A Look at the Hardy Family

A big Hollywood studio grabs at a recently popular film franchise from the past, turns it into a series, and uses it as a centerpiece of a new package of programs. Sounds like the story of the latest Netflix/Disney/Paramount series.

It actually happened in 1949. MGM launched MGM Radio Attractions, a package of syndicated radio programs that would eventually land on the Mutual Broadcasting System. While there were some original series not based on any actual movies, and they would add the British-produced Black Museum in 1951, MGM leaned heavily into their film legacy. MGM played into its back catalog of film hits with MGM Theatre of the Air adapting old MGM movies as a sort of low-budget answer to The Lux Radio Theatre, and then it took its short film series, Crime Does Not Pay, and turned that into a radio series. It had Ann Sothern reprise her role in the ten Maisie films in The Adventures of Maisie. Lew Ayers and Lionel Barrymore were invited to pick up their stethoscopes and play their parts from the Dr. Kildare series. And to bring us to our subject, Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone, and Fay Holden were invited to bring the Hardy Family of fifteen films to radio.

The Hardy Family first appeared in a 1928 play called Skidding, which was adapted to film in 1937, A Family Affair, and featured sixteen-year-old Mickey Rooney as Andy Hardy, with his father played by Barrymore. It was decided to make a series centered around the Hardy family, with Stone cast to play Judge Hardy and Fay Holden to play his wife Emily. The series was popular, although the one public domain entry and final film, “Love Laughs at Andy Hardy” may be the best-known to non-fans. The series follows Hardy as he grows up and goes through the pangs of life and young adulthood and all the various misadventures that happen along the way.

Of all the major film tie-ins, this is probably the one that has fared worst in terms of serving episodes and quality of recordings, although they’re still listenable. There were likely 78 episodes made, but there are maybe a dozen that you could collect from various websites. The Internet Archive has a decent sample of what’s out there. In reducing Hardy’s adventures from feature-length films to half hour radio programs, the result is much more typical sitcom fare. The radio series didn’t feature the film character of Aunt Milly, and while some lost episodes might mention her, it appears that Andy Hardy’s sister went the way of Chuck Cunningham, as all dialogue seems to indicate that Andy is an only child.

Most of the episodes center on something happening to Andy which he views as magnificently stupendous and the most amazing thing to ever happen to anyone. Invariably it’s not, and there’s no chance for it to be. And the comedy ultimately centers on his over-the-top expectations and imagination meeting reality.

This is a series where the scripts are decent, but nothing amazing. What ultimately makes the series are the performances. Mickey Rooney brought massive, manic energy to the role. These stories had to be faced and he powered through each episode with one of the most energetic performances you’ll ever hear. Fay Holden plays Emily Hardy with a sort of eccentricity that’s reminiscent of a more low-key Gracie Allen. Lewis Stone’s Judge Hardy is a calm voice of reason that brings balance to the stories. With their work in film, they play off each other beautifully.

The series lacks a lot of the heart of films, which included some moments that brought heart and sentiment that the radio series lacks. But it also doesn’t undermine the films. If you want a decent sitcom with a talented cast who gives each script their all, or if you’re a fan of the Andy Hardy films, this series is worth checking out.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5

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