23 December: The Pine Ridge philosophickers

Chester Lauck (left) and Norris Goff, the irrepressible Lum & Abner. (Photo: CBS)

Chester Lauck (left) and Norris Goff, the irrepressible Lum & Abner. (Photo: CBS)

If Amos ‘n’ Andy had been Ozark whites instead of Chicagoland blacks, they might be Lum & Abner.

Like the Fresh Aire Taxi Company barely-operators, Lum Edwards and Abner Peabody are smarter than they sound, not so smart as they think, and good for a more-than-periodic fleecing by a shifty slicker. Rock-bottom romantics in their idiosyncratic manner, also like Amos ‘n’ Andy, the pair are honest-to-God enterpreneurs who only have the same problem making ends come to within sight of each other as every third American during the Depression era. And they aren’t averse to a little flim-flamming . . . so long as they’re the flim-flammers and not the flim-flammees.

Like Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, who wrote and performed Amos ‘n’ Andy with an empathetic aplomb often lost in the controversy that came to buffet their enterprise, Chester Lauck and Norris Goff succeeded in humanising their subjects. If you turn racism to one side, Ozark whites often provided stereotypes almost as prone to ready ridicule as just about any breed of African-American, and Lauck and Goff let you know they were both in on and just slightly put off by the joke.

They may not have had quite the challenge of standing racism squarely on its head. (It’s a little more politically incorrect even now to suggest that’s exactly what Gosden and Correll achieved, in an era when honest-to-God blacks didn’t have that much of a prayer doing it themselves on the airwaves.) But Lauck and Goff shared with Gosden and Correll—and with their contemporary equals for serial comedy writing such as Goodman Ace (Easy Aces), Paul Rhymer (Vic & Sade), Gertrude Berg (The Goldbergs), and Peg Lynch (Ethel & Albert/The Couple Next Door)—a flawless feel for character depth and pace, and on their own chosen terms.

Lum & Abner would prove to have something else in common with Amos ‘n’ Andy: the core of the show would be wrecked when sitcommed up in the 1940s. Their first co-writer, Roswell Rogers, brought aboard to help the writing when Lauck and Goff were commissioned to make a film, would remember objecting to the change even as Chester Lauck was enthusiastic about giving it a try. Rogers feared exactly what happened: the Jot ‘em Down Sages changed a little too much. Lacking even the small grace of a new or heightened character focus, as the sitcommed Amos ‘n’ Andy would have with the Kingfish, Lum & Abner would disappear within a year or two of the transformation.

The stories paid the price for the sitcomming-up of those and other tranquil serial comedies. Even Vic & Sade, which might have seemed impervious to the change, would have its singular flow-within-the-flow broken too handily by the new need for the big immediate laugh. (The Goldbergs escaped that fate on radio but took the sitcom route when it moved to television.) Which is about what you’d expect when, after all those years of trusting their own judgment and pens, the people who made those shows come alive in the first place let themselves be shoved into packs of writers most of whom won’t exactly have the handle on what made the shows breathe in the first place.

It will show only too soon with Lum & Abner. But that jumps too far ahead for now.

 

TUNE IN TONIGHT:
Lum & Abner: Christmas Story (CBS, 1938)

We try,” co-creator Chester Lauck has told Radio Guide, “to make our program amusing through the situations we build up rather than through the ignorance or obtuseness of any character.” And if you’re looking for an individual episode that proves every word he said is true, even telling a story outside Lum & Abner‘s customary serial style, you’ll find one today.

The Pine Ridge philosophickers are just as good in leaving you to imagine a crawl through the worst of the rural winter as a potbelly stove burning and wares occasionally clacking and clattering inside the Jot ‘em Down Store.

You’ll feel and taste the snow and occasional brisk, slicing shaft of wind today when Grandpap (Chester Lauck, who also plays Lum) asks Lum and Abner (Norris Goff, who also plays Doc) to drag through the snow with him, following the eastern star, bringing supplies for a couple expecting a child. And, to help them find another place to stay, when Doc reveals they’re in an abandones barn, the three waiting outside to toast the coming of 1939, as Doc arranges the supplies for the couple—a carpenter and his wife.

Announcer: Lou Crosby. Writers: Chester Lauck, Norris Goff. (Note: This episode would be repeated every year for a few years to come, usually on or around Christmas Day.)

 

Further Channel Surfing: More Christmas

Fibber McGee & Molly: The Electric Chime Door Bell (NBC, 1941)

The First Couple of 79 Wistful Vista (Jim & Marian Jordan) receive such a door bell as a Christmas present, which rings just right with them, as opposed to a little to-do with Gildersleeve (Harold Peary) that makes someone want to wring someone’s neck. Classic bit: McGee and Teeny (also Marian Jordan) bantering about “miserabletoe.”

Mrs. Uppington: Isabel Randolph. LaTrivia: Gale Gordon. Telegram Man: Mel Blanc. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King’s Men, Martha Tilton. Writer: Don Quinn.

Suspense: Back for Christmas (CBS, 1943)

The Christmas spirit of a henpecked botanist (Peter Lorre) with a particular passion for experiments with home-grown orchids is compromised by his impatient wife, who has little use for his passion and less patience to get aboard their planned holiday cruise. This is an edgily pleasant yarn, probably characteristic to a fault of the early Suspense years, but taken on its own terms it won’t disappoint.

Additional cast: Unidentified. The Man in Black: Possibly Joseph Kearns. Music: Bernard Herrmann. Director: William Spier. Writer: John Collier.

The Great Gildersleeve: Christmas at Home (NBC, 1945)

Gildy (Harold Peary) has a problem the day before Christmas—hiding the presents in any spot in the house Leroy (Walter Tetley) hasn’t discovered first, assuming such a spot can be found. What you’d expect, which isn’t a terrible thing at all.

Birdie: Lillian Randolph. Marjorie: Lurene Tuttle. Hooker: Earle Ross. Floyd: Arthur Q. Bryan. Peavy: Richard LeGrand. Announcer: John Laing. Music: Claude Sweetin. Director: Possibly Cecil Underwood. Writers: Sam Moore, John Whedon.

 

The Lucky Strike Program Starring Jack Benny: The English Butler (NBC, 1945)

Reciprocating for a dinner invitation he received a fortnight earlier, Jack (Benny) invites Ronald Colman and his wife, Benita Hume Colman (as themselves) for dinner—assuming Colman gets over his trepidation about the evening and Jack can get the butler he hired for the night to take it all seriously.

In anyone else’s hands this would be mush. In this crew’s hands, it’s a charm.

Cast: Mary Livingstone, Eddie Anderson, Dennis Day, Phil Harris, Mel Blanc, Don Wilson (announcer). Music: Mahlon Merrick, Phil Harris Orchestra, Dennis Day. Writers: George Balzar, Sam Perrin, Milt Josefsberg.

 

Fibber McGee & Molly: Fibber Loses His Keys in the Snow (NBC, 1947)

The Sap of 79 Wistful Vista (Jim Jordan) usually prefers to give, not receive snow jobs, but he’s got a dandy on his hands when he can’t find a set of keys in the cold white stuff. And that’s almost as much fun in this troupe’s hands (anyone else would probably blow the whole thing in two minutes) as hearing Teeny (Marian Jordan, who also plays Molly), reprise her charming performance (with the King’s Men) of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

The Old Timer/Wallace Wimpole: Bill Thompson. F. Ogden Williams: Gale Gordon. Doc: Arthur Q. Bryan. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King’s Men. Writers: Don Quinn, Phil Leslie.

 

The Aldrich Family: Christmas Program (NBC, 1948)

It’s beginning to look a lot like a pain in the rump roast to find a few too many classic radio holiday episodes called, “Christmas Program” or “Christmas Show.” But here ’tis the week before Christmas, and all through the house, Sam (House Jameson) thinks Henry (Ezra Stone) is being solicitous enough of late to suggest an ulterior yuletide motive; Alice (Katherine Raht) thinks Sam’s being too suspicious for his own good; and, Hen-reeeeeee! really is maneuvering for a certain Christmas present—unaware that his parents think he’s angling for something else.

This is definitely for diehard Aldrich Family fans only.

Homer: Jackie Kelk. Announcer: Hugh James. Music: Jack Miller. Writers: Norman Tokar (who once played Henry when Ezra Stone went off to World War II, before he himself went into the Signal Corps!), Ed Jurist.

The Henry Morgan Show: Christmas Story (NBC, 1949)

The cheerfully cantankerous comedian’s opening monologue does a subtly racy job of setting it up: some neighbourhood city kids who go from worrying about getting Santa into the house—when it has not chimneys but radiators—to being audacious enough to ask Congress for help.

God help them.

The kids: Butch Cabell, David Anderson, Joan Laser. Regular cast: Cast: Arnold Stang, Pert Kelton, Fran Warren, Ben Grauer, Art Carney, Jack Albertson, Joan Gibson. Announcer: Ben Grauer. Music: Bernie Green Orchestra. Writers: Henry Morgan, Carroll Moore, Jr., Aaron Ruben, Joseph Stein. (Note: the source file lists the wrong broadcast date.)

Fibber McGee & Molly: Decorating the Tree (NBC, 1953)

Doc (Arthur Q. Bryan) and his girlfriend Doris (Mary Jane Croft) pitch in to help trim the McGees’ (Jim & Marian Jordan) just in time for Christmas, which probably takes a lot of doing in the first place knowing the Slug of 79 Wistful Vista.

Announcer: John Wald. Director: Max Hutto. Writers: Phil Leslie, Bill Danch.

Further Channel Surfing, Period . . .

Lux Radio Theater: Young Tom Edison (dramatic anthology; CBS, 1940)
Vic & Sade: A Letter from Aunt Bess (comedy; NBC, 1940)
The Goldbergs: Jake Yells at Molly (comedy/drama; CBS, 1941)
Lux Radio Theater: Do You Love Me (dramatic anthology; CBS, 1946)
The Whistler: Next Year is Mine (crime drama; CBS, 1946)

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4 Responses to 23 December: The Pine Ridge philosophickers

  1. Tim Hollis shared this article on Facebook! Nicely written! A couple of corrections: Chet Lauck played Grandpappy Spears, and Tuffy Goff was the voice of Doc Miller. Also, I’d like to invite you to check out the “Lum and Abner” comic strip, which I’ve been producing for 4 1/2 years. I will place the URL in the “Website” blank you’ve provided. I do a Sunday comic strip plus an audio adaptation for our many blind friends (but everyone is invited to listen). This week’s strip is a flashback to Christmas 1953 (with some 1989 art). Three or four continuities are available in my archives pages. Thanks! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    • Jeff Kallman says:

      Donnie—Thanks and the fix is made. I’ll check that strip as soon as I can, and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!

      • Thank you! I hope you like my efforts! No way do I think my audio does justice to the REAL “Lum and Abner” of course. Just want to keep L&A going in one form or another, and hopefully get others interested in the original radio classics!

        • Jeff Kallman says:

          Donnie—Any effort to bring classic network radio to 21st Century listeners is not in vain! Especially since the shows are widely available, in the public domain, and easily downloadable.