Esther Williams Obituary Old Time Radio

Rest in Peace Esther Williams

It is often said that the secret to success is to be in the right place at the right time. The life and career of swimming sensation Esther Williams proves that it has to be the right person in the right place at the right time.

Ms. Williams was born in Inglewood, CA, on Aug 8, 1921, the youngest of five children. Her parents grew up on neighboring Kansas farms, courted for nine years, eloped, and ran off to California. However, they ran out of money in Salt Lake, where they settled until their oldest son was discovered by actress Marjorie Rambeau, allowing them to complete their journey to the Golden State.

Underwater1An older sister taught Esther to swim at Manhattan Beach and the Los Angeles Athletic Club. The two got a job counting towels to pay their entrance fee of five cents apiece. While working at the pool, the life guards taught Esther the “male only” swimming strokes, including the butterfly. By the time she was 16, she was winning national championships, and was in training for the 1940 Olympic Games in Helsinki. When the Games were canceled due to the War, Williams dropped out of competition to earn a living.

Esther-Williams-Van-JohnsonShe found a job selling shoes and modeling for the I. Magnin department store on Wilshire Blvd when she was discovered by showman Billy William, who put her in his Aquacade show at the San Francisco World’s Fair. Here, she caught the eye of MGM talent scouts. Louis B. Mayer was convinced that MGM needed and “athletic leading lady” in its stable to promote as Fox had with Sonja Henie. Williams’ contract included a clause that she be allowed nine months before appearing on camera so she could take acting, singing, dancing and diction lessons. The contract also provided her with a guest pass to the Beverly Hills Hotel so she could use the pool on a daily basis.

Esther_questionShe worked in a number of short subjects before being cast opposite Mickey Rooney in Andy Hardy’s Double Life, followed by Hollywood’s first “swimming movie”, Bathing Beauty. In Bathing Beauty, Red Skelton enrolls in an all girl college to win the heart of the swimming coach played by Ms. Williams. Skelton was demoted to supporting lead, and Bathing Beauty‘s success was second only to Gone With The Wind when it was released.

When MGM send its top stars on War Bond tours, Esther was asked to tour military hospitals. She was a natural pin-up girl, not only beautiful, she actually belonged in a swimming suit. For the hospital visits, she would listen to the Bob Hope and Jack Benny radio programs on the radio and repeat the best gags for the G.I.s. Her visit usually included dancing with the soldiers, and mock screen tests where the script called for her “co-star” to refuse her advances until the end of the skit.

2737FFA7-A2C6-4B9B-BF82-304BA3463B00_mw1024_n_sEsther Williams made several appearances on Lux Radio Theater, usually in support of her movies, but also as part of an “Esther Williams pin” premium. She was a popular guest and hostess on Command Performance, as well as appearing in several public service announcements on popular programs.

Esther Williams passed away in her sleep at her Los Angeles home on June 6, 2013.

A Star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame at 1560 Vine Street honors Esther Williams’ contribution to the Motion Picture industry.

Good night, Esther Williams.

Bob Hope Command Performance Lucille Ball Old Time Radio Our Miss Brooks WWII

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.

Bob Hope Command Performance GI Journal Obituary Old Time Radio Patriotic Sherwood Scwartz WWII

Good Night, Sherwood Schwartz.

Sherwood Schwartz will be best remembered for writing on the Red Skelton Show, and creating “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch“. Schwartz passed away on Jul 12, 2011 at the age of 94.

There will be a lot written about the lasting importance of “Gilligan’s Island” and the cultural contributions of “The Brady Bunch“, those of us who celebrate Old Time Radio would like to remember Schwartz for his contributions to Radio, and especially AFRS.

Sherwood Schwartz came to southern California from New York pursuing his Masters Degree in Biology. His older brother Al was working on Bob Hope’s radio show and asked Sherwood to contribute some jokes. Hope liked the jokes and used them on the show for big laughs.”Then he asked me to join his writing staff. I was faced with a major decision — writing comedy or starving to death while I cured those diseases. I made a quick career change.”

WWII was a shock for the whole Nation. Schwartz was touring Army Camps with Bob Hope and having dinner with Generals one week then was drafted and in basic training as a buck private two weeks later. Of course he tried be assigned to his civilian specialty, but did not receive orders to the Armed Forces Radio Service until the day his unit was to ship out for Alaska. “Considering what I knew about myself as a fighting man with a rifle shooting at somebody, anything I could do at a typewriter would be better.”

AFRS in Hollywood was a bizarre place. It was home to some of Hollywood’s best creative talent, but it was supposed to be a Military organization. The Mission required some concession to “Creative Chaos”, but there were more than a few times that Military order tried to sway things.

One regular Army Captain who had been assigned to AFRS insisted that there be more military order among the Enlisted personnel, many of whom were writers and producers who had been drafted. He insisted that there be a Roll Call and Drill at 0600 every morning. Schwartz would later comment that trying to write jokes at such an early hour was “a little much”, so after roll call the writers would go out to breakfast and return to work at a reasonable hour. This upset the Captain, who ordered that the Enlisted men be at there desks immediately after roll call. When he was ignored he ordered the men to change into fatigues and go out to the Officer’s Parking Lot to pull weeds. When the senior AFRS Officer’s arrived for work they asked who was doing the writing work, only to be told that the writers were pulling weeds as punishment. The commanding officer then asked the Captain: “There are men in the Army whose specialty is pulling weeds, will you punish them by making them write jokes?”

Schwartz would write for Command PerformanceGI Journal, and many other AFRS programs. After the War he was approached several times to write a program about his experiences at AFRS, Schwartz held little illusions of the over-all importance of the radio service. AFRS was not going to win the War, although it may have brought some help and laughter to those who were. “Whether we write a better or worse joke for ‘Command Performance’ or whether Bob Hope does it or some lesser known person does it, is not earth shaking.”

Schwartz’s work may or may not have won the war, but his experiences at AFRS very likely helped to shape his sense of irony. And certainly thousands of G.I.s owe him at least a small debt for the laughter he brought during hard times.

Sherwood Schwartz is honored with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6541 Hollywood Blvd. Good Night, Sherwood Schwartz.

Comedy Jane Russell Obituary Old Time Radio

Hollywood sex symbol dies: Jane Russell remembered in radio…

Primarily known as a Movie Actress and singer, Jane Russell made several appearances on Old Time Radio. She had been a favored pin-up girl with GI’s, but unlike contemporaries like Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe, Ms. Russell‘s personal life remained unstained by scandal.

Russell signed a seven year movie contract with Howard Hughes in 1940. The Hughes publicity machine went into full operation and made her a star before her first picture was completed. Her hourglass figure was well suited to photos featuring low-cut costumes and swimsuits, making her a pin-up favorite. In her first film, The Outlaw, Hughes made every effort to show off her figure. He went as far as having a specialized underwire bra made for her, but she later claimed to have not worn it. Completed in 1941, The Outlaw was held from release until 1943 because of trouble with the censors.

In 1948 she made The Paleface with Bob Hope. She would make several radio appearances with Hope on Command Performance and other USO related projects. Bob Hope once introduced her as “the Two and Only Jane Russell.”

Russell appeared opposite Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953. Although the film is considered Monroe’s iconic performance, critics took special notice of Russell’s down-to-earth, sharp-witted performance.

Jane Russell would become a well known spokesperson for the Playtex 18-Hour Bra. She remained active through her later years. Ms Russell passed away on Feb 28, 2011, of a respiratory related illness. She was 89 years old.

Jane Russell’s Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is at 6850 Hollywood Blvd.

Fibber McGee and Molly Great Gildersleeve Old Time Radio US War Bonds

Paying for a Total War: The War Bond Drives

WWII Patriotic Poster

One striking aspect of the Second World War, when viewed from a distance of three or four generations, is the universality of the conflict. The public at large seems more in touch with “American Idol” than the progress of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But during WWII it seems there was hardly a block that didn’t have at least one or two blue stars in the window (a family that had a son, or husband in the service would hand a small banner with a blue star for each service member, the blue being a prayer for a safe return, a gold star signifies the loss of a serviceman.) Everyone, it seemed, did their part for the war effort.

One aspect of this community effort to win the war was the War Bond Drives. The government needed money for the fight, and so it borrowed it from the American people.  Advertisements for the bonds ranged from subtle mentions on printed material to old time radio advertisements to large scale rallies featuring the top Hollywood film stars. In many communities there were kiosks, in areas that had significant foot traffic, staffed with pretty girls selling War Bonds.

Not only were there whole variety programs on the radio dedicated to soliciting War Bonds, but there were small dramas dedicated to the effort, such as These are Our Men. The terrific response Kate Smith’s marathon War Bond drives demonstrated not only fans loyalty to the star, but also allowed them to feel they were part of the War Effort.

Popular programming was part of the effort as well. Hardly an episode of Fibber McGee and Molly or The Great Gildersleeve passed without a War Bond appeal from the stars or the announcer, often both. Many episodes of Fibber McGee and Molly were dedicated to war bond drives or other Home Front war efforts.

Enjoy this bond selling episode from Guest Star Radio Theater starring Bob Hope & Bing Crosby from April 10, 1947: