Friday, May 28, 2021

Garry Berman: Author of Retro Pop Culture

For over 20 years, New Jersey native Garry Berman has been researching and writing books and articles related to pop culture and entertainment history. His love of comedy in particular, in both films and on television, has been a lifelong passion. I have three of his books on my personal bookshelf: For the First Time on Television, Between the Laughs, and Perfect Fool: The Life and Career of Ed Wynn. The latter of which is treasured because (to my knowledge) it is the only book documenting the career of Ed Wynn. I recently had an opportunity to interview Garry for my blog, reprinted below. 

1. What made you decide to write your first book? Motivation? Favor for a friend? Also what led to you writing multiple books after the first one, assuming your first was the only book you intended at the time?

I decided to write my first book, Best of the Britcoms, out of my enthusiasm for the imported British sitcoms I had been watching on PBS and various cable networks for many years. Having videotaped hundreds of hours of both well-known and somewhat obscure Britcoms, I decided sometime in 1995 or thereabouts that I might be able to do something contructive with all of those tapes, i.e. write a book about the "best" Britcoms to air in America. My guess was that there were other aficionados in the U.S. who also loved those programs, but, in the pre-Internet age, had little opportunity to learn much about them. I took it upon myself to make a ton of phone calls and faxes (remember them?) to the BBC and elsewhere in the U.K.. The BBC Press and Publicity Department was wonderfully supportive and cooperative right from the start, sending me promotional materials, photos, and much-needed phone numbers, which allowed me to conduct interviews with the writers, directors, and actors in the Britcoms I was writing about. The book was a total joy to research and write, thanks in part to those who helped me, a total unknown, with just about anything I needed.

After the book was published in 1999, I decided that I didn't want it to be my only book. I have quite a range of interests, especially in entertainment and pop culture history, but it took some time to decide which topic I wanted to pursue next. It would be several years, and a few stillborn attempts at other books, before I hit upon the idea for my second book, We're Going to See the Beatles! (an oral history of the Beatlemania era, as recalled by the original fans). 

2.What made you decide to write a biography about Ed Wynn? It is a great book and surely the subject was needed, but what specifically told you to research and assemble material into a biography?

I never actually set out to write a biography of Ed Wynn. I had begun researching what I had envisioned to be a history of American comedy throughout the entire 20th century. But I eventually realized that I had bitten off a bit more than I could chew (especially without a staff to help me with the grunt work). However, I did notice that Ed Wynn's name kept popping up, whether I was researching vaudeville, radio, the stage, or television. I had known of Wynn, but I wasn't familiar with much of his career at all. So, as I became more interested in his life as a comedian, I decided to narrow down my research to him alone. I dug deep for newspaper and magazine articles, interviews, radio and television appearances, whatever I could find throughout his 60-year career. I've often said that researching the book, without any previous Wynn biographies to refer to, was like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle the size of a baseball field. And, since it spanned such a long period and all mass media, to me it's pretty much the history of comedy in the first half of the 20th century anyway.

3. Which is your favorite book and why? 

I don't know if I can choose my favorite book! I've tried to make each one different from the others, in both presentation and subject matter, so it's difficult for me to compare. I'm fortunate that each turned out as I had planned from the outset. I'm proud of Best of the Britcoms, being my first book, which was especially exciting to put together. We're Going to See the Beatles! came out very well, too, thanks mostly to the people I enjoyed interviewing for their personal memories. But I also enjoy occasionally thumbing through For the First Time on Television, my history of over 100 television "firsts" dating back to the 1920s. In my most recent book, The Funniest Decade: A Celebration of American Comedy in the 1930s, I come full-circle in a way, covering the period of comedy and comedians whom I first became obsessed with (the Marx Brothers, Laurel & Hardy, W.C. Fields, et. al.) when I was only about 14 years old. Perhaps, in the back of my mind, I always knew I'd write it, when the time was right.

4. Every author has a cute story from their books... a fan letter, a phone call out of the blue, something that popped up on YouTube that was brought to your attention... can you share your story? 

I can't think of much in the way of a"cute" story connected with any of my books, but here's more of a "wow" story...

When I was working on We're Going to See the Beatles!, I used whatever means available to find people who were swept up in Beatlemania as teenagers, and who had interesting and entertaining stories to tell from that time. I relied greatly on various online fan forums and message boards to help me track down many of the contributors, but I also realized that a certain item I owned might also be of help. It's a scrapbook, put together by a teenage girl in Massacusetts during Beatlemania, which somehow ended up in an antique shop in New York State, where my parents found it one day in the late 1980s and brought it back as a present for me. The girl carefully and lovingly cut out every possible newspaper and magazine article, photo, and ad about the Beatles that she could find. and pasted them onto the black construction paper pages of the scrapbook. I eventually noticed that many of the articles, in which young (female) fans were asked about their Beatles obsession, actually included not only their names and hometowns, but even their street addresses! I'll never forget sitting at my computer one night, with the scrapbook opened on my lap, and the online White Pages on my screen, as I looked up the family names at those addresses from over 40 years earlier. And, in several cases, I found the same names at those same addresses listed in the online White Pages! I had discovered my Rosetta Stone, and felt as if I was straddling two time periods in a single instant. After sending out letters to the families at those addresses, introducing myself and explaining my project, I was ultimately able to contact the "girls" in those yellowing articles, and their stories are now permanently preserved on the pages of my book. 

Garry is one of the many authors attending the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention every year so if you have a copy of his books, bring them to the show and get them autographed. He will also have copies of his books at the event to purchase and have autographed. If you cannot attend the convention, visit his website at   

Friday, May 21, 2021

The Preservation of CECIL AND SALLY

Preservation comes in many forms. Thanks to historian Doug Hopkinson, the radio program Cecil and Sally has become almost as familiar as Vic and Sade to fans of vintage radio programs. Not just because of Doug's lengthy documentation on the program itself, published in a number of old-time radio club journals, but because of his pursuit to find as many recordings known to exist. 

“Cecil and Sally” were the air names of Johnny Patrick and Helen Troy, who developed the musical comedy routine while working together at KYA in 1928. The serial program debuted on the West Coast connection of the short-lived ABC network, and moved to KPO and NBC after the former network went bankrupt in 1929. Patrick wrote the scripts and sang; Troy sang and played the piano and organ. Her character, “Sally,” endeared herself to West Coast listeners with her girlish lisp, referring to her partner as “Theethil.” It is a cute program and -- historically -- fascinating to listen to.

The program ran on NBC until 1933, and was among the earliest radio shows to be nationally syndicated via electronic transcription. Those are large, long-playing phonograph discs produced by MacGregor & Ingram, a pioneering recording company. Syndication meant the 15-minute recordings were distributed to local/regional radio stations across the country. This meant a radio station in Kansas City could broadcast the series five days a week under the sponsorship of a local bakery, while a station in New Jersey could broadcast the series once a week under the sponsorship of a local furniture store. The first couple hundred broadcasts were never recorded for transcription so an estimated 1,300 episodes are (in theory) existing in recorded form. Whether the discs exist is another ballgame. Which leads us to the reason why I am presenting this blog post.

Up until now, an estimate 270 radio episodes (give or take) were known to exist in collector hands. Doug found a collector who has an estimated 633 episodes, most of them "lost" ("uncirculated") and after striking a deal that will cost Doug more than $5,000 out of his own pocket, Doug will later this year make those recordings available to collectors. Doug started a Kickstarter project to raise the funds so anyone contributing $100 will get a copy of all 633 recordings. (No one has to do the math to understand what a bargain that is.)

Doug's efforts to preserve the series has gone beyond documentation in magazine articles... he is now making more recordings available for the masses than has been available in decades. I pledged $100 to help the cause.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

The 1933 Premiere of THE LONE RANGER

Believe it or not, the premiere broadcast date for The Lone Ranger radio program has been a subject of controversy over the decades. The exact broadcast date varies depending on what book or magazine article you read. The reasons for the discrepancy also vary depending on the authors. Some claim the premiere broadcast date was January 30, 1933. Others claim January 31. And yet others claim February 2, 1933. What I personally find amazing is the fact that the correct answer can be found when consulting archival documents but since the primary reason for the discrepancy is because the majority of authors chose to reprint what they find in other prior published reference guides, magazine articles and websites. Preferring to go directly to the source, the answer is, of course, January 31, 1933. The remainder of this article will now go into detail how January 31 was determined, and the origin of those two mistakes that continue to pop up on multiple websites, magazine articles and published reference guides. (So if you want to save yourself five minutes of reading and avoid the nitty-gritty, accept January 31, 1933 and move on. Else, enjoy reading the next few paragraphs...)  

To understand the origin of The Lone Ranger one must take into account how most radio programs originated during the 1930s. A sponsor would commission an advertising agency to create a number of proposals and during a meeting between sponsor and account executives, listen to the pitches (often incorporated with artistic interpretations through a slide show on an art easel which today we would refer digitally to as a power point presentation). The pitches would examine how the program would interconnect with the radio listeners, and the sponsor's product. As an example, an ad agency representing General Mills would have proposed half a dozen children's serial adventures and one of those proposals would have been Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, which promoted the hero's athletic prowess and abilities, combatting villains of all sorts, including the harsh elements of Mother Nature, and thus the commercials would have emphasized how Wheaties was essential to grow strong muscles and bones like their hero, Jack Armstrong.

When James Jewell, director of dramatic programs over radio station WXYZ in Detroit, contacted Fran Striker to write up a series of dramatic westerns, little did he know how historically valuable those letters of communication would become. Striker lived in Buffalo, New York. With respect to the U.S. Post Office, the postal system was more efficient back in the 1930s than it is today. If Jewell mailed a letter to Striker on Wednesday, Striker received the letter on Thursday. If Striker mailed a reply on Friday, Jewell received the letter on Saturday. Because The Lone Ranger radio program was conceived through drafts of multiple radio scripts, and Jewell's input and Striker's output was documented through suggestions in the form of letters, the correspondence exchanged between the two have become historical documentation that cannot be refuted.

Advertising agencies often created multiple proposals, large companies would agree to sponsor said program, and it was the duty of the ad agencies to hire producers, directors, script writers, and actors, and lease airtime from the networks. Therefore networks like NBC and CBS would leave airtime to the ad agencies, who were also responsible for writing "copy," i.e. the commercial breaks pitching the product. In short, the networks provided the studio and the microphones. The advertising agencies assembled the rest. The sponsors were billed once a month for the coverage spanning multiple radio stations coast-to-coast. 

Fran Striker
Advertising agencies, like major companies, were bought and sold over the years so much of their historical documentation has been tossed into the dumpster. Worse, little exists from radio proposals during sponsor-agency conferences, especially since inter-office memos rarely exist even if corporation paperwork survives. So the fact that Jewell and Striker corresponded back and forth is extremely rare in the history of radio broadcasting and we are extremely lucky to have those historical documents to consult. 

Amongst the multiple letters  exchanged between Jewell and Striker beginning in late December 1932 was a letter dated January 21, 1933, in which Striker was advised that the new show would start the following Monday, January 30, 1933. The same letter made a few suggestions with the following notations: “I am going to start The Lone Ranger series Monday, the 30th and I am herein including the few suggestions I spoke of in my last letter. If it is humanly possible, I would like to have six more of these scripts by that time. I am going to use script No. 2 as the opening bill because I feel that it is more characteristic of the type of story we will want to use… I hope the above suggestions won’t cramp your style. I realize they have changed the character you have created… but only in a minor way… We’ll keep you posted on the listeners’ interest created by the new series so you can use same for publicity.”

Jewell’s reference to an “opening bill” was the broadcast of February 2, 1933, promoted in the Detroit Evening Times on the same morning: “Out in the wide-open spaces, where men are not crooners and women are radio actresses, where fast riding and quick shooting are the best arguments. Yes sir, that’s the location of the operations of the unique character ‘The Lone Ranger’ who makes his bow in a new dramatization series to be heard three times weekly on WXYZ starting at 9:00 p.m. today. Through his daring, his riding and his shooting, this mystery rider won the respect of the entire West – the west of the Old Days, where every man carried his heart on his sleeve and only the fittest remained to make history for the Golden States. Though The Lone Ranger was known in seven states, he earned his greatest reputation in Texas. None know from where he came and none knew where he went. A fiery horse, with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, a hearty laugh – mystery, suspense, drama, and above all, Mr. Dennis, purity and no naughty words.”

While the premiere was planned for Monday, January 30, the program would be pushed forward to Tuesday, January 31, as part of the station’s 90-minute dedicatory program. A letter dated January 26 from Jewell, informing Striker of the new date, confirms this. Newspaper listings verify the station’s dedicatory program for the evening of January 31. Even a photo and caption in a Detroit newspaper remarked, “Listen for the Lone Ranger on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights.”

So, with January 31 proven conclusively to be the premiere date, the question remains: why do some people continue to claim the premiere was January 30, while others claim February 2? Over the years, George W. Trendle, Raymond Meurer, newspapers and magazine articles and even the 20th anniversary broadcast of The Lone Ranger (January 30, 1953) made reference to the January 30 date. The Michigan Radio Network was launched on January 30, but the dedicatory program aired on the evening of January 31. Fixation on the date of the network’s official founding is the reason why such a major blunder over the years can be explained. 

The dedicatory program on the evening of January 31, 1933, was promoted to potential sponsors through the mail, in the hope that a number of regional companies would bankroll some of the proposed programs... including The Lone Ranger. “There had been no publicity preceding the first broadcast,” Meurer wrote, referring to the dry run. The first mention of the new program appeared in the Detroit Evening Times on February 2, 1933. It was this advertisement, proudly hailing the program’s premiere, that caused some historians to mistake the premiere date of The Lone Ranger as February 2, 1933. Conspiracy theorists might want to debate that February 2 should be considered the premiere of The Lone Ranger, and dismiss any on-air dry run, but the radio scripts were officially numbered and the February 2 radio script is labeled “Script #2.” Succeeding radio scripts featured consecutive sequential numbering.

In December 1938, when the radio program featured a week-long celebration for the radio program's fifth anniversary, the cast and crew dramatized the very first Lone Ranger radio adventure, harkening back not to the February 2 radio script, but the January 31... the script labeled "Script #1."

To add more conclusive evidence, court documents between The Lone Ranger, Inc. vd. Earl W. Curry and "Jack" Smith, dated October 2, 1947, attested the January 31, 1933, premiere date.

So there you have it. January 31, 1933 was the premiere broadcast date of radio's The Lone Ranger. Scans of the documents referenced above, among other historical documents, can be found in the book The Lone Ranger: The Early Years, 1933-1937, available at

And if someone on social media or another website cites the incorrect date, point them directly to this blogpost. And if they still insist their mis-information is fact, assume they are merely trolling to deliberately irritate fans of The Lone Ranger much like a child who shakes a jar of beetles and then sits back to watch them fight. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021