Monday, March 27, 2006

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!' may be the most famous opening of any radio show ever! For 16 years, these words transported people to the sides of Lamont Cranston and the lovely Margot Lane as they fearlessly fought crime.

"The Shadow" actually had much more mundane origins however. The character was created for 1930's "Detective Hour" as a host to introduce the weekly mystery show adapted from Detective Story Magazine. On these first shows, John La Cuarta played the mysterious announcer. After a few weeks, La Cuarta left to work on Broadway, and he was replaced by Frank Readick. Even though the program was an anthology by nature and changed names many times over the next few years, the public wanted to know more about the mysterious Shadow. The first story to actually feature the Shadow and give Lamont Cranston (The Shadow's alter-ego[or day job, if you will])voice aired in 1935 and featured Carl Kroenke.

In 1937, the move was made to the big time. "The Shadow" first aired on Mutual and starred the already legendary Broadway producer/director/actor Orson Welles (who was still only 22!). Welles, who was already famous in New York theatre circles; but relatively unknown on radio, was hired for $185 a week. He also was not required to attend rehearsals (his busy theatre schedule would not permit it), and only saw the script for the first time for performance! When The Shadow got in trouble, even Welles didn't know how he got out until the audience did. Welles brought both Agnes Morehead and Ray Collins from his Mercury Theatre company*. As talented as Welles was, he couldn't master The Shadow's laugh for the opening; so, an old recording of Frank Readick's voice was inserted!

After Welles left in 1938, he was succeeded by Bill Johnstone, Brett Morrison, John Archer, and Steve Courtleigh. Morrison played The Shadow more than any other, logging over 400 broadcasts. The Last episode of "The Shadow" was broadcast in late 1954. But the legend still lives on, I think.

"The weeds of crime bear bitter fruit. Crime does not pay...The Shadow knows!"

*Before coming to the radio, Mercury was the name of Orson Welles' and John Houseman's theatrical production company that produced Welles revolutionary productions: "Macbeth", "The Cradle Will Fall", and others.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Orson Welles 380116

Bill Johnstone 381002

Brett Morrison 470105

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Fibber McGee and Molly 390523

In 1935 some new people moved into the house at 79 Wistful Vista: Fibber McGee and his wife Molly. In real life known as Jim and Marian Jordan. This radio classic was the brainchild of Don Quinn. It was Quinn, as much as Jim Jordan, who shaped "Fibber McGee and Molly". His brilliant writing complemented the Jordan's characterizations brilliantly. Quinn and the Jordans' first teamed up on "Farmer Rusk Hour" in 1929. "Farmer Rusk" eventually led to "Smackout"; which led to "Fibber McGee and Molly".

On "Smackout" Jim Jordan ran a store that was always Smackout of everything, and he would always have a tall tale to tell. Marion played the little girl across the street(both also played many other characters as well). These characters were the seeds of the later characters of Teeny and Fibber on "FM&M". The success of "FM&M" was as much Quinn's writing as well as Jim's characterization of a teller of tall tales and Marian's portrayal of ever patient wife, Molly. And a successful show it was. It ran until 1959 in one form or another. Mostly, it was a standard 30 minute sitcom. Much later it shifted to a five day a week 15 minute comedy-serial. It finally closed its' run as a series of short skits on "Monitor" in 1959. Also in 1959, the show tried television, but without the Jordan's. It wasn't a success.

Another element of the shows overall success was it's parade of comic characters: Gildersleeve, Latrivia, Oldtimer, Boomer, Beulah, Lina, and many others. It was these peripheral characters that led to the invention of the spin-off series.

The Great Gildersleeve 430131

The very first spin-off ever, was "The Great Gildersleeve" in 1941. The character of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve was slowly developed by Hal Peary on "Fibber McGee and Molly" throughout the late '30's. He began as a series of minor roles all named Gildersleeve (Doctor, Salesman, etc.) Eventually, he became McGee's next door neighbor. Gildy and McGee always bickered, quite often ending with Gildersleeve exclaiming "You're a haaaaard man McGee!!" By the time he left Wistful Vista, he had stabilized as the owner of the Gildersleeve Girdle Company. In 1941, Gildy went to Summerfield to oversee the affairs of his orphaned niece Marjorie and nephew Leroy(Lureene Tuttle[originally]and Walter Tetley). And, to get his own show. Through the years "The Great Gildersleeve" acquired en ensemble to equal any other sitcom cast on radio. If Fibber McGee was all bluff, then Gildersleeve was all bluster. A plump, jovial, windbag with a hair trigger temper; his courtships and misadventures kept America amused through 1957. In 1950, Hal Peary left the show. He was replaced by Willard Waterman. Waterman and Peary, in Chicago days, often competed for the same roles. And when you listen to the shows, it's difficult to tell one Gildy from the other.

Beulah 1957

During WWII, in 1944, the McGee's got a maid. And her name was...Beulah. Beulah was portrayed with much energy by Marlin Hirt, a white man. His response of "Somebody bawl for Beulah!" when called, and "Love's dat man!" after one of Fibber's bad jokes, became national catch phrases. The popularity of Beulah earned her a spin-off series of her own in 1945. The show was a hit. But, tragically, the star, Marlin Hirt, had a fatal heart attack near the end of the first season. The show went off the air for a short time, and was later revived. First with another white man, Bob Corley. Then, Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel took the role for four seasons. And then, the Randolph sisters: first Lillian (who was also Birdie on "The Great Gildersleeves" then Amanda. Beulah finally wrapped up in 1954.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Very Irish...Dennis Day

"I have two shows Bub!" was Owen Patrick McNulty's oft said phrase to his boss, Jack Benny. McNulty was, of course, better known as Dennis Day. And two shows he did indeed have. In 1939, he joined the Benny program, replacing Kenny Baker. Dennis' character was very similar to Baker's: a young, naive, somewhat goofy, yet very talented tenor (in Dennis' case, an Irish Tenor.) Over the years, Dennis was able to ratchet up the goofiness, and in 1946 was able to branch out into his own show. He never left Benny though; and it became a running gag that he had two shows, compared to Benny's measly one. In addition to a nice singing voice, he was a natural mimic (his Ronald Colman was dead on,) and a great comic. "A Day in the Life of Dennis Day" wasn't a spin-off exactly. Even though the character shared the same name, and the same traits as the character he played on Benny, he frequently made a point of saying he was not the same person. The character on "Day in the Life..." could sing better! "Day in the Life..." was a sitcom with Dennis working as a soda jerk, and dealing with his girl friend's disapproving mother, from whom he rented a room. In later years (ca. 1950,) the show took on a musical/variety format, with Dennis still maintaining the same character.

Jack Benny-460317 Dennis retuns from Navy

Dennis Day- 470319

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Oscars

In 1927 the first Academy Awards were held. The Best picture was "Wings" with Clara Bow, Buddy Rogers, and Gary Cooper. There is no recording to mark this event, which is appropriate, because film was still silent. The end of that great age of film was just beginning. Radio didn't bring us the Oscars until 1930. Then they were small, comparatively low-key affairs covered only by local radio. In 1942 they went national when they were picked up by the CBS network. In 1944's show was hosted by Jack Benny and was the first to go world-wide via a short-wave hook-up so our over-seas military personnel could listen. The show lasted a whopping 30 minutes, with "Casablanca" winning Best Picture. Bob Hope, who became closely associated with the awards, first hosted in 1945 (the ceremony here for download) on the NBC Blue network. This year, the show ballooned to 70 minutes. By 1947, it was running at a more familiar (to modern viewers) three hours. In 1952 they made the inevitable jump to television. The last radio broadcast of the Oscars was in 1968.

Academy Award Theatre 460504 Stagecoach

The Academy Award Theatre wasn't a success. And it's a shame. In format, it was very much like the Lux Radio Theatre; big stars reprising their roles in radio adaptations of their screen successes. The hook was that every play was based on an Academy Award winning film, or at least a nominee. It only ran for 39 weeks, from March through December of 1946. It had a high budget, which was reflected in not only its' star power, but also its' attention to detail. It's re-creation of John Fords' Stagecoach" employed four soundmen to achieve the proper effect of a stage speeding westward. Eventually, and unfortunately sooner, rather than later, the high production cost took its' toll. And this show went off the air in December.
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