Friday, November 26, 2021

Vintage Christmas Radio Station

Any flat disc record, made between (circa) 1898 and 1959 and playing at a speed around 78 revolutions per minute is referred to today by collectors as a "78." The materials of which these discs were made and with which they were coated were also various; shellac eventually became the most common of materials. Generally 78s are made of a brittle material which uses a shellac resin (which is why collectors also refer to them as shellac records). During and after World War II when shellac supplies were extremely limited (used for the war cause), many 78 rpm records were pressed in vinyl instead of shellac.


In 1948, Columbia Records unveiled the 33 1/3 RPM long playing record. It played for about 20 minutes per side. Then came the battle of the speeds. RCA in 1949 began offering records (and record players) that played at 45 revolutions per minute.

If asked how much these discs are worth, there really is no set guide to determine the value. Anyone with the correct record player can play these recordings and they are a dime a dozen at antique fairs and eBay.

After two months of cataloging more than 3,000 of the old 33s, 45s and 78s to CD format, and separating those with a holiday theme, I loaded more than 300 Christmas songs onto a streaming playlist for you to enjoy. In the spirit of of mixtape from years gone by, I found a modern way to bring these songs to the masses for the holiday season, without having to burn hundreds of CDs. 

If you are like me, every holiday you tune to a local radio station that traditionally plays the same Christmas songs over and over and over... and yeah, it gets tedious hearing the same recordings every year. Christmas is a time to establish a fond look back through nostalgic vocals and my frustration grows knowing that Gene Autry's rendition of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Bing Crosby's White Christmas is going to play on rotation... again and again.

What you will hear on this streaming radio station (accessible with a simple click of a button on your computer, iPad, tablet, iPhone, etc.) are vintage Christmas offerings all dated pre-1960 and chances are you haven't heard these renditions. Examples include:

I Want Eddie Fisher for Christmas (1954, Betty Johnson)
Frosty the Snowman (1950, Guy Lombaro and his Orchestra)
Santa and the Doodle-Li-Boop (1954, Art Carney)
I Want You for Christmas (1937, Mae Questel as Betty Boop)
All Around the Christmas Tree (1940, Raymond Scott and his New Orchestra)
Barnyard Christmas (1952, Spike Jones and The Bell Sisters)
The Birthday of a King (1949, Judy Garland)
Jingle Bells (1935, Benny Goodman and his Orchestra)
It Happened in Sun Valley (1941, Glenn Miller and his Orchestra)
Christmas in Killarney (1950, Dennis Day with The Mellowmen)
The First Noel (1942, Nelson Eddy and Robert Armbruster's Orchestra)
Let's Start the New Year Right (1942, Bing Crosby)
Hello, Mr. Kringle (1939, Kay Kyser)
Jingle Bells (1934, Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra, and Harriet Hilliard)
All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth (1949, Danny Kaye and Patty Andrews)
Yah, Das Ist Ein Christmas Tree (1953, Mel Blanc)
Silent Night (1921, Florence Easton)
Silver Bells (1938, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys)
Christmas on the Plains (1949, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans)
The Night Before Christmas (1952, Gene Autry and Rosemary Clooney)
O Come, All Ye Faithful (1938, Frances Langford)
Boogie Woogie Santa Claus (1950, Patti Page)
Happy Little Christmas Friend (1953, Rosemary Clooney)
Ol' Saint Nicholas (1949, Doris Day)
A Ride in Santa's Sleigh (1953, Judy Valentine)
Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1934, Harry Reser)
Santa Claus is on His Way (1941, Sammy Kaye and his Orchestra)
Silent Night (1940, Kate Smith)
Suzy Snowflake (1951, Rosemary Clooney)
Auld Lang Syne (1939, Erwin Bendel with Tiny Till and his Orchestra)
Baby, It's Cold Outside (1949, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan)
Christmas Day (1952, Eddie Fisher)
Meet Me Under the Mistletoe (1941, Dick Roberston)
Merry Christmas Polka (1949, Guy Lombardo and The Andrews Sisters)
I'll Be Home for Christmas (1947, Eddy Howard)
Five Pound Box of Money (1959, Pearl Bailey)
The Man with the Whiskers (1938, Hoosier Hot Shots)
March of the Toys (1939, Tommy Dorsey)
Hark, the Herald Angels Sing (1938, Kenny Baker)
I Want You for Christmas (1937, Russ Morgan)
The Kissing Bridge (1953, The Fontane Sisters and Perry Como)
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (1952, Molly Bee)
Here Comes Santa Claus (1949, Doris Day)
I Believe in Santa Claus (1955, The Mills Brothers)
Little Sandy Sleighfoot (1957, Jimmy Dean)
The Man with the Bag (1950, Kay Starr)
Merry Christmas Waltz (1949, Gordon MacRae)
Christmas Alphabet (1954, The McGuire Sisters)
Let It Snow, Let It Snow (1946, Bob Crosby)
I Saw Mommy do the Mombo (1954, Jimmy Boyd)
The Mistletoe Kiss (1948, Primo Scala and The Keynotes)
My Christmas Song for You (1945, Hoagy Carmichael and Martha Mears)
Christmas Night in Harlem (1934, Todd Rollins and his Orchestra)

Among the highlights you will hear "I Want a Television Christmas" by Mindy Carson (which happens to be a 1949 RCA sales promo), the 1953 Christmas Dragnet spoof with Daws Butler and Stan Freberg, a 1953 commercial recording of Amos and Andy's popular "The Lord's Prayer," Basil Rathbone narrating a musical rendition of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" (1942), Bing Crosby's 1942 version of "White Christmas" (not the 1947 re-recording you commonly hear on radio today), Jerry Colonna's 1953 take on "Too Fat for the Chimney," the 1934 version of "Winter Wonderland" performed by Richard Himber (the first recording ever made of that song), and other rarities.

Of the 300 plus recordings, you will no doubt hear the same song (such as "Winter Wonderland" and "The First Noel") performed multiple times but each rendition with a different singer.  

Many familiar songs but with unfamiliar renditions from your favorite singers. (Believe me, I will have this radio station playing all day at home, and streaming through my iPhone when I travel during the holiday season.) I hope this musical yule log not only suits your palate, but many of these songs become a favorite of yours. 

The Beatles: Get Back, Four Stars

Every fan of The Beatles knows the story. It was January 1969 when the fab four gathered together at Twickenham Studio not only to create 14 new songs for a new album, but perform them in front of a live studio audience. This would be the first time the band played before a live audience since 1966. With the untimely passing of Brian Epstein, the man who truly discovered them and became their manager, the boys were in grief. Their film, Magical Mystery Tour, was a flop. They bickered over the trackless of what would become "The White Album," resulting in two LP records for the release and a cover that was not traditional. They only had two weeks to write new songs, polish them to perfection, and perform for an unprepared audience. The entire events was filmed and segments used for the Let it Be documentary, which would win an Academy Award, spawn an LP soundtrack, and establish a long-rumored misconception that The Beatles were at odds against each other during the breakup.


Peter Jackson spent considerable time restoring 60 hours of filmed footage from those two weeks, and more than 150 hours of recorded audio, to assemble what would become three documentaries now available through the streaming service known as Disney Plus. Get Back spans eight hours so breaking up the entire affair in three documentaries was a wise decision. The opening few minutes of Part One reminds us of the events that lead to the establishment of The Beatles and the reason why they went to Twickenham Studios. 


Watching John, Paul, George and Ringo experimenting with the notes and writing lyrics was almost tear-jerking. Never in years have I watched a documentary that moved me like this. The songs I grew up as a kid are being created right before my eyes. On my shelf I have about 30 music CDs -- half of them are Beatles. So you can my excitement when I first saw the trailer promoting this documentary and how pleased I am to deliver this message: if you are a fan of The Beatles, this is a must-see documentary.

Watching Yoko Ono remove notepads out of her purse to hand to John, which she apparently kept on hand at all times in case he needed to write lyrics that were inspired in the moment, Paul and George debating on different approaches while maintaining peace without walking off the set, and the jokes about what to title the songs reveal a candid side of their creativity. Day Four is when Paul played around with a song that, ten minutes later, had gone through multiple renditions and formed the song we know today as "Get Back."


Let it Be (1970) did not dwell on the dissension within the group at the time, but it certainly provided some glimpses into the dynamics that lead to their break-up. Get Back changes the perceptions we had all these decades and for the better. For anyone not fans of The Beatles or the younger generation that never grew up with their music, the documentary may become dull and boring after the first hour. But for fans of The Beatles, this was music in the making.

I could type pages of praise but to save you time reading what is best to see on the screen, I cannot state how good this documentary is. 

Friday, October 29, 2021

Halloween, Hollywood Style

Once again, it's time for our annual Halloween photo shoot!

Nancy Carroll

Lynn Bari

Bessie Love

Muriel Evans

Audrey Young  1946

Clara Bow

Madge Evans

I have no idea who they are, but I love the photo.

Friday, October 15, 2021

The Adventures of Superman (The 1942 Novel)

Amongst the mythos of Superman are a number of trademarks which, to those who never read the comic books, originated from radio. Perry White, Jimmy Olson and Kryptonite was introduced to The Adventures of Superman radio program long before they made their first appearance in the comic book rendition, and the unsung hero was not Jerry Siegel and Joseph Shuster – it was George Ludlam, Robert Maxwell, Edward Langley and George Lowther. The latter of whom was responsible for scripting such radio programs as Dick Tracy, Terry and the Pirates and Renfrew of the Mounted, and to whom we are taking a quick moment to revisit.

Born in 1913, Lowther proclaimed to being the first page boy (at the age of 14) hired by NBC Studios in New York City, and his flair for words meant his scripts were sharper than those of his colleagues. Lowther would eventually maintain continuity and portray the man in tights as a heroic American who combatted the enemies who attempted to commit acts of sabotage during World War II. As Edward Langley once remarked, “Lowther basically was Superman Incorporated.”

 

Lowther reportedly wrote the majority of the radio scripts for the first Superman radio program, which was syndicated beginning in February of 1940 and ran a total of 325 episodes. Among the regional sponsors were Hecker’s Oat Cereal and Force Wheat Flakes. Because the series was recorded, transcribed and syndicated, the program aired on various days and time slots. In one area of the country the program was heard three times a week at 7 p.m., while in other areas the program was heard five nights a week at the 5 o’clock hour. (Today, all 325 episodes and the four audition recordings are known to exist in recorded form.) Many of the story arcs were adapted for Radio Mirror magazine for short stories. I was lucky enough to acquire a zerox of most of those stories and you can enjoy reading them here:

 

https://www.dropbox.com/s/tg8hsdqkgde1mua/Superman%20radio%20synopsis.pdf?dl=0

 

In 1942, The Adventures of Superman made a return to the airwaves, this time as a network program, five nights a week, over the Mutual Broadcasting System. A total of 1,612 broadcasts aired from 1942 to 1949, with the earliest episodes rehashed and recycled from the syndicated run, and by episode thirteen entirely new stories were created for the program. By this time George Lowther was not only involved with the script writing, but also the directing (and for more than a year, announcing chores as well). Lowther was eventually provided an assistant to handle the script writing, Edward Langley, to ease his position of wearing many hats. 

 

In 1942, Random House published a hardcover (with dust jacket) for Superman, a prose novel with illustrations by Joe Schuster. George Lowther wrote the novel during the downtime between the two radio programs. Lowther recycled the origin of Superman, how he comes to Earth and getting a job working for the Daily Planet, providing considerable detail when Clark Kent first discovered he had abilities beyond mortal men. Among the noticeable trademarks of the origin story (segments of which are also depicted on the radio program) was Eben and Sarah Kent, his adopted parents. Today, through studio and corporate branding, the names of Jonathan and Martha Kent are more familiar to television and movie goers. 

 

To eliminate confusion, and to provide clarity: Eben and Martha Kent were the names used in the 1948 cliffhanger serial produced by Columbia Pictures, while Eben and Sarah were used for the 1952 television rendition. In the comic book’s first extensive retelling of Superman’s origin (Issue #53, July-August 1948), the names were John and Mary Kent. Later stories, after the early 1960s introduction to the DC Multiverse, declared that the early renditions of the Kents were indeed John and Mary Kent (eliminating any reference to Sarah from the radio program and the 1942 novel) and live in the “Earth-Two” universe while Jonathan and Martha live in the “Earth-One” universe. 

 

The 1942 Lowther novel also reveals how Superman will have the power to fly on Earth, “but must walk a snail’s pace on the Earth’s surface” to avoid disclosing his ability of speed. Superman could also breathe under water.

 

The second half of the book contains an original story about a skeleton ship reported along a Maine shipyard. The rumored ghostly specter included a crew from Davy Jones’ locker, haunting men away from their jobs at the nearby Lowell Shipyard, constructing vessels for the war effort. Clark Kent, sent on his first routine job as a reporter for the Daily Planet, was sent up north to investigate. There, he shrewdly combines his efforts with reporter Lois Lane, while investigating solo to avoid revealing his super-human capabilities.

 

The underwater menace was a number of enemy submarine stationed offshore, ready to attack, and the ghost-like figures were merely meant to frighten workers away from the docks to cripple war production. 

 

“The skeleton ship with its crew leering down from the rail was a sight to set the strongest nerves quivering. A brief glimpse of it might be enough to send this girl into hysterics. Also there was Captain Joshua Murdock – a skeleton clothed in the tattered and moldy remains of clothes more than a century old – who prowled the pier at night and who no doubt would make his appearance before dawn…”



 

Elements from this story was dramatized on the radio program in the story arc known as “Last of the Clipper Ships,” syndicated in March and April of 1941. In that story, Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen were sailing on the Clara M (not the Nancy M), last of the clipper ships. Mr. Barnaby, a one-legged sailor, and the mysterious “Whistler” make trouble for Captain Hawkins. Other elements from the same novel were used in “The Mystery Ship” (December 1942, MBS), involving “the Old Man of the Seaweed.” Regardless of elements borrowed, the story in the novel is an original and not one heard over the radio program.

 

Gavel price for George Lowther’s Superman varies based on marketplace. The dust jacket is worth more than the book but the demand for the hardcover is strong enough to ensure even the book has strong value. A facsimile edition was published in 1995 by Applewood Books, with a new introduction by Roger Stern, also available in hardcover. (You can tell the difference between the original and the facsimile by the front cover which discloses that the original was published in 1942 and with the new Introduction.) The reprint sells between $10 and $50, depending on who is selling it but never spend more than $20 with postage. As for the original, the red hardcover (without dust jacket) usually sells for about $75. The price goes up considerably based on the condition of the dust jacket.

 

If you are looking for further information about Superman on radio and television, look no further than Michael Hayde’s fantastic book, Flights of Fantasy. Link provided below.

 

https://bearmanor-digital.myshopify.com/collections/radio/products/flights-of-fantasy-the-unauthorized-but-true-story-of-radio-tvs-adventures-of-superman-softcover-edition-by-michael-j-hayde