Too close for Sinatra’s comfort? Old-time radio listening, 17 November

Rocky Fortune: A Hepcat Kills the Canary (NBC, 1953)

Sinatra sometimes bumped against his own real-time heartbreak playing Rocky Fortune . . . (Photo: NBC)

Tonight’s installment in this short-lived, off-beat crime drama—it may prove a kind of pilot fish for television’s later-1950s smash, 77 Sunset Strip, playing the private-eye theme for laughs, with an accidental protagonist who isn’t even a private eye, license or otherwise, as 77′s jaunty Kookie will be—may hit a little too close to home for its between-sorts star.

The episode: His first music gig in years lures Fortune (Frank Sinatra) into a jam that threatens to become his swan song. An old friend asks him to stand in for his bassist—once a mainstay with some of the country’s biggest jazz bands, driven since to drink by broken romance.

Rocky, however, finds the bassist’s wings on the wrong flight, when his ex-girlfriend is found dead and his singer—who just so happens to be his former wife in the bargain—only appears to be a framing victim . . . so far.

It’s a psychologically challenging role for Sinatra’s otherwise wearily footloose character to play, considering the dissipation of Sinatra’s own private life in this time and place. He isn’t yet aware of just how his performance in From Here to Eternity will resurrect him. His tempestuous marriage to Ava Gardner is all but finished. And, his resurrection as a singer is not quite secured yet, though when it is he’ll remake his name wavering evenly between ring-a-ding-ding rakishness and the man’s man reduced to rubble by lost love.

Maybe two or more generations of men with fantasies of cool swinging and realities of broken hearts and dreams will identify with that Sinatra far more than the bobbysoxers of the previous decade identified with (and wanted to land) the needing-mothering Voice. It would be deeper than anyone identifies with half-indifferent, half-insouciant Rocky Fortune. Appropriately, the show will not last beyond one season.

Not that Sinatra will mourn its demise. By that time, From Here to Eternity becomes its legend, the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor lands in his hands, and he can write his own ticket from there to eternity, just about. With one exception—the short-lived (in a blink, you could miss it) To Be Perfectly Frank, Rocky Fortune means the Chairman of the Board’s final days aboard regularly-scheduled network radio.

Lesser men and women have ended radio careers with far lesser exercises.

Additional cast: Jack Kruschen, Jean Tatum, Tom Holland, Frank Gershel, Barney Phillips. Announcer: Eddie King. Director: Andrew C. Love. Writer: George Lefferts.

 

FURTHER CHANNEL SURFING . . .

Comedy

Fibber McGee & Molly: Twenty-Thousand Dollar Sofa (NBC, 1942)—Fibber (Jim Jordan) decides to clean out the attic after Molly (Marian Jordan, who also plays Teeny) finds his old Army uniform, and discover a grand-uncle’s note claiming large dollars are embedded in an old family sofa—assuming the First Couple of 79 Wistful Vista can find the sofa in the first place. La Trivia: Gale Gordon. Mrs. Uppington: Amanda Randolph. Wimpole: Bill Thompson. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King’s Men. Writer: Don Quinn.

It Pays to Be Ignorant: Why is Kissing a Girl Like Opening a Jar of Olives? (CBS, 1944)That’s merely the opening salvo in a round of mayhem that includes cartoonist and Can You Top This? panelist Harry Hirschfield. The usual cheerful insanity. Host: Tom Howard. Panel: Harry Naughton, Lulu McConnell, George Shelton. Announcer: Ken Roberts.

The Judy Canova Show: A Letter from Cactus Junction (NBC, 1945)—Cousin Belle’s letter from back home perks Judy (Canova) into hunting football tickets: her old boyfriend, freshly discharged from the Army, has resumed his football career and is coming Judy’s way. Pedro: Mel Blanc. Aunt Aggie: Verna Felton. Geranium: Ruby Dandridge. Botsford: Joseph Kearns. Announcer: Verne Smith. Music: Opie Cates and His Orchestra, the Sports Men. Director: Joe Rines. Writers: Fred Fox, Henry Hoople.

Adventures of Maisie: Next Stop, Niagara Falls (Syndicated, 1949)—Maisie’s (Ann Sothern) daydream about what life could have been had she married her ex-boyfriend (Pat McGeehan) instead of running away turns into his surprise visit, a lunch date during which she accidentally gets him fired, and a trip they’ll both regret when Maisie packs them both for the journey. It kind of figures. Mrs. Kennedy: Bea Benaderet. Merton: Sidney Miller. Marcia: Joan Banks. Additional cast: Joe Forte. Announcer: Jack McCoy. Music: Harry Zimmerman. Writer: Arthur Phillips.

The Life of Riley: Riley’s First Date Flashback (NBC, 1950)—The big lug (William Bendix) is prompted to it (When I took your mother out on our first date, was I scared of her? Of course not! Now, yes—but then, no!) by Junior’s (Bobby Ellis) first date—which the young man is afraid to keep. Peg: Paula Winslowe. Digger: John Broen. Mother Riley: Jane Morgan. Additional cast: Alan Reed, Lou Merrill, Herb Vigran. Announcer: Jimmy Wallington. Writers: Ruben Shipp, Alan Lipscott.

Fibber McGee & Molly: Duck Hunting is Successful (NBC, 1953)McGee (Jim Jordan), Doc (Arthur Q. Bryan), and Herb (Parley Baer) can’t wait to hit the lake shooting, assuming there are no large predators out and about. Warden: Jess Kirkpatrick. Announcer: John Wald. Director: Max Hutto. Writer: Phil Leslie, Ralph Goodman.

 

Crime Drama

Broadway is My Beat: The Joan Fuller Murder Case (CBS, 1950)—A beautiful maid wearing one of her employer’s exclusive creations is found dead near the Central Park lake, after she borrowed the woman’s dress to impress a young man (Richard Crenna) from their hometown, who’s honeymooning in New York with his wealthy, middle-aged wife (Irene Tedrow) and may know more about the dead girl from home than he lets on. Gladys Hampton: Peggy Webber. Clothier: Bob Bruce. Mr. Fuller: Stan Waxman. Clover: Larry Thor. Muggavan: Jack Kruschen. Tartaglia: Charles Calvert. Announcer: Dan Cubberly. Music: Alexander Courage. Director: Elliott Lewis. Writers: Morton Fine, David Friedkin.

Broadway is My Beat: The Alex Raymond Murder Case (CBS, 1951)—Clover (Larry Thor) finds wealthy toymaker Alex Raymond shot and dying, hears Raymond finger his long-time designer Stanley Lawson, whom he’d just fired, but when Lawson’s wife (possibly Charlotte Lawrence) seems to suggest her husband committed the killing, it sends Clover on a hunt turning up a fatal double cross. Additional cast and announcer: Unidentified. Tartaglia: Charles Calvert. Muggavan: Jack Kruschen. Music: Alexander Courage. Director: Elliott Lewis. Writers: Morton Fine, David Friedkin.

21st Precinct: The Case of the Basket (CBS, 1953)—While poring through a mountain of paperwork, Capt. Kennelly (Everett Sloane) gets a call about a missing girl after a woman in the laundry where it happened reported the disappearance to a beat officer, then gets suspicious when learning the child’s parents were separated recently and a commercial laundry basket turns up missing. This could have been New York’s version of Dragnet but for the often too-busy style. Sgt. Waters: Harold Stone. Lt. King: Ken Lynch. Additional cast: Larson Kirby, Ralph Comago, Mandel Kramer, Irene Palmer. Announcer: Art Hanna. Writer/director: Stanley Niss.

 

Drama/Dramatic Anthology

Columbia Workshop: Luck (CBS, 1937)—Billed as the second in a trilogy of Wilbur Daniel Steele stories, it chronicles big, raw-boned, smugly confident Will Yard (Walter Gruse), who believes in making his own luck; smaller, somewhat disabled Jennison (Luis van Rooten), who has come bitterly to believe in life being purely a matter of luck; and, what they learn or un-learn over a not necessarily friendly poker game in which Jennison has an early, unexpected triumph that disgusts Yard. Additional cast; Frank Riddick. Music: Bernard Herrmann. Director: Martin Gosch. Writer: Margaret Lewirth, adapted from the short story by Wilbur Daniel Steele.

The Hallmark Playhouse: Letter to Mr. Priest (CBS, 1949)—Margaret Cousins’s short story receives a radio treatment as gentle as the story was written originally: Once the man most likely to succeed according to his college graduating class, a country lawyer (Lew Ayres)—whose big ambitions were thwarted by World War I and his father’s illness and death—is now asked to provide his accomplishments for his class’s 30th reunion, causing him to reflect upon and question, severely, just what his life’s been worth, despite his town’s hard-won respect, his reputation for putting right over remuneration, and his loving, happy marriage. Additional cast: Unidentified. Host: James Hilton. Announcer: Frank Goss. Music: Lyn Murray. Director: Dee Engelbach. Writers: Jack Rubin.

Dr. Kildare: Mr. Bradley’s Damaged Heart (Syndicated, 1950)—Bradley’s (Wilms Herbert) collapse, after a typically overworking day, has Kildare (Lew Ayres) and Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore) hoping it’s only a warning sign that he’ll heed in the middle of a major job. Mary: Jane Webb. Nurse Parker: Virginia Gregg. Additional cast: Georgia Ellis, Vic Perrin. Announcer: Dick Joy. Writer: Les Crutchfield.

Lux Radio Theater: Merton of the Movies (CBS, 1941)—Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland step brightly into this adaptation of the 1922 stage play about a Midwestern storekeeper who hungers to acting but proves such an overactor that he’s cast in a comedy while told he’s been cast in a drama. Special treat: Rooney and Garland clown it up before singing “How About You?” from Babes in Brooklyn, which they finished making just prior to tonight’s performance, the first time the Burton Lane-Ralph Freed number is heard on radio. Host/producer: Cecil B. DeMille. Announcer: Melvin Ruick. Music: Louis Silver. Adapted from the George S. Kaufman-Marc Connelly play, based on the novel by Harry Leon Wilson.

 

Fantasy

Quiet, Please: Kill Me Again (Mutual, 1947)—An otherwise sinless man (Ernest Chappell, who narrates) sells his soul for a million dollars, dies almost at once, and discovers there’s more than one devil’s bargain to be had when it only looks as though you outsmarted Ol’ Splitfoot (James Monks). Black Marketeer: J. Pat O’Malley. Girl: Peggy Stanley. Music: Gene Perazzo. Writer/director: Wyllis Cooper.

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