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.
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
“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.
Starting today, I’ll be posting holiday old-time radio episodes every Tuesday and Thursday through Christmas day. I have about 600 to pick from, so let me know if you have any requests!
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, December 19, 1948
“Harriet, dear, there are two times when you’re not supposed to be sensible: Finding a husband and Christmas.” About The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet: Ozzie Nelson first found fame as a bandleader. He hired Harriet Hilliard as his girl singer, and the two soon married. They appeared on radio’s The Red Skelton Show for three years before Ozzie developed this family comedy for them. To say it was successful is an understatement—The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet aired on radio from 1944 to 1954 and on television from 1952 to 1966. Story: Having recently made the major purchase of a radio-phonograph, Ozzie and Harriet make the sensible decision to forego buying each other Christmas gifts. If you think they have no trouble sticking to that decision, you’ve clearly never watched or listened to a situation comedy. Notable Performers: Tommy Bernard and Henry Blair play David and Ricky—the Nelson boys wouldn’t start playing themselves until April 1949. Radio stalwart Lurene Tuttle plays Harriet’s mother. Janet Waldo plays Emmy Lou, an annoying teenage character who reflects the late 1940s fascination with “bobby-soxers.” Referencing Radio: The announcer mentions Just Plain Bill, a soap opera that ran from 1932 to 1955. Musical Notes: Ozzie sings a bit of “Darktown Strutters’ Ball,” a jazz standard that dates from 1917. (It’ll always be dear to me for inspiring the punch line of Ted Baxter’s knock-knock joke.) My Verdict: Television’s Nelsons never did much for me, but the radio show has a warmth and charm that’s won me over. You probably won’t laugh out loud over this episode, but you might enjoy its pleasant holiday feel.
“The Crosby Family,” December 20, 1950
The Bing Crosby Chesterfield Show “I still can’t understand why parents insist on stifling their kids’ mental development at this time of the year.” About The Bing Crosby Chesterfield Show: Perhaps the most popular performer of his era, Bing Crosby appeared on radio regularly from the 1930s through the 1950s. Chesterfield cigarettes sponsored a 30-minute Crosby show that aired from 1949 to 1952. Notable Performers: It’s strictly a family affair, here—Bing appears with wife Dixie Lee and sons Gary, Dennis, Philip, and Lindsay. Musical Notes: Bing opens the show by singing “Adeste Fideles,” first in Latin and then in English. (During the English version, the studio audience joins in.) Bing and Gary sing a jazzy “Jingle Bells” and a song called “That Christmas Feeling.” Lindsay and Bing croon “I’d Like to Hitch a Ride with Santa Claus.” Philip and Dennis sing “The Snowman.” Bing closes the show with “Silent Night.” My Verdict: Great music, and the family banter is more amusing than I would have expected. This program exudes so much holiday warmth that you can almost forget every negative thing you’ve heard about Bing’s family life. Almost.
“Names on the Land,” December 24, 1945
Cavalcade of America
“We hope you liked America, wrapped up in tinsel bright. To each one, Merry Christmas, and to all, a fond goodnight.”
About Cavalcade of America: Sponsored by Dupont, Cavalcade of America aired on radio from 1935 to 1953. It highlighted important stories, from the celebrated to the unsung, in American history. Story: A versifying train conductor leads listeners on an alphabetical journey across America, and his passengers explain the origins of odd place names, from Animus to Zoar. Based Upon: The book Names on the Land by George Rippey Stewart, first published in 1945 and, happily, reissued in 2008. Notable Performers: Frank Morgan, the Wizard of Oz himself, plays the train conductor. My Verdict: This is like H.L. Mencken meets Dr. Seuss—and I mean that in a good way. Names have always fascinated me, both personal and place names, and I’ve read and re-read the chapters on names in Mencken’s The American Language. This show is right up my alley. The verse, as performed by Morgan, sparkles. Without any flag-waving, the whole thing evokes a good feeling about the American character. As Matt Weiland wrote about Stewart’s book, it’s a “plea for the triumph of cardinal American virtues: buoyancy and tolerance, curiosity and confidence, love of the land and faith in the future.”
“Christmas Story,” December 23, 1952
“I just want to say that this is the best dog-gone Christmas I ever had.” About Gunsmoke: Radio’s Gunsmoke aired from 1952 to 1961, a forerunner of the popular TV show that ran from 1955 to 1975. The radio version is known for its grittier portrayal of Dodge City and its inhabitants and for the inventiveness of its sound patterns. Story: It’s Christmas Eve and Matt is returning to Dodge City, though he has little hope of making it home for Christmas: He’s 40 miles from Dodge and has lost his horse to a broken leg. A drifter who offers him a ride wants to hear about Christmas, so Matt describes the previous year’s holiday. My Verdict: Gunsmoke is one of my top three favorite radio programs, along with Vic and Sade and The Jack Benny Show. The show’s portrayal of the old West is so dark, though, and its typical body count is so high, that I have to experience the show in small doses. That’s why the Christmas episode is such a relief—it shines like a Christmas tree in the middle of a darkened prairie.
“The English Butler,” December 23, 1945
The Jack Benny Program
“It seems impossible that there could be any more suffering than mankind has just endured, but it is possible and it will happen, if we lose sight of the lessons so bitterly learned. Let us remember that men everywhere are our neighbors and their life and freedom is as precious them as ours is to us.” About The Jack Benny Program: I feel inadequate to explain The Jack Benny Program, and its importance in American radio. I’ve found that the International Jack Benny Fan Club is a good source for information. Story: Jack’s Beverly Hills neighbors the Colmans are making a reluctant appearance at his house for dinner. To impress them, Jack hires an “English” butler with an impenetrable accent. Google-Worthy References: Ronald Colman gets a big laugh when he says, “I’ll never forget when Benny invited us to his house three years ago and we didn’t show up. It made him so angry he wrote a letter to Britain asking for his bundle back.” Bundles for Britain, launched in 1940, was an American charitable program that provided knitted goods and used clothing to British citizens enduring Germany’s bombing. (I can’t resist sharing a passage from Life’s May 19, 1942, issue, which profiled Bundles for Britain founder Natalie Wales Latham: “Energetic and precocious, New England-born Mrs. Latham has been married and divorced twice. It was she who popularized the mother-and-daughter fashion fad which Life reported three summers ago. In 1939, on a vacation after her second divorce, she began thinking about Britain’s plight, noticed that no one seemed to know how to help, said to herself, ‘This is the damndest thing,’ and forthwith started Bundles for Britain.” Notable Performers: Ronald and Benita Colman. Musical Notes: Jack plays, and Ronald Colman mocks, “It’s Been a Long, Long Time.” Throughout the fall of 1945, competing versions of this Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn postwar hit were duking it out for chart pre-eminence. According to Wikipedia, a recording by Harry James with vocalist Kitty Kallen topped the Billboard charts the week this episode aired. My Verdict: Jack harassing his Beverly Hills neighbors never fails to amuse me. The classy Colmans make the best foils of all for Jack’s pretensions. Their 20 appearances on the Benny show are delightful. This episode offers many pleasures, from “Manchester” to Ronald Colman’s moving Christmas toast. And on Christmas episodes, I don’t even feel the need to fast forward through the soloist’s performance; Larry Stevens’ Ave Maria is lovely.
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.