Categories
Espionage Old Time Radio WWII

Top Secret, “The Admiral’s Strange Identity”

Ilona-Massey-hair-42Whether the role of lady spy Baroness Karin Geza in Top Secret was created for Ilona Massey, or if Miss Massey was created for the role is open for debate. There can be little argument that it was one of the most successful castings of early 50’s radio. Supposedly, the real-life inspiration for the Baroness Geza character was a “close friend” of Miss Massey’s who actually worked as a spy for the Allies during WWII and its aftermath. The scripts were adapted from stories the friend related to Massey.

Top Secret failed to gain sponsorship, and NBC was notorious for being unkind to sustained programs, especially when it came to scheduling. Listeners who may have wanted to follow the show would have found it difficult, because sustained programs were often bounced all over the weekly broadcast schedule.

In this second installment of Top Secret, the Allied spy masters intercept a transmission that the top Nazi Spy in New York Admiral Stroesser, has requested a female assistant with very specific height and weight requirements. Of course, it turns out that Baroness Geza meets the description, and she travels to New York in place of the German lady agent. Allied agents in New York know that Stroesser is readying his escape, and they would rather kill him than let him return to Germany with his secrets. The Baroness insists that it is too important to find out what those secrets are and takes her place as Stroesser’s assistant. She finds out that the reason for the particular size requirements are so that the Admiral can impersonate her after he is smuggled aboard a German liner in a coffin!

http://www.otrcat.net/otr6/Top-Secret-500618-E-02-Admirals-Strange-Identity-OTRCAT.com.mp3

Categories
Old Time Radio

Good Night Ruby Dee

ruby-dee2Actress Ruby Dee passed away quietly in her home in New Rochelle, NY, on June 11, 2014, surrounded by family. Praised for her contributions to stage, screen, radio and civil rights, Ms. Dee was 91.

Ruby was born in Cleveland in 1922, and raised in the Harlem, New York. Her father was a porter and her mother a school teacher. After graduating from Hunter College with a  degree in Romance Languages she apprenticed with the American Negro theater, working with Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte and Hilda Simms. She gained national attention for her role in the 1950 film The Jackie Robinson Story, and in 1965 she became the first black actress to perform in leading roles at the American Shakespearean Festival.

Ruby’s earliest existing radio appearances were on WMCA’s New World A’ Coming, in the story of the ANT and other African American stories which took place in New York City. With her acting career well established by the late 1950’s, she appeared on programs such as X Minus One and the CBS Radio Workshop. In the mid Seventies she made several appearances on the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. Although radio drama was thought to be a dying art form at the time, CBSRMT often showcased respected actors.

Ruby married blues singer Frankie Dee Brown in 1941 and they were divorced in 1945, although she continued to use his name on stage. She married actor Ossie Davis in 1948, and the marriage lasted until his death in 2005. The couple was well known for their work for the cause of civil rights and they were close friends to Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X.

Ruby was nominated for eight Emmy Awards, and won in 1990 for her role in the TV movie Decoration Day.  She and Ossie were awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1995 and were recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2004. In 2007, Ruby became the second oldest Academy Award nominee for Best Supporting Actress for her role in American Gangster.

Ruby Dee’s remains are to be cremated and her ashes will share the same urn as Ossie Davis. The urn will bear the inscription “In this thing together”.

Goodnight, Ruby Dee.

 

Categories
Big Band Musical Old Time Radio

Big Band and Swing Bands in Old Time Radio

bob crosby & margaret whiting with modernariesMusic has always been an indispensable element of radio broadcast. The station which would eventually become WHA, Wisconsin Public Radio, began its first music broadcasts as early as 1917. It is not surprising that we have a number of terrific music programs on the shelves here at OTRCat, which showcase a number of different musical styles. If we were to choose a single style of music to typify Old Time Radio, that style would have to be Big Band Jazz.

The origins of Jazz are muddied and complicated by both the passage of time and the fact that they were the result of many influences coming together. The most vital elements were the melding of the syncopated rhythms of Africa with the melodic traditions of European music.

When the slaves were freed after the Civil War it meant artistic freedom as well as economic. As more blacks sought fulfillment through artistic expression, they explored the remembered tribal rhythms, combining them with the melodicism and “square rhythms” of the European tradition. These musicians abandoned the “Oom-pah Oom-pah” styling from European courts and peasant villages.

rag timeThe newly freed musicians explored beats, melodies and harmonies that were more “ragged”. Ragtime musicians were among the first to achieve financial success from their music. Success brought imitation as well as innovation.

As troops demobilized in the port of New Orleans after the Spanish American War, several military bands dumped their instruments on the local market. Black musicians were quick to purchase these instruments, although they often had to teach themselves how to play. This self taught ethos fit well into ragtime improvisation, but the surplus brass and woodwind sounded best when played in conjunction with other instruments.

new orleans

The loose structure of Jazz needed some discipline to avoid becoming a caterwaul. Bands came together and “arranged” their music by rehearsing the pieces over and over again until they felt and sounded “right”. The membership of these bands changed regularly, sometimes weekly. Success depended upon musicians who could quickly fit in and bandleaders who could tame these disparate elements. This constant personnel change enforced the change which would become the hallmark of Jazz.

White musicians quickly became enthused about the artistic freedom and possibilities of Jazz. They also brought a measure of formality and discipline to Jazz, at least to the extent that Jazz could be formalized or disciplined. One of their greatest contributions  greater formality and structure in arrangements. This structure would be beneficial as the bands became popular through the magic of radio.

 Big Band Music popularity came in two distinct phases, both of which worked remarkably well for radio play. Beginning in the mid-twenties, Big Bands, typically 10-25 pieces, began to dominate popular music. This Sweet Jazz period was highly melodic, often quite danceable, but far too disciplined to truly be called Jazz. Some of the best surviving OTR examples from this period include, Live at the Mark Hopkins Hotel, and the Cocoanut Grove Ambassadors.

paul whiteman

The disciplined approach made for some terrific music, but the enthusiasm of jazzmen for their craft is hard to contain, especially as more instrumentalists became bandleaders. The clarinets of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet stand out as examples. Improvements in electronic technology also gave vocalists a chance to come to the fore. Even the strongest human voices strain to be heard over the volume of a band, but through amplification, crooners like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby could be heard in front of a swinging band, and pretty girl singers could be appreciated for more than their looks.

From the time it began to separate from Sweet Jazz, Swing was music for youth. There was little better than attending a concert performance of a favorite band, but if that was not possible, a dance party to records or even the radio would have been a welcome substitute. Like America itself, Swing Music “grew up” during WWII.

swing-dance-vintage

The War had a combination of effects on popular music. It concentrated some of its most ardent fans in troop camps and gave performers, both in and outside of the service, a ready and enthusiastic audience. Many bands experienced personnel shortages as players were drafted while those who held together found their popularity soaring. Big Band Swing became the de facto sound of the USO.

The War wasn’t all good for Swing Music. One of music’s most shining lights, Glenn Miller became a casualty of the War. Many bands folded when members joined the service. For most of the War, musicians were on strike against the recording industry. This gave even more importance to individual vocalists. Finally, listener tastes changed after the War.

Fortunately, the music lives on  thanks to the great recordings of Old Time Radio!