Pearl Harbour will affect Fred Allen as it will all radio entertainers, but in Allen’s case it will provide an inadvertent ratings bump.
The satirist and his Texaco Star Theater hour have struggled against NBC’s Eddie Cantor and Mr. District Attorney on Wednesday nights. But then the Ford Motor Company drops the curtain permanently on its Sunday night CBS mainstay, The Sunday Evening Hour, which featured performances by the Detroit Symphony. “It was wartime,” Jim Harburg would review, in his splendid volume compiling the history of network radio ratings, “and the car maker had nothing to sell.”
Texaco isn’t that alarmed over whether it has anything to sell. The oil giant pounces when Ford retreats and moves Allen and his merry mischief makers to Sunday nights at 9:00 pm Eastern time. And the results become immediate, especially since the move gives Allen a chance to amplify his fabled running gag of a feud with Jack Benny, who’s on two hours earlier and thus gives Allen fresh same-night ammunition.
Allen jumps twenty points in the ratings and will finish with the number seven program on Sunday nights. His 14.2 Hooper doesn’t quite reach Walter Winchell’s rating (26.0) during the 9:00-9:115 quarter hour but it smothers The Parker Family (12.8) which follows Winchell. His new success on Sunday night enables Allen to finish the season overall with a 15.6, bringing him to the top twenty five on the season.
He will do even better in the 1942-43 season with a 17.0 Hooper, making him the number five show on Sunday nights and sneaking him into the top twenty on the season. His 1943-44 season will top that with an 18.0 Hooper, keeping him fifth on Sunday nights despite his late arrival in December and giving him his highest season’s rating since 1939-40. (In December 1943, Allen’s 20.4 rating for the month will be his highest rating in five years.)
It would be that late arrival that tips the end of Allen’s first radio life and second spell aboard CBS. The lateness was due to the hypertension that led to some heart trouble over the summer of 1943. By June 1944, his doctors would order him off the air for a full season’s rest. He’ll return in the fall of 1945, on NBC, for Standard Brands’s Blue Bonnet margarine and Tender Leaf tea, the show’s running time cut in half, his to-be best-remembered “Allen’s Alley” cast in place . . . and the first of three straight top ten seasonal finishes.
Allen yields to Pearl Harbour’s impact on his first show following the atrocity. The classic Texaco Star Theater introduction—the clanging bells and siren, punctuated by the cartoonish car horn, telegraphing a brief fanfare and announcer Jimmy Wallington’s hail (It’s Texaco time with Fred Allen!)—is muted for once. Instead, Wallington opens with a remarkable announcement on behalf of the sponsor, cut off only partially (in its beginning) by the surviving recording:
Tonight, on the air, we hope our Fred Allen show, going on as usual, will provide our audience with helpful diversion. For civilian morale is important, when the first task of every American is to help make America strong. To this task, we dedicate our manpower, our machines, our industry. In this respect, the Texas company is proud to report that the strength of our vital oil industry is by far the greatest in the world. Even the Texas company alone produces more petroleum than all of Europe exclusive of Russia. Yes, all of us have our jobs to do in helping to make America strong. And every American pledges in heart, and in mind, to make it stronger and stronger.
From that point will come the mirth for which the master satirist and his players are renowned justly enough.
Including, but not limited to: A should-be news roundup participant waxing on his foggy deer call; Falstaff Openshaw (Alan Reed) barreling in with his customary doggerel; fanfare and foolery prior to a guest appearance from Hollywood gossip legend Louella Parsons, who has to survive Kenny Baker’s anxiety to break into the pictures; a typical feuding poke or two at an old character actor named J. Benny, Esq.; and, the former Mighty Allen Art Players, now known as the Texaco Workshop Players (Reed, Baker, John Brown, Minerva Pious, Jack Smart, possibly Charles Cantor) taking a not-so-genteel but hardly disrespectful jab at the legendary Death Valley Days.
With Portland Hoffa. Music: Al Goodman Orchestra, Kenny Baker, Jack Wilson. Writers: Fred Allen, Arnold Auerbach, Herman Wouk.
PEARL HARBOUR, AFTERMATH—CONTINUED . . .
News: The Three Front War (CBS)—Updating a passel of war maneuvers around the fulcrums of the battles.
News Bulletin: “Three Direct Hits” (CBS)—Citing sources from the Army, that’s what John Daly reports were made by Army Air Corps bombers against Japanese ships in the Philippines. Also: Further war updates, including the situation in Hawaii itself three days after Pearl Harbour was attacked, and the British standing regarding its then-colony Hong Kong, among others.
(Note: This bulletin actually aired at the end of Texaco Star Theater with Fred Allen. If you’re not an Allen fan, more’s the pity, of course, but you can skip tonight’s TST and hear the bulletin separately if you choose!)
Further Channel Surfing . . .
The Lucky Strike Program Starring Jack Benny: From San Bernadino, California (comedy; NBC, 1944)
Fibber McGee & Molly: Getting LaTrivia and Doc to Fight (comedy; NBC, 1946)
The Whistler: With My Own Eyes (crime drama; CBS, 1946)
The Hallmark Playhouse: Woman with a Sword (dramatic anthology; CBS, 1948)
The Big Show: “And What Patent Medicine Are You Selling?” (variety; NBC, 1950)
Suspense: Blackjack to Kill (mystery/thriller; CBS, 1951)
You Bet Your Life: The Secret Word is “Fire” (quiz/comedy; NBC, 1952)