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”
December 31, 1945
“New Year’s Resolution”
The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show
December 29, 1946
“New Year’s Day”
January 1, 1947
“New Year’s Nightmare”
The Mysterious Traveler
January 5, 1947
“Rain on New Year’s Eve”
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”
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.
I didn’t post an installment of Spin Again Sunday this week because it seemed too frivolous in light of the tragic events in Connecticut. I’m also dealing with some personal issues this week that are sapping my Christmas spirit. I find, at times like this, that old-time radio can offer a pleasing escape from today’s problems. That’s especially true of Christmas episodes, which often show people finding moments of light in a season of darkness. In that spirit, I present the sixth part of my Christmas OTR playlist.
Cavalcade of America, December 25, 1944
“Roll on, Columbia, roll on.” Story: A USO show somewhere in the Pacific provides the framework for a musical tour of the United States. Notable Performers: Walter Huston narrates this episode. The father of John Huston, he is best remembered for his Academy Award-winning performance in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Musical Notes: The entire episode revolves around folk music representing various U.S. regions. “Roll On, Columbia,” by Woody Guthrie bookends the program. My Verdict: Corny but cute humor pervades this show, which concludes with an idealistic message about the world that will emerge after World War II.
“Listening to Christmas Carols”
Fibber McGee and Molly, December 22, 1942
“Why, the idea of having Christmas come right in the middle of the holidays—right when everybody is their busiest!” Story: Teeny hangs around the McGees’ house and tries to get a Grinchy Fibber to show some Christmas spirit. Musical Notes: Teeny and her “little friends” sing “The Night Before Christmas.” Interesting History: As usual in Fibber episodes from this era, there are many World War II homefront references.
My Verdict: A fun aspect of this episode is the unusual degree of interaction between Teeny and Molly; Marian Jordan played both characters.
“Room for a Stranger”
Radio Reader’s Digest, December 19, 1946
“The best town, the best people, and the best Christmas I ever knew.” Story: An injured Army officer, headed home for Christmas, learns that his leave has been cancelled. He has just enough time for a Christmas Eve reunion with this girlfriend, but they find themselves stranded with no place to spend the holiday. About Radio Reader’s Digest: This show ran from 1942 to 1948, presenting uplifting stories that had appeared in Reader’s Digest magazine. Notable Performers: Frank Sinatra stars in this comedy-drama. His acting is not fully assured, but the audience doesn’t seem to mind. Musical Notes: Frank sings “Silent Night.” Commercial Curiosities: Sponsor Hallmark advertises a new line a Christmas cards for men—the game bird collection—“masculine as a briar pipe.” My Verdict: This is a nice, simple story (supposedly true) with gentle humor.
Suspense, December 22, 1957
“You’ll never believe me.” Story: A little girl is grieving the loss of her beloved dog and hoping for a puppy for Christmas. She seems to get her wish when a dog literally falls from the sky. Notable Performers: Child actress Evelyn Rudie made a big splash in 1956 when she played Kay Thompson’s beloved imp in the Playhouse 90 story “Eloise.” Since 1973, she has served as co-artistic director of the Santa Monica Playhouse. Interesting History: This episode mentions real Soviet space dog Laika. My Verdict: This story tugs at the heartstrings, repeatedly. I’m a little worried about dad, though—getting an early morning phone call from the president of the United States would certainly be startling, but I’m not sure it should drive you to drink.
Author’s Playhouse, December 21, 1941
“To think, that the voice of childhood has never gladdened our city…the patter of restless little feet never consecrated its streets…and nowhere in Yellowhammer are there roguish, expectant eyes ready to open wide at dawn of the enchanting day…eager, tiny hands to reach for Santa’s bewildering array of gifts…elated, childish voicings of the season’s joy.” Story: This is based on a short story by O. Henry, with a typical surprise ending. Cherokee, a prospector who has struck gold, is planning a Christmas visit to his old friends in a mining camp called Yellowhammer. He’s bringing toys and is ready to play Santa for all the town’s kids. Sadly, the town doesn’t have any. The civic leaders try to borrow some, only to find that parents are reluctant to part with their kids at Christmas. They end up with one cynical kid and things look bleak, until Cherokee and the child discover a deeper connection than anyone imagined. About Author’s Playhouse: This series, which dramatized literary stories, ran from 1941 to 1945. Musical Notes: The Author’s Playhouse theme is from Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony; the same piece of music is the melody for Eric Carmen’s 1976 hit “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again.”
My Verdict: This is an entertaining story, and it’s stylized language works to good comic effect.
“Trimming a Tree”
The Jack Benny Program, December 24, 1944
“Those lights were so pretty–especially those two blue ones that kept flashing on and off.” Story: Jack has an electrifying time getting ready for a Christmas Eve gathering at his house. Musical Notes: Larry Stevens sings “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful.” Rochester makes one of his recurring references to “Blues in the Night.”
My Verdict: A typically enjoyable Christmas episode, with lots of good banter among Jack, Mary, and Rochester.
“Three Wise Guys”
The Whistler, December 24, 1950
“I got a bad case of memories tonight.” Story: Damon Runyon meets the nativity story in a tale of redemption. My Verdict: This is an unusual story for The Whistler, but a satisfying one for Christmas eve.
“The Missing Mouse Matter”
Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar
“Now I have seen everything.” Story: Johnny has to find a missing mouse who’s been insured for $5,000. Why insure a mouse? He sings! About Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: This show about “America’s fabulous freelance insurance investigator” was the last drama standing when network radio came to its end in 1962. Launched in 1948, it went through several format changes and seven actors as Johnny Dollar. Bob Bailey, who plays the part here, is widely considered the best. Musical Notes: Gulliver the mouse sings “Jingle Bells.” My Verdict: As Christmas episodes go, this one certainly gets points for originality. The ending hits just the right whimsical note.
Other old-time radio playlists you might enjoy:
Halloween, Part 1
Halloween, Part 2
This is the fourth part of my Christmas OTR playlist. I’ll be posting more episodes each Tuesday and Thursday until Christmas.
Read parts one, two, and three of my Christmas playlist.
Archie Andrews, December 13, 1947
“How do I get into these things?” Story: Pretty much every episode of this series could be summarized as “a misunderstanding that snowballs out of control.” This episode actually features several wild misunderstandings that collide at a Riverdale department store. About Archie Andrews: This series was based on characters from Archie Comics. It obviously owes a lot to The Aldrich Family, too, though—Archie’s parents play a much bigger role in this series than they do in the comic books. Some characterizations differ from the comic books, too—this Jughead likes girls. This show is to The Aldrich Family, however, as a Disney channel sitcom is to a half-decent network family comedy. It must have succeeded with its intended audience; it ran in various forms and time slots from 1943 to 1953. The hyped-up kids in the studio audience certainly seemed to enjoy themselves. Notable Performers: Bob Hastings, who plays Archie, went on to have a long career in television as a character actor and cartoon voice-over performer. He is the brother of Don Hastings, who played Dr. Bob Hughes on As the World Turns for half a century.
My Verdict: I actually chuckled when I listened to this episode the first time, which is a rare experience for me with this series, or even with The Aldrich Family. My amusement stemmed from the way Veronica , and then the floorwalker, assessed Archie. Floorwalkers sure have a negative image in popular culture.
“The Cave” Escape, December 24, 1950
“If I stepped out into that sunlight, I should never be able to find my way back again.” Story: With a flashlight he received for Christmas, a young boy explores a cave and finds an enchanted world of pirates and fair maidens. Notable Performers: John Dehner plays Dan, looking back on his experiences in the cave. Dehner was a gifted and prolific radio actor, whose work included starring roles in Have Gun, Will Travel and Frontier Gentleman and frequent appearances on Escape and Gunsmoke. He was also a ubiquitous character actor in television. Before I got into old-time radio, I knew him only from The Doris Day Show. My Verdict: This episode has an appealing strangeness. I have a feeling that men might especially enjoy it—the fantasy world it conjures up feels distinctly masculine.
“Fibber Misplaces Christmas Money”
Fibber McGee and Molly, December 15, 1942
“And, furthermore, I’m the dumbest, short-sightedest, dim-wittedest, stumblebummedest, empty-headedest, feather-brainedest droop that ever didn’t know enough to come in out of a tornado.” Story: The title sums it up. Musical Notes: The King’s Men perform “White Christmas,” which wasn’t an old standard but a young hit in 1942. Bing Crosby’s recording first topped the Billboard charts in October and spent a total of 11 weeks in the top spot that year. Interesting History: Rationing is a major theme, as it is in many wartime Fibber episodes. As John Dunning writes, “With the exception of The Bob Hope Show, Fibber McGee and Molly was the most patriotic show on the air.” My Verdict: As someone with the “inattentive” form of ADHD, I feel for Fibber here, both in his forgetfulness and his self-recrimination. Wallace Wimple, who appears in this episode, is one of my favorite supporting characters.
“The Hanging Cross”
Have Gun, Will Travel, December 21, 1958
“Sentiments like peace, like goodwill, like love and brotherhood, they’re just words, unless you already know what they mean.” Story: An unpleasant rancher reclaims his son from the Pawnee chief who has raised the boy as his own. Can Paladin help avert violence between the rancher’s party and the Pawnees? About Have Gun, Will Travel: The most unusual thing about this series is that the radio version premiered after the television series became an established hit. The TV show ran from 1957 to 1963, while the radio show ran from 1958 to 1960. Notable Performers: This show was a starring vehicle for John Dehner. (For more about him, see “The Cave,” above.) My Verdict: Like the other CBS “adult Westerns,” Gunsmoke and Fort Laramie, this series often explored themes of tolerance. This story is involving, although the script does make Paladin a bit more preachy than one would expect a hired gunfighter to be.
Tales of the Texas Rangers, December 24, 1950
“Merry Christmas, fellas. Merry Christmas…and God bless you.” Story: A down-on-his-luck bystander almost takes the rap for bank robbery, until the Rangers clear his name and give his family a merry Christmas. About Tales of the Texas Rangers: Running from 1950 to 1952, this was a police procedural series portraying the work of the legendary Texas investigative force. Notable Performers: Film star Joel McCrea, best remembered for his work in Westerns, headlined this series. My Verdict: This episode has a truly heartwarming ending.
“Even though the snow may be artificial out here in Hollywood, the sentiment isn’t at all.”
About the Dinah Shore Chevrolet Show: Popular singer Dinah Shore was a fixture on radio throughout the 1940s; according to the Digital Deli Too, she headlined six different shows. The television era brought her even greater fame. The Dinah Shore Show, sponsored by Chevrolet, premiered in 1951 as a 15-minute, twice-a-week program and became an instant hit. From 1953 to 1955, the Dinah Shore Chevrolet Show also aired on radio. Musical Notes: Songs on the first show include “Let it Snow,” a Rodgers and Hammerstein song called “Happy Christmas, Little Friend,” and the pop standard “Teach Me Tonight.” The second show is all Christmas—besides “Sleigh Ride,” it includes “Silver Bells” and a medley of religious Christmas carols. (I wonder if Shore, who was Jewish, felt strange singing those. My Verdict: I like the 15-minute length of these—it allows for several songs but limits the cheesy variety show comedy banter.
“’Twas the Night Before Christmas”
The Great Gildersleeve, December 24, 1944
“The only excuse for the kind of suffering that’s going on, all over the world, is if we can make sure it never happens again…Let’s sing the way we used to when we were at home together, and let’s hope that before so very long, all the peoples of the world will be able to join in with us.” About The Great Gildersleeve: This show, built around a character first heard on Fibber McGee and Molly, was the first successful spinoff. It ran from 1941 to 1957. Story: December 23rd finds Gildy blue. He’s expecting to be the subject of a breach of promise suit, and he thinks his frenemy Judge Hooker will be handling the case against him. When the judge tells him there’s no case, Gildy is finally ready to celebrate Christmas with family, friends, and his two favorite flames. Musical Notes: The cast sings “Joy to the World,” then Harold Peary breaks, um, whatever you would call the fourth wall in radio, and invites the studio and radio audience to join in. My Verdict: Maybe my sinus infection is making me sappy, but I got teary listening to the closing speech and song.
“Christmas Shopping for Perfume and a Necktie,” December 17, 1939
The Jack Benny Program
“You walked in, Sugarfoot. Nobody dragged you.”
Story: usual in the Jell-o era, things ramble a bit before Jack and Mary head out to do Jack’s Christmas shopping. Celebrity Name Droppings: Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. Jell-o Hell No Suggestion of the Week: Lemon Jell-o with stewed figs and whipped cream. My Verdict: I think most fans prefer the more polished Lucky Strike shows, but I love the freewheeling Jell-o era. The shopping trip has some fun supporting characters, and jokes about Mary’s history with the May Company are always welcome.
“Christmas for Carole”
Suspense, December 21, 1950
“You asked for this, kid. Now do as you’re told.”
Story: A bank teller’s pregnant wife is having complications and needs full-time nursing care. Unable to afford it, the teller decides to take a one- time trip into the criminal world. Notable Performers: Singer Dennis Day, best known as a member of the Jack Benny cast, gives a good dramatic performance. Suspense often enabled actors to stretch their range in this way. Musical Notes: You don’t think you’ll get through this without Day singing do you? He performs “The First Noel.” My Verdict: The story keeps you guessing, and although everything works out a little too neatly in the end, you can forgive such things at Christmas.
“Mailing Christmas Packages”
Fibber McGee and Molly, December 10, 1940
“Our papas all believe in Santa Claus…so why should we tell them any different if it makes them happy?” Story: The McGees wait in line at the Post Office to mail Christmas packages. That’s as much “story” as a Fibber McGee and Molly episode needs. About Fibber McGee and Molly: A top-rated program throughout the 1940s, this series was a creative partnership between performers Jim and Marian Jordan and writer Don Quinn. Absurd comedy, clever wordplay, and a down-to-earth feel were its trademarks.
Musical Notes: The King’s Men’s song is, um, interesting. Celebrity Name Droppings: Fibber mentions Oliver Hardy, Paul Whiteman, and Don Wilson—can you guess what common quality among them that he was citing? Fun Fact: McGee tells Gildersleeve that he once worked for the post office. According to John Dunning’s On the Air, Jim Jordan actually did work briefly as a mailman in Peoria, Illinois. My Verdict: No matter how much Christmas changes, long postal lines endure. The episode’s premise provides amusing ways for the McGees to encounter all the usual secondary characters, including Gildersleeve, Mrs. Uppington, and Teeny.
“Special Christmas Story” Lum and Abner, December 24, 1942
“I’ll say one thing about the folks: In spite of the rationing and the dim-outs and everything, everybody’s doing all they can to keep up the Christmas spirit.” About Lum and Abner: Chester Lauck and Norris Goff created and portrayed the title characters in this long-running comic serial. (They played all the other characters, too.) The show’s authentic rural humor stemmed from its creators’ small-town Arkansas background, and Lum and Abner’s rapport reflected the real-life friendship Lauck and Goff established in their youth. Story: Last-minute shoppers at the Jot ‘Em Down Store are out of luck on Christmas eve, as Lum and Abner become engrossed with an electric train on display. Referencing Radio: Cedric is quite a Lone Ranger fan. My Verdict: This is a cute, schmaltz-free holiday episode.
“I’ll Be Seeing You” Lux Radio Theater, December 24, 1945
“Yes, I think we’ll do just fine…just fine.”
Story: Zack and Mary meet on a train feel an immediate attraction. They spend time together during the Christmas holidays, but each carries a secret burden: Soldier Zack is recovering from shell shock, and Mary is on furlough from prison. About Lux Radio Theater: Dunning calls Lux Radio Theater “the most important dramatic show in radio.” It is certainly the lushest, with big budgets and big stars to re-create stories from the big screen. It aired from 1934 to 1955. Notable Performers: Joseph Cotten and Dorothy McGuire Musical Notes: At Christmas dinner, everyone sings “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Referencing Radio: Mary makes a joking reference to Life Can Be Beautiful, a soap that ran from 1938 to 1954. Interesting History: The announcer urges housewives to keep saving cooking fats; although the war and rationing had ended, soap manufacturers still faced a shortage of necessary oils. Weird Words of Wisdom: Aunt Sarah has an unusual philosophy—always settle for second-best. My Verdict: Joseph Cotten is one of my very favorite actors, so it’s no surprise that I find his performance outstanding. I’ve been indifferent to Dorothy McGuire’s movie acting, but she impressed me here, too. With just their voices, they both believably convey their characters’ fears and tentative yearnings. Teenage Barbara annoys, but I guess she’s supposed to.
“Five Days Off for Christmas” Night Beat, December 21, 1951
“They say there’s a warmth about Christmas that spreads out like a fan and touches everyone—the holiday spirit, it’s called.”
Story: Reporter Randy Stone is thrilled to get a rare Christmas vacation from work, until he realizes that he has nowhere to go and no one to be with. While feeling sorry for himself, he receives a mysterious invitation. When the boy delivering that invitation gets hit by a car and vanishes, a shaken Randy has a mystery to solve. About Night Beat: In this well written series, Randy Stone looks for human interest stories in Chicago’s darkened streets. Notable Performers: In the 1940s and 1950s, series star Frank Lovejoy was a familiar voice on radio and a familiar face in films like The Hitchhiker. My Verdict: Poor Randy. I’d spend Christmas with him, even if his self-pity makes him act stupid here. I mean, with all the people a reporter meets, why does he decide so quickly that he doesn’t know Kathryn Malloy?
“The Magic Christmas Tree” Our Miss Brooks, December 25, 1949
“Oh, what fun it is to rock with a big, fat drunken cat.”
Story: Alone on Christmas Eve, Connie encounters her Madison High family, first in a fun fantasy sequence and then in reality. About Our Miss Brooks: This popular comedy, built around Eve Arden’s sardonic comedy style as teacher Connie Brooks, ran for nine years on radio and five years on TV. Notable Performers: Besides Arden, the series cast included radio and TV fixture Gale Gordon (Mr. Conklin) and future movie stars Jeff Chandler (Mr. Boynton) and Richard Crenna (Walter). My Verdict: I like Our Miss Brooks, though some episodes are better than others. The high point of this one is the swaggering fantasy-Mr. Boynton and the kiss he shares with Connie—the studio audience reaction is entertaining. As a cat person, I also enjoy Minerva’s role here.