Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Be Sure Every Boy and Girl Reads This Book

In 1934, the Goldsmith Publishing Company of Chicago produced a series of three BLB-format childrens' books featuring the top kid-friendly radio comics of the day, Ed Wynn, Eddie Cantor, and Jack Pearl. Goldsmith published a fourth book, Joe Penner's Duck Farm, the following year, just in time to cash in on Joe's meteoric decline which may account for why the book seems to be so scarce today (the others, which reportedly sold in the millions, are fairly common). All four stories were written by juvenile author Harold M. Sherman, a pretty interesting guy in his own right (his career included writing the play Mark Twain and extensive experimentation with ESP) and were supposedly devised with an assist from the stars themselves. This is, of course, unlikely, but the little "memos" (on each star's own stationary) that open and close each story do seem strangely authentic.

Cantor's memos, for instance, are terse and businesslike. I can just imagine some kid in 1934 thinking "This book and story was developed under Eddie Cantor's personal supervision?? Golly!" And as Eddie Cantor in Laughland depicts Eddie as an epoch-shifting godhead, perhaps he did have a hand in it.

Jack Pearl's memos just sound right to me for some reason. Maybe it's the faint eagerness in them and his repeated use of the word "friend". I wonder if Jack used Baron Munchausen stationary for the rest of his life. I'm venturing a "yes". Incidentally, Pearl's radio straightman "Sharlie" is also a character in the book although the real Cliff Hall wasn't used as a model for the illustrations. Also incidentally, I just discovered that every image on Jack Pearl's Wikipedia entry was ripped from this blog. Who knew?

Ed Wynn's memos are purely in character. Note that unlike the others, Ed mentions Howard Sherman by name and gives him credit for the story right away. As the story itself depicts Ed's Fire Chief character as endearingly silly rather than dangerously idiotic, it stands heads and shoulders above the wretched 1933 MGM feature. Given the multiple attempts to create narratives around a "character" (which on radio consisted of nothing more than Ed Wynn wearing a fire helmet) that was merely a nod to Texaco Fire Chief Gasolines, the show's sponsor, I've often wondered what would have happened if another company, say Cliquot Club, had sponsored instead. Would Ed have broadcast dressed as an Eskimo? Would there have been "Ed Wynn, Eskimo" toys, books, and boardgames? Would there have been an awful MGM film, The Eskimo? The mind reels...

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Anonymous east side said...

I like how Cantor's book assures us that no radio dialogue is used. Was his show considered too adult, or is this just a promise that the book has all new material?

And when did Ed Wynn stop putting a period after his first name? And suppose his sponsor had been Aunt Jemima pancake mix? That makes the mind really, really reel.

4:07 AM  

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