Backwoods is in the ear of the beholder: Old-time radio listening, 15 September

The Judy Canova Show: An Exclusive Place in Brentwood (NBC, 1945)

The real Judy Canova, nowhere even close to the bumpkin she plays on radio . . . (unknown publicity still)

She has already created one college campus fad, after early publicity stills for her popular radio show showed her brandishing rope-thick pigtails wearing a calico hill dress, an extension of the hayseed character she established far earlier in her entertainment career. Which was somewhat unfair, because in actuality Judy Canova—who once aspired to a serious singing career—resembles anything but the brash, brassy hillbilly she plays so effectively on the air.

With her two siblings Annie and Zeke (they billed as the Three Canovas for a time), Judy Canova first hit the air when Rudy Vallee caught a performance and booked the trio for The Fleischmann’s Yeast Hour in 1933. From there, she featured on the like of Paul Whiteman’s Musical Varieties (1936-37) and, with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, on The Chase and Sanborn Hour in 1938.

By the time she lands her own program in July 1943, Canova is only too well-established as the Ozark Nightingale—never mind that she wasn’t native to the Ozarks and had, in fact, been born and raised in northern Florida. She cracks into character with a monologue and, often, a novelty song, before her company’s comedy routines that hook, mostly, around her hungering for a man while (inadvertently or otherwise) outwitting the California slickers whom she lived after moving out from Cactus Junction.

Two decades before The Beverly Hillbillies turn it into cornpone pap, Canova plays the hillbilly hurricane for laughs, gets them, and doesn’t leave an audience feeling as though it’s glommed onto a guilty pleasure. The paradox is that, off the air and away from the stage, she’s a strikingly beautiful woman whose eyes suggest having only one thing in common with her backwoods character.

Put it this way: to see her out of character is probably to wish romancing her. Making it somewhat sobering to learn she will marry and divorce four times. (Her first husband, fellow radio star Bob Burns, inspires people to think of her radio and film persona as his female equivalent.) And, making it disheartening to think that, in the 21st Century, she’ll be remembered—if at all—as a crackerbarrel one-time radio star whose daughter, Diana, makes a name playing the promiscuous Corinne in the classic soap opera lampoon, Soap.

Tonight: Judy (Canova) can’t wait to hit a rather exclusive picnic with Benchley (Joseph Kearns) after returning from her summer in Cactus Junction, but Aunt Aggie (Verna Felton) can’t wait to talk her out of bringing pork chops to a do that would sooner require a more elegant dish.

Meanwhile, Geranium (Ruby Dandridge) crows over a letter from her boyfriend at war, Pedro (Mel Blanc) frets over a failed elopement attempt, and Judy has to fend off a society rival (of course!) who thinks she’s worthier of Benchley than Judy is.

In anyone else’s hands, this is just cornpone without seasoning. In her hands, it’s cheerful insanity for which no apology is necessary.

Announcer: Verne Smith. Music: Opie Cates Orchestra, the Sports Men, Anne Canova. Director: Joe Rines. Writers: Fred Fox, Henry Hoople.


FURTHER CHANNEL SURFING . . .

Comedy

Vic & Sade: The Silent March (CBS, 1942)—Rush (Bill Idelson) receives a letter from H.K. Fleeber about the All-Star Marching Team’s plan for a spiritual march—involving ten members being in the backyard in the evening marching silently by themselves. Take it as you will, of course. Vic: Art Van Harvey. Sade: Bernadine Flynn. Writer/director: Paul Rhymer.

Duffy’s Tavern: Rudy Vallee’s Show at the Tavern (Season premiere; Blue Network, 1944)—With the always-unseen Duffy back from his vacation, and legendary crooner/bandleader/impresario Rudy Vallee returning to radio, Archie (Ed Gardner) has another one of his (ahem) brilliant ideas—getting Vallee to do one of his shows live from the dive . . . even if neither Archie nor Duffy are big fans of his, necessarily, though “what’s our opinion against that of a million stupid dames?” Eddie: Eddie Green. Finnegan: Charles Cantor. Miss Duffy: Florence Halop. Announcer: John Reed King. Music: Marty Malneck Orchestra. Writers: Ed Gardner, Abe Burrows, unknown others.

Vic & Sade: The Wedding Ring (NBC, 1944)—Uncle Fletcher (Clarence Hartzell) is already bouncy helping plan his landlady’s wedding, but now he’s been instructed to arrange the wedding ring and wants Sade’s (Bernadine Flynn) help picking one. Good luck with that. Vic: Art Van Harvey. Russell: David Whitehouse. Writer/director: Paul Rhymer.

Bob & Ray Present the CBS Radio Network: Leonard Burnside (Wait–don’t tell us! 1959)—The iminent conductor/composer (Bob Elliott) analyses American crooning, before giving way to a brief analysis of current education mysteries with an extinguished professor (Ray Goulding). Writers/improvisors (you’ll find two schools of thought on that, and you might be a graduate of both of them): Bob Elliott, Ray Goulding

 

Crime Drama

The Whistler: Uncle Ben’s Widow (CBS, 1948)—Widowed, hospitalised Monica Dawson (Betty Lou Gerson) meets the elderly passerby who called for help with the road crash that killed her husband (Theodore Von Els), a steamship executive she learned the hard way was paid a mere pittance, while his loyal nephew (Jeff Chandler) stands to inherit the company and the entire family fortune . . . and succumbs to her deceptive charms not long after the crash. The Whistler: Bill Forman. Announcer: Marvin Miller: Music: Wilbur Hatch. (Whistling: Dorothy Roberts.) Director: George W. Allen. Writers: .

 

World War II

Alvar Liddell: 175 Nazi Planes Down (BBC, 1940)—With the London Blitz in full swing, the costliest raid to the Luftwaffe in over a month occurs.

Robin Duff: Convoy Attack Over Dover (BBC, 1940)—There are not bluebirds but bombs, shells, and a BBC observer over the white cliffs and elsewhere at Dover. Much as Edward R. Murrow would do later in the war in Europe, Duff flies with a British crew in and over the battle.

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