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, August 23, 2009

The Good Gildersleeve? The Way It Was, 23 August

In which the now-former Great Gildersleeve strikes on his own, after what historian Gerald Nachman called "outsmarting himself and los[ing] the role of a lifetime" to his soundalike old friend and fellow radio actor, Willard Waterman---who'd once been spurned for roles on Fibber McGee and Molly, from whence Gildersleeve first emerged, because he sounded that much like Harold Peary.

The skinny depends upon which version you care to believe, perhaps. Did he merely hold out for more money? Or, did he want to own the show?

This much is known: Peary, perhaps on the advice of his management at MCA, who also handled Jack Benny and shepherded his jump from NBC to CBS a year earlier, had prodded sponsor Kraft to grant him a piece of ownership in The Great Gildersleeve, and not without reason: it was Peary who defined the role, from its origin as the blowhard next-door nemesis of Fibber McGee to its successful spinoff (the first known such of its kind in American broadcast history) as a long-running radio hit, even if he was becoming bored with a role that didn't seem to allow his versatility (he was a passable singer, and one of the best dialect and impressionistic voice men in the medium) full breadth.

CBS was apparently anxious to have Peary if he was willing to make the move, but Kraft wasn't that anxious to leave the NBC fold with Gildersleeve, which it owned. Nor was it inclined to share in the ownership . . . not even with the man who made the role before the cheese company had even been involved. (Often forgotten: the Gildersleeve audition program had been sponsored by Fibber McGee & Molly's sponsor, presented as The Johnson Wax Program With Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve.)

[Peary's] agent, MCA, was so sure [Kraft] wouldn't continue the show without him that they sold him on the idea he was irreplaceable. Even though he'd worked with him before, Hal forgot Willard Waterman was waiting in the wings.

Paul West, a Gildersleeve (and other radio comedies) writer, cited in Nachman, Raised on Radio. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.)

With a new CBS contract for himself but no Great Gildersleeve in the package, both Peary and his new network are anxious to get their money's worth, with Peary co-creating this show, about a small-town radio host whose program involved two-thirds homemaking hints and one third music, in Peary's passably mellifluous voice, a host who still lived with his mother and still emerged an often hapless bachelor.

The major problem---no matter the quality of the show, and it often showed a remarkable, high quality---will be that The Harold Peary Show, often called Honest Harold (which is what the fictitious Harold Hemp's show was called), holds too many references to Gildersleeve traits, merely beginning with Peary's too-distinctive speech and famed "dirty laugh," to build an audience. By the time the show begins to show some of its own life and substance---the writing (which will be led by Peary himself) it will be too late to save it, even while Waterman's Gildersleeve has made (at first, anyway) a near-seamless transition from its former star.

The raw promise is in the show's audition, however, in which Harold loses his radio gig when his rejection of a sponsor product he and enough of his listeners find very lacking rankles the obsequious nephew (possibly Olan Soule) of the station's owner . . . who fires him when he refuses to reinstate the product, to his later regret.

Mother Hemp: Jane Morgan. Marvin: Sammy Ogg. Gloria: Gloria Holliday. Doc Yak-Yak: Joseph Kearns. Twins: Anne Whitfield, Norma Jean Nilsson. Additional cast: Sharon Douglas, Lois Corbett. Announcer: Bob LeMond. Music: Jack Meakin. Director: Norman Macdonnell. Writers: Harold Peary, Bill Danch.


THE GREEN HORNET: THE UNEXPECTED MEETING (BLUE NETWORK, 1945)---After dodging a warehouse robbery tip that turned out to be a police trap for the Green Hornet, Britt (Bob Hall) and Kato (Rollon Parker) break up an attack . . . and come away with a briefcase holding significant, secret diplomatic papers, a briefcase Britt would be only too glad to turn over---if he could do it without being arrested. Axford: Gil Shea. Lenore Case: Lee Allman. Announcer: Possibly Hal Neal. Director: Charles Livingstone. Writer: Fran Striker.

GUNSMOKE: SHAKESPEARE (CBS, 1952)---Out in the particularly heavy desert heat, Matt (William Conrad), Doc (Howard McNear), and Chester (Parley Baer), riding back to Dodge, revive a slender, well-dressed, traveling Shakespearean actor (Hans Conreid), whose speech is as poetic as is suspicious his lack of knowledge . . . as to why Sam Matchit is found dead in the back of his broken-down travel wagon. Mrs. Cullen: Mary Lansing. Announcer: Roy Rowan. Music: Rex Khoury. Director: Norman Macdonnell. Sound: Tom Hanley, Ray Kemper, Bill James. Writer: Anthony Ellis.


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