Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Recap

As we bring each year to a close, it is important to reflect on what we've accomplished. It is with this reason that I dedicate one (out of 52) blog posts to focus on significant accomplishments, joys and friendships.

Earlier this year, at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State, construction crews discovered a treasure trove of military music recordings while renovating a fitness center at the Madigan Army Hospital. There were 8,000 transcription discs, all 16 inches in diameter, that dated back to the 1940's and 1950's. Classical, jazz, country-western, big-band, all kinds of music, and all recorded strictly for military use. They were packed into 30 boxes, neatly cataloged with index cards in metal filing drawers, stacked two-high in a 20-inch wide space between a racquetball court and a gymnasium.

"Amazing," Dale Sadler, a huge music buff, called them. "It really sheds light on an era here at the base that isn't that well known." The incredible cache from the past was stashed in the narrow space behind an unlocked door for 40 years. Nobody ever bothered to open the boxes to discovered what was in them. Sadler said he had to keep reminding himself it's government property. He spent Tuesday sorting through all the records.



Along with other news and information, the recordings would have been played at the old radio station on base, first known as KMGH. Similar recordings would have been shipped to war-fronts in Europe and Korea to entertain the troops. Could there be some old-time radio programs that don't exist in recorded form? Only time will tell.

On a positive side, other archives and museums are still waiting to be opened to the public. And one of the most promising is the Voice of America Museum in West Chester, Ohio. Media Heritage is a non-profit archive founded in 2011, dedicated to preserving, restoring and maintaining the rich radio and television history of the greater Cincinnati area, the Midwest and the Nation. At the time of its foundation, no local archive existed and much of the rich broadcast history of the area was being thrown away or lost. Media Heritage, located at the VOA Museum, is the culmination of thousands of hours of research and diligent work. From the Mary Wood Collection to the Ruth Lyons Collection (among dozens of others), donated by the families of broadcast pioneers featuring thousands of photographs, scripts and other memorabilia, these collections are important research tools and are lasting tributes to those individual's careers. Friends of mine, and myself, received a very rare tour of the facilities. Since the museum is not yet open to the public, this was certainly a privilege. We saw photos hanging on the walls, television props and other nostalgic museum pieces. And I am pleased to say that even in a declined economy, with museums hurting for business, in a few years this museum may be open for business.
For more information, visit www.historyofbroadcasting.com 

In October, a friend of mine gave me a newspaper clipping related to Sam Spade, since I wrote two books on the subject. I found this comic strip amusing.


Comic strip a friend cut out of the paper and gave me.

Speaking of radio, I had the honors of writing half a dozen booklets/liner notes for Radio Spirits box sets. The Shadow, The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet. The most recent is "Green Hornet: Endpoint," a 10 CD box set containing the final 20 episodes of the series, starring Jack McCarthy. Only one of these 20 have been in circulation, so Green Hornet fans just received another 19 new adventures in audio format! Radio Spirits continues to put out un-circulated radio programs and their efforts should not go unnoticed. I recommend you visit www.RadioSpirits.com direct to purchase your copy.


In July, my wife and I attended Pulpfest 2011 in Columbus, Ohio. Celebrating the 80th Anniversary of the pulp magazine, The Shadow, their program guide featured a fascinating article about the origin of Walter Gibson's pulp novels, written by Mike Chomko.  The same program guide features an article about L. Ron Hubbard's stories adapted for radio broadcasts, and documents a virtually unknown radio performance that probably doesn't exist in recorded form. Hubbard's short story, "Fear," was adapted into radio form by Ray Bradbury and rehearsed with some actors in a little theater group he belonged in. According to Bradbury, Loraine Day was the actress in charge. 

On the evening of July 29, I presented a slide show documenting the history of the radio program, which inspired Street & Smith to create a pulp magazine using "The Shadow" name. It went over very well and a crowd large enough to warrant bringing all the equipment including the video projector. Ed Hulse also moderated a panel about Walter Gibson, with three other panelists. With one or two egos on board, my friend Alex predicted one or two of them to dominate the panel with their expertise. I was sitting on the fence with his opinion -- after all, Ed was the moderator. It went over extremely well, thanks to Ed, and everyone had equal time to speak and be heard from. If Ed ever reads this, good job!

For those who do not know, my wife and I are among the staff of the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, a three-day festival celebrating old movies, retro television and old-time radio. It's become a raving success (I'm not tooting my horn here) because statistically, we have the largest attendance figures, the most vendors and more panels/seminars than any other convention of nostalgic nature. Our attendance has grown between 32 to 39 percent larger every year from the prior year, and once again we broke attendance records. 

This panel was so popular it was standing room only!
Anyone care to question crowd control?

This year my wife and I played host to Patty Duke, Davy Jones, Tony Dow, Jimmy Hunt, Lauren Chapin, Billy Gray, Karen Valentine and Michael Constantine, among others. The photo below is Lisa Kelly, a family relative, sneaking in before the flood gates open, to meet Patty Duke.


Regardless of the growing crowd every year, my wife and I still receive criticism (passed on to us from third parties) that our convention is the cause of declining attendance at other conventions. I cannot imagine this as so, as people can attend more than one convention, but as my friend Ken says, "It's not criticism, it's a compliment in the form of professional jealousy." So we continue to focus on what we have planned for next year's bash.

I'd like to make it clear that MANC was designed to help bring attention to various organizations that help preserve part of our pop culture heritage. This year, we dedicated a two-page write-up in our program guide for the Theater Historical Society, which is dedicated to preserving old movie palaces and theater marquees. (For more info about THS, click here.) As a result, my wife and I received a pleasant surprise.

Martin,
I cannot thank you enough for highlighting THS in your Friday remarks.  THS has worked tirelessly to ensure that we are the trusted, accurate and secure repository for the history of America's theaters from every era - but of course the "golden age of picture palaces" remains the number one interest of our members. We deeply appreciate your efforts to bring our name and mission to the attention of your readers, who certainly would share our passion. I am copying our editor, Ken Bloom, and our Executive Director, Richard Sklenar, on this email so that they can have your contact information available for reference.  We would be thrilled if you would consider sharing any photos or essays that you may have penned with our members via our Marquee magazine. Thank you for being there for historic radio - and thank you again for your praise and promotion of THS and its mission. Please call on THS any time we can be of assistance to you!
With best regards,
- Karen
Karen Colizzi Noonan, Geneva NY
President, Theatre Historical Society of America
Society Office: Elmhurst, Illinois ~ www.historictheatres.org

Earlier in the year I received an e-mail from David Menefee, an author and researcher of a number of books. He has a monthly e-mail newsletter that is worth subscribing to, but if I read it correctly, December marked his last issue. Sad to hear. But his e-mail is cheerful.


Dear Martin,
Thank you! I appreciate so much the fact that you found these details and solved the long-standing mystery about Maude Adams and her radio performances. You have provided far more information than I thought existed. Of course, those of us who were hoping to experience these performances, especially Peter Pan, will be greatly disappointed to know that no transcriptions were made. However, we can now be at peace knowing that they are not "lost," just non-existing.
I thank you again.
Sincerely,
David W. Menefee


For anyone wondering what this is about, I have a motto that means helping everyone whenever I can. Regrettably, I get more requests than I can fulfill, but I try my best to help anyone who needs information, assistance or research. David was seeking info about Maude Adams and her radio credits, so I took a trip to the Library of Congress to get him the info he was seeking, and confirmation that NBC never recorded the broadcasts on transcription discs.

Perhaps the greatest highlight of the year was an impromptu flight out to Los Angeles. In October, my good friend Ben Ohmart and I flew to California for a four-day research trip for two book projects. We tossed about the idea of going out to LA for a few days and then decided to just go with it. Apparently I've been to Los Angeles more often than I can remember, because as Ben commented, it's not everyone who can visit Warner Brothers Studios and receive a welcome hug. 


One of those two books, by the way, involves a special contract and while I cannot yet reveal that surprise, it will be released in July and be the first in a four-book series. A sample of the book will appear on my blog in May or June.

The climax of the West Coast visit, at the conclusion of day four, was a personal visit to the house of June Foray, thanks to the pre-arranged phone call of a good friend who made it happen. Ben published June's two books (including her autobiography). June was delightful and a treasure. We both worship the ground this woman walks on, fully aware of her numerous accomplishments, so you can imagine how one hour at her home made the entire trip worth the expense and time.



I love June's necklace of Rocky the Flying Squirrel.


My friend Ben Ohmart at Warner Bros.


Speaking of research, Karl Schadow wrote a wonderful two-part article for Radio Recall, February and March 2011 issues, about the radio program, Dark Fantasy. Very little is known about the program and Karl did superb research and a write-up worthy of seeking out the issues. Karl goes down to the smallest detail, verifying the difference between scripts stamped "approved for broadcast" and "as broadcast" copies. I had the honor of helping to present the Ray Stanich award to Karl this year at the FOTR Convention. I only met Karl once before this, at the same convention, many years before. It was wonderful to see this unsung researcher get his dues.
 
Among the last of my visits and tours was Grover's Mill, New Jersey, where the Martians supposedly landed in 1938, courtesy of Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater broadcasts. For more info about this, click here.





Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!


Evelyn Lynne
Contralto on The Breakfast Club, Club Matinee and Music From Hollywood

 Bette Davis looks over the Christmas Gifts for children.

In case you don't recognize the woman pictured above and below, that's Loretta Young spreading a little Christmas cheer. Makes you wonder what the studio planned to do with these photos?


Shirley Temple fast asleep while Santa shows up.

 Mae West wishes everyone a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The 1945 INFORMATION, PLEASE European Tour

.
(L to R) John Kiernan, Beatrice Lillie, Reginald Gardiner & Franklin P. Adams

During the summer of 1945, while Information, Please was off the air for a short hiatus, the Information, Please crew (which consisted of Fadiman, Adams, Kieran, Golenpaul and actress Beatrice Lillie) made a European tour for the program throughout all of July and early August. According to paperwork exchanged between Dan Golenpaul and Beatrice Lillie in September of 1964 (she was writing her autobiography and Golenpaul helped furnish material relating to the European tour), the itinerary included:
July 12, 1945 – Evening performance in a converted riding hall. Fourth guest was General Haislip.
July 13, 1945 – Two performances in Bahnhof (station) hall.
July 14, 1945 – Afternoon and evening performances on outdoor stage by the Neckar River.
July 15, 1945 РPerformance in Gartenhalle (Hall in a Park) in Swäbisch-Gmund.
July 16, 1945 РSecond performance in Swäbisch-Gmund. Forth guest was General Morris.
July 17, 1945 – Performance was on an open stage in field at Jugenheim.
July 18, 1945 – Performances from a bandstand in an area used for concerts in Spa days. Fourth guest was General Rheinhardt.
July 19, 1945 – Performance in Giessen, 20 miles away from Bad Nauheim, in a movie theater.
July 20, 1945 – Outdoor show in Marburg. Beatrice Lillie lost a fan in the after-performance crush.
July 21, 1945 – Remained in Marburg. Performance in “Tent City,” an area housing 5,000 GIs awaiting reassignment.
July 22, 1945 – Performance in basement theater at Kassel.
July 23, 1945 – Another performance at Kassel, same as above.
July 24, 1945 – Same as above.
July 25, 1945 – Traveled by air to airstrip near Nuremberg. Then by car to Bamberg. No performance.
July 26, 1945 – Afternoon performance in a riding hall. Evening performance at Bayreuth at the Festspielhaus, how being used for G.I. movie house.
July 27, 1945 – Tortuous drive to Hamelberg, for an afternoon show in an open field. Later that evening an outdoor show for the 101st Infantry Regiment.
July 28, 1945 – By air to Regensburg. No show on this date.
July 29, 1945 – Show on banks of Danube.
July 30, 1945 – Outdoor show at Weiden.
July 31, 1945 – Performed a show in cow pasture in Kelheim, where the 9th Armored Division was stationed.

Beatrice Lillie and Third Division GI Eddie Hausner.

August 1, 1945 – By car to Munich. Show at Prinzregententheater. Broadcast by AFN (Armed Forces Network).
August 2, 1945 – Locale of Tutzing evening performance where there were more Germans and GIs.
August 3, 1945 – Dan Golenpaul returned to Paris. In Augsburg, for evening show at the Ludwigsbau, a theater in a park area.
August 4, 1945 – Crew made a visit to Richard Strauss in Garmisch. Evening show in Olympic Ice Stadium.
August 5, 1945. Golenpaul returns from Paris. Dinner and a late start in Linz by way of Salzburg. Guests included Sgt. Jimmy Shelton and Captain Frank Farrell.
August 6, 1945 – Performed a show in hangar at an airport.
August 7, 1945 – Midday show in outdoor area for only a handful of GIs. The men visited Adlershorst (Eagle’s Nest) built by Hitler on top of the mountain. Built by Hitler for visitors, now used for Army brass.
August 8, 1945 – Outdoor show for a meager audience in the valley of Salzach in St. Johann. It is today that the men hear of news of Hiroshima.
August 9, 1945 – Return to Munich, await return by air to Paris. In the afternoon, rumors of Japanese surrender and end of the Pacific war. Weather is bad today.
August 10, 1945 – Another day of bad weather.
August 11, 1945 – Weather still bad, but flight comes in.
August 12, 1945 – Show at Salle Pleyel.
August 13 to 16, 1945 – At leisure in Paris. Golenpaul, Kieran, Adams leave for U.S. 

During the tour, en route to the various locations where the performances were to take place for American troops stationed in Europe, Golenpaul and his crew (which also included actor Reginald Gardiner) traveled through many acres of rubble-covered ruins, and quartered in small private houses, a castle in Ludwigsburg, and even a Park Sanitorium!

In some of the towns they toured, only buildings in town remained intact, while acres and acres of burned fields and residential houses had been blown to pieces.
Reginald Gardiner and Third Division GI Eddie Hausner

 “It’s hard to believe these gentlemen are as intelligent as they sound.”
— Clifton Fadiman

It was during this European tour in the summer of 1945 that, according to author/researcher Sally Ashley, Clifton Fadiman and John Kieran first noticed a change in Franklin P. Adams. Kieran had an eye infection and had to treat it several times each day. When Kieran asked Adams to help administer the medicine, Adams could not do so without his hands shaking violently. Late-night poker games also caused Adams to act strangely, almost as if intoxicated. The men later learned that their good friend Franklin P. Adams was afflicted with the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

The information above is an excerpt from the Information, Please book, written by Martin Grams (available at www.MartinGrams.com). Reprinted with permission.

Clifton Fadiman (seated on right) and GI Eddie Hausner.

Personal Note:
Since the book was published in 2003, I received a large number of letters, e-mails and other forms of "fan communication" from people who enjoyed the book and wanted to share a piece of trivia that I was not aware of. Since I began appearing annually at the Cinefest Convention in Syracuse, New York, the festival promoters have made it a tradition to screen an RKO film short (one of 18) during their lineup. The most recent was one with horror icon Boris Karloff, who was asked to name the drink when the ingredients were named. When fruit juices, liqueurs and various rums were named, Karloff was the one that knew the answer: a zombie!

Among the e-mails I received was one kind soul who sent me digital scans of photographs from the 1945 European tour. These photos are reprinted with their permission.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Cinnamon Bear and Timothy John

For many, The Cinnamon Bear has become an annual tradition during the holidays. Produced in the summer of 1937 by Transco (Transcription Company of America), this 26-chapter radio serial remains a highlight among fans of old time radio. Designed as an offering to entertain and delight young children, it tells the story of Judy and Jimmy Barton who travel to an enchanted world in search of the Crazy Quilt Dragon, who stole the silver star from the top of their Christmas tree. Along the way, in each 15-minute episode, Judy and Jimmy meet a new character. The Wintergreen Witch, Fraidy Cat, Mr. Presto the Magician, Fe Fo the Giant, Captain Taffy, Captain Tin Top and many others.

Newspaper Advertisement from Nov. 10, 1938.
Last week, a friend of mine called me to point out a web-site that offers newspaper ads for The Cinnamon Bear, and he suspected they were "altered." I took a look and confirmed his suspicions. The web-site is purposely scanning old newspaper ads and then altering the text so they can "brand" the images. Shame on them. That's not "preservation" no matter how much they hail themselves as researchers attempting to preserve old time radio. The newspaper advertisement above has not been altered in any way.

Soon after The Cinnamon Bear gained popularity, Carlton E. Morse, creator and script writer of such radio programs as I Love A Mystery and One Man's Family, plotted six chapters for a proposed radio serial int he same vein of The Cinnamon Bear. In fact, it's so close some consider Morse's proposal a blatant rip-off. But few people know about this proposal, titled Timothy John, because the series never met fruition. Except for the six proposed chapters, nothing else was apparently done.

Chicago newspaper dated Nov. 24, 1938.
I have to apologize for the newspaper advertisement above. It was copied directly off of microfilm. As a result, the photo image did not come through very well. The library printer attached to the microfilm reader could not do greyscale, only black and white. But the text makes it very clear.

Morse knew full well that The Cinnamon Bear was copyrighted, even in the late thirties and early forties. Fearing a lawsuit and unable to make his serial different from the competition, it is speculated that this is the reason why Morse never pursued this venture beyond the six chapter proposals. (The Cinnamon Bear still remains copyrighted today, and protected under Federal Copyright and Trademark laws. For this reason, non-commercial copies of the serial is illegal (including downloads) and should not be supported.)

Dennis Crow, a collector of old-time radio programs, passed away a couple years ago. He was known as the go-to guy when you needed to know anything about The Cinnamon Bear. Dennis wrote a number of magazine articles about the program (including Radio Recall click here). He was always after the name of the elusive actor who played the role of Jimmy Barton. It seems while the actor remained unknown at the time, but when I sent him a copy of Carlton E. Morse's chapter proposals, he got a kick out of it. Dennis told me personally that it was the biggest discovery in the history of The Cinnamon Bear to surface in almost a decade. I'll let you decide. For your enjoyment (especially if you are familiar with the Irish-speaking Paddy O'Cinnamon), here are the proposals Carlton E. Morse typed and shelved.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Car 54, Where Are You?

Since the Car 54, Where Are You? television program is now out on DVD commercially, and two new Snow White movies available in theaters this winter, we should take a quick moment and look back at how the television program came into being.

When exactly Nat Hiken created the series has not been established, but the earliest-known time frame was during the autumn months of 1960, when Hiken visited a New York precinct house. He was amazed that policemen sounded just like any other group doing a job. “I’d never seen a policeman on TV talk or act like these guys. I began to think about the possibilities, particularly for humor,” Hiken recalled. He began researching Car 54 by sitting around the New York precinct squad room for several weeks, listening to the banter and gossip among the men. “I spent hours there watching what went on. It was a neighborhood atmosphere. Many of those persons brought in were repeaters who were greeted by their first names. I never once saw a cop grab anybody by the collar, which is what television normally shows them doing. I found it a very warm, friendly atmosphere,” he said. “They never mentioned any ‘grim, humorless’ aspects of their jobs.”

After summarizing the idea of a pair of Mutt and Jeff cops in two paragraphs, Hiken submitted an expanded outline (8 pages) entitled “The Snow Whites” to Procter & Gamble in mid-summer 1960. The company and its ad men liked the offbeat notion. Encouraged, Hiken prepared an expanded outline for Pete Katz, Program Production Manager of Eupolis Productions, Inc. in late October, 1960. A number of correspondences and meetings began taking place between Howard Epstein, President of Eupolis Productions, Inc. and Richard Zimbert of the Leo Burnett Company, Inc., an agency representing Procter & Gamble Productions, Inc.

On Nov. 18, 1960, Pete Katz wrote to Nat Hiken: “Your plans and story outlines for ‘The Snow Whites’ sound delightful and extremely interesting.” Hiken agreed to certain terms related to the production end of the series. Most of the terms were standard, but one stipulation was that the pilot was to be finished by the end of January. Since the premise had been documented in detail and accepted by Eupolis, Hiken composed a story outline for the pilot, as well as a finished script, and delivered it to Pete Katz by December 7. During the week of December 12, Hiken presented the script and a general show presentation to the networks, in hopes that one would accept the proposal. Eupolis could have had anyone on their payroll do the job, but with the Phil Silvers Bilko show under his belt, Hiken took the chore, under the assumption that this credit would lend credence to the proposed series. NBC showed the most interest, and verbally expressed a desire to view the finished product.

On November 21, a commitment letter was drafted by Leo Burnett Company, Inc., the advertising agency representing Procter & Gamble Prod., Inc., referring to the series as “The Snow Whites.” The agreement between P&G and Eupolis clearly stated that Procter & Gamble would finance the entire pilot, for no more than $75,000. P&G had the option, after viewing the pilot, not to pick up the series. If that option were chosen, P&G had the right to recoup the financing expenditure from any subsequent licensing of the pilot - either alone, or as part of a series. If the pilot was licensed alone, Procter & Gamble would receive 50 percent of that license fee and 50 percent of any subsequent fees thereafter until the investment was repaid. If the pilot was licensed to others as part of a series deal, Procter & Gamble’s entire investment would be returned to them, amortized on a per show basis over the first year’s commitment.

After delivery of the pilot, P&G had 45 days to choose whether or not they would agree to pick up the series for a fall 1961 start, based on a commitment of 26 new episodes (one of which could be the pilot), and pocket five percent of the proceeds. The commitment between P&G and Eupolis dated November 21 also granted the sponsor the option to add new episodes to the fall lineup, up to 32 episodes maximum.

The cost factor involved for the series would be $55,000 per episode (maximum) and the price could be increased to cover Eupolis’ actual out-of-pocket increased costs arising out of contract escalators and/or union increases. If the series was going to be carried in Canada, Procter & Gamble insisted that any sponsors who were considered to be “competition” to the Corporation not sponsor the Canadian airings. Eupolis had creative control over the series, coupled with a duty to listen to any views P&G may have regarding the content in the scripts. (During the entire two years of production, Car 54 never received suggestions for improvement or change to any of the scripts before they were filmed.)

Procter and Gamble did retain the right to use the title of the show, and any of the elements of the shows, names and characterizations of performers, as well as articles and items of personal property referred to in the show for use in connection with packages, premiums, contacts and advertising.

On Nov. 22, 1960, it was agreed by all parties (Howard Epstein of Eupolis and Richard Zimbert of the Leo Burnett Company) that Nat Hiken would be assigned as the head writer and supervisor for the entire production. This was made formal under contract that same day and signed by Hiken. The announcement went public when Variety reported in their January 11, 1961 issue: “Nat Hiken has sold a series of comedy halfhours to Procter & Gamble for next season. Sponsor and producer are now whopping around for a network berth of the show, called 'Snow Whites.' All three webs - ABC-TV, CBS-TV and NBC-TV - have been pitched by the bankroller. It’s understood that for the moment, NBC-TV has the inside track on placement of Whites.” (The October 1962 issue of Pageant reported that CBS and ABC had their chances to land the show, but claimed they couldn’t find the right time slot.)

Production for the pilot began Jan, 16, 1961, and lasted six days, completing January 23. Filming on the first day took place on location outside Vin-Syd Mold Shoes, Inc., located at 1191 Jerome Avenue, in the Bronx. The owner and operator of the company agreed to allow the production company to film the exterior of his premises (the street scene in which you see Toody and Muldoon calling the patrolmen over to inspect the shoes in the window display) under the condition that the name of his store remain intact and on camera, for publicity purposes. Robert Sylvester of the New York Daily News wrote in his Feb. 18, 1961, column of “Dream Street,” that “Nat Hiken shot the first of his new TV series at a place called Vin-Syd Mold Shoes in the Bronx. Must have gotten a lot of feet of film . . .”

In mid-February, the pilot film entitled “The Snow Whites” was previewed to all three networks, four agencies, and three Divisions of Procter & Gamble. But the pilot had competition. Apparently there were other pilots commissioned by P&G and all were previewed as fairly as “The Snow Whites.” According to an inter-office memo directed toward Bill McIlvain of the Leo Burnett Company, the pilot was generally favored when compared to the other pilots. “I can tell you that I don’t think many would survive such an ordeal,” the memo stated.

The National Broadcasting Company agreed to broadcast the series, and air the series following the popular Disneyland program, but a major suggestion was made, which proved to be a valid point: not to use the “Snow Whites” title. “Nobody who saw the film knew what it meant,” the same memo explained. “While we know we can explain it, we don’t think that kind of title is much of an asset in this competitive scene. Following Disneyland, we face the ridiculous possibility of attracting people to a wonderful cartoon which they might be disappointed not to see. We plan important publicity for the show before, during and after its debut in the fall. It will be a burden to have to explain the title in publicity.”

Just a month before, Howard Epstein approached the law offices of Johnson & Tannenbaum, located at 1619 Broadway, New York, N.Y., to inquire whether or not it would be practical to keep the “Snow Whites” title or create a new one. “We wish to advise you that this title, SNOW WHITE or SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, is in the public mind,” explained Samuel W. Tannenbaum, “associated with the fairy tale by the Grimm Brothers, Jacob, who died in 1863, and Wilhelm Carl who died in 1859. The tales of the Grimm Brothers are in the public domain throughout the world. The title is practically wholly associated with the Grimm Brothers fairy tale, adaptations, dramatizations and picturizations thereof.”

This five-page letter addressed to Epstein, dated January 24, 1961, broke down every known book, periodical, dramatic presentation, motion picture, radio and television presentation and notice in both newspapers and trade papers in the United States and abroad. While most of the 32 entries and numerous trade paper excerpts were related to dramatic stage adaptations and copyrighted motion pictures, one entry revealed a “possible” conflict with Walt Disney and Eupolis Productions. Almost a year before, in March of 1960, Chanford Productions had found itself to be the meat in the sandwich when it announced plans for an upcoming Frank Tashlin comedy, Snow White and the Three Stooges, registered with the MPAA. Chanford received protests from both ends - Columbia Pictures filed protest on the strength of their “Three Stooges” properties, and Walt Disney had come up with an MPAA protest, with their Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

On June 29, 1960, 20th Century Fox and Chanford won the title arbitration involving the Stooges movie, still planned as an exploitation feature to be made by Frank Tashlin, under the argument that the ‘Three Stooges’ portion of the title prevented any confusion with the Disney film. Walt Disney, however, still regarded the title as conflicting with its Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs release. The matter gained momentum when, on November 15, Chanford Productions began preparing Snow White and the Three Stooges, in association with 20th Century Fox, and laid groundwork for a sequel to the fairytale. Vice President of Chandford, Charles Wick, registered ten “Snow White” titles with the MPAA. “Snow White and the Three Stooges is being blueprinted as a classic fairytale,” Wick explained to the press, “noting further that the Stooges will play ‘lovable oafs’ who act as they would have in the period depicted.”

The Nov. 23, 1960 issue of Variety reported in their usual slang: “While Chanford Productions veepee Charles Wick anticipated no title conflict problem caused by his registration of ten Snow White titles for a projected sequel to his Snow White and the Three Stooges, the problem has arisen. Walt Disney strenuously objects to the registrations and has filed protest with MPAA’s Title Registration Bureau.”

According to the March 1, 1961 issue of Variety, the time slot for the comedy series was discussed in great detail between Procter & Gamble and NBC. The network apparently provoked intra-product fussing and feuding. Procter & Gamble made an all-out pitch for a Wednesday evening time slot in which to install the new Nat Hiken comedy series. But when Lever Bros., which had been sponsoring The Price is Right in that period, tentatively agreed to move to Monday to accommodate, along with it went the proviso that no rival product - meaning P&G - would get the same time slot even if it were a different day of the week. Since the NBC-Lever Brothers deal was $25,000,000 in NBC billings, the Nat Hiken series was given a Sunday evening time slot that kept P&G content.

The same issue of Variety reported that (including the cost of productions of “The Snow Whites”), the total bill of sale to NBC for sponsorship would be $4,275,000. This was economical considering the cost factor for other series - Disney sponsors would be paying about $12,000,000 per annum, and Chevy was paying $21,000,000 for Bonanza. (This budgetary figure is equally impressive when you consider that in 1955, CBS invested a cool $1,000,000 in Nat Hiken’s judgment for The Phil Silvers Show, and that budget was for the first 16 episodes produced!)

The March 26, 1961 issue of The New York Times featured a column by Val Adams, reporting: “The National Broadcasting Company plans a daring step next fall. It will televise a police show without crime. This is even more daring than a newspaper drama in which no one yells, ‘Stop the press!’ . . . The title for Mr. Hiken’s show has not yet been decided. Initially, he had planned to call it ‘Snow Whites’ (because of the white tops of New York police radio cars), but this has been abandoned. One reason is that Walt Disney will have a Sunday night show on NBC next season and the public might confuse ‘The Snow Whites’ with Mr. Disney. The dropping of the title of ‘The Snow Whites’ may have been quite a blow for Mr. Hiken’s sponsor - the Procter & Gamble Company, soap manufacturer.”

While the question of what to call the series continued, Nat Hiken spent the months of February through June preparing for filming - the first episode set to go before the cameras in July. While the cast for the series was put into place for the pilot, weeks would pass before the actors could commit to a weekly filming schedule. Fred Gwynne, for example, was currently appearing on Broadway in Irma la Douce. But by March 26, a New York newspaper was already reporting Joe E. Ross and Fred Gwynne were signed to play the leads (they had signed back in January), and Nathaniel Frey was the only name mentioned in the same article, for playing a supporting role. Harold Reidman, a retired New York detective who maintained direct contact with old buddies still on the force, was hired as a technical advisor for Car 54. “The hardest part of a policeman’s job,” he explains, “is to overcome the onus of meeting the public only in unpleasant situations, like giving out tickets. As they see it, Toody and Muldoon help to overcome this impression with kindness and understanding, and they feel that, by being depicted on the screen as likable human beings, Toody and Muldoon are putting over the message that other cops are ’nice guys’ too.”

Years before his involvement with Car 54, in 1942, Reidman was involved in a controversial incident involving Wallace Armstrong, a 30-year-old mentally unstable man who was armed with a knife. Conflicting reports about the details prevent the true facts of the case to be revealed, but the result was that Reidman shot and killed Armstrong in what Reidman claimed was self-defense, when Armstrong attacked a police officer with a knife. When news of his death circulated, an angry crowd surrounded the Harlem Hospital, and pushed into the lobby shouting abuse at Reidman. Fearing a possible riot, the NYPD dispatched 46 officers and mounted units to disperse the volatile gathering.

The series title was changed to Car 54, Where Are You? and the rest as they say.... is history.

The information contained in this blog post was excerpted from the book, Car 54, Where Are You? by Martin Grams, from Bear Manor Media Publishing. For more information, visit www.MartinGrams.com.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Five Brief Book Reviews

Looking for something to buy this Christmas?

The Laugh Crafters: Comedy Writing in Radio and TV's Golden Age
by Jordan R. Young

For an oral history of radio drama, interviews are far and few considering most of what's been recorded is now in circulation. Unpublished interviews are a treat and I suspect that there are other individuals who conducted interviews with celebrities and are still sitting on them. And for historians, assembling a biography or history on the genre, with no first-hand accounts to rifle, collected interviews are a writer's bets friend in his research. Word to the wise: take everything spoken with a grain salt. Hal Roach, telling colorful stories for Kevin Brownlow's Hollywood documentary, was lying through the seat of his pants. One director of radio programs from the Golden Age of Radio attempted to twist the truth one day, when I was interviewing him on the phone, and discredit an actor who certainly had more credentials than the director gave him. So when people like Jordan R. Young compiles a book of exclusive interviews he conducted over a period of years, I welcome such a tome with open arms. 

Instead of interviews with the celebrities, his book focused on the script and gag writers for such luminaries as Bob Hope, Ozzie and Harriet, Ed Gardner, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Jack Benny, Jack Parr and many others. Sol Salks recounts his days working for Red Skelton. Larry Gelbart held nothing back when talking about Duffy's Tavern and Command Performance. Hal Kanter recalled how he write a joke about a milk bath for Joe Penner, and three weeks later, heard the same joke delivered on The Judy Canova Show. He was furious about it. His friend gave him good advice. "Don't be. Just be flattered that somebody's taken your joke. If it's the last joke you can think of -- then worry."

Bob Weiskopf revealed a darker side of Eddie Cantor. Irving Brecher talked extensively about The Life of Riley and his relationship with the Marx Bros. Parke Levy worked with all the greats, Jack Pearl, Joe Penner, Ben Bernie, Al Jolson, Bert Lahr, and Abbott and Costello. But besides the funny stories, the stiff competition between gag writers, the difficulty of getting paid what they were worth, the benefits to graduating from script writing (Hollywood and Television careers), how the gag writers never got credit on most programs (that was reserved for the star of the show) and more importantly, for historical purposes, how they got into show biz. I really wish there were more books like this. Each interview spans between 20 and 30 pages. A number of interview books have come out over the years and while I acknowledge those efforts, the interviews were too short, lasting between three and six pages. I always suspected the authors wanted to cram as many interviews into the book as possible, but I prefer lengthy interviews that divulge much more. Heck, I'd rather buy three books with 18 lengthy interviews than one book with 18 short interviews. Good job, Mr. Jordan.

Well! Reflections on the Life and Career of Jack Benny
edited by Michael Leannah

This collection of rare and delightful essays and personal reminiscences on a great comedian reveals his impact on the world of entertainment, through cartoon spoofs, the Benny-Allen feud, the women in his life and his Hollywood career. Recollections and stories from people who Benny personally are always enjoyable. Frank Bresee recalled a great story how Jack Benny saved the career and job of Johnny Grant, honorary mayor of Hollywood. 

The authors of each chapter knew their subject and each of them certainly did their research. Philip G. Harwood wrote a great chapter about Jack Benny's Hollywood career. Pam Munter explored Benny's vaudeville career and until I read her piece, I never knew at the time of his death in 1974, Benny was slated to play one of the leads in The Sunshine Boys. Noell Wolfgram Evans covered the Jack Benny-Fred Allen feud, recounting some of the funniest one-liners including: "The only time Benny ever left a tip was when he couldn't finish his asparagus."

A reprint of an essay written by Jack Benny from the November 1935 issue of Radio Stars magazine reveals the comedian's attempt to be funny without script writers. Marc Reed explored Mel Blanc's friendship with Jack Benny. Michael J. Hayde and Derek Tague explored Jack Benny, the cartoon star. Revisiting the classic animated gems that spoofed Jack Benny such as I Love to Singa (1936) and Duffy Duck and the Dinosaur (1939), explanations for jokes referring to specific radio broadcasts are a plus. 

Example of how plucking photos off the web isn't a great idea.
My only complaint is the photographs. They vary from the covers of vintage comic books, movie posters, vintage advertisements and scans of celebrity autographs. While this certainly is plus, a number of them were plucked from the internet. One photograph on page 156 has a camera icon on the bottom right corner, suggesting it was plucked from an eBay auction. I am not sure who supplied the photos to the publishing company, but this resulted in some of the photographs appearing pixeled when enlarged. Personal comment to add: I once asked on a forum if anyone had photographs of a particular radio actor. I received a dozens of replies with photos people plucked off the internet -- none of which I could use (not because of the minimal pixels) but because I didn't know who originated them. It's a sad commentary to add but in this day and age, only a handful of people are reliable to supply scans of glossy photographs that I can seek legal clearance for publishing. The photographs in this book, as you can see when flipping through the pages, is evident why it's not a good thing to pluck pictures off the internet.

Flashgun Casey, Crime Photographer: 
From the Pulps to Radio and Beyond
by J. Randolph Cox 
and David S. Siegel

Any book written by Cox or Siegel gets my attention and regardless of the subject, I buy it. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered there was a book co-authored by the two experts of rare books, pulp magazines and old time radio. And if you enjoy Flashgun Casey, also known as Casey, Crime Photographer, you'll find everything here under one cover. A unique evolution of popular culture hero from the 1930s pulps to radio. 

By the spring of 1934, a pivotal new talent was being showcased in Black Mask: George Harmon Coxe, dubbed "the professional's professional." Coxe created one of of crime fiction's most colorful and enduring characters: photographer Jack "Flashgun" Casey, who appeared in 24 issues of Black Mask, into 1943. 

Coxe was asked where he got the idea of making a series hero out of a crime photographer. "In those days, everybody else seemed to be writing about tough reporters and hard-nosed private detectives," he told the interviewer. "I was an amateur photographer myself, and I'd worked on papers, and knew a lot of news photographers. Seemed a natural idea to use one as a pulp hero. And it worked out very well."

The crime series evolved into a successful radio program, movies, six published books and finally, on television. This book covers the literary life of George Harmon Coxe, a chapter of recollections from Coxe's daughter, a reprint of a short story titled "Return Engagement," a history of the movies, a history of the radio program, reprints of two radio scripts, and the same coverage of the television program, comic books, stage play and more. There's a great photo of Cox sitting with Coxe from August 1971.

The part of the book that appeals to collectors of old time radio programs is the radio log. Featuring broadcast dates, episode numbers, writer writers and script titles, the log helps accurate date the episodes known to exist in recorded format. Sadly, Siegel's log has been copied and pasted on a number of radio web-sites without giving due credit, or worse, the web-site owners altered the log briefly and claim they did most of the work. The first to do the log was Raymond Stanich, circa 1981, and Cox and Siegel fixed the errors Stanich unintentionally created. Those corrections are carried over onto those web-sites I referred to, verifying the source of their material and the hard work and effort of Cox and Siegel. Since the main emphasis of the book is the radio years, this appealed to my interest. And it should appeal to yours as well, considering very little has been written about the program. Buy this book and support J. Randolph Cox and David S. Siegel. You'll enjoy the scripts and fascinating tid-bits in the history.

Don Ameche: 
The Kenosha Comeback Kid
by Ben Ohmart
with a foreword by John Landis

Contrary to popular belief, Don Ameche did not invent the telephone. He did, however, captivate several generations of moviegoers, radio fans, TV addicts and Broadway patrons in an astounding, prolific career which stretched from the 1930s to the 1990s. Part of the glamorous studio system, with 20th Century Fox, he starred in some of the most popular films of old Hollywood: Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938), In Old Chicago (1937), The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939) and Heaven Can Wait (1943).

He was one of radio's most versatile voices, moving effortlessly from drama to comedy, having entered the industry when radio was still an infant. He never left it. Who cannot forget his role as John Bickerson or the numerous First Nighter programs? 

He was a Broadway star, appearing in Cole Porter's last stage musical, Silk Stockings. He was the dashing master of ceremonies for television's first great circus series, International Showtime. He made the greatest of all comebacks by starring as half of those nasty Duke brothers in Trading Places (1983). He won an Oscar for his performance as Art, the break-dancing geriatric filled with a renewed vigor in Cocoon (1985), which only underlined his own amazing resurgence.

Ben Ohmart did what most people should do with biographies. He convinced the family to support his efforts with photographs and interviews. The very generous nature of the Ameche children offered Ben access to the Don Ameche clipping collection, from which helped support many facts and put everything into a chronological perspective. Frances Langford, John Landis, John Dunning, Jay Hickerson, Laura Wagner and others were gracious enough to devote some of their personal time to Ben's devotion. And the result is not another Mommie Dearest or the kind of book Bette Davis's daughter wrote. And it's not one of those biographies (I've seen a few) where the author simply put all the clippings into chronological order and then wrote a book laced with trade paper reviews and facts such as "In 1936 she starred in such-and-such film," which is nothing but a compilation of facts and plot summaries. It's a behind-the-scenes, touching biography about Ameche as a person, the numerous charities he assisted, his opinions about his career over the years, quotes from interviews with people who worked with him, and his family life. This is one of a number of books published by Bear Manor Media, a rising force in the publishing industry, and a great book at any price. 

(Personal note: The Don Ameche book was one of a number of free giveaways at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention for pre-paid attendees two years ago. Free books don't come along much so if you were among the lucky few who got your copy and never got a chance to read it, it comes with my recommendation.)

Encyclopedia of Black Radio in the United States, 1921-1955
by Ryan Ellett
As the title suggests, this volume profiles about 300 African American  performers (Lena Horne, Eddie Anderson), organizations (NAACP) and series (Destination Freedom, Jubilee) broadcast during the Golden Age of Radio. Earlier this year I was asked by Ryan to look over the manuscript and offer any tid-bits of info that could be added, and I made a trek to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., and the Billy Rose Theater Collection in New York City, to help out. During my diggings, to my surprise, I discovered that NBC kept track of radio programs and actors in separate files as "the Negro files," segregated in the legal and program files. Gasp! One of the biggest surprises this year. But history is history and we cannot hide the fact that at one time such things were common even in the broadcasting field.

It only took a couple minutes to discover that this was a reference book shaped like a Jim Cox encyclopedia, and I have no doubt that Jim would feel proud that the old adage still rings true: "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." It's a format that works and for this book, works very well. Every radio program and radio personality is listed in alphabetical order. Programs now regarded as essentials when referring to this subject, such as Amos and Andy, are given more extensive coverage, but with original treatment and not a reprint of what has been published in prior encyclopedias. Good job, Ryan.

If I had a complaint, the difference between the network and an affiliate is not clarified. Example: For the entry on The Good Time Society, it's referenced that the series was broadcast "for at least two years over WJZ and the Blue network." WJZ was the flagship station of the Blue network so no mention of WJZ should have been mentioned (unless the author wanted to state the program originated from WJZ, the flagship station of the Blue network, where it was broadcast across the country). Instead of saying the program was broadcast over the Mutual Broadcasting System, the author says it was broadcast over WOR, again no mention of WOR should have been made unless the series was heard only over the flagship station and not on a national basis. Most references to WEAF should be NBC. In other words, a clarification of whether the series was broadcast locally or nationally, could be understood by clarifying the network versus the single radio station coverage. But this is a minor gripe, and the only one I noticed.

The publisher, McFarland, chose a retail price of $95. For a book 182 pages thick (not counting the bibliography or index), that's a bit steep. We all know the publisher focuses on sales to college and university libraries, which are used to paying high ransom prices for reference books. The fact that this is the only book devoted solely about African Americans on radio, probably lend itself credence to the theory that a lot of libraries will be wanting a copy. There's a lot of material here that has not yet been covered in any other reference book, a plus for those who like to purchase and own one of every reference book about old-time radio. The suggested retail price is no fault to the author, it was a publisher decision. In fact, I feel sorry for the author because you can tell a lot of time and effort went into this well-researched book and it deserves everyone's attention. But seriously, at the $95 price tag, the book sales will be handicapped and I recommend shopping around and getting a lower price. Perhaps the newly-created Coverout.com that seems to be offering hundreds of books about old-time radio will, in the near future, offer a nice price we can all afford.