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, September 20, 2009

Angular and Long-Legged: The Way It Was, 20 September

One supposes this could file under better late than never, but James Stewart---who isn't exactly a stranger to old-time radio---hits it as a leading man at last . . . in a subtly clever Western premiering tonight.

Stewart was never better on the air than in this drama of Britt Ponset, frontier drifter created by Frank Burt. The epigraph set it up nicely: "The man in the saddle is angular and long-legged: his skin is sun dyed brown. The gun in his holster is gray steel and rainbow mother-of-pearl. People call them both The Six Shooter." Ponset was a wanderer, an easy-going gentleman and---when he had to be---a gunfighter.

Stewart was right in character as the slow-talking maverick who usually blundered into other people's troubles and sometimes shot his way out. His experiences were broad, but The Six Shooter leaned more to comedy than other shows of its kind. Ponset took time out to play Hamlet with a crude road company. He ran for mayor and sheriff of the same town at the same time. He became involved in a delighful Western version of Cinderella, complete with grouchy stepmother, ugly sisters, and a shoe that didn't fit. And at Christmas he told a young runaway the story of A Christmas Carol, substituting the original Dickens characters with Western heavies. Britt even had time to fall in love, but it was the age-old story of people from different worlds, and the romance was foredoomed despite their valiant efforts to save it.

So we got a cowboy-into-the-sunset ending for this series, truly one of the bright spots of radio. Unfortunately, it came too late, and lasted only one season.

---The Old-Time Radio Researchers Group.

The Six Shooter came well past radio's best years and was an unusual and at times fetching western . . . Stewart was a superb radio actor, overcoming the drift of some scripts into folksy platitude . . . [but] the series as a whole just lacked the fine edge to be found in radio's two best Westerns, Gunsmoke and Frontier Gentleman . . . Despite Stewart's great prestige, the show was largely sustained. Chesterfield was interested, but Stewart declined, not wanting a cigarette company to counter his largely wholesome screen image.

---John Dunning, in On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.)

Regardless, The Six Shooter will wield an influence. A few years later, network television will find a hit in a show that plays the mature Western theme for laughs and gets them in abundance enough---ABC's Maverick.

Here, young Jenny Garver (possibly Elvia Allman), with a plain if feminine face but a quietly reserved, almost masculine carriage and fashion sense, intrigues Ponset (Stewart), who doesn't quite understand why the townsmen deride her as mercilessly as they do, and who finds himself concerned for her in spite of her air of perhaps too-prounounced self-reliance . . . and her unusual kind of compassion---the kind that allows her to love and hide an outlaw merely because he didn't deride her as other men do.

Additional cast: B.J. Thompson, Jess Kirkpatrick, George Niess, Harry Bartell. Announcer: Hal Gibney. Music: Basil Adlam. Director: Jack Johnstone. Writer: Frank Burt.


MAYOR OF THE TOWN: AMY LOU GOES TO WAR (NBC, 1942)---Torn between joining the Army nursing corps and staying behind as the wife of her lifelong love (Stan Ferrar), who's edgy enough about marrying a woman who doesn't want to just stay home, one-time tomboy Amy Lou Peters (Veola Vonn) joins the corps . . . only to become seriously wounded---and possibly facing court-martial---when she goes to the front lines to treat wounded who may not survive to reach rear-echelon field marshals. Marilly: Agnes Moorehead. Additional cast: Unknown. Music: Gordon Jenkins. Director: Jack Van Nostrand. Writers: Jean Holloway, Leonard St. Clair.

THE WHISTLER: FOG (CBS, 1942)---During a spell of heavy fog, a merchant shipman rended temporarily amnesiac in a fall at port, on the way to meet a hood who owes him money, wants to escape when the hood turns up dead and he fears he may have killed the man---especially after a friend tries to blackmail him over the crime. Cast: Unknown. The Whistler: Joseph Kearns. Music: Wilbur Hatch. Whistling: Dorothy Roberts. Director: J. Donald Wilson. Writer: Herbert Connor.

SUSPENSE: THE LIBRARY BOOK (CBS, 1945)---It's Myrna Loy's show as a public librarian who drops everything to discover who vandalised her library's copy of Gone With the Wind. Additional cast: Conrad Binyan, Cathy Lewis, Wally Maher. Writer: William Speier, based on the novel, The Book That Squealed by Cornell Woolrich.


1869---George Robey (singer: Music Hall), London.
1896---Si Wills (writer: Joan Davis Time), Pennsylvania.
1899---Elliot Nugent (actor: Best Plays; U.S. Steel Hour; Lux Radio Theater), Dover, Ohio.
1911---Frank DeVol (composer/conductor: The Rudy Vallee Show; Sealtest Village Store; The Dinah Shore Show), Moundsville, West Virginia.
1912---Ron Cochran (newscaster: Sounds of the World; Feature Project), unknown; John W. Loveton (director: The Shadow; Mr. and Mrs. North; The Court of Missing Heirs), unknown.
1915---Joe King (announcer: Songs by Morton Downey; Walk a Mile), Birmingham, Alabama.
1918---Gordon Heath (actor: New World a-Coming; The CBS Radio Mystery Theater), New York City; Peg Phillips (actress: Studio One; The Big Show), Everett, Washington.
1919---Frances Heflin (actress: Aunt Jenny; Big Sister), Oklahoma City.
1924---Michael Hardwick (writer: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes), Leeds, UK.
1925---Joan Barton (actress: Meet Me at Parky's), unknown; Joyce Brothers (psychologist/commentator: NBC Monitor), New York City.
1930---Anne Meara (comedian/actress: The CBS Radio Mystery Theater), New York City.


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