Monday, March 31, 2008

Medium Rare

The Old Time Radio Researchers have, via archive.org, bestowed upon us a marvelous bounty; their much coveted Singles and Doubles Collection, an Astonishingly Ample Aggregation of Audio Aberrations.. a collection of radio programs for which only one or two episodes remain. While this isn't entirely accurate (a glance at J. David Goldin's indispensable radiogoldindex.com will show that there are many shows in the SADC for which more episodes exist), it's more often true than not, and who the hell am I to nitpick? SHAME ON ME! We're talking about some museum-worthy material here: a joint radio interview with Orson Welles and H. G. Wells (Orson is clearly in awe, and H. G. gives him a pitch for the yet to be released Citizen Kane!), radio broadcasts from the 1920s, etc. etc.. I've uploaded a sampling of the available programs to my box.net account for you (see sidebar), concentrating on comedies for The Gazeeka Box and comic strip-themed shows for the "limited-edition" Four Color OTR player. Box.net limits files to 10 MB for cheapskates like myself so (for now) I had to leave out such gems as The George O' Hanlon Show (!!!!!) and Bert Wheeler starring on The Fresh Up Show (!!!!!!!!!), but there are still plenty of goodies left. Of particular interest (to me) are Tim and Irene Ryan's appearances on Circus Night in Silvertown (1935), and subbing for Jack Benny on the Jell-O Program (1936). Tim Ryan's Ted Healy-isms are much more pronounced here than in his later appearances in Monogram musicals, helping him to rise above some pretty godawful material, but Irene is just as much an unlikable cross between Gracie Allen and Cass Daley as she ever was before her Beverly Hillbillies days. Also of note is the closed-circuit broadcast of the first episode of The Morey Amsterdam Show with Morey in excellent form. This series would go on to become an early television hit on CBS and DuMont, giving a young Art Carney a solid start to his TV career. His future comedy partner is represented here by a 1944 episode of The Jackie Gleason-Les Tremayne Show, much funnier than you'd except (Les Tremayne??). Less successful by far is a 1946 starring vehicle for Phil Silvers, "20th Century-Fox's Brilliant Comedian", that foreshadows not even faintly the later brilliance of Sgt. Bilko. And perhaps most fascinating of the lot is an episode of Living 1949 in which Fred Allen examines American humor ("The average radio comedian is a mouth that speaks the words of others' brains.") and the hellish grind of his own career. As for the comic-themed shows:

Smilin' Jack, 12/18/39 or 2/13/39. The only complete surviving episode of this Mutual series based on Zack Mosley's bizarro aviation strip. Features the beloved shirt-button-popping Fat Stuff, and precious little of Jack himself. An on-air audition, the announcer invites listeners to write in and tell them what they like and don't like about the show. I imagine that a key complaint from kids would have been that virtually nothing happens in the show.

Dan Dunn, Secret Operative #48. Two episodes are all that remains of this syndicated 1930s series adapted from Norman Marsh's incredibly poorly drawn Dick Tracy knockoff. Not a bad show, but unremarkable.

That's My Pop, 7/29/45, based on one of Milt Gross's many brilliant strips. It's a crime that this is the sole surviving episode. While devoid of Yiddish, it's Milt Gross through and through. Shiftless Pop makes a few bucks for himself by turning the house into a sleazy dive while his family is away on vacation. One surprising, and very Gross (literally), gag involves Pop's mother-in-law stomping a giant mosquito to death. The wonderfully wet crunch that results is hilarious. The audience audibly squirms. Beautiful stuff. Aired on CBS.

Moon Mullins, 1/31/47, CBS. Frank Willard's classic strip isn't particularly well-served by this somewhat plodding audition, a pity as the strip and its colorful cast lends itself well to radio. While the material here is weak, Sheldon Leonard is perfectly cast as the scheming lowbrow Moonshine. Another audition for this series exists, dating from 1940.

Bringing Up Father. The date on this file is dead wrong. From the sound of it, and the quarter-hour runtime, I'll bet that this brisk, charming adaptation of George McManus's strip was recorded no later than 1932. It's pretty nifty hearing Maggie and Jiggs speak with their appropriate Irish brogues. This particular episode is, I believe, based directly on a McManus Sunday page. Syndicated by King Features. I wonder if they gave any of their other strips the quarter-hour treatment.

For the flipside, a comic strip based on a radio comedy success, check out the wonderful Charlie McCarthy strips over at Allan Holtz's Stripper's Guide.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Harry Heuser said...

This entry reminded me of Cyrus Fisher's (Darwin L. Teilhet's) radio column in the Forum back in the early 1930s.

Thank you for reviewing some of these ostensible "Doubles and Singles" rarities here. My attempts at downloading the entire file have been thwarted. Basing my selections on your reviews, I shall snatch some of them up singly, and on the double.

Cheers, Harry

5:59 AM  

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