Radio Boxing Champs and Prize Fighters in Old Time Radio

(This blog post is inspired by listening to the Boxers Champions and Prize Fighters old time radio shows.)

“In those days boxing was very glamorous and romantic. You listened to fights on the radio, and a good announcer made it seem like a contest between gladiators.”
-Joseph Barbera

The first events in the Ancient Grecian Olympics were pure running events, but it was not long before combat sports became a prominent part of the competition. Wrestling or grappling may be the earliest combat sport. The Grecian Olympics also included pankration, a competition with few rules, considered to be the root of modern Mixed Martial Arts. However, the purest of the combat sports was boxing.

While the other forms of combat sport may have a closer resemblance to actual combat as seen in warfare, boxing is a purely athletic competition. It is a competition of strength, skill, stamina, and even intelligence, but it is also a test of bravery. Although victory may be determined by points, or on rare occasions by submission, the goal of boxing is to knock your opponent out. Boxing is often criticized as the only sport where the object is to injure your competitor. This attitude discounts the heart and the sacrifice required to rise through the competition in order to reach the championship levels of boxing.

Although on the surface boxing seems to be an exercise where the competitors stand toe to toe and do their best to injure one another, boxing requires a lifetime of dedication and sacrifice. Success in boxing depends on being better trained and in better condition than your opponent. A boxer who is not willing to rise early to get in his road work, before spending long hours in the gym developing his strength and skills, will find himself doomed to embarrassing defeat.

Although largely sanitized for the modern “Pay for View” cable television spectacle, boxing has often been considered to be an unsavory pursuit and those involved in the boxing world were decidedly the sort to be found on the wrong side of the tracks. Far removed from the aerobic dance studio atmosphere of a modern gym, boxing gyms were usually in the rough part of town. They were smelly places, the air heavy with the stench of sweat, liniment, tobacco, and pain. Not that this was particularly disturbing to the boxers themselves. Their only goal was to become stronger and better skilled so that they could perform better in their next bout.

The themes of sacrifice, pain, suffering, and often desperation make boxing an incredible tool for drama. Common boxing dramatic themes include the contender who works hard for a shot at the title, the down on his luck fighter who goes on despite his injuries and the danger, and the fighter tempted to sacrifice his honor by cheating and throwing a fight. The theme of throwing the fight can be particularly poignant. Given the amount of work and sacrifice it takes for a fighter to ready himself for a bout, the thought of throwing it all away for money, while tempting, can be soul shattering.

Radio comics often lampoon the sacrifice, pain, and especially the bravery required to be a boxer. Usually this is meant with no disrespect for boxers; rather it plays up the “Mr. Chicken” element of the comedian. Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, Lou Holtz, and Red Skelton all played this up.

The “wrong side of the tracks” element makes boxing themes a natural with the hard boiled and noir elements of many radio detective programs. The Saint and Philo Vance took a more refined view of “the sweet science”, while Frank Race, Nick Carter and Philip Marlow tended to stay on the grittier side of the ring. The drama of boxing is terrific inspiration for the Movies, and we have several examples from Lux Radio Theater, Movie Town Radio Theater and Screen Guild Theatre.

As dramatic as the fight game can be in fiction, it pales next to the real thing, and included in the collection are a number of historic fights as well as a selection of the weekly Pabst Blue Ribbon Bouts.

For more listening see the old time radio collection:

Grantland Rice
Boxing, Champs,
and Prizefighters

National Ventriloquist Week, July 18- 21, 2012

We can’t say for sure if it was authorized by an Act of Congress, or by a Presidential Directive. But who ever had the authority to declare National Ventriloquism Week, we would like to lend our whole hearted support!
David Letterman’s Late Show has done a lot to promote the art of Ventriloquism by featuring Ventriloquist Weeks at various times, but these efforts don’t seem to be coordinated with the July celebration. The National week is coordinated with the Vent Haven Museum. Cincinnati industrialist William Shakespeare Berger began collecting Ventriloquist Dummies as a hobby during a business trip to New York in 1910. In time the collection would outgrow his house, his garage, and even the extra building he erected on his property to house it!

W.S. managed to outlive his heirs, and so made arrangements for his estate to support the Vent Haven Museum, the only museum in the world dedicated to the art of Ventriloquism. During the 1940’s until 1960 Berger was active in the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists, and for many years published “The Oracle”, a monthly magazine dedicated to the ventriloquist community. In 1973 the third building housing the Vent Haven collection was opened in a suburb of Cincinnati. Edgar Bergen and and Jimmy Nelson were among the performers at the dedication.

The Museum also sponsors an annual ConVENTion for Ventriloquists; the 2012 will be the first year the ConVENTion will be held at a new facility, the Marriott Airport Hotel and Conference Center in Hebron, KY.

Old Radio Shows salute the participants of this years convention, and would like to remind them that we still don’t see Edgar Bergen’s lips move on the Radio!

For more ventriloquists in old time radio, see:

Old Time Radio Summer Replacement Shows

In the golden age of radio, most big time radio shows took a seasonal hiatus and the networks filled in with Summer Replacement radio shows.

Most of the big shows were driven by the stars. The best shows were put together with a very talented supporting cast who made the star look good, but to a greater or lesser extent, it was the star that people tuned in to hear. So what the star wanted, usually the star got, if he or she could get the sponsor to go for it! One thing that the stars often demanded, and usually got, in their contracts, was a long summer break from production.

For those of us raised on television, the answer seems simple; summer was the reason repeats were invented. During the radio era, the networks were less enthusiastic about broadcasting recorded material. The disc jockey who played recorded music did not even appear on the scene until late in the radio era. AFRS was a notable exception; most of their material was recorded on vinyl, and sent to an installation near where the troops were serving.

Which still left the networks and sponsors with the problem of having to fill empty air time when the stars, and essentially the whole program, out of town for the summer. The answer was to come up with new programs. The networks expected that listenership would be down in the summer months, so there was little reason to put a lot of effort into creating the most high quality programing they could turn out. However, the writers and producers who were tasked with creating the replacement shows knew that this could be a chance toward lasting success.

This led to a happy situation for many programs where the summer replacement became nearly as popular as the regular season offering that would be coming back to take over the time slot. Some regular shows were such powerhouses in their time slots that the summer replacement series had was nearly assured success. In different years, Lux Radio Theater was replaced by Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater, The Man Called X, and Escape. Famous shows that filled Bob Hope‘s time slot included A Date With Judy, Philip Marlowe, and Martin and Lewis. Amos ‘n’ Andy had a few hit replacements, including Boston Blackie and Doris Day. The Great Gildersleeve was replaced by another family sit com, Archie Andrews, in 1949, and in various years, Jack Benny was replaced by the Aldrich Family, Jack Paar, and December Bride. Other popular series that started as Summer Replacements include Dangerous Assignment (replacing Man Called X, itself a replacement), Pete Kelly’s Blues, Hawk Durango and Quiz Kids.

See this extensive chart of summer replacement shows for more details!

The sunny days of summer are a great time to load a few great old time radio shows into your MP3 player to enjoy while you take advantage of the longer daylight hours.

Good Night Andy Griffith

Andy Griffth’s career was based on characters that were in some degree a light-hearted parody of himself. Born in North Carolina, Griffith’s parents were so poor that Andy didn’t have a crib or bed and for some time slept in a dresser drawer. When he entered school, Andy was very much aware that he was from the wrong side of the tracks, and there for a shy student. He overcame this when he learned to make his classmates laugh.

In high school, he developed a love of the arts and music and was offered a part in the annual production of The Lost Colony on Roanoke Island. Andy appeared in the play for seven years in various roles. He began college studying to become a preacher, but soon changed his major to music. After graduation, he taught music and drama at Goldsboro High School (among his students was Carl Kesssel, newscaster and personality on NPR).

While teaching, Griffith began writing and performing as a monologist. One of his monologues, “What It Was, Was Football”, was recorded and released as a single. Billed as “Deacon Andy Griffith”, the monologue was the story of a simple country preacher who got caught in the crowd and swept into the stands of a college football game. The game and its quirks are completely foriegn to the narrator, especially “the awfullest fight I have ever seen… in my life!” Deacon Andy Griffth was a guest on Jimmy Dean’s Town and Country Time on AFRS, where the same countryboy character describes seeing the Swan Lake ballet.

The monologue recording caught the attention of Ira Levine in Hollywood, who was making a television adaptation of No Time For Sergeants for the United States Steel Hour. The teleplay was adapted for a Broadway production, and the play made into a movie, with Andy Griffith playing the lead in all three versions. On Broadway, the part of the corporal in charge of manual dexterity testing was played by Don Knotts, beginning a friendship that would last the rest fo the actors’ lives.

The success of No Time For Sergeants led to one of the television roles Griffith is best remembered for, Sheriff Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show. Sheriff Taylor was the town sage of the fictional town of Mayberry, NC. The program was well loved for eight seasons before Griffith bowed out to pursue other projects, including his own production company. One of the projects was a short lived Science Fiction series Salvage 1, the story of a junk dealer whose dream is to collect the junk left on the moon during the Apollo missions.

From 1988-1995 Griffith had the title role in the legal drama Matlock. It could be argued that the folksy country lawyer Ben Matlock, practicing in a very urban Atlanta, gained even more fans than Sheriff Andy Taylor.

A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6418 Hollywood Blvd honors Andy Griffith’s work in Television. Andy Griffith passed away at his home in Roanoke, NC, on Jul 3, 2012.

Good Night Andy Griffith.

Here is a rare Andy Griffith appearance on Town & Country Time (his jokes begin at 4:28):
http://www.otrcat.net/otr6/Town-And-Country-Time-95-Here-We-Are-Weve-Gone-Too-Far-OTRCAT.com.mp3

Patriotic Old Time Radio Radio: Comedies

Patriotism is an essentially happy situation, so why shouldn’t comedy be a part of a Patriotic Old Time Radio Collection?

No one needed a laugh as much as the Troops during WWII, and AFRS with their Command Performance. GI’s could write in requesting the acts and situations they wanted to hear, but the A-List Talent that was working on the program always made it a point to keep things light and amusing. The humor was sometimes military related, but always high quality. The Hollywood stars that appeared on Command Performance worked without pay in support of the War Effort. Of course appearing on the show was never bad for anyones public relations. Most of the stars seemed to genuinely enjoy working the program, and would reschedule other commitments to appear. We have included episodes featuring Bob Hope, Harpo Marx, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, Ann Miller tap dancing in Combat Boots, Jerry Colonna, and Clark Gable.

Situation Comedy characters can be just as patriotic as anyone else. The Great Gildersleeve is in this collection, taking care of his family as usual, but also reminding us of the old fashioned Fourth of July Picnic. Henry Aldrich is trying to sell Christmas Cards in June so that he can buy a War Bond in The Aldrich Family. Eve Arden has a combination of money and romantic troubles in Our Miss Brooks. And Lucille Ball is her usual hilarious self in My Favorite Husband.

Fibber McGee and Molly were always funny and a comfort during some of the nation’s darkest times. The program began during the Great Depression, when Americans definitely needed something to laugh at. Although the situations the couple found themselves in were a bit far out, the fact that they were typical Americans helped bring them into the hearts of the Nation. The episodes in this collection are from the WWII years, and most are examples of the show bringing some sort of message approved by the Office of War Information.

The Patriotic Old Time Radio Collection is filled with thoughtful and inspiring programs. But there is plenty of room for us, as good Americans, to take some time for a healthy laugh.