The Hummert Radio Factory

Frank HummertHalf of all the advertising revenue generated by daytime programming in the 30s and 40s came from programs created by Anne and Frank Hummert.

Anne’s father believed that it was a waste of money to educate a girl, so she finances her own education as a College Correspondent for the Baltimore Sun. After her graduation her journalistic career took her to Paris where she married John Ashenhurst, who would at one time be the youngest editor of a major US daily newspaper. When the couple returned to the US and settled in Chicago Anne was unable to find work in journalism, so she took a position as assistant to advertising executive Frank Hummert. Anne quickly rose through the ranks of the ad agency and was made a vice president, with a salary of nearly $100,000 at the age of 28. Together Frank and Anne would make their mark in the new genre being developed by pioneer Irna Phillips, the Soap Opera.

Their first success would be Just Plain Bill, the continuing story of a barber who marries well above his station. Other successes quickly followed, many of which had very long runs. Mary Noble,Backstage Wife told the story of a small town girl who moves to the big city, falls in love and marries a prominent actor who is “the matinee idol of a million other women.” Deceit, jealousy, avarice and amnesia all become part of Mary’s life as she is forced to compete with the jezebels and hussies that have designs on her husband. Beginning in 1933, Ma Perkins would have a run of 27 years. Ma lived in the small town of Rushville Center. There her family owned a small lumber yard, which supported Ma’s family, but was also the center of many deceits as relatives and towns people tried to take advantage of Ma’s simple kindness. Early in the drama Ma was combative and spiteful, but through the years she became a kind hearted sage and the conscience of the community.
Ma PerkinsAfter working with Frank for five years, Anne’s marriage ended in divorce about the time Frank’s wife passed away. In 1935 they were married, apparently happily for their many years together, although Frank was two decades her senior. After marrying the moved to New York and began Air Features Inc, which would become a kind of factory for radio drama. Anne would write the concepts for their many shows, then the ideas would be turned over to “dialoguers” who would fill out the scripts. Frank had a talent for finding and keeping happy clients for their shows. Anne maintained an incredible work load, outlining all of the plot developments for their various programs. Through the McCarthy years it was noted that Air Features Inc refused to fire good writers who had been blacklisted.

In addition to their Daytime Soap Operas, the Hummerts produced a number of musical programs and Crime/Mystery shows. At one point their output had 18 separate serials on the air, 90 episodes a week.

The Hummert shows include Amanda of Honeymoon Hill, Judy and Jane, Little Orphan Annie, The American Album of Familiar Music, Young Widder Brown, Stella Dallas, Manhattan Merry Go Round, Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons, Frontpage Farrell, Inspector Thorne, The Romance of Helen Trent, Hearthstone of the Death Squad, and The American Melody Hour.

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3 Responses to The Hummert Radio Factory

  1. Burt Burdeen says:

    I have been teaching a short course at Columbia College, Chicago on GREAT VOICES IN RADIO. Thanks for all the info provided. I pass it all on to my students.
    I have an assignment to talk to a group of people ages 50 on about radio programming in the 20’s and 30’s. I hope you don’t mind if I use some of the information you have on the OTRCAT. I am hoping that they have a screen and projector, so I can show them some resources, etc. Have to prep for it in June.
    Thanks, again.

  2. Mike Newton says:

    Mary Jane Higby, star of the radio show “When A Girl Marries”, talks about the Hummerts in her autobiography, “Tune in Tomorrow.” Apparently Anne Hummert was a no-nonsense type of person who did not permit any levity about her programs. Higby tells the story of Hummert’s instructing her staff writers to write as if “God was on every page.” One writer commented, “Who do we get to play the part of God” and was summarily dismissed. Higby said that the Hummert scripts were easy to spot because they had dark purple covers and could be seen across the room.

  3. Doris Page says:

    What was the date of the Stella Dallas radio show where she was trapped in a snow covered cabin and the Canadian Mounties were just about there to rescue her?

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