24 March: The bloody red harmonica blues

Shep Mencken. (Photo: CBS.)

Shep Mencken. (Photo: CBS.)

It has been almost as much a staple instrument of the blues as the guitar. The earliest records of such rock and roll legends as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones featured it frequently enough. A century earlier, and just a few years after a German clockmaker named Matthias Hohner made his first and began to mass produce it, the first such maker to do so, soldiers in both the Union and Confederate Armies are said to have taken comfort carrying and playing the instrument. So was President Abraham Lincoln.

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23 March: A Dope Diamond jubilee

Ralph Edwards (left), with prizes and (we presume) a willing victim. (Photo: NBC.)

Ralph Edwards (left), with prizes and (we presume) a willing victim. (Photo: NBC.)

Reality programming’s old-time radio great-great-great-grandfather, of which fans would speak in terms of plain old mad fun and critics would speak of plain old madness, premieres seventy-five years ago tonight on NBC, dedicated shamelessly to the proposition that, humans being as they are, they—or a significant number among them—will do absolutely anything, short of murder, for money, prizes, or both.

Created and hosted by jovial journeyman CBS announcer Ralph Edwards, Truth or Consequences –an idea he has derived from the forfeits game he played during his farmland childhood—becomes either a national habit or a national guilty pleasure, depending upon how you take the show.

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17 March: Requiem for a satirist

Fred Allen at his height in the mid-1940s. (Photo: NBC.)

Fred Allen at his height in the mid-1940s. (Photo: NBC.)

This essay has been published the previous two St. Patrick’s Days in the life of this journal. I am pleased to answer a request to re-publish it again.

Fred Allen didn’t deserve to die on St. Patrick’s Day. This hardy satirist of Irish stock and hardscrabble New England youth—forced twice off the air thanks to the hypertension that would eventually sign his death warrant, provoking the heart attack that kills him at 61—also proved wrong in his eulogy for those who practised his singular art, in the closing passages of Treadmill to Oblivion (Boston: Atlantic Little, Brown, 1954):

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15 March: The hard timing of Stoopnagle & Budd

A Stoopnagle & Budd advertisement.

An advertisement for Stoopnagle & Budd’s final series as a team, The Minute Men. (Photo: NBC.)

Radio ratings began to be kept in earnest during the 1932-33 season. Among the top fourteen shows on Thursday nights that season was Stoopnagle & Budd, its 9.8 Crossley rating nowhere close to Jack Pearl and his Baron von Munchausen exercise’s evening-leading 39.4 but only two full points behind Death Valley Days and seven fractional points ahead of semi-serial dialogic comedy Easy Aces.

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14 March: A deadly lottery

When Shirley Jackson wrote “The Lottery,” her allegorical short story of conformism taken to arbitrarily deadly extremes, for the 26 June 1948 issue of The New Yorker, both the author and the magazine were staggered by the volume of negative and even hate mail the story was said to provoke. The volume included negative remarks from Jackson’s own parents, as the author herself disclosed in her eventual posthumous anthology Come Along With Me (1968), edited by her husband Stanley Edgar Hyman.

Shirley Jackson.

Shirley Jackson.

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