Budgets and Rivalries: The Way It Was, 21 June
AMOS 'N' ANDY:
A BUDGET FOR THE CAB COMPANY
Standing athwart nostalgia, yelling "Art!" . . .
Like other daytime heroines, Ma neither drinks, smokes, takes snuff or has affairs with men. Unlike Ma, Cincinnati-born Virginia Payne, 47, has never been married, downs an occasional whisky sour and makes up to $50,000 a year—more than any other actress in daytime broadcasting. Her present writer (she has had ten) lived on the Riviera for two years, now counts his money on Cape Cod. A devout Roman Catholic with an M.A. in literature (University of Cincinnati), Virginia sheds Ma's vocabulary of "ain'ts," "folks" and "Land o' Goshens" with ease, but insists on making personal appearances in wig, makeup, frumpy clothes and spectacles, "though I often feel like a great imposter." She is an accomplished pianist, lives alone in a posh East Side Manhattan apartment decorated with Duveen-collected oil paintings, accumulates antiques, and grows roses (two varieties have been named for her).---Time, 1957.Ma Perkins . . . was an audio milestone that spanned almost the entire lifetime of network radio drama. Typical of Hummert serials, Ma had tears, maniacs, and melodrama in her arsenal of cliffhangers. But she overcame this with long quiet spells, with deep conversations about the meaning of life against an unfolding panorama of family and personality conflicts . . .In an incredible performance, Virginia Payne played Ma Perkins without missing a show in 27 years. Payne, just 23 when the show premiered, gave a convincing portrayal of a middle-aged battleaxe despite her youth. It was Payne who softened the character by degrees until the real Ma Perkins emerged. Unlike her fictitious counterpart, Payne had a college education and finally a master's degree; at $50,000 a year, she earned more than any other actress in the soaps.---John Dunning, in On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998; pp. 440, 442.)This is our 7,065th broadcast, and I want to thank you all for being so loyal all these years . . . If you write to me, I'll try to answer all your letters. Goodbye and may God bless you.---Virginia Payne, signing off on the final Ma Perkins broadcast, 25 November 1960. (Her message was interrupted only by the show's closing credits---also read by Payne herself on this occasion.)
Bob, Bob-a-Loo Lewis is singin', he's swingin', he's hip, he's happenin' on 77 WABC . . . ---Lewis's frequent identification catch phrase during the WABC years.
Elaine Carrington . . . had sold many short stories to women's magazines in the nineteen-twenties. They dealt with the frustrations, heartbreaks, kindliness, nastiness, cruelties, and tragedies of the middle class. She created little men, cold women, and thankless children to the taste of various editors. Her dialogue was frequent and facile. She felt that radio might be more profitable than magazine writing in the depression years, and in 1932 she decided to take a crack at it. Her first program, Red Adams, was put on by NBC, as a half-hour nighttime show, once a week. It was broadcast on a sustaining basis; that is, it had no sponsor and the network paid the production costs. Mrs. Carrington got seventy-five dollars a script. At the end of three months, the Beech-Nut Company decided to sponsor Red Adams, as a daytime serial. They agreed to pay Mrs. Carrington a hundred dollars apiece for three scripts a week. They also wanted the title changed. Adams is the name of a Beech-Nut rival celebrated for the singing commercial that begins, "I like Chiclets candy-coated chewing gum." Mrs. Carrington changed the name to Red Davis. In 1936, Procter & Gamble offered Mrs. Carrington twice as much money per script for five scripts a week. She accepted, and the name was changed again, this time to Pepper Young's Family. Under the aegis of Procter & Gamble, Mrs. Carrington prospered and proliferated. Pepper Young's Family is still going, and she is now responsible for Rosemary and When A Girl Marries, too.Mrs. Carrington's original radio income of seventy-five dollars a week has grown to an estimated forty-five hundred. Unlike the majority of serial authors, who are merely hired to write soap operas and are known disparagingly as "dialoguers," Mrs. Carrington was wise and firm enough to retain the ownership of her literary properties. She leases broadcasting rights to sponsors. Most dialoguers get credit on the air only once a week, but Mrs. Carrington's name is mentioned before and after each of her shows. Today she lives in a penthouse apartment in the West Fifties and a country place in Bridgehampton. Aided only by a few notes on a sheet of memo paper, she dictates her scripts into a dictaphone, usually standing. Her working hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with time out for a long lunch. She never bothers about hearing a playback . . . Mrs. Carrington rarely listens to one of her soap operas---she prefers to call them daytime serials---and has never heard a broadcast of any of her colleagues' serials. She is known as the Member in Mink to the other members of the Radio Writers' Guild, which she helped to found and on whose committees she has frequently served.---James Thurber, in "Soapland: O Pioneers!", The New Yorker, 1947-48; republished in The Beast in Me and Other Animals: A New Collection of Pieces and Drawings About Human Beings and Less Alarming Creatures. (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1948.)
She had been a short story writer but was interested in theater, so if she saw a young actor on Broadway she liked, she'd write in a part for him . . . Pepper Young's Family wasn't very different from other soaps. You were doing shit day after day, so literature it wasn't, but there were no demands on you and it was interesting work . . . A lot of actors tap-danced their way through, but you couldn't really phone it in. You couldn't have contempt for the material. I really enjoyed it. There was such variety.---Mason Adams (later the managing editor on television's Lou Grant and the voice of those Smucker's preserves spots), who played the title role in Pepper Young's Family from 1945 until the show ended its run in 1959, to Gerald Nachman, for "The Soap Factory," in Raised on Radio. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.)A high-spirited, buxom, silver-haired Jewish woman, [Carrington] had a fondness for risque jokes and liked to sneak double-entendres into her scripts. Carrington had a more sexual approach than the Hummerts. According to historian Jim Harmon: "Hers was a revered, harmless, and no doubt beneficial pornography---the make-believe fantasy of women about how marriage and sex might be and perhaps should be, but seldom is after many years."---Nachman.If they aren't a highfalutin' form of art, they frequently contain profound wisdom expressed in universal terms.---Elaine Carrington on the radio soaps, as cited by Nachman.
He writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.---H.L. Mencken.
NETWORK ANNOUNCER: The Mutual Broadcasting System presents the first of a series of new and unusual dramatic programs, written and directed by Wyllis Cooper and featuring Ernest Chappell.
MUSIC: Extract from Franck, Symphony in D Minor; fade in and up.
NARRATOR: Quiet, please . . .(pause; music up, then under). . . Quiet, please . . .
NARRATOR: About 5800 feet above sea level---a little house, maybe twenty feet long, fifteen feet wide. It's made of corrugated iron sheets with a high peaked roof, sort of hangs over the edge of the mountain top, with nothing but the spikes of pine trees stretching all the way down to Pasadena, better than a mile below you.
MUSIC: (Up and out.)
NARRATOR: You ever get out to California? Well, if you do, get up there sometime and take a look at that little house . . .---The opening of "Nothing Behind the Door," episode one of Quiet, Please.[A] more literate fright-fest . . . Quiet, Please, which went in for surreal psychological horror stories.---Gerald Nachman, in "Radio Noir---COps and Grave Robbers," from Raised on Radio. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.). . . unsung and little heard in its day, but a few good-sounding episodes among the dozens surviving on tape in poor quality give evidence of a potent series bristling with rich imagination . . .With Quiet, Please, Cooper was returning to his radio roots. His characters walked in a fuzzy dream world where the element of menace was ripe and ever-present. In Cooper's hands, a field of lilies could be deadly; a grove of trees touched with sinister implication. Little was explained or justified; the impact was the thing, and at its best Quiet, Please packed a terrifying punch.---John Dunning, in On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.)
D-DAY: THE EARLY NEWS AND OTHER OBSERVATIONSKATE SMITH (CBS)---The ample songstress offers a prayer for the forces.FIBBER McGEE & MOLLY: D-DAY BROADCAST (NBC)---The first couple of Wistful Vista turns their regular half-hour over to patriotic music, with almost no encumbrance from themselves.VALIANT LADY and THE ROMANCE OF HELEN TRENT (CBS)---The popular soap operas include D-Day references and war bonds notices.PRES. FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT (NBC)---FDR offers an address and a prayer.ALL NETWORKS: FURTHER NEWS---The major radio networks carry near-continuous coverage of the massive invasion.
I would like to be remembered as the father of rock and roll . . . "---Bill Haley, in one of his last known broadcast interviews.Bill Haley is the neglected hero of early rock & roll. Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly are ensconced in the heavens, transformed into veritable constellations in the rock music firmament, their music respected by writers and scholars as well as the record-buying public, virtually every note of music they ever recorded theoretically eligible for release. And among the living rock & roll pioneers, Chuck Berry is given his due in the music marketplace and by the history books, and Bo Diddley is acknowledged appropriately in the latter*, even if his music doesn't sell the way it should. Yet Bill Haley---who was there before any of them, playing rock & roll before it even had a name, and selling it in sufficient quantities out of a small Pennsylvania label to attract attention from the major labels before Presley was even recording in Memphis---is barely represented by more than a dozen of his early singles, and recognized by the average listener for exactly two songs among the hundreds that he recorded; and he's often treated as little more than a glorified footnote, an anomaly that came and went very quickly, in most histories of the music. The truth is, Bill Haley came along a lot earlier than most people realize and the histories usually acknowledge, and he went on making good music for years longer than is usually recognized.. . .During his final years, Haley developed severe psychological problems that left him delusional at least part of the time. By the time of his death in 1981, the process of reducing his role in the history of rock & roll had already begun, partly a result of ignorance on the part of the writers handling the histories by then, and also, to a degree, as a result of political correctness; he was white, and was perceived as having exploited R&B, and there were enough people like that in the early history who had to be written about but were easier to cast as "rebels.". . . Haley's own reputation has increased somewhat, particularly in the wake of Bear Family Records' release of two boxes covering his career from 1954 through 1969, and Roller Coaster Records' issuing of Haley's Essex Records sides. True, there are perhaps 45 songs on those 12 CDs of material that Haley should not have bothered recording, but there are hundreds more in those same collections, some of it dazzling and all of it constituting a serious body of solid, often inspired rock & roll, interspersed here and there with some good country sides. Perhaps little of the post-1957 stuff could set the whole world on fire, but Haley had already been there and done that, and still had a lot of good music to play.---Bruce Eder, in All-Music Guide.