This son of Latvian immigrants was born 115 years ago today. He became a newspaper reporter, abbreviated his given surname (Aiskowitz), and caught his big radio break when—doing two spots of criticism and mild humour a week—he had to ad-lib fifteen minutes worth of air time when a scheduled show feed fails the Kansas City station where he worked. Prompting him to invite his wife to join an impromptu chat on bridge (a passion of theirs) and a local murder. (“Would you like to shoot a game of bridge, dear?” his loving wife will ask on microphone).
The unexpected segment became such a surprise success that he was invited to create a regular show, making it work well enough to be invited first to Chicago and, in due course, New York. There, his creation—a serialised comic eavesdropping in on conversations, situations, and absurdities between a malapropping wife and her tart, harried, but loving husband, their boarding best friend and her newspapering paramour, and a small round of revolving support characters—became a consistent and admired radio presence for fifteen years.
Unlike Fred Allen (who overmodestly says Goodman Ace is America’s greatest wit), Goodman Ace burns no midnight oil, drips no sweat. He usually tosses off a script in an hour and a half. His cigars give him a convenient yardstick: a one-cigar script is apt to be terrific, a two-or three-cigar script fair, a four-cigar script a stinkaroo. Rehearsals are similarly carefree. A light once-over usually suffices. Anything more than that, Goodman Ace insists, kills the spark of spontaneity.
Easy Aces has always broadcast at the same hour as Amos ‘n’ Andy, has never achieved a listener rating worth crowing about. But instead of being sensitive, the Aces consider it an uproarious joke on themselves.
—From Time, 2 November 1942.
A lot of times, on the air, I noticed comics in a sketch do a joke that destroys the character because it gets a big laugh.
—Goodman Ace (1899-1982)
Happy birthday, Goodman Ace. In honour of which, herewith . . .
WITH HIS AWFULLY-WEDDED WIFE: THE BEST OF EASY ACES . . .
Easy Aces: Betty Leaves Carl Over the Baby’s Name (CBS, 17 April 1941)—Carl (Alfred Ryder) says, “Susan”; Betty (Ethel Blume) says, “Sheila”; and, Jane (Ace), as usual, says a mouthful, when letting Betty and the baby stay with the Aces until the whole thing blows over. Ace: Goodman Ace. Marge: Mary Hunter. Announcer: Ford Bond. Writer/director: Goodman Ace.
Easy Aces: Jane Smashes the Car (CBS, 13 May 1941)—The baby name rift has led to both the Aces and the young Neffs separating; now, the husbands (Goodman Ace, Alfred Ryder) and the wives (Jane Ace, Ethel Blume) outsmart themselves—in the middle of Jane’s scheme for selling the Aces’ furniture at auction and buying it back to a profit—when Ace borrows Carl’s car to go back to the house, Jane has to back Betty’s car out of the driveway to take Ace’s car to go to the Neff apartment, and everyone’s a smash when they meet just off the Ace driveway. Marge: Mary Hunter. Announcer: Ford Bond. Writer/director: Goodman Ace.
Easy Aces: Jane Helps the War Effort (CBS, 21 January 1943)—Jane (Ace) and her girl friend Dorothy (Betty Garde) hire on as wartime bus drivers, part of a program putting the ladies into the workforce while the gentlemenfolk fight or provide for the war, but what a surprise that Jane drives her bosses to drink faster than she gets the war workers to their wartime jobs, and isn’t this awful—they’ll be guzzling by the gallons when she ropes them into a debate about manhours v. womanhours, which certainly proves she doesn’t believe exasperation ends at home. Additional cast: Unidentified. Announcer: Ford Bond. Writer/director: Goodman Ace.
Easy Aces: Jane and Dorothy Visit Ace (CBS, 22 January 1943)—(Goodman) Ace is mildly surprised to get a lunchtime visit from Jane (Ace) and Dorothy (Betty Garde), still struggling over “manhours” . . . and, apparently, struggling with travel speed and company regulations when they drive over in their empty bus. Miss Thomas: Ann Thomas. Mr. Wilson: Possibly Eric Dressler. Announcer: Ford Bond. Writer/director: Goodman Ace.
Easy Aces: Jane’s Instructor Wants Her to Teach Bridge (Original: CBS, circa 1937; Syndication: Ziv, 1945)—The kicker: He wants her to serve his students as the classic example of how not to play the game. Ace: Goodman Ace. Marge: Mary Hunter. Additional cast: Unknown. Announcer: Truman Bradley. Writer/director: Goodman Ace.
Easy Aces: Jane Listens to a Quiz Show; Jane Prepares for the Quiz Show; Jane Appears on the Quiz Show (Original: CBS; Syndication, Ziv, 1945)—In a classic sequence, Jane (Ace)—reluctant to listen at first—decides she could and should clean up on the Question Mark radio quiz, amusing (Goodman) Ace and Marge (Mary Hunter), but after she gets Neal (Martin Gabel) to help her prepare she goes on the show . . . and prankish Ace may not be laughing any longer. Additional cast: Unidentified. Writer/director: Goodman Ace.
mr. ace and JANE: That is No Lady, That is My Wife (CBS, 4 June 1948)—Under the aegis of this expanded, de-serialised, sitcom-style update of the classic Easy Aces, (Goodman) Ace—under pressure from an automobile advertiser who wants them back—has to convince a retired husband-and-wife comedy team to return to radio: they quit because nobody (they claimed) believed a harried husband and his scatterbrained, malapropping wife were believable . . . so all Ace has to do, then, is invite them to dine at his house, with his scatterbrained, malapropping wife, in one of old-time radio’s funniest self-parodies. Paul: Leon Janney. Norris: Eric Dressler. Additional cast: Unknown. Announcer: Ken Roberts. Music: Morris Sirkin. Writer/director: Goodman Ace.
Whatever Happened To . . .: An Interview with Goodman Ace(WBAI, 1970)—Promoting his freshly-minted collection of scripts and essays, Ladies and Gentlemen, Easy Aces, the third of his four post-radio books (The Book of Little Knowledge: More Than You Wanted To Know About Television; The Fine Art of Hypochondria, or How Are You?; and, The Better of Goodman Ace were the others), Ace—by then a Saturday Review columnist and occasional radio raconteur—revisits his old-time radio career with none of his heralded wryness dissipated. The interview is spiked with assorted clips from Easy Aces, mr. ace and JANE, and The Big Show, the splashy radio comedy-variety for which he served as head writer from 1950-52. Interviewer: Richard Lamparski.
Tune in Today . . .
Fibber McGee & Molly: Fibber Finds a Treasure Map (NBC, 1946)—Jim & Marian Jordan, Bill Thompson (returning from a three-year hitch in the wartime Navy), Arthur Q. Bryan, Gale Gordon, Bea Benaderet, Harlow Wilcox. The Sleuth of 79 Wistful Vista unearths a treasure map while reading a library book, showing a find in town that Molly, for one, doesn’t quite believe. But of course! Writers: Don Quinn, Phil Leslie.
Our Miss Brooks: Cure That Habit (CBS, 1951)—Eve Arden, Gale Gordon, Richard Crenna, Jane Morgan, Gloria McMillan, Jeff Chandler, Leonard Smith, Bill Lally, Francis X. Bushman. Conklin gets literature from quit-drinking groups—unaware it’s yet another one of Walter’s (Richard Crenna) pranks, and learning the hard way one of them reached the school board. Why, it might even drive him to drink. Writer/director: Al Lewis.
Fibber McGee & Molly: Rummage Sale (NBC, 1952)—Jim & Marian Jordan, Bill Thompson, Richard LeGrand, Gale Gordon. Chez McGee is a mess thanks to rummaging through assorted bric-a-brac and clothing for the women’s club’s rummage sale for which Molly is in charge and toward which Fibber is rather amused. Amusing as usual. Writers: Phil Leslie, Keith Fowler.
The Whistler: Murder Has a Signature (CBS, 1945)—Bill Forman, Joseph Kearns, Cathy Lewis, unidentified additional cast. Elderly miser Bess Brewer’s sour, domineering personality has driven her faithful aide Martha into resentment and her formerly wealthy nephew to a shock when she advances him $10,000—on what turns out to be his inheritance. Don’t let it get away. Writer: Louis Espy.
Richard Diamond, Private Detective: The Doug Saxon Case (NBC, 1950)—Dick Powell, Wilms Herbert, Lawrence Dobkin, Jean Bates, Stanley Waxman, Hy Averback, Virginia Gregg, Ed Begley. Diamond accepts a fee from a high-powered newspaper executive bent on exposing a major numbers racket, run by a man who’s threatened to use the man’s daughter to stop him from exposing it. Stop the presses.Writer: Blake Edwards.
The Mysterious Traveler: Key Witness (Mutual, 1952)—Maurice Tarplin, Ralph Bell, Chuck Webster, Bret Morrison, Lawson Zerbe. A syndicate boss fears his usually clever chief accountant won’t be able to ward off a federal probe seemingly aimed at making him a fall guy—but the man somehow escapes the death to which he was lured with the promise of a six-figure payoff for admitting embezzlement and fleeing to throw off the Feds. It’s less cluttered in the performance, I assure you. Writer/directors: Robert A. Arthur, David Kogan.
Romance: The Ghost Goes West (CBS, 1946)—Cary Grant, unidentified additional cast. Grant does yeoman’s work adapting the 1935 romantic comedy/fantasy, playing the Old World ghost who haunts a Scottish family’s castle after dying a coward’s death, and accompanies the castle and the family to Florida where he hopes to find rest by way of a challenge to a family enemy. And he gets away with this one, too. Writer: Jean Holloway, adapting the screenplay by Eric Keown, Rene Clair, Geoffrey Kerr, Robert Sherwood, and Lajos Biro.