Friday, August 12, 2016

The Railroad Hour: The "Lost" 1953 & 1954 Broadcasts

Gordon MacRae
The Railroad Hour was broadcast from the studios of the National Broadcasting Company in Hollywood, California. The program was heard regularly over 170 stations of the NBC network. According to an annual report issued by the Association of American Railroads, it was estimated that the program was heard by more than four million family groups. “Musical shows with a dramatic continuity are enjoyed by persons of all ages, especially when the leading roles are portrayed by outstanding artists. All members of the family, as well as school, church, and club groups, find The Railroad Hour wholesome, dignified, and inspiring entertainment,” quoted Francis Van Hartesveldt.

The June 3, 1953 issue of Variety reviewed the opening summer season of The Railroad Hour:
     “The Railroad Hour ushered in its summer format this week. Scripting team of Lawrence and Lee have prepared 18 new musical comedies, first of which, a free adaptation of Sir James M. Barrie’s Quality Street, started the NBC series off on the right foot. “With Gordon MacRae and Dorothy Warenskjold in the leads, the skimpy plot wasn’t of import. The pair did solid musical jobs on a number of classical and public domain melodies, using the story of a soldier returning to claim his love more as a background to the music than anything else.
     “Carmen Dragon orch gave top-notch backing, and his arrangements were right in the comic opera groove. Norman Luboff chorus likewise added a feeling of richness to the numbers, which were culled from such various sources as
Oh, Dear, What Can the Matter Be? and Invitation to the Waltz. On the acting side, MacRae and Miss Warenskjold were good and Isabel Jewell gave excellent support. Commercials were straight and to the point. And the entire production has a sense of freshness and directness that radio can use more of.”


The Railroad Hour was tied with Dr. Christian as the 19th highest rated show of the 1952-53 season, making the program, at this point, still one of the top twenty programs of the year. For the 1953-54 season, The Railroad Hour was tied with Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar in 14th place! The final broadcast of The Railroad Hour was on June 21, 1954. The reason for the program’s termination remains unknown, and the Association of American Railroad’s Annual Report of 1954 sheds very little light except for a brief mention:
    The Railroad Hour, consisting primarily of condensations of outstanding operettas and other musical shows, was presented in 1954 for a 30-minute period each Monday night over the full network of the National Broadcasting Company through June 21, 1954, when the program was discontinued.”

During the early 1950s, the Armed Forces Radio Service offered rebroadcasts of radio dramas for troops stationed overseas. Many of The Railroad Hour presentations were rebroadcast, as part of the network’s Showtime line-up. Most references to the Association of American Railroads were deleted from the rebroadcasts, as sponsorship was often disregarded as important when it came to entertaining the troops. Shortly after, the AFRS featured rebroadcasts of The Railroad Hour under a new name, The Gordon MacRae Show, using the song, I Know That You Know, from MacRae’s film, Tea for Two, as the theme. Many of these recordings circulate among collector catalogs. 

Collectors today offer a number of recordings from the AFRS rebroadcasts. Regrettably, those edited, “washed out” versions are not as enjoyable as the original offerings. The musical presentation is intact, but much of the flavor of the series, including the Railroad commercials and cast comments, make up some of the program that make these shows so special. I recommend that the readers make an attempt to acquire and listen to the uncut recordings and avoid the AFRS rebroadcasts if at all possible. Reagrding the "lost" episodes below, I doubt beggers will be choosers and will be thankful for a copy in any format.

Throughout their careers, Lawrence and Lee continued to write and produce radio programs for CBS. They co-wrote radio plays including The Unexpected (1951), The Song of Norway (1957), Shangri-La (1960), a radio version of Inherit the Wind (1965), and Lincoln the Unwilling Warrior (1974).
In 1954, one of Lawrence and Lee’s original one-act operas, Annie Laurie, was published by Harms, Inc., who specialized in publishing music in various forms across the country. The musical was adapted from Lawrence and Lee’s original Railroad Hour script. For the next two years, Harms, Inc. published two more original musicals, Roaring Camp (1955) and Familiar Strangers (1956), also previous Railroad Hour originals. (The Roaring Camp episode is among the "lost" recordings which is why it's so desperately sought-after.) Shortly before The Railroad Hour premiered, Lawrence and Lee’s first Broadway show, Look Ma, I’m Dancin’!, opened at the Adelphi Theatre on January 29, 1948. The musical was a hit in many aspects, and critics approved favorably. Their second play, Inherit the Wind, opened at the National Theatre in New York on April 21, 1955, less than a year after The Railroad Hour went off the air. This play, not a musical, established Lawrence and Lee in the American theatre.

The following eight episodes documented below are the "lost" episodes from 1953 and 1954. That is, they are not know to be circulating among collectors and are sought after. If you have any of the episodes listed below that match the enclosed details, please let me know so I can make sure the adjustment is made.

Episode #238 “EL CAPITAN” Broadcast April 20, 1953
Ann Ayars (Esterelda), Parley Baer (Pozzo), and Gordon MacRae (Don Medigua).
Based on the three-act operetta of the same name, which premiered at the Broadway Theatre on April 20, 1896. Music score by John Philip Sousa, with lyrics by Thomas Frost and John Philip Sousa and book by Charles Klein.
Adapted for The Railroad Hour by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.
Songs include: El Capitan (orchestra effect); From Peru’s Majestic Mountains (MacRae and chorus); When We Hear the Call to Battle (Ayars and chorus); El Capitan (reprise with Ayars, MacRae and chorus); Ditty of the Drill (MacRae and chorus); Sweetheart, I’m Waiting (Ayars and chorus); I’ve a Most Decided Notion (Ayars and MacRae); When Some Serious Affliction (Ayars, MacRae and chorus); and El Capitan (reprise with entire cast and chorus).

Episode #241 “ROSALINDA” Broadcast May 11, 1953
Sandra Gould (Adele, Rosalind’s maid), Dorothy Kirsten (Rosalinda), Gordon MacRae (Henry Eisenstein), Dan Reed (Alfredo), and Dan Tobin (Blint).
Songs include: Rosalinda, Love of Mine (tenor from chorus, then MacRae); Trio (Tobin, Kirsten and MacRae); Oh, Jimmy (Kirsten, MacRae and chorus); Drinking Song (MacRae and chorus); Ha, What a Night (Kirsten and chorus); Wine and Song (chorus); Laughing Song (Kirsten and chorus); Watch Duet (Kirsten and MacRae); and Ha, What a Night (reprise with Kirsten, MacRae and chorus).

Trivia, etc. This was a repeat performance of episode 128, broadcast March 12, 1951.

Episode #264 “SUNNY” Broadcast October 19, 1953
Gordon MacRae (Tom Warren), Lucille Norman (Susan Peters), Harold Peary (Pop Peters), and Carleton Young (Jim and the voice).
Songs include: Sunny (MacRae and chorus); Who? (Norman and MacRae); D’ye Love Me? (Norman and chorus); Who? (reprise with Norman and chorus); Let’s Say Goodnight (Norman and MacRae); Two Little Bluebirds (Norman and MacRae); Who? (reprise with Norman and MacRae); and D’ye Love Me? (reprise with Norman, MacRae and chorus).

Trivia, etc. This was a repeat performance of episode 78, broadcast March 27, 1950.

Episode #272 “THE CAT AND THE FIDDLE” Broadcast December 14, 1953
Joseph Kearns (Daudet), Dorothy Kirsten (Shirley Sheridan), Charlotte Lawrence (Odette), and Gordon MacRae (Victor Florescue).
Songs include: Poor Pierrot (MacRae); The Night Was Made For Love (MacRae); She Didn’t Say Yes (Kirsten, MacRae and chorus); Try to Forget (Kirsten, MacRae and chorus); The Love Parade (MacRae and chorus); Poor Pierrot (Kirsten and chorus); One Moment Alone (Kirsten and MacRae); and She Didn’t Say Yes (reprise with Kirsten, MacRae and chorus).

Trivia, etc. This was a repeat performance of episode three, broadcast October 18, 1948, cut down from the 45 minute broadcast to 30.

Episode #275 “THE VAGABOND KING” Broadcast January 4, 1954
Joseph Kearns (King Louis XVI), Gordon MacRae (Francois Villon), Lou Merrill (Tabariel), Marvin Miller (voice), Lucille Norman (Katherine), and Jane Stuart Smith (Huguette).
Songs include: Song of the Vagabonds (MacRae and chorus); Some Day (Norman and MacRae); Only a Rose (Norman and MacRae); Only a Rose (reprise with Norman, MacRae and chorus); Tomorrow (Norman and MacRae); Huguette’s Waltz (Smith); Love Me Tonight (Norman and MacRae); and Only a Rose (reprise with Norman, MacRae and chorus).
Trivia, etc. This was a repeat performance of episode seven, broadcast November 15, 1948, cut down from the 45 minute broadcast to 30.
Episode #276 “THE GYPSY BARON” Broadcast January 11, 1954Cast: Mimi Benzell (Saffi), Myra Marsh (Czipra), and Gordon MacRae (Sandor Barinkay).
Songs include: Barinkay’s Song (MacRae); Prophesy Music (chorus); The Gypsy Song (Benzell and chorus); Song of the Sea (MacRae and chorus); She is the Only One for Me (MacRae); I’ll Be a Lucky Man (Benzell and MacRae); Barinkay’s Song (reprise with Benzell, MacRae and chorus); I Live to Love You (Benzell and MacRae); Finding the Gold (Benzell and MacRae); The Birds Were Our Witness (Benzell, MacRae and chorus); Victory March (MacRae and chorus); and Barinkay’s Song (reprise with Benzell, MacRae and chorus).

Trivia, etc. This was a repeat performance of episode 219, broadcast December 8, 1952.

Episode #279 “MAYTIME” Broadcast February 1, 1954Cast: Patty Ayenoni (little girl), Nadine Conner (Ottilie), Carl Frederick (the auctioneer), Gordon MacRae (Dick), Marvin Miller (the butler), and Sammy Ogg (the boy).
Songs include: Sweethearts (Conner, MacRae and chorus); In Our Little Home Sweet Home (Conner and chorus); Gypsy Song (Conner, MacRae and chorus); Will You Remember? (Conner and chorus); Go Away, Girls (MacRae chorus); Sweethearts (reprise with Conner, MacRae and chorus); It’s a Windy Day on the Battery (MacRae and chorus); Road to Paradise (Conner and MacRae); Dancing Will Keep You Young (Conner and MacRae); and Sweethearts (reprise with Conner and MacRae).

Trivia, etc. This was a repeat performance of episode 210, broadcast October 6, 1952.

Episode #299 “THE NEW MOON” Broadcast June 21, 1954
Berry Kroeger (Rebeau), Gordon MacRae (Robert Misson), Tom McKee (Philippe), Marvin Miller (the captain), and Lucille Norman (Marianne).
Songs include: Stouthearted Men (MacRae and chorus); One Kiss (Norman and chorus); Wanting You (Norman, MacRae and chorus); Lover Come Back to Me (Norman); Softly, As in A Morning Sunrise (MacRae and chorus); and Lover, Come Back to Me (reprise with Norman, MacRae and chorus).

Trivia, etc. This was the final episode of the series. This was also a repeat performance of episode nine, broadcast November 29, 1948, cut down from the 45 minute broadcast to 30.

Shameless plug: Material included in this blog post originates from The Railroad Hour by Gerald D. Wilson and Martin Grams. Reprinted with permission from Bear Manor Media. Special thanks to the staff of Ohio State University Library and the staff at the Billy Rose Theater Collection. Also special thanks to Ben Ohmart, Derek Tague, Joyce Comeaux, Kara Darling of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Theatre Library, Aida Garcia-Cole of G. Schirmer, Inc., Jim Cox, Leo Gawroniak, Terry Salomonson, Amanda Dittoe, Craig Wichman, Sheila MacRae Wayne, Al Hubin, B. Ray Druian, Jack French, Harlan Zinck, Roy Moore, Kathy Dragon Henn, David Goldin and Alex Daoundakis.