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.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Run 'Em Down Store: The Way It Was, 26 September


A year earlier, running a CBS workshop that serves as much as a script hospital as a training school for new comedy writers, Goodman Ace fumed over CBS's remake of The Little Show, which he'd already retooled for a rising old-time radio comic named Robert Q. Lewis:
I give them a good, tight fifteen-minute comedy show and what do they do? Expand it to half an hour and throw in an orchestra and an audience. Who the hell said a comedy show had to be half an hour? Marconi? Ida Cantor?
Little did Ace know that CBS would perform a similar assassination upon one of the most landmark "good, tight fifteen-minute comed[ies]" of all old-time radio. Of any such show that ever graced the medium (including Ace's own Easy Aces, which he himself tried to retool as a half-hour exercise---mr. ace and JANE---by which he tried to beat the premise senseless via a self-satire in which his prime target was the very mindset that helped destroy the shorter serial comedy), an argument exists that Lum & Abner doesn't deserve the fate about to befall it.

That longtime master exercise in rural absurdism is about to be reshaped into a half-hour sitcom. Its introduction seems benign enough, a tribute to the solidity and the popularity of the original show and its two masterminds, but it actually telegraphs the worst of what is to become: this is a sap-and-claptrap variety exercise, fashioned as a "surprise party" for the sages of Pine Ridge, complete with showbiz stalwarts (specifically, tonight, Bob Crosby, Bob Hope, Hedda Hopper, the Modernaires, Red Skelton [in Clem Kadiddlehopper guise], and Margaret Whiting), showbiz glitz, and rapid-fire showbiz punch lines, bordering on witlessness, inexplicably subverting the subtlety of the Chester Lauck/Norris Goff serial comedy.

Lauck and Goff themselves make a quick appearance toward the show's finish, suggesting they'll go along cheerfully enough with the transformation (they had already added more writers to the show at the onset of the 1940s), perhaps blissfully unaware that the very premise of this tribute to their creation is what will prove to be fact in due course---that they already had created something durable, something that didn't necessarily have to die with the kind of grave-stomping the sitcom version would prove often enough to imply.

Lum & Abner would be dead as a regularly-scheduled radio program within five years. The belly laughs would hardly be lame, but they'd dissipate almost as soon as the punch line. History will render its judgment in due course, and Lum & Abner will be remembered as they should have been, and not as the coming revamp threatened to render them.

Announcer: Wendell Niles. Music, direction, and writers: Unknown.


BUNNY BERIGAN AND HIS ORCHESTRA: FROM MANHATTAN CENTER, NEW YORK (NBC, 1939)---The one-time CBS studio orchestra sideman (under the auspices of Freddie Rich) ,who became a jazz star and a jazz tragedy, shines in this remote broadcast performed near the end of his serious career as a bandleader, and three years before his life ended at 33. The only trumpeter known to be equal to Louis Armstrong and Roy Eldridge at the peak of the Swing Era, Berigan delivers a performance that betrays none of the smothering insecurities that have driven him to the bottle and would, in due course, bankrupt and then kill him. Highlights: A bristling "Caravan," in which Berigan rides that Ellington jewel into a display of his equal prowess at lower and upper horn register; and, "Oh, Ya Ya," whose theme and countermelody may have helped prod Ellington sideman Juan Tizol's future standard, "Perdido," and which pumps at least as hard as the best of the Ellington or Count Basie bands of the period. Other selections: "I Poured My Heart Into a Song" (vocal by Danny Richman), "Night Song," "Swingin' and Jumpin'," and "Little Gate Special." Announcer: Unknown.

THE GREAT GILDERSLEEVE: LEILA RETURNS (NBC, 1943)---Leila Ransom (Shirley Mitchell)---who jilted Gildersleeve (Harold Peary) at the altar when her husband turned up alive---returns to Summerfield widowed in sad fact . . . after first sending Gildy a note hoping she can "remain eternally your friend," confusing him a little further considering his unexpected interest in school principal Eve Goodwin (Bea Benaderet) and his reluctant determination to keep things platonic with Leila. Hooker: Earle Ross. Leroy: Walter Tetley. Birdie: Lillian Randolph. Marjorie: Lurene Tuttle. Peavey: Richard LeGrand. Announcer: Ken Carpenter. Music: Claude Sweeten Orchestra. Director: Cecil Underwood. Sound: Floyd Caton, Virgil Reimer. Writers: John Whedon, Sam Moore.


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