Old Time Radio Thursdays – #005: Bold Venture (1951-1952)

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. Old Time Radio Thursdays is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

Bold Venture! Adventure! Intrigue! Mystery! Romance! Starring Humphrey Bogart! And Lauren Bacall! Together in the sultry setting of tropical Havana and the mysterious islands of the Caribbean. Bold Venture! Once again, the magic names of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall bring you Bold Venture and a tale of mystery and intrigue…

51-04-10-Storz-Beer-spot-adHumphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall together on the radio? In a weekly dramatic adventure show? Set in the Caribbean? Yep, that’s exactly what Bold Venture promised, and that’s exactly what it delivered.

1951 had to have been a busy year for one of Hollywood’s most popular couples. Bacall was pregnant with the couple’s second child, and they would soon be off to “deepest darkest Africa” where Bogie would be filming his Academy Award winning turn as Charlie Allnut in The African Queen. Nonetheless, the couple managed to record 30 episodes of the radio show before their departure, and supposedly another 48 upon their return.

Bold Venture is the story of Slate Shannon (Bogart), who runs a hotel and fishing boat rental service in Havana and his “ward”/sidekick/possible love interest Gail “Sailor” Duval (Bacall) as they scrape and scrap their way through stories involving everything from spies to lost love. The setting obviously was designed explicitly for the couple, as “Shannon’s Place” might just as well be “Rick’s Cafe” from Casablanca, and the fishing boat set-up is obviously a combination of To Have and Have Not and Key Largo.

1-bold-ventureIn reality, however, the show probably could have been set almost anywhere, because the real draw for listeners, and the real appeal, is obviously the interaction between the two stars, and in that aspect the show definitely doesn’t disappoint. The natural chemistry between the two shines through, even when the scripts are on the weak side or when the plot becomes somewhat muddled. This is definitely a show where the leads were able to bring even a mediocre script – and there were, unfortunately, more than one of those, though when the writing shines, it really does shine – to a much higher level. Which is exactly what one would expect from stars of this calibre and level of intimacy.

Speaking of stars, special note also has to go out to supporting actor Jester Hairston who played “King” Moses on the show. If Bogart was reprising Rick Blaine, then King was his Sam, and one of the more intriguing aspects of the show was that after the first commercial break, King would provide the listener with an up-to-this-point plot summary in the form of a calypso verse, which was an interesting way to play up the Cuban setting even when the script really didn’t otherwise call for or allow much reference to the island nation.

One thing that you may have noticed earlier when I noted the number of episodes recorded before and after the shooting of The African Queen is that I said “supposedly another 48 upon their return”. Bold Venture is what was known as a syndicated series, meaning that rather than going out live, the episodes would be recorded before hand and then sent out (usually on lacquer disks) to the local stations who would then slot them into their schedules with local sponsors buying individual spots. Unfortunately, this has led to some confusion over just how many episodes were actually produced, the sequence they were aired in, the dates they would have originally aired, and even the titles given to the episodes. This is unfortunately the case with many radio shows of the period, especially since the disks themselves were often supposed to be destroyed after their broadcast – remember, this was a time when there was no secondary market for these programs, and there was no value seen in the shows beyond their initial broadcast.

Humphrey-Bogart-Lauren-Bacall-1This has led to the unfortunate situation where many of these early radio shows are simply lost to our generation, and many of the ones that do survive exist only in the form of recordings made of the actual on-air broadcasts by enthusiasts who would set up tape machines to capture their favorite shows. Also it means that those trying to research these shows often have to piece together snippets of information or advertisements from various newspapers or magazines in order to try to make some sense of exactly which shows do still exist and other information about them.

In the specific case of Bold Venture, the syndicator’s records indicate that a total of 78 shows were recorded, but of those only 57 have been verified to still exist and are “in circulation” – meaning they are available to collectors and/or listeners. There may very well be more recordings out there, but if so, they are either in the hands of private collectors or may even simply be sitting on a shelf without the owner even realizing the treasure they have.

This is, of course, yet another thing that these old radio shows have in common with early films and television shows.

Anyway, we fortunately do have those 57 shows available to listen to, and the full collection of them can be found here.

And now, once again, I invite you to sit back, close your eyes, and let the magic of Bogart, Bacall, and Old Time Radio take you on your own Bold Venture.

As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip into radio’s past, and today’s focus on Bold Venture. Next week? Well, next week we’ll take a look at one of Hollywood’s most notable horror icons as he steps into a much more… “saintly” role.

Old Time Radio Thursdays – #004: The Abbott and Costello Show (1942-1949)

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. Old Time Radio Thursdays is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

Abbott-Costello-Ad-47-04-27-tbI know I said (or at least hinted) last week that I’d be looking this week at a completely different show, but, inspired by this past weekend’s posts about Abbott and Costello’s movies, I figured I’d go ahead and take a look at the boys’ long running radio show.

Bud and Lou first appeared on the radio in 1938 as guests on The Kate Smith Hour. They wound up getting a regular slot on the show, where they stayed for two years before eventually being given their own show, which was intended as a summer replacement for the Fred Allen Show. Once that show had run its course, the boys moved to The Chase and Sanborn Hour, where they appeared alongside Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Finally, in 1942, Camel cigarettes agreed to sponsor a regular show starring the duo, and on October 9, 1942, The Abbott and Costello Show had its premiere.

Like most comedy shows of the time, the Abbot and Costello Show featured various setups each week which were basically reasons either for the pair to break into variations on their vaudeville routines or to showcase the talents of their guest stars; however unlike many other shows on the air, there was much less reliance on bringing in other stars. Instead, the show built up a fairly regular repertory company who would perform as various characters (some regular, others not) as needed. Also, the show would feature musical interludes performed by a variety of vocalists accompanied by an in-house orchestra which had a number of leaders through the years.

abbott_costello-d00c552a9c6932be43e89b39f44d0b50e3b6aa7a-s2To be honest, though, unlike a program such as The Jack Benny Program, which was much more of an ensemble show, there was no doubt who the stars of this show were, and with the quick wit and fast-paced word play that were a trademark of Abbott and Costello comedy (let’s be honest, as soon as you mention A&C to most people, the first thing that’s going to come to mind, assuming they know who the duo are in the first place, is likely to be “Who’s On First”), they were easily able to hold the focus both of the in-studio audience, and the much larger one listening at home.

The show lasted until 1949, and not long thereafter, the boys began development on a weekly series for television which would premiere in 1951.

Okay, that’s enough words from me. Now here are some from the duo themselves. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s The Abbott and Costello Show!

As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip into radio’s past, and today’s focus on The Abbott and Costello Show. And next week… well, next week we’ll actually be taking a look at another famous, though very (VERY!) different Hollywood duo who we’ll find striking out on a very Bold Venture.

Old Time Radio Thursdays – #003: The Mercury Theater On The Air (1938)

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. Old Time Radio Thursdays is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

So last week we looked at The Lone Ranger, one of the longest-running series to air during what is known as The Golden Age of Radio, and this week we move to a series that had a considerably shorter life span, but has had perhaps at least as much cultural impact – or at least one of its episodes did.

orson_welles-radioThe Mercury Theater On The Air actually began its life as First Person Singular. The series was created as a showcase for Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater troupe, and featured adaptations of classic works of literature. Welles, of course, played the lead in each show, and often also portrayed other characters as well. This was often the case with a radio show like this, where one actor would portray more than one character, since, as long as the voice was different, the listening audience would readily accept the illusion, if they were even aware of it.

The show is what was known as a “sustained” series, meaning it was carried and payed for by the network, in this case CBS, without a sponsor and without commercials. This was often done in early radio, when the network would want to go ahead and give a show a tryout, in hopes that they could attract a lucrative sponsor. In the case of the Mercury Theater, the show was given an initial 13 episode run. The first show was broadcast on July 11, 1938, and starred Welles in the title role of “Dracula”.

Other early shows included adaptations of “Treasure Island“, “A Tale of Two Cities“, “The Count of Monte Cristo“, and” Julius Caesar“.

Of course, it’s not those shows, good as they are, that made the series so famous that it is even today the stuff of radio legend. No, that can be pinned down to one episode in particular, the show that “panicked a nation”. The night was October 30, 1938, the night before Halloween, and as a nation tuned in to CBS, they heard…

Much has been written about that broadcast, and many theories have been presented as to the actual reasons for the “panic” and just how great it was. That’s all information that can easily be found elsewhere, and it was even dramatized on a 1957 episode of Westinghouse Playhouse One which is notable in itself for appearances by Alexander Scourby, Ed Asner , Warren Oates., John Astin. and James Coburn (making his television debut).

Two things, however, can’t be denied. The “War of the Worlds” episode made a star of the young Welles, and it got the program a sponsor. The week after the initial 13 episode run concluded (with an adaptation of Thorton Wilder’s “The Bridge of San Luis Rey”), it returned as The Campbell Playhouse, sponsored by Campbell Soups, and would run under that title for another three years.

That, however, is another show for another day. For now, I’ll just leave you with some of the other adaptations that were done under the Mercury Theater banner. Enjoy!

First up, John Buchan’s “The 39 Steps” (yes, this is the same story that Alfred Hitchcock had turned into a film in 1935.)

Next, here’s “The Count of Monte Cristo”:

“The Man Who Was Thursday” by G.K. Chesterton

And finally, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” in which Welles plays both the adult Jim Hawkins and the famous pirate Long John Silver.

As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip into radio’s past, and will come back next week when a famous Hollywood Duo will strike out on a very Bold Venture.

Old Time Radio Thursdays – #002: The Lone Ranger (1933-1954)

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. Old Time Radio Thursdays is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

KODA-AM Lone Ranger ad2,956 episodes. Just think about that number for a moment. 2956 episodes. That’s how many installments of the Lone Ranger radio series there were during its run from January 30, 1933 until its last original broadcast on September 3rd, 1954. And yet I’d be willing to bet that most of the people who will be flocking into theaters this weekend to see the latest big-budget blockbuster version of the story have no idea that the character that they are going to see actually was created for the radio,, much less have ever listened to any of those episodes.

And that’s a shame, because if they had, they would understand just how over-blown and bloated the movie they are going to see actually is. In less that 30 minutes listeners would get enough information on the setting, situation, characters, and story to know exactly what was going on, then they would be given a story with a real beginning, middle, and end. Sure, most of the episodes followed a pretty strict pattern or formula, but when you’re churning out that many stories day after day and week after week, well, that becomes rather inevitable.

Then again, it’s also how you take a character and make him an icon.

lonerangerThere is some dispute over just exactly who deserves the most credit for the creation of the character. Some say credit should go to George W. Trendle, who was the owner of Detroit radio station WXYZ where the show first aired, while others say that Fran Striker, who was the show’s main writer deserves the larger portion. Either way, together they definitely created a character who made a lasting impact and, through various incarnations on the radio, television, and film has largely remained the same. (Well, until today, anyway, when everything has to be “re-imagined” because this generation of movie makers and storytellers knows so much better than those who came before and studios simply do not trust their audiences to fall in love with characters the way that older generations did, opting instead to trade the basic character of those creations for because-we-can spectacle.)

Striker even created a moral code for the character which was to serve as a guideline for how he should be portrayed. In his own words, the code states:

I believe…

  • that to have a friend, a man must be one.
  • that all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world.
  • that God put the firewood there, but that every man must gather and light it himself.
  • in being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for that which is right.
  • that a man should make the most of what equipment he has.
  • that ‘this government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ shall live always.
  • that men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number.
  • that sooner or later…somewhere…somehow…we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken.
  • that all things change but truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever.
  • in my Creator, my country, my fellow man.

loneranger3Anyway, the show was an immediate hit for its home radio station, and it was quickly picked up by the Mutual Broadcast System, then later for what was known as the NBC Blue/ABC radio network. (I’ll have more information as we go along about the various broadcast networks and how all of that worked.)

Okay, I think that’s probably enough words from me on the topic and it’s time to actually get down to listening to some episodes. After all, that’s why you’re really here, right? As I noted above, there are almost 3,000 episodes to choose from, but unfortunately very few of them are available to embed from YouTube most likely because of various copyright claims. Still there are enough to give you a good taste of what the show was like, and most of the episodes do actually still exist in one form or another. (Actually, for a really good selection of episodes, I suggest beginning here.)  So once again, I invite you to join me in leaning back, maybe closing your eyes, and returning to, as the man says “those thrilling days of yesteryear, when from out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!”

And, just because, here are a couple of video bonuses:

First, for those who want to know even more about the Lone Ranger radio show than what I’ve presented above, here’s a nearly hour long video  from the July 8, 2011 meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Old Time Radio Club and featuring Mark Bush. More info on the club can be found at the YouTube link.

And finally, here’s the TV version of the character from the first episode of the long running television show.

So, I hope you’ve enjoyed this look back to the real origins of the Masked Rider of the Plains and one of the longest-running radio shows of all time. And if you have any particular memories of other radio shows, or any favorites, please let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Old Time Radio Thursdays – #001: An Introduction

No real long-winded introduction today. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day.

 People gathered around to listen to the radio in the 1920s and '30s CREDIT: French, Herbert E., photographer. "Atwater Kent, Standing By Radio, and Seven Other People Listening to the Radio." National Photo Company, between 1920 and 1930. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

People gathered around to listen to the radio in the 1920s and ’30s
CREDIT: French, Herbert E., photographer. “Atwater Kent, Standing By Radio, and Seven Other People Listening to the Radio.” National Photo Company, between 1920 and 1930. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

These shows encompassed many different genres, including drama, adventure, comedy, science fiction, westerns, soap operas, sports… basically it was the television of its day. Before, that is, television (network television at least) became overrun mostly by unreality tv and CSI clones.

So why am I writing about old radio shows on what is ostensibly a blog about movies? Well, two reasons really. First of all, I have an affinity to these shows that dates back to my childhood when my father collected these shows on cassette tapes that he would either purchase or trade with other collectors, and secondly, many of these shows had definite connections to Hollywood. Many of them would simply adapt popular movies for radio audiences, others would feature or even star Hollywood performers.

Anyway, I said I was going to try not to be too long-winded with this introduction, so for now I’m going to stop there, and let the shows begin speaking for themselves. For this first installment, I’m simply going to give you a variety of different shows to help those unfamiliar with the whole concept get a taste of what I’m talking about. Then, in weeks to come, I’ll feature a specific show and talk more about it and its Hollywood connections, and hopefully. over time, some of you will come to enjoy these shows as much as I do.

Plus, who knows, we might even find some connections between these shows and current movies, too. (As a matter of fact, I know we will.)

For now, though, just sit back, relax, maybe close your eyes, and let the magic of radio transport you back to an earlier time…

(By the way, just a quick note… you’ll notice varying quality on some of these recordings. While many of them are taken from transcription records that would be sent to various stations for playing at the appropriate time, others were simply recorded from the actual broadcasts by listeners who had set up (most likely) reel-to-reel tape machines to capture the broadcasts, and it is from those amateur recordings that the only known copies of those shows still exist. Hopefully, however, these quality variences won’t take away too much from your enjoyment of the shows themselves.)

 

This last one is actually from a later period, and is a show that I actually grew up listening to. Locally it was broadcast at 9pm on our CBS affiliate, so I got to lie in bed and listen to it each weeknight before nodding off to sleep. One of the interesting things about going back and listening to these today is that many of them, this one included, also include the original commercials and news broadcasts that would round out the hour of programming, and since this one, for instance, was first broadcast in 1974, the news often included coverage of the developing scandal which would become known as Watergate. Just keep listening through the commercials at the end, and you can hear how radio was reporting the latest news coming from the Nixon White House as more facts were coming to light.

(Oh, and yes, there are some definite movie connections in this story also, as you’ll see. Or should I say, as you’ll hear?)

Well, I hope that’s given you at least a taste of what’s to come as we explore the connections between Old Time Radio and the cinema, and be sure to check back next week as we focus in more closely on one of these great shows. And if you have any particular memories of radio shows, or any favorites, or if any of these caught your attention and you want to hear more, please let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.