My Five Favorite…Gunsmoke Radio Episodes

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Over the next month, I will be honoring the premiere anniversaries of many classic TV shows. Check back frequently for episode recaps, fan magazine articles, special editions of Spin Again Sunday, and more. I will also be posting unique content on Facebook and Instagram.

The classic Western Gunsmoke launched its 20-year TV run on September 10, 1955. To observe its anniversary, I’m cheating a bit and focusing on the radio version that pre-dated it. I always enjoyed TV’s Gunsmoke, which I discovered while in my teens. (Mostly, I enjoyed watching for little shippy moments between Matt and Kitty.) The radio version, though, blows me away with its darker Western vision. Bill Conrad conveys an especially wide range of emotion as Matt Dillon.

I’m also cheating a bit in naming favorite episodes because I haven’t listened to the entire radio run. (I dread the day when I have no new episodes left to discover.) Furthermore, I love so many episodes that my “favorites” list could change from day to day. These five episodes are excellent, though, and each evokes a different mood.

1. “Home Surgery,” September 13, 1952

“I rolled a smoke and looked out across the flat distances of the prairie. And I wondered how anyone could survive in all that emptiness.”

When Matt and Chester come upon an isolated homesteader suffering from blood poisoning, Matt takes desperate measures to try to save him. Conrad’s performance is appropriately tortured, especially in the scene just following surgery.

2. “Kitty,” November 29, 1952:

“She was like a seventeen-year-old on her first date. She was like all the women you’d ever known or loved–soft and innocent.”

Matt asks Kitty to be his date at a benefit for the school. She appreciates the problems this will cause, if he doesn’t. This episode gives us a giddy and romantic side of Matt. He even sings at one point!

3. “There Never Was a Horse,” September 19, 1953:

“I sure don’t like the idea of dying…but I got over being afraid of it a long time ago.”

A gun-fighter rides into town, bent on challenging the marshal. Matt’s not sure that he can win a confrontation, so Conrad’s performance is a believable mix of vulnerability and strength.

4. “Fawn,” September 26, 1953:

“I never heard of sending a woman to Dodge, for her to be better off.”

A woman held captive by the Cheyenne for 10 years gets her freedom and travels to Dodge to wait for her husband. The daughter she had in captivity is with her, and they face hostility from many quarters. This episode has a good message, a sweet ending, and a nice supporting performance by John Dehner. It’s also a radio Gunsmoke rarity–an episode with no deaths.

You may remember Helen Kleeb, who plays the former captive, as Mamie Baldwin from The Waltons. Mamie was the darker-haired Baldwin sister who wasn’t obsessed with Ashley Longworth.

5. “Marshal Proudfoot,” July 20, 1958:

“Chester bordered on being ignorant, I think. I can’t imagine how he ever got to be a marshal.”

Chester’s father shows up looking his son, whose letters home have exaggerated his position in Dodge. This is a hilarious outing. (For personal reasons, I also like the PSA that mentions the land-grant act.)

Bonus Feature

Turning back to the the TV show, I present this article about James Arness from TV Star Parade, May 1963. As fan magazine stories go, it’s a dramatic one, and it would have sad echoes–Arness’ first wife later died of a drug overdose, as did his daughter.

Other posts you might enjoy:

Those Magnificent Cats in Their Flying Machines

A Snapped-Worthy 1920s True Story

CSI, 1940s Style

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Old-Time Radio Playlist: Vacation, Part 2

Labor Day has come and gone, but it’s not too late to take a vacation over the old-time radio airwaves. Fairfield_Beach_Connecticut_Postcard_1930s_or_1940s

“A Vacation on the Prison Farm”
Life of Riley, June 26, 1948


“What would a bellhop want with a gun?”
Story: Cash-strapped Riley has a brilliant idea for a cheap vacation—swapping homes with a friend from out of town. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite grasp that his friend is caretaker of a prison farm.
Destination: Escudero State Prison Farm.
Wish You Were There? You’ll have to dodge some bullets, but this premise is funny enough to make it worth it.

“Vacation Time”
My Favorite Husband, April 29, 1949


“Travel is great. I wouldn’t go anywhere without it.”
About My Favorite Husband: Lucille Ball and Richard Denning starred in this 1948-1951 comedy about a happily married young couple. Three of the show’s writers–Bob Carroll Jr., Madelyn Pugh, and Jess Oppenheimer—later helped to adapt the program into the TV show I Love Lucy.
Story: With different ideas about the ideal vacation, Liz and George agree to a trial run of George’s plan—camping in a trailer.
Destination: Goose Grease Lake, but they don’t quite make it.
Wish You Were There? If you enjoy the Lucille Ball movie The Long, Long Trailer, you’ll probably enjoy this, too.

“The Goosby Vacation Cottage”
The Bickersons, July 10, 1951


“I’m never able to sleep in a strange place.”
About The BickersonsDon Ameche and Frances Langford played battling John and Blanche Bickerson in the mid-1940s on the shows Drene Time, The Old Gold Hour, and The Charlie McCarthy Show. In the summer of 1951, Langford returned to the air as Blanche, with Lew Parker playing John. You probably remember Parker from his role as Ann Marie’s father on That Girl.
Story: Blanche tries to manipulate John into a rural getaway.
Destination: A vacation cottage in the country.
Wish You Were There? Nah…you’ll have a more peaceful time staying home with the cat, Nature Boy.

“Hawaiian Vacation Slogan Contest”
Duffy’s Tavern, December 28, 1951


“I like Honolulu because when I land on the island of Honolulu, I hope I land a honey that’s a lulu.”
About Duffy’s Tavern: This popular show aired for 10 years beginning in 1941; this is, in fact, its final radio episode.  Ed Gardner, who plays Archie, helped to create the series.
Story: Archie wins a slogan contest–a kiddie slogan contest.
Destination: Hawaii, but only in Archie’s dreams.
Wish You Were There? Of course–and you have a better chance of getting there than Archie does.

“Having a Horrible Time”
CBS Radio Mystery Theater, August 21, 1974


“We believe in making every minute count.”
Story: Amy, who helped convict a drug kingpin and has been getting death threats ever since, makes the brilliant decision to vacation at a “swinging singles” resort.
Destination: Tomahawk Tree Lodge in the Poconos.
Notable Performers: Lynn Loring, who plays Amy, grew up playing Patti on Search for Tomorrow, then racked up a variety of TV credits in the 1960s. During that period, her marriage to Roy Thinnes made her a fan-magazine fixture. Tony-winning actress Frances Sternhagen, who plays Lois, has appeared in many movies but is probably best known as Cliff Clavin’s mother from Cheers.
Wish You Were There? Only if you want to spend your vacation worrying about which resort guest is trying to kill you.

Other Old-Time Radio Playlists you might enjoy:

Vacation, Part 1

Summer, Part 1

Summer, Part 2

Old-Time Radio Playlist: Vacation Time, Part 1

Summer is drawing to a close, and schools are up and running in many areas. If it’s too late for you to take a vacation, you can at least enjoy virtual travel through the magic of old-time radio.

Kew_Beach_Toronto_1934Papa Wants a Vacation”
Mama Bloom’s Brood
, Unknown Date, 1934


“All work and no play makes Jake a dull boy.”
About Mama Bloom’s Brood: This pleasant 15-minute comedy serial focuses on a Jewish family with two grown daughters.
Story: Papa doesn’t want a vacation, until Mama works on him.
Destination: Yellowstone National Park.
Wish you were there? Sure, if you can tolerate Mama’s malapropisms.

“Beach House”
Baby Snooks, May 19, 1938


“A daybed’s a sofa that’s made up at night as a bed, and during the day it’s a couch, which nobody sleeps on, so a daybed is really a night bed except it’s not a bed at all.”
About Baby Snooks: Throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s, Fanny Brice played her famous Snooks character in variety show sketches like this one.
Story: Snooks wreaks havoc on the family’s vacation home.
Destination: The seashore, to Daddy’s chagrin.
Wish you were there? With Snooks? No way! She does $400 in damage at the vacation rental. That’s more than $6,000 in today’s money!

“Vacation from a Vacation”
Vic and Sade, August 15, 1944


“It’s the hot weather, as much as anything.”
Story: Uncle Fletcher is driving Sade crazy on his “vacation” at her home.
Destination: Three blocks away.
Wish You Were There? Maybe—but you’d probably need a vacation from Uncle Fletcher before long.

“Going to Grass Lake”
The Great Gildersleeve, September 2, 1945


“Why, I could be busy every minute if I wanted to…I just don’t want to.”
Story: The kids try to talk a reluctant Gildy into a weekend at the lake.
Historical Footnotes: The references to the war’s end and reconversion to a peacetime economy are interesting.
Destination: Grass Lake, obviously.
Wish You Were There?
Only if you have a burning desire to share Judge Hooker’s bed in a honeymoon cottage.

“Morgan Vacation Travel Bureau”
Henry Morgan, May 28, 1947


“Their slogan is, “Fellows are rarin’ to go on lovely Lake Schmoe.”
Story: In a series of sketches, the travel bureau one is the highlight.
About Henry Morgan: Morgan was edgy and irreverent by the standards of his time, and he drove sponsors crazy by making fun of their products.
Destination
: Lovely Camp Schmoe.
Wish You Were There? Sure–you get a great “cherce” of activities. I’d avoid the snake hunt, though.
Bonus Feature: In their tone, Morgan’s shows have always reminded me of early David Letterman, so I was excited to find this 1982 clip of Letterman interviewing Morgan.

Other Old-Time Radio playlists you might enjoy:

Halloween, Part 1

Halloween, Part 2

London Calling, Part 1

Old-Time Radio Playlist: Summer, Part 2

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

In the second part of this old-time radio playlist, we find that summer can teach us more important lessons.

Heat Wave”
Our Miss Brooks,
August 7, 1949


“Believe me, Walter, going to see Mr. Boynton is no way for me to cool off.”
Lesson Learned: When it’s really hot, wacky scheming may not be the best way to conserve your energy.
My Verdict: This show is always worth a listen. Mr. Conklin here reaches levels of indignation that test even Gale Gordon’s considerable powers of indignation-expression.

“Beautiful Summer in Newport”
NBC Short Story, April 18, 1951


“Fraulein beats me.”
Based Upon: A story by Felicia Gizycka, whose own incredible story included being kidnapped by her father, a Polish count.
Lesson Learned: Vet your summer child care providers very carefully.
Notable Performers: Anne Whitfield, a busy child actress in radio, plays the lead role. If you’re like me, you know her best as Susan, the general’s niece, in the movie White Christmas.
My Verdict: This story has some disturbing scenes, as a governess hired by a social-climbing aunt abuses the woman’s young nieces. Hey, announcer: You didn’t really have to tell us that the word “Beautiful” is used ironically.

“Summer and Smoke”
Best Plays, May 22, 1953


“He told me about the wonderful talks he had with you last summer, when he was so mixed up.”
Based Upon: The 1948 play by Tennessee Williams.
Lesson Learned: Try to avoid being a character in a Tennessee Williams play.
About Best Plays: From 1952 to 1953, this show delivered just what its title promised, with notable stage actors in its cast.
Notable Performers: Geraldine Page plays frustrated, fragile Alma, as she did in the play’s highly successful 1952 New York revival. Page also played the role in the 1961 movie, earning an Academy Award nomination. Richard Kiley, who plays John, created the role of Don Quixote in the 1965 musical Man of La Mancha.
My Verdict: Page’s performance is outstanding—its preservation for us is one of the wonders of old-time radio.
Bonus Feature: Here’s the theatrical trailer for the movie.

“Summer Replacement”
Family Theater, December 1, 1954


“I have a feeling the ‘defender of justice’ is in for a bad half-hour.”
Lesson Learned: Age and experience can triumph over youth and beauty in the world of entertainment. (Disclaimer: This lesson may not apply in real life.)
Notable Performers: Una Merkel plays a radio performer whose long-time role is given to a younger actress when the show transitions to TV. (In a coincidence involving our previous recording, Merkel appeared with Page in the movie Summer and Smoke, and she also earned an Oscar nomination.) Desi Arnaz hosts this episode of Family Theater.
My Verdict: This is a sprightly script, and Merkel conveys plenty of charm. I like the way her character wants to continue working even after landing a rich husband—and the husband is okay with that.

“Summer Song”
Romance, July 2, 1955


“I always forget the rules.”
Lesson Learned: Rich girls are easy.
About Romance: This dramatic anthology show ran in many different incarnations from 1943 to 1957. The 1950s episodes, produced by many of the same creative minds as Gunsmoke, are quite entertaining.
Story: Country club lifeguard Scott knows he shouldn’t fraternize with the guests, but seductive Dana makes his life difficult.
My Verdict: Dana is sexually aggressive to a shocking degree for a 1950s show. “Summer Skank” would be a more accurate title.

Other Old-Time Radio Playlists You Might Enjoy:

Summer, Part 1 (With Golden Age TV Bonus)

London Calling, Part 1

Christmas, Part 6

Old-Time Radio Playlist: Summer, Part 1 (With Golden Age TV Bonus)

14965921-vintage-summer-postcard-vector-illustrationIt’s summertime and school’s out, but you can still learn some valuable lessons from these summer-themed old-time radio shows.

The June House Party”
Love Story,
August 6, 1937


“Randy’s a blooming idiot.”
Lesson Learned: What to do when he’s not that into you? Have you tried staging a mock wedding that turns out to be real? Apparently, it works wonders.
About Love Story: This short-lived series drew its stories from the pages of Love Story Magazine, a weekly romance pulp with an interesting history.
My Verdict: This makes for an amusing 15 minutes, though not for the reasons its creators intended.

“Summer Thunder”
The Whistler, July 30, 1945


“This blasted heat’s getting on my nerves.”
Lesson Learned: Make sure your husband has actually committed murder before you start trying to obstruct justice for him.
My Verdict: The acting is stagy, but this is a well-constructed mystery, with appropriate red herrings.

“Summer Storm”
Suspense, October 18, 1945


“All fat men aren’t good natured.”
Lesson Learned: Talking to yourself a lot? There is something odd about that.
Notable Performers: Henry Fonda’s naturally calm persona makes a nice contrast with the role he is playing, that of a man slowly cracking up.
My Verdict: I didn’t see the ending twist coming.

“Sometime Every Summertime”
Studio One, March 9, 1928


“What is it they say about summer romances?”
Lesson Learned: Summer loves grow cold in the fall. Sniff. (Alternate lesson: Advertising guys are kind of jerks.)
About Studio One: Fletcher Markle directed this short-lived anthology series that dramatized novels and plays.
Notable Performers: Burgess Meredith plays Clem, an ad man whose vacation romance with a young woman from a different social class is recounted from three perspectives—his friend’s, the woman’s, and his own.
My Verdict: This script by Markle was first produced on Columbia Workshop in 1946, then made the rounds of other anthology shows. Its popularity was well deserved; this is an understated, authentically human story with no corny elements.
Bonus Feature: This script was also produced for TV, in a 1953 production starring Dorothy McGuire.

“Going on a Picnic”
Archie Andrews, August 21, 1948


“I sure didn’t expect to get undressed on a picnic.”
Lesson Learned: Don’t go on a picnic with Archie and Jughead. Just don’t.
My Verdict: A mildly amusing episode of this silly series. Are there ants at this picnic? Yep…plus cows, skunks, and snapping turtles.
Celebrity Name-Droppings: Jughead mentions Elsie the Cow, symbol of Borden Dairy since 1936.

Other Old-Time Radio playlists you might enjoy:

Happy New Year, Part 1

Edgar Allan Poe, Part 1

Till Death Do Us Part

Old-Time Radio Playlist: Happy New Year, Part 2

Happy New Year!

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who have found this blog since I started it in August, especially my little group of regular readers and commenters. It’s been fun sharing my eclectic set of interests with you, and I hope you find much to enjoy here in 2013, including:

  • Many more old-time radio playlists, focusing not only on holidays and seasons but on themes ranging from babies, dogs, and cats, to Shakespeare, courtroom drama, and the fourth estate. I will also assemble playlists featuring my favorite screen stars, including Joseph Cotten, Barbara Stanwyck, Cary Grant, Margaret O’Brien, Bing Crosby, Myrna Loy, and others.
  • Many bizarre words of wisdom from vintage teenage advice books and teen magazines.
  • A new occasional feature called Comic Book Craziness, featuring oddities from my small collection of 1960s and 1970s romance and superhero comics.
  • Some entertaining vintage board games in my Spin Again Sunday series. Coming up in the next two weeks: A 1955 Dragnet game and a 1970s girls career game that was already so retrograde in its own time that it included a disclaimer.
  • Occasional looks at other vintage toys in my collection, including Barbie dolls and accessories, more Fisher Price Play Family toys, Viewmaster reels, Colorforms, Mattel’s Sunshine Family dolls, and others.
  • More posts about classic movies. This is an area I planned to explore more frequently than I have so far. I am hoping to blog about movies at least a couple times a month this year.
  • And, of course, many more installments of Family Affair Friday. We are about half way through season 1, and I am particularly excited about starting season 2—my very favorite.

Since becoming part of the blogosphere, one of my greatest pleasures has been discovering so many wonderful bloggers producing entertaining and insightful work. My new year’s resolution is to spend more time reading and commenting on your blogs.

And now, as a New Year’s treat, I present 10 old-time radio episodes.  Enjoy!

“The Strange Case of the Iron Box”

Sherlock Holmes
December 31, 1945

“New Year’s Resolution”

The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show
December 29, 1946

“New Year’s Day”

Henry Morgan
January 1, 1947

“New Year’s Nightmare”

The Mysterious Traveler
January 5, 1947

“Rain on New Year’s Eve”

Quiet, Please
December 29, 1947

“Hot New Year’s Party”

Casey, Crime Photographer
January 1, 1948

“Jack Tries to Get Tickets for the Rose Bowl”

Jack Benny Program
January 4, 1948

“Riley Invites Himself to His Boss’ New Year’s Eve Party”

Life of Riley
December 31, 1948

“The Big New Year’s”

Dragnet
March 8, 1951

“The Old Man”

Suspense
December 31, 1961

Old-Time Radio Playlist: Happy New Year

This is the first installment of a two-part New Year playlist. I’ll post the second part on New Year’s Day. Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year!

The Happiest Person in the World”


Family Theater
, January 8, 1948
“Everyone could be happy if they would think happiness into their lives.”
Story: Time is a newspaper, and City Editor Father Time has to break in a new reporter. He gives cub reporter 1948 an assignment to find the happiest person in the world—an assignment that teaches the new year about human nature.

Notable Performers: Life of Riley star William Bendix plays Father Time, while The Great Gildersleeve’s Walter Tetley plays baby 1948.
Referencing Radio: Bendix mentions his own show.
My Verdict: The performers make this entertaining, and the story keeps you guessing about the moral that it’s building to. Actually, it seems to me that the story fails to support the stated moral, which is quoted above. At one point, I thought they were making the point that happiness stems from giving, which made sense. For the characters in this episode, though, happiness stems from external validation, and you can’t just “think” that into being.

“Big New Year’s Eve Party”


The Great Gildersleeve, December 24, 1944
“Be a good boy if you can, but have a good time.”
Story: Gildy rings in 1945 with Leila, but his Delores troubles aren’t over.
Musical Notes: Harold Peary sings a love song…but it’s a good episode anyway.
Interesting History: There’s a reference to 1943 as the year of penicillin and sulfonamide. Penicillin did come into widespread use around that time, but my brief research seems to indicate that sulfa was available earlier.
My Verdict
: The jokes seem sharper in this episode than in many Gildersleeve offerings. I like Birdie’s comment when Gildy asks her about preparing an intimate supper: “I fix the supper, Mr. Gildersleeve. The rest is up to you.”
I must be a total nerd (big surprise!) because the lawyers’ club’s mock trial of the old year sounds fun to me. Unfortunately, my New Year’s Eve will be more like Peavy’s.

“Puckett’s New Year”


Gunsmoke, January 1, 1956
“A man’s gotta make a change once in a while, ain’t he?”
Story: Buffalo hunter Ira Puckett heads to Dodge to kill the man who left him to die in a blizzard. Matt, who doesn’t want to see the old man hang, intervenes.
My Verdict: A Gunsmoke rarity—an episode with no deaths! Puckett is an endearing character, and I like Matt’s efforts to keep him out of trouble. I feel bad for Kitty in this episode—her New Year’s reflections are sad, and Matt sure isn’t going to intervene to help her.

“Gladys Zybisco disappoints Jack on New Year’s Eve”


The Jack Benny Program, December 31, 1939
“What this world needs is a few less people who are making less people.”
Story: This episode follows Jack on New Year’s Eve, as he leaves the broadcast early. He’s in a funk because Gladys cancelled their date.
Interesting History: This episode tosses off many topical references. Jack mentions social security; President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act in 1935, but monthly checks started going out in January 1940. “It can’t happen here” is a Phil punch line; it was also the title of a 1935 Sinclair Lewis novel about fascism. Mary mentions the movie Gone with the Wind, which had just premiered earlier in December.
Celebrity Name Droppings: Mary is attending Ginger Rogers’ New Year’s Eve party. Don is planning to take in Sally Rand’s show; you can do the same through the magic of Youtube.
Musical Notes: Dennis sings “All the Things You Are,” and I actually enjoy his performance, for a change.
Jell-o Hell No Recipe of the Week: Strawberry Jell-o combined with pineapple juice, egg whites, and crushed ice to create pineapple snow, a “foamy rose pink” dessert.
My Verdict: This episode’s unusual structure provides laughs for listeners, if not for poor Jack. Comic highlights are Gladys’ surprise appearance and Phil’s response to “In just a few hours the old year will pass right out.”

“Babysitting on New Year’s Eve”


Our Miss Brooks, January 1, 1950
“Liberty? You can take shore leave!”
Story: Connie takes a job babysitting Mr. Conklin’s nephew on New Year’s Eve; she needs the money to attend a party with Mr. Boynton. Of course, things don’t work out the way she planned.
Celebrity Name Droppings: Famed lion tamer Clyde Beatty gets a mention.
My Verdict: Connie’s attempts to woo the clueless Mr. Boynton are always a hit with me. I love the record scene, in which they express their feelings through contrasting song titles.

Enjoy more old-time radio playlists!