Friday, May 29, 2015

THE MAGIC KEY OF RCA (July 24, 1939)

Ed Gardner and Ransom Sherman
According to Jay Hickerson's Ultimate Guide book, the July 24, 1939 radio broadcast of The Magic Key of RCA is not known to exist in recorded form. This is sad as it marks an early appearance of Ed Gardner as Archie, pre-dating the popularly-known  and talked about 1940 Forecast audition, and the long-running Duffy's Tavern. During the broadcast, Archie talks to Colonel Stoopnagle, making numerous references to Duffy’s Bar and Grill, and telling the story of Two-Top Gruskin. Archie also assisted with the RCA commercial with announcer Ben Grauer. There was originally supposed to be a second sketch, but during rehearsals the sequence was scratched out to ensure the program ended on time. For your entertainment is a reprint from that radio script of the Archie-Ben Grauer-Colonel Stoopnagle dialogue and the deleted sequence that never aired.
                                                               
ARCHIE: Hello, Colonel Stoopnagle.
STOOP: Hello, Archie.
(APPLAUSE)
STOOP: Say, Ben, this is the fellow I was telling you about.
GRAUER: Oh, Archie, the native New Yorker.
ARCHIE: Hello, Mr. Grauer. You know, listening to you fellows talk about New York made me feel kinda sad. New York just ain’t the same no more.
STOOP: What do you mean, New York just ain’t the same no more?
ARCHIE: I mean, New York just ain’t the same no more. My father used to say, “Archie, New York ain’t the same no more.” And before him, way back in 1870, my grandfather used to say New York ain’t the same no more. Personally, I don’t think New York ever was the same no more.
STOOP: Well, I think New York is pretty nice, especially if you want a good time. What do you do for divertissement, Archie?
ARCHIE: For what?
STOOP: Well I mean, where do you hang out?
ARCHIE: Oh. Well, for divertissement, I hang out in an establishment known as Duffy’s Bar and Grill.
STOOP: Sounds like a place with that certain air of distinction.
ARCHIE: Yes and no. It has a little distinction, but I guess that’s because there ain’t any air in the joint.
STOOP: What is the attraction at Duffy’s?
ARCHIE: Duffy, himself. You never on your life saw a man who could stand up so straight and look so stupid.
STOOP: Well, how old a man is this Duffy?
ARCHIE: Well, he ain’t sure whether he’s 38 or 56. All he knows is he was born in 1894.
STOOP: Sounds like a high grade imbecile.
ARCHIE: Yeah. Swell fellow. You ought to see how he runs our ball team, the Duffy Bar and Grill A.C.
STOOP: Duffy is the manager?
ARCHIE: The smartest in baseball on account that he ain’t got no brains. Who turned Bow-Legged Harrigan into a second baseman?
STOOP: Duffy?
ARCHIE: Duffy. He figures Harrigan is so bow-legged that if a grounder goes through his legs, the shortstop can go right through after it. And what about Gorilla Hogan, the greatest catcher that ever lived?
STOOP: A Duffy discovery?
ARCHIE: A Duffy discovery. What a man. He runs with the speed of a canteloupe. You ought to see the Gorilla. He looks like he just stepped out of a jungle. A natural born catcher. Stands six feet fourteen inches high, and squats standing up. The only reason anybody thinks of him as Hogan is because that was his father’s name.
STOOP: He sounds pretty terrifying.
ARCHIE: He is. He used to be a fighter, but they had to bar him from the ring; he was too tough. In his last fight he fought a fellow named Battling Cassidy. The first thing happens when they come to the center of the ring to shake hands. The Gorilla shakes Cassidy’s hand, and immediately Cassidy goes down for the count of eight. Then when they start to fight, the Gorilla lifts up his fist and brings it down on top of Cassidy’s hand so hard that from that day to this the guy is known as Concerting Cassidy.
STOOP: What a powerful man!
ARCHIE: Colonel Stoopnagle, I can safely say that he is the most powerful man, if he is indeed a man, who ever drew the breath of life, if indeed he does draw the breath of life. Let me read you his ring measurements. Gorilla Hogan: ankles - 38. Waist - 53. Biceps - 23. Neck - none. Chest - expanding and 53.
STOOP: And this… this… thing is the catcher on your ball team?
ARCHIE: The only guy in the world who could catch Two-Top Gruskin.
STOOP: Oh, Two-Top Gruskin is your pitcher?
ARCHIE: Well, he used to be. And there’s another example of Duffy’s genius. One day Duffy says to Dugan the shortstop, “Dugan, we got a great ball team here, but I’m afraid it lacks color. What’s the answer?” So Dugan says, “Color, eh?” Well, this may not be it, Duffy, but I think I know where I can lay my hands on a pitcher with two heads.” So Duffy says, “A pitcher with two heads? I don’t know, Dugan, do you think it’d be a novelty?” So Dugan says, “Well, what if it ain’t? You can’t pass up a pitcher that can watch first base and third base at the same time.” So Duffy says, “It’s an angle. And besides, the guy would be a natural for double-headers.”
STOOP: Now, Archie, did you actually see his two headed pitcher yourself?
ARCHIE: Certainly. I remember the night he first walked into Duffy’s Bar -- dressed up formal -- to sign his contract. Everybody in the joint was staring at him.
STOOP: I should think they would.
ARCHIE: Yeah. So Two-Top turns his two heads to the crowd and says, “What are you starin’ at? None of you guys ever see a tuxedo before?” Well, Duffy quickly covers his embarrassment. He says, “Waiter, bring two beers for this man.” Then he turns to Gruskin and says, “Two-Top, I’m a man of few words. Report tomorrow morning. There’s a uniform and two caps waiting for you in the locker room.”
STOOP: Well, how did Two-Top get along with Gorilla Hogan?
ARCHIE: Not quite as well as you’d naturally expect.
STOOP: They didn’t hit it off, eh?
ARCHIE: Frankly, no. The trouble starts right in the first game. The Gorilla signals for a fast curve, so Two-Top nods one head and shakes the other. Well, this is very confusing to the Gorilla, who ain’t so bright anyway, so he throws down his glove and makes a bee-line for Duffy. “Duffy,” he says, “I’m getting’ good and sick and tired of two headed pitches -- I quit.” So Duffy says, “Now wait a minute, Gorilla. Don’t get hot headed. Go out there and talk it over with the guy. After all, three heads is better than one.” But the Gorilla says, “Nope. It’s no use. I just can’t help feelin’ that the guy ain’t normal. One of us will have to go, Duffy, and don’t forget who owns the baseball.”
STOOP: And that was Two-Top’s finish, eh?
ARCHIE: Yeah. It was pretty sad, the way the lumps came up in his throats when Duffy told him. Well, I gotta run along Colonel Stoopnagle. The Gorilla’s down in the barber shop havin’ his chest shampooed and he’s waitin’ for me. I’ll be seein’ ya, huh?
STOOP: Wait a minute, Archie, before you go. What finally became of the two headed pitcher?
ARCHIE: Who, Two-Top? Oh, he went back to his old job. Watchin’ tennis matches for Pathe News. Well, so long Colonel Stoopnagle.
SOUND: (APPLAUSE)


DELETED SEQUENCE

SOUND: (KNOCK ON DOOR)
STOOP: Come in.
SOUND: (DOOR OPENS, CLOSES)
ARCHIE: Colonel Stoopnagle, my name is Archie. I’m the detective from down the hall.
STOOP: My name is Stoopnagle. I’m the detective from up the hall. Meet Ben Grauer, he’s the detective from up the creek.
ARCHIE: How do you do. I just thought I’d drop in to pay a social call, us being neighbors, and both detectives. How’s business?
STOOP: Well, it’s pretty slow. How can we possibly compete with those low priced Chinese detectives?
ARCHIE: Yeah, it’s a tough year in our business. I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, Crudface Clifford, a safe cracker. And you know when those fellows don’t work, we don’t work. He says to me, “Archie, things certainly are bad in my game. You remember I used to crack safes? I made a good living, drove my own stolen car, was well thought of in the community… now look at me. I’m out picking pockets like a common thief.”
STOOP: What a comedown. I have a friend, a fellow who used to make counterfeit fifties and hundreds. Just recently he had to make up a line of phony two dollar bills to retail for 39 cents. So what happens? He works like a dog turning out counterfeit dough, and his wife spends it faster than he can make it.
ARCHIE: Yeah, it’s tough. This year us detectives got wallets to match our feet.
SOUND: (PHONE RINGS)
STOOP: The Whodunit Detective Agency, Stoopnagle speaking. Huh? Oh. It’s for you, Archie.
ARCHIE: Thanks. Hello? Oh, yes, Mr. B. I’ll be right over to your house.
SOUNDS: (HANG UP)
ARCHIE: I have to go right out on a case, Colonel. Could I borrow some dog biscuits from you?
STOOP: Dog biscuits? Whose house are you going to?
ARCHIE: The Baskervilles.
SOUND: (DOOR SLAM)
STOOP: He’ll probably be hounded to death.

This script excerpt is featured in the new book, Duffy's Tavern: A History of Ed Gardner's Radio Program (2014, Bear Manor Media). You can purchase a copy of the book at www.MartinGrams.com


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 to a publishing company that has made arrangements for these projects to be preserved, rather than tossed in the dumpster, which was the alternative had they not been rescued.)

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 audio 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.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Greta Garbo's One and Only Radio Appearance

When Swedish film director Mauritz Stiller was brought to the United States by MGM, he insisted on bringing along his protégé, the young Greta Garbo. In the 1926 film Torrent, the 19-year-old Garbo dazzled audiences with her beauty and complex emotions. Her films with silent screen star John Gilbert (and their off-screen romance) made for big box office, and by the end of the silent era she was Hollywood royalty. Garbo valued her privacy, which was respected by the studio heads, who preferred to keep her happy when considering the huge profits that came from her pictures. She may have been a cash cow to Louis B. Mayer, but it might have been her throaty, accented voice that prevented her from speaking before the radio microphone.

On the evening of January 24, 1942, three radio networks (Mutual, NBC Red and NBC Blue) presented The March of Dimes: Hollywood’s Salute to the President, an hour-long gala featuring the unprecedented appearance of the screen idol, Greta Garbo, making her radio debut. Standing alongside a number of celebrities, Garbo made a public appeal for the victims of Infantile Paralysis. The woman who was best remembered for the catch-phrase, “I vant to be alone” (Grand Hotel, 1932), now wanted a few minutes with the American public for a cause that was more important than her solitude.

The January 24, 1942, March of Dimes broadcast aired live 8:15 p.m. PST (11:15 EST) from coast-to-coast. Arch Oboler directed the radio special. The list of celebrities was enormous. Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Jean Arthur, James Cagney, Tyrone Power, Ronald Colman, Deanna Durbin, the Merry Macs, Thomas Mitchell, Dennis Day, Jim and Marian Jordan (Fibber McGee and Molly), Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Mary Martin, Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, Ronald Colman, Gordon Jenkins and his Orchestra, a 16 voice chorus, and of course, Greta Garbo.

Mention of Garbo's "first radio appearance" in The Washington Post.

Could Greta Garbo have really avoided the microphone for most of her career until 1942? Could she have possibly done this one and only radio broadcast? While it seems unlikely when you consider the efforts of the Hollywood studios to promote their product whenever possible, encouraging and forcing celebrities to make public appearances, the answer to that question remains a mystery. No one has yet been able to find a radio broadcast with Greta Garbo, other than the March of Dimes special. And there’s a story behind all this. At the premiere of her film The Temptress (1926), the announcer on stage introduced the star by saying, “This is Miss Greta Garbo, from Stockholm. Miss Garbo doesn’t speak a word of English.” Anxious to underscore this point, Garbo chimed in with a firm, “No, not von vord!” The ensuing laughter so embarrassed her that she never attended another movie premiere.

Without intricate details into the affairs of movie premiere coverage on local radio stations, or printed confirmations in the form of radio reviews, we cannot simply assume she participated in the festivities. One such example: When Mata Hari premiered in Los Angeles in January 1932, radio station KMTR pre-empted regular programming for coverage of the gala, with celebrities speaking before the microphone, stationed along the red carpet. No confirmation as yet has been found to verify Greta Garbo was among those who spoke before the microphone that evening.

Without the actresses’ participation, studio executives employed a different tactic. To promote Grand Hotel, one of MGM’s all-star dramas, in which Garbo played the role of a  ballerina, the studio commissioned a 30-minute recording titled, The Life of Greta Garbo. Syndicated across the country, Garbo’s voice was never heard. But her biography and screen career were dramatized by another (unknown) actress attempting her best Swedish accent. The transcription apparently featured no closing announcement, which we can only assume was left to the local radio stations to fill in with their staff announcer. This was a shrewd business move on the studio’s part, because the announcer would reveal the day and time of the screening of Garbo’s latest picture, and the name of the theatre. And no doubt that transcription disc included a copy of the announcer’s script, with the proper blanks to be filled in.

The gimmick of having a local staff announcer reveal the location of the theatres in the local area was shrewd. Case in point: One confirmed broadcast was over KHJ in Los Angeles, on April 16, 1932. (The New York City premiere of Grand Hotel was April 12, followed by Los Angeles shortly after.) Weeks after the theatrical release of Queen Christina, the same recording was played over WJSV in Washington D.C., with the local station staff announcer promoting MGM’s latest picture.

The studio also recorded audio tracks from their motion pictures for 15-minute air trailers, paid commercials promoting their various movies. A number of MGM promotional air trailers exist in collector circles, including Camille (1936) and Conquest (1937). The radio audience clearly heard Garbo’s voice, but that was provided by audio tracks from the respective movies.

From February 16 to June 14, 1932, CBS aired a 15-minute weekly program titled, Stories of the Living Great, featuring brief biographical sketches centered on the life of a famous celebrity, from Henry Ford to Marie Dressler. Sponsored by Lehn & Fink Products Corp. (makers of Pebeco toothpaste) and commercial spokeswoman Ida Bailey Allen, this short run program featured New York actors Agnes Moorehead, Alan Reed (a.k.a. Teddy Bergman) and J. Scott Smart in supporting roles. For the broadcast of February 23, 1932, the screen career of Greta Garbo, with cooperation from MGM, was presented. (It still remains unknown who played the role of Garbo.)

On the evening of October 11, 1931, Greta Garbo was scheduled as a guest for The Three Bakers of Hollywood, sponsored by Standard Brands (promoting Fleischmann’s Yeast). This short-run program aired over NBC Blue on Sunday evening. Even the New York Times reported Garbo’s up-coming appearance. After checking everything from the Library of Congress, the surviving records of the J. Walter Thompson Agency which represented the sponsor, files at NBC, and the Billy Rose Theatre Collection in New York City, I have verified that Garbo canceled her appearance before the broadcast and Harriet Hilliard filled in as a guest.

There are three recordings in collector hands that post-date the 1942 March of Dimes broadcast, featuring the voice of Greta Garbo. All three were provided courtesy of the sound tracks from her movies. The April 18, 1954, broadcast of Stagestruck, hosted by Mike Wallace, documented “How the Stage Helped Make Hollywood History.” Numerous celebrities, through exclusive interviews, offered commentary. Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Frank Lovejoy and many others. Greta Garbo’s voice is heard, but again only from a movie sound track. The April 25, 1955, broadcast of NBC’s Best of All, featured a salute to Lionel Barrymore with a scene from the sound track of Camille. This means Garbo’s voice was once again provided courtesy of MGM’s film vaults. The April 10, 1957, broadcast of Recollections At Thirty also featured a scene from the sound track of Camille, with Greta Garbo and Lionel Barrymore.

One recording not known to exist is the August 15, 1954 broadcast of Weekend, where Garbo appeared as a guest on the “Woman’s Page” spot, but her appearance was taped in advance and broadcast during the program.

In Closing
Although radio historians are still trying to find confirmation of more than one radio broadcast, it appears (for now) that Garbo’s first and only radio appearance was the March of Dimes broadcast of 1942. Ironic when you consider that Garbo’s technique before the cameras was usually word-perfect on the first take. She was known for making her films quickly. To achieve this result, the very private actress often banished crew members and even the director from her range of sight. Visitors on her sets were strictly forbidden. Yet, the actress somehow managed to set the record for the least amount of public radio appearances in Hollywood history.




Friday, May 1, 2015

Dick Tracy: A Review of 1940

When last we left Dick Tracy at the end of the calendar year of 1939, Tracy finally caught up with Stooge Villar who turned the tables on the detective. Strangling the life out of Dick Tracy over the fire escape, Stooge failed to notice his young daughter picking up the gun and fearful of the end result of the scuffle, orders Stooge to let go of Dick Tracy or she will shoot. But the girl hesitates and comes to reality that she cannot pull the triggger. "I can't shoot my own father!" the girl cries. Then the following happens which is best described by reading the next panel for January 2, 1940.


Stooge, wounded, attempts to escape and Dick Tracy apprehends him. The villain dies in the hospital but not before he asks Dick Tracy to honor a final request. Don't tell his daughter that he died. Tracy tells her Stooge went back to the Big House.

In one of the city's largest department stores, Tracy is purchasing luggage for his boss, who celebrates his 30th anniversary on the force. There, the detective finds an abandonded baby in a wardrobe case. Trying to figure who the mother is, and why she would abandon a baby in the manner she did is a puzzle. The solution plays like a soap opera for a couple weeks until the truth be known: Mr. Kroywen (New York spelled backward) is a wealthy industrialist who sent his son (the father of the baby) to South America to work on a coffee planation. The mother is Toby, who rerturns after a two year absense from the comic strip. Mr. Kroywen, as Toby explains, wants to use their baby in an experiment. For years Mr. Kroywen has tried to perfect a serum that would cure Tropic sleep, a disase that takes hundreds of babies' lives every year on his rubber planation. Before Tracy and the police can stop him, Mr. Kroywen has already stolen the baby and infected it with the disease. Tracy, with no medical experience and against the will of any doctor in the city, facing a scandal, injects the infant with the experimental serum. Tracy plays Dr. Kildare for a while and throughout the month of February, Tracy faces a murder charge if the baby dies but the child pulls through and the late Mr. Kroywen is hailed as a genius. Tracy is relieved and returns to duty.

When an amnesia victim is treated with special care by Dick Tracy, who intends to help the beautiful girl figure out her identity, the young girl turns out to be a professional singer. Working with Rudy Seton (Notes speleld backward) on his live band remotes from a city night club, she gains the attention of radio listeners... untilsomeone take a shot at her and misses. The trail leads to Chief Brandon's old friend, Mr. Mason, who owns a machine shop outside of town. Mason looks like Charles Laughton and probably talks in the same manner, revealing Chester Gould was still using Hollywood movies and actors as models for his characters. When Tracy proves Mr. Mason was behind the shooting because he was afraid the amnesia victim would remember a murder committed in his factory, the arrest proves Tracy right an Brandon wrong.


Towards the end of April, we are introduced to two new characters, one larger than life. But by 1940, Gould began creating fictional characters who wore their sins through physical traits that would become Gould's trademark for the comic strip. With that reason, it stands to say that this is the moment we have all been looking forward to. Villains who were more memorable than the capers they created. Dick Tracy would never be the same.

The two characters in question are Jerome the midget and Mamma, a larger-than-life fat lady who has a sweet tooth when it comes to cholcolates. Jerome uses a giant dog as his means of escape because he can hold on to the dog's scruff and ride the animal like a joeky rides a horse. In the hopes of pulling off a number of daring robberies, Jerome orders his men to kidnap Dick Tracy and forcing the detective against a desk, breaks his right hand between a metal vice. Knowing the detective isn't quick with a gun with his left hand, the midget can feel confident that he has a chance of success.


Pat Patton uses the chocolate wrapper as a means of tracking down Mamma, but his efforts fail when the fat woman proves to be too strong for little ol' Pat. When Mamma happens to be in a store buying food and orders her dog to attack Junior's puppy, the young boy gives Dick Tracy a clue. 


Tracing her whereabouts, Tracy gets the upper hand. After smashing their crime spree operation and returning most of the stolen money, Dick Tracy takes Mamma in (after giving her a serious beating) and Jerome manages to escape. Riding out of town in a box car, Jerome finds himself accepted as a midget for a traveling circus and poses as a rodeo cowboy. Using this means of disguise, Jerome's act is caught on a newsreel camera where Mamma, now in the pen, watches the film and contacts Dick Tracy. Feeling betrayed by her sweetheart, Mamma gives the tip to Tracy who tracks down the whereabouts of Jerome. Mamma also escapes and sets out to exact revenge on the little man. Trapping the midget in an outside shower stall at a log cabin camp, Mamma uses hot water to scould the midget to death. Dick Tracy manages to out-maneuver the fat woman and take her into custody. Jerome, on the other hand, dies from the scoulding burns.


On board a train headed back into town, Dick Tracy meets Yogee Yamma, a fake hindu who uses an experimental chemical to control other people's will and minds so he can rob them during his performances. When Pat Patton and Dick Tracy attempt to arrest Yogee, they are exposed to the chemical (Yogee's nostrils are clogged) and soon find themselves hypnotized by the crooked mystic. 


The second time Tracy captures up with Yogee Yamma, at an airport, he falls for the same ploy and wakes to wonder what happened while Chief Brandon raises cain about the Yogee's second escape. Eventually Dick Tracy discovers how Yogee is able to pull off the stunt. The man responsible for creating the chemical is known as The Professor and as demonstrated in the panel below, the reason why Yogee keeps The Professor trapped under ground with ball and chain.


After trailing Yogee to the underground abandoned subway, Dick Tracy and The Professor find themselves victim to a death trap. The air compressor is shut off from the outside and with no way out, the quicksand and water start rushing in. A truck in the city streets falls through the asphalt which caves in and Tracy finds himself a rescue.


Yogee, however, faces a death from the hand of fate. Checking into a hotel, he gets drunk and falls asleep -- the bed catched on fire as a result of his cigarette and the man dies in a fiery inferno.

The second-to-last story arc for 1940 was clearly adapted (loosely) for Republic's 1941 cliffhanger serial, Dick Tracy vs. Crime, Inc. Here, Pat Patton follows the trail of an explosive device in the post office to foreign spies who create a land tank that goes beneath the water and flies through the air. Hoping to demonstrate her new weapon to foreign countries who would like to purchase such as weapon, she forces Dick Tracy and Pat Patton as guinea pigs for the vehicle's first submersion. Under water, Dick Tracy finds cables leading outside and uses Morse code to communicate with the outside world. At the public water works system, a man overhears the code and sends for help. When the police arrive, Tracy and Pat join in the shootout and the criminals are apprehended.


The final story arc involves Junior and a get-rich-quick scheme. When a few crooks trick Junior into operating a parking lot for high school kids with bicycles, then arrange for a smash-up job, the crooks also provide new bikes at a discount that the parents cannot afford to turn down. But when one of the fathers discovers the bikes are stolen and painted, he sends for the police. Junior explains a plot to unravel the crooks and their scheme but they qucikly turn the tables on the boy, running him over with their truck as they make a getaway. Tracy returns to town to discover Junior is in the hospital.


Deafy, in charge of the operation, attempts to flee the scene when Dick Tracy and Pat Patton attempt to round up the crooks. Deafy finds himself caught in a shed and exposed to a skunk (how appropriate since he himself is a skunk). When he attempts to make a getaway by hiding in a truck filled with Christmas trees, Dick Tracy follows his nose and apprehends the crook.


Again, I highly endorse the Dick Tracy comic strip reprints from IDW Publishing, being offered chronologically. By now they have at least fourteen volumes printed and more coming soon!

Next time we revisit Dick Tracy we'll explore 1941 and the year that colorful characters start making their entrance.