Old-Time Radio Playlist: Christmas, Part 6

draft_lens18469959module153045571photo_1315361292MerryCatsI 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.

Read parts one, two, three, four, and five of my Christmas playlist.

America for Christmas”


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.

“Dog Star”


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.

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Old-Time Radio Playlist: Christmas, Part 4

draft_lens18469959module153045519photo_1315346042ChildBedThis 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.

Christmas Shopping”
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.

“Christmas Present”

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.

Other old-time radio playlists you might enjoy:

Edgar Allan Poe, Part 1
Edgar Allan Poe, Part 2
Till Death Do Us Part (And That Might Be Sooner Than You Think)

Old-Time Radio Playlist: Christmas, Part 2

kittenThis is the second part of my Christmas OTR playlist. I’ll be posting more episodes each Tuesday and Thursday through Christmas.

Read part one of my Christmas playlist.

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.

Other old-time radio playlists you might enjoy:

Christmas, Part 1
London Calling, Part 1
London Calling, Part 2

Old-Time Radio Playlist: Halloween, Part 1

Vintage Halloween Postcard from The Public Domain Review

Today, I present a selection of Halloween treats–some lighthearted old-time radio episodes that capture an interesting period in the history of Halloween.

(On Tuesday, October 30, I’ll post some Halloween”tricks”–spooky holiday offerings and classic horror stories.)

European immigrants to the United States popularized Halloween celebrations in the late 19th century.

By the turn of the century, there was a move to downplay the scarier aspects of the holiday. According to History.com, “Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the day. Parties focused on games, foods of the season and festive costumes.”

By the 1920s and 1930s, pranks were a big part of the holiday, “often devolving into vandalism, physical assaults and sporadic acts of violence.”

Most of these radio shows date from the 1940s, when trick-or-treating was just beginning to transition into a community-sanctioned, kid-friendly activity. I’m guessing that’s why so many of the adults in these shows seem ambivalent about Halloween–looking back fondly on their own parties and pranks, but wary of letting their children participate in trick-or-treating.

Unknown Date
Air Castle, Halloween

Air Castle was a children’s show that ran in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It was entirely the work of Baron Keyes, who starred as the “Story Man” and provided voices and sound effects to represent various fanciful characters. This Halloween episode is cute!

October 19, 1933
Martha Meade Society Program, Halloween Parties

This cooking show provides a nice slice of 1930s life. From this and other radio shows, I’ve gleaned that doughnuts were a popular Halloween tradition in the early 20th century.

October 24, 1939
Fibber McGee and Molly, Halloween Party at Gildersleeve’s House

This would be a good starter episode for a new Fibber listener. It’s filled with typical wordplay and punning humor, and most of the classic supporting characters appear.

October 31, 1940
The Aldrich Family, Halloween Prank Backfires

Just about every episode of this family comedy involves a misunderstanding that snowballs out of control. These Halloween hi-jinx are typical.

November 2, 1941
Jack Benny, Halloween with Basil Rathbone

I’m in love with the Jack Benny Program. To really appreciate the series, you need to listen to a long run of consecutive episodes. Characterizations and jokes build from week to week. This is my favorite of several Halloween episodes–Jack annoying his Beverly Hills neighbors is always a win.

October 29, 1944
Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Halloween

Guest star Orson Welles is quite amusing, especially when he ad-libs.

October 29, 1944
The Life of Riley, Haunted House   

Near the end, this takes a surprisingly sharp turn into patriotic messaging. You’ll have that sometimes in World-War-II-era programs.

October 31, 1944
Lum and Abner, Discuss Halloween Pranks

Lum and Abner has been growing on me lately, and this episode is a cute one.

November 1, 1946
Baby Snooks, Halloween

Fanny Brice’s mischievous Baby Snooks is a natural for Halloween pranks. This episode has a strong start, but a weak finish, in my opinion.

October 29, 1947
Philco Radio Time, Boris Karloff and Victor Moore

Boris Karloff was the go-to guest for variety-show Halloween episodes. Here, he’s the guest of Bing Crosby, and he and Bing actually sing together (along with comedian Victor Moore)!

October 31, 1948
Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Haunted House       

I always found the TV version of Ozzie and Harriet bland, but the radio episodes I’ve listened to have been surprisingly chuckle-worthy.

October 31, 1948
Adventures of Sam Spade, The Fairly-Bright Caper    

I’m not a huge Sam Spade fan–ditzy Effie gets on my nerves–but this has a nice Halloween flavor.

Oct 31, 1948
Jack Benny, Trick or Treating with the Beavers

This is another good Halloween episode, with an inventive way of bringing the supporting cast into the story.

October 31, 1951
The Great Gildersleeve, Halloween and Gildy Finds a Lost Boy

I’m not the biggest Gildy fan, but this episode has great warmth.

November 7, 1951
The Halls of Ivy, Halloween

I really enjoy this series, which stars Ronald and Benita Colman. Having spent plenty of time in academia, I appreciate the college setting, and the Colmans are just charming.

Oct 29, 1953
Father Knows Best, Halloween Blues

Robert Young’s character is in preachy mode, and the end doesn’t work for me, but this is an interesting look at those changing Halloween customs.

Listen to more old-time radio!