Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Crooners!


Music, of course, has always had a place on radio. Once upon a time, the most popular singers were given their own musical variety programs. During the Jazz Age of the 1920's, a new style of singing developed, crooning. This was a direct result of the development of electronic microphones. A singer could sing softer and control intonation by controlling distance from the mic. One of the first of these crooners was Rudy Vallee. Rudy was most closely associated with “The Fleischman Hour” on radio. He also had a successful recording and film career.


At the same time that Rudy Vallee’s popularity was ascending, another dynamic vaudeville performer was moving up to Broadway. And then from Broadway, he was able to move into films, where he made one of the most important developments in film history. Of course, I’m referring to “The World’s Greatest Entertainer”, Al Jolson. He spoke the first words in a major motion picture when he ad-libbed some lines to the character of his mother in Warner Brothers’ semi-silent “The Jazz Singer”. Though not a crooner, he was most definitely a belter, he’s included here because of his immense popularity and influence on popular culture and performance.


After these two, the next major crooning star to come along was young Harry Crosby from Spokane Washington. Better known as Bing, he began with Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra as one of the Rhythm Boys. He quickly struck out on his own and became one of the biggest stars of all time; with success in radio, television, and film (winning two Oscars). Bing’s career lasted almost 50 years. After World War II , Bing’s show was the first to use magnetic tape; a technology developed by the Germans.


From Hoboken, came a skinny boy with a big bow tie. Frank Sinatra first came to national prominence with the Tommy Dorsey Band in the late 1930's. He quickly became a national sensation. When he performed, swooning was the norm. He was as big as, maybe even bigger, than Elvis and the Beatles. He was definitely the first superstar in that league. His style and musicianship influenced generations to come. And his career was long and successful (his last album was as recent as the mid-90's ) The Chairman of the Board was amazingly successful in both radio and films. On radio, he had his own action/adventure series (Rocky Fortune), and a successful musical/variety program for Lucky Strike. In film, he won an Oscar for “From Here to Eternity”. And he was the basis for Johnny Fontaine in “The Godfather”.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Shakespeare on the Radio

William Shakespeare of Stratford-Upon-Avon was born a few days before April 23, 1564. We don’t know the exact date. We do know that he was baptized on the 23rd. This son of a glover, of course, grew up to be THE giant of English literature. Modern English was still in it’s infancy; and many of the expressions and idioms that we now take for granted, were, in fact, coined by Shakespeare. The Elizabethan London theatre began to really develop in 1576, when Burbage built The Theatre in the Shoreditch area of London. When it’s lease ran out many years later, Burbage, and his business associates, including one William Shakespeare, actually stole the building off the grounds and transported it timber by timber over the iced over Thames River, to the Bankside area just outside of London. There it was rebuilt as The Globe. By this time Shakespeare was already a successful actor/playwright, and was a full partner of the new Globe.

Julius Caesar

One of the first shows at the Globe was “Julius Caesar” in 1599. This presentation by Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre is interesting because of the juxtaposition of Shakespeare’s dialogue with excerpts from Plutarch providing narrative exposition. This recording is of a rehearsal (the actual broadcast is, alas, lost). But, it is interesting in that we get to hear Welles the director as well as Welles the actor.

Othello Part 1

Othello Part 2

This 1953 broadcast of “Suspense” was presented during Elliot Lewis’ tenure as director of the series. He cast himself as the jealous moor that Shakespeare created in 1604.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Greatest Story Ever Told-- The Crucifixion

This isn't the best program ever; but, it somehow seems appropriate this weekend.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Humphrey Bogart

Hollywood's relationship with radio was very different from its' relationship with television. Most big stars often did radio. Some stars were quite uncomfortable with a live , national performance. But, then again. some thoroughly enjoyed it. Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and Humphrey Bogart all enjoyed working on radio.

Humphrey Bogart appeared in adaptations of many of his classic film roles, guest starred on comedy/variety shows, and even starred in his own syndicated series with his wife: Lauren Bacall.

Bergen and McCarthy

This episode let's Bogie have a little fun with his tough guy image. He and Charley discuss opening a private prison.

Academy Award Theatre--The Maltese Falcon

Both Academy Award Theatre and Lux Radio Theatre did adaptations of John Huston's film "The Maltese Falcon". The Lux version is superior in the respect that it is an hour long, and therefore a more complete adaptation. The Academy Award version, however, is superior in that it has Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, and Mary Astor all reprising their roles. Because it is only a half-an-hour adaptation, it does move very fast.

Lux Radio Theatre- To Have and to Have Not

This is an excellent adaptation of a good film of a great novel. Bogie and Bacall's Steve and Slim come to life and make this adventure tale work. It makes you just want to whistle.

Bold Venture --Cooking for Tommy Reed

In the early '50's, as transcription became more common, Bogart was persuaded to do a syndicated action/adventure series of his own co-starring Lauren Bacall. This show was "Bold Venture". Even though it wasn't, it almost seemed to be a continuation of "To Have and to Have Not." Steve and Slim became Slate Shannon and Sailor Duval. A charter boat and hotel owner in Havana and his sexy "ward". With musical accompaniment provided by Jester Hairston as King Moses. the listener was transported to high adventure on the Caribbean.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Perfect Fool-- Ed Wynn

Ed Wynn was never really meant to be a radio star. His vaudeville success led to Broadway success, and after Ed and the Shubert's parted over the actor's strike of 1919 (Ed siding with the actor's), he started producing his own musicals; including "The Perfect Fool" which became his nick name forevermore. He came to radio by accident. Legend has it that an adman asked him how much it would take to bring him to radio. Not being interested, Ed threw out the ridiculous figure of $5,000 a week. He was immediately signed. In 1922 "The Perfect Fool" became the first Broadway show to be broadcast in its' entirety at WJZ, Newark. The show was two-and-a-half hours long. When the jokes started to fall flat in the empty studio, an audience of stage-hands, idle engineers, and anybody else they could find was quickly assembled to form the first studio audience of a radio broadcast.

Ed's persona on radio was very different from his stage persona. On stage, he was a clown rather than a comedian. The difference being that a clown could make you cry. On "The Fire Chief" he became a standard vaudeville comedian, exchanging rapid fire gags with co-star Graham McNamee. This enforced change of style, and severe mike fright made Ed very unhappy. According to his son, actor Keenan Wynn, "Suddenly he was locked in to coming up with 55 jokes every week. Basically he was very visual, a very gentle man who was put under great stress by everyone. He did the best he could. He was a very sad man." In 1935, "The Fire Chief" went off the air. There were a few more programs for Ed, but none as successful. On television, in the '50's, he was given a dramatic role in "Requiem For a Heavyweight". This led to other dramatic roles; and in 1959, Ed was nominated for an Oscar for "The Diary of Ann Frank".

Ed Wynn 450205

Ed Wynn 321113

This second show above is a particular favorite of mine because it was recorded at the Hanna Theatre in Cleveland. This wonderful theatre still stands, and I worked there for several months back in the '80's. I didn't know much about Ed Wynn or radio in those days. But the theatre is an old friend.
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