Happy Birthday, Gale Gordon

On Feb 20, 2015, we celebrate the 109 birthday of the beloved character actor Gale Gordon.

gale gordonGale Gordon was born Charles T. Aldrich in New York in 1906, the son of vaudevillian Charles Aldrich and his English actress wife, Gloria Gordon. The couple took their one year old son to Great Britain where they worked on stage, and the boy spent the next eight years absorbing the English reserve that would define his professional persona. Young Gordon underwent a delicate operation to repair a cleft palate while in England. The family returned to America when the boy was nine, settling in New York’s Forest Hill’s area. Gale returned to England to complete his education at the Woolbridge School in Suffolk at the age of 17.

Gale Gordon got his acting start in a 1923 Canadian production, working with stage and silent screen great Richard Bennett. To earn extra cash, Gordon also worked as Gale-Gordon-5Bennett’s dresser. The great actor must have seen potential in the young man, and he endeavored to teach Gordon the elements of acting and the craft of stage work. By 1925, Gordon found himself in Hollywood, taking what acting jobs he could find. In 1926,  he got a call to come to a studio to try his hand at a new thing called radio. “I sang and accompanied myself on ukelele. You might say I almost killed radio before it was born” Gordon later remembered.

By 1933, Gordon was the highest paid radio actor in Hollywood. He played the male lead on serials opposite Mary Pickford and Irene Rich. He appeared on most of the big shows on the air, from Lux Radio Theater to Stories From the Black Chamber. He even played the cockney-accented Inspector Lestrade opposite Basil Rathbone on Sherlock Holmes and was the first actor to play Flash Gordon.

Gordon met Virginia Curley while appearing on Death Valley Days in New York. The couple was married two days after Christmas in 1937. For at least the next twenty years, the 27th of each month was celebrated as an anniversary.

In 1941, Gordon appeared as Molly McGee’s former boy friend. The fit was so good that the part of Mayor LaTrivia was created for him, and Gordon became part of the Fibber McGee and Molly family for the next 12 years, with a break while he served in the Coast Guard. In 1948, Gordon landed the role of Principal Osgood Conklin on Eve Arden’s Our Miss Brooks, a role that would carry him into TV fame. The Conklin character was slightly refined to become banker Rudolph Atterbury on the Lucille Ball vehicle My Favorite Husband. galegordon2

Lucy and Gordon had been friends for a long time, first working together on Jack Haley’s Wonder Show in 1938-39. When My Favorite Husband made the move to TV as I Love Lucy, Gordon was Lucy’s first choice to fill the role of Fred Mertz. Gordon, however, remained committed to Miss Brooks and eventually moved to TV with the program.

On TV Gordon perfected his famous “slow burn” persona. He realized that his characters were funnier if he lost his temper by degrees rather than exploding all at once. Although his characters were full of bluster, in real life Gordon was a “pipe-smoking homebody”. In 1949, Gordon and wife Virginia bought a 150 acre ranch in Borrego Springs, 175 miles from the craziness of Hollywood. An incurable handyman, Gordon built the house himself and became one of the leading growers of carob beans in the US.

Gordon continued to have commitments on other shows, and was not able to become a regular part of a Lucille Ball TV show until the 1963-64 season of The Lucy Show. TheGale_Gordon_Jay_North_Dennis_the_Menace_boxing_1962 bombast between Gordon and Lucy became an important part of the red-head’s shows until they both “retired” from weekly TV in 1974, but their roles were recreated in annual specials for several years.

Of Lucy herself, Gordon commented “her attitude has never changed. Every show she did was the most important show of her life. And I think that is the secret of her success.”

The secret of Gale Gordon‘s success may have been to find roles he enjoyed, but mostly to enjoy life beyond the studio.

Happy Birthday Lucy: Lucille Ball turns 100 years old!

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August 6th, 2011, will be comedienne Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday and we had to celebrate this auspicious anniversary. For decades, when ever the term “comedienne” comes up, the first image that comes to mind is Lucy.

Born Lucille Desiree Ball to Henry and Desiree “Dee Dee” Ball in Jamestown, NY, Lucille learned about tragedy at an early age. Henry was a telephone lineman for Anaconda Copper, and when Lucille was three the family was moved to Anaconda, MT, and then to Wyandotte, MI. In 1915 Henry came down with scarlet fever and died. Dee Dee eventually remarried to Edward Peterson, who was less than enthusiastic about young children. As a result Lucille’s younger brother was sent to live with Dee Dee’s parents, and Lucy for a time stayed with Ed’s parents. The elder Peterson’s were a stern Swedish couple who took a low view of any type of frivolity. Lucy would later recall that all of the mirrors were removed from the house, except the one over the bathroom sink, and she was punished if she spent too much time admiring herself.

The one shiny spot for Lucille in Ed and Dee Dee’s marriage was Ed’s membership in the Shriners. The Lodge needed female entertainers for an upcoming show, and ed encouraged his step-daughter to audition. Lucille, who had been desperate for attention and approval, realized it could be found on stage.

At the Age of 15 Lucy convinced her mother to allow her to attend Drama School in New York. She was found to be a “tongue-tied teenager” who nearly disappeared in the shadow of her class-mate, Bette Davis. Eventually the school wrote to Dee Dee that “Lucy’s wasting her time and ours.” Determined to prove her teachers wrong, Lucy stayed on in New York, and by 1927, using the stage name “Diane Belmont”, she found some success as a model, first for fashion designer Hattie Carnegie, and later with Chesterfield Cigarettes.

By the early 1930’s she had dyed her chestnut hair blond and moved to Hollywood. In Tinsel-Town she picked up a reputation as “Queen of the B’s” for her many roles in less than serious movies. She did appear in a couple of Fred AstaireGinger Rogers film, and was eventually cast with Rogers, who was a distant cousin, in 1937’s Stage Door, along with Katherine Hepburn.

Like amny starlets, Lucy did some radio work to help make ends meet. In 1937 she was a regular on The Phil Baker Show, and during the 1938 season she appeared many times on The Wonder Show, starring Jack Haley. It was on The Wonder Show that she struck up a life long friendship with the programs announcer, Gale Gordon.

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Lucille appeared in a couple of less than memorable films in 1940, including Dance, Girl, Dance and Too Many Girls. What made the films memorable for Lucy were the small parts in each for a Cuban Band leader, Desi Arnaz. The couple eloped in 1940.

Desi was drafted in 1942, but classified for limited service because of a knee injury. That meant he spent most of the war in LA, organizing and performing USO Shows. Lucy was a favorite guest on AFRS’s Mail Call, Command Performance, and GI Journal.

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In 1948 Lucy began work on the radio series My Favorite Husband, costarring Richard Denning. Early in the run the stories were about a prominent banker and his socially prominent wife, but as the series evolved they evolved into a middle-class couple who would appeal to a more diverse audience.

http://www.otrcat.net/otr6/My-Favorite-Husband-490218-032-Secretary-School-OTRCAT.com.mp3

My Favorite Husband was a big neough success that CBS was sure it would work on television. The problem was that Lucy refused to work on a Husband and Wife TV show without her real husband, and CBS was sure American audiences would never accept a Cuban-American couple coming into their living rooms. So Lucy and Desi took the concept on the road; Lucy playing the part of a housewife trying to perform with Desi’s band. Audiences loved the concept, and CBS welcomed I Love Lucy into their line-up. (The program also help to salvage the marriage, which had been strained by two show-biz careers with wildly divergent schedules.)

Lucille Ball is honored with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6436 Hollywood Blvd for her work in Motion Pictures, and another for her Television Work at 6100 Hollywood Blvd.

Happy Birthday Lucille Ball!

Patriotic Radio, How Fibber Won the War

The wave of American Patriotism during the Second World War is a phenomenon that may seem foreign to modern audiences. But this genuine feeling of involvement in the War was nearly universal.

A good example of this is the popular program, Fibber McGee And Molly. Fibber and Molly were characters created by Jim and Marian Jordan, a couple who were in Vaudeville before coming to the radio. The success of their show was due not only to their terrific comedic showmanship, but the work of their very talented writer, Don Quinn. The program revolved around Fibber, a ?professional busy-body?, his loving and long suffering wife, and Fibber’s interactions with their neighbors. Quinn was a genius at working the sponsor’s message into comedy of the program, and thus guaranteed the program a long and successful run (1935-1959).

The first broadcast after the attack on Pearl Harbor (Dec 9, 1941) opens with a letter from the sponsor (S.C. Johnson Wax) expressing solidarity with the Nation in a time of crisis, and a promise that the show would continue in the name of National Morale.

Writer Quinn was incredibly successful at incorporating messages from the Office of War Information into the program. Even before Pearl Harbor the characters took time to collect games and books for the entertainment of soldiers at the local Army camp. Scrap drives were featured, along with subtle messages about the importance of rationing. The show had enough success spreading this home-front propaganda that they were given an ?exclusive? opportunity to plug recruitment for the Merchant Marine. The day following the broadcast was the busiest recruiting day experienced by the Merchant Marine Service.

The War touched the company on a personal level, just as it had for so many in the country. Gale Gordon, who played Mayor LaTrivia, was drafted near the end of 1943. although the character was usually left befuddled after his exchanges with Fibber, on his last show before leaving for the Coast Guard (when Gordon was drafted, naturally LaTrivia was as well) he managed to get in the last word:
“Well for heaven’s sake, McGee, stop your griping. You’re lucky you’ve got a car at all. Well, excuse me, McGee, but when I get over to Africa or Australia or wherever they send me, I’ll be thinking of you, McGee, and all you’re suffering… Goodbye, Mrs. McGee. I’ll see you when this is over…. And McGee, when you drive, if you get up to thirty-five miles an hour, think of somebody who didn’t get a lifeboat. Goodbye. [Exit LaTrivia under loud applause.]

http://www.otrcat.net/otr6/Fibber-450522-0441-Fibber-Is-In-Charge-Of-War-Bond-Concert.mp3

We are very proud to include Fibber McGee and Molly in our collection of examples of Patriotic Radio Programs.