Friday, September 16, 2011


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, September 9, 2011

Joel Blumberg, Radio Show Host

As he had done a thousand times before, Joel Blumberg was going to work for a Miami Heat radio broadcast of the Knicks game. Over the years, he was in charge of Islanders, Rangers, Knicks, Jets and St. John’s broadcasts. He was also known by many as the longtime voice of Manhattan College basketball. His name may not have been known to the mainstream public as a sports announcer, but his voice was familiar.

On Friday afternoon, December 17, 2010, Joel boarded a Long Island Rail Road train in Merrick headed for Madison Square Garden to work the Knicks game for the Miami Heat radio team. He lived in East Meadow so the trip was routine. But before he reached his destination, Joel suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 64. 

If you’ve listened to a sporting event over the last 20 years, there’s a good chance you’ve been affected by Joel Blumberg’s work. He was considered one of New York’s busiest producers and engineers. “He was a terrific mentor and an even better friend,” said Marc Ernay, assistant sports director, Metro/Shadow Broadcast Services.

“He demanded only that you put all your care and dedication into your work,” remembers Tony Sibilla,  remote broadcast engineer for Blumberg from 1989 to 1991. “He taught me to be ready for anything. That’s a lesson that translates to everything in life.” After showing his dedication as an engineer, Sibilla was finally able to realize his dream—going on the air for in-studio updates during some Islander road games. One day in Chicago, though, he was asked to do color commentary on one broadcast. “I was so floored that he trusted me with that responsibility,” Sibilla says. “It’s a memory that will stay with me forever and I have Joel to thank for it.”

Joel was one of the most versatile people in media. Not only was he a former sportscaster, whose credits include play by play of football, baseball and NCAA basketball and hockey, and the producing of many of the top sports events that have taken place in the last three decades, he was one of the members of the Executive Board of the Metropolitan Golf Writers.

Joel Blumberg was also an avid film buff and historian. His favorite love was film noir and he supplied commentary for a number of DVDs through VCI Entertainment, including Forgotten Noir: Volume 5 and Silver Lode (1954). The latter film was a favorite of Blumberg's, especially since he admired the charisma of John Payne on the silver screen.
In the January 2008 issue of Classic Images, an article on character actor Richard Anderson went to press, authored by Joel Blumberg. In September 2006, Joel appeared at the 3-D film festival in Los Angeles and conducted an on-stage interview with Biff Elliott, the star of I, The Jury (1953), following a screening of the film. On the same weekend, Blumberg interviewed James O’Keefe, son of the late Dennis O'Keefe, following the showing of The Diamond Wizard (1954). It was here that Blumberg struck a friendship with O'Keefe, ultimately encouraging Joel to consider writing a biography about the screen actor, with the assistance of his son, James.

In May of 2006, Joel spoke at the 2006 Palm Springs Film Noir Festival. Joel had the honor of interviewing Adrian Booth Brian, formerly screen actress Lorna Gray, who talked of her roles in Serials, Westerns, and Three Stooges Shorts as well as her late husband David Brian. (Joel had been a featured host at the Palm Springs Film Noir Festival since 2005.)

Joel also took his lifelong passion and knowledge of classic movies and went public with it in the form of his acclaimed radio program “Silver Screen Audio” heard weekly on radio station WGBB in Freeport NY, a New York City Suburb. Whether the radio station now offers reruns of the program or simply canceled the series altogether is not known at this time. Thankfully, Joel's web-site (at the time of this writing) is still operating and allowing people to download past radio shows in mp3 format. If you are capable of doing so, record them now before the site goes down. Those interviews are treasured and should be preserved. (Remember, they are copyrighted, so copy them only for yourself!)

Guests on the program have included actors like, Burt Reynolds, Stacy Keach, Biff Elliot, Peter Ford, Marsha Hunt, Christopher Lee, Richard Anderson and Warren Stevens. Also interviewed are the likes of  film historians Foster Hirsch (Otto Preminger), Jeanine Basinger (several books, including the most recent, The Star Machine), Stone Wallace (George Raft), and Alan Rode (Charles McGraw). 

Joel also got involved with the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention beginning in 2009. Having made arrangements for a number of celebrities to attend the convention, Joel asked that he have the privilege of interviewing a couple of them on stage. The request was granted. The following year, the regular interviewer was unavailable to attend and Joel Blumberg filled in for him. He added class to the convention and both staff and attendees began remarking how the convention went up a notch in quality.

"It was my great pleasure to become acquainted with Joel Blumberg at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention," remarked Ken Stockinger, a yearly attendee. "While I was aware of his impressive professional resume, what struck me the most was his dealings with all those he came into contact. Whether speaking with a well known celebrity, or a first time convention attendee, all were treated with warmth and respect. After speaking with Joel for but a few minutes, he made you feel as if you were a lifelong friend."

Dennis O'Keefe
For the 2011 event, Gregory William Mank, another respected author and historian, has voluntarily accepted the position Joel Blumberg left behind. Greg has written a number of superb books including Dwight Frye's Last Laugh (1997) and Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff: The Expanded Story of a Haunting Collaboration (2009). 

Talking on the phone with Joel a number of times, for myself, was a treat. He was a great conversationalist and shared the same passion of classic old time radio movies that I did. He often talked about the games he went to, his daughter Miranda, and the projects he hoped to complete before the end of the calendar year. He was working steadfast on a biography about Dennis O'Keefe before his untimely passing. Sadly, Joel planned to begin typing his book after the holiday.

Thankfully, his first book met fruition in 2010, Lloyd Nolan: An Actor's Life With Meaning, a biography about the actor who could play any character in any genre and was believable in every role. After reading the book, I was amazed to discover Nolan's off-screen life was just as remarkable. He was devoted to his autistic son Jay and, when young Jay died in an accident 2,500 miles away, Lloyd channeled his grief into action. For the rest of his life, he did everything he could to better the lives of disabled people and their families, and such people are still benefiting from the resulting legislation today.

"Joel Blumberg was the perfect co-author for a Lloyd Nolan biography because he was very familiar with Lloyd’s work and had a high regard for the man," recalled Sandra Grabman, his co-author. "The text he added to the book was wonderful, not only telling a bit about the films in which Lloyd appeared, but also their history and remakes. He certainly knew his stuff! It was through Joel that I met Lee Meriwether. [who attended the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention months prior]. We were in Los Angeles to do some Nolan research, but he had also scheduled a radio interview with Lee. He took me along to Theatre West and let me watch as he interviewed this very lovely, articulate, and kind lady."

"On the personal level, it’s very seldom that one comes across such a generous man," continued Sandra. "Joel learned that I was about to record some audio books, and responded by mailing me a professional microphone and mixer to use. He made himself available at any time, any place, to provide instruction for using them. When I was finished with this equipment, I asked if he’d like for me to return it. His response? 'Keep them. You might need them later.'"

Joel will no doubt be missed, but what he left behind cannot be expressed in words. Classic Images featured an obituary covering his career. And Joel, like anyone who helped preserve a little of the hobby, will be remembered for years to come. Somewhere, up in heaven, he will no doubt be looking down from Heaven and smiling.

Photos below were taken at the 2010 Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention and are courtesy of Mike Amowitz. Joel was instrumental in arranging for Marsha Hunt to attend the convention, having flown to California to meet her in person at her house, interview her for another project, and then called me moments after he pulled out of her driveway to tell me she would be coming as a guest. And of course, I could not turn down his request to interview her solo (not among a group of other celebrities). It was standing room only in the back room and the interview was broadcast live over for those who were not able to attend the convention that weekend.

Joel Blumberg and Marsha Hunt. Photo courtesy of Mike Amowitz.

Dawn Wells and Geri Reischl. Photo courtesy of Mike Amowitz.

Taking advantage of this posting, since I made mention of Silver Lode (1954) in an above paragraph, I am offering scans of original publicity photos distributed to movie theaters in 1954. I don't know when I'm going to have a chance in the future to feature a scan of these photos as I don't expect to do a write-up about the movie, considering Joel's commentary on the disc was fantastic and covers all the bases, so enjoy!

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Work of H.J. Ward

Hugh Joseph Ward (1909-1945) painted many of the most sensational pulp magazine covers that ever graces a sidewalk newsstand and stopped a pedestrian dead in his tracks. He painted sexy women hounded by ferocious predators, whose merciless villainy is only matched by their shocking lack of chivalry. His work as fascinated generations of fans, but his life has remained a mystery ever since his untimely death at the age of 35, while serving in WWII.

August 1940 issue, H.J. Ward cover.
Thankfully, a friend of mine named David Saunders has written an insightful biography, richly seasoned with quotes from the artist and his associates, that chronicles the life and art of this important American master of 20th century popular culture. For fans of Ned Jordan, Secret Agent, Superman, The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, this book is a treasure trove.

The book, simply titled, H.J. Ward, reveals the life of the man behind so many masterpieces of pulp art. It chronicles his humble family roots, his art education, and his early career as a newspaper cartoonist. The artist's methods are documented along with his impressive contributions to the earliest conceptualizations of America's famous super heroes -- The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, Ned Jordan, Kato, Judy Medwick, and Superman.

While I did not count them, I estimate over 500 high quality reproductions of pulp art are included in this large coffee table sized book. Over 100 original paintings, 80 conception drawings, and 50 historic photographs, along with a comprehensive checklist of all published illustrations are included. That means if you want to see conception sketches of Kato (from The Green Hornet) in the livery stable working on the Black Beauty, an oil painting that was never made, this is your chance to see the proposed art work. 

Lone Ranger pulp magazine
My favorite is on page 120. Graphite on paper, a preliminary drawing for The Lone Ranger "fan photo." Turns out, the art work was commissioned and used for tons of radio and newspaper advertisements, the cover of The Lone Ranger and the Menace of Murder Valley (Big Little Book from 1937), a promotional booklet from 1938, and other examples all pictured splendidly for all to gather an excellent example of how such oil paintings were put to use.

In fact, there is an entire chapter devoted to The Lone Ranger, another chapter devoted to The Green Hornet, another for Superman, and well... you get the idea. For fans of these classic icons, this book offers rare glimpses of materials you would never have gotten the privilege to see otherwise. And it's books like David's that makes us grateful that such documentation has finally become available.

One of the more amusing facts I learned from reading the book was that Ward used his wife to model for many of the damsels in distress. This might explain why the women in his oil paintings appear to look the same.

And how did David manage to mass such a large collection of high-quality scans and photos for the book? All the biographical material and family portraits of Ward? The family of the artist, of course, who welcomed David into their homes for countless hours of research and interviews. This was a rare opportunity and a privilege, since many family relatives of famous pop culture icons have been taken advantage of. Just last year I was in the Midwest browsing photographs, newspaper clippings and tons of archival material, in the home of the son and daughter of a famous radio script writer. Sadly, they opened their doors and hearts to others in the past and little (if anything) was ever done. Firsthand, I can understand why family relatives don't often allow strangers or historians into their homes and David fulfilled his promise to immortalize H.J. Ward in a book that was lovingly produced with a passion to ensure the best job possible.

If the author, David Saunders, sounds familiar, it should. Not only did he deliver a slide show presentation on H.J. Ward at the fifth annual Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, but his father was the great Norman Saunders, a pulp artist who provided strikingly good images for pulp magazine covers, paperbacks, pre-code comics, Men's magazines, Mars Attacks and Wacky Packs. David wrote a book about his father, in the same manner as the H.J. Ward book, available from the same publisher.

Speaking of H.J. Ward, Eric Roberts is seeking to buy prime examples of Hugh J. Ward's artwork, as well as original paintings from Saunders, Finlay, Desoto, Brundage, Bergey, Parkhurst and Schomburg. For more info, call Eric at 650-814-9196, or e-mail him at or visit his web-site,

February 1940 Spicy Mystery cover art.

The people responsible for the publication of both the Norman Saunders and H.J. Ward books is The Illustrated Press, Inc. They have a superb magazine that is (to my knowledge) the only periodical dedicated to the history of American illustration art. Issued quarterly and printed in full-color on the finest paper stocks (which means these are high-quality, expensive printings), Illustration is a beautiful source for new information on the great illustrators of the past. Each issue is a reference book in itself. Subscription rates are $60 (postpaid) per year. 3640 Russell Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63110. Their web-site, should you want to view every page of their latest issue, is

Information on how to purchase copies of the Norman Saunders and/or H.J. Ward books can be found at, or the same St. Louis address listed above. I recommend you buy the book direct from the publisher because it helps support such efforts. Buying a copy from or your favorite book store will only save you a dollar or two, but eliminate almost any profit margin for the men responsible for making these books available in the first place.