Old-Time Radio Playlist: London Calling, Part 1

As a fan of old-time radio, I like to organize shows into topical playlists. The recent Olympic games inspired this list of London-themed episodes. (Part 2 of this playlist.)

“Journey for Margaret”


Screen Guild Theater, April 5, 1943
“A man can’t go on feeling forever. There’s a limit. By and by, he finds himself dead. That’s why I can’t get mad; I’m dead.”
Notable Cast Members: Robert Young, who shows off his fatherly side well before Father Knows Best appeared on radio and then TV, and 6-year-old Margaret O’Brien, recreating the movie role in which she made a name for herself, literally and figuratively. Four-year-old actor Billy Severn also appeared—it must have been terrifying for the director to rely upon such young children in a live radio drama. O’Brien does a great job, and Severn is adorable.
About Screen Guild Theater: This was one of several shows that condensed popular movies for radio audiences. At least the better-known Lux Radio Theater had 60 minutes to work with; 30 minute shows like Screen Guild Theater often leave only a sketchy outline of the movie plot. As John Dunning put it in The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio, “Screen Guild always seemed like the quick economy tour, jerky and uneven, scenes knit together by thin thread and taxing a modern listener’s willingness to suspend disbelief.”
Story: A war-weary American journalist and his wife, in London during the Blitz, lose their unborn child and decide to adopt a traumatized war orphan.
Based Upon: The successful 1942 movie of the same name, in which Young and O’Brien also starred. The movie, in turn, was based upon the novel by journalist William L. White, and that was based on his true story of adopting a British war orphan. Life ran an interesting story on the “real Margaret” (not revealing that her name was actually Barbara), who would grow up to carry on her family’s journalistic legacy.
Google-worthy References: Ack-ack—Anti-aircraft guns.
Also, when the pregnant wife and her husband share a toast, she drinks milk. This surprised me and got me wondering how long doctors have been advising pregnant women to avoid alcohol. I didn’t find a definitive answer, but this history suggests alcohol’s potential harm has long been common knowledge.
My Verdict: These short movie adaptations work best when you haven’t seen the movie, which I haven’t in this case (although I want to now). As a radio story, it feels complete, and Robert Young and the children give enjoyable performances.

“Berkeley Square”
Everything for the Boys, February 8, 1944


Dangerously Yours, September 24, 1944


Hallmark Playhouse, March 3, 1949


“Out of what’s wrong with this world came a better time, and somehow the same will happen out of the struggles of my world.”
Based Upon
: The John L. Balderson play Berkeley Square, which was a hit when it opened in 1929. This time-travel romance was also a hit with old-time radio audiences, if you can judge by the number of shows that adapted it.
Story: Peter Standish longs to leave the 20th century behind. Obsessed with the diaries of an 18th century ancestor, he soon finds himself living his ancestor’s life. Complications arise when he falls in love with the sister of the woman his ancestor married.
Setting: Berkeley Square, a perennially fashionable London neighborhood.
Notable Cast Members: Ronald Colman plays Peter on Everything for the Boys, a wartime dramatic anthology. Greer Garson plays his love interest, Helen. Victor Jory stars in the Dangerously Yours episode. David Niven stars in the Hallmark Playhouse version.
About the Programs: Everything for the Boys ran for 21 weeks, with Colman hosting and starring in each episode and the legendary Arch Oboler writing and directing. Each episode ended with a short-wave call to fighting men overseas—this was a major technical challenge then and didn’t always work. The romantic anthology Dangerously Yours was also a short-lived 1944 show with a regular leading man—Victor Jory. After 16 episodes, it morphed into Vicks Matinee Theater. The high-toned Hallmark Playhouse presented Hollywood stars in literary adaptations.
My Verdict: Without having seen or read the play, I can’t say which version adapts it most faithfully. In all three versions, the time travel is abrupt and unexplained. The Everything for the Boys script adds an extra layer of resonance to the play by giving it an explicit World-War-II context. This makes it easier to see why Peter wants to escape the 20th century, why Helen is so horrified by her vision of the future (she sees men, women, and children being herded into open graves), and why Peter feels he must return to his own time and address its challenges.
Final Fun Facts: Oboler and Colman did not enjoy their collaboration. In fact, Dunning quotes Oboler as saying, “We hated each other’s guts.”
Also, Leslie Howard starred in the original Berkeley Square play and the 1933 movie version.

“It’s Always Tomorrow”


Words at War, January 2, 1945
“I’m gonna keep an eye on certain people here in England…and if they try to cheat us out of anything we’ve won in this war, then we’ll see if we can arrange another direct hit, especially for their benefit.”
Based Upon: It’s Always Tomorrow by Robert St. John, a journalist whose life spanned the 20th century and whose adventures spanned the globe. (He reminisces about his career in Studs Terkel’s Coming of Age—thanks, old-time radio, for making my to-be-read list even longer.)
Story: An American journalist assigned to London finds himself disgusted by out-of-touch, imperialist aristocrats. He falls in love with Polly, a bitter working-class woman, who refuses to support a war she thinks will benefit only the rich.
Notable Cast Members: Cathleen Cordell, who plays Polly, went on to have a long career as a character actress in television. I think William Quinn, who plays Dave, may be the same person as Bill Quinn, another prolific TV character actor.
About the Program: Words at War was a dramatic anthology that told timely stories from the world’s literal and figurative battlefronts. The New York Times called it “the boldest, hardest-hitting program” on the air.
My Verdict: Once you get past some heavy-handed British stereotypes, this is an interesting, nuanced story. Polly is a shockingly unpatriotic character by wartime radio standards. At one point, she even cries, “Let Germany win! Let Germany win!” Dave, playing devil’s advocate, tries to convince her that World War II is a “people’s war.” He interviews working people who are glad to make sacrifices and an aristocrat who is paying 97.5 percent of his income in taxes, but Polly remains unconvinced. When Dave loses his leg in a bombing, I thought sure the writers would give Polly a quick attitude change. She does agree to take Dave’s place in a war plant (where he’s begun working because his newspaper superiors banned him from writing about war’s effect on “the little people”). She stresses, however, that she’s making this choice based on love, not patriotism. A reviewer of St. John’s novel noted favorably that the book “makes a passionate plea for general understanding of the bitter hatred the common people in war-torn countries feel toward rulers who quit them ingloriously, shamefully, taking with them their loot and their foolish hides.” In the 1950s, author Robert St. John was blacklisted as a Communist, a label he disavowed. It’s sad but not surprising that his concern for the world’s common people would suggest Communism to 1950s red hunters.
Final Fun Fact: At one point, Dave and Polly visit a pub, where the crowd sings this song.

Weird Words of Wisdom: Spanking New Edition

“Kissing for fun is like playing with a beautiful candle in a room full of dynamite!”

‘Twixt Twelve and Twenty by Pat Boone, 1958

Would you let your teenage daughter take advice from this man?

About the Author: If you’re like me, and you know little about Pat Boone besides the fact that he’s Debby’s father, you may be surprised to learn just how popular he was in the 1950s. With 38 Top 40 hits, he was second only to Elvis in chart dominance. He also had his own TV show, The Pat Boone-Chevy Showroom, and starred in 15 feature films.

Boone has put his conservative Christian beliefs into practice throughout his career, avoiding sponsors and material that he considered offensive. His most controversial career move came in 1997, with his tongue-in-cheek foray into heavy metal.

Considering his conservative background, one shouldn’t find it surprising that Boone is a Republican political activist today—but it is disappointing to see he is a birther.

When ‘Twixt Twelve and Twenty was published, Boone and his wife Shirley had been married for five years and were raising four daughters.  

About the Book: If it seems strange today that teens would turn to a young married celebrity for advice on surviving adolescence, the phenomenon was common in the 1950s. ‘Twixt Twelve and Twenty was one of the most popular books of its kind—in fact, according to the Washington Post, it was 1958’s second-highest selling nonfiction book.

While a ghostwriter probably contributed to this book, it displays a convincingly folksy Booneishness. Words and phrases like “chillun,” “’taint true,” and “lil ol’ teenager” appear frequently. Boone’s evangelical Christian beliefs pervade the book, which according to Time, he promoted at Church of Christ congregations nationwide. Parents who share his beliefs would probably find much to like in this book, even today.

While he avoids details on sex, Boone urges teens to stick to innocent “April love,” until they are truly ready for “May” (a serious, steady relationship) and “June” (marriage). He doesn’t go the full Duggar by condemning teen dating and kissing entirely.

Basically, Boone recommends being yourself, developing good habits, practicing the Golden Rule, and resisting the urge to grow up too fast—things that even a secular-minded, liberal parent like myself can get behind.

The Boone Family Spanking Situation: The book hits its one really weird note on the issue of corporal punishment:

“And of course there are spankings—and spankings. There is the delayed spanking that sets in when you’re too old to go across Mama’s knee and have to wait until you get home and lean over the bathtub. There is the angry spanking and the loving spanking. My mother never gave ‘loving’ spankings. I wouldn’t know what they were. But hers weren’t angry either; they were intelligent and they were just.”

Boone informs readers that his mother delivered these spankings with a sewing machine belt, and didn’t stop her “lean over the bathtub” spankings until he was seventeen (and only then, apparently, because her inability to make him cry frustrated her).

Now, I don’t believe in spanking at all, but surely even most spanking advocates would find that a bit excessive. Even more shocking is the way this carried over into the next generation, as the Washington Post described in a 1978 Debby Boone profile:

Perhaps the man she is still closest to is her father. Both say that their stormy battles during Debby’s teens have made them even closer now. For Debby the turning point was in Japan; for Pat it was in Columbus, Ohio, two years ago when the family appeared at the state fair. They all thought it was going to be their last show together.

“We all were in an emotional state,” he recalls. “Debby (who was 19 then) had left the room to go and get candy; and was gone for a half-hour. I was worried about her and went to find her. She was in the lobby talking to some musicians, but was upset that I embarrassed her in front of them. It was a trivial matter really, but when we got back to the room I thought she was pretty sassy. One thing led to another and suddenly I threw her over on the bed and spanked her in front of her mother and her sisters.”

Afterwards, feeling chagrined and guilty, the father apologized to his family and led them all in prayer. “But there were no hugs and kisses that night,” he remembers. The next day on the plane, he heard Debby laughingly tell the girls about the black and blue marks on her bottom. “I found there were tears in my eyes,” he says, “for I realize Debby had let me off the hook. Overnight, she had forgiven me for being out of line.”

Spanking your 19-year-old daughter? At the risk of Pat Boone considering me unladylike: WTF?

Original Owner: My copy belonged to a girl named Carol Sue, whose parents inscribed it to her and gave it to her as a 12th birthday gift.

Final Fun Fact: Twixt Twelve and Twenty is also the name of a 1959 Pat Boone hit.

Other Quotes from ‘Twixt Twelve and Twenty:

“Popularity—‘manifest approval of the people in general’—can be a good, sound thing, but it can also be a personality freak or a snow job. Adolf Hitler was the most popular man in Germany for quite a spell.”

“It doesn’t make sense to me that girls who want to be as pretty as possible, who intend to be feeding and caring for a whole family day after tomorrow, don’t know how to feed and care for themselves today. Yet magazine articles, dietitians, beauticians, high school principals, all sigh over the high percentage of poor physical care and poor nutrition among teenagers, even in top economic areas.”

 “Take my first steady…She was a very pretty girl, a wonderful singer, much in demand. But she put too much strain on young love. She let me see her in her curlers.”

“(Shirley) has the kind of beauty I admire. A neatness, a freshness and cleanness, as well as pretty features. Her physical attractiveness is the quiet, decent kind that a man looks for in a wife.”

“Sometimes, girls, if you let your husband boss the project a little, he’ll wind up doing the work quite efficiently. Because, you see, it’s his corporation.”

“Bad language is a dead giveaway that the user is covering up ignorance (he doesn’t know what he’s talking about) or is pretty lazy (he knows, but he won’t take the trouble to say it). Or, worst of all, that he thinks it’s smart!”

Also on swearing—“We’ll assume ladies never develop the above mentioned habit—I hope—I hope!!”

Previous Entries in this Series

 Weird Words of Wisdom: Prettily Bewildered Edition

 

Flea Market Finds

For all of $3 at a local flea market on Sunday, I got two cute Whitman items from the 1970s.

I like this Barbie frame-tray puzzle from 1972 because it includes Skipper and because Barbie is a redhead. In the two decades following the debut of Superstar Barbie in 1977, white Barbie dolls were almost invariably blond.

This puzzle also suggests an interesting story–Skipper’s horse is sporting a first-place ribbon, and Skipper is beaming with pride. Barbie, who’s clutching a third-place ribbon, is responding with a pretty cold stare.

The Calico Cathy paper dolls are from 1976, the height of the “prairie” trend in 1970s fashion. I remember my fellow first-grade girls wearing sunbonnets and long skirts and Little-House braids around this time. Calico Cathy takes things further–even her pantsuits are calico. Well, I guess that’s how she earned the name Calico Cathy.

Spin Again Sunday: Charlie’s Angels

Each weekend, I will forage into my vintage board game collection to show you a truly embarrassing treasure.

Today’s Game: Charlie’s Angels Game (“Based on the television series,” the box announces helpfully, so you know it’s not based on a Chekhov play of the same name or something.)

Copyright Date: 1978

Object: “Be the first to capture the culprit with your team”

Recommended Ages: 8-14. Realistically, this game probably appealed to girls age 8-10, while the Jaclyn-Smith-in-a-bikini game piece appealed to boys ages 12 and up.

Game Board: Better than most TV board games, since it featured real cast photos instead of vaguely related cartoon drawings.

Game Pieces: Cool! A team of actual Angels and a creepy villain beats colored plastic pegs any day.

Personal Notes: I never owned this game as a child, but it was my go-to birthday party gift in third grade. Board games always made a respectable gift, and if a TV show was popular, its board game would produce a satisfying response from the birthday girl and her guests.

Kelly mesmerizes the villain while Kris and Sabrina sneak up on him

Game Play: Whether the birthday girl would ever play the game was another matter. TV show games generally put the “bored” in board games, with simple “move 2 spaces forward,” “move 1 space back” instructions. At least in the Charlie’s Angels Game, the object relates to the show’s crime-fighting concept. To win the game, however, you have to trap the villain THREE times. I forced my daughter to play this with me, but we gave up before trapping him even once.

A visit to Fairyland

1970

When I was a child, Fairyland was easy to reach. It was on State Highway 618 in Conneaut Lake, Pa.

Not exactly an enchanted land, this Fairyland offered encounters with fanciful fiberglass structures and a few live animals.

Fairyland Forest opened in 1960, just across the highway from Conneaut Lake Park. It was one of many story-book-themed parks that sprouted across the nation in the 1950s and 1960s to attract young baby boomers. According to Conneaut Lake Park: The First 100 Years of Fun by Lee O. Bush and Richard F. Hersey, Fairyland Forest drew enthusiastic crowds in its early years.

For my family, visiting Conneaut Lake was a summer tradition that started around 1970. We would travel with my maternal grandparents and rent a cottage or motel rooms near Conneaut Lake Park. And, every year, we spend a few hours strolling through Fairyland Forest.

1972

At some point, my grandfather took sole responsibility for this part of our vacation. I’m sure that gave my parents and my grandmother a nice break, and it also helped me and my brother create wonderful memories with our grandfather.

Fairyland Forest displayed scenes out of nursery rhymes (Humpty Dumpty, the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe), holidays (the Easter bunny), and Bible stories (Jonah and the whale, Noah’s ark), along with a few random touches (a big frog and turtle you could sit on—an irresistible photo op, at least for my family).

Past the displays, you found a petting zoo and a playground. Newspaper ads from the 1960s touted “over 100 little live animals that eat out of your hand.” I mostly remember deer and goats and some very aggressive geese.

Turtle has a boo-boo–and I’m wearing tube socks with sandals

You exited the park through a Windmill-shaped building that housed (surprise!) a gift shop.

I enjoyed our Fairyland Forest tradition so much that I never balked at going, even as I entered my teen years. Sentiment blinded me to the park’s deteriorating condition.

1982

We made our final trip in 1983, not knowing then that it would be our last. My grandfather died of lung cancer in 1984. Fairyland Forest closed in 1985, the victim of declining attendance.

A 1986 column in the Washington (Pa.) Observer-Reporter proclaimed: “The demise of Fairyland Forest won’t be considered a loss by anyone who visited there the last few years. In 1983, the attractions were sorely in need of a paint job, and the array of animals displayed there resembled a petting zoo too large for its own good.”

1977

It was a loss to me, though. For years after my grandfather died, I figured I would never return to Conneaut. I thought seeing the RV camping facility that replaced Fairyland Forest would hurt too much. By 1997, my feelings changed, and now I try to support the struggling Conneaut Lake Park with an annual visit.

I take my daughter to Idlewild’s Storybook Forest to give her the Mother Goose experience.

And I journey back to Fairyland in old photos and my memories.

Weird Words of Wisdom: Prettily Bewildered Edition

“We all say marriage is a partnership and, for the most part, we mean it in the sense of sharing the fun, the joys, the responsibilities, the highs and lows of any family’s life. But just as there can be only one skipper to a boat, one driver to a car, or one president of a company, so there can be only one head of a happy house—and that is, by law, by taxes, by census, and by woman’s intuition, the husband. It’s a pleasant thought to remember that if a man’s home is his castle, he must be the lord and master; and you, therefore, are the chatelaine, the mistress of the castle and keeper of the keys to a very happy existence as a wedded wife.”

The Seventeen Book of Young Living by Enid Haupt, 1959

About the Book: This book, purchased at a library book sale two decades ago, started me collecting advice manuals aimed at teenagers. I wasn’t so far past my own teenage years then, and the book’s quaint advice on dating, friendship, fashion, and school amused and sometimes charmed me. As I added more advice books to my collection, I became fascinated by what the books reveal about the past. Reading what a given era’s adults felt young people should know tells you a lot what a society valued.

(Reading what previous owners wrote or left in these books can be interesting, too. The previous owner of my book recorded her first name as “Twinkle.” This suggests she was a careful student, indeed, of The Seventeen Book of Young Living.)

This book strives to introduce budding Betty Drapers to gracious living, mid-century style, from party planning to the art of conversation (“Books, plays, and movies are always welcome subjects”); from bedroom decorating to managing men (she recommends that a girl develop “a very feminine ability to look prettily bewildered and helpless while plotting and achieving a goal she thinks is really important.”)

More than many such books, this one encourages girls to develop their minds as well as their manners. The author recommends exploring the arts and expresses unusual ardor when the subject turns to books.

Haupt, who edited and published Seventeen for 15 years beginning in 1955, strove for an elevating tone. She accepted the editorship from her brother, legendary publisher Walter H. Annenberg.  “I knew nothing about running a magazine,” she told the New York Times in 1992, “but my brother said, ‘You can bring culture to the average working person who has not had your advantages.’ ”

I used to laugh at the back-cover photo of Haupt, all prim and pearled—and her Times obit’s revelation that she led Seventeen “from a pink swiveled throne in a large office dominated by pink curtains and pink flowers” supports my initial impression of her.

Actually, Haupt exuded true graciousness. She donated much of her publishing-dynasty fortune to worthwhile causes, including Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the New York Public Library, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her love of gardening inspired her largest philanthropic gifts, including $34 million to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.

(“Nature is my religion” was apparently one of her favorite sayings—and to that I say, “Amen!”)

“I suppose I have an exaggerated sense of the beauty of the world, rather than the ugliness,” Haupt told the Times.

In The Seventeen Book of Young Living, Haupt does avoid most controversial subjects. Even for the era, her treatment of sex is vague: “The major responsibility for any romance disintegrating into an affair—that can only lead to reproaches—is the girl’s. Your chances of causing the boy you love, or yourself, anything but unhappiness are fairly slim if you fail to conform to the generally approved standards of behavior.”

On at least one issue, however, she takes a firm stand—she spends an entire chapter trying to squelch prejudice in her young readers.

Final Fun Fact: Haupt, who died at age 99 in 2005, lived for many years in a penthouse at 740 Park Avenue. Author Michael Gross wrote an entire book about that address, home to what he calls the “world’s richest apartment building.”  Haupt’s penthouse, which she bought for $350,000 in 1967, sold for $27.5 million in 2006, according to the Times.

Other Quotes from The Seventeen Book of Young Living:

“In dealing with any male, the art of saving face is essential. Traditionally, he is the head of the family, the dominant partner, the man in the situation. Even on those occasions when you both know his decision is wrong, more often than not you will be wise to go along with his decision—temporarily—until you can find a face-saving solution.”

“If you’ve ever watched your brother’s grimaces when he’s been haunted by telephone calls from a love-smitten young lady, you would better understand the embarrassment the boy suffers and the blow you are dealing your relationship by being aggressive.”

“Flirting is probably inevitable at youth, because at this age it’s almost second nature for a bright pretty girl to sparkle at the men and boys she meets.”

“If you are going out with one boy on an exclusive basis, the temptation to offer to share expenses for movies, tennis balls, and so on will be very great. Resist it…trying to pay your way can only be awkward and damaging to you both.”

“Prejudice shows up in many ways, all indicating flaws in the structure of a personality. It indicates ignorance, fear of new things, inability to meet the challenge of the unknown.”

“You, the young in spirit and in years, have no place in your hearts for prejudice against anybody or anything. It’s a big world you’re going out into, and you need an open mind and an open heart to take advantage of the all the friendships, knowledge, and beauty that await you.”

“The better born and bred a person is, the less prejudiced he is.”