Old time radio blog.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Embassy Lark
Not sure what year this episode aired, probably the mid-60's. Standard variation on Are You Being Served with clones of Captain Peacock and Mrs Slocombe but set in a British embassy in unknown land. Plot had something to do with winning a lucrative government contract versus stereotypical Chinese and Russian embassy reps. Amusing but obviously not that memorable.
The Clock - Pretty Cousin Amy (3/23/47)
Creepy little tale of neurotic girl who comes to stay with relatives in NYC, then gradually takes over household until her cuz firmly puts her foot down via reverse psychology.
CBS Radio Mystery Theater - It's Murder, Mr. Lincoln
Rare effective episode of this overrated series concerns young man accused of killing rich man in 1840's Springfield, IL. Abe Lincoln, then a struggling young lawyer, comes to his rescue with the kind of deductive reasoning Sherlock Holmes would make famous years later.
CBS Workshop - Rain Rain Go Away (12/28/46)
Whiny, and ultimately supernaturally pushy little girl wills people to do her bidding re the weather via her violin playing. Feels like a Twilight Zone episode.
Curtain Time - Wanted, An Old Fashioned Girl
Cute comedy of sexist newspaperman seeking title character, not just for story but for true love. Trouble is she's not as innocent as she seems. Fellow fans of A League of Their Own will enjoy this one.
Dr Tim, Detective - The Guest in #2
This had to be aimed at young adults although it's so detailed, it plays like early CSI.
Fred Allen Show - Fetlock Bones, with Reginald Gardiner (4/9/44)
Allen was an effin' genius and this episode with its topical humor and satire on Sherlock Holmes is another fine example.
Jack Benny Program - Swimming Party (3/26/44)
Jack has the gang over for a swim before they go to the studio. Many wickedly funny jibes directed at JB's gf Gladys Zybisco, who sadly doesn't appear.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Recent Listens

Downloaded the four-episode arc Vacation Troubles from Archive's tiny collection of Beulah shows and found them to be quite entertaining. Each one runs about 12 minutes and tells the title story of the housekeeper planning a vacation to an upstate lodge where her beau will be lifeguarding, while her employers plan one to Mexico. Starring Hattie McDaniel as Beulah, I detected very little in the way of racist stereotyping, even though the other black characters -- her friend Oriole, her beau, and possibly her male cousin -- were all played by white actors. The dialogue reminded me a lot of Beauty Shop, proving that little has changed in sixty years when it comes to comedy writing. Beulah and her employers, especially the lady of the house, Alice, get along like people in other housekeeper-centric sitcoms.

The 6/20/50 episode of Candy Matson, Symphony of Death was more revelatory in terms of mostly pretty unsavory social in-jokes . An obviously gay composer has flipped his lid after years of writing very popular music; his kid sister wants to have him committed so that he goes back to 'normal'. Unfortunately he winds up dead in his San Fran apartment, putting Candy on the case. There is use of slang in a 'creative' way that I found insulting, although the victim was somewhat balanced by Matson's probably gay and cool cohort, Rembrandt Wilson. Overall, not a high point in this otherwise classy series.

Ronald Colman added his own kind of style to the 7/10/45 episode of the Columbia Workshop's Daybreak. It's essentially a 24 hour look (in 25 minutes) at how the world wakes up in the morning, an appealing monologue for the time. I was less impressed by the Aussie import The Clock's episode, Island of Women, from 3/16/47 -- a date that surprises me because this silly Amazonian fantasy sounded more like some camp serialized thing from the 30's. Hopefully more of the shows I d/l'd will be better.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fred Allen Rules But Benny Is The Man

If you like droll stand-up comedy similar to Seinfeld, and the fake news on SNL and The Daily Show, you might like The Fred Allen Show. Allen -- like George Burns and faux arch nemesis Jack Benny -- was a former vaudevillian, a homely Irishman with a snide delivery. He was also saddled with an annoyingly-voiced wife named Portland Hoffa (oh how I cherish Tallulah Bankhead trashing this cow on The Big Show!) who was apparently supposed to be his Gracie Allen, though nowhere as adorable. No matter, because Allen had a knack for skewering the politicians and the other newsmakers of his day as sharply as Billy Wilder and Ben Hecht combined. The satire is leavened with amateur acts in some of the earlier shows from the 30's, and by his boy singer, Kenny Baker. One classic episode, King for A Day, accelerates the so-called animosity between Allen and Benny. Not all of the available episodes are laugh riots, but he's worth collecting and studying.

If you like flawless comic timing, which was later aped by the likes of Johnny Carson, David Letterman, and even Dick Cavett, you will love The Jack Benny Program. Benny starred in one of the longest running (30+ years) and most consistently funny series in radio history. I don't know how he sustained it but he did. The shows weren't very topical -- expected references to WWII and its stateside deprivations during the forties are the most blatant -- so that may be a clue. He was kind of like Seinfeld, a dry wit with a colorful supporting cast that largely made fun of his supposed stinginess and lack of violin-playing talent. Guest stars aplenty: Barbara Stanwyck, Bing Crosby, George Burns, Judy Garland, Ronald Colman, et al showed up to play off of the man. He was a favorite of the troops -- in and out of wartime. Loretta Lynn named one of her sons after him. This guy was The Man back then.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Playlist 5/2/09

My Friend Irma - The Air Conditioner
It's time for the girls' annual vacation and Jane flips her lid when she finds out that lovable moron Irma has blown their savings on a malfunctioning a/c unit. Not to fear, the Professor and his Gaelic would-be-frau come to their rescue with a fixed raffle (and a scary kissing booth) via a block party. I believe that I used the term 'that girl is stoopid' at least three times during the listening of this episode. ;)

Lux Theater - Blood On the Sun
James Cagney and Sylvia Sidney reprised their film roles in this good production of the pre-war story set in late 30's Japan. Jimmy's a newspaper editor, Syl's caught up in anti-war intrigue, complete with loads of hissing Asian stereotypes. Kind of a shame considering that Cagney's valet in one of his early 30's musical flicks was a very un-stereotypical Keye Luke I think.

The Big Show - Episode 1
This one was killer, with Jimmy Durante and Fred Allen especially on their best behavior with host Tallulah Bankhead, particularly in the episode-ending skit. Ethel Merman sang three numbers from the then (November 1950) recently-opened Call Me Madam. Danny Thomas did his thing, which also included surprisingly good singing. Other singers Frankie Laine and Mindy Carson did forgettable numbers, but it's kinda hard getting Merman out of your head. ;)

Biography in Sound - Mary Martin
This late-50's bio of the South Pacific star dragged on for an hour when half would have been fine, but I recommend it for fairly-full sound clips of Martin singing some of her biggest B-way hits, including My Heart Belongs To Daddy and I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair. There's also some choice tidbits about Martin's on-again/off-again friendship with Noel Coward.

Dimension X - The Professor Was A Thief
Another newsroom-set episode features a constipated editor, a hotshot reporter, and NYC landmarks that keep mysteriously disappearing. The culprit: a shrimp of a genius prof with a nifty device that could revolutionize the travel industry, not to mention lay easy waste to our enemies.

History Lives!

If you like more eclectic or non-fiction programming, try CBS Rado Workshop and You Are There. The former was a mid-'50s omnibus similar to the network's later TV show, CBS Sunday Morning, except that some shows are given over to dramatizations of smarter fiction, like John Cheever's The Enormous Radio, and a Colloquoy With Shakespeare. The non-fiction pieces take looks at various world cities like Paris, London, and Rome, or focus on specific cultural works like the Noh Plays of Japan. YAT was a great drama series that put you right in the middle of the action of famous events in world history, like the Spanish Armada, Joan of Arc burned on the stake, the Salem witch trials, the Declaration of Independence, and so on with a news reporter as your guide. The series was revived for television in the 1970's; I remember most vividly the one about Amelia Earhart's disappearance over the Pacific. Sadly, it only lasted for one season, if that.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Satire At Its Best

If you like whacked-out comedy like Monty Python, the Marx Brothers, and the early National Lampoon movies like Animal House, you'll probably like Bob & Ray and The Goon Show. The former was an American comedy duo, the latter a British comedy troupe. Both dealt in high satire, although B&R's was so subtle sometimes you thought it was the real thing: two really dumb newsmen cluelessly reporting what was going on around them. The Goons, led by future film star Peter Sellers and wildman Spike Milligan, were far less subtle, mixing it up on subjects like the royal family, British military, detective and spy fiction, literary references, vaudeville tricks, and other assorted insanity. Both acts relied on their ability to come up with funny voices and making mountains out of molehills. Running characters for B&R included the nitwit field reporter Wally Ballou (Bob Elliott) and a subpar actress named Mary Backstayge (Ray Goulding); Milligan (I'm pretty sure) voiced a fey young man who usually played a lost dauphin or idiot child. Sellers did all those wacky voices he's now famous for, glommed on by John Lennon (listen to "Yellow Submarine"), David Letterman, Steve Martin, and other future fans. A little bit of Goonery goes a long way, I've found, but Bob & Ray on a roll is genius work.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Playlist 4/4/09

Lux Theater - The Velvet Touch 1/10/49
Rosalind Russell recreates her film role as a popular stage actress who accidentally kills her abusive producer/ex-lover as he's throttling her for disobeying his orders. [One wishes this had been the outcome of a certain r'n'b diva's recent encounter with her bf.] Roz suffers a bit too dramatically (as compared to her more subtle film performance) as she tries to cover up this crime of passion. Sidney Greenstreet is her police-detective nemesis, an adoring fan who knows in his heart that she'll eventually give up the goods. The copy of this show on Archive is edited down to about 45 minutes; on one hand it's good not to hear the usual unctuous shilling for Lux soap, on the other there's no after-show interview with the star, a Lux trademark.

The Black Museum - A Doctor's Prescription (1950)
Orson Welles hosted this series of shows based on artifacts found in London's Scotland Yard repository of true crime memorabilia. This dramatization involved a seemingly loving nurse who cared for elderly patients in her home. Straightforward production with predictable outcome is still worth listening to for the historical aspect, especially if you're a fan of CSI and other police procedurals.

Tales of Tomorrow - Betelgeuse Bridge (1/15/53)
Kind of silly tale about a race of snail-like creatures who come to Earth and become media darlings by way of a savvy public relations agent hired for the purpose. Does have an interesting denoument though...

Bob & Ray - Library Reel 04 (undated, late 50's - early 60's)
Collection of hit and miss episodes from the wry comic duo's heyday includes interviews with obnoxious audience members; clueless newsman Wally Ballou talking to toothpick maker and to a guy with an interesting new car in his garage; the world's biggest loser, and so on. Not sure if Ray Goulding's monotonous female voice was deliberate or not. As usual, their humor is so dry it's kind of dull -- until the zinger hits and you're laughing out loud.

Judy Canova Show - Eddie Cantor, guest star (1/17/48)
Bob Hope Show - Anne Baxter, guest star (10/16/53)
Judy was funny-looking but not terribly funny; this episode is more memorable for showcasing early 20th Century star Cantor in a medley of his greatest song hits, like If You Knew Susie. Bob was funny-looking but was a genius comic; having sexy Baxter to bounce off of (he wished literally) only improves the show. Episode is set on the Queen Mary ocean liner and features Hope ticking off the captain in classic style.

The Navy Lark - Fairground Lights (4/19/59)
Britcom set on a Royal Navy ship apparently most familiar with dry dock plays like future Yank TV hit McHale's Navy. It's funny but not in a classic way.

The Great Gildersleeve - Aunt Octavia Visits (12/7/41)
More like Octavia's niece visits; seemingly sweet child turns bad seed in Gildy's household. Episode is actually more memorable because of its occasional live reports re that day's attack on Pearl Harbor. Surprising how they didn't just turn the slot over to the news division the way they would nowadays.

The Family [1/2] Hour

If you like gentle sitcoms like Father Knows Best, you might be surprised by the radio version, which has a meaner streak in the form of father Jim Anderson. I prefer this guy over the one on TV, both played by Robert Young; the supporting casts of his 'stupid' family however are played by different people -- specifically the kids, who sound like adults with annoying voices, especially the chick who plays Kitten, a whiny brat who deserves to be on a milk carton. Princess is just that, spoiled rotten and much dumber than Elinor Donahue's characterization. Bud sounds like a future street hustler, 'holy cowww'. Only Margaret, I think voiced by Jean Van Der Pyl (Wilma Flintstone) gets her sexy on although she sounds younger than Jane Wyatt.

If you like Married With Children or Roseanne, you'll probably like Life of Riley and My Friend Irma. These are generally low-brow sitcoms with bright stars and likeable scripts. Riley starred William Bendix as a blue collar worker with a wife and two kids; Irma (starring Marie Windsor in the title role) looked at the daily lives of a couple of roomies who worked as secretaries for different companies. Riley is a mug, Irma is a dumb blonde; each has a more mature foil in his wife and her roommate respectively. Each have supporting characters who give them something to play off; in Irma's case, a pair of vaudevillian stereotypes of an Irish landlady and a Jewish musician who continually lust after each other disguised as bickering.

If you like The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Love Lucy, and similar series revolving around minor celebs at home, you might enjoy The Phil Harris & Alice Faye Show . This was a long-running spin-off from The Jack Benny Program featuring Benny's wacky former bandleader, his real-life, tough-talking former Hollywood blonde bombshell wife Faye, and two girls playing their daughters. Harris is a natural wiseguy -- his dozen or so years with Benny in the 40's are among that show's best -- and is always worth listening to making an ass of himself. Faye is the long-sufferer who puts up with his shenanigans because let's face it, they were one of the sexiest couples in radio -- like Rob & Laura Petrie, you knew these two were balling like bunnies off-mike. Join Phil as he does stupid things like trying to get a break on the high cost of beef in post-WWII America, pleasing his sponsors (Rexall Drugstores), and pissing off Alice. Anything for a nooner while the girls are at school...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Playlist 3/29/09

Suspense - Death and Miss Turner 11/17/52
Agnes Moorehead, star. Disturbing painting of a faceless man by an 'R Turner' intrigues one Rachel Turner. Is she or is she not a murderer? Complex psychological tale echoes Spellbound as Rachel tries to work her way out of this conundrum with the help of her trusty shrink. Moorehead gives a particularly neurotic performance.

Halls of Ivy - Missing $25 4/2/52
The Halls take a spring stroll across campus, have a droll conversation with the college groundskeeper and find out about episode title. This leads to a crisis borne by the roomie of the girl accused of the petty crime. Okay episode, not that interesting second half.

Ford Theater - Carmen Jones 11/16/47
Brilliant production of this landmark Oscar Hammerstein musical drama features most of the original Broadway cast, including Muriel Smith in the lead and Elton J Warren (a female) as the innocent ingenue Cindy Lou, both involved with dorky hero Joe. I enjoyed this so much, I listened to it twice in one week. Interestingly, Smith declined to repeat the role in Otto Preminger's 1954 movie version because she didn't think it reflected well on her people; ironically, Dorothy Dandridge went on to become the first African-American nominated for an Oscar -- Best Actress -- as Carmen, albeit voiced by white opera diva Marilyn Horne. Smith pretty much disappeared into history.

Screen Director's Playhouse - Flamingo Road 5/26/50
Joan Crawford effectively replays her late-career film role as a formerly wanton woman trying to go straight in a seedy southern town. About as good as the flick version, possibly better, since it goes right to the heart of the matter without too many distractions, such as a middle-aged lady trying to look cute dressed as a 20 year-old.

Just A Minute - The Alphabet 2/23/70
Absolutely wacky BBC-4 panel show recalls the Goons and predicts parts of current NPR series, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me by way of the format: panel members are given one minute to speak all they can on the given subject, starting with the title offering. Demerits are given for deviating from the subject, stammering, and other verbal crimes. It really is an ingenious concept as only the Brits can come up with and would be great as a teaching tool for debating teams. I particularly liked the responses of Geraldine Jones, who sounds Maggie Smith crossed with that no-nonsense vixen Anne Robinson from The Weakest Link.

Lights Out - The Author & The Thing 9/28/43
Series creator Arch Oboler's CBS Radio season-ender was this daffy, but eerie episode starring Oboler as himself trying to come up with an effective, non-hackneyed story guaranteed to scare the guano out of his listeners. In a dark room, or a lonely foxhole, this may well have done it. The thing in the title is a gibbering, grumbling ghoul who appears out of nowhere, not unlike Woody Allen's id in Stardust Memories, except when this one kills it's not for laughs. Mercedes McCambridge co-stars with an unexpectedly girly voice.

Candy Matson YUkon 2-8209 - Valley of The Moon 12/27/49
One of the very few female footpads of her day, drily-witty Matson sets out to find the killer of a fru-fru matron (Helen Kleeb, who later had a recurring role as one of the Baldwin Sisters on TV's The Waltons) at a western dude ranch. Writing is pretty good but it's a pity so few of these shows - 12 known episodes -- are still in circulation.

Escape - Earth Abides, Parts 1 & 2, 11/5 & 12/50
Mysterious Traveler - A Fire In The Sky 8/28/51
Two strong takes on end-of-the-world scenarios, one by way of international plague, the other by plunging comet. Earth Abides of course presages Stephen King's The Stand, thankfully sans the faith-based boogeyman drivel that lessened that book's impact. John Dehner stars as a scientist working up in the northern California mountains who comes down to find that 99% of humanity has succumbed to mysterious illness. Eventually this Adam finds his Eve in his hometown of San Francisco and begins to rebuild society over the coming years in an intelligent way. No punches are pulled and there are few of the tedious anti-social types that populate the current versions of the genre (Mad Max, et al).
Fire takes a different route, a claustrophobic one, that involves a defrocked scientist and an unwitting pair of newlyweds, not to mention nefariously acquired younguns, in a deep underground series of chambers. Not as all-over-the-place as Deep Impact but certainly intriguing. I wish there had been a sequel; show just kinda leaves 'em hanging.

Private Eyes

If you liked the Bruce Willis / Cybil Shepherd vehicle Moonlighting, you'll probably like The Adventures of Sam Spade , starring Howard Duff as Dashiell Hammett's most famous character. Like that witty detective show, Spade has no problem doling out the one-liners and occasional groaner double entendres opposite a bunch of Effie's as his dizzy secretary (Bewitched's 2nd Gladys Kravits played her, as did Lurene Tuttle) as he dictates the week's casebook. Each 'caper', as he calls them, usually features at least one sultry female and several no-goodnik thugs out to seduce and beat up our hero.
If you like your detectives a little more serious, try The Adventures of Phillip Marlowe . The series began in 1947 as being voiced by Van Heflin, who left it after six episodes to concentrate on his Hollywood career. He was replaced quite effectively by Gerald Mohr, a prolific actor in various other radio dramas. The writing, based on many Raymond Chandler potboilers, is pretty good, tough and smart. There's a noirish quality here that makes you hungry for the real thing, and thankfully, archive.org's public domain movie section has a whole directory devoted to like-minded thrillers and detective stories like D.O.A., He Walked By Night, The Stranger, The Hitch-Hiker, and the Heflin/Barbara Stanwyck classic, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Rillly Big Shoooz

If you like all-star extravaganzas of the Ed Sullivan and Carol Burnett Show and even Saturday Night Live variety, you'll probably like The Big Show, Command Performance, and Mail Call. The Big Show was a weekly NBC challenge at the time, 1950-51, to listeners of The Jack Benny Program over on CBS. Despite being hosted by Tallulah Bankhead and featuring 90 minutes of two or more A-listers of the day (like Groucho Marx, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Fred Allen, George Sanders, Vivien Leigh, Eddie Cantor, Judy Garland, Jimmy Durante, Judy Holliday, Fanny Brice, Ethel Merman, and Bea Lillie), the show failed to beat the Benny juggernaut. A typical Big show would begin with witty repartee between Bankhead and, say, Groucho then someone would sing a number or music director Meredith Wilson (who later created the Broadway hit The Music Man) would conduct his choir and/or band in something inspirational (the show was on Sunday nights), Bankhead or similar stage star (Leigh [with husband Laurence Olivier], Ethel Barrymore) would do a scene from a play, more comedy, more music, maybe a scene from an upcoming movie, and then that show's cast would do a singalong of Wilson's "May The Good Lord Bless & Keep You", followed by Bankhead sending good wishes to our military overseas. If they were to attempt this today, the hostess might be Whoopi Goldberg with guests Will Ferrell, Will Smith, George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Carrie Underwood, and featuring the Brian Setzer Orchestra, and -- I dunno -- the Harlem Boy's Choir.
Command Performance and Mail Call were on only during the years of World War II; it was like a Stage Door Canteen on the air with live performances, again by all the biggest stars of the day. Hope, Crosby, Marx, Garland, Betty Hutton, The Andrews Sisters, Victor Borge, Red Skelton, Lena Horne, etc. The format was really cool: real soldiers and platoons would send in weekly requests to hear their favorite artists; one gang even wanted to hear a starlet sigh on mic! They asked for it and they got it -- all swathed in a lot of patriotism and good feelings.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Playlist, 3/16/09

The Big Show, episode 12, January 1951
One of the better Shows, this one features Judy Holliday doing a scene from Born Yesterday, as well as a bizarre redneck satire with Tallulah B and Fred Allen. Sadly, fellow guest Eddie Cantor goes over like the proverbial lead balloon and Vaughan Monroe sings on key but through his nose: blecch. Gypsy Rose Lee is okay -- she was never that great an actress -- but she does get a few zingers trading off with Bankhead. Patrice Munsell provides a lovely aria from...ahh, well can't remember it, but she was great anyways.
D__of Fate: Peter Drake (1948) Absolutely terrible faux Suspense drama of henpecked husband driven to desperate acts to keep his job; the actress playing his wife was particularly wooden. There are only a few episodes of this Chicago series available, and if this is an example of the rest, avoid like the plague!
Life of Riley, Piano for Junior (1944) Riley's determined that his son be as talented a pianist as lil' Egbert, son of one of his buddies. Naturally, Junior would rather play baseball. An okay episode
Jeff Regan, Investigator (1948) The Lawyer & The Lady My first listen to this Jack Webb series but I was distracted by something else. I do remember witty and surprisingly sometimes risque' dialogue with a deep-voiced dame. Kind of a younger, hipper version of Phillip Marlowe.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Film By Ear

If you like classic movies from Hollywood's 'golden era' (1927 - 1960), you'll probably love Lux Theater, NBC's University of the Air, Theater Guild, Screen Guild Theater, and Academy Award Theater.
Lux is the most famous, offering one hour adaptations of hundreds of popular films beginning in the mid-30's all the way up to the mid-50's. The plays usually featured one or more of the original stars or an equal replacement, such as Rosalind Russell subbing for Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce or Barbara Stanwyck taking Bette Davis' lead in Dark Victory -- often to great or better effect. Both of the Thin Man productions star William Powell and Myrna Loy; the couple also show up in their Manhattan Melodrama; Bill Holden and Gloria Swanson duel in Sunset Boulevard; Bogie & Bacall simmer in To Have and Have Not. Davis does appear in The Letter, albeit in a speeded-up version -- a technical glitch -- that lessens the impact. Bogart reappears for The African Queen, with Greer Garson subbing for Katharine Hepburn; Kate herself shows up in Undercurrent.
University was a late 40's - early 50's series based on great works of world literature created for various colleges; each episode has at least one name star and the books include Moby Dick, Howards End, Mrs Dalloway, Sons & Lovers, Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man, Track of the Cat, and The Red Badge of Courage.
Theater Guild also has name talent focusing more on stage classics like Blithe Spirit and a fabulous Tallulah Bankhead version of All About Eve, which trumps the Lux version starring Davis herself!
Academy Award and Screen Guild offer half-hour versions of famous films -- including Davis in Jezebel and in The Little Foxes, Joan Crawford in Flamingo Road, Dana Andrews in The Best Years of Our Lives, Carole Lombard in Tailored By Toni, et al -- which are great little time-killers.
Note: If you are more theater-inclined, Campbell Playhouse and its predecessor, The Mercury Theater are in a class by themselves -- and not just because they both feature Orson Welles as their artistic centers. The focus is more on non-Hollywood product like their infamous War of the Worlds production of 1938 that spooked millons across the country, a witty version of Schnitzler's sexy Affairs of Anatol which was years ahead of its time, and Welles' own take on Dinner At Eight which practically predicts his own future downfall.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Playlists, March 9 - 12, '09

NBC University Theater - This Side of Paradise. (1949) This sucked, plain and simple. I was really disappointed with this lame production of the Jazz Age classic by F Scott Fitzgerald. Guy Madison, who later made his name as the butch dad & captain of Lost In Space, sounds like a complete nerd here. Adding insult to injury is some college prof named Orville who calls the book one of Fitzgerald's lesser works! Ack. You want a better version, download the audio book from archive.org by way of Librivox, most of which readers are female and sound like they could beat up Madison and Orville. College gals is mean...

Father Knows Best, Orchid for A Lady (1951) Valentine's Day at the Andersons. Jim and the kids become obsessed with pleasing Margaret with the gift of an expensive orchid. Not one of the better episodes but listenable, except for the constant whining of Kitten.
Burns & Allen, Aunt Clara Kangaroo (1940) The gang's on tour supporting Gracie's bid for the presidency. George is put in charge of his "aunt", actually Gracie's pet kangaroo (don't ask) -- trouble ensues. I liked the taxi trip and Allen sings a cute song by Glenn Miller. Also the orchestra really kicks with a nifty swing instrumental.
Our Miss Brooks, Project X (1955) Conklin's bucking for an upgrade via the Board of Education and his creepy PA system that can hear a mouse (or Connie) pass gas. Naturally the whole school wants to aid in his speedy exit. Pretty funny for a late-series entry.
Halls of Ivy, Valuable Painting (1951?) Ronald & Benita Colman once again prove two things: that they were a class act and boy, those two must have had a great love life in private. Episode revolves around a Goya painting bequeathed to Ivy College by a late benefactoress. Dr Hall's problem is whether to keep it and bring prestige to the school, or sell it for a new school station wagon and other necessities.
Magnificent Montague, Agnes Joins A Cult (1951) Another great catfight between maid Agnes and boss Monty early in the episode rather devolves into a left-field denouement that left me scratching my head. Probably heralded the coming cancellation of the show.
Dimension X - Shanghaied (1951) Rich kid is abducted by sleazy space tramps and forced to serve as deckhand on a spaceship headed for Alpha Centauri, a trip that will take 15 years! Creepy and scary, although probably owes much to Robert Louis Stevenson.
CBS Radio Mystery Theater - Fall of The House of Usher, and Blizzard of Terror (both 1974) Two of the better episodes of this overrated anthology series. Poe's classic gave me the willies in it's earnestness; Blizzard I figured out early on but Lois Smith (Jack's sis in 5 Easy Pieces, Helen's aunt in Twister) upped the quality in a believable reading as a liberated woman harrassed (along with her milquetoast hubby) by a sexist creep in a snowbound cabin.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Dimension X Minus One

If you like The Twilight Zone, X-Files, and The Outer Limits, you'll
probably like Dimension X
and X Minus One

The first series ran from April 8, 1950 - '51 and featured
dramatizations of some of the best science fiction writing of the
day. Stories by Ray Bradbury (The Veldt), Robert Heinlein
(Universe), and Frederick Pohl (The Tunnel Under The World),
Fritz Leiber (A Pail of Air) -- which alternated with tales from the
series' in-house scribe -- came alive in often effective
distillations. The series was revived for a longer run as X Minus
One, although longer isn't necessarily better. The first season is
the best -- most of the episodes are remakes of Dimension X
shows -- but as the series moved along, the focus veered more
towards jokiness and an almost folksy quality that predates other
kid-friendly TV series like My Favorite Martian and Lost In Space.
Another drag about the second series is that it stars pretty much
the same troupe of actors each episode. Beware of duplicates
or rerun episodes if you plan on downloading the full runs from

Back to School

If you like school-bound TV shows like Head of the Class, Room
222, and Welcome Back Kotter, you'll probably like Our Miss
Brooks and The Halls of Ivy. OMB stars Eve Arden as the title
English teacher at a California high school; HOI stars Mr & Mrs
Ronald Colman as a college dean and his ex-actress wife.
Brooks is more of a situation comedy dealing with silly
escapades and petty jealousies among staff and students; Ivy is
a gentler, classier look at school life. Canadian Colman and
British wife Benita play off each other beautifully as they deal with
students and administrators, not to mention various oddballs off
campus. They also remind me of the late-middle-aged lovers
Judi Dench & Geoffrey Palmer in As Time Goes By.

Brooks has a crush on the hunky biology teacher (played from the late 40's
through the early 50's by actually hunky Jeff Chandler), her
student Walter (Richard Crenna at his squeakiest) has a crush on
Harriet, and Harriet's dad, Principal Conklin (Gale Gordon) is a
pompous pain in the ass. Both became TV shows, but OMB
lasted longer; Ivy's high-road writing apparently couldn't maintain
an audience in the heyday of madcap redheads and
bongo-playing husbands. Good luck if you can find a copy of it,
while OMB has aired on TV Land. Don't mistake me, I love 'em
both, but it would have been nice to have seen the Colmans in

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Playlist 2/14/09

When TV is boring and there's nothing else to do, I drag several episodes of old time radio into my media player and spend the evening enjoying them. Sometimes my lists have a theme, sometimes they're random like this one. Links are to the archive.org page sources, not the actual shows.

Wind Chill is one of the creepier episodes of the 1980 Nightfall series. Emotional young woman gets lost in the snow on a trip to a friend's cabin and meets fey young man who takes her to his own cottage. A combination of eerie moog music and a child's voice add to the tension, despite fairly predictable ending.

Burns & Allen: Gracie Hires Harpo leavens this playlist with trademark silliness from May 1946. Gracie Allen's voice is hoarser than usual and the political references need a peek in a history book; she gets Harpo Marx to snoop on Hollywood celebs for her gossip column. Interesting how a largely visual comic can still communicate (via a series of whistles & sound fx) on radio. Marx harps a sweet Stardust Memory (title?); Mel Blanc shows up as weaselly Mr Postman and Bill Goodwin mocks him while promoting sponsor Maxwell House Coffee. As usual, George Burns is the only sane man in the room. Oh man, I'd love to see what they're doing near show end to make the audience howl! OMG, tons of stuff must be pouring out of Harpo's trademark trenchcoat, LOL!!

Lux Theater's 2/8/55 version of War of the Worlds follows starring Dana Andrews and Pat Crowley. The play begins with Paul Frees, who played a newsman in the movie and was the voice of a thousand Disney ride characters & featurettes, not to mention Josephine's voice in Some Like It Hot. A meteor hits the hills above a small California town, a telephone lever is rattled to get through a party line (remember those?), and on comes Andrews' Gene Barryish voice at a campfire. Crowley is girlier here than her later role on Please Don't Eat The Daisies. Later, good ol' Bill Conrad shows up as a pompous general. Doesn't quite have the same campy resonance as the George Pal film production; more realistically similar to the 1959 BBC production of The Kraken Wakes but without the mordant satire that gave that one its bite.

Halloween 1949 episode of Our Miss Brooks features a party at ever-fussy Principal Conklin's house. Unfortunately Mr Conklin is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and the sight of his least favorite student Walter in spectral drag just about puts him over.

Debut episode of The Magnificent Montague (11/10/50) introduces the spiteful title character, long-suffering wife Lily, and sassy maid Agnes. Edwin has finally gotten an acting job after eight years of old fartitude. I love the silly statement he makes about radio killing the stage; if it wasn't for radio, most people never would have heard or learn to enjoy live theater. Seriously, the nauseating Uncle Goodheart character Montague has to play would drive most people back to Broadway for the realities of Miller and Williams! Still, the zingers flying during the Goodheart audition make this a classic episode.

10/8/49 episode -- The Open Window -- of Adventures of Philip Marlowe. The gumshoe calms a soft-spoken dame with amnesia who has shown up at his apartment, claiming she's being followed by some strange man. Marlowe leaves her in the flat so she can get some sleep and goes off to investigate with an 'enigmatic key' she's given him, including a visit to a badly-acted drunk named Jake and a run-in with three more shady characters.

9/27/45 Arch Oboler play The Family Nagachi looks at a post-war Nisei clan. More famous for his frightening Lights Out episodes, Oboler actually preferred writing thoughtful social dramas like these. Decorated war hero comes home to find that his family had been interned in the Manzanar concentration camp in the California desert for the duration and continue to be harrassed for being of Japanese descent. Ironically, none of the named lead players are Asian. Still it's bold for its day, and holds up pretty well, especially considering that it wasn't until 1976 that TV bothered to do a movie about Manzanar.

3/11/60 Bing Crosby & Rosemary Clooney show runs about 19 minutes sans commercials. The tunes are tame and the show is relatively free of lots of inane patter -- ads aside -- but I'm not big on post-40's Crosby. Gak: der Bingle attempting to "rock" up It Happened in Monterey! Way too much organ throughout the show. Clooney comes off best -- this was still her era, at least until the Beatles landed.

X Minus One's Sea Legs from May 1956 Veteran spaceman opts to retire to his parents' home planet -- Earth -- after sixteen years in a low-gravity situation. Unfortunately the old terra firma ain't what it used to be; actually it's become like then-contemporary USSR, a dystopian future of paranoia, tight rationing, and hostile class-consciousness.

A 4/17/52 Father Knows Best episode focuses on something safely Western: a new washing machine and Kitten's weird fascination with using it. Great to hear kids say things like "turn blue" and "okay, Tallulah" instead of "bite me" and worse, or as much as they can get past the FCC on commercial television. On the other hand, I remember the prudes getting pissy ten-fifteen years ago about a Mad About You episode that had Jamie (Helen Hunt) having an orgasm as she sat atop her new washer.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Horror Shows

If you like Twilight Zone or X-Files, turn out the lights and listen to episodes of (appropriately) Lights Out, Suspense, Escape, Inner Sanctum, and a few other notable series from the horror genre. There were other series, well-known and rare -- The Whistler, The Shadow, The Hall of Fantasy, The Hermit's Cave, etc -- but these are
my personal favs.
Lights was written by Arch Oboler, a playwright and occasional film director
(he made one of the earliest and best anti-nuke flicks, Five, in 1951) with a creepy voice (he hosts each episode) and a great talent for inspiring fear and claustrophobia. Although some of the shows are creaky, notably Cat Wife (late 30's), the tale of a bitchy broad who turns into a feline, others retain an ageless sense of eerieness, like Bathysphere, The Ghost in the Newsreel Negative, Rocket To Manhattan, and African Story. This guy was like a talented version of Ed Wood, creating a lot of atmosphere on a shoestring budget.
Suspense was a long-running series that frequently featured a lot of name talent, like Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Vincent Price, Orson Welles, Agnes Moorehead, Mercedes McCambridge, and other masters of audio media. Source material dipped into classics by Poe, Lovecraft, Bierce, Wells, Conrad, et al.
Escape's gimmick was the title verb, each episode focusing on the hero trying to get out of a bad situation, be it an isolated kingdom of blind people out to make him one of them, or a gazillion marauding red ants. or Nazi bastards intent on destroying democracy.
Inner Sanctum was perhaps the campiest of the horror shows, with its devilish narrator and its obsession with all things funereal. One of my favorites has a corpse for a backseat driver. another has a woman (Anne Seymour) convinced that her husband is a vampire.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Magnificent Montague

If you like Frasier or The Jeffersons, you'll probably like The Magnificent Montague . Like those two classic shows, the star is a pompous ass who regularly gets verbally bitch-slapped by his smartass housekeeper. In this case it's Pert Kelton as Agnes the maid versus Monty Woolley in the title role. Leavening out their catfights is Montague's wife, Lily Boheme (voiced gracefully by Anne Seymour), who like her husband is a former Shakespearean stage star. Montague gets a gig playing the unctious Uncle Goodheart on a popular afternoon soap opera -- his first serious paying job in many years -- and spends a lot of time trying to hide this fact from his fellow members of the Proscenium Club, a hangout for other theatrical fossils.
The series -- which not surprisingly (considering its often acid dialogue) only lasted a single season on NBC Radio -- proceeds from Montague's first audition through an ill-fated gig in Hollywood and beyond. There were a total of 53 known episodes produced
between 11/10/50 and 9/08/51, of which only 33 remain (at least on archive.org -- Jerry Haendige's log -- sez there's 43 in existence), some of those final shows as of yet lost to history. One -- 7/21/51's Edwin Montague Day -- is only available (in the archive) as an 11-minute snippet! The writing was uniformly fairly high quality; how you enjoy it depends mainly on how much you can stand Woolley essentially playing his title role from The Man Who Came To Dinner, his most famous movie, in half-hour chunks. I particularly like Kelton's character who reminded me of both old H-wood character player Una O'Connor, and Marla Gibbs on The Jeffersons. The script to one of the best episodes, 1/12/51's Lost in Hollywood, is available online as a document via this Chicago theater site; in it, Montague takes brill potshots at both radio and the movie industry with content that still rings true.

It was either that or Radio Sweethearts

and I bet that's been taken by either an Elvis Costello fan or someone into distaff country music. Nope, this is my blog on favorite pastime, collecting old-time radio shows; Theater Mined is a reference to the phrase coined to describe radio, "The Theater of the Mind". Each entry will focus on a separate series or on two or more similar series -- gems that I have personally mined from my favorite source. I will liken them to a comparable TV show or film genre if it helps generate more interest.

I've been downloading episodes from the excellent www.archive.org website's Old Time Radio pages, which has thousands of entries including two full broadcast days and efforts by the Old Time Radio Researchers Group to make available to the public full (and free) sets of classic series.