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Happy Birthday, Morton Fine!

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Before embarking on a rewarding career as a radio, television and movie writer, Morton S. Fine—born a Christmas Eve baby in Baltimore, MD on this date in 1916—was a “jack-of-all-trades.” He worked in an advertising agency, toiled in a bookstore, and punched a card at an aircraft factory (before the work at that factory inspired him to join the Army Air Force in 1942). Though he had previously graduated from St. John’s College in Annapolis before his hitch in the service, he returned to the “halls of ivy” (the University of Pittsburgh) upon being mustered out in 1944 and earned a Master’s in English. Mort tried to put that degree to use as a writer for magazines, but had no success in that field…causing him to decide that he ought to be in California instead. He found work as a radio scribe on shows like Let George Do It, and then teamed up with David Friedkin (who was four years his senior) in 1948 to form one of the medium’s most fruitful writing partnerships. Together, they delivered scripts for such series as The Front Page and The Philip Morris Playhouse.

20546Fine and Friedkin played a large role in the success of Broadway’s My Beat, an Elliott Lewis-produced crime drama that was heard over CBS Radio from 1949 to 1954. Broadway’s My Beat established the template for the gritty, realistic cop show that many (including myself) associate with Dragnet—even though Beat premiered before Jack Webb’s seminal police procedural by several months. Beat originated in New York from February to June of 1949 in its first season, and then moved to the West Coast. The series showcased first-rate acting from its star, actor-announcer Larry Thor (as Detective Danny Clover), and a superlative supporting cast that included Charles Calvert (as Sergeant Gino Tartaglia) and Jack Kruschen (Detective Muggavan). Mort and David’s scripts for the series were an interesting blend of introspective prose and hard-hitting social commentary (they often tackled controversial subjects like juvenile delinquency and anti-Semitism), and were praised by radio historian Fred MacDonald as “a striking example of a writing flair which was generally absent from radio.”

20850Morton Fine and David Friedkin also contributed scripts for Elliott Lewis’ directing-producing efforts on Suspense and On Stage, and in addition set the tone for the puckish black humor that became the hallmark of the offbeat anthology known as Crime Classics. Classics presented historical tales of murder and mayhem laced with a very dry wit; Messrs. Fine and Friedkin once commented about their macabre efforts: “You can afford to laugh at murder as long as you’re safely a century or so away from it…the killers we make fun of are good and dead. If they weren’t, we know a pair of writers who would be.” Though Crime Classics had but a brief sustained run over the CBS Radio Network (from June 15, 1953, to June 30, 1954), it remains a firm favorite with old-time radio fans today.

ventureOther series on which Fine and Friedkin turned in scripts include Escape, The Hallmark Hall of Fame, The Line Up, Pursuit, Romance, San Francisco Final, and Sara’s Private Caper. The writing duo also had a hand in the blueprint of what would eventually become radio’s Gunsmoke (they penned the 1949 audition script, “Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye”) after CBS President William S. Paley suggested a series that would echo “Philip Marlowe in the Old West.” In addition, Fine and his partner can take a little credit in luring Humphrey Bogart to a stand-up microphone. Long reluctant to commit himself to the rigors of a live weekly series, Bogie liked Fine and Friedkin’s pitch for Bold Venture, an adventure program that would co-star Mrs. Bogie (Lauren Bacall) and allow them to record 3-4 shows in advance while he and Baby concentrated on their film careers. Bold Venture would go on to become one of the Fredric W. Ziv radio syndication company’s biggest hits, awarding the husband-and-wife team a princely sum of $4,000 per episode.

frontierLike many of their radio brethren and sistren, Fine and Friedkin decided to try their luck writing for that newfangled upstart television…and were quite successful for the most part, contributing to the likes of Climax! and Suspense, and later shows such as Bat Masterson, The Aquanauts, and Bold Venture (brought to TV in 1959 with Dane Clark and Joan Marshall). One of their interesting “failures” was an anthology entitled Frontier, which tried to do for the Old West what the duo had previously done for “murder-throughout-the-ages” on Crime Classics. Episodes from the series netted the duo Emmy and Writers Guild of America nominations (they lost both); still, Fine was able to add “producer” to his resume with Frontier, which led to future gigs on The Virginian, Breaking Point, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Morton Fine and David Friedkin’s most successful television collaboration was I Spy, the tongue-in-cheek espionage series starring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby as a pair of globetrotting secret agents masquerading as a tennis amateur (Culp) and his trainer (Cos). Though nominated three times as Outstanding Dramatic Series for every season it was on the air (Fine and Friedkin were the producers), I Spy was only Emmy-lucky for Bill Cosby (who scored a hat trick as Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series). Morton and partner David did get a nice consolation prize in Writers Guild of America honors for their screenplay for The Pawnbroker (1965), which still remains one of the important films from that era.

T8DMODE EC003By his lonesome, Morton Fine contributed scripts (as Mort Fine) to such 1970s TV favorites as Barnaby Jones, Kojak, and The Streets of San Francisco. With partner David Friedkin, Fine attempted a few more series like The Most Deadly Game (which the two created) and Bearcats!; their last collaboration was a short-lived cop drama starring Paul Sorvino as Bert D’Angelo/Superstar (I am not making that title up) before Friedkin’s passing in 1976. Morton Fine busied himself in the meantime with writing for TV movies and feature films like The Greek Tycoon (1978) and Cabo Blanco (1980) before his death in 1991.

20944Here at Radio Spirits, we’re pleased to honor Morton Fine’s birthday with collections featuring his rewarding partnership with David Friedkin. We have plenty of Broadway’s My Beat on hand, in the form of Murder, Neon Shoals, and Great White Way. The duo can also take credit for the content on Crime Classics, and its sequel The Hyland Files. But be sure to check out Mort’s fine work on the likes of Escape (Escape Essentials, Escape to the High Seas), The Line Up (Witness), Suspense (Ties That Bind), and San Francisco Final (on our Stop the Press! compilation) as you help yourself to ice cream and cake!

Happy Birthday, David Kogan!

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Columbia University student David A. Kogan (born in New York City on this date in 1916) met Robert Jay Arthur, Jr. in his radio writing class. The pair would go on to form one of the most fruitful collaborations in old-time radio. It was a perfect partnership. Kogan already had experience scripting for the medium with efforts for shows like The Shadow and Bulldog Drummond. And Arthur could lay claim to a lengthy list of stories published in nearly every major pulp magazine being sold on newsstands of the day (Weird Tales and Astounding Science Fiction, among others). Their first project—in tandem with WOR producer Jack Johnstone—was a short-lived program entitled Dark Destiny, heard from August 26, 1942 to March 11, 1943.

MtarplinDespite the brevity of its run, the supernaturally-themed Dark Destiny was essentially a blueprint for what was to follow when Dave Kogan and Bob Arthur pooled their unique talents. Arthur had a preference for specializing in horror-themed scripts (part of his Weird Tales training, no doubt) and Kogan favored those that dabbled in science fiction. Kogan also tackled the directing chores on the program, after his partner let him know he really wasn’t interested in that aspect of radio. From the appropriately titled Dark Destiny, the two men launched the series (with producer-director Jock MacGregor) that would be their longest-running radio venture on December 5, 1943: The Mysterious Traveler. The titular host, portrayed by actor Maurice Tarplin, narrated spooky tales from a club car on a locomotive speeding toward an unknown destination each week. “This is the Mysterious Traveler, inviting you to join me on another journey into the strange and terrifying,” he would say in introducing the program. “I hope you will enjoy the trip, that it will thrill you a little and chill you a little. So settle back, get a good grip on your nerves and be comfortable—if you can!

elspetheric1The repertory company of actors that appeared on Traveler included many of New York’s experienced radio veterans: Jackson Beck, Lon Clark, Elspeth Eric, Bill Johnstone, Jan Miner, and Santos Ortega—just to name a few of the many. I’ve often facetiously suggested that despite similarities between Traveler and The Whistler (both shows featured stories narrated by omnipresent personages, for example), Traveler had a few advantages over the man who “walked by night” despite the fact that he broadcasted over the Mutual network, considered by many to be radio’s “poor relation.” First, M.T. clearly had the wherewithal to afford a train ticket every week…while his whistling cousin was forced to expend a lot of shoe leather as he travailed over CBS’ West Coast. That was also what separated the two shows: The Mysterious Traveler was heard nationally over Mutual, while The Whistler was limited to areas within driving distance of a Signal Oil station.

clarkeThe Mysterious Traveler influenced two other Mutual series that depended heavily on previous scripts from the team of Kogan and Arthur. The Strange Dr. Weird was a weekly quarter-hour (the kindly Doc Weird was played by the same thespian who emoted as The Mysterious Traveler, Maurice Tarplin) that recycled a good number of Kogan and Arthur’s Traveler submissions and was heard over Mutual (for Adam Hats) from November 1944 to May 1945. The Sealed Book, a syndicated half-hour produced by Mutual/WOR also salvaged scripts from Traveler during its twenty-six episode run from May to September of 1945. Other Mutual shows that relied on scripts by the Kogan-Arthur team include Adventure Into Fear, Nick Carter, Master Detective, The Shadow, and A Voice in the Night.

JohndicksoncarrIf The Mysterious Traveler was David Kogan and Robert Arthur’s longest-running series on Mutual…Murder by Experts was unquestionably their most ambitious. Premiering on Mutual on June 18, 1949, Experts was a cut above the usual mystery anthology in that it concentrated on old-school detective tales selected weekly by Kogan and Arthur, and gussied up with an “endorsement” by the prestigious organization known as The Mystery Writers of America. To add a further bit of esteem, John Dickson Carr (mastermind behind the Dr. Gideon Fell novels and Sir Henry Merrivale mysteries) hosted Murder by Experts in its first season…and the show soon became a favorite of those who worked in the mystery writing field, to the point where the show nabbed an “Edgar” from the Mystery Writers of America in 1949 as radio’s top mystery program.

DavidKoganHad Murder by Experts been fortunate to secure a sponsor—or even sweet-talked a network like CBS or NBC for a berth on their schedule—it might have had a longer run. It left the airwaves on December 17, 1951, which was no doubt disappointing to author Davis Dresser (better known as “Brett Halliday,” the creator of Michael Shayne), who took over for Carr as Experts host in mid-1950. Kogan and Arthur continued their work on Mysterious Traveler (a series that resulted in the team being bestowed with a second “Edgar” in 1952 for Best Radio Mystery Drama), but there were storm clouds on the horizon. Both Kogan and partner Arthur were members of the Radio Writers’ Guild, a union that had run afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee. HUAC was convinced that the Guild was leading its members, in Kogan’s words, “down the path to Moscow.” (If they indeed were…perhaps The Mysterious Traveler could have arranged for train tickets.) Mutual pulled Traveler into the station on September 16, 1952.

20355Many sources report the year of David Kogan’s death as 1964, a bit of misinformation that amused Mr. K when he came across this news on an online website in 2009 and felt it his duty to correct the record. “I was surprised to find that I had died in 1964,” he e-mailed Tangent Online. “This means I have been living forty-five years on borrowed time. I begin to see a script shaping up—on whose borrowed time have I been living?” Sadly, three weeks after he sent that e-mail, David Kogan did leave this world for a more fantastic one (his son Kenneth was the bearer of the bad news).

If you’re curious to sample some of Mr. Kogan’s work in honor of his natal anniversary, Radio Spirits highly recommends our Great Radio Horror compilation, which includes two episodes of The Mysterious Traveler: “If You Believe” (12/29/46) and one of my personal favorites, “The Man the Insects Hated” (07/27/47). (Great Radio Horror also features a tale from The Sealed Book, “Beware of Tomorrow” [09/30/45].) Last but certainly not least, Murder by Experts is represented in our Mystery is Mutual collection with “The Creeper” (07/18/49) and “Dig Your Own Grave” (08/15/49). Happy birthday, David Kogan!

Happy Birthday, Sir Ralph Richardson!

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There’s a hilarious story (possibly apocryphal, so we make no claims as to its accuracy) concerning Sir Ralph Richardson, who was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England on this date in 1902. Performing in a play, the famously eccentric Richardson stopped the action and addressed the audience with the traditional “Is there a doctor in the house?” joke. When a physician acknowledged that he was, indeed, in attendance, Sir Ralph joshed: “Isn’t this a terrible play, Doctor?”

richardson12The actor who would eventually be knighted in 1947 for his contributions to the British theatre was the third (and youngest) son of Arthur and Lydia Richardson, both renowned artists (father Arthur had been the senior art master at Cheltenham Ladies’ College). For murky reasons that are still debated by biographers today, Mr. and Mrs. Richardson split in 1907—no divorce or formal separation involved—and Ralph’s elder brothers Christopher and Ambrose went off with their father while Ralph remained with Lydia. (“She eloped with me, then age four,” he later mused.)

Lydia raised Ralph as a Roman Catholic, and very much wanted him to enter the priesthood…but at a seminary for training priests, Richardson soon found he lacked the discipline to commit to such a career. At age sixteen, he obtained a position as an office boy with a prestigious insurance firm—once again, his nonchalant approach to his job (as well as a penchant for pulling pranks) jeopardized his future with the company. But a legacy of £500 left to him by his paternal grandmother enabled him to give the Brighton School of Art a try. It was eventually revealed that he had no aptitude for an art career, either. Ralph finally decided on an actor’s life after seeing Sir Frank Benson in the title role of a touring production of Hamlet.

richardson15Richardson went an unconventional route in his quest to become a professional actor: he paid a local theatrical manager ten shillings a week to let him become a member of the troupe, where he quickly learned the craft of acting. His stage debut was as a gendarme in a Brighton production of Les Misérables, and he later landed roles as Banquo in Macbeth and Malvolio in Twelfth Night. His first professional gig—a year later, after he had been engaged by theatrical manager Charles Doran for the princely sum of £3 a week—was playing Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice. Ralph would later tackle important parts in Macbeth and Julius Caesar.

The early foundation of his work as a Shakespearean actor—though Sir Ralph Richardson also performed in modern works as well—would eventually lead to his acclaim as one of the greatest English stage actors of the twentieth century. Richardson is often recognized alongside two other actors—contemporaries Sir John Gielgud and Sir Laurence Olivier—as representing the crème de la crème of British theater. In fact, Ralph was invited by producer Harcourt Williams to join the prestigious Old Vic company in 1930, ostensibly to take over for Gielgud in leading the dramatic company the following year. There was a clash of personalities between the two thespians at first, but eventually a long friendship and professional association blossomed between Richardson and Gielgud that would last many years. Richardson’s relationship with Laurence Olivier was also a close one, particularly on stage (where they often played opposite one another in Old Vic productions staged during the 1940s), but also in films like The Divorce of Lady X (1938) and the very entertaining Clouds Over Europe (1939—released in the U.K. as Q Planes).

Ralph Richarrichardson16dson’s first credited film appearance was in the 1933 feature The Ghoul, and while maintaining his successful stage career he welcomed movie roles with open arms (he was no snob about motion pictures, once observing that films “are to the stage what engravings are to paintings”). Sir Ralph appeared in two movies based on H.G. Wells works: Things to Come and The Man Who Could Work Miracles (both released in 1936). The more famous titles on his cinema resume include The Citadel (1938), The Four Feathers (1939), The Lion Has Wings (1939), and The Day Will Dawn (1942). Both his work on film and on stage were temporarily curtailed by the outbreak of World War II and Ralph’s determination to do his part for England’s war effort. He enlisted in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a sub-lieutenant pilot, and (despite what he believed of his limitations in the air) rose to the rank of lieutenant commander.

richardson1In 1948, Richardson graced two more films that are considered among his most impressive acting showcases: Anna Karenina (alongside Mrs. Olivier, Vivien Leigh), and the Carol Reed-directed The Fallen Idol. The following year, the actor made his Hollywood feature film debut with The Heiress (1949), in which he played opposite eventual Best Actress Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland (as her father, Dr. Austin Sloper). (Richardson was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor…but had to settle for a consolation prize in Best Actor honors from the National Board of Review.) Ralph enjoyed playing the role so much that he reprised it for a West End production of The Heiress in February of 1949 (under the direction of his good friend John Gielgud). He continued his film work throughout the 1950s in such gems as Outcast of the Islands (1951), Home at Seven (1952—his sole attempt at directing a film), Breaking the Sound Barrier (1952—which won him several Best Actor honors, including a British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award), and Richard III (1955—featuring Gielgud and Olivier).

richardson3Ralph Richardson’s rich baritone voice was a natural for the aural medium; he had been performing on radio as far back as 1929, and even performed on CBS’ Columbia Workshop in 1946 in Old Vic productions of Richard III and Peer Gynt (one of his notable stage triumphs). In 1954, he appeared as a performer/host on NBC’s Theatre Royal, an outstanding British drama anthology that also featured (in its first season) Sir Ralph’s colleague Laurence Olivier as a host. The following year, NBC rebroadcast a number of BBC radio dramas that teamed Richardson with his good friend John Gielgud in dramatizations of Sherlock Holmes tales (Sir John was Sherlock, Sir Ralph was Dr. Watson). Orson Welles was also featured on this series as Holmes’ nemesis Professor Moriarty, and Gielgud’s brother Val not only directed some of the plays, but fittingly appeared as Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock’s bro) on one occasion.

richardson11To do justice to Sir Ralph Richardson’s acting career would require a blog the size of an encyclopedia. Suffice it to say, he continued his impressive string of feature film turns in such classics as Exodus (1960), Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965), The Wrong Box (1966), Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), Dragonslayer (1981), and a personal favorite—Time Bandits (1981). Before his death in 1983, Sir Ralph appeared in several scenes with Gielgud and Olivier in a 1981 TV miniseries entitled Wagner (it was released shortly after Richardson’s passing), and achieved a bit of recognition from his industry peers with a second Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984). (He would receive posthumous honors for this role from the New York Film Critics Circle.)

20347Sherlock Holmes devotees often declare the 1955 BBC series with Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir John Gielgud to be one of the very best interpretations of the adventures of the iconic detective. Radio Spirits offers up a first-rate collection of these broadcasts; sixteen shows gleaned from what currently exists of the syndication masters. You should check out this set in honor of today’s birthday boy, a consummate actor who once declared: “The art of acting lies in keeping people from coughing.” (Trust us—you’ll be positively spellbound by the breadth of Sir Ralph’s talent.)

Happy Birthday, Edward G. Robinson!

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To start off our birthday tribute today…a bit of trivia: the “G” in actor Edward G. Robinson’s name stands for “Goldenberg”—for Eddie G. was born Emanuel Goldenberg in Bucharest, Romania one hundred and twenty-two years ago on this date in 1893. As Edward G. Robinson, the actor conquered stage, screen and radio—becoming one of the movies’ most easily recognized actors despite not having the handsome good looks (or tall stature—Robinson stood 5’7”) of most leading men. “Some people have youth; some have beauty,” he once observed. “I have menace.” And Eddie G. put it to good use, particularly when it came to tackling gangster roles in such films as Little Caesar (1931) and Smart Money (1931). Despite the respect he received from his peers in the industry as a solid thespian…Edward G. Robinson was never nominated for a competitive acting Oscar for any of the 101 films he appeared in during his fifty-year career.

robinson19The decision of the Goldenberg family to emigrate to New York City in 1903 was purportedly prompted by one of Eddie’s brothers being attacked in their native country by an anti-Semitic mob. Once arrived on these shores, Robinson grew up on the Lower East Side, attending school at Townsend Harris High School and later moving on to the City College of New York. A scholarship to the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts followed, after Eddie expressed an interest in acting. It was there that Emanuel Goldenberg became Edward G. Robinson. After a brief stint performing in the Yiddish Theatre District in 1913, he landed his first part in a Broadway production two years later.

eddie15It is not generally known that Eddie G.’s lengthy movie career predated the “talkies”; he had a small showcase as a factory worker in Arms and the Woman (1916), and in 1923 was billed as “E.G. Robinson” in The Empty Shawl. Robinson’s Broadway turn as a gangster in The Racket (1927)—later brought to the big screen in 1928—earned him the success necessary to begin appearing in movies on a regular basis. His stage background was also a plus, since the studios were looking for thespians with good speaking voices. Robinson’s movie resume included vehicles such as The Hole in the Wall (1929) and Outside the Law (1930), but it was his performance as Caesar Enrico “Rico” Bandello in the classic Little Caesar—with his legendary death scene of “Mother of mercy…is this the end of Rico?”—that really cemented his prominence among the moviegoing public. Eddie G. wasn’t as typecast as James Cagney when it came to gangsters—though the two actors did appear in a film together (Smart Money)—but Robinson did play his share of “tough guys” in such movies as Five Star Final (1931), Barbary Coast (1935), and The Last Gangster (1937). For a little variety, Robinson also acted tough in lighter fare like The Little Giant (1933—which sends-up his “Little Caesar” image) and the hilarious A Slight Case of Murder (1938).

bigtown2At the same time, Edward G. Robinson made inroads in front of the radio mike with appearances on such programs as The Lux Radio Theatre and The Jack Benny Program. His decision to headline Big Town, a newspaper drama that premiered over CBS Radio on October 19, 1937, might have been motivated by his intention to demonstrate his acting range could extend beyond gangsters and bad guys (though in the early broadcasts, his character was a bit of a louse). On Big Town, Robinson played crusading Steve Wilson of The Illustrated Press, whose lofty position of managing editor allowed him to go toe-to-toe against the gangsters and racketeers of the underworld. Wilson was aided and abetted by gossip columnist Lorelei Kilbourne—played by Claire Trevor—who served as the editor’s sidekick and occasional love interest. Having two stars of Robinson and Trevor’s stature soon catapulted Big Town towards the top of the radio ratings…though Trevor would eventually lose interest in what she thought was a thankless role and she turned things over to Ona Munson in 1940. Robinson took an active hand in shaping the scripts for the series (taboo topics like racial prejudice were addressed on occasion), but when it was announced that Big Town was moving East to New York in 1942 Eddie G. handed the Steve Wilson role off to Edward J. Pawley as the program continued to be heard over CBS and NBC from 1943 to 1952.

robinson1Radio gave Edward G. Robinson much exposure as he frequently performed adaptations of his film hits like The Amazing Doctor Clitterhouse (1938), Manpower (1941), The Sea Wolf (1941), and The Woman in the Window (1944) on The Gulf Screen Theatre, The Lux Radio Theatre, and Screen Director’s Playhouse. Robinson also made the rounds on such programs as The Cavalcade of America, Family Theatre, The Harold Lloyd Comedy Theatre, The Theatre Guild of the Air, and Theatre of Romance. In addition, he appeared alongside such radio celebrities as Al Jolson, Amos ‘n’ Andy (Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll), Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Eddie Cantor, Fred Allen, Jack Benny, and Victor Borge (more likely than not goofing on his “tough guy” image).

eddie9By the mid-1940s, Eddie G.’s age started to dictate that he move toward “character” roles. One of his most successful was wily investigator Barton Keyes—the man who suspects Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck are up to no good in the film noir classic Double Indemnity (1944). Robinson would briefly revive his gangster image in one of his superior screen turns as Johnny Rocco in Humphrey Bogart’s Key Largo (1948). When the pair had appeared together in such early 1930s Warner Bros. vehicles as Bullets or Ballots (1936) and Kid Galahad (1937), Bogie usually wound up dead by the time the closing credits rolled. But in Largo, Bogart finally got the upper hand on Robinson, shooting him down in the movie’s memorable climax. (Largo also brought back his former Big Town co-star Claire Trevor as Robinson’s moll, and her performance netted her a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.)

eddie8For a time in the late 1940s and through the early 1950s, Edward G. Robinson often found difficulty finding work in films. He didn’t completely disappear from the screen, but the many times he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee to answer for supposed “subversive” political views made him a bit radioactive in Hollywood. His memorable appearance in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 remake of his earlier The Ten Commandments provided just the boost for Robinson’s stalled career. Eddie soon began to grace such hits as A Hole in the Head (1959), Seven Thieves (1960), The Cincinnati Kid (1965) and his final feature film, Soylent Green (1973). Edward G. Robinson died twelve days after finishing his final scene in Green, and two months later he received the long-due recognition of his industry peers with a posthumous Honorary Academy Award.

20741It probably won’t come as a surprise that Edward G. Robinson was, in real life, the complete opposite of his “tough guy” film persona: a cultured, sophisticated individual with a passion for art (at the time of his death, his personal collection of rare treasures was estimated at $2,500,000). Radio Spirits invites you to check out one of Robinson’s atypical movie roles in The Red House (1947), a nifty suspense thriller that’s available on the DVD set Danger, Death & Dames: Film and TV Crime Dramas. Eddie is also one of several celebrities who appear in the World War II tribute DVD Bob Hope: Entertaining the Troops, and to get a feel for just how powerful Mr. Robinson could be in front of a radio microphone, our Suspense: Ties That Bind collection spotlights one of the actor’s most beloved turns on “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills.” In “The Man Who Thought He Was Edward G. Robinson” (10/17/46), the titular performer plays a milquetoast who’s anxious to do away with his wife…so he asks the toughest guy he knows for advice on how to accomplish the deed! (The broadcast was so popular that Suspense did an encore performance of the play on September 30, 1948, with Robinson reprising his dual roles.) And keep your eye out in the coming weeks for a new collection of Big Town episodes, starring Robinson as newspaper editor Steve Wilson.

Happy Birthday, Harry Bartell!

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On the radio western Fort Laramie, actor Harry Bartell—born in New Orleans, LA on this date in 1913—played the part of Lieutenant Richard Sieberts, a greenhorn junior officer stationed at the outpost. Listening to Harry play the character, he is absolutely convincing as a young, earnest officer occasionally handicapped by his inexperience. Bartell was also forty-two at the time, older than star Raymond Burr and co-star Vic Perrin. It was Harry’s youthful voice that distinguished him from his fellow performers amongst the Radio Row fraternity, but it was his outstanding acting talent that kept him busy through most of Radio’s Golden Age, where he added immeasurably to the enjoyment of such classic programs as Dragnet and Gunsmoke.

bartell2Although he was a native of N’awlins, Harry grew up in Houston, Texas. After graduating from high school, he would attend Rice University and start his radio career in the early 1930s at Houston’s KRPC, performing in short audio versions of films that were playing in the theaters of the time. (He received a modest salary of two 25 cent theater tickets for each dramatic turn.) Bartell would temporarily abandon radio to attend Harvard Business School, followed by a move out to the West Coast to look for work in retail. The acting bug bit again, and he got a disc jockey job with KFWB (the station of the Warner Brothers studio) while studying at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Bartell eventually worked his way up to network radio, landing acting jobs on The Cavalcade of America and The Lux Radio Theatre. His work over the airwaves was curtailed for a time while he served a military hitch in World War II, but upon his return in 1943 Harry secured a nice gig as the announcer on Mutual’s The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Each week, Bartell received an invitation from Dr. John H. Watson (played by Nigel Bruce) to sit by the fire and listen to a tale about The World’s Greatest Consulting Detective, and in return Harry would extol the virtues of Petri Wines. Harry worked the show until the fall of 1946, and at one time did double duty as the pitchman on the Holmesian clone The Casebook of Gregory Hood. (Harry was also the announcer on The Silver Theatre for a time in the 1940s.)

bartell3While he was a first-rate announcer, Harry Bartell had larger acting ambitions…and he soon began to exercise them on such series as Rogue’s Gallery and Let George Do It. Harry was always available for roles on the popular dramatic anthologies of the day, and he did appear on most of them, including All-Star Western Theatre, The CBS Radio Workshop, Family Theatre, The Hallmark Hall of Fame, Hollywood Star Playhouse, Hollywood Star Time, Screen Directors’ Playhouse and Stars Over Hollywood. Bartell demonstrated a remarkable versatility…and also a sense of humor; he landed roles on lighter fare like The Adventures of Maisie, The Charlotte Greenwood Show, Meet Mr. McNutley, My Favorite Husband and My Friend Irma. It would be nearly impossible to list every radio program on which Harry emoted but a good list would also include The Adventures of Sam Spade, The Adventures of the Saint, Dangerous Assignment, Defense Attorney, The Green Lama, Hopalong Cassidy, I Was a Communist for the FBI, The Man Called X, Night Beat, Somebody Knows, This is Your FBI, T-Man, Wild Bill Hickok, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. He was often used by “Mr. Radio” himself, Elliott Lewis, on such shows as Broadway’s My Beat, Crime Classics, On Stage, and Suspense. Harry was also part of the revolving door that was Archie Goodwin on The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe, playing the corpulent sleuth’s leg man for a brief period on the NBC Radio series that starred Sydney Greenstreet.

bartell7One of Harry’s fiercest radio patrons was director-producer Norman Macdonnell. I mentioned earlier that Norm hired Harry for Fort Laramie, but Bartell also made the rounds on such Macdonnell shows as The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, The Bakers’ Theatre of Stars, The General Electric Theatre, Romance, Rogers of the Gazette and of course, Gunsmoke. Like John Dehner, Virginia Gregg, Vic Perrin—and too many others to name—Harry didn’t have a regular role on Gunsmoke but managed to be on it practically every week. Macdonnell also relied on Harry in his years of producing Escape even though the actor had done the series before Norm’s concentrated participation. One of my favorite Escape shows on which Bartell appeared was “A Shipment of Mute Fate” (03-13-49); I once told Harry during an online chat room session that his performance was the best of the three times Escape tackled the story, and he thanked me profusely, mentioning it was one of his favorites as well.

bartellHarry Bartell’s other frequent source of radio work was on Jack Webb’s seminal police procedural Dragnet. Once again, versatility was the watch word as the actor could play one of Joe Friday’s fellow police detectives one week…and a combative, nasty drunk the next. On Dragnet’s Yuletide-themed episode “The Big Little Jesus”—in which a statue of the Christ child disappears from a church in a Latino neighborhood—Bartell played “Father Xavier Rojas” on both the radio and television versions…and when Webb updated the episode during the series’ 1967-70 revival, Bartell reprised his role as the kindly priest. Throughout the 1950s, Harry Bartell continued to be one of the busiest men in radio, appearing on such favorites as Frontier Gentleman, Have Gun – Will Travel, and The Six Shooter—even after radio was forced to make room for Top 40 tunes and obnoxious radio dee-jays, Harry did his best to keep the medium alive with appearances on shows like Horizons West.

bartell6Because radio kept Bartell fairly busy, he didn’t have as impressive a movie resume as some of his fellow performers—his movie roles include such favorites as Destination Tokyo (his film debut), Monkey Business, Dragnet (the 1954 big screen version), Johnny Concho, Voice in the Mirror, and Brainstorm (directed by Marshal Dillon himself, William Conrad). But Harry definitely made the rounds on the small screen, with guest roles on such series as I Love Lucy (he’s one of the jewel thieves in the classic “The Great Train Robbery”), Have Gun – Will Travel, The Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, The Wild Wild West and The Fugitive. Harry did a number of TV Dragnet’s and Gunsmoke’s. I remember seeing him in the last Gunsmoke penned by co-creator John Meston, “Honey Pot,” and recalling with sadness that there had been a time when he was on every week. Bartell retired in 1975 to concentrate on such interests as photography (something he indulged in often—the famous publicity photos of the Gunsmoke radio cast in western garb were taken by him), but he still kept a hand in the medium that he loved so: appearing at old-time radio conventions, writing articles, and spending time with fans in online chats. Fittingly, his last show business gig was appearing on an episode of radio’s The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (recorded in 2003) before his passing in 2004.

20948Harry Bartell recalled during an online chat room session that he once paid a visit to his local public radio station and offered his services—free of charge—to read short stories over the airwaves in a small, intimate venue (not unlike that of old-time radio). The station turned him down flat. It was their loss—but fortunately for us, we have an embarrassment of riches available at Radio Spirits in the form of Harry’s incredible radio legacy. For starters, why not enjoy one of his finest acting turns in two volumes of Fort Laramie? In addition, you can check out his early work as an announcer on our Sherlock Holmes collection, The Game is Afoot, and his co-starring role as Archie Goodwin on The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe (Parties for Death). Rest assured—this is just the tip of the iceberg; we also have plenty of Bartell performances in sets of The Adventures of Philip Marlowe (Sucker’s Road), The Adventures of the Saint (The Saint is Heard, The Saint Solves the Case), Broadway’s My Beat (Great White Way, Murder), Crime Classics (The Hyland Files), Defense Attorney, Dragnet (Crime to Punishment), Escape (Escape to the High Seas, The Hunted and the Haunted, Escape Essentials), Frontier Gentleman (Aces and Eights, Life and Death), Hopalong Cassidy (Out from the Bar-20), Let George Do It (Cry Uncle), My Friend Irma (On Second Thought), Night Beat (Lost Souls), Richard Diamond, Private Detective (Homicide Made Easy), The Six Shooter (Gray Steel, Special Edition), Somebody Knows, Suspense (Suspense at Work), and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (The Many Voices of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, Confidential, Mysterious Matters, Murder Matters, Phantom Chases, Expense Account Submitted, Wayward Matters). I hope, by the way, you saved room for dessert: Harry can be heard on our Stop the Press! compilation, in episodes of Rogers of the Gazette and San Francisco Final. Happy birthday to one of radio’s acting greats!

Happy Centennial Birthday, John Dehner!

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For an actor who once set out purposely not to be typecast in Western roles, John Dehner—born John Forkum one hundred years ago on this date in Staten Island, NY—appeared in a lot of oaters across the entertainment spectrum of movies, television and radio. While his extensive radio resume certainly put Dehner’s talent for both comedy and drama on full display, for many old-time radio fans he’s the thespian who auditioned for four of the medium’s best remembered westerns. Dehner turned down the leads in Gunsmoke and Fort Laramie, and agreed to portray the protagonists on Frontier Gentleman and the radio version of Have Gun – Will Travel—a series on which he was billed as Mister John Dehner. (I often joke about this designation at my nostalgia blog, Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, but to be honest—he earned every inch of that respectful title.)

dehnerdisneyJohn Dehner was born the son of an artist, a man who took the Dehner family to various spots around the globe, allowing the younger Dehner to attend grammar school in Norway and France (incidentally, John learned to speak four languages as a result of his travels). Graduating high school in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, John then decided to follow in his father’s footsteps by studying art at the University of California…but by the time he had diploma in hand, he had set his sights on a career in acting instead.

The problem for Dehner was that theatrical acting jobs were scarce as a result of the Depression. After having no luck finding work in the Big Apple, John decided to head back to sunny California on the principle that if he was going to starve, he’d be better off doing it in a more temperate climate. Dehner wasn’t on the unemployment line for long: he found work as the musical director of a touring stock company and a bandleader, in addition to securing gigs as a professional pianist. His most impressive feat was being able to fall back on his art schooling by obtaining a position as an assistant animator at the Walt Disney studios. John worked on sequences for such feature film classics as Fantasia (the Beethoven sequence) and Bambi (the Owl), and sharp-eyed viewers can spot him as one of the men in the story department in the 1941 release The Reluctant Dragon (his feature film debut).

John-Dehner-Frontier-GentlemanTo “do his bit” for World War II, John Dehner enlisted in the Army…and again, his background in languages and media secured for him a position as a public relations officer during the conflict. Once mustered out, Dehner decided to try acting again—this time taking a job as an announcer and news editor at such California stations as KMPC and KFWB. His work in radio news won him a most prestigious accolade: a Peabody Award for his coverage of the first United Nations news conference. The news business, however, couldn’t satisfy that acting itch, and so John found himself drifting back towards his first love. While the term “journeyman” is often used to describe an individual whose work is uninspired—in Dehner’s case, it needs to be utilized to explain that he became a very, very busy actor in front of the mike.

dehner12One of John’s earliest acting jobs was for the station that also employed him as an announcer and news reporter. He played “the Hermit” on the horror anthology The Hermit’s Cave when it aired on KMPC from 1942 to 1944. He would go on to construct a radio curriculum vitae that encompassed such favorites as California Caravan, The Cisco Kid, The Count of Monte Cristo, Crime Classics, Lassie, Let George Do It, The Man Called X, Mike Malloy, Private Cop, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, The Silent Men, Smilin’ Ed’s Buster Brown Gang, Voyage of the Scarlet Queen, The Whistler, and Wild Bill Hickok. Anthology series on which Dehner appeared include The CBS Radio Workshop, Family Theatre, The Hallmark Hall of Fame, The Lux Radio Theatre, NBC Presents: Short Story, The NBC University Theatre, On Stage, Screen Director’s Playhouse, and Stars Over Hollywood. He starred in a short-lived NBC sitcom that aired in 1950 and 1951 entitled The Truitts, and replaced Ted de Corsia for a brief period of time as Inspector Peter Black on CBS’ Pursuit.

dehner11For most of John’s career in radio, however, he was a member-in-good-standing of the stock company overseen by producer-director Norman Macdonnell. Dehner started out working on the likes of Escape and The Adventures of Philip Marlowe before becoming a regular presence on such shows as Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (both during the brief period that Macdonnell oversaw the show, and in the later seasons as well), Suspense, Romance, Rogers of the Gazette, The General Electric Theatre and The Bakers’ Theatre of Stars. As mentioned previously, John nixed doing Gunsmoke and Fort Laramie on a regular basis…but as far as the dean of radio westerns went, Dehner emoted on 234 of Gunsmoke’s 480 broadcasts—a percentage of around sixty percent. He did fourteen episodes of Fort Laramie, out of that program’s brief run of forty broadcasts.

dehner9On February 2, 1958, CBS debuted Frontier Gentleman—a series some consider second only to Gunsmoke as radio’s finest western. Created by Antony Ellis, John Dehner starred as J.B. Kendall—an English newspaperman who wandered throughout the West, looking for people or incidents to write articles about for The London Times. Gentleman offered up superb character portraits of the individuals Kendall encountered in his travels, while always taking care to downplay Kendall’s proficiency with a gun (he wouldn’t use it unless absolutely necessary). In marked contrast to Gentleman, John also portrayed the skilled gunfighter Paladin on Have Gun – Will Travel, a radio version of the popular CBS-TV western that had been a hit for the network since the fall of 1957. Have Gun’s radio debut occurred one week after Gentleman departed the airwaves, and more than a few people have bemoaned the fact that Have Gun replaced the superior program. The radio Have Gun was an example of one of the few times when a TV series transitioned to the aural medium, rather than the usual custom of radio-to-TV. To Dehner’s credit, he made a point not to copy Richard Boone’s boob tube portrayal of Paladin (“I don’t imitate,” he declared in an interview years later). The radio version left the air on November 27, 1960, while the small screen edition continued on until 1963.

dehner6Despite John Dehner’s reluctance to be identified chiefly as a Western actor, the man good-naturedly took on many jobs that explored his range from dishonest gambler to sympathetic rancher. He was a frequent guest star on TV’s Maverick, including a classic role as the crooked banker (“…if you can’t trust your banker, whom can you trust?”) in the legendary “Shady Deal at Sunny Acres.” John’s resume of TV westerns includes favorites like Wagon Train, Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Westerner (as Burgundy Smith), The Rifleman, Tales of Wells Fargo, Rawhide, The Virginian (he starred for a time as Shiloh Ranch owner Morgan Starr)…and of course, Gunsmoke. Dehner’s regular roles were on such TV series as The Roaring 20’s, The Baileys of Balboa, The Doris Day Show, The New Temperatures Rising Show, Big Hawaii, Young Maverick, Enos, and Bare Essence. On the silver screen, John notched up over one-hundred-and-fifty films, with favorites including Scaramouche, The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters, The Fastest Gun Alive, The Left Handed Gun, Man of the West, The Hallelujah Trail (John narrates this film), and Support Your Local Gunfighter. Dehner’s rewarding acting career came to an end in 1992, when he passed away at the age of 76.

19602To celebrate John Dehner’s centennial in grand style, Radio Spirits offers up a shopping cart full of audio entertainment goodies to satisfy his fans. We have collections of his signature series, Frontier Gentleman, on hand—including the sets Aces and Eights and Life and Death. You can hear Mister Dehner’s work with radio legend Norm Macdonnell on Escape (Escape Essentials, The Hunted and the Haunted, Escape to the High Seas), Fort Laramie (Volume 1 and Volume 2), Suspense (Around the World, Ties That Bind), Romance, The Adventures of Philip Marlowe (Sucker’s Road), and episodes of Rogers of the Gazette on our Stop the Press! compilation. For a palate cleanser, be sure to check out John’s work on Crime Classics (The Hyland Files), Richard Diamond, Private Detective (Homicide Made Easy), Voyage of the Scarlet Queen (Volume One and Volume Two)…and last but certainly not least—Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (The Many Voices of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, Wayward Matters, Mysterious Matters, Murder Matters, Confidential, Expense Account Submitted)!

Review: Entertaining the Troops

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In June of this year, MVD Visual released to DVD a wonderful 1994 documentary entitled Entertaining the Troops—a ninety-minute special originally shown on PBS stations during their fundraising drives. (There’s even a plea to donate from the legendary Mel Blanc at the end of the documentary, allowing him to do some of the cartoon voices that made him famous.) Written, directed and produced by filmmaker Robert Mugge, Troops contains wonderful film highlights from Hollywood’s top stars as they “did their bit” – whether it was selling war bonds, boosting morale…or, in some cases, enlisting in the service.

troops1Radio played a large role in World War II. Top comedy stars like Jack Benny and George Burns & Gracie Allen would often take their shows to bases to perform for those stationed there. The King of Going Overseas being Bob Hope, of course, and his name actually appears before “Entertaining the Troops” on the DVD’s box cover. The last half-hour of the presentation features “war stories” from the comedy legend as he’s reunited (in 1988) with several members of his “troupe”: vocalist-comedienne Frances Langford, dancer Patty Thomas and guitarist Tony Romano. Bob recalls the first time he was asked to do one of his radio broadcasts at a local military base; the comedian soon discovered he was playing to a more appreciative audience than the jaded throng who regularly attended his program. In between the group’s reminiscences, footage of Bob and the gang from their trips overseas is shown, with some hilarious interactions with Hope’s favorite stooge, “Professor” Jerry Colonna.

troops3Hope’s old “Road” companion, Dorothy Lamour, is also present and accounted for on Entertaining the Troops. The “Bond Bombshell” describes how she earned that nickname by selling 300 million worth of war bonds, and tells a poignant story of how she suggested to the government that Carole Lombard would be the ideal actress to aid in the selling of same. (Lombard’s death in January of 1942 occurred as the result of a plane crash when she was returning home to husband Clark Gable after a successful bond rally.) Dottie is also featured in a clip from a 1944 movie short, Mail Call, singing I’m the Secretary to the Sultan. The Mail Call short was a visual tie-in to the popular Armed Forces Radio Service program and also features announcer Don Wilson, Cass Daley (crooning They’re Either Too Young or Too Old as only she can) and Abbott & Costello performing “Who’s on First?”

troops5Generous portions of a 1944 short depicting a broadcast of G.I. Journal are also included in Troops, with Mel Blanc playing Private Sad Sack and joshing with the likes of Colonna, Kay Kyser, and Lucille Ball. (Mel also reminisces about his days as “Private Snafu,” the animated hero in a series of short instructional cartoons produced between 1943 and 1945 as part of the Army-Navy Screen Magazine series.) Another popular AFRS offering, Jubilee, is given a visual treatment. Ernest “Bubbles” Whitman trades quips with Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, who then brings out Lena “Dish-a-licious” Horne. (I know that’s not a nickname for the divine Miss Lena—I just didn’t want her to feel left out.) Lena and Rochester duet on Life’s Full O’Consequence, a number they made popular in 1943’s Cabin in the Sky, and Lena solos on The Man I Love.

troops9Maxene Andrews describes the experience of recording “V-discs,” a series of 12-inch, 78 rpm vinyl records that were specifically produced for the use of military personnel overseas…and as you would expect, there’s footage of her and sisters Patty and Laverne doing a sprightly version of their signature Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B. Old-time radio fans will love seeing performances from Red Skelton (“Guzzler’s Gin”), Jack Benny (with harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler) and Danny Kaye. Classic movie fans will thrill to clips featuring Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney (with Edward Arnold) and Bette Davis (the co-founder of the Hollywood Canteen, also featured in the documentary). My personal favorite is the tail end of a comedy sketch featuring Hope and William Bendix (Bob’s co-star in one of my favorite Hope vehicles, 1947’s Where There’s Life) that features an uproarious punchline from Professor Colonna himself.

Entertaining the Troops, available for purchase from Radio Spirits, is a delightful journey into the nostalgic past — when what Tom Brokaw once described as “The Greatest Generation” tackled the toughest of jobs with an assist from “more stars than there are in heaven.”

Happy Birthday, Fanny Brice!

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Show business’ original “Funny Girl” was born Fania Borach in New York City on this date in 1891. As Fanny Brice, she dominated the worlds of stage, screen and radio: as a major headliner with the Ziegfeld Follies beginning in 1910, and as a motion picture star with vehicles like My Man (1928—sadly, a lost film) and Be Yourself! (1930). Old-time radio fans in particular revere the considerable comedic talents she brought before a ribbon microphone; over the ether, Fanny brought to life one of the most beloved brats in the aural medium—“Baby” Snooks Higgins.

fannybrice17Fanny was the third child in a family of four; her parents Charles and Rose were saloon owners, and Fanny set her sights on a show business career from the age of twelve—singing on street corners in South Brooklyn to earn pocket money. By 1908, she was so determined to shoot for the stars that she dropped out of school to join a burlesque revue. (Brice was one of a select group of radio performers—including Abbott & Costello and Red Skelton—who honed their craft in that uniquely American theatrical art form.) After seeing her perform in a production of College Girls in 1910, impresario Florenz Ziegfeld hired her to appear in his latest Follies revue that same year, as well as the Ziegfeld Follies of 1911. Fanny worked for Flo off-and-on throughout the 20s and early 30s, notably in a 1921 Follies where she introduced her signature tune, “My Man”…as well as another Brice standard, “Second Hand Rose.” (Her Broadway resume included such shows as Fioretta, Sweet and Low, and Billy Rose’s Crazy Quilt.)

fannybrice9The origins of her radio alter ego, Baby Snooks, were perceived to be a Follies skit co-written by legendary playwright Moss Hart. But Snooks was also inspired by various “little girl” roles that Brice often played onstage, as well as a memorable musical showcase at a party she attended where she performed “Poor Pauline” in a high-pitched voice to an appreciative crowd (Fanny later appropriated “Pauline” as an encore during her stage performances). By 1936, Fanny was doing the Snooks character on CBS’ Ziegfeld Follies of the Air—opposite radio veteran Alan Reed, who essayed the role of her exasperated father. Fanny went west a year later (Reed elected to stay behind), and revived Baby Snooks for NBC in December 1937 for the Good News variety program, sponsored by Maxwell House (though some have joked that with the presence of so many “stars as there are in heaven” it was actually sponsored by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer).

fannybrice3Replacing Reed as Lancelot “Daddy” Higgins was character actor Hanley Stafford—who made the role his own, adding that impeccable touch of aural frustration as Fanny’s foil. (In later years, Brice described the outstanding chemistry she had with her co-star: “He was perfect. We didn’t need to hear anyone else.”) Fanny and Hanley continued as regulars on Good News until 1940, when the sponsor instituted a new variety show in the fall entitled Maxwell House Coffee Time. Brice joined forces with fellow Good News player Frank Morgan for a half-hour show that, oddly enough, rarely had the two performing together—they staked out different halves of the show, and competed to see who would get the loudest laughs each week. Maxwell House Coffee Time ran until 1945 (in the fall of ’45, they would sponsor George Burns & Gracie Allen), with Morgan welcoming M.C. Robert Young and singer-comedienne Cass Daley in the final season.

fannybrice2By that time, Fanny had decided to strike out on her own with a series originally titled Post Toasties Time (a nod to the sponsor)…but which gradually came to be identified as The Baby Snooks Show (General Foods and Jell-O paid the bills in later seasons). The Baby Snooks Show adopted a situation comedy format, allowing Brice’s Snooks to be a holy terror for a full half-hour instead of her former fifteen-minute sketches. Stafford continued playing the patriarch of the family, with actresses Lalive Brownell, Lois Corbett and Arlene Harris all taking turns as Vera Higgins, Snooks’ mother. Child impersonator Leone Ledoux was Robespierre, Snooks’ baby brother, and other characters included a young Danny Thomas as Jerry the mailman and Alan Reed (reuniting with Fanny!) as Mr. Weemish, Daddy’s demanding boss. (Ken Christy later took over the role of Weemish.)

fannybrice21Fanny Brice earned a reputation as being a dedicated performer…and playing the weekly role of Baby Snooks was no exception. She would often become completely immersed in playing radio’s favorite female brat: “I love Snooks, and when I play her I do it as seriously as if she were real,” she once said. “I am Snooks. For twenty minutes or so, Fanny Brice ceases to exist.” She continued to express her love playing Snooks until 1948, when the show took a hiatus for a year after CBS requested she take a cut in salary. Brice refused to do so, which explains why she returned to do The Baby Snooks Show for NBC in the fall of 1949. (Take that, talent raids!) Fanny could have conceivably played the part until the Golden Age of Radio took its final bows at curtain…but on the day of the May 29, 1951 broadcast, Brice succumbed to a sudden cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 59. A musical tribute was featured instead, supplemented with a moving eulogy from her long-time co-star Stafford: “We have lost a very real…a very warm…a very wonderful woman.”

fannybrice23Fanny Brice’s only appearance on television was on an installment of CBS’ live Popsicle Parade of Stars in June of 1950; fittingly, she performed a sketch with Hanley Stafford as “Baby Snooks and Daddy”…but later observed that the character just didn’t work on TV. Brice’s film appearances were sporadic at best; she was delightful alongside Judy Garland in Everybody Sing (1938), and she also appeared in the likes of The Man from Blankley’s (1930), The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and Ziegfeld Follies (1945). For many, however, her antics of the mischievous little girl who would innocently ask “Whyyyy, daddy?” marks her legacy.

20697Sadly, not much care was taken in preserving the half-hour Baby Snooks Show episodes…but many of the uproarious sketches from Good News and Maxwell House Coffee Time did survive, and are available on the Radio Spirits CD collections Why Daddy? (liner notes by yours truly!) and Smart Aleck. The liner notes for Aleck were written by my good friend Ben Ohmart, who studiously edited and assembled original scripts by comedy writer Phil Rapp in the compilations The Baby Snooks Scripts and The Baby Snooks Scripts Volume 2. For a look at the musical side of Fanny Brice, why not check out her rendition of “Cooking Breakfast for the One I Love,” one of many numbers by a virtual glittery array of singing stars on Decade of Hits: The 1930s? Happy birthday to our favorite Funny Girl!