Friday, April 3, 2020

Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall

About 30 minutes before curtain time, the producer (Andy Wiswell) for Capitol Records spoke to Judy Garland in her dressing room. He explained that they intended to record the concert and would she mind if they asked the drummer to tone it down for recording purposes. At this point Judy told him in no uncertain terms that they was her night, that she intended to give the best performance she could and she did not care if they got a recording or not but she wanted her drummer to play vigorously as he was used to. This was on the evening of Sunday, April 23, 1961.

As for the concert itself, Judy Garland was at her peak and the audience responded in kind. Many still remember it as the greatest night in show business that they ever experienced. The concert was indeed recorded and released on 2 LP records, a commercial success from all ends of the spectrum. For fans of Judy Garland, or those who enjoy her screen performances but never went to the trouble of buying up all those CDs of her music (sadly, with much of the music recycled on multiple releases so you end up purchasing duplicates), Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall is perhaps her best performance -- ever. It would remain her biggest selling recording, staying on the charts for 95 weeks -- 13 at Number One, and won five Grammy Awards, including Best Female Vocal Performance, and Album of the Year. Highly recommended and available on a 2-CD set, the commercial release includes a small booklet documenting the history behind her stage performance.

The show business famous who were there that evening echoed the press raves. Phil Silvers, Rock Hudson, Polly Bergen, Myrna Loy, Carol Channing, Henry Fonda, Julie Andrews, Richard Burton and many others. This was a milestone in the life and career of a woman who had seen so many successes in her time, who had been "reborn" before. None of the many achievements she had previously could compare with what happened to her in 1961, however. Especially considering that only 16 months prior to stepping onto the stage at Carnegie Hall, Judy Garland nearly died.

There has been talk (and complaints) about various CD releases not being "pure," with alterations and missing tracks, but I am avoiding what complaints people may have as the Capitol Records release (pictured above) is the one I have and the majority of the Judy Garland fans praise this as the ultimate rendition and the only one you want to get. In short, avoid any other CD release that does not look like the one pictured above. Whether you are looking for something to enjoy on a long road trip or want to turn off the electronic devices and play something soothing and entertaining that does not involve DVDs, streaming or the Internet, do yourself a favor and grab the 2-CD set today. Hollywood entertainment does not get better than this. 

Friday, March 27, 2020


The Green Hornet will undergo a film reboot courtesy of Amasia Pictures, a production company run by Bradley Gallo and former Marvel Studios Chief Operating Officer Michael Helfant, as announced in Variety and numerous Hollywood trade journals early this month. Few details of the planned film have been announced, but the reboot does not appear to have any connection to the 2011 Green Hornet film which starred Seth Rogen. (Thank goodness.)
“When I was a kid, The Green Hornet was one of my favorite television series. I loved everything about it – the Green Hornet, Kato, and of course, the Black Beauty. They were the coolest!" said Helfant in the announcement, running down the film rights' long history. "It was personally painful to leave them all behind when I left Dimension. So I tried to option the property again at Marvel before it went over to Sony, and then again in 2017 before the rights landed at Paramount.”
As if news of a new major motion-picture was not enough, just in time to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Dynamite publishing the iconic character, Green Hornet, Kato, the Black Beauty and a bounty of gadgets are back in a new series in June 2020. 
“The Green Hornet is one of the first heroes that built the foundation of the comics industry, and weve been proudly publishing his adventures for 10 years now. I couldnt be happier with this new book, which is put together by a group of true comic pros with years of collective experience and strong relationships with each other and Dynamite! This is a great way to celebrate the Hornets 10th anniversary at Dynamite!” said Nick Barrucci, Dynamite CEO and Publisher.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Dwight Fuhro, Collector of THE SHADOW

Goodrich Advertisements of The Shadow radio show.
Among our friendly neighbors of the North is Dwight Fuhro, a collector of all things related to the pulp magazine and radio program, The Shadow. To refer to Dwight as a serious collector is an understatement. His collection focusing on rare Shadow items have become an obsession (in a good way) and his passion allows for the highest grade of quality in any private collection I can think of. His passion takes him all over North America (including the pulp conventions I have described in the past) to acquire the rare finds.

"I was first introduced to The Shadow through the pulps in 2002," Dwight explained. "I quickly determined that I was going to embark in not only putting together a complete Shadow pulp run, but the highest grade one in existence. Today I have completed this and need only a handful of upgrades including still needing a sharp issue number one. Well, collecting the pulps then led to wanting to acquire other rare Shadow radio, pulp and movie related collectibles. I have been very fortunate in acquiring many rare Shadow items from: Street & Smith, Blue Coal (the product of the D.L.&W and Glen Alden Coal Company), Carey Salt, Goodrich Silvertown Tires and others."

A few pieces of Dwight's archival collection.
A few of his favorite Shadow collectibles include two original Shadow pulp paintings of "The Creeping Death" and "The Third Skull," both used for the covers of The Shadow magazine. Dwight is the proud possessor of Walter Gibson's personal Shadow Salesman Book (promoting the Shadow pulps, radio, films etc.). The book was given as a birthday present to Arthur Emerson, a close personal friend of Water Gibson back in the 1940’s. It contains 48 pages of rare, original Shadow promotional contacts and promotional information, original newspaper ads, Shadow promotional deals & correspondence with various companies (Macy's, the Police Department), etc.

Interesting Trivia
The 1939 Christmas season opened the doors for promotion in New York City when R.H. Macy’s in New York made The Shadow a feature of its Christmas Toyland. A man dressed in cloak and mask awed and delighted thousands of children and parents in Macy’s “Radio Televisionland” (titled appropriately since the parade was first televised in 1939). Macy’s even planned to make a huge “Shadow” balloon for the 1939 Thanksgiving Day parade, but verification with department store records verifies that plans for it fell through.

Dwight's collectible piece, along with department store records courtesy of Macy's, helped verify the correct calendar year of 1939. For a short while, there was some debate as to what calendar year this event was done because one booklet in a Radio Spirits Shadow collection inaccurately claimed The Shadow was featured in the 1941 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Dwight helped pinpoint the correct year and records at Macy's substantiated that fact. (There could have been two years, but nothing has been found to verify 1941.) 

A few pieces of Dwight's archival collection.
The same book also contains four original and rare Shadow signs: “The Weird Avenger of Crime” cardboard sign from 1933, the huge “Shadow’s Justice”  fold-out poster from 1933, the only known example of “The Shadow Goodrich Silvertown Tire” advertising cardboard sign from 1938-39, and another Shadow pulp advertising cardboard sign from 1933.

"I have acquired a total of 12 Shadow advertising signs from the 1930's and 40's," Dwight explains with pride. "My favorites are my Blue Coal Shadow silkscreen advertising sign (18” x 24”) which is pictured on the back of Martin’s fabulous Shadow radio book. I also enjoy have two 18" x 34" Shadow trolley signs from 1932 and 1934."

Trolley Car sign and vintage ad with same image.
Dwight recently just picked up Blue Coal promotional manuals from 1932 and 1934 that correspond directly with the two Trolley Car display ads/signs. It is believed the promotional manuals are the only ones known to exist in collector hands.

"I also recently acquired the only known Blue Coal Shadow Gum," Dwight continued. "I have a near mint example of the Shadow board game from 1940, a near mint example of The Shadow Blue Coal cape and the 1940 Street & Smith Shadow children’s costume complete with the only known original box. I also have the only known example of The Shadow stationery in the original cellophane from 1940."

Shadow collector rings

The proud possessor of complete sets of the Blue Coal and Carey Salt rings, Shadow Lapel Pin, and Shadow Glow in the Dark button; all with the original card and mailers, Dwight has arranged for most of his treasures to be professionally framed.

Other treasures in his collection include the 1934 Shadow wooden stamper, two rare Shadow postcards from 1931, a number of rare Shadow buttons some with the original cards, all of the known stickers from the 30's, and dozens of mint matchbooks used to promote The Shadow radio program.

In the summer of 1945, The Shadow graced the inside and outside of matchbooks. Matches were an obvious giveaway and always accepted by customers when offered free with deliveries of their coal orders. The matchbooks were velvet smooth and sold to Blue Coal dealers in multiples of 500. The price was $3.00 per thousand if the dealer wanted his name, address and phone number printed on them.

Dwight purchased this from Hake's. A vintage advertisement for Doc Savage on radio.

To promote the matchbooks, a marketing tie-in was featured in the broadcast of September 9, 1945, titled “The Shadow in Danger.” The story concerned the theft of $8,000 from the police fund and jeopardized Commissioner Weston’s reputation in an apparent ghost yarn. Cardona was held on suspicion of larceny when the funds for poor kids he withdrew from the bank vanished before he arrived at the police station. Lamont and Margot, victims of a similar robbery, suspect a stranger on the streets asking for a light is hypnotizing people so he can pick their pockets. When the Commissioner’s assistant, Muriel, is found dead in a hotel room with Cardona’s gun, and a matchbook bearing an image of The Shadow (shown cloaked and from behind) is found on the scene, Weston blames the series of crimes on The Shadow.

LAMONT: That’s the angle I can’t figure.
MARGOT: Will chewing on that package of matches help you? Want to get sulfur poisoning?
LAMONT: Huh? I didn’t realize I was doing it, Margot. By the way, how do you like the design on the inside cover? I just had them printed.
MARGOT: The figure of a man almost hidden by shadows. Are you anxious to let people know who the Shadow is?
LAMONT: You know I’m not.
MARGOT: Then, why advertise yourself on the inside of match covers? Suppose somebody looks like a shadow to me. I think it’s dangerous.

Discovering Weston is blaming The Shadow, Lamont realizes the newly-printed matchbooks may cause similar problems in the future so he tosses them all into a fire. He places an editorial in the newspaper to rout out the pickpocket and then makes arrangements for Margot to bring the police to an abandoned warehouse on River Street where the confrontation gets ugly. Cardona has been beaten horribly, and the pickpocket, Paul, attempts to eliminate The Shadow by turning out the lights and finding the outline of the invisible avenger. Moments after learning Cardona and The Shadow were not involved and now forced to defend himself, Commissioner Weston fires two shots in rapid succession, and Paul drops dead. 

Blue Coal Salesman Book and green Trolly Car sign.
Dwight also owns original tickets for the general public to redeem at the Mutual Longacre Theater in New York, where many of The Shadow radio broadcasts originated. Attendees also received a theater program guide promoting the sponsor's product and a cast list for that day's broadcasts.

"I am still on the hunt and will pay record prices for other original Shadow pulp paintings, rare Shadow posters/signs, any of the signs that are in the Shadow Salesman book as I do not want to take them out of the book," Dwight explained. "Rare items such as The Shadow gun and holster, The Shadow disguise kit, The Shadow Tect-o-lite, The Shadow flashlight, The Shadow sheet music, Displays promoting The Shadow character (Street & Smith, Powerhouse Candy, Blue Coal, Goodrich Silvertown, etc.), a sharp copy of The Shadow issue #1, or a complete high grade Shadow pulp run and other rare items, even some that I already have."

Original radio scripts for The Shadow.

Just recently Dwight came across a rare advertisement (I think it is a trolley car sign) that features The Shadow, but is really promoting Boston Blackie. Various artists reusing signs from one radio program for another is not common... but have been found before. But this one is unusual and worth a peak.

I have often gone by the adage that how much money someone has is never impressive but what they did to make that money, can be impressive. Folks with super large collections are not always impressive but the quality of the displays... in this case, Dwight's collection... is impressive. If you ever come across any rare Shadow merchandise, especially high quality originals, give Dwight a call or drop him an e-mail. He's always on the lookout for additional items to add to his collection. His info is listed below.

Dwight Fuhro

Friday, March 13, 2020

The 70th International Al Jolson Festival

The 70th Anniversary of the Al Jolson Festival will be held May 14 to 17, 2020. Rather than present a lengthy write-up on the history of the festival, and the fan club that puts on this wonderful event, I thought it would be more fitting to reprint the advertisement sent to me, along with a link providing all of the information you need to register.

Even if you cannot attend the event, the fan club provides a newsletter -- among other goodies -- that makes it worth signing up for.   Cost per year is $26.50 and you receive access to so many recordings and memorabilia that you will come to value the entertainer's lengthy career from stage, screen and radio.

March 14, 2020 UPDATE: The event has been rescheduled for a one-day event in August at the same venue. More details to be added later.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Handsome Heroes and Vicious Villains

The Avenging Arrow (1921)
The motion-picture serial, routinely dismissed, overlooked, or undervalued by mainstream film historians, finally receives the acclaim it deserves in two meticulously and well-researched books, Distressed Damsels and Masked Marauders, and Handsome Heroes and Vicious Villains by Ed Hulse. Originally meant to be one large book documenting the entire history of cliffhanger serials during the silent movie era, Ed's project took on a life of its own and became the subject of two books. The second, picking up where the first left off, just arrived in my hands this week. I am pleased to say that Handsome Heroes and Vicious Villains is as good as the first book.

Together, Ed Hulse's two books on silent serials make up the one and only reference you will ever need focusing on the pre-1930 cliffhangers.

Personally, I find the silent cliffhanger serials much more adult in appeal, closely mimicking the blood and thunder and yellow peril adventures of the printed page during that time. When sound came into motion-pictures, movie studios went back a decade because microphones (from the initial sound era) were not mobile and therefore the early talkies were not as sophisticated in production. As Lillian Gish once said, "People were willing to see a bad sound film than a good silent film." It can sincerely be said that by the 1950s, most cliffhanger serials were dumbed down for a juvenile audience.

The Hazards of Helen (1914-1917)
What Ed Hulse set out to do was to document every aspect of the silent era of cliffhanger serials from The Perils of Pauline to The Hazards of Helen. Every major studio producing silent serials are covered, from the Arrow Film Corporation to the Weiss Brothers. Jungle pictures, Vitagraph, one-shot oddities and the stars that defined the genre are all included. The second book covers Mascot Pictures and Universal, as they began making the transition from silent to sound. Sadly, many of the silent serials are neglected by film buffs who do not share an appreciation for a visual art form that was crafted with a lack of a sound track... but the best of the cliffhanger serials originate from the silent era. That was why Ed's two books, many years in the making, is worthy of purchasing and reading. 

Here, Ed offers a comprehensive history of serials from the halcyon days of The Perils of Pauline (1914) to the advent of talking pictures. His account is illustrated with hundreds of rare stills, posters, lobby cards, advertisements, and even frame blowups from surviving 35mm nitrate prints. The illustrations won't be found on the internet with a google search, adding value and appreciation to this fantastic tome. In debunking old myths and uncovering new information about vintage "cliffhangers," Ed provides an education for anyone who wants to learn all about the history of cliffhanger serials and for those who thought they knew all about them.

The Perils of Pauline (1914)
Ed explores the budgets and profits of the serials, distribution, billboards and one-sheets, the rise and fall of independent film studios, the celebrity status gained by the screen stars, stunt men and injuries, and much more. Even more fascinating was lack of preservation for many of the cliffhanger serials (UCLA lacked sufficient funds to preserve all of John Hampton's nitrate prints, and in the ensuing years some deteriorated beyond the point of no return) and how that situation has changed in recent decades. Still, much of the damage has been made which is what makes this book all the more important.  

You can check out Ed's blog, with tons of information about cliffhanger serials, along with how to purchase his book and magazine here:

Friday, February 28, 2020

The Inner Sanctum Sterling Silver Pendant

From 1945 to 1946, the Thomas J. Lipton Tea Company sponsored Inner Sanctum Mystery, a creepy mystery radio program that aired during prime time over CBS. Prior to 1945, the program was sponsored by Carter's Little Liver Pills (starting in 1941) and in 1946 Emerson Drug took over the bankroll. During that one season under sponsorship with Lipton, the program underwent a number of changes. Raymond Edward Johnson, the program's original host, was replaced by Paul McGrath. Johnson became an overnight celebrity as a result of the program, receiving more fan mail than the program itself. When Johnson joined the Army, McGrath took over as the new host (without the name "Raymond"). In December 1945, Johnson delayed his decision to return to Inner Sanctum pending a choice for a Broadway show. This led to Johnson getting an agent and since director Himan Brown preferred to avoid agents so he could pay celebrities minimal (vs. paying an agent ten percent on top of the actor salary) so McGrath became the permanent host. Lipton added a female element named Mary Bennett to assist with the commercials. To this day, one of the two big mysteries of the radio program is whether Mary Bennett was a real person or a fictional name for the commercial spokesman.

An ink blotter given away to clients.

The second appears to have been solved, which might be the biggest old-time radio mystery to be solved this year. During the commercial breaks, a silver sterling pendant was offered as a premium, described as "attractive" and with a Chinese inscription. Yet, over all these decades, no one was able to turn up a Chinese pendant giving most historians cause to suspect they were never mailed out. This summer a collector consigned a unique item to Hake's auction house which caught the attention of numerous old-time radio fans... the Chinese pendant.  

Along with this elusive pendant in the same auction is a postcard for the consumer to submit 25 cents plus the box top of a Lipton package for additional pendants. The purpose of this pendant was to exceed an expectation set by the advertising agency, Young & Rubicam, to convince Lipton to renew their sponsorship. Lipton never did and the reason may have something to do with the pendant (possibly) never getting mailed out to radio listeners. 

Yes, it does exist!

Regardless of the reason behind the discontinuance of sponsorship, the pendant does exist. A major find in the history of old-time radio.

Friday, February 21, 2020

A New Lone Ranger Exhibit

Two years in the making, the Wabash County Museum in Mt. Carmel, Illinois, will soon be opening a new exhibit showcasing the history of The Lone Ranger on radio, television and motion-pictures. The display is nothing small, I can assure you, so anyone who happens to be passing through can stop by and check it out. Often during my travels I check to see what displays are open to the public and make a momentary detour for a pit stop where I can be enlightened with additional pop culture nostalgia. As I will be traveling through the area in June, this new Lone Ranger exhibit will be on my itinerary.

Advanced sneak peak at some of the displays in the exhibit.

Appropriately called “Hi-Yo Silver,” the display features a comprehensive timeline with legacies of both Brace Beemer (radio's Lone Ranger) and Fred Foy (the announcer that became synonymous with the opening tagline). There is also a broadcast booth including actual items from the original WXYZ studio in Detroit such as one of the microphones used for those broadcasts and the original door to the broadcast studio.

Fred Foy, radio announcer for The Lone Ranger.

In case you are curious to know why Mt. Carmel, the small town is the birthplace of Brace Beemer and the same town that held Lone Ranger Festivals in the past. 

The exhibit opens on Saturday, May 2, 2020, beginning 10 am. For those who wish to attend the grand opening on that day, you want to become part of the ceremonies when they bury a time capsule containing original artifacts from the show scheduled for 2:00 p.m.  in a small garden nest to the museum. There will be a special memento of the Grand Opening for all attendees plus other mementos to buy and plenty of friends and fans to visit with during the day. There is no fee for the event.

Whether you can attend the grand opening or plan to stop by months later to check out the exhibit, the address for GPS is 320 N. Market Street. Feel free to browse some of the photos below for a sneak peak at the museum display.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Memories of Robert Conrad

Earlier this week we heard about the passing of Robert Conrad, the athletic, two-fisted actor who starred as Secret Service agent James West on the television program, The Wild Wild West. He was 84. Conrad was among the many actors employed by Warner Bros. Television to appear on the studio's stable of programs starting in the 1950s, and first gained attention for playing Tom Lopaka, a partner in a detective agency, on ABC's Hawaiian Eye. Rarely screened on television today, Hawaiian Eye was among the detective programs worthy of revisiting -- including 77 Sunset Strip, Surfside Six and Bourbon Street Beat.

In 2016, Robert Conrad was among the celebrity guests at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. You know that event where Hollywood actors spend three days signing autographs for fans outside Baltimore, Maryland, every September? Yep, Conrad was there. And he was a real trooper, too. Where most celebrities stopped signing to get dinner around 5 or 6 pm (which is when the autograph lines tend to die down for the day) Conrad's line was still outside the hotel. People reportedly stood in line for four hours to get his autograph.

Perhaps no better tribute to Robert Conrad can be found than the following story Carla Cathcart, an attendee of the convention, posted on Facebook.

I met him that day. He was amazing. The line was long, and just as I got to his table, one of the staff announced, "Mr. Conrad will be taking a break now." To which Robert announced, "The hell I will! These wonderful people have been waiting for a long time, and I'm gonna sit here until I can't sit any longer or my hand gives out, so why don't YOU take a break?!" The staff member just laughed and asked him to let him know if he needed anything. Then, it was finally my turn to meet him, and his smile and those blue eyes still looked wonderful. I joked with him, and said "tough guys don't take breaks, do they?" He laughed, and said, "That's right, Sweetheart." After getting his autograph, I got a photo with him. I'm so very thankful that I got to meet him.

Thank you, Mr. Conrad, for your never-give-up, and be-comfortable-being-yourself attitude. Meeting you was REALLY special and inspiring!!! I won't forget that day - or you.

Friday, February 7, 2020


A few weeks ago, while finishing a brief write-up about the origin of radio’s Our Miss Brooks and having consulted archival documents and industry trade columns, I made the mistake of browsing the web for consultation. 

Wikipedia, always proving the adage that you should never believe everything on the internet, incorrectly claims Lucille Ball was second in line for the role after Shirley Booth departed. “Lucille Ball was believed to have been the next choice, but she was committed to My Favorite Husband and did not audition. Then CBS chairman Bill Paley, who was friendly with Arden, persuaded her to audition for the part.” Wikipedia cites John Dunning’s On the Air (1998, Oxford University Press) as the source for this information but a careful review of Dunning’s book verifies the author never made such a statement.

Dunning’s book never even acknowledges Lucille Ball, let alone the Shirley Booth audition. As evident more often today than it used to be years ago, false attribution is now commonplace on Wikipedia. Many people (though not all of them) who submit information on Wikipedia have, on numerous entries for old-time radio programs, deliberately puffed up the credentials or credibility of a source to enhance an argument that was not accurate to begin with. 

This is not to say Lucille Ball was not proposed for the role of Connie Brooks at one time but, at present, nothing has been found to verify this claim beyond Internet blogs and Wikipedia. News blurbs in a number of industry trade papers, however, claim Joan Blondell was immediately up for consideration following Booth. The April 21, 1948, issue of Variety reported that Shirley Booth was no longer involved and “CBS is now trying to line up Joan Blondell instead.” One week later, on April 28, Variety provided a follow-up: “Negotiations for Joan Blondell to step into the lead role of the new CBS comedy initially intended for Shirley Booth have been temporarily stalemated. Miss Blondell is embarking on a vaudeville tour with Milton Berle, opening at the Pittsburgh Gardens April 30. Although the deal appears set for her to take on the radio program, it’ll probably mean holding up the audition for a couple of months until she is at liberty again.” (Note how I cited my sources for these factoids, which anyone can verify by consulting April 21 and 28 issues of Variety.)

So it seems proper as the new school season begins during this time of the year that we revisit the true origin of Our Miss Brooks, which premiered on CBS Radio, July 19, 1948. Within eight months of its launch as a regular series, the show landed several honors, including four for Eve Arden, who won popularity polls in four individual publications of the time. Not bad when you consider Eve Arden was the third choice to play the title role.

Seven months before the premiere, on December 19, 1947, Shirley Booth was approached by Harry Ackerman, at the time CBS’s West Coast director of programming, to star on a weekly radio comedy. Booth was presently playing the recurring role of Dottie Mahoney on Fred Allen’s radio program, reprising the same Brooklyn accent she emanated on Duffy’s Tavern. The actress played the role of Miss Duffy until 1943 when she divorced Ed Gardner, her real-life husband and star of Duffy’s Tavern. CBS was at that time conducting business deals with numerous radio personalities affiliated with NBC, including Jack Benny and Amos and Andy, and it was William S. Paley’s suggestion that Booth could be shaped into a new radio personality that would dominate prime time. 

On December 22, Booth agreed provided the radio program originated from New York City, where she was entertaining offers to do Broadway. Paley personally took control of the negotiations, ensuring the actress that the radio program would be pre-recorded to accommodate her potential stage career.

By mid-February 1948, Don Ettlinger completed the radio script in which he ensured Paley, “Shirley will get completely away from her Miss Duffy identity, and play the straight role of a school teacher.” The script was twice tweaked by Norman Tokar, script writer for The Aldrich Family,until the last week of March when Edward Downes joined the CBS network staff to produce the radio sitcom and take over direction for Marriage for Two

On April 9, 1948, an audition was recorded at the studios of CBS. That audition recording exists and today provides us with a fascinating rendition of the program, for comparison, against the Eve Arden broadcasts that were to follow. A few days later, Paley listened to the audition and voiced disapproval on the grounds of Booth’s performance. 

Shirley Booth used her ever-familiar Brooklyn accent and Paley wanted to avoid a New York motif. On April 16, a second audition was recorded with Booth performing without her trademark Brooklyn accent. This led to Booth and Paley exchanging opinions on how she should play the role. Troubles and temperaments abound, which led to Booth walking away and Paley asking Ackerman to seek a new actress for the lead.

CBS, meanwhile, was working on a new Cy Howard-inspired program titled Little Immigrant. The audition would be recorded in mid-June 1948 with J. Carrol Naish in the lead; re-titled Life with Luigi in mid-September. Development of new CBS radio comedies were part and parcel of the network’s recent policy to develop in-house without advertising agencies. Paley assured the board at CBS that television was around the corner and programs that build a following on radio would transition well to television. With CBS owning fifty percent, profits were assured. Up until 1947, CBS acted primarily as a conduit between ad agencies and sponsors, providing the facilities for broadcasting at a rental price. Paley wanted the network to own a piece of the action and programs such as Our Miss Brooks was, in his mind, a sure-fire means of accomplishing this goal. 

The second actress to be consulted was Joan Blondell, as referenced earlier in this article. To date there has been nothing to lead historians into believing an audition was recorded with Blondell in the role.

In May of 1948, Eve Arden stopped over in Chicago (on her way back from a publicity tour in New York City) to meet with Paley, who was in the Windy City for business. The two dined in the famous pump room of Ambassador East, danced for a spell and discussed the possibility of her starring in a weekly radio comedy. A few days later Arden met with Harry Ackerman and Hubbell Robinson at the Beverly Hills Hotel to read the script. “When they sensed that I wasn’t too interested in the script or in doing radio, they said that two very good new writers, Al Lewis and Joe Quillan, had been given the script and would have a new one for me to read soon,” Arden later recalled. “A week later, Harry took me to dinner at Chasen’s and the script was so vastly improved that I laughed out loud as I read it between courses.”

On June 8, 1948, Eve Arden agreed to play the lead role for Our Miss Brooks, signing on the bottom line during that same week. Interestingly, Arden never cut a rehearsal recording or audition until June 23. The initial intention was to launch Our Miss Brooks on July 5, later pushed to July 12 and again to July 19, after producer Larry Berns informed the network that it would take a week or two longer to avoid rushing into production. On July 1, Paley listened to the audition and signed off with his approval, acknowledging Eve Arden was perfect for the role and “an improvement” compared to Shirley Booth. (Both Booth auditions, and the Eve Arden audition features different supporting cast members and a different theme song than we are familiar with today.)

On July 19, 1948, Our Miss Brooks premiered as a sustainer, with the network seeking a sponsor. Colgate reportedly dropped the Kay Kyser show and was seeking a new program, including a radio version of I Remember Mama under development. Our Miss Brooks was heavily pitched to the ad agency representing Colgate, with a proposed $8,000 weekly price tag (plus agency commission). The company responsible for tooth paste signed on as a sponsor after listening to the first three broadcasts and a careful review of the ratings that were steadily climbing.

“The only problem was that I’d planned to spend the summer in Connecticut with my kids,” Arden later recalled, “at the Amsters’ farm. I said if they could tape the 13 scripts before I left, it would be fine… one day Frank Stanton, then president of CBS, called me at the Amsters’ farm and said, ‘Congratulations!’”

“‘For what?’ I asked.”

Our Miss Brooks is the number one program on the air,’ he answered.”

Showing no hard feelings against Shirley Booth, at Paley’s suggestion, CBS made the actress a firm offer for the weekly supporting role of Jane Stacy on My Friend Irma, to replace Joan Banks. The letter, dated October 10, 1948, offered Booth 13-week cycles after an eight week “probationary” period. Cathy Lewis, who played the role of Jane Stacy, was on leave by doctor’s orders and Joan Banks was merely filling in temporarily. By this time Booth had signed for Goodbye, My Fancy, set to premiere on November 17, and required free time to participate in rehearsals. She declined the offer. (Booth would ultimately receive her first Tony Award for Best Supporting or Featured Actress (Dramatic) for her performance as Grace Woods in Goodbye, My Fancy.)

Eve Arden never won a Tony Award but she would receive numerous awards for her role as Connie Brooks on both the radio and television renditions of Our Miss Brooks. She won a radio listener’s poll by Radio Mirror magazine as the top-ranking comedienne of 1948-49. A winter 1949 poll of newspaper and magazine radio editors taken by Motion Picture Daily named her the year’s best comedienne. According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications, she was made an honorary member of the National Education Association and received a 1952 award from the Teacher College of Connecticut’s Alumni Association “for humanizing the American Teacher.”

Just three months ago CBS finally released the first season of the TV series. We can only hope for Season Two in the near future. 

Debunking another myth that has is circulating on the Internet, Eve Arden’s adopted daughter, Connie, was never named after the character Arden played on radio. Connie was adopted months before Arden was even approached to play the role of Connie Brooks, schoolteacher, and Arden’s own confession in her autobiography verifies this: “I named the baby Connie, for my friend Connie Raffetto.”

For amusement, check out the November 1, 1948, broadcast of Let George Do It, titled “The Flowers That Smelled of Murder.” Jeff Chandler, as fans of the radio comedy know, played the role of Mr. Boynton on Our Miss Brooks, and plays a brief role in the detective story. In this episode, a co-ed suspects that her professor of botany is about to be murdered. Jeff Chandler played the naïve, bashful biology teacher talking with George Valentine’s pretty assistant (whose name is Miss Brooks). 

This article appeared in the August 2019 issue of RADIO RECALL. As Wikipedia changes by the day (some entries by the hour), the statement above about the Lucille Ball reference may not be on Wikipedia by the time you read this. Be assured, the incorrect statement of Lucille Ball and false attribution was there, with screen capture below to verify.

Special thanks to Mark and Martha Bush for assistance with this article.

Friday, January 31, 2020

The Lost Gloria Swanson Movies

Gloria Swanson
Gloria Swanson, a favorite of director Cecil B. DeMille during the silent era, became an actress as a result of being in the right place at the right time. When her aunt took her to visit Essanay Studios in 1913, the soon-to-be actress was captivated by the new technology and the costumes and makeup and lights and everything that went into dramatic acting. She was quickly hired as an extra and rose up the ranks when Mack Sennett hired her for a series of short films. Comedy was not her style and the actress went to work for Triangle Studios in 1917. Her serious dramas there garnished the attention of Cecil B. DeMille, who cast her in Don't Change Your Husband (1919), complimenting the format DeMille wanted to expose in every one of his pictures -- the glories of sin and the comeuppance of adultry, coveting and greed.

By 1920, Gloria Swanson had been on the cover of every major movie magazine and became a box office star. Famous Players-Lasky (which later became Paramount Pictures), treated their salary contract players like cattle and steered Swanson into movies without DeMille's name and the director was left to find a new leading lady for his pictures. The rational thinking of the studios was to separate two commercial properties and double their box office returns.... and it worked. By 1926, she was making $6,500 a week (over $3.5 million a year by today's standards). She took a financial and career risk by turning down a $1 million salary from the studio to form her own production company, with Joseph Kennedy.

Kino on Video DVD Release
In 1928, she starred in Sadie Thompson, the first film version of Somerset Maugham's classic story "Miss Thompson," which established her status as a screen legend. The movie featured the creative talents of Gloria Swanson, Lionel Barrymore, Raoul Walsh, art director William Cameron Menzies and cameramen George Barnes and Oliver Marsh, at the height of their careers. Swanson and Barnes were nominated for Oscars, in what was the first year of the Academy Awards. Sadie Thompson proved to be a landmark of the silent era and is considered required viewing for people studying silent movies. Perhaps, its greatest achievement was the film's uncompromising translation of Maugham's controversial story of a San Francisco prostitute and a South Pacific reformer. She plays the title role who prowls the South Seas seducing U.S. Marines until she runs afoul of a religious hypocrite (Lionel Barrymore) who claims he wants to save her soul but cannot resist her body. Swanson correctly maintained that the film's silence was its greatest asset, for the churches and Hays office could not censor what they couldn't hear.

Why Change Your Wife? (1920)
The tragedy of Sadie Thompson is that, for many decades, the last scenes were missing from the sole existing print. A lack of film preservation over the decades (often described by many as the studio's lack of concern when weighed against the budget required to maintain their film archive) is the reason why we do not have the opportunity to view the closing chapter of the story. In 1987, Kino International funding a restoration of the final minutes, carefully recreated, using the original script, the Swanson's personal collection of stills, film footage where appropriate, and an orchestral score commissioned for the completed film.

Neglected and forgotten over the years, Sadie Thompsonhas emerged as an important triumph in the silent era, and Swanson's greatest performance ever.... or you can debate against her gutsy comeback in Sunset Boulevard (1950). She made a successful transition to sound in 1929 but the failure of Music in the Air (1934) left a bad taste in her mouth. Swanson left Hollywood for semi-retirement. In 1949, writer-director Billy Wilder offered her a comeback role as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, now considered one of the 100 greatest movies ever made and a major influence for film noir. She received critical acclaim, an Oscar nomination and chose to return to the stage instead of the silver screen. Taking a page from numerous silent stars who chose other forms of generating an annual salary, she hosted her own afternoon radio talk show and created her own fashion line (Gowns by Gloria).

Male and Female (1919)
This latter part of her career comes as no surprise. During the height of her career, Swanson was a trend setter and is credited as having become the first fashion influence. After all, movies helped define popular culture from the clothing we wore to the music we sang. Supposedly she paid as much as $10,000 for her elegant stockings. Swanson was evidently a woman of material means. In 1917, she went on strike to get mack Sennett to raise her salary. He got her to return to work by buying her a $100 green suit trimmed with squirrel fur. In 1919, during the filming of Male and Female, Swanson lay down next to a lion, which placed a paw on her back. When the actress, shaken from the experience, demanded the next day off to recover, DeMille placated her by allowing her to pick anything she wanted from a large cache of jewels. She selected a gold mesh bag and immediately said she felt much better.

Movie poster of a "lost" movie.
For trivia fans, Sunset Boulevard (1950) offers an added benefit for her fans. It features a scene from her unfinished epic, Queen Kelly (1928). Now considered one of the most audacious in-jokes in the history of American movies is the scene when Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) shows Joe Gillis (William Holden) a silent film being projected by her onetime director-husband and now butler, Max von Mayerling (Erich von Stroheim). But the film they are watching, as few viewers then or now would realize, is Queen Kelly, a 1929 production starring Swanson and actually directed by von Stroheim. The director was, of course, never Swanson's paramour any more than Swanson was a real life Norma Desmond. But this movie was the last to be released with von Stroheim's name on the credits as director.

Gloria Swanson on NBC Radio.
In 1928, after years of struggles within the studio system, Erich von Stroheim found the opportunity to create his crowning achievement: a storybook romance of intoxicating beauty, counterbalanced with a frightfully grim tale of moral corruption. Gloria Swanson played the role of an innocent convent girl who fell under the spell of a handsome prince (Walter Byron) on the eve of his marriage to a diabolical queen (Seena Owen). Queen Kelly might have been one of von Stroheim's greatest films had actress/producer Swanson not halted it in mid-production. She disapproved of his extravagant methods and strange story ideas. Though the European scenes were full of innuendo, and featured a philandering prince and a sex-crazed queen, the scenes set in Africa were grim and, Swanson felt, distasteful. In later interviews, Swanson had claimed that she had been misled by the script which referred to her character arriving in, and taking over, a dance hall; looking at the rushes, it was obvious the 'dance hall' was actually a brothel.

Poster Art for a "lost" movie.
Stroheim was fired from the film and the African storyline scrapped. Swanson and Kennedy still wanted to salvage the European material, as it had been so costly and time-consuming, and had potential market value. An alternate ending was, however, shot on November 24, 1931. In this ending, directed by Swanson and photographed by Gregg Toland, Prince Wolfram is shown visiting the palace. A nun leads him to the chapel, where Kelly's body lies in state. This has been called the 'Swanson Ending'. The film was not theatrically released in the United States, but it was shown in Europe and South America with the 'Swanson ending' tacked on. This was due to a clause in Stroheim's contract. By some accounts, Von Stroheim suggested the clip be used for Sunset Boulevard  for its heavy irony. This was the first time viewers in the US got to see any footage of the infamous collaboration. (In the 1960s, it was shown on television with the Swanson ending, along with a taped introduction and conclusion in which Swanson talked about the history of the project.)

Poster Art for a "lost" movie.
Thankfully, by 1985, Kino on Video acquired the rights to the movie and restored two versions: one that uses still photos and subtitles in an attempt to wrap up the storyline, and the other the European "suicide ending"  version. The DVD release contains bother versions of the movie, alternate endings and bonus features.

Sadly, amidst the restorations of Queen Kelly (1929) and Sadie Thompson (1928), a number of Gloria Swanson's movies are considered "lost" and not known to exist. Film archives the world over have been cataloged and consulted. The Library of Congress, UCLA, the George Eastman House and many others have verified the movies below are "lost" and are today sought after by anyone with deep pockets and an ambition to restore the film. The list below constitutes (as of December 2012) the films starring or co-starring Gloria Swanson which we may never see again. 

The Official List of "Lost" Films
  • Society for Sale (1918)
  • Her Decision (1918)
  • Station Content (1918)
  • You Can't Believe Everything (1918)
  • Everywoman's Husband (1918)
  • The Secret Code (1918)
  • Wife or Country (1918)
  • The Great Moment (1921)
  • Under the Lash (1921)
  • Don't Tell Everything (1921)
  • Her Gilded Cage (1922)
  • The Impossible Mrs. Bellew (1922)
  • My American Wife (1922)
  • Prodigal Daughters (1923)
  • Bluebeard's 8th Wife (1923)
  • Hollywood (1923) (she makes a cameo appearance in this film)
  • A Society Scandal (1924)
  • Her Love Story (1924)
  • Wages of Virtue (1924)
  • Madame Sans-Gêne (1925)
  • The Coast of Folly (1925)
  • The Untamed Lady (1926)
Gloria Swanson in Zaza (1923).
Among the highlights of historical nature are Madame Sans-Gêne (1925), produced in France as Swanson was on extended vacation there. She soon became involved with Henri de la Falaise, hired by Paramount to be her translator, and who later became her third husband.

The movie Hollywood (1923), tells the story of a young unknown (Hope Drown) who comes to Hollywood to become an actress, and brings her grandfather (Luke Cosgrave). At the end of the first day, she has not found work, but her grandfather has. The movie is known for having cameos from more than 30 celebrities from Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Charles Chaplin, Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks, William S. Hart, Pola Negri, Mary Pickford, Zasu Pitts, Will Rogers and Gloria Swanson, among others.

Certain scenes in Prodigal Daughters (1923) were shot in Swanson's own palatial Hollywood mansion. A young unknown Mervyn LeRoy, later a famous director, appears unbilled as a newsboy. (He later directed Swanson in her early talkie Tonight or Never.)