Jeff Kallman's excellent The Easy Ace: A Journal of Classic Radio
is a wonderful place to spend hours on end, rediscovering the Golden Age of Radio
as it's meant to be discovered and celebrated. Article after article
is filled with a wonderful new vignette about Golden Age Radio History.
---The Digital Deli Online.

[I]n his matchless on-this-day approach to chronicling “yesteryear,”
he easily aces out a less organized mind like mine,
which promptly lapsed into a more idiosyncratic mode of relating the past.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Swinging and Lamenting: The Way It Was, 31 July

---You may call it sad, that old-time radio's first known successful soap, and a comic soap at that, has become a relic that seems too much of its past to contain a relevance to 1942.

But you may not know the story of how Clara, Lu, & Em, the brainchild of three Northwestern University sorority sisters who developed the show from skits they liked to perform around the sorority house, prompting classmates to prod them toward radio, comes to this point: The original comic soap's momentum was destroyed when Isobel Crothers, the original Lu, died unexpectedly in 1936.

The same thing, almost, would happen to Myrt & Marge a few years later---Donna Damerel Fick (Marge) would die after giving birth to her third son; Myrtle Vail (Myrt, and the brains behind the soap), citing her daughter's wish that the show continue regardless, recast the role a short time later and soldiered on, though without the momentum of the original.

For Clara, Lu, & Em there was less choice, as things happened: Louise Starkey (Clara) and Helen King (Em) refused to carry on without Carothers, and the show disappeared for six years. Come 1942, however, the two survivors decided to give the show another try, enlisting another college classmate, Harriet Allyn, to step in in as Lu; and, Pillsbury to step in as the sponsor. (Allyn would be the only one of the three to stay with the show in an ill-fated, 1945 syndication version, though she switched roles this time, playing Em.)

They probably should have let it be.

But here, the trio hears from Loretta Doolittle, who tells them Elizabeth Anne Willis has just delivered a baby girl, prompting a round of gossip and rumination that ends up, somehow, covering the "women's Army." Announcer: Bret Morrison. Writers: Louise Starkey, Harriet Allyn, Helen King.

From the kickoff of "After You've Gone," the King of Swing---as World War II begins its long, winding, but certain finish---kicks into a brisk set with an all-star band including Roy Eldridge, Arthur Levy, Goodman veteran Teddy Wilson, and vocal legends Mildred Bailey and Perry Como, being recorded for radio for the famous V-Discs sold exclusively to American military personnel.

The set includes a pleasing reading of "Jubilee" by its hitmaker, Bailey; Como, showing an unusual feeling for pure jazz (Como had earned his spurs with the anything-but-jazz Ted Weems aggregation, before launching a solo career that wouldn't take off in earnest for another year following this performance), with "Goodbye, Sue"; and, Goodman himself leading "These Foolish Things" with phrasing eerily comparable to Frank Sinatra's when the latter cut a version of the song in the same period.

Host: Deems Taylor. Announcer: John Gary.


1938: CLUBBING---What was known: Jake Powell, a New York Yankees outfielder, instigated one of old-time radio's most embarrassing hours, when he was foolish enough to tell WGN sportscasting legend Bob Elson, on the air, that he kept in shape during the offseason as a Dayton, Ohio police officer "beat[ing] niggers over the head with my blackjack while on my beat."

Elson was compelled to apologise when an uproar erupted almost at once, saying Powell had offended him as deeply as he'd offended some of his friends. The Yankees planned to send Powell down to the minors (they were finally disgusted, it was said, with Powell's penchant for foul play and lack of sportsmanship), but then-Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis---perhaps duplicitously, considering his none-too-benign assent to baseball's colour line of the time---suspended him ten days.

What may not have been known, at least by many enough, until Powell's suicide in November 1948: Powell actually sought to make a kind of atonement for his blunt racism. And one of America's most virtuoso sportswriters happened to know about it.


There are probably a lot of stories that could be told about Jake Powell by people who knew him better. Here there is only one, which may help explain a couple of things. That is, it may furnish a little insight into the nature of a guy who never knew fear and never knew what was good for him, a guy who always acted on impulse and was wrong more often than not.

In the end, he was tragically wrong, of course. He killed himself. Jake Powell, who used to play the outfield for the Yankees and the Senators and any number of minor league clubs, got himself messed up the other day and gave up and shot himself. He didn't slip off and lock himself in a room and turn on the gas. He shot himself twice, once in the chest and then in the head, in a police station in Washington, D.C., with the cops looking on.

Now, as to that story. When Jake was playing ball in the American League a radio broadcaster grabbed him for one of those offhand, unrehearsed dugout interviews just before a game in Comiskey Park in Chicago. Answering questions without thinking, Powell made a thoughtless remark that offended thousands of Negroes.

A storm ensued. The American League office was flooded with protests. There was talk of a boycott against any park where Powell might be playing. Jake had been wrong as wrong could be.

Well, the next time Powell got to New York he went up to the top end of Harlem. He went alone, after dark. He worked down from north to south, stopping in every saloon he came across.

In each he introduced himself. He said he was Jake Powell and he said that he had made a foolish mistake and that he was sorry. Then he ordered drinks for the crowd and moved on to the next joint.

He did that by himself, on his own initiative, after dark, in a section where he had reason to believe feelings ran high against him.

That's one story about Jake Powell. The only one here.

---Red Smith, New York Herald-Tribune, 7 November 1948; republished in To Absent Friends from Red Smith. (New York: Atheneum, 1982.)

And, perhaps, the only story that needed to be told. Then, and now.


LUM & ABNER: ABNER SELLS THE STORE TO SNAKE HOGAN (NBC Blue, 1935)---And Snake (Chester Lauck, who also plays Lum) could buy it thanks to shifty Squire (Norris Goff, who also plays Abner) putting up the money for the deal, hoping Abner would invest it in Squire's silver mine---which Abner did anything but, leaving Lum (who still has an interest in the mine) and Dick Huddleston (Goff) to marvel at Abner's double-cross, even as Lum reminds Dick Squire's bent on jamming that mine interest down Abner's unwilling throat. Writers: Chester Lauck, Norris Goff.

THE GOLDBERGS: SYLVIA'S TANTRUM (CBS, 1941)---While Molly (Gertrude Berg) jauntily prepares a feast for one and all, including Esther Miller (Joan Vitez), Jake (John R. Waters) tries to brace Allyson (unknown) with Esther's discomfiting presence, but Sylvia (Zina Provendie) isn't exactly in the mood to accommodate. Sammy: Alfred Ryder. Rosalie: Roslyn Siber. Announcer: Clayton (Bud) Collyer. Writer/director: Gertrude Berg.

OUR MISS BROOKS: A NEW JOB IN NORWICH, CONNECTICUT (CBS, 1949)---To the mild amusement of her worshipper Walter (Richard Crenna), Connie (Eve Arden) ponders an offer to become the secretary to Norwich's mayor---and swinging a transfer to that city for her indifferent paramour Boynton (Jeff Chandler), after she finally tires of Conklin's (Gale Gordon) martinet ways---but her plans to lure Conklin into setting her free may collide with Conklin's sudden consideration toward her. Mrs. Davis: Jane Morgan. Harriet: Gloria McMillan. Announcer: Bob Lamond. Writer: Al Lewis.


1854---Charles Goodell (The Shepherd of the Air; clergyman, Sabbath Reveries), Dudley, Massachussetts.
1892---Herbert W. Armstrong (preacher: Plain Truth; The World Tomorrow), Des Moines.
1894---Roy Bargy (conductor: The Jimmy Durante Show; Kraft Music Hall; Rexall Summer Theater), Newaygo, Michigan.
1900---Elmo Roper (pollster: America's Town Meeting of the Air; Word from the People), Hebron, Nebraska.
1902---Robert E. Griffin (actor: The Story of Holly Sloan; Bright Horizon), Hutchinson, Kansas.
1904---Brett Halliday (creator: Michael Shayne; host: Murder By Experts), Chicago; Billy (Trade) Hillpot (singer: The Smith Brothers: Trade and Mark; The Camel Pleasure Hour), Red Bank, New Jersey.
1908---W.F. (Bill) Shadel (newscaster, CBS: he reported the D-Day landings of June 1944, among other significant stories), Milton, Wisconsin.
1909---Roger Krupp (announcer: The Adventures of Ellery Queen; Famous Jury Trials), Minnesota.
1911---George Liberace (violinist: numerous remotes, the Orrin Tucker Band, the Anson Weeks Band; brother of the Liberace), Menasha, Wisconsin.
1912---Irv Kupcinet (sportscaster, WGN Chicago: Chicago Bears football), Chicago; Chester Stratton (actor: Pepper Young's Family; Hop Harrigan), Paterson, New Jersey.
1913---Brook Byron (actor: Top Secret; Suspense), Weakly County, Tennessee.
1915---Chet Forrest (composer/pianist: U.S. Treasury Star Parade), Brooklyn.
1916---Bill Todman (writer/producer/director: Treasury Salute; Winner Take All; Beat the Clock; Hit the Jackpot; Rate Your Mate; The Web), New York City.
1919---Norman Del Mar (conductor: Scottish Orchestra), Hempstad, U.K.; Curt Gowdy (sportscaster: Boston Red Sox baseball), Green River, Wyoming.
1921---Barbara Fuller (actress: One Man's Family; Stepmother), Nahant, Massachussetts.
1924---Garard Green (actor: Sherlock Holmes), Madras, India.
1927---Tony Thomas (announcer, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), Portsmouth, U.K.
1931---Kenny Burrell (jazz guitarist: Newport Jazz Festival; Jazz Alive), Detroit.
1936---David Halliwell (writer: Spongehenge; There's a Car Park in Whitherton), Brighthouse, U.K.


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