Friday, July 31, 2015

Old Time Radio Personalities in Pictures

I must have some reputation. At a recent film festival, a vendor approached me on Day One to inquire about my interest in old-time radio. "I have hundreds of photographs," he explained, "that I cannot get rid of because they focus on radio personalities. Movie and TV stars I can sell, but not radio. Are you interested?" Naturally, he peaked my interest and I spent that evening, during a routine sewing circle among friends and hobbyists, flipping through a box of obscure treasures. The press releases from ABC, CBS, Mutual and NBC were attached to the back of each photo, so these were definitely originals -- not duplicates.

The price? A dollar a photo. It doesn't get any better than that. I must have purchased over 300 photos because he cut me a deal and charged me a flat $300 bucks. (I think by the time he reached near the end and already surpassed 300, he was tired of counting them.) A large number of the photographs are of obscure radio singers, announcers, musicians, writers and actors who never made a name for themselves in Hollywood. None of these names are famous celebrities, but for radio buffs, the following photos might be of interest and amusement.

Click on the photos to enlarge.

Dorothy Lowell
The epigraph for each radio broadcast described the series perfectly. "Once again, we present Our Gal Sunday, the story of an orphan girl named Sunday from the little mining town of Silver Creek, Colorado, who in young womanhood married England's richest, most handsome lord, Lord Henry Brinthrope. The story that asks the question: Can this girl from the little mining town in the West find happiness as the wife of a wealthy and titled Englishman?" An invention of Frank and Anne Hummert, the series premiered on the afternoon of March 29, 1937, with Dorothy Lowell in the lead of Sunday Brinthrope. Lowell originated the role from Chicago and the part of Sunday was temporarily transferred in 1946 to Vivian Smolen while Lowell was on maternity leave. When Lowell died at childbirth, Smolen assumed the part on a permanent basis and carried it to the end of the run in 1959. My good friend and author Jim Cox wrote a fantastic piece about the radio soap opera for his book, The Great Radio Soap Operas (McFarland Publishers, 1999) and for more info about this radio program, I recommend the book.

Harry Flannery
Harry W. Flannery was editor of the Hoosier Observer (Fort Wayne, Indiana) from 1931-32, before changing to a career in radio broadcasting, serving as radio news editor for station WOWO (Fort Wayne, Indiana) from 1932-33, news editor and analyst for KMOX (St. Louis, Missouri) from 1935-40, and more importantly, served as the Berlin correspondent for the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) from 1940-41 and news analyst for CBS, West Coast from 1942-48. It was his career on CBS that brought Flannery into public homes from coast-to-coast. He was regularly heard on We, The People, The World Today and World News Tonight. He had his own radio program, As We See It, which premiered in 1949 and ran for a few years over ABC-Radio. He was also the author of the best seller Assignment to Berlin (1942) and co-author of Off Mike (1944).

Lou Forbes
Lou Forbes had a lengthy career on NBC, writing original music scores for the I Want a Divorce series, for which this publicity photo was taken in 1939. He also made contributions for Command Performance.

The Music Maids of KMH
These were the five lovely laddies who were known as the Music Maids on NBC's Kraft Music Hall. Dozens of radio broadcasts exist with their music. Their vocal interpretations of the season's hit tunes was a musical highlight on the Kraft-sponsored program, which starred Bob Burns with his rural comedy tales of the Van Buren hills, Pat Friday, collegiate singing star and protege of Bing Crosby, John Scott Trotter and his orchestra, and announcer Ken Carpenter. Pictured from left to right: Dottie Messmer, Alice Sizer, Bobbie Canvin, Denny Wilson and Virginia Lee Erwin. The Music Maids also contributed some of their vocals, and their time, for radio broadcasts of Command Performance. Photo taken by Ernest A. Bachrach.
 
The Four Clubmen
The Four Clubmen were heard on a number of CBS Radio musical programs. From 1938 to 1939, they supplied vocals on Melody and Madness, with host Robert Benchley and Warren Hull. Lorillard Tobacco Company was the sponsor, hocking Old Gold Cigarettes between musical performances and witty comedy sketches. For a short while, they also appeared as musical regulars on the Colonel Stoopnagle program circa 1944. The publicity photo above was for another CBS radio program, Gay Nineties, also known as The Gay Nineties Revue (1939-1944).

Pat Friday
This was Bing's girl Friday. I made a brief mention of her being on the Kraft program I described above. While crooner Crosby was away vacationing, the season's hit tunes were contributed by Pat Friday, on the NBC Kraft Music Hall every Thursday night. (Yes, after Bob Burns, Kraft sponsored the series with Bing Crosby as the star.) Pat Friday, a University of California at Los Angeles coed, was discovered by Crosby and made numerous guest appearances on his program. Although she was majoring in dietetics and home economics, Crosby believed the UCLA sophomore was a potential radio star for her unique interpretation of popular songs. If you have listened to a number of Kraft programs, you've heard the voice.

Poni Adams
The original photo was cut in half. I don't know who was pictured on the right. I suspect this was a publicity photo from the radio program, Darts for Dough, which began on a local Texas radio station (WFAA in Dallas) and became so popular that it won the summertime network slot replacing Al Pearce. When Pearce did not return, the sponsor, Dr. Pepper, carried the program on the regular coast-to-coast ABC network. On Darts for Dough, contestants were selected from the studio audience and by answering questions, won a number of darts which they could throw at the dart board and win money. Poni Adams was the contestant escort and rarely heard on the program since her job was to ensure the contestants did not fall while walking up to the stage, and handled the darts carefully so no one was injured. She also served as the female element of the program. I doubt there are many pictures of Poni Adams out there, so feast your eyes on this one.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Rare Performances of Laurel and Hardy, 1942-1957

The cool thing about nostalgic movie stars is that -- regardless of who that star is -- every year something new is discovered. That is exactly what happened to author John Tefteller who did some research and ultimately unearthed some rare recordings that have never been heard since they were originally made. The most unique is a full 70 minute interview with Stan Laurel from 1957, done exactly one week after Oliver Hardy passed away. You hear Stan's thoughts and feelings about his good friend, as well as recollections and funny stories of his old days in vaudeville and being an understudy for Charlie Chaplin. Though his voice sounded older and his voice weaker than the glory days of filmmaking, it is still riveting to hear. New discoveries are indeed worth the price of admission.

About a year ago, John authored a large hardcover book, Laurel & Hardy On Stage! Rare and Unreleased Live Performances: 1942-1957. The book includes exclusive essays by Randy Skretvedt and Peter Mikkelsen, along with photos of the boys during the war (entertaining troops), a documentary about they stage tour and an exact reproduction of Stan Laurel's personal script (plus photos), a documentary regarding their days in Denmark (along with photos), Stan Laurel's scrapbook of his performance days at Copenhagen, and a lengthy essay about their work on radio. The best photo in the book are the boys at KFVD, playing the role of disc jockeys, moments after the Our Gang kids had their photo taken in the same room at the same microphone. 


The book isn't just a book. You get two audio CDs with recordings of the boys doing their stage routine in 1942, live performances of the Copenhagen performance (October 1947), the pilot episode of The Laurel & Hardy Show (NBC, recorded March 6, 1944), and that 1957 interview I mentioned prior. There are a number of connections between the 1944 unaired pilot and The Big Noise, which began filming March 28. But I won't spoil the fun here. It is better if you read the book and discover for yourself.

Because most major publishing companies prefer to cater to the mainstream market, this is not the kind of book you would expect to see on the shelves of Barnes and Noble so I suggest you visit John's website and order a copy direct. And ask him to autograph it for you.

or call 1-800-955-1326 
or email at john@tefteller.com

It is these kind of books that need our support. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Bonanza Needs Your Help

Vintage Bonanza Advertisement
It was brought to my attention today that the "Cartwrights" are in trouble and need your help. Word is sales for the official DVD releases of BONANZA, the television series, have been "soft," and CBS Paramount decision-makers are waiting to see if sales will pick up before going ahead with a Season Nine release and beyond. In other words, they placed a "sales expectation." So if you've been on the fence about buying any of the official DVD sets (especially Season Eight, the latest release), NOW is the time to do so. The sales of Season Eight will be the decision maker whether CBS releases future seasons.

The Eighth Season featured some highlights such as "The Pursued," a legendary two-part episode about the Cartwrights coming to the aid of a Mormon rancher being persecuted for his beliefs. It was directed by the legendary William Whitney, who Quentin Tarantino was once referred to as one of the best directors in history. Good friend Francis M. Nevins, a fan of Whitney, supplied a bonus extra (an interview he conducted with Whitney). Among my favorites is "Credit for the Kill," a story that puts Little Joe into a position of responsibility. Unclear which of their two bullets, fired simultaneously, brought down a wanted horse thief, Little Joe takes the humble approach and allows his friend, rancher Morgan Tanner, to take the credit and claim the much needed reward money. But when the outlaw's brothers come to town for his body and revenge, Joe has to make a difficult decision that will save his friend, but also destroy their friendship.

The Cartwrights defend a Mexican against bigotry, an immigrant family that needs the hand of friendship from Ben Cartwright, and Little Joe plays detective in an episode that recycled props later seen in episodes of The Time Tunnel. Celebrity guests include Leslie Nielsen, Don "Red" Barry, Audrey Totter, Ed Begley, Dina Merrill, John Archer, Roger Davis, Vera Miles, Beau Bridges, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Harry Carey, Jr., Jeff Corey, Joanne Linville, Jeanette Nolan, Wayne Newton (in the Christmas episode), Jack Elam, Henry Darrow, Royal Dano, and Charlie Ruggles, among others.

Unlike TV reruns, the DVDs feature new print transfers which include the original network logos and sponsor promos.

Adam, Little Joe, Pa and Hoss.
The official DVD sets were executive produced by Andy Klyde -- a popular culture historian and long-time attorney for BONANZA's creator-producer David Dortort -- and a guest speaker at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention three years ago. But future seasons (9 through 14) may never happen unless you send the message. The studios look at the bottom line... exceeding the sales expectations. So visit Amazon.com and buy Season Eight today!!! And spread the word so more people know about this! This is one of those moments where you can brag later that future seasons keep coming out because you helped make a difference. Even if you don't have all of the prior seasons, sales of Season Eight will be tallied shortly so grab this one now and send that message to the studios! (And yes, Amazon mis-spelled the word "Eight" in the product description, which can prevent a number of people from finding it on Amazon and buying a copy. This is why the link is provided below.) 

AMAZON DIRECT LINK: 

Friday, July 10, 2015

THE CAVALCADE OF AMERICA: Loretta Young

Loretta Young
In an era famed for its conservative attitude toward women, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first female physician, later the founder of the first women’s hospital and medical school and the first advocate of preventive medicine. She also established the first training school for nurses and pioneered for home nursing and out-patient care. All this was accomplished in the face of tremendous obstacles which she overcame by sheer force of will and unflagging perseverance. In 1899, Elizabeth Blackwell’s name had achieved a permanent place on the roster of famous and brilliant pioneers whose struggles against the wilderness of prejudice and ignorance created our modern civilizations.

A few days before Christmas 1944, Loretta Young was offered the role of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell for a radio production on The Cavalcade of America. Young turned in a fine performance, including an aged voice to represent her declining years in retirement in England. Merrill Dennison, the script writer, did not have to do much research for the subject. Rachel Baker, author of The First Woman Doctor: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell, M.D., published earlier that year by Julian Messner, Inc., did the legwork for Dennison. 

Baker drew upon four primary sources for research: Alice Stone Blackwell, the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, and the New York Academy of Medicine which granted the author access to the Rare Book Room. The fourth was perhaps the most significant as Baker quoted extensively from Elizabeth Blackwell’s autobiography, Pioneer Work for Women, which was shaped from Blackwell's diaries and letters. Dennison chose to open the play with Blackwell, retired and spending her declining years in England, receiving a letter concerning the naming of Elizabeth Blackwell House at Geneva College in her honor. Looking back on her career, the remainder of the broadcast centered on various flashbacks, bridged with music, focusing on the highlights of her struggles and triumphs. 

Loretta Young
There has been a big myth that Cavalcade was "historically accurate" but the medium of radio could not prevent dramatic licenses and legal avoidances without create alterations to the story. Case in point: The character of Kevin Dwyer in this episode was fictitious. When a woman died of inflammation of the appendix, a condition for which there was no known cure and no known method of treatment, a riotous mob formed outside the infirmary. Kevin Dwyer, a man cured from pneumonia courtesy of Blackwell, urged the mob to reconsider and reminded them of how their own loved ones were saved as a result of Blackwell’s knowledge and expertise. In reality, a young physician, Dr. Richard Sharpe Kissam, who served as consultant for the hospital, came running, managed somehow to climb through the crowd, and making his way to the husband of the dead woman, offered at once to perform an autopsy to prove that all proper care had been taken.

The only notable aspects in the book that was avoided altogether in Dennison's adaptation was the numerous references to anti-slavery in the United States and the Civil War, which provided Blackwell with a considerable number of patients when times prior were slow. Elizabeth Blackwell went to Paris to work in a woman's hospital to gain experience, then went to St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London to be cured of a disease which almost blinded her. With only thirty minutes to tell the story, Dennison chose to highlight the more prominent scenes in the life of the first female physician.

Baker's book provides a great story worth repeating (and was not dramatized in the Cavalcade production). Assisting Dr. Webster at an operation during her studies, Elizabeth Blackwell was washing her hands and she confided that there was no part of her medical studies which was so fascinating to her as surgery.

Was Young the model for this cover art?
He looked at her fingers. "You have deft and capable hands," he said, "small, and yet they're the hands of a surgeon." He told her not to strain and stiffen her fingers, not to carry heavy parcels or to do coarsening work.

"You must keep your hands pliable," he said, and he told her of exercises for relaxing the fingers.

And another time when she sat in the study hall bent over her books, he came up to her. "You'll all the same," he almost shouted, for he had a temper too, "wasting your eyesight, which is the most precious thing that a surgeon possesses!"

Later Elizabeth learned that Dr. Webster, who was operating less frequently, was troubled with failing eyesight, and that despite his jollity this was a source of great bitterness to him. And Elizabeth, who sat up late every night studying the reports of famous operations, began to realize how important her eyes and fingers were.

At the dissection table, one, a little liquid spurted into her face. Elizabeth reached up to wipe it with the corner of her apron. "Guard your eyes!" shouted Dr. Webster, and he gave her hand a hard blow, afterward apologizing.

"Without your eyes," he said, "your fingers are blind!" And as if he had said more than he wanted to, he strode from the room, coming back later to joke and banter as he passed from table to table in his usual informal way. 

In today's society, we mistake a scolding or sharp advice from another person as criticism. In reality, such "criticism" is generally sincere concern. Elizabeth chose not to get upset at the man who scolded her in front of the other class (consisting all male), but rather the doctor's concern her for and over time the students themselves began to treat Elizabeth with a new respect and a greater sense of friendliness.

Movie version of U-Boat Prisoner.
Not all episodes of The Cavalcade of America were adapted faithfully for the radio. U-Boat Prisoner (broadcast December 27, 1943), for example, was scripted by Arthur Arent from the autobiography of the same name, published by the Houghton Mifflin Company. Archie Gibbs, a war hero, recounted his life before entry into the service. During the war, Gibbs was torpedoed and rescued twice in the same 24 hours. The second rescue, however, was on a German submarine and as a prisoner, Gibbs had nothing to do but listen to the radio. As they listened, Archie found what he needed to sustain him, come what might. The German sailors were dialing for something, dialing endlessly but never finding what they sought. But at last they found it. Long and clear the signal came in, and you could have knocked Archie Gibbs over with a pin-cushion. For what he heard was "Deep in the Heart of Texas" and the German sailors were clapping in approved American fashion at just the proper times. Then and there, Archie Gibbs ceased to be scared. 

The Cavalcade production was an adaptation of the final chapter of the book, which centered on Gibbs' U-Boat experience. Arent chose to avoid the rest of the book which focused on the childhood and farm life of Archie Gibbs.

Like most radio programs, The Cavalcade of America featured production values of varied quality. Some were better than others. The two described above are worth listening to (including "Dolly Madison" from May 22, 1939, which features an excellent script.) Fans of Loretta Young may also want to hear this episode to decide for themselves whether the actress was able to pull it off when playing the role of a young woman, middle aged woman and an old woman. A voice talent that could almost be compared to professional radio actors such as Jeanette Nolan and Agnes Moorehead.

Episode #414  "DOCTOR IN CRINOLINE"  Broadcast December 18, 1944
Cast: Georgia Backus (Aunt Barbara); Bea Benaderet (Mrs. Elder and Cornelia); Frank Graham (the reporter); Fred Howard (Dr. Lee); Mary Jane Croft (Emily and Miss Waller); Peg La Centra (Laura Dawson); Barbara Lee Benton (the child); John McIntire (Kevin Dwyer and Collins); Howard McNear (Smith and Dr. Benedict); Lou Merrill (the director and Field); Jeanette Nolan (Kitty); Herbert Rawlinson (Mr. Gilpin and Hale); Dick Ryan (Mr. Elwell and Mr. Webster); Eleanor Taylor (Mary Jean); and Loretta Young (Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell).
Produced and directed by Jack Zoller.
Program Announcer: Walter Huston
Commercial Announcer: Gayne Whitman
Music Composed and Conducted by Robert Armbruster.

Trivia, etc. 
The original title of the first draft of this script was "The First Woman Doctor." The title was changed by the second-to-final draft, "America’s First Woman Physician." The final draft featured the final change, "Doctor in Crinoline."
            
Jeanette Nolan received a special acknowledgment at the closing credits for her role of Kitty in the production.