Theater Mined

Old time radio blog.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Recent Listens

Lux Theater - Mary of Scotland
Joan Crawford, Franchot Tone, Judith Evans
Crawford acquits herself pretty well in such high-toned company, as the lead (played by Kate Hepburn in the film), ill-fated queen.

Great Gildersleeve - Marjorie's Girlfriend Visits
Early episode (9/21/41) features saucy southern belle trying to seduce every man in sight, including Marjorie's boyfriend.

Cavalcade of America - Mr Peale and the Dinosaur
3/7/50 episode features Agnes Moorehead as the catty wife of title Natural History Museum founder Peale.

Fibber McGee and Molly - McGees Throw a Dinner Party & Quaratined for Measles
Pretty funny two-parter from March 1941 as Fibber & Molly endure party from ...heck.

Line Up - Politician's Home Bombed
6/28/51 episode of this effective early police procedural could have been plucked from yesterday's headlines.

Suspense - Dime A Dance
1/13/44 episode features Lucille Ball in change-of-pace role as a sharp-tongued taxi dancer being stalked by a serial killer with a thing for redheads.

X Minus One - Hostess
12/12/56 Isaac Asimov tale about a lady scientist who tries to be kind to a visiting alien despite her ignorant cop husband's running negativity.

Hall of Fantasy - The Man From Second Earth
8/10/53 episode about another alien home-visit (or is that invasion) that goes predictably awry.

Modern OTR

If you crave more modern takes on the classic old time radio style, try Nightfall and CBS Mystery Workshop. The former is a Canadian anthology series from the early 1980's. A lot of the focus was on science fiction and a fair amount of horror. One notable effort was dramatizing British sf writer John Wyndham's dystopian future tale, The Chrysalids, in a three-episode arc; the result was pretty good although I'd rather it be made into a film. CMW ran from 1974 to 1982 and featured various stars -- many from Broadway -- of the day: E.G. Marshall, Agnes Moorehead, Tony Roberts, Tammy Grimes, Mason Adams, Ruby Dee, and others. Similar to Suspense, the hour-long (or 42 minutes minus the commercials) episodes were based on macabre stories from Poe and the like, or were written on commission with varying success.

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.