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Happy Birthday, Rosa Rio!


In Leonard Maltin’s old-time radio memoir The Great American Broadcast, veteran announcer Jackson Beck recalled a most amusing anecdote involving today’s birthday celebrant.  “There was a time Rosa Rio was playing the organ,” reminisced Beck, “and Dorian St. George, who was a real prankster, was the announcer at the show.  She’s at the Hammond organ, and she’s a very attractive, talented lady, great sense of humor.  And he went up and unbuttoned her blouse while she’s playing; she had a blouse with buttons down the back.  He unbuttoned the whole thing and then he undid her bra.  She can’t say anything, [and] there’s an audience up in the visitor’s booth at NBC watching this.”

rio2Beck continued: “She waits until his middle commercial comes up and she walks up, undoes his belt, unzips his fly and drops his pants.  And then starts on the underpants.  And there’s an audience up there!  They go, ‘What the hell is going on here?’”  Sounds like just another wacky day at the National Broadcasting Company, where Rosa Rio worked as staff organist from the late 1930s to 1960, with stops at Mutual and ABC to boot.  Rosa was born Elizabeth Raub in New Orleans on this date in 1902, and enjoyed a long career not only on radio, but during those early days of thrills and laughter in the silent movie era as well.

Young Elizabeth demonstrated an inclination towards music in early childhood; she began playing piano at the age of four, and was taking formal lessons on the instrument by age eight.  Her family disapproved of her career ambitions, by the way…until they reasoned that playing the organ at church wouldn’t be too scandalous for a young Southern lady.  Her first gig was accompanying movies in the theater, and by adolescence she was studying music at both Oberlin College and the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY.  When Elizabeth decided to turn professional, she changed her name to Rosa Rio…since it was easier to fit on a theater marquee.

These stills were issued in 1998 as part of Warner Bros. 75th AnniversaryRosa played the Wurlitzer organ—her instrument of choice—in a variety of theatrical venues throughout New York and around the country, accompanying the movies of such silent movie greats as Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton…and performing before audiences who paid to see such classics as The Birth of a Nation, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Phantom of the Opera.  October 6, 1927 marked the day of a disturbing cloudburst on Rosa’s career; with the release of The Jazz Singer, Rio feared that “the talkies” would put her out of business.

19721Rio was able to find temporary work as an accompanist and vocal coach.  One of her pupils was a young Mary Martin, who asked Rosa to accompany her when she auditioned (successfully) for her Broadway debut in 1938, the Cole Porter musical Leave it to Me!  Rio eventually was hired by NBC to play organ for as many as two dozen shows a week, including everything from Bob and Ray to Ethel and Albert.  At one point, she headlined two of her very own programs, Rosa Rio Rhythms and Rosa Rio Time.  Her work on such daytime dramas as Front Page Farrell, Lorenzo Jones, My True Story, and When a Girl Marries earned her the nickname “Queen of the Soaps.”  Purportedly, the time between the sign-off of Lorenzo Jones and the start of Bob and Ray was less than sixty seconds…necessitating Rio’s dash between the two studios.

One of Rosa’s best-known jobs at the radio organ was her accompaniment for The Shadow; in 1985, Radiola Records—the LP division of Radio Yesteryear—released an audio documentary entitled The Story of the Shadow that featured Rio and surviving members of the Shadow series reminiscing about what it was like to work on the program.  Rio’s relationship with Radio Yesteryear would extend to the company’s foray into videocassette releases (appropriately titled Video Yesteryear); she would provide scores and accompaniment to nearly 370 silent movie releases including Intolerance, The Thief of Bagdad, and The Cat and the Canary.

rio3After years of working on such radio hits as David Harding—Counterspy and Hannibal Cobb, Rosa Rio attempted a transition to television, playing for such small screen efforts as The Today Show and As the World Turns.  The opportunities for work in TV, however, were not quite as generous as those in radio…and soon Rosa found herself in Connecticut, where she ran a music school offering classes in voice, organ, and piano.  Relocating to Florida’s Hillsborough County in 1993 would provide Rio with a “comeback” career, however; she was the official accompanist for the silent movie program presented by the Tampa Theatre, the revival house built in 1926.  My friend Jeff Stewart would often enthusiastically inform me of his visits to see silent films on “the big screen,” and remind me that the music would be provided by “Rosa Rio and the Mighty Wurlitzer.”  Rosa would traditionally take a bow before the audience as her signature tune Everything’s Coming Up Roses would play (she jokingly renamed the standard “Everything’s Coming Up Rosa”).

19902Rosa Rio passed away in 2010—three weeks before her 108th birthday.  If you find that amazing, keep in mind that for many years, no one actually knew Rio’s real age (ageism is still alive and well in the show business world, sadly); it was only during an appearance at the Tampa Theatre in 2007 that she divulged her secret.  (Because she was not the kind of person given to blowing out birthday cake candles, some members of her family didn’t even know.)  A lovely portion of her obituary in the New York Times reads: “In Miss Rio’s career one can trace the entire history of entertainment technology in the 20th century.  After all, she was alive, and playing, for nearly all of it.”  Radio Spirits is only too humbled to celebrate the natal anniversary of this legendary individual, and if you want to check out her talent we suggest you make a purchase of The Story of the Shadow in addition to The Shadow: Strange Puzzles.  Happy birthday, Rosa!

Happy Birthday, Norris Goff!


One-half of the comedy team that served as my introduction to old-time radio was born one hundred and ten years ago on this date.  With his lifelong partner Chester Lauck, Norris “Tuffy” Goff comprised the mirth making duo better known as Lum and Abner—who would eventually appear on all four networks (ABC, CBS, Mutual and NBC) during their twenty-year run on the airwaves.

goff2Findley Norris Goff was born in Cove, Arkansas…but his family moved to Mena five years later.  There, his father expanded a wholesale general merchandise warehouse that would influence the young Norris’ future career (he was called upon to work in his dad’s store growing up).  Another fortuitous event in his life was meeting up with Chester Lauck, the son of another prominent Mena family.  The two young men quickly developed reputations as “class clowns” in high school, entertaining their fellow students, and both later attended the University of Arkansas after their graduation in 1924.  Goff also attended Oklahoma University, where he graduated with a degree in business.  During his years of working in the family store, Norris was often called upon to visit other general stores in the area to further his education…but more often than not, he spent a great deal of time chatting it up with the various old-timers who congregated around the pot-bellied stoves of those establishments.

goff3After work, Norris and Chet amused their friends and audiences with off-the-cuff comedy routines.  They were scheduled to perform at a flood relief fundraiser for Hot Springs radio station KTHS in 1931, when they realized that the blackface routine that they had planned to do would be one of several (the other performers had decided on the same thing, as radio’s Amos ‘n’ Andy was at the peak of its popularity).  The two men called an audible, and decided to do their “fellers-from-the-hills” material instead.  The success of this performance would lead Goff and Lauck to be hired to perform Lum and Abner for KTHS.  The popularity of the comedy serial spurred them to audition for an NBC station in Chicago, where they were hired to do the same program nationwide for Quaker Oats.

goff4The titular characters of Lum and Abner were Columbus “Lum” Edwards (usually pronounced “Eddards”) and Abner Peabody, who operated the general mercantile “Jot ‘Em Down Store” in the mythical hamlet of Pine Ridge, Arkansas.  Lauck played Lum while Goff was Abner…but in the early days, the two performers found it necessary to take on other roles as well.  Norris also played Dick Huddleston (Pine Ridge’s postmaster…whose name was borrowed from one of Goff and Lauck’s good friends), Mousie Gray, Doc Miller, and Squire Skimp—the town’s resident George “Kingfish” Stevens, part con man and part loan shark.  There were a lot of similarities between Lum and Abner and Amos ‘n’ Andy (for example, many of the female characters were only referred to—never heard).  However, as radio historian Elizabeth McLeod once noted, while Amos ‘n’ Andy tried to tackle the Great Depression with a sense of realism, Lum and Abner settled for more escapist fare.

Lum and Abner aired over various networks for various sponsors (Horlicks Malt, General Foods, Miles Laboratories) as a five-day-a-week quarter hour, but in the fall of 1948 the team hit the big time with a weekly half-hour situation comedy for CBS.  The New Lum and Abner Show had a studio audience, an orchestra, a big-time sponsor (“On the air for Frigidaire!”), and a supporting cast that included Clarence Hartzell (as Ben Withers), ZaSu Pitts, Andy Devine, Opie Cates, Francis “Dink” Trout, and Cliff Arquette.  The show was sponsored by Ford in its 1949-50 season, and then spent its last year on the air (1953-54) back in its familiar quarter-hour format.

goff5Both Norris and Chet attempted to get a boob tube version of their creations off the ground, but weren’t able to make any headway with a series of pilots.  Instead, those pilots were stitched together to comprise a 1956 feature film, Lum and Abner Abroad, which was actually their seventh motion picture.  The two men had appeared in a film series based on the show for independent producer Jack Votion (and released by RKO), beginning with Dreaming Out Loud in 1940 and ending with Partners in Time in 1946.  Norris would be the busier of the two performers once he and his partner called it quits with Lum and Abner.  He made occasional guest appearances on the Jack Benny and Andy Griffith shows, and memorably played “Grandpa” Pyle in an episode of Gomer Pyle, USMC in 1965.  Both men would live to see Lum and Abner make a “comeback” on radio stations during the 1970s nostalgia boom.  By that time, Goff had made himself comfortable in retirement in Palm Springs, CA, before departing this world for a better one (“Wonderful world!”) in 1978.

21208Here at Radio Spirits, we’re always anxious to find out “what’s going on down in Pine Ridge”…and you can do the same with our latest release of classic Lum and Abner broadcasts (Volume 8) as well as previous releases in Volumes 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7.  Our Great Radio Comedy collection also features a hilarious half-hour broadcast from the Lum and Abner prime time years.  So what are you waiting for?  Ay grannies, people—I b’lieve that’s your ring!  (And happy birthday, Norris!)

Happy Birthday, Arthur Conan Doyle!


As a medical student at the University of Edinburgh from 1876 through 1881, Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle—born in Edinburgh on this date in 1859—found himself fascinated by an instructor at that school named Joseph Bell.  An early practitioner of what we would call nowadays forensic pathology, Dr. Bell displayed an unusual talent for being able to examine patients and deduce details about their life and occupation through simple observation.  Doyle later became Bell’s clerk at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

bell1Doyle’s association with Bell would extend beyond medicine: the young doctor, who also wrote short stories during his medical studies, was inspired to create a fictional detective that used the same deductive reasoning practiced by his mentor.  We know this shamus, of course, as Sherlock Holmes—unquestionably the most popular character of the many novels and short stories for which Arthur Conan Doyle was responsible during his lengthy literary career.

doyle2Arthur Conan Doyle’s childhood was a troubled one.  His father, Charles Altamont Doyle, battled alcoholism.  For a brief period of time, the Doyle family was scattered throughout Edinburgh as a result of his parents’ temporary separation.  Though the family would reunite three years later, Charles was never able to overcome his struggles with the bottle and he passed away in 1893 after years of illness.  Doyle was fortunate to be supported by several wealthy uncles, who saw to it that he be educated at a number of Jesuit schools between 1868 and 1876.  Catholicism never took hold of young Arthur; he would later become an agnostic and dabbled in spiritual mysticism.

doyle3His medical career saw similar troubles.  Doyle established several practices (including serving as a ship’s doctor on two sailing vessels in the 1880s), but spent most of his time writing fiction as he waited for patients—a practice he had instituted during his days in medical school.  His earliest known short story, “The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe,” was submitted to Blackwood’s Magazine (and was rejected).  His first published work, “The Mystery of Sasassa Valley,” was introduced in the September 6, 1879 issue of Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal.  Doyle then decided to use Dr. Bell’s ingenious methods as inspiration for a detective that he described in his 1924 autobiography as “a scientific detective who solved cases on his own merits and not through the folly of the criminal.”  This sleuth’s first adventure, A Study in Scarlet, was purchased by Ward Lock & Co in November of 1886 for the princely sum of £25 (the equivalent of £2,500 today) and published a year later in Beeton’s Christmas Annual to much critical acclaim.

finalproblemA sequel to Scarlet was published as The Sign of the Four in Lippincott’s Magazine in February of 1890.  Arthur Conan Doyle quickly grew dissatisfied with Ward Lock & Co (he felt they were exploiting him), and he left them to continue publishing Sherlock Holmes stories in the pages of the Strand magazine.  Holmes would soon make Doyle one of the best-paid authors of his time.  It soon became apparent, however, that the author’s discontent was more with his creation; in an attempt to devote more time to his historical novels, Doyle made the decision to kill off his detective (along with his nemesis, Professor Moriarty) in a December 1893 tale, “The Final Problem.”

To say that the public was indignant would be a severe understatement.  There was a good deal of pressure put on Arthur Conan Doyle to revive the resident of 221-B Baker Street, and Doyle placated his audience by featuring Holmes in his novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, published in 1901 (the events in Baskervilles took place before Sherlock’s plunge over Reichenbach Falls).  This didn’t satisfy his public, and so Doyle wrote “The Adventure of the Empty House” (published in 1903), explaining that while Holmes did survive the fall it was necessary to maintain the illusion that he snuffed it because he had other deadly enemies (notably Colonel Sebastian Moran).  Arthur Conan Doyle continued to create the adventures of what many believe to be the world’s greatest detective until 1927, with a total of fifty-six short stories and four novels.  (After his death in 1930, other authors took up the slack by featuring Holmes in their works.)

lostworldSherlock Holmes was Doyle’s most popular literary creation, but to only credit the author with Holmes does him a tremendous disservice.  Many critics believe that the seven historical novels that he wrote between 1888 and 1906 constitute his best work, and Doyle also brought to life such characters as Professor Challenger (featured prominently in The Lost World, perhaps his best-known non-Holmes work) and Brigadier Gerard.  In addition to short stories and novels, Doyle also penned poetry, non-fiction, and works on spiritualism.  He even dabbled in stage plays, including the 1899 production of Sherlock Holmes (co-written with William Gillette).  (Of course, a number of his tales were adapted for the silver and small screens as well.)

rathbonebruceSir Arthur Conan Doyle led a life that included forays into sport (as a footballer), spiritualism, politics…and even imitating his famous creation when it came to crime detection. (Doyle took on two “closed” cases in 1906 and 1908 that resulted in the exoneration of two men convicted of crimes that they did not commit).  Radio Spirits is only too proud to celebrate his birthday today by reminding you that there’s a first-rate dramatization of his short story “The Ring of Thoth” in our Escape Essentials collection.  We’ve also got plenty of Sherlock: Basil Rathbone (assisted by Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson) plays the detective in The Game is Afoot; Tom Conway (with Bruce) in The Stuttering Ghost & Other Mysteries and Cue for Murder; and Sir John Gielgud (with Sir Ralph Richardson as Watson) in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  For visual Holmes, check out the 1954-55 TV series starring Ronald Howard (son of film star Leslie Howard) as Doyle’s detective in volumes in 6, 7, 8, and 9.  Finally—if you’re looking for a bit of novelty—we offer a 1,000 piece puzzle game depicting the Doyle short story “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”…and a wonderful book in The Crossovers Casebook, featuring short stories (from various authors) that team Holmes up with everyone from Calamity Jane to Harry Houdini!

Happy Birthday, Arthur Q. Bryan!


A doorbell rings at a residence in the Midwest, and the all-too-trusting couple that resides inside welcomes their visitor with an enthusiastic “Come in!”  I’ll keep you in suspense no longer: the couple is Fibber McGee & Molly (Jim and Marian Jordan), and it’s a good bet that the person on the other side of the door at 79 Wistful Vista is one of their many friends and neighbors stopping in for a brief visit and some guaranteed laughs.  Since today marks the 117th birthday of character great Arthur Q. Bryan, let’s assume that it’s Doctor George Gamble, who will affectionately insult his friend McGee (“Look, wobblejaw…”) and reduce those of us eavesdropping to completely hysterical laughter.

bryan8Born in Brooklyn, NY, Arthur demonstrated that marvelous sense of timing from the very moment the doctor gave him a smack on the rump to welcome him into the world.  You see, by the time Bryan reached his twenties, radio was just starting to develop as a formidable entertainment medium…and he was indeed fortunate to be able to get in on the ground floor as an announcer at New York’s WEAF.  Truth be told, Bryan’s ambitions were directed more toward singing in front of a microphone (he was a first-rate tenor, performing with such quartets as The Sieberling Singers).  But announcing eventually became his forte.  He filled in one day in 1929 for his friend Norman Brokenshire (when Norman experienced a bout of illness), and being in the right place at the right time soon landed him a plum position with Philadelphia’s WCAU in 1932.

bryan12In 1938, Arthur Q. Bryan took in some California sun on vacation…and made the decision to stay permanently.  He obtained work at the Warner Brothers-owned KFWB, and became a regular on that station’s comedy program The Grouch Club, described as a half-hour show about “life’s little annoyances.”  (The program was written by Nat Hiken, later to become one of Fred Allen’s top scribes and the creator of TV’s The Phil Silvers Show and Car 54, Where are You?)  The association between Warner’s and KFWB also led to a brief series of Grouch Club one-reelers, notably an entry entitled The Great Library Misery (1938) that makes the rounds on Turner Classic Movies from time to time.   In addition, Bryan began appearing in bit roles in such films as Broadway Serenade (1939) and I Stole a Million (1939).

bryan1But the biggest benefit to being a member of the Warner Brothers family was that Arthur was pressed into service to provide voices for the characters that populated their animated cartoons.  Director Tex Avery created an eccentric character named Egghead (modeled after comedian Joe Penner), and Arthur pronounced his “l’s” and “r’s” as “w’s” in classic baby talk fashion.  Egghead soon morphed into Elmer Fudd, and with Elmer’s Candid Camera (1940), Arthur Q. Bryan would soon be working alongside the man who did most of the voices for the characters in the Warner’s stable: Mel Blanc.  The Elmer Fudd voice was so versatile that Bryan borrowed it for use on The Fitch Bandwagon (then hosted by Dick Powell; Bryan was usually identified as “Waymond Wadcwiffe”) and many of the top radio comedy shows hosted by the likes of Al Pearce, Eddie Cantor and Rudy Vallee.  Arthur Q. Bryan soon became one of radio’s most prominent second bananas, supporting Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Bob Burns, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Cass Daley, Jimmy Durante, Charlotte Greenwood, Phil Harris and Alice Faye, Ken Murray, Dinah Shore, Red Skelton, and Bob Sweeney and Hal March.

arthurqbryan1Arthur had a recurring role on Blondie as Mr. Fuddle, and would appear on such comedy programs as The Adventures of Maisie, Archie Andrews, My Favorite Husband, Life with Luigi, and The Mayor of the Town.  Fittingly, as his comedy resume expanded, he would headline his own program: he performed the title role on Major Hoople, a 1942-43 NBC series based on the character from the popular comic strip Our Boarding House.  (Arthur’s pal Mel Blanc played the part of star boarder Tiffany Twiggs.)  One of the writers on the Hoople program, Phil Leslie, suggested to Fibber McGee & Molly head writer Don Quinn that Bryan would be an excellent addition to the program. (Phil had just landed a job on the show himself).

bryan11Bryan was certainly no stranger to working with Fibber and Molly (he had a bit part in their 1941 film Look Who’s Laughing).  And once again, his timing was perfect.  Two of the show’s regulars, Bill Thompson and Gale Gordon, were on extended leave due to their military service obligations in the war.  Don and Phil created the character of George Gamble, a physician who filled in as McGee’s verbal sparring partner in the absence of Gordon’s Mayor LaTrivia (with a few echoes of the also-departed Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve).  Doc Gamble, by virtue of his superior education, generally got the best of Fibber in their exchanges and he would soon be most welcomed by the show’s dedicated audience.  At the same time, Arthur also played sardonic barber Floyd Munson on The Great Gildersleeve, the sitcom spun-off from the Fib & Molly show.  (Mel Blanc played Floyd in early Gildersleeve broadcasts before Bryan settled in the part.)

bryan2Bryan’s association with Don Quinn would even extend to a few appearances on Quinn’s other radio concoction, The Halls of Ivy (as Professor Warren).  By the time Arthur worked on Ivy, he was demonstrating greater acting range by performing on such crime dramas as The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, The Adventures of the Saint, Jeff Regan, Investigator, The Man from Homicide, and Rocky Jordan.  In fact, for a brief time he even took over for Ed Begley as Lt. Walter “Walt” Levinson on Dick Powell’s Richard Diamond, Private Detective.  (When Bryan joined the program, Powell’s Diamond started to develop a repertoire of “fat” jokes).  It would be impossible to list every one of Arthur Q. Bryan’s radio jobs, but a good start would include The Cavalcade of America, The Columbia Workshop, Favorite Story, The First Nighter Program, The Ford Theatre, The Lux Radio Theatre, The NBC University Theatre, Radio City Playhouse, The Railroad Hour, The Roy Rogers Show, The Screen Guild Theatre, Screen Director’s Playhouse, and Theater of Romance.

bryan6His work in radio—not to mention voicing Elmer Fudd—kept Arthur Q. Bryan pretty busy, so seeing him pop up in small roles in such films as Road to Singapore (1940), Larceny, Inc. (1942), Samson and Delilah (1949), and The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) is always a treat.  Bryan tried to make time for the small screen as well, with guest shots on the likes of I Love Lucy, Our Miss Brooks, The People’s Choice and The Life of Riley.  Animation fans would sadly discover, however, how integral Arthur was to the success of Elmer Fudd in the Warner Brothers cartoons when the actor passed away on November 18, 1959.  Though Hal Smith, and even Mel Blanc, attempted to fill the void by doing Elmer’s voice…it just wasn’t the same.  “Arthur was Elmer Fudd,” declared Mel’s son Noel.

21123To celebrate Arthur Q. Bryan’s natal anniversary, Radio Spirits recommends sampling some of the actor’s signature roles…as Doc Gamble in our Fibber McGee & Molly collections Wistful Vista and For Goodness Sakes, and as Floyd Munson in The Great Gildersleeve sets Marjorie’s Wedding, Neighbors, and For Corn’s Sakes.  In addition, Bryan emotes as Lt. Levinson in the Richard Diamond, Private Detective compendiums Dead Men, Homicide Made Easy, Mayhem is My Business, and Shamus.  Check out Arthur in Jeff Regan, Investigator (Stand by For Mystery) and The Man from Homicide, too!

Happy Birthday, Alice Faye!


During the 1930s and early 1940s, actress-singer Alice Faye—born in New York City on this date in 1915—was one of 20th Century-Fox’s most bankable attractions, starring in such box office vehicles as Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938) and That Night in Rio (1941).  By 1945, however, Alice earned the distinction of being one of the few silver screen stars to abandon stardom at the peak of her career…choosing instead to focus on being both wife to husband Phil Harris and mother to their two daughters, Phyllis and Alice.  Since performing is not always easy to walk away from, Faye found fulfillment in appearing alongside Phil in one of radio’s funniest situation comedies: The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show.

alicerudyBorn Alice Jeane Lippert, Alice Faye had acquired her new show business moniker by the time she became a performer on Rudy Vallee’s popular radio program The Fleischmann’s Yeast Hour.  Faye was no neophyte; she had started out as a chorus girl in vaudeville before moving on to Broadway (where she had a prominent role in the 1931 version of George White’s Scandals).  But it was Vallee’s program that really shot her to prominence, and Rudy and White can also take small credit for Alice’s burgeoning movie career.  Hired to perform a musical number with Rudy in the film version of George White’s Scandals (1935), Alice found herself cast as the movie’s female lead after Lillian Harvey abandoned the role.

inoldchicagoIn addition, Alice Faye obtained a career boost from Fox production head Darryl F. Zanuck, who took her on as his protégé and made sure that she was featured in many of the studio’s musicals such as On the Avenue (1937) and You Can’t Have Everything (1937).  (Faye even starred alongside Fox’s bread-and-butter Shirley Temple in two of her most memorable vehicles, Stowaway [1936] and Poor Little Rich Girl [1936].)  Alice’s breakout film was In Old Chicago (1937), in which she co-starred with two of Fox’s dependable leading men, Tyrone Power and Don Ameche.  Both actors were reunited with Faye in Alexander’s Ragtime Band, and Ty was Alice’s leading man in Rose of Washington Square (1939)—a film that so resembled the story of the legendary Fanny Brice that “Baby Snooks” later took the studio to court.

Don had appeared alongside Alice in You Can’t Have Everything, and would be pressed into service as a leading man in three more pictures including Hollywood Cavalcade (1939) and Lillian Russell (1940).  This latter feature would be cited by Faye as her personal favorite, and when she finished production on Week-End in Havana (1941)—one of three films she made with Carmen Miranda—Alice took some well-deserved time off for maternity leave.

harris&faye7Alice Faye married Phil Harris—best known as Jack Benny’s playboy bandleader on Benny’s successful radio program—in 1941.  It was not Alice’s first trip down the matrimonial aisle (she was married to vocalist Tony Martin from 1937 to 1940), but the union with Harris was a solid one…even to the point of providing comic fodder for the Benny show, where Phil was often ribbed about being married to a wealthy movie star.  But Faye’s career would soon change direction.  After successes in Hello Frisco, Hello (1943—the film that produced Alice’s signature song, “You’ll Never Know”) and The Gang’s All Here (1943), the actress hit a speed bump with her role in 1945’s Fallen Angel.  She had started out as the star of that picture, but her mentor Zanuck had found a new shiny object to focus on in Linda Darnell.  Much of Alice’s Angel footage wound up on the cutting room floor in favor of emphasizing Darnell’s role, and Faye decided to call it quits after screening the final product.

harrisfaye5Enter F.W. Fitch.  The president of the Fitch Shampoo company had been quite impressed with the success of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson’s radio sitcom, and felt that it could be duplicated with a weekly half-hour featuring Alice and Phil.  After a promising audition recorded on July 10, 1946, the Harrises became the new stars of The Fitch Bandwagon in the fall of that same year.  Phil had already established his radio chops as a regular on The Jack Benny Program, but Alice was no slouch when it came to performing before a microphone either.  She’d made frequent appearances on Rudy Vallee’s program, and her radio resume also included Command Performance, Good News of 1939/1940, The Gulf/Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre, The Lux Radio Theatre, Music from Hollywood, Request Performance, and Texaco Town (Eddie Cantor’s show, on which her then-husband Tony Martin was a regular).

harris&faye3For years, The Fitch Bandwagon benefited from its plum time slot: right between the Jack Benny and Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy programs.  That insured that Alice and Phil’s Fitch broadcasts would do well in the ratings…but even then, it took a little time for the Harris’ show to find its comedic footing.  It all came together in the second season, when writers Ray Singer and Dick Chevillat began to suffuse the program’s scripts with a wisecracking, sarcastic sensibility that makes the show such a joy to listen to today.  Phil’s character was more or less an extension of the character he played on the Benny program (though they toned down the drinking aspects of the character for the benefit of the family audience): an illiterate stumblebum who, with the help of his friend (and band member) Frankie Remley (Elliott Lewis), managed to turn simple situations into hilarious chaos by the end of the half-hour.  Phil and Frankie would be frequently confronted by Harris’ nemesis, a smart-alecky delivery boy who answered to “Julius Abruzzio” (played by professional radio brat Walter Tetley).

harris&faye6Critics have opined that the Phil-Frankie-Julius shenanigans often overshadowed Alice’s participation on the program, relegating her to the status of a fourth wheel.  But this does “Miss Faye” a tremendous disservice. Alice not only demonstrated first-rate comic timing (not to mention a talent for dialects, often adopting a gum chewing “moll” accent), but wowed audiences with her vocal gifts and her warm-hearted demeanor (which kept the program from getting too snarky).  One of the show’s funniest running gags centered on Phil’s status as a “kept” husband; he once boasted to boss Jack Benny—who was making a guest appearance—that Alice “has money we haven’t even counted yet!”

In the fall of 1948, the Harrises obtained a new sponsor in Rexall and the series changed its name to The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show.  While the couple had been enjoying good numbers as far as ratings went, their place in the Hoopers was threatened when they lost their valuable lead-in with the migration of Jack Benny to rival CBS in January of 1949.  Unbowed, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show continued on NBC (getting another sponsor in 1950 in the form of RCA Victor) until 1954, proud that it was one of the last sitcoms to continue on radio at that time.

harris&faye2Radio was quite good to Alice Faye; it allowed her the freedom she wanted to look after her family once she quit motion pictures in 1945…because all she was really required to do was show up for a rehearsal read-through and then for the live broadcast (and like many shows, Phil and Alice’s series was eventually transcribed for later broadcast).  Alice was actually keen to bring their sitcom to the small screen like so many other radio programs, but Phil nixed that idea.  So she settled for sporadic TV appearances on shows like All Star Revue and This is Your Life (where Ralph Edwards feted her famous husband).

In 1962, Alice attempted a “comeback” with a role in a remake of State Fair, a 20th Century-Fox film that had previously been tackled in 1933 (with Will Rogers) and 1945.  Despite good reviews for her efforts, the 1962 State Fair was, as Johnny Carson might have said, a “Bomb-o”…and after that, her movie appearances were limited to small parts in films like Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976) and her swan song, The Magic of Lassie (1978).  She spent the remainder of her life as a frequent interviewee in documentaries on former co-stars Shirley Temple and Carmen Miranda before succumbing to stomach cancer in 1998.

20949One of the most delightful experiences I’ve had during my tenure with Radio Spirits was being allowed to write the liner notes for A Song and a Smile, a set of early Fitch Bandwagon broadcasts with Alice Faye and Phil Harris—I highly recommend purchasing a copy, in that it allows you to enjoy hearing how the program found its hilarious stride.  There’s also a Fitch Bandwagon broadcast (from January 19, 1947) on the potpourri collection Great Radio Comedy.  You’ll find select episodes of The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show on our Christmas Radio Classics and Radio Classics: Selected by Greg Bell compilations (the Greg Bell set features the series finale), and for full-blown Alice-Phil hilarity check out Hotel Harris, Quite an Affair, Family Values, and Smoother and Sweeter.  Last—but certainly not least—get in touch with our birthday girl’s musical side with the CDs Object of My Affection: Best of the Sweet Bands and Academy Awards (with Alice’s rendition of “You’ll Never Know”).

“If trouble is around, yours truly will most likely get a chunk of it.”


Sixty-seven years ago on this very date, actor Dick Powell whistled his very first rendition of “Leave it to Love” on NBC’s Richard Diamond, Private Detective—a light-hearted radio crime drama that successfully blended Powell’s popular image as a happy-go-lucky crooner (with a flair for comedy) and his newly-earned movie reputation as a two-fisted tough guy.  Powell’s resume over the ether stretched back as far as Hollywood Hotel (a big-time variety hour featuring gossip maven Louella Parsons)—but with the success of his career-changing role as Philip Marlowe in 1944’s Murder, My Sweet, Dick began to flirt with radio vehicles that would capitalize on his new hard-boiled image…like Rogue’s Gallery and The Front Page.

powellDick’s film debut was as a bandleader in Warner Brothers’ Blessed Event (1932), but it was with the introduction of the studio’s Depression-era musicals like 42nd Street (1933) and Footlight Parade (1933) that Powell honed his cinematic chops as the apple-cheeked boy-next-door who could not only sing but act.  His popularity during the 1930s was not unlike that of Frank Sinatra’s in the next decade, but with each musical he made for Warner’s Powell began to grow more and more dissatisfied (he complained that the studio made movies with “the same stupid story”).  Dick moved to Paramount in the 1940s and had luck with features like Christmas in July (1940) and True to Life (1943)—but it wasn’t long before his new studio started treating him like his old one; truth be told—they simply didn’t know what to do with him.  He lobbied hard to play the Walter Neff role in the Billy Wilder-directed Double Indemnity (1944), but lost out to Fred MacMurray.

richarddiamond4RKO would offer him silver screen salvation when they tabbed him to play Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet.  The success of the film led to a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation in June of 1945, and while performing as the star of The Fitch Bandwagon from 1944 to 1945, Powell convinced F.W. Fitch (the sponsor) to let him take over as the summer replacement for that program with a private eye series informally known as Bandwagon Mysteries (but eventually renamed Rogue’s Gallery).  Powell enjoyed doing Gallery so much that he stayed with the series when it got a promotion to a weekly slot on another network (Mutual) in the fall, and then for one final summer run back at its home on NBC.

Rogue’s Gallery would soldier on with other actors in the starring role.  In the meantime, Dick Powell accepted another assignment as one of the stars of The Front Page, a 1948 newspaper drama broadcast over ABC and based on the Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur stage play.  Later that year, Powell would do an audition as the titular “fabulous freelance investigator” of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.  But it would be a detective drama created by a young writer named Blake Edwards that attracted the attention of Powell’s agent Don Sharpe: Richard Diamond, Private Detective.

richarddiamond6The premise of Richard Diamond was that the main character was an ex-cop who had decided to hang out his shingle as a private investigator after World War II.  Diamond’s shamus services did not come cheap: he charged $100 a day plus expenses, but he was worth every penny because his previous experience as a homicide dick had taught him that cases were solved with persistence and a lot of legwork.  The Diamond series, however, also mixed in elements of comedy (Rick always had a ready quip in his holster) and romance.  Diamond’s lady love was Helen Asher, played by Virginia Gregg—whose husband, Jaime del Valle, directed many of the show’s broadcasts.  (Okay, it sounds a little like nepotism…but for a brief period in the summer of 1950, Frances Robinson—“Brooksie” on Let George Do It—took her turn as Helen as well.)

richarddiamond5While doing his best to resist the temptation of marrying a woman with a Park Avenue address and $10 million in her bank account (move over, Nick Charles!), Richard Diamond defied the traditional conventions of bad P.I.-cop relations by bouncing ideas off of (and often consulting with) Lt. Walter Quincy Levinson, played by Ed Begley.  Rick and Walt enjoyed a pleasant association, and actors Powell and Begley displayed great chemistry, but it didn’t last long.  Begley left the show and was replaced briefly by character veteran Ted de Corsia.  Then Arthur Q. Bryan stepped into Levinson’s shoes, and it was about that time that jokes about the lieutenant’s girth (a reference to actor Bryan’s own corpulent figure) started appearing hither and yon in the scripts.  Alan Reed later inherited the role of Levinson as the series drew to a close.

herbertOf course, Diamond had to have someone to pick a fight with, and that’s where the character of Sergeant Otis Ludlum (also referred to as Loveloon) came into play.  Ludlum seemingly had a force field of stupidity surrounding him, much in the manner of the various detectives who assisted Richard Lane’s Inspector Farraday in the Boston Blackie movies.  Otis was played by Wilms Herbert, who did double-duty on the series as Francis, butler to Helen Asher.  Francis had a rather mood-killing habit of interrupting Helen and her boyfriend just as the champagne was on ice and the lights were beginning to dim, if you get the idea (and you probably do).

janssendiamondRichard Diamond, Private Detective was a sustained series until it landed a sponsor in Rexall Drugs.  The Rexall sponsorship came in handy because, when the company needed a summer replacement for Amos ‘n’ Andy in the summer of 1953, they just raided the Diamond library for repeats.  The NBC-Rexall collaboration lasted until December 27, 1950.  January 5, 1951 found our hero with a new sponsor (Camel cigarettes) and a new network (ABC)—which necessitated that Rick reach for a cigarette on occasion (Powell’s whistling of “Leave it to Love” segued rather nicely with Camel’s theme, “How Mild”).  Diamond stubbed out his last butt on June 27, 1952…not because the network or sponsor was dissatisfied with the program, but because the actor was becoming busy as a director of films (Split Second) and a television producer (he was one of the “four stars” in Four Star Productions).  Richard Diamond did make a brief transition to the small screen in the summer of 1957 (and bounced around CBS and NBC’s schedule until 1960), with Powell deciding to turn over the role to future Fugitive David Janssen.

20740So you’re probably asking: does Radio Spirits have plenty of “the singing detective” on hand?  We do indeed—in the form of such Richard Diamond, Private Detective collections as Homicide Made Easy, Dead Men, Mayhem is My Business, and Shamus.  Richard Diamond is also one of the many radio gumshoes showcased in Great Radio Detectives (“Central Park Murder”) and there’s a yuletide Diamond—which might remind you of a famous story by Charles Dickens—present on Christmas Radio Classics.  Finally, if you’re curious as to what David Janssen did before having to outrun the reach of lawman Barry Morse, check him out as TV’s Richard Diamond (“Picture of Fear”) on the DVD set TV Guide Spotlight: TVs Greatest Crime Stoppers.

“Lights out…everybody!”


In the early years of Radio’s Golden Age, those individuals who worked in radio discovered fairly quickly that the medium was ideal for presenting horror tales—listeners reveled in stories guaranteed to raise goosebumps on arms and hair on the backs of necks.  It began with offerings like The Witch’s Tale and The Hermit’s Cave, and expanded in the 1940s to programs like Inner Sanctum Mysteries and The Mysterious Traveler.  Even prestigious programs like The Mercury Theatre on the Air (“The War of the Worlds”) and Suspense (“The House on Cypress Canyon”) presented the occasional spine-tingling tale, as did the later Escape (“Three Skelton Key”) and X-Minus One (“Mars is Heaven”).

WyllisCooperLights Out—which premiered over NBC eighty-two years ago on this date—was one of the earliest and longest-running of the “spook shows.”  Its origins can be traced to a NBC staffer named Wyllis Cooper, who created, wrote, directed, and produced the series for Chicago’s WENR.  A quarter-hour show when it debuted in January of 1934, Lights Out soon became so popular that it was expanded to a half-hour in April and, a year later, went coast-to-coast on NBC.  Because Lights Out was usually presented around 11:30pm or midnight (and in some instances after midnight), the show’s memorable opening referenced its “midnight hour” timeslot: “This is the witching hour!  It is an hour when dogs howl, and evil is let loose on the sleeping world.  Want to hear about it?  Then turn out your lights!”

lights2Lights Out’s Chicago origination meant that some of the Windy City’s finest radio actors collected a paycheck for appearing on the show, including Harold Peary, Willard Waterman, Mercedes McCambridge, Arthur Peterson, Macdonald Carey, and Betty Winkler.  But the prestige of the program was such that even a Hollywood horror icon like Boris Karloff could be lured in front of the microphone to participate in a half-hour of mayhem.  Complementing the tales of terror was the show’s novel use of sound effects: spare ribs snapped with a pipe wrench allowed listeners to visualize human bones being broken, and bacon in a frying pan conveyed a realistic impression of someone being electrocuted.  After two years of frightening listeners, Cooper answered the siren song of Hollywood (he contributed to the screenplay of Son of Frankenstein, among others)—but on his return to radio in the 1940s, demonstrated that he could still create first-rate horror with the underrated Quiet Please in 1947.

240px-Arch_Obler_and_Tommy_CookNBC handed the Lights Out baton to Arch Oboler, a promising network scribe who plied his trade on such programs as Grand Hotel and The Irene Rich Show.  Oboler later admitted in an interview that he really wasn’t much of a fan of horror: “I wrote about the terror we each have in us,” he explained.  “The woman who let us down, the man who left us, the boss we hated, the opportunity that we missed, the monsters within each of us.”  But Arch quickly reasoned that accepting the assignment would allow him freedom from both sponsor interference and the censorship battles he constantly engaged in with NBC’s “suits.”  His first play for Lights Out was a doozy: “Burial Services,” the disturbing tale of a young girl unable to communicate to her family that she’s still alive as she’s being lowered into her final resting place.  The episode generated so much controversy that the National Broadcasting Company purportedly received 50,000 letters of complaint.  Oboler was on his way.

karloffWyllis Cooper may have created Lights Out, but for many Arch Oboler is the man that comes to mind when the show is discussed.  Much of this has to do with the fact that many more of Oboler’s broadcasts have survived than Cooper’s…but one also cannot discount that many of Arch’s plays remain in the memory many years after their original presentation.  There’s “Cat Wife,” with Boris Karloff as a cuckolded husband whose wife is inexplicably transformed into a humongous feline.  There was “Revolt of the Worms,” in which an experimental growth formula is tossed out into the backyard by a careless scientist…and you can probably guess from the title what happens next.

Even those people who’ve never heard “Chicken Heart” (sadly, the original recording did not survive) know the plot of the titular organ who just grew and grew (and GREW) until it consumed the world, thanks to a classic Bill Cosby comedy routine.  Oboler kept Lights Out listeners chillingly entertained for two years before deciding to concentrate on propaganda plays (via Arch Oboler’s Plays and Everyman’s Theatre) attacking the real monster in the world: Adolf Hitler.  Various NBC staffers kept Lights Out going until it left the airwaves on August 16, 1939.

lights1Three years later—with a bank account depleted by the uncomfortable fact that saving the world doesn’t always put groceries on the table—Arch Oboler resurrected Lights Out on October 6, 1942 for Ironized Yeast.  Lights Out’s opening was a little lighter (with a gong that struck between each syllable of “It…is…later…than…you…think…”) and many of its tales were recycled versions of previous broadcasts from the show’s earlier 1930s run (“State Executioner,” “Oxychloride X”).  Long before Iron Eyes Cody shed a tear because careless motorists were dumping trash out of their car windows, Oboler was fully committed to recycling.  In fact, when Lights Out was resurrected during the nostalgia boom of the 1970s as The Devil and Mr. “O,” Arch simply reedited and retitled his earlier plays to convince fans they were listening to something new.

The 1942-43 version of Lights Out may have only lasted a single season…but, it’s the incarnation of the series with which most old-time radio fans are familiar, since a good many of its broadcasts were saved for future generations.  There were three additional summer revivals of the program between 1945 and 1947 that featured input from creator Cooper, and Wyllis also had a hand in the live, small screen version of the show when it aired over NBC-TV from 1949-52.  As for Oboler—he decided to give the flickers a try as well, directing such films as Bwana Devil (1952—the movie that kicked off the 3-D craze) and The Twonky (1953).  Yet he never completely fell out of love with radio: a 1962 Capitol Records album, Drop Dead! An Exercise in Horror, introduced a new generation of horror fans to such classic Oboler frights as “The Dark” and “A Day at the Dentist’s.”

20822Radio Spirits features two hair-raising collections of “radio’s premier showcase for heart-stopping horror”: Lights Out, Everybody and Lights Out: Later Than You Think.  But you’ll also find dollops of Lights Out in our Great Radio Horror set (“Mirage,” “Haunted Cell”) and on Radio Classics: Selected by Greg Bell (“The Sub-Basement”).  Last—but certainly not least—we invite you to take a look at the visual side of Lights Out in these five DVD volumes.  And now…it’s time to turn out your lights!

”Adventures in time and space…told in future tense!”


The premiere of NBC Radio’s Dimension X on this date sixty-six years ago was inspired by the phenomenal box office success of Universal-International’s Destination Moon in 1950, produced by the legendary George Pal and winner of a special Academy Award for Best Special Effects.  It would not be the only radio science fiction series to premiere that year, either.  Mutual attempted to cash in on the renewed interest in sci-fi created by Moon with Two Thousand Plus in March, and CBS quickly followed suit with Beyond Tomorrow (though the audition for this show was recorded in February).

wellesOddly, interest in science fiction radio had always been lukewarm at best.  It was relegated to mostly programs that dealt with kiddie fare, like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers (both of which had a ready-made audience from the “funny papers,” as well as several movie serials that followed).  On occasion, favorites like Suspense (the two-part “Donovan’s Brain”), Lights Out, Quiet, Please and Escape would serve up an inventive tale from the sci-fi realm.  This had to be frustrating for people who worked in the aural medium, where science fiction would seem to be the ideal method to stimulate the imagination of the listening audience.  But with the exception of the most famous broadcast of Radio’s Golden Age—“The War of the Worlds” on Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre on the Air—and a short-lived 1941 effort from NBC entitled Latitude Zero, it would be up to Dimension X to do the heavy lifting until its slightly more successful cousin, X-Minus One, premiered in April of 1955.

d-x2One thing you can say about Dimension X: there was a determination to do right by the science fiction genre on this series…even if its run was short-lived (D-X aired from April 8, 1950 to September 29, 1951).  Though the program had a little trouble getting out of the gate (its inaugural show was Graham Doar’s “The Outer Limit,” which had already been done to death on a number of earlier radio anthologies, including Escape), D-X quickly found its dramatic niche…and the key was adapting tales that had originally appeared in the pages of Astounding Science Fiction.  “We went the ‘adaptation route’ simply because that’s where the best stories are,” producer Van Woodward later reminisced.  Frequently adapted by NBC scribes George Lefferts and Ernest Kinoy (who were also encouraged to write original plays of their own making), D-X’s stories came forth from legendary authors like Ray Bradbury (“Mars is Heaven,” “And the Moon Be Still as Bright”), Isaac Asimov (“Pebble in the Sky,” “Nightfall”), and Robert Heinlein (“The Roads Must Roll,” “The Green Hills of Earth”).  In fact, D-X’s filmic parent, Destination Moon, was based on a Heinlein tale (and was dramatized on the program on June 24, 1950).

staats-cotsworth-jan-minerBut Dimension X also made impressive strides in the field of “sound patterns.” Often relying on two or three SFX artists per broadcast, D-X’s episodes were produced in a massive two-story studio, which generated incredible “echo” effects that were beyond the range of conventional recording equipment.  D-X also had the luxury of featuring the best of New York’s radio acting talent; among the performers who appeared on the program were Raymond Edward Johnson, Les Damon, Joan Alexander, Berry Kroeger, Staats Cotsworth, Bill Lipton, Jan Miner, Joe DeSantis, and Santos Ortega…just for starters.

d-x3The Theremin, an electronic music instrument used on the soundtracks of such films as Spellbound, The Lost Weekend—and most famously, 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still—was often used by Dimension X musical director Albert Berman to compose scores for the broadcasts.  As for the show’s memorable opening theme, Berman relied on an organ, cymbals and tympanic rolls (“DIMENSION… X…X…x…x…x…x…”).  The quality of D-X was impeccable…but the demise of the series was foretold by its erratic time slots on NBC (the show once disappeared from the network’s schedule for nineteen weeks during 1951) and its difficulty attracting a sponsor (General Mills tried for two months beginning in July of 1950, to no avail).  After fifty episodes, D-X was cancelled by NBC and wouldn’t resurface until the premiere of X-Minus One on April 24, 1955 (and X-1 would suffer the same timeslot indignities as its predecessor).

At Radio Spirits, the first sixteen episodes of Dimension X are available in a collection appropriately titled Adventures in Time & Space; it includes such classics as “No Contact” and “Knock” (“The last man on Earth sat alone in a room.  There was a knock on the door.”).  Future Tense continues with the next sixteen, and includes one of my personal D-X favorites, “Universe” (11/26/50), adapted from the Robert Heinlein story.  There are simply not enough superlatives in my vocabulary to describe the first-rate dramatic productions presented in these two sets, which will stimulate and entertain any science fiction fan in your household!