Old Time Radio

Where to Buy Old Time Radio Shows

Old Time Radio shows are more than simply historical audio artifacts. They are a high entertainment value. The stories and humor are timeless. Although they come from a supposedly “more innocent time”, the plots and stories you will hear in radio drama and situation comedies are still being used on TV sitcoms and dramas today.

One of the terrific things about getting into Old Time Radio, or OTR, is that it is a form of entertainment that can be enjoyed just about anywhere without interfering with what is going on in your world. Listening to a 50 year old or earlier radio program is not as current or high tech as enjoying the latest viral video. However, it is difficult to really enjoy a video while you are cleaning the house, fixing a meal, walking the dog or taking the kids to the park. You can even enjoy your OTR programs while driving. The half-hour or 15 minute format of these old programs make them an easy fit into a commute, shopping trip or a road trip. With a portable MP3 player, you can even enjoy your OTR while standing in line at the supermarket.

What sort of programming can you find when you get into OTR? Almost any type of program that you can see on television was first tried on the radio, so the variety is nearly endless. Many OTR enthusiasts keep a collection of comedy, mystery and dramas on hand.

A great way to get some extra smiles into your day is listening to Radio Comedies. The Situation Comedy follows basically the same formula we all know from TV. It is a miniature drama driven by characters that listeners come to know and love who find themselves in a new ridiculous situation in each episode. Great Radio Sitcoms include Life of Riley, Blondie, My Favorite Husband starring Lucille Ball, and The Great Gildersleeve.

Another comedy format, which was wildly popular during the Golden Age, was the Hosted Variety Program. These programs were originally built around some of Vaudeville’s best performers. Along with the host was an orchestra, usually a singer, and a cast of supporting players. Some of their routines may have been old fashioned, but they knew how to work an audience, both in person and on the air. Two of the best were Bob Hope and Jack Benny. Bob had a gift of connecting with his audience, which made him popular with the servicemen he loved and respected. Jack created a character who was nothing like himself in real life, but with all his supposed negative qualities, audiences loved him because he allowed himself to be the butt of the jokes.

Mysteries and crime dramas are fun listening because they ask the listener to solve a puzzle, and that puzzle is often murder! Crime shows are often divided into hard and soft boiled. Soft boiled detectives are usually more cerebral, looking for the clues to find out Whodunit. The hard boiled sort are more action packed with no-nonsense heroes who always get their man, and usually the pretty girl, as well!

Radio drama takes on many forms, from the daily “cry in your dishwater” world of the Soap Operas to retelling of historical events to horror and science fiction stories to Hollywood Movie plots adapted to the radio. Some of the great anthology programs like Suspense, Escape, General Electric Theater and NBC University dramatized great works of fiction for the radio audience. Cavalcade of America profiled real people and events with remarkably high production values. Shows like Lux Radio Theater, Academy Award Theater and Hollywood Star Time allowed folks who could not get to the movie house on a regular basis a way to enjoy Hollywood productions before the days of DVD or even VHS tapes!

Old Time Radio

Sam Spade on the Radio

You’ve heard the boast: America is the country that invented rock and roll; America invented jazz, the car, the Big Mac, baseball.?  It seems fair enough to add Sam Spade, and indeed, hard-boiled detectives to the list.?  That is, there’s something quintessentially American about the droll jokes, the world-weary attitude, the careful selection of haberdashery.?  The irascible man in the trench coat who didn’t like his boss and despised authority but was ultimately on the right team and knew a bad guy when he saw one.?  Perhaps all of this reflected the increasingly complex and frightening realities in a country that was increasingly industrialized, spread out, and urban. Americans had lost some innocence in World War I, and perhaps longed for heroes who could give them an unvarnished version of what they saw around them?

You probably know that Sam Spade was the product of the imagination of legendary author Dashiell Hammett.?  S-squared set up office in San Francisco in the 1930 novel The Maltese Falcon, which of course was brought to the silver screen with Humphrey Bogart starring.

Sam first came to life on the radio in the form of adaptations of Falcon, with examples being the Lux Radio Theater adaptation from February of ’43 and that of Academy Award Theater in 1946 (with the latter starring Bogey himself)

But his main incarnation was on the relatively long-running series The Adventures of Sam Spade, masterminded by entrenched producer William Spier.? 

There isn’t a major radio network that didn’t carry the show at one time or another: for ABC it was?  Jul-Oct, 1946; CBS, Sept. ’46-Sept. ’49; NBC, Oct. ’49-Apr. ’51.? ? 

Spier, the show’s creator and producer, had risen quickly through the CBS ranks to become the head of program development.?  In that capacity, he produced the acclaimed series Suspense.?  Moving to ABC, he developed for the airwaves The Adventures of Sam Spade.

William Spier

To play the title character, Spier brought in Howard Duff, a newcomer, freshly returned from service in the Air Force’s radio services.?  Duff had just a bit of theatre experience but was already developing something a tough-guy persona, which he filtered through a bit of sarcasm, helping to achieve a less serious approach than Falcon and other radio series focusing on detectives.? ? 

Lurene Tuttle was tapped for the all-important role of Sam’s secretary Effie Perrine, who took down Sam’s observations, which served as major support beams for each narrative. Unlike Duff, Tuttle was far from being a newcomer to the silver airwaves.?  She was quite the opposite, an overworked character actress who also appeared on The Great Gildersleeve and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.?  She would at some point in her career work on as many as fifteen shows concurrently, and would eventually be known as “The First Lady of Radio,” though she happened not to be radio’s only “first” lady, and probably not its last.

But while something in the free-wheeling nature of Spade suggests a frontier mentality native to America, the show’s fate would be affected by a part of this nation’s history of which not many are proud.?  The Communist hunt of the 1950’s had wide-ranging effects, and this program was not immune. First, Hammett, whose name was originally announced at the beginning of each episode, was swept into the dragnet of those seeking anti-American behavior.?  An anti-fascist from way back, Hammett was also a member of the Communist party. This brought him before the House Un-American Activities Committee, the major arm of McCarthy’s witch hunt. Just like we imagine Spade woulda, Hammett stood his ground and refused to implicate some of his cohorts, and this earned him some jail time for a contempt charge.

NBC, to no one’s surprise, had no interest in taking a political stand, and it dropped Hammett’s name from the show early in the writer’s persecution.? 

With, Duff, however, things weren’t so easy for the show’s producers.?  Duff was also far Left, and when he was outed as a sympathizer of the Hollywood Ten, a group of screenwriters and producers who refused to testify before HUAC, he lost his job as Sam Spade.?  He was entered onto some blacklists, though he did manage to continue acting in film.

Steven Dunne took over in 1950.?  Dunne was a blossoming talent, a just-known commodity, having played roles in the films Doll Face, Colonel Effigham’s Raid, and The Big Sombrero. ? He would go on to star in Professional Father and would appear in two of the late episodes of The Brady Bunch. Noted radio historian John Dunning referred to Dunne as “a boy-ish sounding Spade,” and it’s hard to find a source that gives rave reviews to the actor’s performance as the iconic detective.

The show’s last episode was “The Hail and Farewell Caper,” aired April 27, 1951.  Sam Spade is, of course, an enduring element of Americana, an exemplar of the hard-boiled detective.  The program goes down as one of the best-made detective shows, a cohesive package of acting, sound effects, production, writing and directing.

Old Time Radio

Steady Work: Paula Winslow in Old Time Radio

Paula Winslowe

There are stars in every industry, the CEOs who make the big decisions, the outstanding salespeople who convince new customers to buy and develop new markets for the product, the daring researchers who create new products, the ambitious production managers who help the factory meet or exceed production quotas each month. These so-called stars are impressive, but overall probably less important to the bottom line than the countless working stiffs who punch the clock each morning, do the job they are hired for, and picking up their paycheck which will go towards expanding the economy as a whole. Being a worker may not be as glamorous as being a star, but without the contributions of the workers, the stars would never be able to shine.

Paula Winslowe was a typical Midwestern girl, born in Grafton, North Dakota, 1910, who would grow up to prove that a worker can, in her own way, shine as brightly as a star. Many of the wonders of the Twentieth century were late in coming to the Midwest, but every small town had a movie palace, and Paula’s high school sweetheart, John Sutherland, was as fascinated by what he was seeing on the screen as he was with the pretty girl in the seat next to him. John determined that he would become the next great movie director as soon as he could get to Hollywood while Paula decided she was going to become Mrs. Sutherland and support whatever ambitions he had. They married just after high school and made the move to Tinsel Town.

Paula Winslowe and William Bendix

While the young couple was adjusting to big city life in Hollywood, the movie industry itself was trying to adjust to the new phenomenon of talking pictures. The studios were hardly beating the bushes to find the Next Great Director, unfortunately for John, but he did manage to get a job with Disney studios as an animator, his first project was the Mickey Mouse short Beach Party (1931).

While John was looking for a job, the studios were coming to grips with the fact that many of their most photogenic actresses simply did not have voices which were suitable for talkies. An early solution was to hire a “voice double” to speak their lines which were later added to the film’s soundtrack. With a lovely contralto voice, Paula was well received as a voice double, signing with MGM. Of course, the studio would never admit that their most popular actresses were not using their own voices, so Paula was rarely given public credit for her work beyond a paycheck every week, and since she knew her husband would someday be the Next Great Director, that was credit enough for Paula.

One of her most notable voice doublings was for Saratoga (1937) after star Jean Harlow died suddenly of kidney disease during filming. Body double Mary Dees filled in for Harlow’s long shots during the remainder of the shoot and Paula was tapped to dub the star’s lines. Winslowe was gaining enough of a reputation for reliability around town that she was offered a job with KHJ, the flagship station of the budding Don Lee Network, joining the station’s company before the December 1936 merger with Mutual. Don Lee had been the West Coast outlet for CBS before merging with Mutual, and Paula appeared in “dramatized commercials” on several Tiffany Network programs before and after the merger. She also worked with Louella Parsons on Hollywood Hotel, Alexander Woolcott on Town Crier, was a pitch lady on Lux Radio Theatre and had a recurring role on Big Town.

Meanwhile, John was still at Disney and had moved from animation to the Story department where he received a greater exposure to the business side of animation. Frankly, the business end of things at Disney was not great at the time. Sutherland was working on the studio’s fifth full-length animated feature, Bambi (1942), while two previous films, Pinocchio and Fantasia (both 1940) had been box office disappointments. Dumbo (1941) had been a “financial miracle” for the studio, but a strike during production had killed the family atmosphere workers had previously enjoyed. Paula voiced Bambi’s mother in what would be her most famous film role, but Bambi lost money in its first release.

Sutherland left Disney on good terms before the strike, and Mr. Disney gave him strong recommendations and eventually helped him to open his own animation studio. He produced several live-action training films during the War, and later John Sutherland Productions released a series of industrial and propaganda films espousing the strengths of free enterprise. The studio was so prolific that Disney considered buying him out, but no deal was reached.

In addition to their professional success, John and Paula had four children. Paula’s biggest radio role was as Peg Riley on The Life of Riley from 1944-1951. The concept for the program had been created as a radio vehicle for Groucho Marx, but he was not a good fit for the role as it developed. Groucho would find radio success in other projects, and writer Irving Brecher reworked the script to fit William Bendix, who he had seen in Hal Roach’s The McGuerins of Brooklyn (1942). The reworked story revolved around a Brooklyn family who moved to California to find their fortune in the Wartime aircraft industry. Bendix’s Chester Riley would be the prototype of the bumbling sitcom dad, but Riley would have been nowhere without the wise and loving support of wife Peg. Few listeners realized how closely Paula’s own backstory paralleled Peg’s.

Paula continued to work in television and eventually retired with John to their home in Van Nuys. Paula Winslowe passed away at her home on March 7, 1996. She was 85. John Sutherland went to his reward on February 17, 2001, at the age of 90.

Old Time Radio

Dana Andrews and What Makes a Hollywood Tough Guy Tough

Hollywood expects a variety of qualities from its leading men; good looks, virile physicality, an appealing and understandable voice, acting ability, sex appeal, and a sense of toughness. Of course, this being Hollywood, any or all of these qualities can be and have been faked. The hardest one to fake, also the hardest to define, is toughness.

Dana Andrews

Material Science defines toughness as a material’s ability to absorb energy without rupturing. In other words, toughness is a balance of strength and flexibility. Something can be strong enough to support a heavy load but will shatter quickly if the load shifts and there is little provision in the design for flexibility. Examples of toughness can also be seen within military units; the Sergeant will assign the biggest recruit to a leadership position thinking that his strength will inspire the other troops on a long march. The big recruit can carry the biggest load, but tires after a few hour’s march and quits. The smaller but tougher recruit may not carry as big a load, but will continue to carry it for hours, and will be willing to shoulder the load and continue to march the following day.

As the third to thirteen children born to Charles and Annis Andrews near Collins, Mississippi, New Year’s Day 1909, Dana Andrews had to learn toughness early. Papa Charles was a Baptist Minister, so Dana had to become tough to endure his father’s discipline as well as compete for everything with a dozen other kids in the house. Charles moved the family from Mississippi to Huntington, Texas, where Dana entered Sam Houston State University to study business.

Dana Andrews

Dana took a job as a bookkeeper for Gulf Oil in 1929, just before the Wall Street Crash made a business career seem like a terrible idea. Convinced that he could make it in Hollywood as a singer, he packed a suitcase and hitch-hiked to the West Coast, where he found a town full of talented young men who thought they could sing. For a time, he drove school bus, dug ditches, picked oranges, and stocked department store shelves before returning to the oil industry in the somewhat lower capacity of a service station attendant. He continued to try and break into show business and convinced the owner of the service station to “invest” in him. Dana’s boss would fund his singing and acting lessons, even allow him to rehearse in the garage, and Andrews would repay him once he made it as an actor.

The Pasadena Playhouse was a famous training ground for acting talent, but Andrews was told he didn’t have what it took to get in. He used his boss’s support to begin opera training when a music agent told him to stick to acting. He tried the Pasadena Playhouse again and this time got in. He had to work his way up from nonspeaking “spear-carrier” roles to walk-ons to supporting parts before starring in Playhouse production, and he appeared in dozens of plays. Eventually, Sam Goldwyn offered Dana a contract.

Andrews now had a contract after nine years in Los Angeles, but Goldwyn still did not have any major work for him. However, the folks over at Fox liked him, and Goldwyn loaned him for Sailor’s Lady and Kit Carson (both 1940) before selling half of Dana’s contract to Fox. Goldwyn finally used him in William Wyler’s The Westerner (1940) supporting Gary Cooper. Andrew’s got his first leading role at Fox in the B-grade propaganda film Berlin Correspondent (1942) and he did further propaganda work in John Ford’s December 7th: The Movie (1943, a censored version won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject). Other War films for Fox included Purple Heart and Wing and a Prayer (both 1944).

Also, at Fox, Andrews nearly achieved A-List status as an NYPD detective investigating the shotgun death of an enigmatically beautiful advertising executive in Laura (1944, the third of five films Dana made with Gene Tierney). Laura helped to cement Dana as a Hollywood Star. He again shared the screen with Ms. Tierney in the early Cold War propaganda piece, Iron Curtain (1948) and he would play a salty operator in The Frogmen (1951, based on the exploits of Navy Underwater Demolition Teams in the Pacific, the forerunners of the Navy SEALs).? 

Around this time, however, good roles were passing Andrews by. Finally, his friend Sam Goldwyn took him aside to tell him that his drinking problem was interfering with his career. As the son of a Baptist preacher, young Dana had never been directly exposed to the results of har drinking, but Hollywood was awash in booze and the libations lubricated business and social functions. Dana got to the point where he simply could not function without another drink and realized he needed to get help. While he found it, he went to work for ZIV Syndications starring in the hard-boiled radio drama I Was a Communist for the FBI.


I Was a Communist for the FBI was based on a series of stories published in The Saturday Evening Post detailing the undercover adventures of Matt Cvetic, an operative who had infiltrated the upper echelons of the Communist Party of the USA and reported his finding to the Bureau and testified before the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities. This made IWaC an artifact of McCarthyism as well as a highly entertaining Hard-Boiled noir Radio story. A movie version of Cvetic’s story had been released by Warner Bros starring Frank Lovejoy in 1951 before the ZIV shows aired, but many propaganda historians find the radio program more compelling.

I was a Communist for the FBI

Dana Andrews did beat the bottle, and rather than hiding his problems actively campaigned to get the word out that help was available to other alcoholism sufferers. However, his film career never rebounded. He was elected to the Presidency of the Screen Actors Guild in 1963. He drifted away from show business as fewer and fewer good roles came his way. He would quip that he was making more money from real estate investments than he ever had as a film Star.

Sadly, after achieving clarity beyond his battle with the bottle, Dana Andrews spent the last years of his life trapped in a fog brought on by Alzheimer’s Disease. He was confined to the John Douglas French Center for Alzheimer’s Disease in Los Alamitos, California, where he passed away after congestive heart failure on December 17, 1992. He was 84.?

Old Time Radio

Old Time Radio’s Most Glamorous Blonde, Alice Faye

One thing Hollywood never had a shortage of, it was beautiful young blonds. The studio system was more than happy to take advantage of this fact, which often did not work out well for the girls. One of our favorite blonds managed to find success, if not strictly on her own terms, at least not on the terms dictated to her by the studio system.

She was born Alice Jean Leppert to a German cop and his Irish wife in New York City’s Hells Kitchen, 1915. As soon as she knew what Broadway was, she knew she wanted to be a Star. She got her start with a kiddie vaudeville act but soon found time to make the rounds of Broadway producer’s offices. She nearly got hired several times, until they found out how young she was. She finally got hired for the chorus of the 1931 edition of George White’s Scandals after telling the producer she was eighteen and taking the stage name Alice Faye.

Because it was Broadway, Scandals was a step up from vaudeville, but the revue was very similar to what was featured in smaller houses around the country. White did hire stars like comics Willie and Eugene Howard, Metropolitan opera star Everett Marshall, and up-and-coming radio crooner Rudy Vallee. Having a keen eye for female talent, both professional and “extracurricular”, Vallee took an interest in Alice. His weekly program, The Fleischmann’s Yeast Hour was one of the biggest things on radio and having cut his teeth as a crooner h recognized Alice’s attractive contralto as the feminine version of the same thing. He offered her a job, but she was not put on the air right away.

At first, Alice Faye was dressed in form-fitting gowns and sang with Vallee’s live act in hotels and nightclubs. Audiences loved the pretty young woman, and she was featured on the radio program throughout the 1933 season, usually singing two songs per broadcast. Rumors about a more than professional collaboration between Faye and Valley began to spread, which drew the attention of Fay Webb, a.k.a. Mrs. Rudy Vallee. The rumors intensified when Rudy was called to Hollywood for the film version of George White’s 1935 Scandals (1935). Leading lady Lilian Harvey walked off the film, so Vallee recommended calling Alice. Miss Faye was initially hired for one song in the film but was impressive enough that she was given the lead.

The Fox Studio makeup department redid Alice’s look as their version of MGM’s Jean Harlow. Vallee’s marriage finally wound up in divorce court, and Alice was aghast to learn that she had been named as a party to the case. This more than cooled things between Alice and Rudy, but when Fox merged with Darryl F. Zanuck’s 20th Century Pictures, Zanuck was anxious to step in as her new mentor. His first move was to get rid of the Harlow-esque look and remodel Alice as a more wholesome type. She was cast as Shirley Temple’s mother in several films. While working on Poor Little Rich Girl (1936), Alice fell for contract player Tony Martin, and they married 1937.

Zanuck objected when Alice was cast in the lead of In Old Chicago (1938, the part had been written for Jean Harlow) which brought her together with Tyrone Power and Don Ameche for the first time. The film was a big hit, and Faye, Ameche, and Power were immediately put together again to star in Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938). In 1939, Alice was listed as one of Hollywood’s most dependable money-makers, and mentor Zanuck began guiding her towards more and more projects that made money for the studio rather than showcasing her talents.

Illness forced Alice to pass starring in Down Argentine Way (1940) with Don Ameche and Carmen Miranda, and the role was given to new-comer Betty Grable.  Betty was teamed with Alice in Tin Pan Alley (1940), and the publicity department created a supposed on-set rivalry between the stars which sold tickets, but Alice claimed to be totally fictional. However, her marriage to Tony Martin was breaking up, ending in divorce in 1940. Alice bought a ranch-style home in the Encino foothills. One evening while walking her dog, the pooch’s leash got tangled with that of another dog belonging to newly divorced neighbor Phil Harris, bandleader on The Jack Benny Program.

Phil and Alice’s meeting blossomed into one of Hollywood’s greatest real-life love stories. They began dating and soon married. Their relationship was strong enough to be spoofed on The Jack Benny Program and Alice joined the gang for the 1941 Thanksgiving Day program. Alice took a year off from movie making to have their first daughter, Alice was born, and after Phyllis came along she renegotiated her contract with Fox so that she would only be obligated to one picture (with an option for a second) each year.

Alice was certainly not so naïve as to think that Zanuck would not begin developing a new protégé, and as a long-time member of Fox probably supported the move. Linda Darnell was selected to be the new girl, and she was assigned to support Alice in the thriller Fallen Angel (1945). Alice felt that she gave a credible performance and was shocked and humiliated when the film was released, and she discovered that many of her scenes had been cut to better showcase Darnell. Alice claimed that she didn’t even return to the studio to collect her personal things, she simply quit.

Zanuck had her blacklisted from studio work for breach of contract, but Alice was more than happy to have more time to enjoy being a wife and mother. The Fitch Bandwagon, which was sandwiched between Edgar Bergen and Jack Benny on Sunday nights, invited Phil and Alice to guest host in 1946, and the sponsors soon realized that the interplay between the couple was more popular than the music. Fitch soon transitioned from a music program with jokes to a situation comedy with music and retitled The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show.

The program aired until 1954 and was often seen as an answer to The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett (another sitcom about a bandleader and his singer wife raising kids in show business). Phil and Alice’s real-life marriage may not have been perfect (there is a rumor that Phil kept a second residence where he could enjoy all-night poker games with his buddies) but they were happily married for more than 50 years, until his death in 1995 (in 1941, gossip columnists were predicting the relationship would be lucky to last six months). Alice Faye was given a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6922 Hollywood Blvd for her contributions to Motion Pictures. She passed away at her home in Rancho Mirage on May 9, 1998, due to stomach cancer. She was 83.

Old Time Radio

How Rochester Helped Win The War

Eddie Anderson

Eddie Anderson was incredibly well suited for his role as second banana. This is reflected in the long term success of the Jack Benny Program, and the fact that Eddie was one of the best paid second bananas in Hollywood Radio. Although there were a few listeners who objected to someone of Eddie’s race achieving so much success, few could argue the fact that Eddie’s success, even beyond his Rochester character, was well earned. And well enjoyed.

Eddie was born into show business. His mother was a tightrope performer and his father performed in minstrel shows. His brother Cornelius was a song and dance man, a path Eddie probably would have followed if he had not ruptured his vocal cords as a boy. He could and did still dance, and he developed a terrific sense of comic timing to go with his gravel voice.

Rochester became one of the most recognizable and well loved characters on radio, and Eddie Anderson enjoyed the fruits of his success. He bought a large home for his family and became a leader in the Los Angeles area African American Community. When America became involved in WWII, Anderson was desperate to contribute whatever he could to the War Effort. He was unable to serve directly like some younger Hollywood and Radio stars. Whenever asked, he made himself available to entertain the troops, often along with the rest of Jack Benny‘s company. He invested his own money in War Bonds and worked tirelessly on Bond Drives, as well.

Early in the War, an opportunity came to Anderson which was of strategic and material import in winning the conflict. Aviation was always a dangerous business, especially military aviation. Nonetheless, it was of vital importance to America’s military effort. Eddie took flying lessons himself, and his was one of the voices that helped to establish the training program for the Tuskegee Airmen.

Rochester 1949

That would not be the end of Eddie’s involvement in aviation safety. Eddie had become friends with Howard “Skippy” Smith, a Daredevil and one of the rare African Americans, at the time, to hold a pilot’s certificate. Death defying skydiving performances were a prominent part of Skippy’s act, and over the years, he had learned “everything there is to know about parachutes”. With the expansion of military aviation, that knowledge took on strategic value.

Skippy approached Eddie with the idea of opening a parachute factory, and Anderson saw the potential in the enterprise. The newly formed business was located in San Diego, the hub of West Coast Aviation (the original building is still standing at 627 8th Ave, just a few blocks away from Petco Park.) Pacific started as a subcontractor for Standard Parachutes, but soon won government contracts of its own.

Skippy Smith oversaw the operations of the factory, but the used a mostly female, racially balanced, workforce. Most of the white and African American girls came to California to work in the aviation industry. From a start with twenty “White and colored girls” the workforce soon swelled to more than 200, approximately 1/3 white, 1/3 black, and 1/3 Mexican. Most of the girls received seamstress training under New Deal training programs.

Eddie Anderson, Marilyn Monroe, and Jack Benny

It would be hard to determine just how many aviators and paratroops floated to safety under a canopy of Pacific Parachute Company silk. When the War ended, demand for their product evaporated, and the company closed its doors. During its existence, it was profitable for everyone involved, perhaps mostly for those airmen who had to put the parachutes to use.

Eddie Anderson‘s leadership in the African American community dwindled somewhat as younger voices came into their own. Eddie continued to enjoy the trappings of a successful Southern California businessman and media figure. He was an enthusiastic, if less than successful, with a stable of racing horses. He also owned and sailed a yacht from Long Beach Harbor.

One of his most notable engineering feats was the “Rochester Special”, a custom built sports car created in 1950. Perhaps as an extension of the aviation industry, Southern California was a hotbed for hotrod and race car design in the early fifties. The Rochester Special was one of the first cars to use a twin-tube frame. Powered by a 331 c.i. Cadillac engine, the car was in many ways a street-legal, two passenger Indy Car.

The car took two years to build, and campaigned successfully in SCCA events. Anderson enjoyed the car and drove it hard. So hard, that after 10 years, it was in need of a complete restoration. Work began in 1960, but with typical Rochester van Jones forgetfulness, Anderson defaulted on the bill. A mechanic’s lien was placed against the car, and it was traded for a Model A pick-up. The current owner of the car began a ground-up, no expense spared restoration in 2002.

Jack and Rochester
Old Time Radio

Presidential Nominating Convention Recordings (RNC and DNC)

1932 DNC FDR

Ideally, an American Presidential Election is a race between two worthy men, two worthy ideals, battling it out on the National Stage in the weeks before the National Election in November when the American People make the worthiest selection. Sadly, it seems as though the race often comes down to selecting the lesser evil. The American form of democracy has been said to be the worst possible form of government, except for everything else!

The Presidential Race usually boils down to two major candidates, although the US Constitution makes no provision for a two-person race or even a limit to the number of candidates. Many of the Founding Fathers warned against the formation of Political Parties, but it did not take long for factions to split into party alliances. The earliest Political Parties in America were Alexander Hamilton’s Federalists who were opposed by Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans. 

The first Presidential Nominating Convention was held by the Anti-Masonic Party in 1831 at a saloon in Baltimore. The Anti-Masons were a single-issue party, but their power of organization turned them into a force to be reckoned with. The Jacksonian Democrats followed their example (at the same saloon) and Nominating Conventions have been a part of the election process ever since.

In the modern two-party system, the nominating conventions take place every four years during the summer before the General Election. The Incumbent Party (the Party which the sitting President belongs to) usually holds their convention after the Challenging Party. Presidential Election Years also fall during Olympic Years, so an informal tradition developed that one Party’s Convention takes place in the weeks before the Summer Games, formal campaigning essentially stops during the Games, and the other Party Convention begins afterward (another informal campaign break occurs during Baseball’s World Series because no true American would let something as trivial as a Presidential Election distract them from something as important as Baseball).

Each Party has its own rules and procedures for the convention. In many modern races, the presumptive Nominee is known before the end of the Caucus and Primary Election cycle, but the Convention is still an important part of the Election Process to rally support for the Candidate. An important function of the Convention is the creation of the Party Platform. The Platform is a statement of principals or goals that the Party hopes to fulfill by getting their Candidate elected.

During the Presidential Nominating Convention, meetings are held during the day where policy is developed. In a “contested Convention” where the Nominee is not selected before the event begins, these “cigar smoke-filled rooms” are where the negotiations occur. The last time the results of a convention were not obvious before the event began was the 1976 Republican Convention when Ronald Reagan nearly wrested the nomination from incumbent President Gerald Ford. In the evenings, all the delegates attend the general meeting in the main hall to hear speeches from the Party’s “rising stars”.

The broadcast era has brought these speeches out of the Convention Hall and made the entire Nation their audience. NBC anchorman John Chancellor said before the 1972 Democratic National Convention that, “Convention coverage is the most important thing we do. The conventions are not just political theater, but really serious stuff”. However, during the 1996 Republican National Convention, ABC’s Ted Koppel went home in the middle of the convention, stating that it had become an “infomercial” for the Candidate and no longer a news event.

As we go into the next general election, give a listen to this selection of Convention speeches from the past before you decide the historic importance of the Nominating Conventions.

Old Time Radio

The Adventures of Sam Spade, Detective

Howard Duff Sam Spade

As the late Forties turned into the early Fifties, the airwaves were filled with a seemingly endless series of gumshoes. They were meant to appeal to the hard working, big spending young men in the audience, many of whom were just back from the War and may have been unhappy trying to readjust to the humdrum of civilian life.

With so many hardboiled detectives on the air, it’s hard to imagine there was room for one more, but ABC did in the summer of 1946. Most of the hardboiled detectives on the air took their cues from the hard bitten detectives that were popular in the movies, but essentially, they all wanted to be Sam Spade.

Star of Sam Spade

Of course, there could only be one Sam Spade, and that was Humphrey Bogart, who brought Spade to the screen in The Maltese Falcon(1941). This is a little surprising, since Bogie was not the first to play Sam Spade. There had been two earlier versions of The Maltese Falcon on the screen. Bogart didn’t even fit the physical description of Sam Spade that author Dashiell Hammett placed in his stories. In Hammett’s book, Spade was a ”blond Satan”, tall, and somewhat imposing. Bogie with his snappy fedora and rumpled trench coat was neither blond nor tall, but he was imposing. It could be said that when Bogie played that other hard boiled classic, Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep(1946), he was still playing Sam Spade.

We don’t know why it took so long for Spade to make it to the radio, but we would like to think that Dashiell Hammett was waiting for the right team to bring his favorite detective to the airwaves. He was already enjoying the royalty checks he was receiving for The Thin Man.

The first element which would make the Sam Spade radio series such an incredible radio hit was director William Spier. Spier had been an incredibly knowledgeable music critic, who got into radio as producer of the Atwater Kent Hour, a showcase for classical and semi classical music. He took to radio production like a fish to water, and had Duffy’s Tavern and “Radio’s Outstanding Theater of Thrills” Suspense to his credit before taking on Sam Spade. Suspense was as well know for its outstanding production values as its terrific stories. The same quality and attention to detail would be part of Sam Spade.

Sam Spade

Like many hardboiled detectives, Spade worked as a lone wolf, but his world was anchored by his doting secretary, Effie Perrine, played by “the first lady of radio” Lurene Tuttle. Effie was less than a sidekick, and not really even a love interest (Spade was too worldly to be tied down to a single dame), however there is little doubt that Spade cares deeply about Effie and what she thinks. Ms. Tuttle shows us that Effie had the same of stronger feelings for her boss, but she is smart enough to not let her affection get in the way of a good relationship.

The real genius of The Adventures of Sam Spade was the acting of Howard Duff in the titular role. Just like Bogie became Sam Spade by being Bogie, Duff paid tribute to Bogie by being Duff. Just like Bogie, Duff was tough because he was cool. Listeners could hear Duff’s insouciant smile through their speakers, and it carried just as much disdain as Bogie’s sneer, only without sneering.

Duff grew up in Bremerton, Washington, a Navy town across the Puget Sound from Seattle. He took up acting when he was cut from the High School Basketball team. He did some acting in the Seattle area, which helped him to be assigned to the Army Air Force’s radio division during the War. After discharge he found himself in Hollywood. He landed a few roles as general purpose tough guys in a few noir films (and a tempestuous relationship with Ava Gardner), but his real break was landing the Sam Spade role under the tutelage of Spier and Ms. Tuttle.

Spier’s vision for The Adventures of Sam Spade was a street wise detective who knew better than to take the world too seriously. Even though Spade got his share of knocks, there was none of the deadly seriousness which was a weekly feature of Suspense. Some of the situations that Spade wound up in stretched the bounds of believability, but the program’s attitude told audiences “stick with us, it will be worth it”, and it always was.

ABC ran The Adventures of Sam Spade, Detective, as a summer replacement series in 1946, but did not have a spot for it in the fall line up. The production moved to CBS on September 29, 1946, and picked up a sponsor, Wild Root Cream Oil Hair Tonic. The show ran continuously, without taking summer breaks, until September, 1950. Sometimes Sam had to deal with a new and especially scatterbrained secretary until Effie got back from vacation, and there were quite a few replacement directors. Duff told one interviewer that he was taking the show to New York for a while; the only way he could get a vacation was to take the show with him. The show moved to NBC in September of 1949.

The show remained popular for its entire run, but it was eventually a victim of the Red Scare. Dashiell Hammett was the first to be cut. His name in the “Created By” slot was cut because he was an admitted Communist. Duff had worked in support of labor unions, which was enough to get him listed in Red Channels.

In the fall of 1950, both Howard Duff and Wildroot Cream-oil left the show, the sponsor willingly, the star less so. Wildroot felt that the Red association would damage their reputation with the slicked back hair? crowd, and put their sponsorship money behind a different detective program, Charlie Wild, Private Detective (a play on their jingle; Get Wildroot Cream-oil, Charlie). The new program was a rather direct ripoff of The Adventures of Sam Spade with a new cast and crew. Charlie’s secretary was even named Effie Perrine!

When The Adventures of Sam Spade went off the air, Duff gave a few interviews stating that he would miss his radio alter ego. NBC reportedly received 45,000 protest letters from fans over the cancellation. In November, Sam Spade was back without a sponsor, still directed by Spier and featuring Ms. Tuttle as Effie, but the title role went to Steve Dunne.

Although most careers were ruined by a listing in Red Channels, Duff’s wife, actress and director Ida Lupino, was able to keep him working, even after they separated. He continued to work on the big and small screen until his death in 1990.

The Adventures of Sam Spade is considered one of the high points of radio detective drama. No copies of Charlie Wild, Private Detective are known to exist.

Old Time Radio

Man of a Thousand Voices when One was Enough: William Conrad

William Conrad in Gunsmoke

The movie hero generally fits a specific physical type. Not necessarily handsome in the classic sense, he has a manly, rugged appearance, tall, with a V-shaped torso, tapering from wide, solid shoulders to a narrow waistline. In classic films, he may not have the chiseled “six-pack abs” which are the trademark of modern leading men, but there is an undeniable masculine toughness about him. Fortunately, Hollywood has nearly as many of this type running around as it does pretty girls.

On the radio, the equivalent of broad shoulders and a narrow waist is a commanding basso profundo voice. Several actors were blessed with such a commanding voice, but few were able to use it to the degree William Conrad did, especially when we consider how far Conrad was physically from the leading man type.

William Conrad Hazel Brooks

William Conrad was born in Lexington, Kentucky, 1920, where his parents owned and operated a movie theater. Little Bill was babysat by the flickering light of the projector and growing up with the scent of popcorn in his nostrils there is little wonder that he dreamed of becoming one of the screen heroes who were a part of his daily life. It seemed that he might have his chance during high school when the family left Kentucky for Los Angeles. The youngster soon discovered that, as mentioned above, there were dozens if not hundreds of leading men types in town, all looking for their big break n the studio system.

One place that surprisingly few of them were looking was in local radio. In 1934, Detroit businessman George A “Dick” Richards paid $125,000 for a controlling interest in Los Angeles station KMPC, making it the third jewel in his “Good Will Broadcasting Company”, along with WGAR Cleveland and WJR in his native Detroit. Partially to raise capital but mostly as a marketing move, Richards sold minority shares in KMPC to Bing Crosby, Freeman Gosden and Charles Corell (Amos ‘n’ Andy), Paul Whiteman, and Harold Lloyd, and began advertising KMPC as “the Station of the Stars”. All-American tackle Bob Reynolds was retiring from the Detroit Lions (Richards owned the team) in 1938 and joined KMPC’s marketing department and soon became general manager.

Cast of “Hermit’s Cave”

Bill Conrad joined KMPC as part of the acting company for The Hermit’s Cave. The horror anthology was a rather direct rip-off of Mutual’s The Witch’s Tale, but it had been successful on WGAR and WJR, so Richards and Reynolds were happy to bring it to the L.A. market.  Conrad’s deep voice and willingness to experiment with microphone technique made him a welcome addition to the company. Other work at KMPC followed and soon he was producing The Hermit’s Cave.

When the War started, Conrad had earned enough of a showbiz background that he might have found a “behind the lines” job but he chose to join the Army Air Corps and train as a fighter pilot. Soon after he won his commission, however, he was diagnosed as suffering from night blindness and was transferred to AFRS as a producer-director. When he mustered out as a Captain, he was in a very good position to continue his radio career. He joined the acting company of The Man Called X and The Whistler along with numerous “Radio Row” gigs.

One of Conrad’s most recognizable parts was intoning the introduction to the CBS adventure anthology Escape: “Tired of the everyday grind? Ever dream of a life of romantic adventure? Want to get away from it all? We offer you… Escape!” In fact, the announcing duties for Escape were shared with Paul Frees, one week one of the deep, rich voices would announce while the other acted in the episode, and the next week they would trade places. In addition to a classic part, Escape also gave Conrad a chance to work with director/producer Norman MacDonnell and writer John Meston.

When CBS boss Bill Paley asked for ‘a Philip Marlowe set in the Old West’, MacDonnell and Meston came up with Gunsmoke. It was Meston who first advocated for the Escape announcer to breathe life into US Marshal Matt Dillon. Marshal Dillon would be a heroic yet tragic figure. He was determined to uphold the law in a generally lawless territory but saw first hand that the rule of law was not always a civilizing influence at the very edge of civilization. He was prepared to give his own life to preserve justice and it affected him deeply to see examples where even the force of law failed to bring justice to those who deserved it most. Dillon was no matinee hero who would win in every given situation, he enjoyed a beer at the end of a hard day and sometimes he needed something stronger to deal with his job. Miss Kitty was euphemistically described as someone the marshal “has to visit every once in a while”.

William Conrad and microphone

Although it aired when the Golden Age of Radio beginning to lose ground to TV, Gunsmoke was easily one of the greatest dramas commercial radio ever produced, thanks in no small part to the character created by William Conrad. However, adapting the program to television was inevitable, and while he was a great actor there was no way Conrad would be able to carry off the physical appearance the network expected for Matt Dillon at 5’7″ and tipping the scales more than 250 pounds, he was hardy the tall, broad-shouldered and narrow waist type envisioned as a leading man. The fact that his leading man could not play the part on TV may have been one of Norman MacDonnell’s biggest objections to “confining” Gunsmoke to the small screen, but the fact that James Arness was able to play the role for twenty seasons shows that his judgment may have been off.

Conrad seems more accepting of the fact that he would not be acting on TV’s Gunsmoke. He contributed scripts and directed episodes of the TV series and narrated a two-part story during the 1973 season. He managed to land a few roles which took advantage of his girth, including starring in Cannon (1971-1976), Nero Wolfe (1981), and Jake and the Fat Man (1987-1992). His voice work continued on television, including commercials and narrating the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. In 1981, he starred as the famous Masked Man in the animated reboot The New Adventures of the Lone Ranger.

William Conrad suffered a fatal heart attack on February 11, 1994, in Los Angeles. He was posthumously inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1997.

Old Time Radio

Charles Boyer in Old Time Radio

Charles Boyer: Many critics argue that Charles Boyer‘s success in Hollywood is due to the appeal of being a Frenchman. We would suppose that the appeal of Frenchmen is that they are so much like Charles Boyer.

Ever since the Marquis de Lafayette and later the pirate Jean Laffite stepped in to aid the newly formed United States, Americans have gone absolutely bonkers for Frenchmen. This was especially true during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Whenever the chips were down in a picture, the doughty Frenchman could be depended upon to flip away his cigarette butt, whisper “c’est la Guerre”, and rush headlong into the fight. When his British or even American cousins had their full attention on the trivialities of business, the Frenchman would have the savoir-faire to think “Cherchez la femme” and give any available lady the attention she needed.

American Cinema’s prototypical Frenchmen was Charles Boyer, although the case could be made that moviegoers enjoyed romantic Frenchmen because they were reminded of Charles Boyer. In the dialect of Southern France, the surname “Boyer” means cowherd. Charles was born in the small town of Figeac in 1899, his father a merchant. Young Charles was a basically shy boy who learned to express himself by watching plays and movies. During the Great War, he worked as a hospital orderly and was popular with the soldiers for performing comic sketches in the wards. 

Boyer’s father helped him to get into the Sorbonne where he studied Philosophy, but he gave more attention to his budding show business career and trying to get into the Paris Conservatory. A stage manager noticed how well he memorized lines and helped to get understudy work. Charles became an overnight success when he appeared in the 1920 play La Bataille, winning more stage work as well as establishing himself in French silent cinema.

Hollywood reached out to Boyer for the first time to star in the French language version of MGM’s groundbreaking prison film The Big House (1930, the French version was Révolte dans la prison, not L’homme du large which was Boyer’s 1920 cinematic debut). He would appear in a few English language films, including Jean Harlow‘s racy Red Headed Woman (1932) before returning to France. For the next several years he worked alternately in France and Hollywood as his Star continued to shine ever brighter. His classic role of Pepe le Moko in Walter Wagner’s Algiers (1938, United Artists), costarred Hedy Lamarr and Sigrid Currie. This is the film that attached him to the line “Come with me to the Casbah”, although Boyer never uttered those words on the screen. 

When France declared War on Germany in 1939, Boyer was in Nice, France, to make a pirate picture. The film was never finished, and Charles immediately volunteered with the French Army, although by November the government convinced him to accept a discharge and return to Hollywood where he would have a greater effect on the War Effort. He would receive an Honorary Oscar Certificate for establishing the French Research Foundation and became a naturalized American Citizen in 1942.

Although there is no denying Boyer’s savoir-faire, he was a small man (shorter than many of his leading ladies) with a noticeable paunch and he began losing his hair at an early age. He wore a toupee while working, but in public proudly displayed this magnificent Gallic dome. Back in 1934, he met British actress Pat Paterson at a dinner party, they fell in love and became engaged within two weeks, marrying three months later. Socially, Boyer described himself as “a stick in the mud” who would rather stay at home and read than engage in the Hollywood nightclub scene. He and Pat moved from Tinsel Town to Paradise Valley, Arizona.

Boyer’s gregarious and fun-loving demeanor made him a popular guest on several radio variety programs, and he was a popular target of Gracie Allen’s flirtations. He reprised several of his film roles for Lux Hollywood Theatre as well as other parts. In 1950, NBC gave him his own radio program, Presenting Charles Boyer.

Although he often played an unattached Continental bon vivant, Boyer’s loyalty to his wife, Pat was boundless, and they had a son, Michael Charles, in 1943. In 1960, he was honored with two Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Motion Pictures and for Television. Tragedy struck in 1965 after Michael Charles broke up with a girlfriend, he committed suicide by playing Russian Roulette. Pat succumbed to cancer in 1978, Two days later, on August 26, 1978, Charles Boyer took a fatal dose of Seconal. It was two days before his 79th birthday. Charles Boyer‘s Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame are at 6306 and 6308 Hollywood Blvd.