The Catch: The Way It Was, 29 September
Standing athwart nostalgia, yelling "Art!" . . .
FIBBER McGEE & MOLLY: HANGING AUNT SARAH'S PICTURE (NBC, 1953)---In which the Sage of 79 Wistful Vista (Jim Jordan) can't hang it without first negotiating a small barrage of visitors---namely, Dr. Gamble (Arthur Q. Bryan) and Teeny (Marian Jordan, who also plays Molly)---welcoming the McGees back from vacation. (Announcer: John Wald. Writer: Phil Leslie.)
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.
LORENZO JONES: LORENZO PLANS A MODEL TOWN (NBC, 1948)---His published letter outlining such a town in draft gets Lorenzo (Karl Swenson) a visit from the mayor, which astonishes and dismays Belle (Lucille Wall) at once . . . at first. Announcer: George Putnam. Music: Ann Leaf. Director: Possibly Stephen Gross. Writers: Theodore and Mathilde Ferro.
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.)
The importance of The Columbia Workshop in the history of radio is underscored by the state of the art in mid-1936. Network radio was just a decade old. For much of that time, what was heard was a crude product by its later standards . . . Was radio by its nature simply another vehicle for pop culture, to be absorbed by the least common denominator and immediately forgotten? Among those who had little respect for the new medium was a sizeable percentage of the country's writers, actors, and musicians. If radio was to become a serious art form, clearly that direction had to come from within the industry. Radio had to develop its own artists, writers, actors, musicians.When The Columbia Workshop opened, "there was no show on the air without many limitations, taboos, and sacred cows," wrote CBS executive Douglas Coulter in Columbia Workshop Plays. "The way was clear for the inauguration of a radio series without precedents, one that would experiment with new ideas, new writers, new techniques; a series that would stand or fall by the impression made on a public of unbiased listeners, with no restriction save the essential and reasonable one of good taste."---John Dunning, from On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.)
Our final decision was this: To present to you the first two acts of the play, containing wherever possible the most notable scenes in their entirety. And giving you, we hope, a clear dramatic statement of the causes of Hamlet's tragedy.
We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom---what's left of it in the world---but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.EDWARD R. MURROW
Now, about this show---I'll tell you the truth. The American Broadcasting Company was suddenly stuck with about thirty minutes of dead air. They had all this time, see, there was nothing in it. Now, where this thirty minutes came from is quite a fantastic story. Some say that the guy who comes in here in the morning and opens the station for the day arrived one morning when his watch was a half hour fast. And he started broadcasting a half hour too soon, see, and by evening, here was this empty half hour sticking out. Of course, the executive responsible for this was dealt with. Before they fired him, they made him turn in his ulcer. And, then, they flogged him with a wet Jimmy Fiddler script.Anyway, they were stuck with this time. One vice president suggested that they get the public library to sponsor thirty minutes of silence. They were going to call it A Program to Read By. Well, the library turned it down because they said they weren't getting a full thirty minutes of silence because at the opening the announcer said, "Ssssshhhh!"
Three radio comedians became celebrities by heckling the establishment. Fred Allen and Arthur Godfrey needled their victims. Henry Morgan battered his with a club . . . clobber[ing] his clients with such unprecedented candor that some of them fired him and one threatened to sue. This was delightful to listeners who scorned the radio commercial as an odious interruption of an otherwise enjoyable half-hour. It made Morgan the darling of his generation's rebels and thinkers, the grand guru of a hard core of intellectuals who considered the jousts of Godfrey and Allen too soft.---John Dunning, from On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.)