Old-Time Radio Playlist: Till Death Do Us Part (And That Might be Sooner Than You Think)

I put this playlist together after noticing how many old-time radio mystery shows had presented episodes titled “Till Death Do Us Part.”

“Till Death Do Us Part”

Suspense, December 15, 1942
“Just remember, I shall be waiting…out, in the dark and cold, where there is neither marriage, nor giving in marriage…I’ll be waiting, for my little pet to come and join me.”
Story: A professor, jealous of his wife’s love for another man, comes up with a clever plan to eliminate both his problems.
Writer: John Dickson Carr, well known Golden-Age mystery writer, who wrote many Suspense episodes.
Notable Cast Members: Peter Lorre, whose voice oozes creepiness, plays the murderous husband. The same year this episode aired, Lorre played one of his most memorable film roles: Ugarte in Casablanca.
About Suspense: Suspense billed itself, with ample justification, as “radio’s outstanding theater of thrills.” Extremely popular, it ran for 22 years (1940-1962). For much of that time, it attracted top Hollywood stars, who often got the chance to play roles that contrasted with their on-screen image. William Spier produced Suspense in its best years and, according to Dunning, “personally guided every aspect of the show, molding story, voice, sound effects, and music into audio masterpieces.”
Weapon of Choice: Aconite, also known as monkshood, a poison.
My Verdict: An entertainingly over-the-top performance by Lorre and a script with several good twists make this a must-listen.

“Till Death Do Us Part”

The Sealed Book, July 8, 1945
“Oh, no, I’ll never leave you, darling. Never, never, never.”
Story: A man is determined to escape his smothering wife—and she is determined to keep him.
About The Sealed Book: A cheesy mystery-horror show with a very cheesy opening sequence, The Sealed Book was a syndicated show that ran for six months in 1945.
Weapon of Choice: The sea.

My Verdict
: A so-bad-it’s-good kind of entertainment. By a few minutes in, you’ll want to kill Blanche, too.

Till Death Do Us Part”

Murder at Midnight, December 9, 1946
“One life has already paid for yours. And, quart for quart, your blood is worth no more than my family’s.”
Story: A newlywed husband is tormented by fantasies of killing his bride.
About Murder at Midnight: Similar in some ways to The Sealed Book, this was a syndicated show with a cheesy opening and ample organ flourishes. The quality is much higher, though. As Digital Deli Too writes, “Anton Leader, later famous for his Television work, directed the series. The writing staff was also top-notch, with names such as Max Erlich, Joe Ruscoll and Robert Newman, among others.”
Weapons of Choice: Strangulation, a gun.
My verdict: This story is clever and complex, and it uses Oscar Wilde’s “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” to eerie effect as a recurring motif. The actress playing the bride gives a good performance.

“Till Death Do Us Part”

Inner Sanctum Mysteries, October 27, 1947
“Oh, baby, how did we ever get into a mess like this?”

Story: Newlyweds are witnesses when a man murders a woman, and their honeymoon just gets better from there.
About Inner Sanctum Mysteries: This was the father of all campy-mystery-horror-with-cheesy-opening shows. Famous for its creaking-door sound effect and its punning host, Inner Sanctum Mysteries ran from 1941 to 1952.
Notable Cast Members: Everett Sloane and Mercedes McCambridge, two prolific radio performers. Sloane was a member of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater and appeared in the films Citizen Kane and The Lady from Shanghai. Two years after this episode aired, McCambridge would play an Academy-Award-winning supporting role in All the King’s Men. Her movie career would also include providing the voice for The Exorcist’s demon.
Weapons of Choice: A gun, smothering (sort of).
My Verdict: Inner Sanctum has its fans, but it consistently underwhelms me. My mind kept wandering during this one, and the ending didn’t satisfy me.

“Till Death Do Us Part”

The Whistler, April 14, 1948
“He made a mistake–a bad one.”
Story: A shady art dealer meets up with the equally shady young wife of an ailing art collector. This won’t end well for anyone.
About The Whistler: A popular mystery-crime show, The Whistler ran for 13 years. It has similarities to the shows above, except that the episode’s central character is usually the bad guy, whom the narrator addresses directly and tauntingly.
Notable Cast Members: Gerald Mohr was another prolific radio actor whose most memorable role was Philip Marlowe. Doris Singleton would go on to play the recurring role of Carolyn Appleby on TV’s I Love Lucy.
Weapon of Choice: Sleeping pills (sort of).
My Verdict: The Whistler can be hit or miss. This wasn’t an outstanding episode, but it did keep me guessing. I always enjoy Gerald Mohr’s sexy, hard-boiled voice.

“Until Death Do Us Part”

Private Files of Rex Saunders
“It worked. It worked real good.”
Story: A casino owner’s second wife becomes convinced that her husband killed his first wife–and that she is about to be his second victim.
About Private Files of Rex Saunders: This private investigator show was a starring vehicle for Rex Harrison that aired during the summer of 1951. Himan Brown directed the series.
Notable Cast Members: Rex Harrison is best remembered as My Fair Lady‘s Henry Higgins, of course. Leon Janney, who plays the assistant, began his long theatrical career when he was still a child.
Weapons of Choice: Guns.
My Verdict: It’s fun to hear Harrison play a private investigator, and the story has some nice twists.


Weird Words of Wisdom: Mad for Van Johnson Edition

“A gal can’t find out what makes the world go round unless she gets around a bit herself!”

Personality Plus by Sheila John Daly, 1946

About the Book: We’re going back a bit further into teenage-advice-manual history today, back to the very birth of the American teenager. Jon Savage, author of Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture, says the word teenager came into common use in 1944.

“From the very start,” Savage writes, “it was a marketing term that recognized the spending power of adolescents…the fact that youth had become a market also meant that it had become a discrete, separate age group with its own peer-generated rituals, rights and demands.”

Personality Plus was written for teenagers, by a teenager, who opens the book by arguing that her peers’ spending habits and rituals do not define them:

“According to the popular conception, a gal just isn’t on the ball unless she drinks a couple of cokes a day, is mad for Van Johnson and Robert Walker and is swayed pro and con by Frank Sinatra. And the average Joe has missed the train by a mile unless he knows which band leaders play which instruments, wears bright reindeer sweaters, has lengthy phone conversations each evening and rides around after school in an old, violently painted jalopy.”

Daly knows, however, that teenage preferences are powerful—she sprinkles liberal pop cultural references throughout her book.

Number of Van Johnson References in Personality Plus: Eight. Van Johnson tied with Bing Crosby as the top box office draw in 1945. He was a bobby-soxer favorite; as his New York Times obituary said, “The numbers of screaming teenage girls who swooned for Mr. Johnson were second only to those who threw themselves at Frank Sinatra.”

Other Celebrities Mentioned in Personality Plus:

Vaughn Monroe

Gene Kelly (twice)

Robert Walker (twice)

Frank Sinatra (twice)

Betty Grable

Ingrid Bergman

Fred MacMurray

June Allyson

Harry James (four times)

Walter Pidgeon

Lana Turner

Humphrey Bogart

Woody Herman

Perry Como

Joan Leslie

Johnny Mercer

Johnny Weissmuller

About the Author: I think I kinda love Sheila John Daly, an ambitious and talented woman from a family of ambitious and talented women. One of her three older sisters, Maureen Daly, wrote the classic teenage romance Seventeenth Summer. Maureen also wrote a teenage advice column for the Chicago Tribune, which Sheila took over when Maureen went to work for Ladies Home Journal. By the time Sheila was 21, her column was reaching 10 million readers in 36 newspapers, and she had authored four books.

As a teenager herself, Daly avoided a preachy tone in Personality Plus. Instead of railing against “necking,” she reminded readers that getting too affectionate on double dates could make the other couple uncomfortable. Instead of banning smoking and drinking, she warned party guests against “dumping cigarette ashes between the davenport cushions” or raiding the hosts’ wine cellar.

Not much of her advice actually qualifies as weird. It’s entertaining, though, in the vivid picture it creates of 1940s teenage life. (The book’s glossy illustrations are also charming.) Consider this comment about teenage slang:

“‘Smooth’ is an interesting adjective which came into the high school vocabulary about five years ago, and when it did, about a dozen other words dropped out of common use, for ‘smooth’ is an accepted synonym for them all…Smooth can mean anything from pretty, poised, attractive and full of personality to just plain intelligent; it can even take the place of a whole sentence, explaining that a fellow or girl is a good dancer, a sharp date, an interesting conversationalist, or a fine hunk of heartbreak—all in one word.”

At times, Daly has a nicely snarky tone, as in her rules for losing friends and alienating people:

  • “Make yourself the center of attraction always. Make money the principal topic of your conversation. Match every anecdote that someone tells you with one of your own—just a bit better, just a bit more king-sized.
  • “Get the habit of talking about your friends…Don’t put your thoughts in black and white, just drop the hint and leave the others to twist the remark around to exactly what you meant it to mean. Those catty girls—how could they.
  • “Speak up. Then give the excuse: ‘I can’t help it. I’m just frank, that’s all.’”

If she were a young woman today, Sheila John Daly would probably have a lively blog and a huge Twitter following.

My Favorite Sheila John Daly-isms: “Any fellow old enough to select his own shirts and ties is man enough to give his own best glen-plaid slacks a once-over-lightly with the iron or to sponge the coke stain off his red striped tie. So whip out the ironing board and iron, fellows, and get to work—your wardrobe is showing.”

“If the right boys don’t ask you to have fun, if you can’t find anyone to move into the hand-holding department with you, well—have fun without boys. And you can have more fun than you think! Find yourself several good girl friends; try enjoying a movie with them on a Saturday night. Develop a hobby, get interested in sports, read all the books you’ve wanted to read for so long, find an after-school job.”

Final Fun Facts: I couldn’t find much information on Sheila John Daly’s career any later than this 1959 Life article. I do know that her married name was Sheila Daly White and that (yay!) she’s still alive. And if, as seems certain, this blogger’s aunt is the same Sheila Daly White, she really is a very “smooth” lady.

Other Quotes from Personality Plus:

On ways to meet boys: “Putting in an appearance at school basketball games to do a little lung-and-tongue exercise to cheer the fellows on to a higher score isn’t a bad idea, either, because some of the smoothest characters play forward on the cage five and they get a kick out of being appreciated!”

On preparing for a date: “…plan your schedule far enough in advance so that you won’t be caught with an unpressed skirt and your hair still in curlers when the doorbell rings.”

On corsages: “Use originality in your choice. Remember there are other flowers besides gardenias! Try a camellia in season, a cluster of violets, or two long-stemmed red roses.”

On the rules of dancing: “…a girl who is already dancing should never refuse to change partners when a boy cuts in…the partner who was first dancing with a girl must not cut back on the boy who took her from him, though he can cut in on a third fellow. Also (to avoid trouble!) he must not continue to cut in on the same fellow when the latter dances with other girls!”

“A formal dance calls for a certain dignity and even if you’re jitter-bugging at a sweater hop in the school gym, don’t claim more than your share of the floor.”

On curfews: “Another good reason for an earlier zero hour is the fact that the ‘healthiest’ part of the evening is always from about eight to twelve. The main event, the dance or the movie, is usually over by that time, a sandwich and a malt won’t take more than forty-five minutes, and after that–? A smart fellow and girl will start for home, and because you’re smart, too, you won’t have to ask why!”

“Many leading movie stars go to bed each night at nine when making a picture because they know you can’t win Oscars with circles under your eyes.”

A sign that he’s in love: “He has his class ring made smaller so that it’s just the right size for your third finger, right hand. (And that’s where all the gals are wearing them these days.)”

A party refreshment idea: “Heat hamburger buns in your oven until they are warm and toasty. Wrap one strip of bacon around a cube of American or pimento cheese and put it under the broiler of the oven until the bacon is crisp and cheese soft and toasted. Then pop the sizzling combination into the hot buns, serve with hot cocoa topped with marshmallow and you’ll soon see a quick disappearing act.”

On hair: “Whether you’re wearing your hair in a long bob, a fluffy feather cut, or in quaint pigtails with bright red bows, that old routine of ‘one hundred strokes a night, keep your hair healthy and bright,’ with frequent and thorough shampoos between, is the best way to give it that magazine ad slickness.”

On telephone etiquette: “Whenever possible, wait for boys to call you. Even with a hundred poles and a lot of wire in between, a fellow can tell when your line is out for him. And a smooth boy won’t want to get tangled up in it.”

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: “Real Sentiment is Good”

It took me a long time to finish watching A Tree Grows in Brooklyn this week.

The first time I sat down to watch, life interrupted after 90 minutes. In the days that followed, I found myself procrastinating about watching the rest. Having seen the film several times, I knew exactly what was waiting for me.

Both the 1945 film and the Betty Smith novel it’s based on have occasionally drawn charges of sentimentality. In 1943, Time called the book “an old-fashioned family pudding of well-baked corn.”

According to literary critics Gerald C. Cupchik and Janos Laszlo, “sentimentality often involves situations which evoke very intense feelings: love affairs, childbirth, death” but does so with “reduced intensity and duration of emotional experience…diluted to a safe strength by idealisation and simplification.”

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’s final  45 minutes do include death and childbirth and the hint of a love affair, but I don’t believe the movie dilutes or simplifies the emotions it elicits.

As director Elia Kazan said when speaking about the film years later, “Real sentiment is good.”

Tree explores a real part of growing up—becoming aware of your parents as flawed human beings. After losing her beloved father, Francie has to learn to see both her parents in a new way—as imperfect people who have loved her as best they could.

The performers bring warmth and humanity to their roles and ground the movie in “real sentiment.”

Peggy Ann Garner as Francie and James Dunn as Johnny Nolan are excellent, especially in the pivotal scene on Christmas night. Kazan drew on issues in their personal lives—Dunn’s alcoholism and Garner’s worry about her father in the Air Force—to shape their performances:

I have a book about child actors that describes Peggy Ann Garner as “a plain but realistic looking young lady with straight blond hair and a ski-jump nose.” I don’t think that’s quite fair, but Tree accentuates her “plainness” to help make her believable as Francie.

“They were both like children. Jimmy Dunn was a beautiful child…I treated him and Peggy the same way. I also threw them together a lot. I would tell Jimmy about her father being away and how much she missed him. I got him concerned about her. And I would tell her she was important to Jimmy and got her to love Jimmy…there is a scene later where Johnny and Kathy (sic) decide he must tell Francie that she has to quit school and go to work. There is no other way to afford the baby that’s coming. Johnny goes in determined, but before he can get to it, she tells him how much she wants to be a writer and his resolve melts. I didn’t need to do a lot of schmoozing before we shot that seen, as important and emotional as it was. The values were obvious and by then Jimmy loved Peggy as his own. How could any feelingful person not want Peggy Ann Garner to be anything she wanted?”

The casting of Dorothy McGuire as Katie Nolan is the biggest weakness I find in the film. McGuire gives a decent performance, but her luminous movie-star looks seem out-of-place in the gritty environment Kazan creates.

The first time I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, at Francie’s age, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Only as looking backward, as an adult, could I feel the full pain of Francie’s awakening to “the way things really are.”

The older I get, I think, the harder it’s going to be to watch those final 45 minutes.

Guiding Light Memories

My Guiding Light memories taste like iced tea.

In my grandmother’s aluminum-sided ranch outside Pittsburgh, the iced tea was fresh-brewed, heavily sweetened, and served in 1940s gold-trimmed highball glasses. I would sip it and wait impatiently for my grandmother’s “stories” to end so I could watch Brady Bunch reruns, or Match Game, or anything else.

As the minutes passed, certain images seared themselves onto my young brain. Alan Spaulding and Hope Bauer floating on the wing of a downed plane. Barbara and Holly and Chrissie together—three redheads who caused my grandmother (a rather naïve television viewer) to wonder if the actresses were related in real life. Phillip’s adoptive and biological parents forming various marital configurations. Roger terrorizing Rita in a funhouse hall of mirrors. (By dressing up as a clown to lure Chrissie, Roger also terrorized my younger brother, who never forgot that unnerving scene.)

Later, in junior high, my best friend and I drank instant iced tea from amber crinkle glasses as we watched Guiding Light in her family room after school. While our peers who watched soaps followed General Hospital, we watched as Nola and Quint floated away toward marital bliss, Carrie broke down on the witness stand at her murder trial, and Phillip finally learned the truth about his parentage.

I started sneaking to the local convenience store to buy Soap Opera Digest with my own money because my dad considered soap magazines trash. I littered my diary with references like “GL was boring today” or “Can’t wait for GL tomorrow.”  In ninth grade, when a change in schools and a long bus ride made me miss most of the show, my absentee rate soared. I ordered a GL t-shirt by mail (and received, with it, the mid-1980s promotional brochure displayed in the gallery above). I kept watching, through Reva’s slut of Springfield speech, Bert’s death, Beth and Lujack’s romance. Once, I even convinced my dad to drive me and my best friend to a mall 20 miles away to see Vincent Irizarry in person.

I stopped watching briefly around 1986 when the show seemed adrift. Thankfully, I returned to see Michelle Forbes’ harrowing performance as Sonni/Solita and the brilliant period that followed. From about 1989 to 1994, the writing, the direction, and performances by actors like Michael Zaslow, Maureen Garrett, Beverlee McKinsey, Sherry Stringfield, Grant Aleksander, Beth Ehlers, Peter Simon, and the rest came together to create something perfect. At the end of each episode, when the announcer said, “This has been Guiding Light,” I felt sad that another hour had elapsed.

Three years ago this week, when the final GL episode aired, I cried throughout it, even though only the opening logo montage and Josh and Reva’s happy ending really resonated with me. The truth is, I was part of GL’s problem. I stopped watching in 1994 for what I thought would be a temporary break and never really found my way back. The times I tried to watch, it just didn’t capture my attention. I seemed to lose my taste for the genre’s conventions. (Bad writing didn’t help—in 2003, actors like Tom Pelphry and Gina Tognoni sucked me back in; the continuity-shredding Mary Ann Carruthers story sent me screaming for the exits.)

Hypocritcally, though, I wanted GL to last forever. I wanted to turn it on every Fourth of July to see the Bauer barbecue, to turn in on in December and watch Springfield residents preparing for Christmas while I was wrapping last-minute presents, to know that the show my grandmother had listened to on the radio was still airing every day, even if I couldn’t be bothered to watch it.

According to TV Tropes, Guiding Light “may be the longest recorded narrative in the entire history of mankind.”

Sometimes I wish entertainments could be declared historic landmarks, the way buildings are.

But, of course, entertainment is a business, and business doesn’t work that way. When tastes change, whole forms of entertainment die out. Soap opera audiences began declining sharply in the 1990s*, and now only four daytime soaps remain on the air.

When GL ended, the saddest part for me was knowing I might never be able to re-experience my favorite moments. Soap opera episodes were produced to be aired a single time and then forgotten. I’m thrilled with the Guiding Light DVDs Soap Classics has been releasing, and I will continue to gobble them up. I even ordered Guiding Light DVDs from Germany.

Watching these old episodes has helped me fall in love with the show all over again.

I only wish my grandmother was here to watch them with me, over a glass of iced tea.

*You can find an interesting discussion about the reasons for this decline here.

Some Blog Updates and a Posting Schedule

Later today, I will post my regular Monday blog entry, my 30th since starting Embarrassing Treasures on August 15. I would like to thank my little band of followers, here and on Twitter, for helping me survive my first month of blogging.

As a nostalgia and pop culture blog, Embarrassing Treasures covers a wide range of topics—possibly too wide. That’s what you get when you combine a lifetime’s worth of Generation X memories with a fondness for Greatest Generation entertainment. Everything falls under the heading “bygone amusements and guilty pleasures.”

To make it easier for readers to know what to expect, I’ve worked out a posting schedule:

Spin Again Sunday—Reviews of vintage board games from my collection.

Memories Monday—Personal reflections inspired by some pastime, artifact, or place from the past.

Classic Movies Tuesday—Thoughts about classic movies that have inspired, amused, or moved me.

Weird Words of Wisdom Wednesday—Humorous insights from my collection of vintage advice books for teens.

Old-Time Radio Thursday—Commentary and context on unusual, excellent, or odd old-time radio episodes.

Family Affair Friday—Episode reviews, information, images, and articles on the classic TV sitcom Family Affair, which holds a special place in my heart.

Surprise Saturday—Quick takes on pop culture; anything goes!

Of course, these topics overlap frequently. Vintage toys or classic TV shows or movies might inspire Monday’s reflections. Celebrities sometimes figure into advice manuals, either as authors or examples. Most of my vintage board games have television connections. Movie stars often pop up in surprising roles in old-time radio shows—heck, movie stars like Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, and Joan Blondell even pop up in Family Affair.

“Treasure Map,” in the left-hand sidebar, provides the best guide to posts on particular topics.

I also wanted to let you know that Embarrassing Treasures is on Pinterest and Facebook. On Pinterest, I’ve started some pretty cool boards on classic movies and vintage toys—check them out! My Facebook page is brand new, so you can be among the first to like Embarrassing Treasures. Don’t forget that you can also follow this blog on Twitter and by e-mail.

Thanks again for reading this blog, and feel free to suggest ideas for future posts. What coverage areas do you like most? What would you like to see more or less of? I’d love to hear from you!

Spin Again Sunday: Gomer Pyle

Gomer Pyle Game, 1964

Today’s Game: Gomer Pyle

Copyright Date: 1964 (I got that date from the book Spin Again by Rick Polizzi and Fred Schaefer. The box is undated.)

Game Board: Visually striking, with the marching Marines cutting a green swath across the mustard-yellow background, and red Sergeant Carter squares popping up regularly. The guy peeling potatoes seems to be smoking—that’s something you wouldn’t see on kids’ game today.

Game Board

Game Pieces: Brightly colored plastic pieces and cartoon cutouts of Pyle.

Recommended Ages: 8 to Adult.

Game Play: No clue. See the well that holds the plastic pieces? See the words that say “Game instructions in well”? Well…not in my well. That’s one of the dangers of buying of vintage games—they’re often incomplete. Dice are included, so obviously Pyle has to move around the board. I’m going to assume that landing on Sergeant Carter’s head is a bad thing.

Game Designer: The box artwork is signed “Hal Greer.” I haven’t been able to find out anything about this artist. I’m guessing he’s not the same person as this Hal Greer.

A close up from the box lid–pretty nice artwork

About Transogram: Game manufacturer Transogram offered many games based on TV shows. As the Polizzi and Schaefer book says: “Transogram personified the close relationship that had developed between television and the toy industry, doing so with imaginative designs that were some of the best of the period.”

My Thoughts: I bought this game a few years ago for my husband, who was a big Gomer Pyle fan as a kid. It was never a

A close up from the game board. Is that Marine smoking?

favorite show of mine, but I would watch it occasionally when nothing else was on.  In fourth grade, our teachers would let us watch TV in the cold lunch room, and Gomer Pyle was our usual lunchtime fare. For that reason, I associate the show with salami and snack cakes.

Previous Entries in this Series:

Charlie’s Angels

Laverne & Shirley

H.R. Pufnstuf

Emily Post Popularity Game

Wonder Women of the ’80s

What do you get when you combine Donna Summer, Erma Bombeck, Cheryl Tiegs, Judy Blume, Gloria Vanderbilt, Carol Burnett, and Rose Kennedy? An absolute dream cast for The Vagina Monologues? Well, yes. But you also get the Wonder Women of the 80’s (sic), according to this book that School Book Fairs, Inc., published in 1980. Rather audacious of author Garnet Topper to pick the decade’s wonder women when the decade had barely begun. By the way, while Garnet Topper sounds like a Gay-Head-style pseudonym, my cursory research suggests that it’s a real name.