Friday, January 18, 2013


Og, Son of Fire
The July and August 2012 issues of SPERDVAC's Radiogram featured a two-part article about an obscure radio program called Og, Son of Fire. I never even knew such a show existed until I saw them re-creating a version on stage in George Lucas' 1994 motion-picture, Radioland Murders. That's when the curiosity got the better of me and I discovered in Jay Hickerson's Ultimate Guide that yes, there was in fact a radio program of that name. Since John Dunning and Jay Hickerson were unable to unearth much about the series, it took the talented Doug Hopkinson to do it. I enjoy reading about radio programs like Og, Son of Fire -- shows that don't exist but are rumored to have been broadcast. After all, we have enough write-ups on The Mercury Theater on the Air and Inner Sanctum to quench our thirst.

Doug went into the origin of Og, Son of Fire from Boys Life magazine to the origin of the radio counterpart. The performers, the premiums and other factoids contained in both articles are fascinating and worthwhile if you can seek out both issues. If you are not a subscriber to SPERDVAC's Radiogram, I recommend you pay the annual $15 membership dues today. SPERDVAC Radiogram, Barry Oplinger, 435 Garfield Avenue, Apt. 306, South Pasadena, CA 91030. I know a few people who are not subscribers simply because they don't feel $15 is worthwhile to subscribe to a club or a newsletter. They have the misconception that all they need is available on the internet. Doug's two-part article was one of many examples where informative research findings are published and not available on the web. If awards were given out for the best article and historical documentation on an obscure radio program, Doug wins it for 2012.

Vitaphone disc label.
The Vitaphone Project
In 1991, a group of film buffs and record collectors met to discuss the possibility of seeking out the shellac soundtrack discs that accompanied early 1926-1930 Vitaphone (and other) talkie shorts and features. The Vitaphone Project was formed to accomplish this goal as well as to partner with the studios (particularly Turner Entertainment and Warner Brothers), film archives (UCLA, LOC, BFI), and private collectors worldwide in order to get these films restored and seen again. Of particular interest were the nearly 2,000 talkie short subjects, featuring vaudevillians, bands, opera singers and comedians made by Vitaphone from 1926-1929. In many cases, 35mm picture elements exist without an accompanying soundtrack.

Since its inception, The Vitaphone Project (John Newton, Sherwin Dunner, Ron Hutchinson, Vince Giordano and the late David Goldenberg) has located over 3,500 12- and 16-inch shellac soundtrack discs in private hands, has assisted on the restoration of more than 150 shorts and features, and has developed nearly $500,000 in private funding for restorations. Within the past year, nearly 100 more discovered soundtrack discs have been found. The Vitaphone studios in Brooklyn has been saved. Warner Archive released 60 early restored Vitaphones. Yet with all this good news, there are still over 80 shorts for which picture, but no sound, exists.

Before the days of the internet, virtually any discoveries of soundtrack discs occurred through word of mouth. Today, barely a month goes by without the staff at The Vitaphone Project receiving an e-mail from someone with a disk, or seeking information on a relative who was in a Vitaphone. Very recently, Patrick Picking, who manages the Project's web-site, has also taken on updating and maintaining our soundtrack disk database. Beginning January 2012, Patrick inputted over 1,000 new entries and reorganized the spreadsheet to make it more user-friendly. Also added were holdings of the Library of Congress, UCLA and BFI. This enables a one-stop search of holdings in private collectors' hands as well as film archives.

For more information about The Vitaphone Project, visit

Ed Gardner of Duffy's Tavern
Duffy's Tavern
During the past year, I flew out to meet Ed Gardner, Jr., whose father created the popular Duffy's Tavern radio program. Eddie was very hospitable and for three days I enjoyed asking questions about the Gardner family, scanning family photos and studio publicity stills, and original radio scripts. Duffy's Tavern has been a favorite of mine since I was a teenager -- and an on-going project for more than a decade to document the series in a manuscript that is almost completed. The purpose of scanning the photos was for preservation. During the 1970s, Ray Stark's house caught on fire, destroying 80 percent of what Ed Gardner saved (legal files, radio scripts, recordings, contracts, photographs, etc.) It seemed only logical that I spend some time preserving what remains.

A little more than a year ago I learned that a respected historian in the old-time radio community once borrowed family photo albums from a radio actor who did everything from Inner Sanctum Mystery to The Adventures of Superman. The actor since passed away and the family, as it appears, is still upset because the historian hasn't returned any of their phone calls or letters, responding to their request for the return of the family photos. It's a sad story that one day, I hope, will be resolved. Historians have a responsibility to preserve what they can, not spend time at conventions bragging about their archives/holdings. With the price of scanners and the efficiency and speed for which they perform, there should be no excuse for not returning the items they "borrowed." For Ed Gardner, Jr., I found it easier to fly out to his house and personally scan his family photos (and create backups on CDs) to ensure another house fire doesn't allow history go up in flames. Yes, a book about Duffy's Tavern is due out later this year. Many of those photos will appear in the book.

Mary Pickford
If you love silent movies, like myself, then you probably enjoy watching Mary Pickford. The good folks at the Mary Pickford foundation, including Elaina Archer, Director of Archive and Legacy, and Cari Beauchamp, resident scholar, have done a great job keeping the name of Mary Pickford in the mainstream public. Their archives are open to the public for scholarly research and many of Pickford's movies have been restored from archival prints and released commercially through Image Entertainment as part of the Milestone Collection. Yours truly bought one of every DVD release they came out with. A new Bluray release offers two movies never before available on DVD. And the organization has revamped their image with a new website designed to take Mary Pickford into the 21st Century.

With technology evolving (such as smart phones, iPads, etc.), browsing the web has become a challenge and ten-year-old websites that have never gone through any revision to accommodate for the new web browsers means old websites are bound to be obsolete. This is why every major company from,, eBay and other sites have revamped their image. Those sites are browser friendly. The Mary Pickford Foundation is thankfully keeping up with the pace.

The Foundation was very instrumental with assisting me in a four-year project documenting Mary Pickford's radio career, for an article that will soon appear in a national magazine, Classic Images. (The same article may also appear on their website in a few weeks, stay tuned!) Video clips, photographs, a filmography,a chronology of her life and career, a biography about the actress and other archival materials are being posted on the site and will continue to be updated monthly. Catch the video clip of Mary Pickford in Rags (1915) and if you haven't fallen in love with the gorgeous Mary Pickford, you haven't explored silent cinema.

The Arthur Godfrey Collection
Back in August, the Library of American Broadcasting in College Park, Maryland, announced further steps in the preservation of the Arthur Godfrey collection. The University of Maryland Special Collections has launched a project to preserve and digitize one-of-a-kind recordings of Arthur Godfrey, a broadcasting powerhouse of the 1940s and 50s. Materials pertaining to Godfrey comprise the University's largest broadcasting collection dedicated to an individual. About 5,000 hours of audio and video recordings are housed in the Broadcasting Archives on the third floor of the university's Hornbake Library.

Godfrey hosted a daily morning program and two other highly rated entertainment shows. "For influence and popularity he was the Oprah of his day," says curator Chuck Howell. A goal of the multi-year digitization effort is to preserve and make accessible about 3,400 hours of rare wire recordings—a format used before magnetic tape. One hour long spool contains 7,200 feet of stainless steel wire about the thickness of human hair. "It's very fragile and tangles easily," Howell says of the wire format. "Consequently, it's almost completely inaccessible."

Another goal of the project is simply to reveal the contents of the recordings. "Playback equipment hasn't even been manufactured in 70 years," Howell says. "The specific content of each spool is unknown to us." By seeking specialists and working with vendors to preserve and extract the content, the university will unlock valuable new information for researchers.

And then there's the time that Rosemary Clooney bested Tony Bennett on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, a popular talent show of the 1940's and 50's. This episode has been requested several times, and Howell is keeping his fingers crossed that it's included in the thousands of wire recordings in Godfrey's personal collection. The problem – nobody, not even Tony Bennett himself, remembers the exact date he and the late Rosemary Clooney actually appeared on the program.. Sources disagree, with the years 1948 and 1950 both being suggested. Mr. Howell is pulling for 1950, as the earliest recordings in Godfrey's personal programming archive are from June of 1949.

"Because Godfrey was on the air so much and had so much time to fill, much of the content is of him talking, reading articles from newspapers, and commenting on events of the day," Howell says. "That in itself is an incredible resource. It will be very enlightening for historians looking for a way into the mindset of Middle America during the Eisenhower years."

Caption: Arthur Godfrey compares the conventional twelve-inch disc with one of Columbia's then new seven-inch Microgroove records. Pity his own program recordings weren't on disc! — From the Jerry Lee On-Line Photo Archive

The California Historical Radio Society
This just came to my attention last week. With all the preservation societies and historical societies in the country, I find it difficult to keep track of them all. The C.H.R.S. is a non-profit, educational corporation chartered by the State of California in 1974 to promote the research, restoration, preservation and presentation of early radio and broadcasting. Their goal is to provide a forum for exchanging ideas and information on the history of radio and broadcasting, particularly in the West, with the emphasis on collecting, restoring and displaying vintage equipment, and related materials. They are dedicated to the study of early radio and to the importance of this first wireless medium to the San Francisco Bay Area. They recently transferred among their holdings an episode of Invitation to Learning, which I wrote a book about. An obscure but entertaining radio program. They posted the audio on the internet for those wanting to hear the recording and browse the web site for more information.

Artist signature, "Lanse"
The Marx Brothers Mystery
A good friend of my father's gave me a rare print (only 300 made) and signed by the artist named "Lanse." It's taken me 25 years to finally get into my loft and make an effort to have the entire thing matted and framed to be hung on the wall. Some slight damage had been made as a result of the acid in the matting it came with, but those things happen. We got it professionally matted and framed and it's now a proud artifact in the basement. Question: Anyone know who Lanse is? Can anyone provide some background information about this particular print? I'd like to know the story behind it.

Mystery picture of The Marx Bros.