Friday, April 29, 2011

Henry Aldrich's Mother: Katherine Raht

Fans of old-time radio are familiar with the radio program, The Aldrich Family. Whenever a discussion about the radio program is the topic of the minute at radio conventions, Clifford Goldsmith and Ezra Stone are mentioned by name more often than anyone else. But ask someone, "Who played the role of Henry Aldrich's mother on The Aldrich Family?" and no one seems to be able to answer the trivia question.

Katherine Raht was brought up to be a Chattanooga belle, and surprised her family by becoming a school teacher after graduation from Bryn Mawr. When she left teaching to attend a school of the theater, her family and neighbors all but swooned. Her first acting plum was the role of Mrs. Gibbs in Our Town

Until she had been chosen for the role of Henry Aldrich's mother, Katherine Raht didn't know she wanted to be in radio at all. Although she always had a yen for the stage, and sang Gilbert and Sullivan operettas in glee clubs, and studied costume design, she never consider the fledgling medium of radio as a career booster.

In the spring of 1939, a friend was so impressed with her sympathetic and motherly voice that he introduced her to Clifford Goldsmith, author of The Aldrich Family. Goldsmith was just beginning auditions for his radio program. It appears he heard her several times on small-known radio programs, but when she was paired up with House Jameson (Mr. Sam Aldrich), they made such a team that Goldsmith hired her to play the role.

"It was clearly an exception to the rule," Raht later explained in an interview. "Most radio stars come up the hard way. You can't learn anything in two weeks, as I told a certain ambitious young girl who had come to New York from the South and asked me where she could go to learn radio in record time. She wanted to go home a full-fledged staff announcer. She had the cart before the horse."

For years I have been criticizing the internet (the world wide web) as a reference source for all things old-time radio. For researchers like myself, who dig into archives and document our findings in books,  the internet is used as a tool for research, not as a reference. The difference? Using the internet to transfer files, find archives at University libraries, track down family relatives of celebrity actors, communicate with the script writers who are still alive, browse an archive like the New York Times, I think you get the idea. But if a web-site like Wikipedia claims Al Hodge played the role of The Green Hornet from 1936 to 1941, I would take it with a grain of salt. (There's already an 800-page book documenting The Green Hornet and  the correct answer can be found in there.)

I know of no respectable scholar, University professor or author who consults the internet as a reference, and hanging their head up high, they will tell you so with stern conviction. There's an old saying among researchers: everyone consults previously-published books on old-time radio and copies the same mistakes in their write-ups, but very few actually do the legwork. (One web-site in particular has built a reputation for stealing material from other people's web-sites, then claims they did their own "independent research," and sadly is misleading others into thinking they are "historians.") So why did I bring this up? Because two months ago on Charlie Summers' OTR Digest, I made reference to an episode guide for The Aldrich Family, which has been in the works for some time. Many years, actually. A kind soul (who admitted he has a few of my books and wanted to help contribute to the Aldrich Family project) mailed to me via Fed Ex, two large scrapbooks previously owned by Katherine Raht.



Most Hollywood actors do not keep a scrapbook of all the newspaper clippings, Variety reviews or other mementos. Some did, but most did not. But those who worked on the stage during the 1920s and 1930s, often did. Perhaps this rubbed off on Katherine Raht, but regardless of the reason, we now have a very comprehensive document of her stage and radio work. In an effort to preserve the scrapbooks (which were starting to fall apart at the seems) I used my digital camera to snap photos. Using the scanner was not possible since the pages were much larger than the scanner itself. Besides, it's the history and text we want to preserve.

As a treat for all you Henry Aldrich fans out there, enclosed are a number of clippings and telegrams and other goodies found within the scrapbooks. Sorry, but I am not including all 200 snapshots. But the samples are something to droll over. You'll probably have to click on each image to see them larger.

Be assured that I did create an off-site back up of the digital files so there's no fear of losing them. As for The Aldrich Family project, there's no insurance of a book in the works. At least, not yet. But as a researcher, I don't turn such opportunities down. I'm willing to take time and help preserve what I can of radio broadcasting history. So for the moment, the photos you see are being stored on the shelf until something comes up noteworthy.

Enjoy!
















P.S. If the web-site I mentioned above (or any web-site for that matter) copies the photos and pastes them on their site, thus giving the appearance they originated the snapshots, or go so far as to claim I stole them from their web-site, I'll quietly remove this posting and permanently cease offering future archival goodies. I'm extending a courtesy for the fans, not for credit hogs with huge egos.

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