Saturday, June 24, 2006

Totalitarianism


Over the next three weeks, we'll be looking at American Freedom and what it means. We're going to begin by looking at what can happen when Liberty is stolen. These two classic cautionary tales are, I think, just as, if not even more relevant today than they were when they were penned over 50 years ago. George Orwell's "1984" looks at a society where the government has made it a crime for independent thought. The citizen lives under constant threat of random electronic surveillance, and people can be taken without cause. Aldous Huxley painted a picture of technology run amok. The world has become depersonalized. People have become self-indulgent sheep. Love and affection are dead.

Although, both of these stories have relevant points for today's listener, I ask you to listen carefully to "1984." I feel we may be edging chillingly close to Orwell's nightmarish vision.

As always, please feel free to leave comments. Over the next two weeks I shall finish this series on Freedom. I would like to hear YOUR thoughts.

1984

Brave New World pt1

Brave New World pt2

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Royal Family


The three very attractive people pictured above are, of course, the Barrymores; the “Royal Family of Broadway.” Through their mother, Georgy Drew, they were born into a long theatrical tradition in America, and before that, in England. Their Grandmother, Mrs. John Drew, ran the Arch St. Theatre in Philadelphia in the late 19th century. These three children grew up in Philadelphia, the grandchildren and children of famous forbears. The oldest, Ethel, grasped the family tradition and ran. By 1901, she was the toast of Broadway in one of her first shows: “Captain Jinx of the Horse Marines.” Lionel and John both came to the Theatre later. Unlike their older sister, neither of them really wanted to be an actor. John wanted to be an artist. Lionel would have preferred either art or music as a career. But, they both succumbed to the family trade. Lionel first, then the youngest, John. Lionel was the first of all three to go into films however. He was a true pioneer, making his first movies in 1911. Throughout the twenties, both of the boys’ careers flourished in Hollywood. Lionel was terribly prolific as a character actor; and John’s handsome looks ensured him success as a leading man. Ethel continued to focus on the stage for her career. By this time, she was the uncontested Queen of Broadway. She made few appearances in film, and even fewer on radio. The three of them only made one film together: “Rasputin and the Empress.”

John on Rudy Vallee 410501



Even though he was very successful on both stage and in film, John, unfortunately, had a very severe drinking problem. This of course, affected his ability and reliability as an actor. His hard-drinking, hard-partying, larger than life way of living caught up with him. By the time commercial radio was widespread, his career was seriously on the skids. His film characters had become sad parodies of himself. Rudy Vallee took him on his “Fleischmann Hour” as a second banana. He mainly just parodied himself, but better than anybody else could ever have done Occasionally, as in this episode, you can hear echoes of the great actor coming through. John died in 1942. At the relatively young age of 54, of complications brought on from his drinking.

A Christmas Carol 391224 -Lionel





Lionel was a radio tradition and staple. His portrayal of Dickens’ Scrooge on Christmas Eve lasted from 1934 until his last Christmas in1953. He only missed one year, 1936, the year his beloved wife lay dying. That year, John filled in. Lionel also guested on practically every show he could.. Lionel was one of Hollywood’s great character actors. Like his younger brother, he also had a substance abuse problem. Lionel’s substance, however, was cocaine, not alcohol. Unlike John, Lionel never worked under the influence. When Lionel died, he was the Grand Old Man of both Hollywood and MGM..

Suspense 490106 Ethel Barrymore




Ethel’s film work was rare. Her radio work was even more rare. When most people think of Ethel, I think what comes to mind was a doughty old matron. But in her youth, she was a great beauty. John Singer Sargent sketched her. Winston Churchill proposed to her. She was the toast of two continents. This episode of “Suspense” with Gene Kelly, reflects the popular image of Ethel, an older matron. It was 1949, The end was drawing nigh for that generation of Barrymore’s. We shall not see their like again.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Benny and Company


Jack Benny's program was undoubtedly one of the most successful programs on radio. One of the main reasons for its' 23 year run, was its' phenomenal supporting cast. This can be most clearly illustrated by the fact that two of Jack's cast were able to spin-off on their own into their own successful series. And other's in Jack's cast also went on to success in other venues. Kenny Baker, Jack's first naive young boy singer, left to go to Fred Allen's show. Don Wilson, while continuing to work for Benny, went on to announce many other shows.

Jack Benny 500528

The two members of the company who were able to spin-off were, of course, Dennis Day and Phil Harris.

Phil Harris 481024


Before the Benny program, Phil Harris was a popular band leader. It was on the Benny program, however, that he developed into a top-notch comedian; developing the blustering, party-hard, illiterate funster that he carried over into "The Fitch Bandwagon" which later became "The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show." During the early years, Phil did both shows. On his own show, he portrayed the band leader on the Benny show. After he left the Benny show, he became an independent band leader married to a movie star, Alice Faye.

Dennis Day 470122


Dennis Day's show wasn't strictly speaking a spin-off. He played another character with the same name and characteristics and personality, but the Dennis Day of "A Day In the Life of Dennis Day" wasn't the same character. This Dennis said he could sing better!! On this show, Dennis played a soda jerk who lived in a rooming house run by his girlfriends disapproving parents. The last couple of years it became a standard musical/variety show.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Command Performance: Dick Tracy





“Command Performance” had the biggest stars, the lowest overhead and production costs, was immensely successful, and was heard on network radio only once The reason for this, is that it was produced for American overseas troops during World War II. It was broadcast over short-wave to the overseas soldiers. Because it was for the troops, it was all done on a volunteer basis;production crew, talent, even studio space was

donated. There were no production costs at all The only time the public got to here this wonderful program, was for the Christmas Show in 1942. On this occasion, all four networks did a simultaneous broadcast so that families could, in a small way, share the holiday with their loved ones fighting “over there.”



The show was, for the most part, a request/musical/variety show. The requests came from the overseas troops themselves. The longer the show ran, the more bizarre some of the requests got. They ranged from something as simple as Ginny Sims singing a favorite popular song, to bacon sizzling on a hot griddle while being cooked by Rita Hayworth My favorite, is probably Charles Laughton giving diction lessons to Donald Duck.



This particular episode went slightly off the normal format, and presented an hour-long all-star presentation written especially for “Command Performance.” “Dick Tracy in B Flat.” It featured: Bing Crosby (as Tracy), Dinah Shore (as Tess Trueheart), Bob Hope, Jerry Colonna, Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Jimmy Durante, Frank Sinatra, and Harry Von Zell. It’s a cute little operetta about the wedding of Chester Gould’s square jawed detective and his ever patient girl-friend Tess Trueheart. It’s a lot of fun, and I hope you enjoy it.
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