Category Archives: fantasy

10 November: The fear of “The Beard”

Monty Woolley as The Magnificent Montague. (Photo: NBC.)

Monty Woolley as The Magnificent Montague. (Photo: NBC.)

Anyone who’s listened to Monty Woolley in his many radio guest shots, or his short-lived stab at his own radio series, might come away believing him a privileged character who sometimes seemed discomfited by it and other times, amused.

Woolley was a popular guest performer on 1940s radio. (Fred Allen and Duffy’s Tavern throve on his guest appearances from time to time.) The penultimate impression he leaves behind, however, is that he probably deserved better than to have had his most famous stage and film role entrap him into a stereotype only partially unraveled by his most memorable attempt at series radio on his own.

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7 November: Maxwell’s house

Jack Benny (left), Eddie (Rochester) Anderson, and the Maxwell . . . (Photo: NBC.)

Jack Benny (left), Eddie (Rochester) Anderson, and the Maxwell . . . (Photo: NBC.)

Few radio running gags are more prevalent than Jack Benny’s aging Maxwell automobile. It barely breaks five miles an hour (and that’s pushing it), and it breaks down every five miles (if that far) with a wheezily sputtering phat-phat-bang! It carries Benny along on his way to becoming radio’s rarely-challenged king.

Benny’s skinflint radio self, of course, bought his Maxwell cheap from a used car dealer referenced on the air as as the Smiling Pilgrim. The real Maxwell Motor Company has a slightly more interesting story of its own to tell.

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3 November: Benny’s big moment

Benny and Livingstone in a lighthearted moment; 1940 proved a big year for the comic couple. (Photo: NBC.)

Benny and Livingstone in a lighthearted moment; 1940 proves a big year for the comic couple. (Photo: NBC.)

In some ways, the 1940-41 season proves to be the first season of the rest of Jack Benny’s broadcasting life.

Oh, sure, Benny will finish the season at number one, both on Sunday nights and for the season as a whole. (His ’40-41 Hooper rating: 30.8, more than double the Sunday night average and a fraction short of double the whole-season average.) And he got a nice enough bump up from the success of bringing his on-again, off-again Western spoofs into the feature film hit Buck Benny Rides Again the previous summer.

Posted in classic radio, comedy, crime drama, drama/dramatic anthology, fantasy, mystery/thriller, News and comment, old-time radio, World War II | 2 Comments

13 September: Character counts

Dragnet: The Big Waiter (NBC, 1951)

Jack Webb (lowest right) preparing for a Dragnet transcription. Co-announcer Hal Gibney, upper right. (Photo: NBC.)

Jack Webb (lowest right) preparing for a Dragnet transcription. Co-announcer Hal Gibney, upper right. (Photo: NBC.)

No less than The Commonweal, the lay Catholic intellectual journal of opinion, is impressed that Dragnet leaves a number of heretofore intractable radio crime drama stereotypes behind:

[N]o stereotypical hoodlums with congenital inability to voice the tongue-point dental fricative; no dem’s and dose’s. If intelligence can be measured as the number of shades visible between black and white, Dragnet is an intelligent program. Character is not subordinated to the arbitrary requirements of an action-packed script.

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Spare the child? Old-time radio, 10 August

The CBS Radio Workshop: Only Johnny Knows (CBS, 1956)

Jackson Beck, who was more than just the latter-day voice of Bluto . . . (Photo: CBS.)

Jackson Beck, who was more than just the latter-day voice of Bluto . . . (Photo: CBS.)

Constricted by the limit of the half-hour program, but sobering nevertheless, here is an analysis of American child-rearing, in historical but seriocomic form, from colonial to contemporary times. A few strains in the prose and the dialogue, but as good as it gets for its time and place.

Modern Mother: Katherine Anderson. Observer: Jackson Beck. Additional cast: Mary Patton, Ian Martin, Sarah Fussell, Joe Helgeson, Ed Prentiss, Lawson Serby, Nell Harrison, Ethel Owen, Ruth Tobin.

Posted in classic radio, comedy, drama/dramatic anthology, fantasy, Music/Variety | 4 Comments