Friday, May 22, 2015

The Unsolved Mystery of Bob Hope

Doris Day and Bob Hope
Bob Hope and his South Pacific partners, songstress Frances Langford, comedian Jerry Collonna, not to mention Patty Thomas and vaudevillian Barney Dean, made a number of trips overseas to entertain troops. The exact number has not been official because every account offers a different number (but the general statistic is 199.) Since July 27 happens to be the anniversary of Bob Hope's death, it seems only fitting to acknowledge the service he provided to so many American troops. In 1941, he was awards an Oscar for his “contribution to humanity,” in giving a record-breaking 562 benefits in two years. 

“I was born with a sense of timing and coordination,” Bob Hope later recalled. A master of the gag and ad-libbing, star of stage, screen and radio, the inimitable showman also produced two bestsellers, They’ve Got Me Covered and I Never Left Home. The latter of which brought us highlights of his amazing experiences from his U.S.O. tours through the jungles and islands of the South Pacific. The American people received these great civilian-soldiers enthusiastically, and were so grateful for the straight link they provided with their boys overseas. Bob Hope was essentially a “showman.” He was at his best when he was singing songs and cracking jokes that mean home and heart to millions of service boys. 

Both telegrams courtesy of Jerry McKeown.

After reading the first telegram, this one is ironic.

On radio, Hope took advantage of the medium to entertain troops through the Command Performance programs, and on rare occasion, promoted his efforts in the hopes that radio listeners would be inspired to do their part in the cause. On June 21, 1945, NBC offered a broadcast of Bob Hope, Jerry Colonna and Patty Thomas making plans to leave for their sixth U.S.O. tour. Just days before, on June 5, the final episode of The Pepsodent Show was broadcast from the first Carrier Command, Sedalia Army Air Command near  Kansas City, Missouri. Bob Hope announced he was spending the summer on another tour, and before the episode closed, dreamed that he was being court-martialed after flying over "The Hump" in China. 

When he returned to America, Bob Hope was a guest on the September 2, 1945 broadcast of We, The People, discussing his tour through Germany, now that the war was over.  

On October 4, 1948, Bob Hope was among a celebrity lineup (consisting of Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Marlene Dietrich, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Dinah Shore, Harold Peary, Jack Benny, Larry Adler, George Montgomery and Gregory Peck), for ABC's The Waking Giant, a radio special celebrating the post-war re-activation of the U.S.O.

Bob Hope and his writers. (Photo courtesy of Jerry McKeown)
For the November 19, 1950 broadcast of The Big Show, Bob Hope delivered a comedic monologue about entertaining the U.S. troops in Korea. Other assorted Bob Hope guest spots noteworthy of listening to is the October 12, 1944 broadcast of The Kraft Music Hall, starring Bing Crosby, in which Hope thanked Bing for entertaining the troops. Crosby had recently returned from his trip, and wanted to express the same satisfaction Hope received from the American G.I.s. (All of The Pepsodent Show broadcasts from 1944-45, by the way, originated from various naval bases and military air fields, with Hope and the cast entertaining troops here at home.)

All of the radio broadcasts described above exist in recorded form and are worthy of seeking out for entertainment, and a reminder of how busy the entertainer was, between a weekly radio program, movie roles and an occasional magazine article.

Now the mystery...
Bob Hope also took time to promote his 1944 book, I Never Left Home, a sparkling account of what he saw and did on his first overseas U.S.O. entertainment junket to Europe and Africa. It sold over 1.5 million copies and was promoted many times over the radio. The most popular was the January 8, 1945 broadcast of The Lux Radio Theater, when an adaptation of the book was dramatized, with Bob Hope, Tony Ramano and Jerry Colonna in the cast. The radio script was written by Sanford Barnett. What remains a mystery (temporarily as we're still digging into an archive) is who wrote the radio script for The Cavalcade of America that quietly promoted the same book?

A Bob Hope 78 released through Capitol Records.

THE CAVALCADE OF AMERICA
Episode #405  “REPORT FROM THE PACIFIC”  Broadcast October 16, 1944
Cast: 
Jerry Collonna (as himself); Richard Crenna (the soldier and Wally); Barney Dean (as himself); Frank Graham (Blue Water and the narrator); Tom Holland (voice #1 and voice #3 and Doc); Bob Hope (as himself); Bob Jellison (man #4 and Maurie and voice #5); Frances Langford (as herself); Dorothy Lovett (the Red Cross girl); Eddie Marr (voice #7 and voice #2 and voice #4); Frank Martin (Ferguson and man #2 and Slim); John McIntire (Reyes and man #1); Tyler McVey (Gus and man #3 and the dentist); Franklin Parker (voice #6 and voice #8); and Patty Thomas (as herself).
Producer: Jack Zoller
Director: Jack Zoller
Program Announcer: Walter Huston
Commercial Announcer: Gayne Whitman
Music Composer: Robert Armbruster
Music Conductor: Robert Armbruster

Photo taken during actual Cavalcade of America performance!



The writer of this script remains unknown, but it’s believed Bob Hope or his staff of writers hammered the typewriter keys, because the script still remains copyrighted 1943 by Bob Hope Productions. DuPont does not own the rights to this script, and the only existing copies of the script at the Library of Congress and DuPont archives fail to cite the script writer on the cover. What is clear is the mention of Hope's latest book, and the fact that incidents dramatized for this episode were adapted from the book. Perhaps one day soon we'll solve this mystery.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Art Carney: An Unpublished Interview

Art Carney
In June of 1962, Pete Martin interviewed Art Carney by phone with the intention of interviewing Jackie Gleason for a book, Conversations by Jackie Gleason. Martin's objective was to ghost write Gleason's book, providing a verbal account by Gleason through artistic merit. Martin was a celebrated ghost writer for Hollywood celebrities, gifted for digging into the facts before he even began typing the first chapter. He ghost wrote two of Bob Hope's books and numerous magazine articles. I was recently privy to zeroed copies of many of his unpublished works, including a completed unpublished autobiography of Arthur Godfrey, and the same for Bob Hope. (I have since passed them on to a publishing company that has made arrangements for these projects to finally meet fruition.)

Doing research about Jackie Gleason, before interviewing "The Great One" himself, Martin conducted an interview with Carney. Reprinted below are excerpts from that interview and keep in mind that Carney's words in this transcript are certainly his own. No ghost writing here.

PM: Tell me how The Honeymooners did start because I'd lie to get him to tell me about it. If you tell me, I can make more sense.

AC: Actually, well, as far as I know now, his story may not jibe with mine... when he was on the Cavalcade of Stars, he did Reggie, the Poor Soul, Fenwick Babbit (?)... you know, assorted characters like The Loudmouth. And The Honeymooners was just another sketch about this bus driver and I was written in as a neighbor, the guy who lived upstairs. I did my own characterization, this Brooklyn-type guy, Norton, and the fact that he worked in the sewer.

PM: That was a stroke of genius.

AC: Yeah, it worked out wonderfully because I think the reason they wrote this guy as a sewer worker is that it bounced off with a gag against Gleason's being a bus driver -- his being up above the ground and me down below the ground, you know. I kept things rolling along downstairs. He kept rolling along up there.

PM: Is he a man that when he shakes hands on a deal, it's a deal as far as he's concerned?

AC: As far as I'm concerned it is. He and I have never had one argument or ill feeling toward each other, any kind, anything small or anything like that, I'm sure he trusted me and he knew that I wasn't after his job or wasn't going to steal a scene from him, or something like that. Because we'd play straight for each other, actually. It was nothing like a straight man and a stooge, or a comic and a stooge. Very often in the sketches he would have the punch lines. He would have the laugh lines and I'd set it up for him. And then two or three minutes later it would be reverse, and he'd set up a gag for me beautifully and I'd get the punch line.

PM: You make it sound like it's almost unrehearsed.

AC: Well, we didn't have much rehearsal. That's one thing you can talk to him about... rehearsals.

PM: He's not a follower of a script, you mean?

AC: Well, it's not that so much. He never cared about rehearsing for long periods of time, for comedy, that is, when we did our show. Yet, he's a very fast study when he wants to be, much faster than I am, quicker than I am. I don't know how he does it. He's got his own system, maybe a photographic memory or something. I don't know.

PM: He's not a standup actor, is he? Like Bob Hope.

AC: No. In other words to me, Gleason as opposed to Hope or Berle, can be believable in a sketch doing characters. He is much more believable to me than Hope or Berle or some of these other fellows that try to do comedy sketches. By the same token, I am not a standup comic or emcee. Gleason to my way of thinking is not either.

PM: He claims he's not, eh?

AC: No, he's being honest about it.

PM: He says he's a lousy emcee.

AC: Well, i don't think he;s a good one either, you know?

PM: I tried to get Jack Benny to tell me about timing one afternoon, but he couldn't tell me at all. He couldn't even begin to tell me about it. He just gave up. I suppose he waits longer than anybody else. I supposed that's why we think he's good.

AC: It's hard to put your finger on because it's different every time, when you're working in front of an audience. Let me put it this way. Some people can tell a funny sort, a joke, they don't have to be in this business. I know friends of mine that are not in this cock-eyed business that I'm in that tell a great story in that they've got the ability you know to tell it right. And how often have you heard someone say, I'll tell you a story, but you'll probably wreck it, you know. They start out that way. They don't have the natural something-or-other quality, the sense of timing, the humor, or something to get through to the punch line. There again I think you're born with it.

PM: Well, Jackie's obviously got this quality, whatever it is.

AC: he sure has. he does the most beautiful takes and double-takes, and he can do the longest takes, to make you laugh, that I've ever seen. Once in a while when I catch one of those re-runs I always sit back and look at the two of us, and laugh. I laugh at him, and at myself, and then I think, 'Gee, and I conceited or something.' I'm looking at the two characters as... not me. I get a bang out of them.

PM: So I imagine that's the way you felt.

AC: Yeah. My first TV re-runs I just get a big charge out of them. I sit back and laugh. Gleason is a big fan of Laurel and Hardy. As a matter of fact, once or twice during the show we'd do some take-off and he'd do Oliver Hardy and I'd do Stan Laurel. During the frame of The Honeymooners. Like when I had entertainment or something at the Raccoon Club or something, and Cramden and Norton had to supply some entertainment so Cramden would say we'd do Laurel and Hardy.

PM: There is going to be an awful lot of disappointments this fall because most everyone thinks you're coming back with Jackie in The Honeymooners on TV this fall, and you told me you weren't.

AC: Well, there's been so much publicity about it.

PM: I know. My farm boy, for example, was looking forward to it. He said, 'When you see Mr. Carney, tell him I can't wait. I'm waiting for The Honeymooners. I'm waiting for this fall.' I've got to tell him you won't be there. It's going to be a great shock to him.

AC: Well, you see, they're so overly-anxious, the newspapers that is, to get stuff in there, that it's not accurate and you read that I'm going to be with him. You know, that's Gleason's going to back and Carney's going to be with him, and so forth and so on.

PM: Well, that's what I've read to.

AC: And it's not set and occasionally as I told you before, we hope to work with each other. But as of now, it's not on paper and not on any regular basis, until we find out what's going to happen [with Carney's present stage work]. But I have to tend to my affairs and my manager and I, McAffrey, I don't know if you met him. We have to work together and see that I don't all of a sudden have a slump because as you know this kind of business is... well....

PM: It's a roller coaster, isn't it? It could be.

AC: It's like the life of a ballplayer. It lasts so long. After so long, you get up to the top and then where do you go from there? And if you go down the other side of the hill you go as gracefully as possible.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

History of SPERDVAC

1999 Convention. Fred Foy and John Hart
The Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety And Comedy (SPERDVAC) traces its beginnings back to May of 1974, when Ken Stern's show debuted on KCSN-FM ,Cal State Northridge, California. Initially, Kevin played LP comedy cuts on his three-hour Thursday night program intitled "Canyons of the Mind." Getting permission from the program manager, he began airing tapes of old-time radio shows supplied to him by collector Jerry Haendiges. A listener, Gene Ward, suggested a new title for the show and "Don't Touch That Dial" was born. Another listener, Jim Coontz, contacted Kevin with the idea of forming a group consisting of enthusiasts & collectors, in which they could share their passion for Old-Time Radio (also known as OTR). The first membership meeting (with about 12 people attending) was held in November of 1974 and it was here that SPERDVAC was born. Jim Coontz was chosen to be the first president, a charter was drawn up with 7 goals and a California non-profit corporation status was applied for and granted. Over the years succeeding presidents were Joe Crawford, Bobb Lynes, Larry Gassman, Don McCroskey and Bob Steinmetz.

With Jerry Haendiges donating some of his OTR shows to start a lending library, other members and sources added more to the collection of reel-to-reel tapes. Soon after, there were hundreds of shows in the libraries,  both General and Archives [original source] which could be borrowed by mail by members all across the USA.

June Foray at the SPERDVAC dinner banquet.

Frankie Thomas as Tom Corbett

Barbara Fuller

Stan Freeberg

One of the seven original goals was to honor those pioneers who had contributed so much to make radio the memorable medium it was during those "Golden Years." The first guest speaker at a meeting was Stan Freberg, who became SPERDVAC Honorary Member #1. Ever after, when a person (who worked in radio during the golden age) spoke at a meeting or performed at a later convention, they would become an Honorary Member. "Younger" people were given a Friend of SPERDVAC award. The Honorary Member list has grown to over 400!

Actress Shirley Mitchell
"At a meeting in 1982, Byron Kane suggested that he and a group of OTR actors put on a re-creation for SPERDVAC and that became the Suspense play done at the Capitol Records building in Hollywood," recalled Bobb Lynes. "Other re-creations followed, and the next step was a full-fledged OTR convention.  Using the Friends of Old Time Radio convention as a guide, the first SPERDVAC convention was held in November 1984, and annually almost every year since then. At those conventions and meetings and dinners, SPERDVAC has been treated to the talents of such OTR giants as Les Tremayne, Carleton Morse, Marvin Miller, Rudy Vallee, Arch Oboler, Norman Corwin, Jim (Fibber McGee) Jordan, June Foray, Himan Brown, Steve Allen, George Ansbro, Fletcher Markle and Ezra Sone, just to name a few."

Gil Stratton
Early on, SPERDVAC was chosen to be the repository for the Cecil B. DeMille Lux Radio Theater discs and scripts, George Burns donated his collection of shows, and many others have lent or given their discs to the collection including Dorothy Lamour, and a vast depository of Lone Ranger and Sergeant Preston recordings. The lending libraries (with thousands of shows) continue to grow as newly-discovered material is found, and SPERDVAC has archived (audio and video) most of its meetings and conventions over the years. These CDs and DVDs as well as hundreds of scripts, are available for members to check out.

Looking back over the years, SPERDVAC accomplished quite a lot. In 1982, six members of the CBS stock company from the 1950s was seated together for a reunion panel during one of the meetings. Norman Corwin spoke at SPERDVAC for the first time in 1978 and would return numerous times. From 1980 to 1982, the club had three dinners as the famous Brown Derby (Frank Nelson, Lurene Tuttle and Bea Wain spoke at those dinners). Jim Jordan was among the special guests. In 1987, Leonard Maltin taped a segment of SPERDVAC for Entertainment Tonight. The Larry King Show once contacted SPERDVAC in the hopes of securing a guest from Mutual radio. And the list grows on and on...

SPERDVAC has a monthly magazine/newsletter called Radiogram, that offers insightful articles about old-time radio programs, obituaries for OTR celebrities, news about the hobby in general, book reviews and much more. They send out eleven issues a year (they don't send one out in December) and the subscription rate is $15 a year. Patrick Lucanio is the editor and he's done a superb job. Personally, it's one of the three magazines I get every year that I enjoy reading and often find myself skimming through the pages while still parked at the post office.

Membership is still $25.00, with a $15.00 annual renewal. Membership not only offers a one-year subscription to Radiogram, but access to the lending libraries as well. For more information, call the toll-free number (877) 251-5771 or visit their web-site at www.sperdvac.org

Mailing address is SPERDVAC, Box 669, Manhattan Beach, CA 92066

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Digiplex Churchville

My initial intention was to do a review of THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON and focus on the character development of Captain America and the role he plays in the second Avengers movie. Fan boys at conventions wear tee-shirts that shout "In Whedon We Trust" and Joss Whedon certainly understands the characters and the way they should be portrayed on the big screen. For Marvel's screen version the character started out as a poster boy and graduated to a man respected by his peers... and feared by those who plotted against America. Adaptations from comic books can never be faithful one hundred percent. Let's be fair. Love the costume or hate the costume, there were many over the decades as a result of various artists. I generally go in to the movies with a clean slate, no expectations, and write my review afterwards.

The first AVENGERS movie rose the bar for superhero movies. Joss Whedon and his snappy one-liners added to the fun. The question was whether he could accomplish the same task a second time. Marvel had the theory that if you add seven superheroes in one movie and make a movie that generates enough money to rank as the third highest grossing movie of all time... twelve superheroes would make twice the money. With Whedon at the helm, the recipe sounded tempting.

The story is simple: Tony Stark has the rare opportunity to tamper with something he knows nothing of, artificial intelligence, and integrates it in the Ultron program, "a suit of armor around the world." Naturally, the A.I. takes over, employs the twins (Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch) and starts a plot that could potentially wipe mankind off the face of the earth in a similar method that exterminated the dinosaurs. "Avengers Assemble!"

The film is entertaining and is a close second to the first entry. But I don't think it matches up with the first movie. Comic book fanboys might argue with me but I got the impression that Joss Whedon, artist and craftsman in the field of story-telling, was not provided 100 percent liberty to create another masterpiece. Marvel no doubt provided him with a list of bullet points to integrate and he did what he could under the circumstances. There are a number of scenes setting up the stage for the next Thor movie, Avengers 3, and Captain America: Civil War. Cramming too much into the film that was unnecessary hampers the storytelling. Reminds me of an artist who is asked to create a book cover for a publishing company. The publishers get genius. If they tell the artist what they want, the finished product is good, but not impressive. For that reason this movie comes off as a close second.

I would like to state for the record that my wife and I visit the movie theater almost every weekend. I write a movie review for the local newspaper every other week. That means the theater gets 52 ticket sales a year (26 x 2 = 52). I don't know about you, but who do you know goes to the movies 26 times a year and buys 52 tickets a year?

According to CouponCabin, Harris Interactive conducted a poll gauging consumer interest in hitting the movie theater. For the most part, interest is fading. Slightly more than six in ten (61%) of adults said they rarely or never go out to the movies. Fact: of the people who do go to the movies, the average number of visits is 2.7 movies per year. Which means that I go to the movies more often than the average person and I represent the perfect clientele: repeat business. In other words, the life blood of any movie theater.

I suspect I might have enjoyed THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON if the sound system in the theater was better. The Walt Disney Company apparently sent the theater an inferior print for the 2-D version than the 3-D. This has happened a number of times prior at the same studio. A fraction of my viewing was fixated on the challenge of comprehending what the characters were saying on the screen. This handicapped my enjoyment.

Years ago, UCLA conducted a fascinating study. They scheduled two screenings of the same movie, with the same audience demographics. The difference between the two screenings was that one had superior picture and 7.1 channel audio. The other featured 3 percent soft focus on the picture (which is barely noticeable) and 2 channel sound (left and right, two speakers instead of seven). After each screening, UCLA gave every person a questionnaire asking what they thought about the movie and what they liked best about it. They never indicated or asked about the sound or picture quality. The results? The folks who watched the superb presentation enjoyed the movie. More than half the people who saw the lesser-grade presentation had less to speak of. Sound and picture makes a difference. 

When a movie theater is asking customers to pay for two tickets at the movies, because most people do not go to the theaters by themselves, and the price of admission is more than it costs to rent movies from Netflix, they should be aware that their customers have an expectation level. With sound impaired, I was unable to enjoy a movie and felt my money was wasted. I recall the guy behind me in the theater shouting "Come on!" when the sound got defective for the umpteenth time. He too was getting frustrated. And 200 plus people on Facebook complaining about the sound in the same theater  (Digiplex Churchill) for the same movie is testament that the defect was not in my ears. I never complained on my own Facebook but stumbled on someone's rant and read all of the comments from other people that followed. This forces me to disclose the reason for my slightly negative review of this movie.

Follow-Up
I would like to take a quick moment to acknowledge that I went back to the movie theater today and paid for two additional tickets for my wife and I to see the same movie a second time. This is not something I should have done. We watched the 3-D version and my wife agreed within minutes that the sound was much better. 

If the customers pay for movie tickets and the movie is bad, the customers takes the gamble. When the movie theater has defective sound, they should make good on it. I complained through Facebook to Digiplex personally, they deleted my posting. At the theater this afternoon I told the woman in charge, as I was instructed by the main corporate office when I e-mailed them, and she said because I did not lodge a complaint a few days ago when we were there, she would not credit me and my wife. She suggested I contact the main office. But it was they who suggested I go back to the theater and told me they would make good on it. (How many of us have experienced this kind of runaround with poor customer service?) I explained to the employee in charge that I meant to make a mention about the defective sound last week, but there was such a long line of people at the ticket window, I did not want to intrude on the company's business. So much for thinking of the other fellow...

The only thing worse than knowing what a customer complains about is not knowing what they are complaining about. For the sale of two general admission tickets tickets and failure to make good on what I felt was wasted money, Digiplex now lost 52 tickets a year, year after year. 

Apologies for the rant. Experiencing poor customer service is rare for me. And from a company like Digiplex, I expected better.

Because most households are already paying around $100 a month for cable and movie channels at home, as well as another $9 or more for Netflix or other service, and because a DVD rental at Redbox  costs just a bit over $1.00, and the next nearest movie theater from Digiplex in Churchville offers $6 matinee ticket prices versus the $8 ticket price my wife and I paid today... well, you get the picture.