 22 May

In the only complete installment of this better-than-credited comic exercise known to have survived intact, not to mention what proved the last show of the short-lived series, our intrepid scramblers of law and disorder (Groucho and Chico Marx) find themselves stowing away aboard a cruise ship, tucked aboard a lifeboat, stuck for an idea for getting ashore without getting bastinadoes by ship officers, and don't ask what the hell they were doing on board in the first place.

Additional cast: Unknown. Writers: Nat Perrin, Arthur Sheekman, George Oppenheimer and Tom McKnight.


BOX 13: DEATH IS NO JOKE (MUTUAL, 1949)---An invitation to a country home from its owner's correspondent sounds harmless and simple to Dan (Alan Ladd) . . . until he misses death by a hair when his brakes are cut. Suzy: Sylvia Packer. Kling: Edmund MacDonald. Additional cast: Possibly Alan Reed, Frank Lovejoy, Luis van Rooten, Lurene Tuttle. Writer: Russell Hughes.


1879---Alla Nazimova (actress: I'm an American; Toward the Century of the Common Man), Yalta.
1891---Parks Johnson (host/interviewer: Vox Pox), Sheffield, Alabama.
1903---Ward Wilson (actor/announcer: The Aldrich Family; The Phil Baker Show), Trenton, New Jersey.
1906---Harry Ritz (comedian, with the Ritz Brothers: Hollywood Hotel), Newark.
1907---Lord Laurence Olivier (actor: Biography in Sound; Document A/777>; Hour of Mystery), Dorking, U.K.
1910---Johnny Olsen (announcer: Ladies, Be Seated; Get Rich Quick; host: Second Chance), Windom, Minnesota.
1934---Peter Nero (pianist: Voices of Vista), New York City.
1938---Susan Strasberg (actress: The Marriage), New York City.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Unfairest Flower: The Way It Was, 21 May

It's what Conklin (Gale Gordon) wants Connie (Eve Arden) to protect as a surprise for his wife (Paula Winslowe)---which probably seems akin to asking a mongoose to protect a cobra, so far as Conklin's concerned.

Mrs. Davis: Jane Morgan. Boynton: Jeff Chandler. Walter: Richard Crenna. Harriet: Gloria McMillan. Stretch: Leonard Smith. Writer: Al Lewis.


THE PHIL HARRIS-ALICE FAYE SHOW: DRIVER'S LICENCE RENEWAL (NBC, 1950)---Bad enough: Alice (Faye) plowing a police car while trying to back hers in, en route taking her first driver's licence exam. Worse: Phil (Harris) learning the hard way he can't renew his own licence on his actual or alleged fame and charm alone. Remley: Elliott Lewis. Julius: Walter Tetley. Additional cast: Unknown. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.


1901---Horace Heidt (bandleader: Horace Heidt Brigadiers; Pot o' Gold; Treasure Chest), Alameda, California.
1904---Robert Montgomery (actor: Doctor Fights; Suspense; This is War); Fats Waller (as Thomas Waller; pianist/composer: Columbia Variety Hour; Saturday Night Swing Club), New York City.
1912---Lucille Manners (vocalist: The Cities Service Concert), Newark.
1915---Cathleen Cordell (actress: The Second Mrs. Burton; Valiant Lady), Brooklyn.
1917---Raymond Burr (actor: Fort Laramie; Dragnet), New Westminster, British Columbia; Dennis Day (singer/comedian: The Jack Benny Program; A Day in the Life of Dennis Day), Bronx, New York.
1918---Jeanne Bates (actress: One Man's Family; Gunsmoke), Berkeley, California.
1923---Rick Jason (actor: Sears Radio Theatre), New York City.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Some Help: The Way It Was, 20 May

It's coming from Earl Dixon, opening up the new Easy Ridin' Taxicab Company right across the street from Amos (Freeman Gosden) and Andy's (Charles Correll) Fresh Aire operation, and promising his business will help their business---right out of business, so far as Andy's concerned.

Writers: Freeman Gosden, Charles Correll.


THE OLD GOLD COMEDY THEATER: BOY MEETS GIRL (NBC, 1946)---A pregnant waitress (Ann Sothern) at a struggling film studio inspires two lazy screenwriters (Chester Morris, Lee Tracy) to make the baby the star. Adapted from the Spewack/Spewack screenplay and 1938 film. Host/director: Harold Lloyd.

KRAFT MUSIC HALL: LEAVING NEW YORK (NBC, 1948)---You might think freewheeling, irreverent, cantankerous Henry Morgan a bit of a mismatch for cantankerous Al Jolson, even with Oscar Levant among the evening's cast (and joining the needling in a charming parody of Morgan's second banana Arnold Stang, among other things), but we'll let you listen yourself. Additional cast: Don Wilson. Music: Lou Pring and his Orchestra and Chorus. Writers: Unknown.

1899---Virginia Sale (actress: Those We Love), Urbana, Illinois.
1899---Stan Lomax (sportscaster: Evening Journal Sports), Pittsburgh.
1906---Lyda Roberti (actress/singer: numerous radio appearances), Warsaw.
1908---James Stewart (actor: Lux Radio Theater; We Hold These Truths), Pennsylvania.
1909---Jerry Hausner (actor: Silver Theater; Lum & Abner), Cleveland.
1911---Vet Boswell (singer, with the Boswell Sisters: The Boswell Sisters; The Woodbury Soap Show), Birmingham, Alabama.
1920---George Gobel (comedian/actor: Tom Mix; National Barn Dance), Chicago.
1936---Anthony Zerbe (actor: Earplay), Long Beach, California.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Modeling? The Way It Was, 19 May

When they made the sleeper film hit upon which tonight's drama is based, the real-life marriage of future Richard Diamond, Private Detective star Dick Powell and Joan Blondell (the sexy, wisecracking, Depression-era goldigger image in many a Warner Brothers film, and the sister of future I Love a Mystery co-star Gloria Blondell) was in trouble enough, though it would take until 1944 before the couple divorced at last.

Troubled or no, the couple here reprise their film roles as a couple whose marriage is kept secret from her boss, who frowns on working married women . . . and just so happens to have his own thing for her, which provokes trouble enough between husband and wife.

Additional cast: Fred MacKaye. Host: Cecil B. DeMille. Adapted from the screenplay by Leigh Jason.


1960: THE DAY THE MUSIC CRIED---He coined the term and was often considered its father; his signature signoff was, "This is not goodbye, it's just good night." But while innumerable commentators fretted about rock and roll corrupting the youth of the day, they now may think they should have worried more about it corrupting its promoters.

Alan Freed and eight other disc jockeys are accused of accepting payola---payments to guarantee certain records getting played---after the U.S. House Oversight Committee has spent a year examining whether such payoffs (gifts, cash, both) really existed, the House committee reputedly having been prodded by the American Society of Composers and Publishers (ASCAP).

. . . Though a number of deejays and program directors were caught in the scandal, the committee decide to focus on Freed. Freed's broadcasts alliances quickly deserted him. In 1959, WABC in New York asked him to sign a statement confirming that he had never accepted payola. Freed refused "on principle" to sign and was fired.

Freed was the only deejay subpoenaed by the Oversight Committee and refused to testify despite being given immunity. Trial began December, 1962 and ended with Freed pleading guilty to 29 counts of commercial bribery. Though he only received a $300 fine and 6 months suspended sentence his career would be over.

Forced to leave New York Freed worked briefly at KDAY (owned by the same company that owned WINS) in 1960, in Los Angeles, but when management refused to let him promote live rock & roll shows Freed left the station and returned to Manhattan to emcee a live twist revue. When the twist craze cooled he hooked on as a disc jockey at WQAM (Miami, FL). Realizing that his dream of returning to New York radio was just that, Freed's drinking increased. The Miami job lasted only two months.

By 1964, he will be indicted for income tax evasion, by which time he is hospitalised with uremia, the penalty for the heavy drinking into which he fell following his original troubles, and he will die penniless in January 1965.

His ethics would be questioned often enough. (Like many in the day, he claimed songwriting credits as possible promotional payoffs; he was also accused of underpaying talent who appeared in his famous rock and roll spectacular shows and tours before the payola scandals.) But no one could or would really question Alan Freed's rock and roll heart.


AMOS 'N' ANDY: SUSPECTING THE KINGFISH IS EMBEZZLING (NBC, 1929)---Andy (Charles Correll) has precisely such a suspicion, after noticing the Kingfish's wife has been dressing particularly well of late . . . and, after the Kingfish (Freeman Gosden, who also plays Amos) handed him a new---and possible illegally written---lodge bylaw. Writers: Freeman Gosden, Charles Correll.

THE GOLDBERGS: SAMMY AND SYLVIA TALK (CBS, 1941)---Even as his family packs to return home, Sammy (Alfred Ryder)---who's admitted a sense of obligation to Sylvia (Zina Provendie) even if he doesn't love her---has Molly (Gertrude Berg) worried that he'll change his mind; Molly tries to understand Sylvia's action and hears something she may not want to hear when Sylvia faces her down defiantly, which upsets Rosalie (Roslyn Siber) and provokes a dressing down in turn from Jake (John R. Waters); and, Sylvia tries to convince Sammy she acted as she did for him. Announcer: Clayton (Bud) Collyer. Writer/director: Gertrude Berg.


1870---Wright Kramer (actor: Showboat), Somerville, Massachussetts.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Not So Simple as ABC: The Way It Was, 18 May

And they're not exactly as simple as A-B-C (or N-B-C, or C-B-S), either, kiddies . . . not when it comes to a mild-mannered traveler (Charles Laughton), with those very initials, who may be suspected of at least some involvement in a round of particularly savage---and alphabetically arranged---killings; neither in the Agatha Christie original, nor tonight's adaptation.

Additional cast: Elsa Lanchester, Branwell Fletcher. Adapted for radio by Robert Talman and William Spier.


1902: "WELL, SIR, MISS BANKHEAD . . . "---He will grow up to become The Music Man, thanks to the musical hit of the same name . . . but first, he will become known for several old-time radio contributions, including Burns & Allen's Maxwell House Coffee Time (on which he also pries romantic hints from his hosts); his own summer replacement for Fibber McGee & Molly in the early 1940s; and, his two-year term as musical director for The Big Show, where he will become as familiar for his replies to Dame Tallulah ("Well, sir, Miss Bankhead . . . ") as for his exuberant orchestra and chorus.

Even before those achievements, however, he needs to be born in the first place---as Meredith Willson is, today, in Mason City, Iowa.


FIBBER McGEE & MOLLY: FIBBER STEALS A CAR (NBC, 1943)---Not exactly, of course, but you wouldn't know it from anxious McGee (Jim Jordan), who blasts home in a panic after he takes Mrs. Uppington (Isabel Randolph) up on an old endearment, borrows her car to hustle for a timely cigar store contest entry . . . and discovers to his horror that the car was missing when he came back for it. Molly/Teeny: Marian Jordan. The Old-Timer/Police Captain: Bill Thompson. Himself: Harlow Wilcox (announcer). Doc: Arthur Q. Bryan. Additional cast: Unknown. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King's Men. Writer: Don Quinn.

DUFFY'S TAVERN: ARCHIE'S RAISE (CBS, 1945)---That would be the raise Archie (Ed Gardner) does get, as opposed to the raise he'd like to get. Eddie: Eddie Green. Finnegan: Charles Cantor. Miss Duffy: Possibly Florence Halop. Writers: Ed Gardner, Abe Burrows, possibly Larry Gelbart.


1892---Ezio Pinza (operatic tenor: The Telephone Hour; Ezio Pinza's Children's Show; Stagestruck; The Big Show), Rome.
1897---Frank Capra (director: Gulf Screen Theater; NBC Theater; Lux Radio Theater), Bisacquino, Sicily.
1900---Raymond Paige (conductor: Hollywood Hotel; Musical Americana; Stage Door Canteen), Wausau, Wisconsin.
1904---Fred Shields (actor: Tarzan), Kansas City.
1907---Sir Clifford Curzon (pianist: March of Dimes), London.
1908---Ted Malone (commentator: Between the Bookends; Pilgrimage of Poetry), Colorado Springs.
1912---Perry Como (as Pierino Ronald Como; singer: The Chesterfield Supper Club; The Perry Como Program), Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.
1922---Bill Macy (as Wolf Marvin Gabler; actor: Earplay), Revere, Massachussetts; Kai Winding (jazz trombonist: One Night Stand; Jubilee), Aarhus, Denmark.
1924---Jack Whitaker (disc jockey/sportscaster: Jack the Bachelor; Sports Shorts), Philadelphia.
1931---Robert Morse (actor: The CBS Radio Mystery Theater), Newton, Iowa.
1936---Joel Kupperman (panelist: The Quiz Kids), Chicago.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Of a Father and Son: The Way It Was, 17 May

As final exams bring an odd calm to the campus, and Vicki (Benita Hume Colman) longs for a summer vacation she thinks Hall (Ronald Colman) has earned but Hall fears he can't quite afford, the Halls and the campus plot a surprise for a man (Sam Hearn) whose soon-to-graduate, honour student son (Sam Edwards), a successful musician whose success paid for his college education, now wants to arrange likewise for his father---an immigrant who was unable to attain much of any formal education of his own . . . and who thinks shame is the reason his son wants to give him such a gift.

Writers: Don Quinn, Nat Wolfe.


1938: "SOMETIMES GOOD, SOMETIMES RAGGED, ALWAYS REAL"---The old-time radio quiz that will make a household name of New Yorker literary editor Clifton Fadiman---hosting a panel of known experts who just so happen to be rather witty in their own right, including erudite journalists John F. Kieran and Franklin P. Adams, trying to answer brain-benders submitted by listeners themselves---premieres today on NBC's Blue Network: Information, Please.

The show, a sort of Algonquin Round Table of the air . . . was thought up by Dan Golenpaul, hmself a pretty bright guy who put on lectures and public-service programs and devised the first broadcasting magazine called, yes, The Magazine of the Air . . . Golenpaul's idea for Information, Please came out of his frustrations at listening to MCs give contestants a hard time for blowing answers. He once explained, "A bit sadistic, I thought. I wish I had these quizmasters and so-called experts in front of me. I'd like to ask them some questions. They're probably not much brighter than the average person."

---Gerald Nachman, from "Minds Over Matter," in Raised on Radio. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.)

The show will make a star, too, out of pianist Oscar Levant, whose withering wit will give his music career a bump and make him a personality in his own right. Guest panelists for the always-revolving fourth chair will include Gracie Allen (laugh if you must, but the lady was no dope), Harpo Marx (you guessed it: he answered with his famous taxi horn), Fred Allen (a very frequent guest panelist), Deems Taylor (musician and music critic), Grantland Rice (sportswriting legend), Russell Crouse (playwright), and even baseball legends Red Barber, Lefty Gomez, and Larry MacPhail.

[A] quiz show turned into a four-man conversation, sometimes good, sometimes ragged, always real. I was well aware that my own talents were as nothing compared with those of Frank Adams, Oscar Levant, or John Kieran. But I was also well aware that I was so placed as to be able to do one thing better than they could do it themselves. That one thing was to prod them into being Adams, Levant, and Kieran.

---Clifton Fadiman.

It was generally more fun when the answer was wrong, especially if the culprit tried to wriggle out of it. An uproarious error or a brilliant bit of irrelevance was rated far above any dull delivery of truth.

---John Kieran, from his memoirs.

One of Information, Please's unsung heroes: a Brooklyn high school teacher upon whom Golenpaul calls for factual and referential assistance, a teacher who believes what the show comes to exude behind the witty repartee: "that Brahms, Jefferson, Shelley, and baseball could and indeed should fascinate equally"---as his far more famous son would recall years later.

The teacher is Gordon Kahn, who will die a year after Information, Please's radio demise. But his son grows up to become a respected sportswriter and, in time, the man who may have done the most to graduate the Brooklyn Dodgers from memory to mythology: Roger Kahn, author of The Boys of Summer.


THE RALEIGH-KOOL PROGRAM STARRING JACK PEARL: THE THIRD GRADER'S REVENGE (NBC, 1937)---Baron von Munchausen (Jack Pearl) ponders a new on-air contest, possibly for younger listeners, while the company takes a swing at the Robert W. Service poem recalling the legend of Dan McGrew, a favourite target for old-time radio satirists. Charlie: Cliff Hall. Additional cast: Morgan Bowe. Music: Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra with Edith Wright and Jack Leonard. Writers: Unknown. (Note: The file is often mistitled as "Night Baseball Game.")

MY FRIEND IRMA: IRMA WANTS TO JOIN A CLUB (CBS, 1948)---Jane (Cathy Lewis) is invited to join a New York club for professional women, which makes Irma (Marie Wilson) nervous until she realises she'll be alone once a week---and wants something similar for herself, which she gets in a surprising way after Al (John Brown) helped her blow the initial interview. Professor Kropotkin: Hans Conreid. Additional cast: Unknown. Writers: Parke Levy, Stanley Adams, Roland MacLane.

QUIET, PLEASE: GEM OF PUREST RAY (MUTUAL, 1948)---Mass murderer Dr. Moraitas (Ernest Chappell, who also narrates) stuns police with the subterranean conspiracy theory that underwrites his motive. Additional cast: Morton Lawrence, Terita Bauer, Ed McSaley. Writer/director: Wyllis Cooper.


1890---Philip James (composer/conductor: Bamberger Little Symphony; Wellsprings of Music), Jersey City.
1902---Fausto Cleva (conductor: NBC Symphony Orchestra; Metropolitan Opera Auditions), Trieste, Italy.
1903---Artie Auerbach (actor: The Jack Benny Program), New York City.
1905---John Patrick (writer: Theater Guild On the Air), Louisville.
1906---Carl McIntire (evangelist: Twentieth Century Reformation Hour), Ypsilanti, Michigan.
1907---Horace McMahon (actor: Crime Does Not Pay), South Norwalk, Connecticut.
1911---Maureen O'Sullivan (actress: Dreft Star Playhouse; Family Theater), Boyle, Ireland.
1920---Harriet Van Horne (critic/actress: The Adventures of Ellery Queen), Syracuse, New York.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

You're Gonna Be a Bii-iiig Star, Mr. Gildersleeve: The Way It Was, 16 May

"The Johnson Wax program with . . . Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve" is precisely the way Harlow Wilcox announces it, to kick off the audition program for old-time radio's first successful spinoff show.

Here, the stentorian Gildersleeve (Harold Peary, in the role he's made a hit on Fibber McGee & Molly) bids a slightly pompous farewell to his girdle-making company employees---while leaving unanswered forever just what was to become of his unheard but often-mentioned wife---before boarding a train from Wistful Vista to Summerfield.

He's become the unexpected designated executor for his late brother- and sister-in-law's estate . . . and, concurrently, the designated guardian to their two precocious children, Evelyn (Lurene Tuttle) and Leroy (Walter Tetley) Forrester---assuming local family court Judge Hooker, who's Gildersleeve's equal for ornery, can be reversed when he demands a large cash bond in a battle of wits that just might mean two halfwits equal one well-intentioned dimwit.

Evelyn Forrester, of course, will be renamed Marjorie when the show is picked up as a regular series---as The Great Gildersleeve. And, with a slight nip and tuck of this Leonard Levinson script's story, this will be the basic episode writers John Whedon and Sam Moore will present as The Great Gildersleeve, when it premieres as a regular series come August, under the Kraft Cheese Company's regular sponsorship.


1925: THE HORSY SET IS ON THE AIR---At least, those members who happened to be three years old and in the Churchill Downs starting gates for the Kentucky Derby, which is broadcast over a radio network for the first time, based from Louisville's WHAS.


THE GOLDBERGS: MOLLY, ROSALIE, AND JAKE TALK (CBS, 1941)---With Sylvia's (Zina Provendie) deceptions proving too much even for her father (who's slapped her out of abject frustration and since regrets it, though he hungers for the whole truth), and the Goldbergs determined to get out of town fast and with wounded Sammy (Alfred Ryder) in tow, what Sylvia's father did may prove nothing compared to a showdown with the redoubtable Molly (Gertrude Berg). Announcer: Clayton (Bud) Collyer. Writer/director: Gertrude Berg.

VIC & SADE: UNCLE FLETCHER'S DOOR STOP PLAN (CBS, 1941)---As conveyed by Rush (Bill Idelson) to a disbelieving Sade (Bernadine Flynn), it involves selling as door stops . . . chunks of railroad track, samples of which he plans to give the Gooks, the Stenbottoms, the Donahoes, and the Stenbottoms' landlady. Vic: Art Van Harvey. Announcer: Ed Herlihy. Writer: Paul Rhymer.

TEXACO STAR THEATER WITH FRED ALLEN: CHILE (CBS, 1943)---Allen's Alley addresses raising chickens during a meat-rationing period, and a freshly-rising solo singer named Sinatra has to be convinced to sing a newly-written song ("Every schnook I meet thinks he's a songwriter!"), possibly before he'll be allowed to sing "She's Funny That Way." Additional cast: Portland Hoffa, John Brown, Charles Cantor, Minerva Pious, Alan Reed, Jimmy Wallington. Music: Al Goodman and His Orchestra, Hi-Lo Jack and the Dame. Writers: Fred Allen, Harry Tugend, Nat Hiken.


1882---Mary Gordon (actress: Those We Love; Sherlock Holmes), Glasgow, Scotland.
1905---Henry Fonda (actor: Eyes Aloft; Romance; Suspense; Family Theater), Grand Island, Nebraska.
1909---Margaret Sullavan (actress: Electric Theater; Hollywood Playhouse; Lux Radio Theater), Norfolk, Virginia.
1912---Studs Terkel (as Louis Terkel; journalist/occasional actor: Desintation Freedom; Ma Perkins), Bronx, New York.
1913---Woody Herman (as Woodrow Charles Herman, clarinetist/bandleader: The Wildroot Show; various radio remotes), Milwaukee.

Friday, May 15, 2009

An Unquenched Flame: The Way It Was, 15 May

Grateful for a pre-dawn lift, hitchhiking animator Francis Scott (Ernest Chappell, who also narrates) tells his driver about seeing his fiancee again and singing Las Mananitas to her, as they'd promised for each other's birthdays . . . a year to the day after the woman (Betty Reilly), a cel painter for the same animation studio, died in a hill fire that destroyed all adjacent homes.

Writer/director: Wyllis Cooper.


1904: "YOU SEE MORE IN YOU"---Editor for Simon & Schuster, literary critic and decade-long editor of The New Yorker's book section, accessible by just about anyone thanks to his gentle wit, his lack of pretension, and the manner in which he will display both, as the long-running host of perhaps old-time radio's most genuinely intelligent quiz program, Information Please . . . on which the highbrow and the high laughs were equally at home. (Not for nothing will the show's guest panelists include the like of Fred Allen, Gracie Allen, Groucho Marx, Jack Haley, and baseball legend/clown Lefty Gomez, to say nothing of regulars John Kieran and Franklin P. Adams.)

Happy 105th birthday to the man who said . . .

When you reread a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before, you see more in you than there was before.

---Clifton Fadiman, whose other radio hosting credits include Conversation and The RCA Magic Key.


THE JELL-O PROGRAM STARRING JACK BENNY: MURDER IN THE LIBRARY (NBC, 1938)---It isn't exactly Col. Mustard with the lead pipe, kiddies---but it's a parodic melodrama, and with this bunch you can just take it from there, happily. Cast: Mary Livingstone, Kenny Baker, Phil Harris, Don Wilson. Music: Phil Harris and His Orchestra. Writers: George Balzer, Milt Josefsberg, Sam Perrin.

THE HINDS HONEY & ALMOND CREAM SHOW WITH GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN: RAH-RAH IN OMAHA (CBS, 1940)---George (Burns) and Gracie (Allen) and her presidential campaign arrive at Omaha's Exarbin Coliseum in advance of the Surprise Party convention. Additional cast: Truman Bradley, Bubbles Kelly. Music: Ray Noble and the Union Pacific Band, Frank Parker. Writers: George Burns, William Burns, Sid Dorfman, Paul Henning.

OUR MISS BROOKS: FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH (CBS, 1949)---"I don't need any special day to be unlucky," laments Connie (Eve Arden)---whose Friday the Thirteenth made mere "unlucky" resemble a mere spilled drink. Mrs. Davis: Jane Morgan. Walter: Richard Crenna. Stretch: Leonard Stern. Conklin: Gale Gordon. Boynton: Jeff Chandler. Harriet: Gloria McMillan. Writer: Al Lewis.


1890---Menasha Skulnik (actor: The Goldbergs; Abie's Irish Rose), Warsaw.
1905---Joseph Cotten (actor: The Private Files of Matthew Bell; Mercury Theater On the Air), Petersburg, Virginia.
1909---James Mason (actor: The James & Pamela Mason Show; Studio One; The Fred Allen Show), Huddersfield, U.K.
1910---Constance Cummings (actress: Lux Radio Theater), Seattle.
1916---Bill Williams (actor: Eternal Light; Screen Guild Theater; Lux Radio Theater), Brooklyn.
1918---Eddy Arnold (The Tennessee Plowboy; singer: Checkerboard Square; The Eddy Arnold Show; The Big Show), Henderson, Tennessee; Joseph Wiseman (actor: Crime Does Not Pay), Montreal.
1923---Doris Dowling (actress: Lux Radio Theater), Detroit.
1936---Anna Maria Alberghetti (singer: Here's to Veterans), Pesano, Italy.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

One Too Many Cooks Spoil the Mother's Day: The Way It Was, 14 May

There's only one thing that could possibly be worse than Phil (Harris) and the girls (Jeanine Roos, Anne Whitfield) serving Alice (Faye) breakfast---Southern or other style---in bed: Phil's determination to let Alice spend Mother's Day at complete leisure while he, of all people, does the housework and cooks dinner . . . especially with Remley (Elliott Lewis), of all people, pitching in, albeit reluctantly.

Julius: Walter Tetley. Willie: Robert North. Music: Walter Sharp, Phil Harris Orchestra. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.


1976---Lowell Thomas and the News, a mainstay since the old-time radio era, featuring the world-girdling broadcaster and analyst for forty-six years, is delivered for the final time, fifteen months after the death of Thomas's first wife.

Perhaps characteristically, Thomas alters his trademark sign-off by removing just two words and saying, simply, "Here's to you---so long."

His memoir, Good Evening, Everybody, is also published in 1976. He will also have an impact on radio beyond his lifetime, when his 1954 investment (with business manager Frank Smith) in Albany, New York UHF television stations and radio stations grows into the giant that will buy ABC in 1986: Capital Cities.

Thomas will marry a second time in 1977 and die in 1981, the author of thousands of classic radio news reports and analyses and numerous books, including a second memoir, So Long Until Tomorrow, a year after he signs off for the final time.

2006: FAREWELL, HONEY DREAMER---One-time old-time radio singer (with the Honey Dreamers), but known best as the third and final Clarabell on television's Howdy Doody, Lew Anderson dies at age 86 of complications from prostate cancer at his Hawthorne, New York home.


THE JELL-O PROGRAM STARRING JACK BENNY: GUNGA DIN (NBC, 1939)---He's not a better man than we after Jack (Benny) and company get through with domesticating him. Cast: Mary Livingstone, Eddie Anderson, Kenny Baker, Phil Harris. Music: Phil Harris Orchestra, Kenny Baker. Writers: George Balzer, Milt Josefsberg, John Tackaberry, Sam Perrin.

THE GOLDBERGS: SAMMY FACES SYLVIA (CBS, 1941)---And everyone's just a little bit apprehensive when the would-have been couple square off, after Sammy's (Alfred Ryder) return upon discovering Sylvia's (Zena Provendie) lies. Molly: Gertrude Berg. Jake: John R. Waters. Rosalie: Roslyn Siber. Announcer: Clayton (Bud) Collyer. Writer/director: Gertrude Berg.

THE GREEN HORNET: CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK (ABC, 1946)---It isn't Amos 'n' Andy, kiddies---it's an apparent check-kiting scheme hitting the Daily Sentinel itself, after Reid (Bob Hall) discovers forged checks written on the Sentinel payroll accounts. Miss Case: Lee Allman. Axford: Gil Shea. Kato: Rollon Parker. Writer: Fran Striker.


1885---Otto Klemperer (conductor: The George Gershwin Memorial Program), Breslau, Germany.
1890---Carlton Brickert (actor: The Story of Mary Marlin; Thurston the Magician; announcer: Lum & Abner), Martinsville, Indiana.
1898---Zutty Singleton (drummer: Radio Almanac; Just Jazz; BBC Jazz Session), Bunkie, Louisiana.
1905---Herb Morrison (news reporter, and the man whose spot report of the Hindenburg disaster remains internationally famous; also: Call to Arms; The Good Ole Days of Radio), unknown.
1910---B.S. Pully (comedian: Command Performance; Mail Call), Newark, New Jersey; Paul Sutton (actor: Challenge of the Yukon), Albuquerque, New Mexico.
1919---Liberace (as Wladziu Valentino Liberace; pianist/vocalist: Stars for Defence), West Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
1925---Patrice Munsel (singer: Prudential Family Hour; The Voice of Firestone; The Big Show), Spokane, Washington.
1926---Eric Morecambe (comedian, longtime partner of Ernie Wise: The Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise Radio Show), Lancashire, U.K.