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

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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!