It’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.
“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.