Friday, January 16, 2015

The Railroad Hour: The "Lost" 1950 & 1951 Broadcasts

For the broadcast of January 2, 1950, The Railroad Hour presented Herbert Blossom’s The Red Mill. Gordon MacRae and guest Jack Smith played American tourists Kid Conner and Con Kidder who meet Gretchen (played by frequent guest Lucille Norman) just before her forced wedding to a “fat, old government official,” in a town in Holland. Her father, the Burgomeister (played by comedian Jack Kirkwood) locks her in a red mill that is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of a bride. For a humorous scene, the duo disguises themselves as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to fool Gretchen’s father, using stage English accents to do so.
For the broadcast of April 3, 1950, a repeat performance of The Song of Norway was dramatized; a musical set mostly in the foothills of the mountains of Norway, it is a fictionalized account of the life and music of Edvard Grieg and poet Rikvard Nordraak. For The Railroad Hour, Irra Petina recreated her original Broadway role as the Countess Louisa Giovanni, who formed part of the triangle, also involving Grieg and Nina. Petina did a small bit of Now during the curtain call, a musical number that is best associated with the The Song of Norway.
Beginning with the broadcast of May 29, 1950, The Railroad Hour presented a series of “Revues” as part of their summer lineup. Each week, a different year was highlighted (in no specific order), and musical numbers associated with that year (and/or premiered that same year) were performed. The first was “Revue of 1927,” and the final presentation, broadcast September 25, 1950, was “Revue of 1924.”
On September 14, 1950, the NBC Press Department released the following press release:
     “Gordon MacRae will open the third year of The Railroad Hour with the Broadway musical, Allegro, by Rodgers and Hammerstein, on Monday, Oct. 2 (NBC, 8:00 p.m., EST). Soprano Nadine Conner will be guest soloist. As in the past two years, the orchestra will be directed by Carmen Dragon and the chorus will be led by Norman Luboff. The Railroad Hour, in its two years on the air, has won many prizes as well as the general approbation of the listening public. Many fan letters pour in each week.
     “This year
The Railroad Hour will present recent Broadway musicals as well as the operetta favorites of past years. Guest stars joining singing host Gordon MacRae will include familiar names, among them Nadine Conner, Dorothy Kirsten, Dorothy Warenskjold, Lucille Norman, and Jane Powell. A special program for the Christmas broadcast is being prepared.”

According to the same press release, producer Francis Van Hartesveldt had plans to feature a repeat performance of The Wizard of OZ for the 1950-51 season, which was never repeated since its 1949 broadcast. There were also plans to bring Last Waltz and Polonaise to the program, neither of which made it to the series. Jubilee was planned, but it wasn’t featured until almost a year later!
For the holiday presentation of December 25, 1950, The Railroad Hour decided to present a “Christmas Party,” a half-hour of spiritual and joyful holiday songs. With no actual drama presented, this was (with the exception of the recent summer shows), a different format than The Railroad Hour had presented in the past.
During the 1950 holiday broadcast, William T. Faricy, president of the Association of American Railroads, made a quick guest appearance to broadcast a special message personally:
     “Christmas is the season when men and women turn from strife and struggle toward the blessings of peace and the fellowship which some day will bring all men together as friends. This is the goal which men have sought for almost two thousand years—which, no doubt, they will continue to seek for years yet to come. No man, no institution, no people alone can achieve this long sought goal—but every man, every institution, every people can contribute to the fulfillment of the promise of the first Christmas—Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.
     “The heart of that seeking for peace and good will is in the family—an institution which symbolizes the family of mankind. So Christmas, the festival of peace, is the great family festival, celebrated in the homes where families gather. “To all such gatherings who might be listening tonight, the family of the Railroad Hour—a family made up not only of those who produce our weekly broadcasts, but also the railroad companies which sponsor them, the million people who as small as stockholders own the railroads and the million and a quarter men and women who work for them—
The Railroad Hour family says to you and your family, ‘Thank you for joining our Christmas party tonight—and in your own holiday season, and in the new year to come, may you find joy, prosperity and, above all, peace!’” 

This was the first of what would become an annual tradition of musical offerings for the holiday season, with festive and religious music interlaced with comical tones of festive celebration, and a personal message given personally by Faricy. So many listeners wrote in to express their appreciation of the Railroad Hour’s “Christmas Party” that the producers repeated this tradition every year after.

Beginning with the broadcast of July 2, 1951, The Railroad Hour premiered a summer season of original musicals created by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, adapted from a variety of sources ranging from poems to biographies. With their knowledge of literature (especially having scripted all of the Favorite Story radio dramas), Lawrence and Lee worked alongside Carmen Dragon to present original musical presentations (though the music was not so much original, as Irish folk songs and American Ballads made up a large percentage of the vocal music).
Among the original musicals presented throughout the summer and future presentations of The Railroad Hour was the July 9, 1951 broadcast entitled “Casey at the Bat,” based on the immortal Ernest L. Thayer poem of the same name. Such classics as Take Me Out to the Ball Game, The Band Played On, and In the Good Old Summertime were sung during the drama. A few years before, on June 3, 1947, Lawrence and Lee wrote a non-musical presentation of the same name, based on the same poem, for ZIV’s Favorite Story. Other such examples…

• The July 23, 1951 presentation of The Railroad Hour was entitled “Roaring Camp,” based on the Bret Harte story of the same name. Lawrence and Lee had written a non-musical script dated September 3, 1946 for Favorite Story, entitled “The Luck of Roaring Camp.”
• The August 27, 1951 presentation of The Railroad Hour was entitled “Danny Freel,” adapted from an Irish folk tale. Lawrence and Lee had written a non-musical script dated March 11, 1947, for Favorite Story, entitled “Jamie Freel.”
• The July 14, 1952 presentation of The Railroad Hour was entitled “The Necklace,” based on the Guy de Maupassant story of the same name. Lawrence and Lee had written a non-musical script dated October 7, 1947 for Favorite Story.
• The August 11, 1952 presentation of The Railroad Hour was entitled “The Brownings.” Lawrence and Lee had written a non-musical script based on the same material dated February 10, 1948 for Favorite Story.
• The June 29, 1953 presentation of The Railroad Hour was entitled “The Man Without a Country,” based on the Edward Everett Hale story of the same name. Lawrence and Lee had written a non-musical script dated May 27, 1947 for Favorite Story.
The following episodes documented below are the only episodes from the calendar year of 1950 and 1951 that are not known to exist in collector hands. If you have any of these and the details listed below match that in the recordings, please let me know so I can take it off the list.

Episode #105 “ALLEGRO” Broadcast October 2, 1950
Rehearsal date: September 28, 1950.
Cast: Nadine Conner (Jennie Brinker), Gordon MacRae (Joseph Taylor, Jr.) and Janet Waldo (female extra).
Based on the musical of the same name, which premiered at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven on September 1, 1947.
Music score by Richard Rodgers, with book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.
Adapted for The Railroad Hour by Jean Holloway.
Songs include: Joseph Taylor, Jr.; I Know It Can Happen Again; A Fellow Needs a Girl (MacRae); So Far; Wish Them Well; You Are Never Away; Allegro; Come Home; and One Foot, Other Foot.

Episode #114 “THE FIREFLY” Broadcast December 4, 1950 
Cast: Gordon MacRae (Jack Travers) and Dorothy Sarnoff (Nina, a.k.a. “The Firefly”).
Songs include: Love is Like a Firefly (Sarnoff); A Woman’s Smile (MacRae); When a Maid Comes Knocking (excerpt with Sarnoff); Giannina Mia (Sarnoff and chorus); Love is Like a Firefly (reprise with Sarnoff, MacRae and chorus); Bermuda (Sarnoff and MacRae); Sympathy (MacRae and chorus); Donkey Serenade (Sarnoff, MacRae and chorus); and Giannina Mia (reprise with Sarnoff, MacRae and chorus).

Trivia, etc. This was a repeat performance of episode 28, broadcast April 11, 1949.
Episode #132 “THE GREAT WALTZ” Broadcast April 9, 1951
Dorothy Colter (the Countess), Joseph Colter (Johann Strauss, Sr.), Dorothy Kirsten (Resi) and Gordon MacRae (Johann Strauss, Jr.) .
Songs include: The Blue Danube (chorus); You Are My Songs (Kirsten, MacRae and chorus); Star in the Sky (Kirsten, MacRae and chorus); Only One Hour (Kirsten and chorus); You Are My Songs (Kirsten, MacRae and chorus); The Polka (chorus); With All My Heart (MacRae); and The Blue Danube (reprise with Kirsten, MacRae and chorus).

Trivia, etc. This was a repeat performance of episode 58, broadcast November 7, 1949.
Episode #134 “MADAM BUTTERFLY” Broadcast April 23, 1951
Script revised and completed March 30, 1951.
Cast: Nadine Conner (Butterfly), Gordon MacRae (Pinkerton), Ted Osborne (Sharpless), and Barbara Woodall (Kate Pinkerton and the shrew).
Based on the opera by Giacomo Puccini which premiered on February 17, 1904 in Milan. The opera was based on the David Belasco play that premiered on March 5, 1900 at the Herald Square Theatre. The original story was by John Luther Long, originally published in the January 1898 issue of Century Magazine.
Adapted for The Railroad Hour by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.
Songs include: Is It Love or Fancy? (MacRae); Across the Earth and O’er the Ocean (Conner and chorus); Okami (entire cast); Denunciation (MacRae and chorus); Evening is Falling (Conner and MacRae); One Fine Day (Conner); Bouche Ferme (chorus effect); Yes, In One Sudden Moment (Osborne and MacRae); Beloved Idol (Conner); and At Last the Day is Dawning (MacRae and chorus).

Episode #138 “THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER” Broadcast May 21, 1951
Marion Bell (Nadina), Bea Benaderet (the mother), Joseph Kearns (Popoff), Gordon MacRae (Bumerli), and George Niese (Alexius). 
Songs include: The Spy (chorus); My Hero (Bell); Chocolate Soldier (Bell and MacRae); Ti-Ra-La-La (Benaderet and Bell); Forgive (MacRae); The Letter Song (Bell and MacRae); and My Hero (reprise with Bell and MacRae).

Trivia, etc. This was a repeat performance of episode 55, broadcast October 17, 1949.

Episode #147 “ROARING CAMP” Broadcast July 23, 1951
William Conrad (Kaintuck), Peter Leeds (Oakhurst), Gordon MacRae (Boston Wagoner), Marvin Miller (Man-O-War Jack and the man), and Dorothy Warenskjold (Elvira Brigham).
Based on the 1892 story The Luck of Roaring Camp by Bret Harte from the book The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Stories published 1868-70, with music by Anton Dvorak.
Written exclusively for The Railroad Hour by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.
Story and history: From 1868 until early 1871, Harte served as editor of the Overland Monthly magazine. The August 1868 issue included the story The Luck of Roaring Camp. Californians disliked the story at first
because it showed California life as rough and unsophisticated, and sympathetic to the tough gold rush miners. But the story soon gained Harte a nationwide reputation. Anton Dvorak is best known as the world’s most-played Czech composer of all time. His musical inventiveness was bottomless, and the beauty of his melodies unique. This Railroad Hour broadcast presented an original musical based on the Bret Harte short story, using compositions from Dvorak’s best works.
Songs included: Cross the Prairie (MacRae and chorus); Longing for Home (Warenskjold, MacRae and chorus); Don’t Go to Roaring Camp (Warenskjold and chorus); Go to Sleep (Warenskjold and chorus); Go to Sleep (reprise with Warenskjold and chorus); Listen, Lads! (MacRae and chorus); Flood’s A-Risin’! (chorus effect); and Love Will Soothe the Sharpest Loss (Warenskjold, MacRae and chorus).

Episode #148 “PIRATES OF PICCADILLY” Broadcast July 30, 1951
Gordon MacRae (W.S. Gilbert), Marvin Miller (Richard D’Oyly Carte), Thurl Ravenscroft (Mr. Grossmith), Dorothy Warenskjold (Jessie Bond), and Willard Waterman (Arthur Sullivan).
Based on the life of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, using the music from many of their musicals.
Written for The Railroad Hour by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.
Songs included: Wand’ring Minstrel (chorus); When I Was a Lad (MacRae and chorus); Poor Wandering One (Warenskjold and chorus); I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General (MacRae and chorus); Act One Finale (MacRae and chorus); Tit Willow (MacRae); The Moon and I (Warenskjold); Little Buttercup (entire cast and chorus); and Wand’ring Minstrel (reprise with Warenskjold, MacRae and chorus).

Closing Comments
Every episode from 1952 is known to exist. In a future blog post, I will cover the "lost" episodes of 1953 and 1954.

The Billy Rose Theater Collection located at the Lincoln Center of Performing Arts in the New York Public Library holds the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Collection, which includes a broad sampling of the material that the team created for radio, television, and the stage. Included in the collection are complete holdings for The Railroad Hour, both recordings and scripts. These include almost the entire run of The Railroad Hour, all off-line recordings from KFI in Los Angeles, California. Each recording is complete on two sound discs, analog, 33 1/3 RPM., 16 inch aluminum-based acetate discs. Access to many of the original items (such as transcription discs) is restricted. Many of the broadcasts, thankfully, have been transferred to sound tape reels (analog, 7.5 IPS, 7 in.) so patrons can listen and enjoy the musicals. 

 In 1967, they presented a full collection of Railroad Hour recordings to the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound at the New York Public Library.
The Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Collection may or may not be complete. According to their inventory, the collection holds a total of 532 sound recordings – not all of them are The Railroad Hour. While the archive does house one rehearsal recording, the list of titles and broadcast dates remain incomplete. Comparing the library’s inventory with the recordings known to circulate among old-time radio collectors, it is estimated that about six recordings remain unaccounted for. Dismal hopes should not prevail, as it is “assumed” (but not proven) that the Lawrence and Lee Collection does contain a recording of every broadcast – and that the inventory sheets are merely incomplete.

So the recordings listed above are referred to as "lost" only in the sense that they are not available in collector hands. In a future blog post I will list those six in particular. But in the meantime, if you have any of the above, please let me know so I can remove them from this list.  

Shameless plug: Material included in this blog post originates from The Railroad Hour by Gerald D. Wilson and Martin Grams. Reprinted with permission from Bear Manor Media. Special thanks to the staff of Ohio State University Library and the staff at the Billy Rose Theater Collection. Also special thanks to Ben Ohmart, Derek Tague, Joyce Comeaux, Kara Darling of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Theatre Library, Aida Garcia-Cole of G. Schirmer, Inc., Jim Cox, Leo Gawroniak, Terry Salomonson, Amanda Dittoe, Craig Wichman, Sheila MacRae Wayne, Al Hubin, B. Ray Druian, Jack French, Harlan Zinck, Roy Moore, Kathy Dragon Henn, David Goldin and Alex Daoundakis.


Ken said...

Oh, I hate "The Railroad Hour." Those shows can stay lost, so far as I'm concerned.

danny sharples said...

has anyone seen 2 railroad hours with soprano jarmila novotna?

Charles said...

Hoping a piece of broadcast history remains lost is not proactive. Expressing that kind of attitude is the reason we have lost episodes of Bob Hope, Groucho Marx and other radio broadcasts. Anyone reading this should not let Ken's opinion dictate what shows should be destroyed or rediscovered. I for one am glad such a list was made so collectors like myself can check and see if we have a hidden treasure. Thank you for providing the list!

Arkle Sparkle said...

Well said Charles, couldn't agree more, I collect these shows and think they're wonderful. For me, nobody sang like Gordon MacRae and even after all these years, his voice is still my favourite of all. We never heard these shows to my knowledge in England and I was too young anyway. I didn't discover Gordon untill Oklahoma and Carousel came out and he's been my favourite singer ever since.

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