Friday, September 30, 2016

The "Lost" episodes of The Cavalcade of America

The Cavalcade of America was an instant success, accomplishing the task it was first sent out to do in 1935. Cavalcade was designed to re-awaken in the public mind a consciousness of those ideals and inheritance that were most basically American. With this objective, the show was submitted to a permanent time slot and longer broadcast run

And for almost 20 years, The Cavalcade of America rivaled second behind the equally long-running Hollywood prestige program, The Lux Radio Theater. Stars of Hollywood and Broadway such as Raymond Massey, Orson Welles, Bette Davis, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Burgess Meredith were offered top-notch acting performances. Carl Sandburg, Arch Oboler and Arthur Miller contributed to the program.

Among the program’s highlights was “The Green Pastures” with Juano Hernandez, a Christmas offering for 1940. For the broadcast of October 20, 1941, Edward Arnold, Jane Darwell and Walter Huston starred in “All That Money Can Buy” from Stephen Vincent Benet’s The Devil and Daniel Webster. Henry Fonda reprised his screen role from Drums Along the Mohawk. Errol Flynn reprised his screen role for They Died With Their Boots On three days before the movie premiered in theatres. Fredric March starred in the lead for The Adventures of Mark Twain. Kay Armen and Ray Block lent their talents during the war for a patriotic musical presentation titled “Sing A War Song.”

While most radio directors and actors had to contend with the fear of their programs being “pulled” from the air for any number of reasons, especially losing the sponsor, The Cavalcade of America did not have to contend with such worries. Cavalcade was a “DuPont program” as most performers referred to at the time. DuPont had no intention of dropping sponsorship, and it was this very reason why the program never had a brief broadcast run on the air.

Bob Hope entertains troops during a Cavalcade broadcast.
When DuPont chemists were toiling over their Bunsen burners and squinting into the reports to bring into the world new materials such as nylon and lucite, the public thought of DuPont as a gunpowder manufacturing gargantuan, making goods of destruction and profiting from world wars. Then some smart advertising agency executive sold the 26 men on DuPont’s executive committee the idea of advertising on radio the constructive things DuPont was making for society. “Better things for better living through chemistry” was the motif behind the advertising plan and it was soon heard as DuPont’s slogan on the weekly program.

Radio was still an infant in 1935 when the program premiered. During the program’s early years, Cavalcade was subjected to a series of different formats. The first was producer Arthur Pryor’s conception of two, 13-minute plays bridged with a DuPont promotional advertisement in between. Each episode dealt with a fundamental achievement that America could be proud of. For the broadcast of December 18, 1935, titled “Defiance of Nature,” two docudramas about the Erie Canal and the Holland Tunnel were offered. For the broadcast of March 25, 1936, “Conservation” was the subject with a brief drama about Johnny Appleseed and another about a modern story of a forest fire and firefighters combating the elements to preserve our forests. This early format stopped after the first 39 broadcasts.

The second format began with episode 40. Musical programs were a common staple on the radio so Pryor tried his hand at a weekly musical offering. From July 15, 1936 to September 23, 1936, Cavalcade offered a short-run summer series subtitled “The Development of Band Music in America,” followed by a number of other musical offerings such as “The Orchestra of Today and How it Grew” and “Music of the Movies.

The third format began on the evening of September 30, 1936 and became a staple for the rest of the series. One half-hour biographical drama centering on individuals both famous and obscure who helped in the advancement of progress here in the United States. A biography of Charles Goodyear, the showmanship of P.T. Barnum, and the person responsible for introducing seeing-eye dogs were among the earliest presentations.


Beginning with episode 90, broadcast July 7, 1937, the name of the program changed to The Cavalcade of Music and like the previous summer presented musical offerings for the radio listeners. This time each episode centered on a famous American composer with his music bridged between dramatic scenes. The works of Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Victor Herbert were among the highlights.

Beginning with episode 102, broadcast September 29, 1937, the series picked up where it left off—offering a half-hour biographical sketch about an American who pioneered or advanced the means by which we live today. And reverted back to The Cavalcade of America name. And it was this format that remained throughout the rest of the program’s run. By 1939, the program had gained enough prestige to attract the attention of Hollywood actors who were performing on stage in New York. Since the series was presented from the East Coast, Cavalcade producers Larry Harding and Homer Fickett sought out actors from stage and screen who were willing to play the leads—and DuPont advanced the salaries. By 1940, actors such as Orson Welles, Burgess Meredith and Raymond Massey were making return visits and by 1941 all of Hollywood was jumping on board.

DuPont spared no expense. Nearly 1000 man-hours each week and eleven-and-a-half hours of rehearsal time were spent in the preparation of each half-hour production. Newspapers with a circulation of 17,500,000 carried advertisements of the program. Close to 715,000 pieces of mail were sent out weekly to stockholders, business leaders, educators, customers, and anyone else who might have an interest in the program. Variety reported in February of 1944 that the budget for Cavalcade moved from $5000 to $7000 per show exactly one year before to $11,500.

When each episode was broadcast “live” over the air from 1935 to 1953, DuPont went to the added expense of recording each of the broadcasts to transcription disc format. By the time the series picked up prestige and stars of stage and screen began making a weekly appearance, DuPont made it a tradition to cut a transcription disc for each of the lead actors and present the stars with a disc of their own. 

Photos were taken (many exist today with the stars proudly holding their disc while facing the photographer) and DuPont themselves retained a disc for each and every broadcast. These discs were housed in Wilmington and shortly after the series concluded they were transported to the Hagley Library where they remain today in storage for preservation.

During the early 1980s, a private collector dealing with old-time radio contacted the archive at Hagley and asked for the opportunity to transfer the recordings to a more stable medium so patrons visiting the archive could listen to the radio broadcasts without the necessity of removing the transcription discs from the shelves.

Regrettably, a visit to the same archive in 1999 revealed a fright for any radio historian: only 500 episodes of the 780 broadcasts remained. According to an employee at Hagley, not all of the discs and/or recordings were returned. A checklist was made and more than 200 recordings were not amidst the collection. Paperwork dated 1967 verified that all 780 discs were in the archive, sparking a mystery regarding the whereabouts of the missing episodes and who or what was responsible for the disappearance?

STATISTICS
Before we begin the elusive search for the “lost” episodes, a few statistics are in order:
 (1) For anyone keeping count, there was “officially” a total of 780 radio broadcasts and 197 television broadcasts. All of the television episodes are known to exist on both 35mm and 16mm formats and since this article focuses on the radio programs we can focus on the radio program.
 (2) Episode #408 titled “Jane Addams of Hull House” scheduled for November 6, 1944 was never broadcast. The same drama was performed years previous on the Cavalcade series but the time slot was sold to the National Independent Committee for Roosevelt and Truman. The election speeches, the Republican/Democratic special, also pre-empted other radio programs that evening. DuPont, however, continued numbering the scripts consecutively so the broadcast of November 13 was listed as episode #409.

I have to repeat: episode #408 was never broadcast.

While many reference guides claim 781 episodes were broadcast, 780 was the exact figure. Sadly, some collectors have taken the May 21, 1940 broadcast of the same name and assigned it the 1944 broadcast date. The 1940 version featured Helen Hayes in the title role. The 1944 version would have starred Loretta Young. Therefore, unless someone miraculously comes up with a version starring Loretta Young, the 1944 recording is considered a “holy grail” and should be dismissed. It was never broadcast and should not be counted as an episode of Cavalcade.

Orson Welles on Cavalcade.
After months of research, with the cooperation of DuPont and private collectors of old-time radio programs, in early 1999 I completed an official list of the 17 lost radio episodes. SPERDVAC’S Radiogram featured the official list with the hopes that someone reading the essay would have sought out one or two of the lost episodes. After all, how can a collector know what is and is not a “lost” episode without such a list? And certainly far easier to remember the titles of 17 episodes than 764.

Today, more than ever, collectors of old-time radio broadcasts and fans of Hollywood motion pictures have been discovering The Cavalcade of America. While broadcasts of The Lux Radio Theatre have been making their way as extras on studio commercial DVDs, The Cavalcade of America has begun sharing the same success. Scholars and fans alike are discovering how polished the audio dramatizations can be, and everyone can thank DuPont for their efforts of keeping the series alive. Without DuPont footing the bill for the electrical transcriptions we would not have as many radio broadcasts to listen to today.

TRANSCRIPTIONS
The most frequent question that arises is this: If so many episodes exist today why are there still a handful missing? The answer is varied depending on which “lost” recording we are referring to.

During the 20s and 30s radio broadcasts were generally broadcast live. Very few producers took to the expense of recording or transcribing the programs on disc. No one suspected there would be a commercial value over the span of decades and so after the initial live broadcast, the scripts were dismissed and the attention of the cast, producer and script writer centered on next week’s production. According to statistics that appear in print, radio broadcasts of the 20s and 30s indicate that the ratio of lost recordings may be anywhere from 80 to 90 percent if not more.

The reasons for this dreadful statistic are numerous, but one of the most important is the unstable nature of preservation. Even when the studios shelved transcription discs in storage, it would be years later that decision-makers chose to throw the discs away to make room for new offices. Collectors throughout the 1970s and 1980s still recall fishing through dumpers in alleys for the discs, taking them home and cleaning the dust off.

Junking old transcription discs was a standard operating procedure and a perfectly reasonable business decision—if there existed a duplicate recording kept in good condition. But when the duplicate transcription is also lost, there is nothing to return to, and the recording is gone forever.

To be fair to the studios of the past, few people believed there was any lasting worth to radio recordings except for their historical value. News briefs of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Hindenburg disaster and the War of the Worlds panic broadcast were given second thoughts before the decision to throw them away was discarded. To studio heads that center their efforts on the latest programs telecast on television, radio drama was a disposable art form, enjoyed years previous, forgotten the next, in much the same way we think of a newspaper or, perhaps, a magazine. Audiences didn’t notice that these frivolous entertainments also contained a record of the times in which they were made, capturing people, places, styles, and attitudes in a truer, more vivid way than could any history book.

Saving a single recording of an endangered program is obviously important, but saving or restoring the original disc or creating a new duplicate recording from which new copies could be struck is even more vital. The condition of those transcriptions—if they exist at all—depends in large part on how popular the program was. A transcription disc for an un-circulated episode of The Shadow from 1944, for example, would generate larger interest than an episode of remote ballroom music from New York’s Waldorf Astoria from the same year.

The practice of transferring radio broadcasts from transcription discs is not as simple as playing an LP record. Use the wrong needle and you damage the disc. The raw audio has to be recorded digitally. Then software (often expensive) is used to remove some of the hiss and pops that are in the soundtrack. True preservationists insist on saving the audio on a 44.1 mhz linear .wav file (comparable to CD audio) and avoid the MP3 format. The .wav file is used to strike a restoration copy and stored in its original form so if future programs designed and offered later can improve the quality from today’s restoration techniques, the raw version can be consulted without the need of again removing the fragile discs off the shelf. The MP3 format compresses the audio file and while suitable for listeners and collections, it is often compared to a six-hour recording on a VHS video as opposed to a re-mastered commercial film on DVD.

THE LOST EPISODES
The list featured in the 1999 issue of Radiogram featured a total of 22 episodes that were not known to exist in circulation. Seventeen were not in available recorded form (hence the word “lost”) and five episodes were known to exist but remained un-circulated at Hagley. A request was placed with Hagley to have a copy of those five episodes struck but given their prior relationship with the collector who failed to return all of the recordings, the offer was declined.

Neal Ellis, host of Radio Once More heard weekly on www.RadioOnceMore.com spent the past year working with a number of archives along the East Coast to preserve what remains of The Cavalcade of America. His efforts are not in vain. Thanks to the cooperation of library archives and private collectors, Neal has begun a restoration process from original masters to ensure superb sound quality and the most complete collection anywhere.

Thanks to his efforts, four of the five episodes that existed but were formerly not available in circulation are now available:  “Éluthère Irénée DuPont”  (May 29, 1939), “The Lady and the Flag”  (June 15, 1942), “My Wayward Patient”  (April 2, 1945), “Man of Great Importance”  (September 16, 1952).  The only episode known to exist but still withheld from circulation is “Accent on Youth,“ broadcast March 2, 1942. With luck, that episode will become available shortly.

As for the former 17 “lost” episodes, three have become available thanks to Neal’s efforts and are now on CD and MP3 format.  They are:  “The Development of Band Music in America: The Concert Band Comes Into Its Own”  (August 12, 1936), “The Development of Band Music in America: Introducing the Instruments”  (August 19, 1936), “Modern American Orchestral Music”  (September 9, 1936).
What now remains are 14 “lost” episodes with details provided below.

Lost Episode #1: “The Story of Rubber.”   Broadcast November 18, 1936.  Announcer Frank Singiser.  Commercial Announcer Craig Stevens.  Written for Cavalcade by Lawrence Hammond.  Produced by Arthur Pryor and directed by Kenneth Webb.   Music composed by Donald Voorhees conducting his Orchestra.
Plot: This episode documents Charles Goodyear who, in 1832, began experimenting with a crude form of rubber called India Rubber in an attempt to find a way to make the substance useful for manufacturing.

Lost Episode #2: “The Cavalcade of Music.” Broadcast August 11, 1937.  Soprano Francia White.  Announcer Frank Singiser. Script first written July 22, 1937 and revised on August 10, 1937. Produced and directed by Kenneth Webb. Music composed by Donald Voorhees conducting his Orchestra.
Plot: Subtitled “Jerome Kern’s Music,” this was part six of a 12-part summer series dramatizing the history of American musicians and their compositions. Some of the songs featured were “Old Man River,” “Till the Clouds Roll By,” “Good Morning Dearie,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” and “Can I Forget You.”

Lost Episode #3: “The Pathfinder.” Broadcast January 26, 1938.  Announcer Frank Singiser.  Commercial Announcer Dwight Weist.   Written for Cavalcade by John Driscoll.  Script first written on August 31, 1937 and revisions were made on January 3, 11 and 25, 1938.  Produced by Arthur Pryor and directed by Kenneth Webb.  Music composed by Donald Voorhees conducting his Orchestra. The opening overture was “My Little Gray Home in the West.”
Plot: The drama for this episode was about John C. Fremont, geologist, botanist and topographer, who combined the technical knowledge with his daring as a pioneer in the western wilderness.

Lost Episode #4: “Dear Brutus.” Broadcast March 16, 1942.  Cast: Fredric March (Dearth), Karl Swenson (Matey), John McIntire (Mr. Coade), Jeanette Nolan (Mrs. Coade), Charita Bauer (Margaret), and Betty Garde (Alice).  Narrator Kenny Delmar.  Announcer Clayton Collyer.  Produced and directed by Homer Fickett.   Music composed by Donald Voorhees conducting his Orchestra.
Plot: Next to Peter Pan, Dear Brutus is the most beloved of all the plays written by Sir James Matthew Barrie. The radio script was adapted for Cavalcade by Robert Tallman (who wrote for The Whistler and Suspense). For trivia buffs, real-life husband and wife John McIntire and Jeanette Nolan played a married couple in this episode.

Lost Episode #5: “The Silent Heart.” Broadcast on March 30, 1942.  Cast: Ingrid Bergman (Jenny Lind), Karl Swenson (Joseph), Bill Johnstone (Otto), Betty Garde (Anna), Ed Jerome (Webster), Ted Jewett (the voice), John McIntire (P.T.) and Edgar Vincent (the sailor).  Announcer Kenny Delmar.  Based on unpublished research by Carl Carmer; written for Cavalcade by Norman Rosten.  The production credits are the same as the above episode.
Plot: This episode featured the Ken Christie singers. Elizabeth Mulliner sang Bergman’s role of Jenny Lind, singing the 1813 song “Last Rose of Summer.” Best remembered as the Swedish nightingale, this episode told the story of Jenny Lind and her debut at the Old Castle Garden on the Battery in New York.

Lost Episode #6: “This Side of Hades.” Broadcast on April 27, 1942.  Cast: Loretta Young (Molly Pitcher), Ed Jerome (Irvine), Betty Garde (Beulah), Bill Johnstone (the sentry), Paul Stewart (Smith), Bill Pringle (the Captain), Ted Jewett (the Colonel), John McIntire (George Washington) and Jeanette Nolan (Mrs. Irvine).  Announcer Clayton Collyer.  Based on research by Carl Carmer; written for Cavalcade by Robert Tallman. Produced and directed by Homer Fickett. Music by Donald Voorhees conducting his orchestra.
Plot: True story of Molly Pitcher, who ran back and forth from the front lines to a distant well with her pitcher of water during the American Civil War. Then one day her husband fell exhausted by his cannon, and Molly came to the rescue.

Lost Episode #7: “Clara Barton.” Broadcast on June 1, 1942.  Cast: Madeleine Carroll (Clara Barton), Bill Pringle (Senator Z.), Everett Sloane (Jim), John McIntire (Wilson), Jeanette Nolan (Ann), Paul Stewart (Hay), Ed Jerome (Senator Y) and Ted Jewett (the orderly).  Announcer Kenny Delmar.   Production credits same as the above episode.
Plot: Clara Barton not only founded the American Red Cross but also spent four years after the Civil War directing an extensive search for missing soldiers.

Lost Episode #8: “Man of Iron.” Broadcast on July 13, 1942.  Cast: Dean Jagger (Lt. Worden), Bill Johnstone (Greene), Ian Martin (the attache), Paul Stewart (the helmsman), Arnold Moss (Fox), Arlene Francis (Olivia), Ed Jerome (Abe Lincoln) and Karl Swenson (Stanton).  Announcer Clayton Collyer.  Written for Cavalcade by Robert L. Richards and Robert Tallman.  Produced and directed by Homer Fickett.  Music by Donald Voorhees conducting his Orchestra.
Plot: John Ericsson came forward to build, in the incredibly short period of one hundred days, a vessel that would destroy the new menace called the Merrimac. His “cheesebox on a raft” introduced a basic new principle of naval warfare to the world.

Lost Episode #9: “Theodore Roosevelt, Man of Action.” Broadcast on August 17, 1942.  Cast: Edward Arnold (Roosevelt). Written for Cavalcade by Robert L. Richards and Robert Tallman. Production credits are the same as the above episode.
Plot: This presents the life of Roosevelt, the man who charged up San Juan Hill, won the vice- presidency in the election of 1900, and became president a year later when McKinley died at the hand of an assassin. The original title of this script was “The Big Stick,” referring to the old proverb, “walk softly and carry a big stick.” By the time the final draft of this script came into being the title was changed to the above. One small historical mistake occurred during this drama. McKinley was assassinated by three bullets (provided by sound man Al Scott). When listeners heard this, they began writing to DuPont, commenting that McKinley was assassinated by two bullets, not three. And the listeners were correct!

Lost Episode #10: “The Road to Victory.” Broadcast December 7, 1942.  Narrator Carl Sandburg.  Announcer Clayton Collyer. Based on numerous works by Sandburg, and adapted for Cavalcade by Norman Rosten.  Produced and directed by Homer Fickett.  Music composed by Ardon Cornwell and conducted by Donald Voorhees.
Plot: A vocal number is sung by the Delta Rhythm Boys. This episode was a one-year anniversary of Pearl Harbor with Sandburg describing his meetings with Americans from all walks of life, and paused to celebrate the road builders and those traveling along that road. Radio actors often played more than one role in the same drama, a common practice for creating the illusion of a crowd, or filling in for simple one-line remarks such as a conductor calling “All Aboard,” or a passerby saying “hello.” To note, this episode featured the largest cast of characters than any other Cavalcade broadcast.  Seventy-three characters were featured and all of the roles were played by a little more than a dozen actors!

Lost Episode #11: “Sing a War Song.” Broadcast on May 29, 1944.  Stars Kay Armen in a musical war-time presentation.  Narrator Deems Taylor.  Announcer Roland Winters.  Commercial Announcer Ted Pearson.  Written for Cavalcade by Peter Lyon. Produced and directed by Jack Zoller.  Music for this program was under the direction of Donald Voorhees and his orchestra of twenty-eight men, Ray Block and a chorus of twenty-four voices and the Golden Gate Quartet. Donald Bryan directed the musical scores. Songs featured were “Elmer’s Tune,” “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” “Rosie the Riveter,” “Don’t Forget to Say No, Baby,” “This is the Army, Mr. Jones,” “One More Mile to Go,” “One Little Wac,” “Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet,” and “When the Yanks Go Marching In.”

Lost Episode #12: “Pink Lace.” Broadcast on February 28, 1949.  Cast: Janet Blair (Pauline Cushman) and Staats Cotsworth (McNairy).  Announcer Ted Pearson.  Commercial Announcer Bill Hamilton.  Written for Cavalcade by Virginia Radcliffe. Produced and directed by Jack Zoller. Music composed by Ardon Cornwell and conducted by Donald Bryan.
Plot: During the War between the States, actress Pauline Cushman openly declared herself for the South thereby enabling her to move around gathering information as a female spy. This episode actually has two titles.   The official script title was “Pink Lace,” but beforehand it was titled “The Girl in the Pink Lace.” At the beginning of the broadcast Ted Pearson announced the drama as “The Girl in the Pink Lace,” even though the official script title says otherwise. Madeline Carroll was originally slated to play the role of Pauline Cushman, but for reasons unknown she was unable to attend. Janet Blair became her replacement.

Lost Episode #13: “Letter From Europe.” Broadcast on March 21, 1949.  Cast: Charles Boyer (Albert Gallatin), Barbara Weeks (Hannah), Ethel Owen (Mrs. Harwood), Scott Tennyson (Janney), House Jameson (Thomas Jefferson), Robert Dryden (voice one), Alan Hewitt (the chairman); Arnold Moss (John Adams) and Joseph Bell (the Massachusetts man).  Written for Cavalcade by Russell Hughes. Production credits are the same as above.
Plot: In 1798, when war with France seemed inevitable, a small group of men marshaled themselves against it. Among them was the European-born Albert Gallatin. He won his fight and later became Secretary of the Treasury under President Jefferson.

Lost Episode #14: “Never Marry a Ranger.” Broadcast on May 9, 1950. Cast: Martha Scott (Roberta McConnell), Donnie Harris (Scott), Nelson Case (Mr. McConnell), Joseph Bell (the boss), Robin Morgan (Cissie), George Petrie (the volunteer), Cameron Andrews (Old Pete), Joe Latham (Oley), Rica Martens (the woman), Clifford Tatum, Jr. (the baby cry) and Carl Eastman (the radio voice).  Announcer Ted Pearson.  Commercial Announcer Bill Hamilton.  Written for Cavalcade by Virginia Radcliffe as adapted from the book of the same title by Roberta McConnell as originally published by Prentice-Hall in 1950.  Produced by Roger Pryor and Directed by Jack Zoller.  Music composed by Roger Pryor and conducted by Donald Voorhees.
Plot: Story of the Forest Ranger station on Callina Crib in the Utah mountains and how Roberta, the wife of a Forest Ranger, has to contend with her husband’s job and the life that accompanied it. When a forest fire broke out one day, it was Roberta who saved the day and then realized the importance of her husband’s job.

CONCLUSION
Compare your collection with the list above. If you believe you have any of these lost recordings, please drop a note so it can be verified. Because the MP3 market is flooded with supposed “lost” episodes (pre-existing recordings re-assigned titles and broadcast dates), a copy of the lost episode would need to be verified. I purchased half a dozen MP3s during the past two years claiming to have at least one “lost” episode and not one of them were legit in their claims. Should you wish to forward a copy of the recording to Neal Ellis for verification, his web-site is www.oldtimeradioonmp3.com. Further details about The Cavalcade of America can be found in the 480-page book, The History of the Cavalcade of America (Morris Publishing, 1998).

Friday, September 23, 2016

EDDIE GREEN: Pioneering Black Filmmaker, Movie Star, Old-Time Radio Icon

In an era when African American entertainers struggled to gain a foothold in show business, Eddie Green rivaled Oscar Micheaux for honors as a pioneering Black filmmaker. Audiences from the Apollo to Broadway propelled Eddie Green into two of America's most popular long-running radio programs, Amos and Andy and Duffy's Tavern. His films have fallen into obscurity, fallen into orphan status as a result of the low-budget independent studios, mere curios on YouTube only if you are seeking out those specific titles. Recordings of his appearances behind the radio microphone circulate among fans of old-time radio, where Eddie Green's talents remain preserved in digital format.

Today, Eddie Green is best known for playing Eddie, the waiter, on the long-running radio comedy, Duffy's Tavern. Ed Gardner and his Duffy's program received more than one award and citation for depicting Eddie Green in a positive life; from an Honor Roll of Race Relations to Variety magazine citing the program as "improving race relations." Much like Eddie "Rochester" Anderson on The Jack Benny Program, Eddie was never the foil -- always the gag man.

ARCHIE: Ransom Sherman has a new radio show, and there is a highly remote possibility that he might hire me.

EDDIE: Yea, but, you ain't no radio actor.

ARCHIE: There are two schools of thought on that, Eddie.

EDDIE: But you never went to either one of them schools... What kind of radio program is this, anyhow?

ARCHIE: Why, it is called, The Nitwit Court.

EDDIE: Oh. You've got that one.


Thankfully, a new book has been published that reveals his contributions beyond radio. Within 190 pages his career is documented through multiple Vitaphone film shorts, a Warner Brothers movie, a vaudeville career, and brief television career. On July 7, 1936, Eddie Green was one of two comedians who were chosen to lend their bit to the first television broadcast by RCA/NBC. Not only did he star in The Hot Mikado on stage in 1939, but reprised his stage role for the same play at the 1939 New York's World's Fair.

Who better to write a book about Eddie Green than his daughter, Elva Diane Green, who spent more than a decade digging into archives, questioning people who worked with her father, and researching old newspapers and magazines. As Elva explains in the introduction, the book is meant to bring her father's name back to the fore of the public's memory, both as a way to honor his vast amount of work, and as a way to provide an example of what a person can accomplish in life regardless of certain obstacles. For one major reason, the most difficult book to write is a biography: unless the author knew the subject personally and intimately, it is extremely difficult to report what they were thinking or feeling. I find most biographies today are padded with plot summaries of stage plays and motion-pictures, lacking trivia about the actor's involvement behind the scenes. Assumptions tend to creep up like facts and authors tend to "assume" how an actor felt without consulting personal letters to verify this. Thankfully, Elva's mother lent a guiding hand in the early stages of this book. And what better way to capture a family tree and preserve an actor's legacy than from his daughter?

Eddie Green: The Rise of an Early 1900s Black American Entertainment Pioneer was published by Bear Manor Media this summer and comes with my recommendation. The sands of time may have buried his name, but Eddie Green's laughter still echoes around the world. Thanks to this first-ever biography, a good man is no longer hard to find.

You can buy a copy of the book here:

Elva's website devoted to her father can be found here:

Friday, September 16, 2016

Bing Crosby and the Business of Transcriptions



For collectors of old-time radio, the common complaint is that many radio broadcasts were never recorded and therefore cannot be heard and enjoyed today. For historians who know better, we can thanks Bing Crosby for giving us so much to listen to. Radio broadcasts of the 1930s and 1940s aired live and was at that time considered a "throw away medium" -- broadcast today, scripts were tossed into a box and hours later the script writer was hard at work on the next episode. No one thought about preserving the radio broadcasts via recording and since someone had to foot the bill, unless their was a practical reason the network and sponsor never took time to pay a company to record them. During the 1940s, as a result of a rising trend in technology, many of the top-rated radio personalities wanted to pre-record their radio broadcasts for convenience of a busy schedule. By 1945 there was high pressure and stormy implications brewing for the major networks and of all radio personalities, Bing Crosby was the big barometric push… the preamble of a condition long plaguing the big chains – that of playing a transcription disc across the nation through network feed. 

In 1945, executives at the Mutual Broadcasting System publicly stated they were welcome to the proposal and insisted that within two years taping radio programs in advance would become the standard. ABC granted permission dependent on certain time slots. NBC and CBS, however, had strict policies avoiding the use of transcriptions. Top-rated radio performers longed to record their programs in advance, at a convenient time, rather than perform “live” to the masses… strongly campaigning for the privilege. And it was this fallacy that NBC was short-sighted… costing them a number of their top-rated comedians… including Jack Benny.

It was in the summer of 1945 that relations between Bing Crosby and Kraft Foods was in a state of flux, with the strong possibility that the crooner would not return to the radio mike for the next season. Crosby’s contract with the J. Walter Thompson agency ran through 1946; his contract with Kraft had another five years to realize. When Crosby and his attorney met in Chicago with Willard F. Lochridge, vice president of Thompson, in August of 1945, the singer explained he received flattering offers from potential sponsors and Lochridge was instructed to inform executives at Kraft that he would remain with the cheese outfit only under the terms of a re-negotiated contract -- which included recording the programs in advance. General Motors made a firm offer to sponsor Crosby, broadcast over the Mutual network, via wire recorder. That meant Crosby could make as many as eight or ten radio broadcasts in a single week, thereby allowing him the freedom he wanted for many weeks following. Crosby liked the idea so well he approached NBC with the option of recording the broadcasts in advance on platters. NBC gave a firm no.

The Kraft contract was unusual because it contained a “happiness” clause, which meant Crosby could not be forced to broadcast if he was unhappy about the terms of the contract. His financial advisors assured crooner that if he dropped off radio entirely, he would be losing only $1.50 a week, taxes being what they were. Crosby made his fortune through investments nevertheless his star status and draw appeal was an influence on his business ventures and staying in the radio spotlight was essential to long-term security.

In September, there was an attempt to arrive at an amicable agreement on disputed points in Crosby’s contract. Lawyers in Chicago grappled with the contract problem for a couple of weeks but long discussions ended in the decision to submit Kraft’s latest proposal to Crosby through the offices of the top two executives. Upon learning of the possibility that Crosby might drop Kraft, top radio bankrollers were ordering executives at New York ad agencies to “get Crosby or else.” Everett Crosby, Bing’s brother and agent, handled most of the negotiations, assuring Lochridge that other offers were on the table and some were appealing. Lochridge, when grilled by reporters, claimed “Bing is just tired and wants to take a long rest. There is no contract dispute and he is apparently contented with other phases of his association with Kraft and Thompson.” With five years on the contract, Kraft was unwilling to release Crosby for another sponsor.

“They know Bing’s weakness is canned broadcast so that he isn’t tied down every week and it’s on that promise from which the big pitch is being made,” Jack Hellman reported in Variety. “If it’s open season on Crosby, what’s to prevent Bob Hope, Jim and Marian Jordan, Jack Benny and a few other top-holers from becoming fair game?”

Everett Crosby, meanwhile, asserted that the Kraft contract expired last July, under California law, which placed a seven-year limit on the term of any employment contract. The Thompson agency would not recognize the California law, insisting Crosby was tied to Kraft until 1950.

The stalemate lingered for months, with Kraft in early December making the following public statement, through the J. Walter Thompson Agency, which could be interpreted as a legal threat against any company seeking Crosby as a new client: “Bing Crosby’s sponsor is not trying to force [him] to return to the air, but is rumored to wonder how any other firm could contemplate having Bing for radio in view of his present long-term contract. Legal action is entirely possible under the contract which runs until 1950.”

On January 3, 1946, the Kraft Food Co. filed a suit for declaratory judgment and injunction. On January 2, Crosby was asked to resume with Kraft Music Hall on January 3, the start of a new cycle, and when Crosby flatly refused, court action was initiated.

In a statement issued by Kraft: “The contract originated in 1937 provided for Bing’s radio services during that year with options to Kraft to renew the contract each year into 1950. We have exercised these options to date and have notified Bing of our exercise of the option for 1946. However, Bing claims that there is no longer any agreement enforceable against him, and Kraft has filed this suit in order that the court can determine whether these contracts are still binding and enforceable.”

On January 22, Bing Crosby and Kraft kissed and made up. Crosby would complete the season at the request of the sponsor. Kraft would then give him his release, satisfied with a moral victory.

In March, Procter & Gamble offered Crosby a transcription deal at $22,500 a week if he whipped out his fountain pen. The Mutual Broadcasting System had the firm offer typed on paper, ready and waiting. In May, ABC offered Crosby a stock deal, making him a partner in the network… also offering him a transcription deal.

Transcription business and recording studios were looking forward to halcyon days – and by many account they all depended on Bing Crosby. Where the crooner goes, thus goes the trade, was the belief. Crosby definitely wanted a platter program and he got it. On Thursday, August 15, 1946, Philco and Crosby signed a contract, closing the deal, which would send his voice over 600 stations weekly. The package price for the series was $30,000 a week, with the stipulation that in the event the Hooper rating fell below 12, the series would revert to live broadcasting. (Crosby would snare 24 on his premiere broadcast.) Philco originally wanted five seasons; Everett Crosby negotiated the compromise to a three-year contract. Crosby would get an additional $40,000 per week from 400 independent radio stations for the rights to broadcast the 30-minute show, which was sent to them on three 15-inch lacquer/aluminum discs that played ten minutes per side at 33 and 1/3 rpm.

In mid-October, network fears of the threat of transcribed shows were stressed when several gags about Bing Crosby’s transcribed show, which were to have been used on Rudy Vallee’s live layout for NBC on the evening of October 22, were blue-penciled by NBC brass shortly before the show went on the air. The network’s action brought cracks to the effect that “it’s about time” from trade columnists, who wondered what happened to NBC’s ban on cross references following jokes on the Jack Benny, Bob Hope and Ed Gardner programs also about Crosby being transcribed.

Despite the ban on Crosby jokes on Rudy Vallee’s program, Bob Hope came through for his sidekick via ad-libs on his New York-originated show the same evening, also on NBC, in which he plugged Crosby in an exchange with guest Clifton Fadiman – to give further credence to the fact that the names were hot to follow Crosby’s lead in going plattered. Crosby, meanwhile, tucked six disc shows under his belt and went off on a hunting trip at his ranch in Elko, Nevada, with Jimmy Demaret and Ben Hogan, pro golfers. Crosby would not have had to make additional transcriptions for more than a month. Legend has it that Crosby wanted to record productions in advance so he could devote more time to golf. In reality, he visited a hospital twice during his strike with Kraft Foods as a result of exhaustion. Network executives couldn’t understand how it was so fatiguing to work seven days a week with writers conferences, rehearsals, agency executives and radio studios. Meanwhile, Benny, Hope and Gardner had to continue working week after week, live at the studios.

Two years after Crosby began transcribing his programs in advance, the June 9, 1948, issue of Variety reported that Bing Crosby “has disproved network arguments that transcriptions aren’t as good as live shows. Tape has in the past year completely altered not only the operation on top ABC shows, but has changed the thinking of the entire industry regarding recorded programs.”

Flash forward to 1948. Jack Benny and Amos and Andy made the switch to CBS. This was the start of what has become the notorious talent raids. Sure, CBS threw big money at the comedians and literally owned the actors who were forbidden henceforth to appear on NBC or ABC without permission -- they practically became CBS property. But the deal breaker in those negotiations was not the cash aspect... it was permission to record the programs in advance in the same manner as Bing Crosby. According to one source, Jack Benny shook hands with William S. Paley and told him, "You have me."

It wouldn’t be until February 3, 1949, that NBC made it official that taped or pre-recorded programs would be permitted on the network. By then, however, it was too late and NBC lost a dozen of their top rated radio personalities. The network’s long-standing policy against recorded programs was revived “as a further step towards promoting program flexibility and improving service to listeners,” quoted Ken Dyke, administrative vice president in charge of programs. The procedure would be followed only where talent, advertiser, agency and network agreed that the show would be improved by use of the transcriptions. Ampex tape machines were installed at NBC and it was theorized by many in the industry that most of the network programs would be transcribed before the season ended.* CBS would soon announce a similar policy on recordings since the acquisition of Bing Crosby, whose shows had been taped in advance on ABC, but this was a "public trade release" and CBS was already transcribing their programs for the benefit of their top-rated clients.

* Al Jolson got the first crack at tape-recording an NBC show, the first to get the Ampex treatment, for his March 10 broadcast of The Kraft Music Hall.

Crosby fulfilled this three-year commitment to Philco and ABC, accepting a lucrative offer with CBS under sponsorship with Chesterfield, beginning in September of 1949. Seeking better quality through recording, including being able to eliminate mistakes and control the timing of his show performances, the singer used the latest and best sound equipment and arranged the microphones his way; the logistics of microphone placement had been a debated issue in every recording studio since the beginning of the electrical era. Using his own Bing Crosby Enterprises to produce the show, the investment allowed Crosby to make even more money by finding a loophole whereby the IRS couldn’t tax him at a 77 percent rate.

The latest in technology, taping the broadcasts instead of transcribing them, allowed Crosby to do a 35 or 40-minute show, then edit it down to the 26 or 27 minutes required. Taking out jokes, gags or situations that didn’t play well, what remained was only the prime mat of the show; the solid stuff that played big. The second season of the Philco shows were taped with the new Ampex Model 200 tape recorder, using the new Scotch 111 tape from the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M) company. Crosby’s investment was more prominent than critics could anticipate when the networks began adapting similar technology, becoming customers of an industry standard set by the singer.

On March 1, 1949, NBC executives at the “affiliate crisis meeting” in Chicago spotlighted attention on the just-released annual statement of the parent Radio Corp. of America, with its net annual earnings of $24,000,000, as evidence that it would take more than the loss of a few shows and personalities to put the network out of business. In effect, NBC’s argument was that “with $24,000,000 you can buy 12 Jack Bennys and 24 Bing Crosbys” (at the CBS rate of exchange).

In another effort to counter the talent raids, NBC developed moderately-budgeted programs. Hoping to avoid losses, the network retained either full or part control of the packages, avoiding advertising agencies, and sought commercial sponsorship themselves. Among the projected was the signing of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis to a weekly series, James Mason and his wife for a whodunit series (titled Illusion, a.k.a. The James and Pamela Mason Show), and a revival of Rogue’s Gallery with Dick Powell. (Powell would star in a detective program, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, after Rogue’s Gallery failed to be revived.) Proposals that never met fruition was a Kenny Delmar series based on the fictional character of Senator Claghorn, and radio serialization of The Man Who Came to Dinner. (The latter of which was revised as a weekly program with Monty Woolley titled The Magnificent Montague.

Less than nine months from Benny’s debut on CBS, Paley managed to lure other comedians from NBC to CBS: George Burns and Gracie Allen, Bing Crosby (both premiered on CBS on the evening of September 21, 1949), Edgar Bergen, Red Skelton (both October 2), and Horace Heidt (September 4). Bergen was a television enthusiast for years, understanding that his act worked best visually, and devoted considerable time during his temporary “retirement” to filming two television pilots, which he bankrolled himself. His television debut was on Thanksgiving 1950, weeks after he made his CBS radio debut. The pilot was produced by Bergen himself, of which 30,000 feet of film was shot – 27,000 feet ended up on the cutting room floor. Bergen understood the risks involved, having to compete against Paul Winchell who beat Bergen to the punch on television, and was willing to take a financial loss on the pilot in an effort to make a big impression with the network. (Footage that remained from the cutting room floor was later edited into a second proposed pilot. Coca Cola bankrolled part of the budget.)

During the summer of 1949, Paley was reported making overtures to Al Jolson into the Columbia fold. Paley was hot after the singer after the theatrical release of The Jolson Story (1946) but the singer was grabbed by Kraft and NBC. With a client interested, stemming from the anticipated success of Jolson’s new pic, Jolson Sings Again (1949), it was Paley’s hope to succeed where he lost two years prior. “Already raising its arm as the Champ of the Year in gross time sales, CBS has demonstrated how money and shrewd business acumen can parlay a network into No. 1 position,” wrote George Rosen in Variety. “NBC’s loss of major accounts and top stars to CBS is already reflected in the comparative billings – this year vs. last year – and in the amount of good time available and client who’s interested.” NBC continued to create in-house programs, co-owned by the network, including Dangerous Assignment, Dimension X and The Big Show -- the latter of which (don't let anyone tell you otherwise) was created solely to kill Jack Benny's career for switching networks.

Historians have been quick to point out the financials involved, but historical perspective verifies the true lure to CBS was the promise of transcribing broadcasts in advance – and NBC was temporarily shortsighted and stubborn to change their policy regarding pre-recorded radio broadcasts. NBC, however, was a fighting network and still determined to inch back into grandeur and stature, evident by lavish excursions into promotion and public relations, the earmarking of millions of dollars for new programs, proving that there would always be an NBC to reckon with. But that is another story for another time.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Hopalong Cassidy Museum Destroyed By Fire

Cambridge, Ohio. The birthplace of William Boyd, the actor who was known to a generation of baby boomers as Hopalong Cassidy. In town you can find a statue in the image of Hopalong Cassidy, a monument to a local who went to Hollywood and became famous. Local artist Alan Cottrill was responsible for the life-size statue, commissioned by Laura Bates, who founded the Hopalong Cassidy festival in Cambridge, along with other members of a Hopalong Cassidy fan club. The statue was dedicated in the spring of 2016. Today you can visit Cambridge and pose for a photograph with the statue. Last year I paid a visit to Cambridge to check out the museum and have my photo taken with the statue. I grew up with Hopalong Cassidy and The Lone Ranger, now considered my two favorite childhood cowboy heroes.

Vendor room at the Hopalong Cassidy Festival.

In May of 2015, the 25th annual Hopalong Cassidy festival was held in Cambridge. Started in 1991, the festival attracted legions of "faithful buckaroos" who enjoyed watching the movies, wandering the vendor room and sharing a common interest. 2015 also marked the final year of the festival. Attendance was in decline and faithful attendees saw the handwriting on the wall. The root cause, officially, was the result of an aging fan base. This will come as no surprise to a legion of dedicated fans who flock to the Williamsburg Film Festival and Winston-Salem Western Film Fair, both of which announced next year would also be their final convention. Perhaps a changing of the times that will become more evident over the coming years.

Cambridge was also host to a Hopalong Cassidy Museum, where fans driving along I-70 could take a quick ten-minute detour and visit the structure housing Hopalong Cassidy merchandise, collectibles and historical items. Due to declining tourism, many of the items in the museum were also for sale so the collection was, for many years, slowly dwindling in size. Just a short time ago, on the evening of September 3, 2016, around 7:30 p.m., the building housing the antique shop and Hopalong Cassidy museum was in flames. A fire broke out and thankfully the Cambridge Fire Department was only one block away from the museum. According to Chief Jeff Deeks, the crews from four different fire departments worked to contain the fire from outside until around midnight. Because of he intricate maze of walls and possible combustibles in the basement, the fire department immediately went on the defensive. Crews were able to enter the building early Sunday morning to recover what could be salvaged of Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers memorabilia. 

At present, there has been no word on what caused the fire.

Thankfully, no archival materials have been reported among the inventory before the fire. This means original 35mm camera negatives, tape masters and exclusive photographs were not lost in the flames. But while a community of Hopalong Cassidy fans mourn what will probably be the last remnants of William Boyd's memorial beyond the recently-dedicated statue on Main Street in Cambridge, the event should also serve as a reminder that anything archival can be lost for all time by threat of flood or fire. Many private collectors and archives across the country house one-of-a-kind historical items that once lost are gone from history. For public institutions such as university libraries and museums, preservation is many times handicapped by red tape and a lack of motivation by someone who can spearhead a preservation effort. Red tape can sometimes be in the form of lack of staff (or interns) or money. 

Items left over from the fire.
Other times employees of an institution do not prioritize what is considered historical in value. And sadly, many times employees find reasons and excuses why preservation should not be made due to ignorance. Among private collectors, acquisition ensures bragging rights. But without an effort to preserve the materials, bragging rights can lead to embarrassment and condemnation throughout a community when floor or fire claims another page from history and the collector could -- and should -- have done something prior.

I would like to state that preservation comes in the form of four bullet points. The lack of any point listed below, and the failure to adhere to all four of these points is not true preservation. Libraries claim a superior water sprinkler system and a controlled environment ensure long-term preservation. But paper will submit to foxing (an age-related process that causes browning and flaking of old paper) no matter the environment or precautions placed on the materials. 

1. Digital scan of the highest dpi. (If the scanner and software you use offers 6400 x 9600, use it.)

2. Preserving all images, including written documents, in tiff format. While Facebook and other platforms encourage jpg and pdf, tiff is considered across the board for archival purposes. If you prefer jpg and pdf for your own use, consider scanning the item in both formats.

3. Avoid alterations. There is a difference between a restoration and an alteration. If you choose to use Adobe photoshop to eliminate cracks in a photograph, remember anything you do to the digital image is an "alteration," not a "restoration" because you are altering the photo to give a more pleasing general appearance. Nothing wrong with this process, but retain the original scan. You never know what software will come around ten years from now and you will then wish you maintained the original to work from again.

4. Create an off-site back-up. And make a back-up of a back-up. There is no benefit to create two back-ups of a digital file is flood or fire claims them all at once.

Items left over from the fire.
Only adhering to the above will preservation be ensured. Mourn for the Hopalong Cassidy Museum today but if you have archival and historical items in your possession, consider digitizing in the highest quality and creating off-site backups. (For collectors who are more concerned about the financial value than historical... remember that a digital scan of the item and the receipt can help recover your purchase cost regarding insurance in the event of floor or fire so your efforts are two-fold.)