19 April: Groucho hits the Wednesday night top

The secret word is "patience" for Groucho's comic quiz's rise. (Photo: NBC.)

The secret word is “patience” for Groucho’s comic quiz’s rise. (Photo: NBC.)

Already reluctant to try his hand at a quiz show format, even if the quiz is designed more to showcase his virtuoso ad-libbing, Groucho Marx has taken a little doing to bring You Bet Your Life to top ratings.

Premiering on ABC in 1947-48, the show launched on Thursday nights and showed nowhere in the night’s top ten or the season’s top fifty. A year later, however, the show twas moved to Wednesday nights—and turned up in eighth place on the night and finished just inside the seasonal top fifty.

This season is proving the charm. After a brief move to CBS, You Bet Your Life moves to NBC. It’ll finish the 1949-50 season just edging Mr. Chameleon (a latter-period Frank and Anne Hummert crime melodrama, emphasis on “melodrama” and lots of it) for first place on Wednesday nights, a position it will hold for three consecutive seasons. Come October 1950, moreover, Groucho will begin delivering a double-punch when You Bet Your Life premieres on television for what proves an eleven-season life—while staying aboard radio until 1960.

Which provided a new professional life entirely for the greasepainted comedian (who no longer needed the greasepaint to resemble his fabled persona) whose film career—with and without his brothers—had just about exhausted itself by the time Groucho, heretofore a radio failure (in the ratings, not in the quality), finally found his radio niche.


You Bet Your Life: The Secret Word is “Name” (NBC, 1950)

And the name of tonight’s game is a wardrobe mistress for Clyde Beatty’s circus and burlesque stage doorman; a fireman and a housewife; and, a newly-engaged couple who both work for Douglas Aircraft (and get almost as many laughs as the host!), serving as the foils for The Groucho.

Announcer: George Fenneman. Music: Jerry Fielding. Director: John Guedel.


Further Channel Surfing . . .


The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny: Don’s Play (NBC, 1942)—Jack Benny, Mary Livingstone, Phil Harris, Dennis Day, Don Wilson. The cast amuse themselves at a drugstore dinner before showtime and, at showtime, even more over Jack’s forthcoming film; another one-act Wilson playlet set in the southwest. Solid Benny.

The Goldbergs: Rosalie is Back Home (CBS, 1942)—Gertrude Berg, Roslyn Siber, Edward Trevor, John R. Waters, Alfred Ryder, Arnold Stang. Nobody seems in a big hurry to let homecoming Rosalie do much other than let her rest from the long trip home—almost, given Jake is even more anxious than Molly usually would be, considering Rosie came home almost as fast as she took off in the first place.

The Bob Hope Show: Baseball Season Opens (NBC, 1949)—Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, Hy Averback, Doris Day. A news recap includes a few zaps around the old ball game, some clever, some mild, and some a little flagrant self-promotion, considering Hope’s partial stake in the 1948 World Series-winning Cleveland Indians. If you’re a Durante fan, stick with his own shows and with his later recurring appearances on The Big Show. (Warning: Incomplete recording.)


Crime Drama

Let George Do It: The Penthouse Roof (Mutual—Don Lee, 1948)—Bob Bailey, Fred Howard, Louise Arthur, Frances Robinson, Wally Maher, Peter Leeds, Charles Seale, Charles Lund. It’s where bird-watching statistician Elliott Wormsley claims to have seen a man pushed off, which he tells Valentine before police discover he wasn’t seeing things—and it ties to a fired executive secretary and his boss’s cheating wife. Boilerplate to a point.

Richard Diamond, Private Detective: Patty Clark (NBC, 1950)—Dick Powell, Ed Begley, Virginia Gregg, Regina Del Rey, Wilms Hebert, Lucille Meredith, Michael Ann Barrett, Carleton Young, Frank Crystal. Diamond finds a dead messenger at his doorstep, follows a man and a woman running downstairs to the street and into a cab, and discovers they have a powerful and deadly interest in a package from a murdered tobacconist. You wonder what might happen if Diamond and Valentine ever teamed up.

Dragnet: The Big Rip (NBC, 1953)—Jack Webb, Ben Alexander, Olan Soule, Vic Perrin, Jack Kruschen. There’s a rash of safecracking around Los Angeles lately, and Friday and Smith —already under heavy pressure to solve the break-ins—have little more than a common crowbar’s marks turning up at several of the crimes’ scenes, until a former robbery suspect, who was cleared and became a valued informant, hands them an unexpected tip. Standard laconic virtuosity.


Drama/Dramatic Anthology

Lux Radio Theater: A Night to Remember (CBS, 1943)—Ann Sothern, Robert Young, unidentified additional cast. Not to be confused, even in the slightest, with the book and film of the same name about the Titanic disaster, never mind that death is still a stench in the room: A wife renting a cozy little Greenwich Village apartment for her mystery writing husband hopes it provides a more appropriate atmosphere for him to work in—which they get only too quickly, when a corpse turns up among the decor. Decent condensation.



Quiet, Please: Clarissa (Mutual, 1948)—Ernest Chappell, Bruno Wick, Peggy Webber. Anxious to finish his new book, a young author rents in an old and reputedly haunted house, whose elderly owner is only too circumspect about why his young daughter remains without once venturing outside, even for schooling . . . even as it seems time has come to a harrowing stop inside. If you seek any kind of stereotypical Quiet, Please episode, you’d probably find this among the top ten contenders.



The Mysterious Traveler: Out of the Past (Mutual, 1949)—Maurice Tarplin (as the Traveler), Santos Ortega, Ann Shepard. Ortega and Shepard have a fine time playing a theatrical couple slightly startled by a letter from “an old friend from Europe,” who now blackmails the wife over an old murder for which she has no true idea who was responsible. Stay with it.

This entry was posted in comedy, crime drama, fantasy, mystery/thriller, old-time radio, quiz show. Bookmark the permalink.