Friday, December 22, 2006

War + Holiday Depression + Funny Swedes = Merry Christmas!

Here are a couple of audio-based, Christmas-oriented, comedy-infused goodies for you courtesy of other people. First, courtesy of Senses Working Overtime. the Blue Network 1944 Christmas special, a (second-string) star-studded two hour extravaganza hosted by Gracie Fields and featuring Alan Young, Paul Whiteman, William Bendix, Ed and Keenan Wynn, Charlotte Greenwood, the Andrews Sisters, Herbert Marshall, Joe E. Brown and others. To be honest, this is a somewhat dour affair. Fascinating, but dour. Live radio hookups between US servicemen around the world and their families lack the emotion you would expect (and that the show would need) because the participants sound as though they're reading from prepared scripts, probably a precautionary move on the part of the network to keep everything on schedule and prevent anything censorable from going out over the air. More depressing by far are the "comedy" stylings of Wendell Niles and Don Prindle, an announcer and a gagwriter respectively, who don't quite constitute a comedy team but give an almost lifelike impression of one.

Probably the most awkward moment of the special belongs to Ed and Keenan Wynn in part three. Poor Ed flubs his lines and even has to start over at one point, the kind of situation he could usually spin into an extra laugh, but Ed is too depressed to bother. For his part, Keenan sounds remarkably impatient with his dad ("You've got another line, Pop. You say "I miss you, son." I've gotta have the right cue."). The script doesn't help much, either, elaborating at length about how Ed's film career has fizzled, how his radio series Happy Island (which would be axed two months after this broadcast) isn't doing terribly well, and how his son is doing much, much better in showbusiness. The audience response is cool, to say the least. The 40s were not a happy time for Ed Wynn. His marriage had collapsed, his attempts to return to Broadway had come to nothing, and the ironically entitled Happy Island would prove his last starring vehicle on radio. Ed would rebound with his 1949 TV series for Camel (the first Emmy-winner) and then again in 1956 with his breakout dramatic role in Requiem For a Heavyweight, but severe depression was the order of the day in 1944.

For me, the real bright spot of the special, aside from the music, is Alan Young. His own series, which had begun on NBC in June before switching to the Blue Network in October, was marked by a somewhat ahead-of-its time style of rapid-fire nonsense humor. In the special, Alan is making time on a porch with his sweetheart Betty (probably Jean Gillespie). Her grandfather repeatedly interrupts them:

Grandfather: Hey! What time is this to be making love to my granddaughter??

Alan: Um, 8:30.

Grandfather: Oh, all right. Good night!

and later..

Alan: Betty, I'm gonna take you in my arms and kiss ya, and then...

Grandfather: Hey! I'll teach you to kiss my granddaughter!

Alan: Too late. I already know!

Grandfather: Oh, all right. Good night!

Alan: Good night!

But the best gag of all barely registers a laugh:

Betty: Alan, you've got a head on your shoulders..


Thanks to Ernie (Not Bert), I've gotten my dialect comedy fix for the month with this 1951 Christmas EP from Yogi Yorgesson (aka Harry Stewart). Lo and behold, dialect comic Harry Stewart has a website devoted to him, so I won't go into detail about the guy here. Suffice to say, anyone who wrote lines for Smilin' Ed McConnell's Froggy the Gremlin ("Hi'ya, kids! Hi'ya hi'ya!!), performed the 1957 voice of Crusader Rabbit, and whose widow married Jim "Fibber McGee" Jordan is tops in my book and is fully worthy of Third Banana status. When not performing lovable Swede Yogi, Harry donned thick glasses and huge novelty buckteeth and played a wacky Japanese character named.. wait for it! HARRY KARI! What a card!

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Anonymous Eric O. Costello said...

Having just done a chunk of writing on the Blue Network for the Wiki entry, I just want to point out that by December, 1944, the Blue Network had been independent of NBC for a little over a year, and in just about 7 months would morph into its current incarnation, ABC. The only real connection is that the Blue was still leasing certain facilities at 30 Rock to do its broadcasts.

6:19 PM  
Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

Thanks for pointing that out! Changes duly made and a link to the Wiki entry added.

6:36 PM  
Blogger East Side said...

Holy smokes! That picture of Ed Wynn grimacing into the microphone on the Plymouth Show is positively ghoulish. He must have been trying to play to the back row the radio audience at home. Much better dramatic actor than comedic.

Even more bizarre than Ed Wynn's appearance on the Christmas show is the clip of him on "Shindig" introducing the Byrds when they sing "Chimes of Freedom."

6:25 AM  
Blogger East Side said...

Of course, what I meant to type in the previous post was "to the back row OF the audience at home." I think that photo was still haunting me.

6:27 AM  
Anonymous John Owen said...

Regarding the Plymouth photo, it's funny to see John McIntyre, polished and smiling (far left), in his incarnation as an urbane radio announcer before transforming into the crusty star of tv's Wagon Train a decade or so later.

10:32 AM  
Blogger East Side said...

I remembered that, some years back, I bought a copy of Kennan Wynn's autobiography for something like 75 cents at a used book store. Can't recall the details, but the general feeling was that Keenan's issues with his father went way beyond botched line-readings.

5:53 AM  
Blogger Aaron Neathery said...

I haven't read the bio, but I have read about Keenan's problems with his father elsewhere. Keenan reportedly always felt that his father spent so much time on his career that he had virtually nothing left to give to his family.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Ernie said...

I know I'm coming to the game really late here, but I wanted to mention I also posted a Harry Kari track in addition to the Yogi Yorgesson EP. Good stuff, but certainly not PC. Grab it here:

Or on the 25 Days Of Christmas collection here:

I think they're both still available for download from RapidShare.


12:38 PM  

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