Gone With the Wynn
January, 1945. This entertaining little puff piece is not advance publicity for Ed Wynn's Happy Island series for Borden's Milk. Happy Island had already been on the air for five months. This article, which I'm sure wasn't penned by Wynn although it reads as though the specifics might have been taken from an interview (or maybe Ed's filing cabinet), was an attempt to drum up interest in a failing program. Happy Island was cancelled the following month and with it went Wynn's radio career. As late as 1944, in the midst of the horrors of WWII, Ed, God bless him, was trying valiantly to keep good-natured fantasy alive. A vaudevillian through and through, Wynn never became comfortable with the concept of "the theater of the mind"; from the beginning, he needed props and full makeup in order to maintain his focus and stay within his element. None of his previous series were as elaborately staged as Happy Island, a program that featured the cast in full costume along with sets, lighting, and special effects. The photos accompanying the article, which were probably taken in Ed's apartment (NY or LA? Does anyone know?), are charming and I have to imagine that the broadcasts must have been a blast to see in person. But all of this additional effort meant absolutely nothing, of course, to listeners at home, and one can presume what the brass at ABC felt about paying for all of Happy Island's production frills when comics like Bob Hope and Jack Benny were content to stand in front of a microphone on a stage and just talk. Not that that would have helped Ed Wynn. In the age of Abbott and Costello, Wynn's lighthearted whimsy was soundly rejected by an increasingly cynical public. There was little room in radio (or elsewhere for that matter) in 1945 for a vaudeville clown who felt that "getting a laugh at the expense of another person is mean and unfair."