Old-Time Radio Episode Spotlight: “Home for Thanksgiving”

“A day of thanksgiving belongs to no one people and no one land, but is in the hearts of all people of all nations who love and understand, and who face each today with courage and each tomorrow with unbounded faith.”–Paul Henreid in “Home for Thanksgiving,” Family Theater, November 27, 1947.

About This Episode: This is a heart-warming story about a former German prisoner of war returning to his battle-scarred hometown with his pregnant American bride. Paul Henreid’s performance transcends the sometimes stilted dialogue. (Joan Leslie’s performance, not so much.)
Google-worthy Reference: UNRAA, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, an international effort to bring relief to war victims.

To everyone celebrating Thanksgiving today, best wishes for a warm and wonderful holiday. I’d like to offer my own thanks to those who’ve become regular readers of this blog since I started it in August. It’s great fun sharing my embarrassing treasures with you!

U.S. President Harry Truman meets Thanksgiving dinner. (Apparently, the practice of “pardoning” the ceremonial White House turkey didn’t start until 1989.) Source: Public Domain Review


Old-Time Radio Episode Spotlight: Those Magnificent Cats in their Flying Machines

“Clipper Home,” An American in England
December 22, 1942

Norman Corwin was one of the most important creative forces in radio’s golden age. He wrote, produced, and directed several prestigious, poetic shows celebrating American values. In December 1942, TIME wrote, “CBS’s Norman Corwin, top-flight U.S. radio dramatist, went to England last summer to try something that U.S. radio had not done before. He wanted to explain England to Americans by short-waving his dramatized observations of the English.”

This was a huge technical challenge in 1942, and not all the broadcasts from England aired successfully in the United States. After Corwin returned home in the fall, he produced four more episodes, including this final one.

Pyro, of Helensburgh, Scotland, flew on experimental bombing test missions in World War II. Source: WIRRALNEWS.co.uk

Recently, while listening to it, I became fascinated by a short incident near the end. The narrator, slowly making his way home from Great Britain to the United States, meets a U.S. flier in Brazil. With him, the flier carries his “mascot,” a gray kitten name Tiger. The flier says he brought the kitten from his home in New Hampshire and carries him along on all his flying missions.

As a passionate cat lover, I wanted to find out more about Tiger. Unfortunately, my research didn’t unearth any information about him, but I did learn about a flying World War II cat named Pyro. British photographer Bob Bird was working at the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment base in Helensburgh, Scotland, when he adopted a stray kitten. Pyro didn’t like it when his owner left to accompany flight crews on experimental bomb tests. Bird started taking Pyro along on the missions; together they survived a crash landing, and Pyro once helped protect Bird from frostbite. Last year, Pyro received a posthumous award for bravery from the United Kingdom’s People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals charity.

At the time of the award, Bob Bird’s son Robin said, “’We are really very proud of Pyro. He was the only flying cat in the Second World War—and any other war as far as we know.”

Even if “Tiger” didn’t really exist, Pyro wasn’t the only flying cat in World War II. The web site Purr ‘n’ Fur has fascinating and comprehensive pages about cats in wartime. You can read about a few flying cats (and even see a picture of a cat of in a military aircraft in flight). You can also learn about ships’ cats, which were much more numerous than flying cats.

To be honest, my first reaction to hearing about Tiger was annoyance that someone had put an animal in such a dangerous situation. I can’t begrudge soldiers and sailors for seeking comfort from a pet, though, and the cats I’ve read about took their “service” in stride. (Why do my cats fuss so much about a car ride to the vet’s?)

The entire series An American in England makes interesting listening for history buffs and Anglophiles, even though it is wordy and rather unsubtle in its propaganda. (This episode also has an uncomfortable segment in which the narrator wonders what’s going through “the simple tribal mind” of a West African native. That segment concludes, however, with hypothetical soldiers expressing sentiments like this: “Listen, I like bread. So does the next guy. I’d like to see everybody in the world get a piece of bread and a quart of milk a day. And that goes for Indians and Eskimos and Hottentots, too.”)

Joseph Julian plays the narrator, who represents Corwin’s viewpoint.

Final Fun Fact: Corwin, who died last fall at 101, once said, “Cats are designated friends.”

Other Old-Time Radio Entries:

Playlist: Till Death Do Us Part

Episode Spotlight: A Snapped-Worthy 1920s True Story

Episode Spotlight: CSI, 1940s Styl

Playlist: London Calling, Part 

Playlist: London Calling, Part 2

Old-Time Radio Episode Spotlight: A Snapped-Worthy 1920s True Story

Eve Rablen, the real-life model for Alma in this story. Newspaper crime reporters, showing the restraint they are known for, dubbed her “the Borgia of the Sierras.”

Calling All Cars, December 11, 1934

The story you are about to hear is true. Some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Fortunately, producers didn’t bother to change the name of the town, the sheriff, or the star witness in this story, enabling us to uncover the details of a Snapped-worthy 1920s murder.

Calling All Cars, which aired from 1933 to 1939, was an early police procedural show that focused on real California cases.

Tuttletown is the setting for this episode, and Tuolumne County Sheriff J.H. Dambacher opens the story of what he calls his most interesting case.

First, we hear a crotchety old man scolding his son “Herb” for corresponding with a woman named “Alma”–a woman Herb met through “that there matrimonial agency,” as Pap puts it.

Pap is comically over-the-top with his objections, which include his son’s young age (26) and Alma’s previous marriage (“God-fearing people don’t get dee-vorced!”). Herb doesn’t listen, though. He marries Alma and moves her and her young son in with him and his father.

What could possibly go wrong?

In real life, Herb and Alma were Carroll and Eva Rablen, and the radio drama presents an accurate picture of what happens next. At a school-house dance on April 27, 1929, Eva froliced on the dance floor while her husband waited in the car outside.  At one point, she brought him a cup of coffee. Shortly thereafter, he cried out in pain, told his father that his coffee had tasted bitter, and died.

Sheriff Dambacher tell listeners that the killer was “the last person one would logically suspect.”

That might be true–if one had never encountered a crime story before.

The police investigation nailed Eva pretty quickly. The prosecutor later doubted that he’d ever see such a strong circumstantial-evidence case again. The evidence included:

Post-mortem testing that showed strychnine poisoning killed Carroll.

The discovery of a bottle containing traces of strychnine near the spot where Carroll died.

A druggist’s positive identification of Eva as the woman who’d purchased the strychnine from him a few days before the murder.

Forensic testing that found strychnine present on the coffee-stained dress of another dance-goer. While Eva was taking Carroll his coffee, she bumped into this other woman and spilled some coffee on her.

Prosecutors’ star witness would be Edward O. Heinrich, a forensic science pioneer who earned the nickname “the Wizard of Berkeley.”

Newspapers had a field day with “mail-order bride” murder story, and local interest reached such a pitch that Eva’s arraignment was held outdoors to accommodate crowds.

How could a newspaper make its murder coverage even more disturbing? By using this picture to illustrate Eva Rablen’s “juvenile-minded” nature.

Ultimately, her defense attorneys focused on Eva’s supposedly arrested mental development.

As one expert told the media: “The response of the ductless glands to situations varies with their congenital capacity and acquired susceptibility. In the ability of one endocrine system to inhibit another we have the germ of the unconscious. Hence the modus operandi of the repressions and the supressions, compensations and dissociations, which may unite to integrate, or refuse to integrate, and so disintegrate and deteriorate a personality.”

Well, that makes sense.

I won’t spoil the outcome of this case for you, but you can read more about the case’s resolution and what happened to Eva later in newspaper accounts.


Old Time Radio Episode Spotlight: CSI, 1940s Style

It’s always freaky when several of my interests collide. Crime, old-time radio, and classic movies–it all comes together in this photo of the FBI photographing Margaret O’Brien.

“The 91 million prints we have on file here at the FBI are the biggest man trap ever devised.”

Adventure Ahead, August 26, 1944

This is not a great radio show. In my experience, the cheese factor in old-time radio correlates directly with the number of organ flourishes a show contains. But this show’s subject–how the FBI lab helped police solve crimes in the 1940s–intrigues me.

Adventure Ahead was a Saturday morning show aimed at young boys. In this episode, a boy tours the FBI crime lab and learns how agents help solve crimes through blood and hair analysis, ballistics, and fingerprint identification.

(This show uses what TV Tropes calls the Little Jimmy trope: “Little Jimmy is a young character without any distinguishable traits other than complete ignorance related to the subject at hand. Most likely found in educational films, commercials, and public service announcements. Their only job is to represent the young and stupid viewers of the film who know nothing about common sense and would very well get into a car with a stranger offering candy unless some superhero or other fictional character comes along and tells them that it’s wrong. He’s typically young, white and freckled.” Here, our Little Jimmy is named Tommy.)

Because I live near America’s largest fingerprint database, I paid special attention to the information about FBI fingerprint files. After listening to the show, I couldn’t resist doing some research on the history of fingerprint identification and how the FBI collection has changed over the years.

Soon after J. Edgar Hoover became FBI director in 1924, the Bureau established an Identification Division.
Within nine years, it contained 5 million cards. By 1944, when this radio show aired, these numbers had soared to 91 million. Actress Margaret O’Brien provided the Bureau’s 100 millionth set of fingerprints two years later.

This radio show describes a fingerprint matching system that involved punched cards and “steel fingers.” The FBI first used computers to search fingerprint files in 1980, but didn’t establish a fully computerized system, the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, until 1999.

The FBI is now building a huge database of other biometric information, from iris scans to tattoos.