The history of the Let’s Pretend children’s radio show began several years prior to its premier in 1934. Let’s Pretend followed a format that was developed in 1928 for Aunt Jymmie and Her Tots in Tottyville. The radio program first aired on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) radio network on October 27, 1928. Each week, a group of young children entered a magical kingdom, where the fairly tale kings, queens, princes and princesses lived. Additional characters, such as witches, trolls, wizards and evil stepmothers appeared as necessary, in particular stories. Aunt Jymmie and Her Tots in Tottyville ended on February 28, 1929, when it was replaced with The Children’s Club Hour.
The Children’s Club Hour, actually a weekly series of 30-minute episodes was first broadcast on March 2, 1929. Hosted by Howard Merrill, the format continued to focus on fairy tales; however, adolescents and preteens took over the roles that were previously played by the younger cast members of Aunt Jymmie and Her Tots in Tottyville. Lasting only a little over a year, The Children’s Club Hour ended with its last broadcast on Jun 22, 1929. Host, Howard Merrill went on to find success as a writer for Abbott Mysteries, Secret Missions and Sherlock Holmes, among others.
The time slot was passed on to Estelle Levy and Patricia Ryan, who with writer, Yolanda Langworthy created The Adventures of Helen and Mary. This children’s show aired June 22, 1929. In December of 1931, the program was changed once again and Levy and Ryan took on the acting roles of the newly created Land O’Make Believe, until it ended on March 17, 1934.
In 1934, CBS approached former vaudeville performer, pianist and actress, Nila Mack. After the sudden death of her husband, who was on business in California, Mack left New York to return to her childhood home in Arkansas City, Kansas to take care of her ailing mother. She became program director for the CBS Arkansas City radio station, where she was put in charge of a children’s show.
Let’s Pretend was born the same year, under the direction of Nila Mack. Each episode began with a tune or word from its sponsor, Cream of Wheat. Following the advertisement, Uncle Bill Adams would greet the audience with “Hello Pretenders.” Mack created a show that would present one complete story in an episode. She did not believe children should wait a week to hear the conclusion. Along with announcers George Bryan and Jackson Wheeler, the show employed a group of young actors to portray the storybook characters. Some of the regular child actors included Sybil Trent, Arthur Anderson, Jack Grimes, Miriam Wolfe, Gwen Davies and Michael O’Day. Arthur Anderson stayed with the show until it ended. He also wrote Let’s Pretend and the Golden Age of Radio, which was published in 2004.
During its long run, Let’s Pretend garnered two Peabody Awards, the Women’s National Radio Committee Award and five Radio Daily Awards. In 1953, Nila Mack suffered a fatal heart attack and Jean Hight took over as director. After broadcasting for nearly 20 years, Let’s Pretend aired for the last time on October 23, 1954.
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