Category: Golden Age Article

Cos and the Classic Revivals

By the time the 1990s rolled out, Bill Cosby was huge.  He’d had many great efforts in television and other forms entertainment. He was supercool superspy Alexander Scott in the groundbreaking I Spy series. He was producer and host of the award-winning Fat Albert Series. However, his greatest success was the Cosby Show, which provided 1980s family friendly comedies that had gone missing for so many years (and have since disappeared again.)

Cosby in the 1990s brought two classic TV concepts back to the American screen.

The first was Groucho Marx’s classic, You Bet Your Life. Cosby was a huge fan of Marx and considered him one of the four best comedians of all time along with Charlie Chaplain, Buster Keaton, and W.C. Fields. Unlike the other three, Cosby actually got to know Marx a bit. More than anything else, he’d admired Marx for You Bet Your Life.   Cosby had even met the old producers of You Bet Your Life to get a chance to do it and been turned down. In the 1990s, on the heels of the Cosby show and becoming a $90 million man, Cosby could pretty much get any project he wanted and so he got to follow in the footsteps of one his heroes in the 1992-93 version of You Bet Your Life.

The show may have been a little too early. A revival of You Bet Your Life could have gone well in the reality TV era, but alas made it only one season in syndication, and was not widely viewed or known. The only video clips available are from those folks sharing appearances by their relatives on the show. These two clips from the show are priceless comedy, although they go on a little long, it’s worth a viewing:

Cosby wasn’t done bringing classic concepts to a new audience. In the late 1990s, he revived another vintage TV concept. Art Linkletter did his House Party show for 24 years over CBS radio and television, and had been best remembered for its Kids Say the Darnedst Things segment.

Cosby once again revived a classic concept as he took his turn questioning kids and hearing the surprising answers they gave.

The big difference between You Bet Your Life and Kids Say the Darnedst Things is that Art Linkletter was still alive and in fact Linkletter worked with Cosby on the program. When I watched Kids Say the Darnedst Things for the first time, I was very curious as to who Linkletter was. I had no idea, growing up.

Cosby introduced Linkletter to a new generation. Most episodes of Kids Say the Darnedst Things featured some footage of some of Linkletter’s most hilarious moments.  Linkletter, in his mid-80s at the time, appeared frequently on the show. Cosby always showed a warm regard for Linkletter and never illustrated it better than with a touching surprise tribute to the man on CBS:

Those who saw Linkletter and Marx in their prime feel that Cosby’s efforts were not as good. There’s certainly something to it as both Linkletter and Marx performances were definitive. 

I don’t think the point of Cosby’s effort was displace either of these two legends. Rather, Cosby did the shows because he enjoyed and loved the originals, and his efforts helped to bring awareness of the originals back into the public mind. And there’s nothing better for a top entertainer to do than that.

Movie Review: Going My Way

I’d never heard of Going My Way until I was searching through my instant watch queue on Netflix, though I’d heard of its sequel, The Bells of St. Mary.

Going My Way stars Bing Crosby as Father Chuck O’Malley, a young priest from St. Louis who has been given the task of setting in order a troubled New York City parish on the verge of bankruptcy and with many of its youth involved in crime. Father O’Malley must do so without hurting the feelings of elderly priest Father Fitzgibbons (platyed beautifully by Barry Fitzgerald.)

While Crosby was one of the most talented singers and showmen of his generation, his performance as Father O’Malley was anything but showy. Father O’Malley comes off as a “right guy” who is humble and graceful. While technically, he’s been put “in charge” of the parish by the Bishop, he refuses to assert himself, but respects the work of Father Fitzgibbons.

Barry Fitzgerald was equally masterful with Father Fitzgibbons. His portrayal of Father Fitzgibbons is as a stubborn man set in his ways, but with a kind heart and dedication that has kept him at his parish for 45 years, seperated from his aging mother.

What makes the movie work is the chemistry between the two characters. In these type of films, it’s often tempting to play up a sense of rivalry between the old minister and the young one. Yet, Going My Way takes an entirely different tact, as the old man the young one grow to love and respect each other.

It’s a bit of a misnomer to call this film a musical, as the characters rarely sing in this two hour film. Crosby does sing a few times, and when he does, it’s powerful. Perhaps one of the most informative scenes was when Father O’Malley was advising a young singer who was gesturing as she sang. Father O’Malley criticized the gesturing and suggested that she needed to was to put  more emotion into her singing.

And that’s what made Crosby’s singing is the film so memorable. Whether, it was, the soft and mellow title song or the debut, “Swinging on a Star,” he delivered it with just the right emotion.

My favorite scene was the one in which Father O’Malley put Father Fitzgibbons to bed after the older priest to bed. They’d talked about their mothers and how Father Fitzgibbons hadn’t seen his 90 year old mother in 45 years. Father Fitzgibbons asked if O’Malley knew “Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ra” and Crosby sang it beautifully:

The film wasn’t perfect. At two hours, it could have been quite a bit shorter without some extraneous plot elements such as seeing the Metropolitan Opera perform one scene from Carmen, and the budding romance of the banker’s son. However, the latter subplot did provide one of the film’s best scenes.

However, these are very minor shortcomings in a great film, and the featured attraction is the warmth of Crosby and Fitzgerald to create a timeless classic.

Additional Information:

This film was featured on Screen Guild Theater in 1945 with Crosby and Fitzgerald reprising their starring roles.

Currently, it is available on Netflix Instant Watch for those who Netflix members. Click here for Netflix.

Also, it’s available on Amazon:

Note: Sales made through the links in this post will result in small compensation to me at no additional cost to the consumer.

The Silver Age of Old Time Radio

Some folks refer to the entire period of radio history from 1929-1962 as the “Golden Age of Radio.”  The term is a bit inprecise. I’d argue that the Golden Age of Radio actually ended in 1951, and that the Silver Age lasted until 1965 when Theater Five went off the air.

The year 1951 was the first that Television first turned a higher profit than radio. Seismic shifts were beginning to happen between television and radio, that would make TV ascendant. The comedy show. The long-running sitcom, The Life of Riley ended its radio run in 1951 to become a TV mainstay, a years George Burns and Gracie Allen left for television land. It became increasingly hard to launch successful new radio shows. Many shows that would have been hits five years before ended up serial oddities. Many existing franchises hung on for sometime, but by the time shows like Gangbusters, Counterspy, One Man’s Family, Amos ‘n Andy, and The Great Gildersleeve took their final bows, they’d long since lost the attention of the American people.

Stars and writers began to go where the money was. Thus radio began to lose a lot of its premier talent as grade-A actors became less likely Radio was changing dramatically.

The silver age of radio was different than the Golden one. First of all, most shows produced during this period such as Gunsmoke and Have Gun, Will Travel. really did seem to have an adult audience in mind, rather than a family audience as families were abandonning the radio for new black and white televisions.

Radio also tried to be more Avante-garde with shows like The CBS Radio Workshop. The Silver age contains most of the great Science Fiction of the radio era, with show, X Minus One and Exploring Tomorrow. As well, several anthology shows such as CBS Radio Workshop and Theater Five contains a ton of science fiction stories.

Radio gave way to television and lost audience as golden age radio actors migrated to television. There were some weak scripts that doubtless left some golden age aficionados pining for the good old days when writers like E. Jack Neuman, Gil Doud, and Blake Edwards created great scripts for Grade-A actors like Dick Powell, William Bendix, and Elliot Lewis. Yet, there were some scripts that were written so well that a listener had to smile at a great episode that most of America had missed.

How I’ve Learned About Classic Radio

When I mentioned listening to You Bet Your Life, a  friend on Facebook was curious about my interest and asked,  “How did you even HEAR about these folks?”

There are two stages where I learned about old radio shows:

1) Growing Up

My dad talked about listening to the radio growing up, but the first time we actually got to hear any old time radio was when I was about 12 or 13.  We were at a Salvation Army and saw an old set of Old Time Radio comedy cassette tapes. My dad bought them cheap and we took them home and listened to them.

I found some shows I liked immediately (Fibber McGee and Molly, Burns and Allen, Abbott and Costello) and a couple that I didn’t care for.

However, I had no conception that there were old radio clubs. Indeed, when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, Old Time Radio was limited to distribution on expensive Cassettes or CDs, or on old time radio replay shows that I never knew were on.

This doesn’t mean that I had no exposure to the classics. My dad was a huge Abbott and Costello fan, so I got to see dozens of these adventures. When I was a kid, there was nothing quite exciting as a new Abbott and Costello movie.*

For a homeschooling convention, my brother and I performed, “Who’s on First?” with me playing the straight man part that Bud Abbott did. We weren’t the only homeschooled family with old time radio exposure. At another convention, a home schooled family did a Fibber McGee and Molly old time radio play with a 13-year old boy trying to replicate Harold Peary’s Gildersleeve laugh and doing quite well.

2) 21st Century Exposure

It all started with Dragnet, and you can read about that over at the Old Time Dragnet site. After Dragnet, my curiosity remained somewhat limited. I found out that Superman had a radio show. As the Dragnet show had been pretty successful in first ten months, I launched the Old Time Radio Superman podcast.

I owe a burgeoning interest in radio to fans of the Dragnet show who shared some of their programs and the Antioch Radio Network, a station I listened to on a lark as I was feeling like listening to something to relax and I heard Let George Do It and was amazed at how good the show was.

This sent me researching, listening to a wide variety of different detective shows and led to the launch of The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio and then the app. For the app, I wanted to obtain our detective actors in other sorts of roles. To do that, I had to research their radiography to find shows they appeared in and find which might be entertaining. Through this process, I’ve come to really enjoy shows like Cavalcade of America and Mayor of the Town.

I became a fan of Life with Luigi because of an ad that appeared in an episode of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar that made me curious enough to listen to the show.

I’ve also rediscovered some childhood favorites in Burns and Allen  and Abbott and Costello.

Other shows I learned of because others were excited about the same show. Lum and Abner for example was a show that I was led to by die-hard fans who had created a wonderful collection of their radio adventures and made available for donwload.

And there are different stories for different shows, but they’re mostly in this vein.

Old Time Radio Music: A Final Round Up

I’ve taken a look at shows that feature Jazz and Country-Western Music. Now to look at the rest of the music out there beginning with shows that while not music shows feature regular music. :

Music, It’s Part of the Show:

Detective Shows

Pete Kelly’s Blues: Jack Webb, while continuing to produce Dragnet, also made a 1951 mid-summer replacement, Pete Kelly’s Blues which starred Jack Webb as a speakeasy coronet player who was always getting into trouble during the roaring twenties. Each episode would also include around three sets from Kelley’s band. Occassionally, a heavy will wait for the band to play its number before going after Pete.

Richard Diamond was Dick Powell’s greatest detective vehicle and somewhat unusual. Richard Diamond’s adventures were some of radio’s most violent. However, the show was at its most unusual, when after three or four corpses had been cleared away, Richard Diamond began to sing. In some ways, the show represented a union of Powell’s two stage personas. His earlier, light comedic leading man and his middle aged hardboiled characterization. Of course, while Powell sang a lot of typical crooner songs, he also would mix it up with a cowboy lullaby, a Hawaiian Christmas song, and once he even sang in Yiddish. The singing was usually only a minute or so, but it preserved the image of Powell as a versatile entertainer. One fan has created a zipped collection with all the singing interludes in Richard Diamond.

One show, you might expect to have music in it doesn’t. While Frank Sinatra was Rocky Fortune, he never broke out into song

Sitcoms

While Comedy Variety shows had lots of music (more on that later), sitcoms had much less use. Shows like Life of Riley, My Favorite Husband, and Life with Luigi had little use for music other than as themes.

Harold Peary’s sitcoms stand out from this trend. On numerous episodes of the Great Gildersleeve from 1941-50, Peary would sing a beautiful song in his crooning voice. This could occur any time in the program.  Reportedly, it was the lack of singing opportunities that led Peary to quit and create the Harold Peary Show where he sang much more frequently. Unfortunately, the singing was great, but the Harold Peary Show ended after one season and Peary was relegated to character actor status for the rest of his career. He was a good singer, but comedy was his bread and butter.

A 1942 episode of The Great Gildersleeve which features Peary singing

The Audition show for The Harold Peary Show features a song  from Peary.

Westerns

Roy Rogers hit the air as host and star of a Western Variety show. Over time, the show morphed into having an actual plot, but would always including plenty of cowboy music too.

The Comedy Variety Shows

In the pre-War and World War II era, most of the famous comedians on radio led Comedy variety shows that included comedy sketches along with the singing of the show’s regular singer, and usually a piece performed by an orchestra. This formula was used by too many shows to count. Abbott and Costello, with Freddy Rich and his orchestra. Bob Hope had Frances Langford singing, as well as Skinnay Ennis, and Ozzy Nelson, at one point sang for Red Skelton’s show in the early 40s. The swingy and always fun to listen to Connie Haines was a fixture on early Abbott and Costello shows. A sampling of the songs of Haines, which have a very distinctive rhythm was collected at the Internet Archive and is available within the great episodes of the show themselves. Her “Trolley Song” is a classic.

In the late 1940s and early 50s, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’ comedy show usually featured a song from Martin.

Musicals:

Shows that did plays like Theater Guild on the Air that adapted plays or Lux Radio Theater, which adapted movies would adapt musicals to the radio, however there were two series that actually regularly performed full-blwon musicals for the radio. The Railroad Hour adapted a wide variety of Broadway-style and Hollywood musicals. All-star Western Theater did more Western musicals.

Other Music Shows

The Bell Telephone Hour provided regular concerns to Americans over the radio from 1940-58. The Shell Chateau was an hour long musical variety show from 1935-37 that was at one time hosted by Al Jolson and featured a variety of different music styles and musicians. Music Depreciation features classic music with a humorous introductions.

Your Hit Parade was the original top 15 countdown show, lasting an hour.  Alka Seltzer Time was a regular daily 15 minute radio show featuring up-beat music. Before legendary guitarist Les Paul made his way to television for a long-run, he had his own 15 minute radio show.

The Squibb Show is perhaps the best 15 minute show I’ve heard with its use of a variety of beautiful music and style.

Finally, Moon River was a radio show sponsored by a mattress company featuring the reading of poetry to soft music. A nice way to go to sleep to be sure.

Of course, we’ve barely scratched the surface of the many and varied old time radio shows out there, and there’s quite a bit that’s not available on the Internet Archives, but I hope that lead some music lovers to a little bit of listening pleasure.