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A RECENT article in The New York Times, July 28, 2014, is titled “Sure, You Loved Lucy, but Vintage Has Limits.” In presenting his “Case of Retro TV Overload,” columnist Neil Genzlinger writes that a lot of old TV is not as good as one’s memory recalls. (See http://goo.gl/djOFAL.)
Giving my general apathy for TV, I agree with the sentiment, if not the choices.
On the other hand, I am a great fan of old-time radio, as offered by Greg Bell on Sirius XM’s Radio Classics. Generally, vintage radio had excellent writing and presentation. And even when it strays, there’s wonderfully camp entertainment, not to say eyebrow-raising racism and sexism.
Greg Bell shares lots of interesting trivia (e.g., Lurene Tuttle, who played Sam Spade’s secretary Effie, was the mother-in-law of Hollywood film composer John Williams).
Often cited by Bell, John Dunning’s On the Air is also an excellent source of old radio lore. Just for fun, I’ve been collecting some of the highs, and a few of the lows, of old-time radio. In no particular order:
• Says Raymond Chandler’s private detective Philip Marlowe, a classic shamus: “There are three things I like: beer with a head, moonlight and a beautiful babe.”
• Quips Jack Webb, pre-Dragnet in Pat Novak for Hire: “The Hispano parked out front was smaller than it looked. But then we have short blocks in this part of town.”
• Red Skelton: “I’ve got an uncle who’s worth $50,000 to me—if I take him dead or alive.”
Not unrelated to this is a one-liner I first heard from R&T’s Lorraine Keeton, rest her soul: “My uncle knew the day and the hour he would die. The judge told him.”
• Archie, manager of Duffy’s Tavern, always had a wonderful way with our language. Asked by guest star Marie Wilson, “Are you asking for my hand?” Archie says, “Yes, but it’s assumed the rest of you goes with it.”
In another Duffy’s Tavern episode, Archie is arranging a duel: “Your choice of weapon?” he asks. “Swords,” says the other guy. “Okay,” says Archie, “I’ll choose a pistol.”
Good, crisp (and, unlike a lot of today’s comedy) wholesome writing.
• From George Burns and Gracie Allen: Nurse Gracie says, “Doctor, the patient in 414 is having convulsions!” Doctor George: “Is he shaking all over?” Gracie: “No. Only in 414.”
• Bob Hope and Bing Crosby gave us lots of laughs. Bob: “I want to go to California; I have $50.” Bing: “Come on along.” Bob: “Are you gonna take me?” Bing: “I sure hope to.”
• Jack Benny and his bunch could fill an entire book. Mabel and Gertrude, Jack Benny Show telephone operators chatting about guest Bob Hope: “With that nose, you can kiss him and get your ears pierced at the same time.”
The same pair, chatting about Benny: “With those blue eyes and his glasses, kissing him is like examining a blue-bottle fly under a microscope.”
And then there’s the running gag about Benny’s The Horn Blows at Midnight. In one radio episode, Jack goes to see this less-than-successful movie in a theater, only to learn the packed house is being rented out to a mortuary. “What’s really amazing,” says the manager, “last night, three of them walked out.”
There’s a whole subcollection of quips:
• From Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy: “He was in love with the Bearded Lady, but she gave him the brush.”
• Jimmy Durante: “I haven’t slept for days and days. If I didn’t sleep at night, I’d be in really bad shape.”
• The Green Hornet is a favorite, not infrequently for its tripping over into camp—or worse. Chides the Green Hornet to sidekick Kato, “I thought all you Filipinos had good memories.”
In a frantic bit of Green Hornet action, the Police Commissioner yells, “Quick, somebody jump into the water! Get going, everyone!”
It reminds me of Stephen Leacock’s horseman who “flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.”
Often, to my delight, old-time radio offers the same mental picture. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014
I don’t know if it’s true, but an older colleague once told me that the Green Hornet’s Filipino house-boy Kato was originally Japanese–and changed in December ’41.
The Duffy’s Tavern CD cover doesn’t tell the whole story: it was “Where the elite meet to beat their feet.” (Though I don’t recall any dancing in the episodes I heard as a kid.)
I have over 7000 titles of old time radio in my collection. You can see my catalog by entering my name and OTR. Ted Kneebone old time time radio.
If you intend to collect old time radio, you need both Dunning (photo above) and Hickerson’s 4th Revised Ultimate history of Network Radio programming…You can get the book from Jay Hickerson, 27436 Desert Rose Court, Leesburg, FL 34748. I think it sells for about $50. Write and ask him for the latest price.
Thank you for posting this! I will check some of these out.