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.
“Papa 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.
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.
“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.
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
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.