Eve Arden Fibber McGee and Molly Gale Gordon Lucille Ball Lux Radio Theater Old Time Radio Our Miss Brooks

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 Husbandgalegordon2

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.

Eve Arden Our Miss Brooks

Our Miss Brooks’ Halloween Party

evearden2Halloween is about letting the kids have some fun. Of course, just because the kids get a little older they don’t seem to outgrow the desire to have a little bit of haunted fun! What about the grownups? Should they be denied a bit of Halloween fun? Not according to Eve Arden as Our Miss Brooks.

To be fair, Principal Osgood Conklin, played by Gale Gordon, may not agree with those sentiments. We must remember that Mr. Conklin has been under an enormous amount of strain lately. Who wouldn’t be with the responsibilities that a high school principal faces? When you add that to the trials of raising an attractive teenage daughter like Harriet, well… What Mr. Conklin needs is a quiet weekend up at Crystal Lake where it is quiet and soothing. Thank goodness Halloween falls on Saturday so that he can get away from all that silliness.

Luckily for Harriet, her friends Walter and Stretch decide to hold a Halloween Party on Friday night. The only problem is where to have the party. What would be wrong with having it at Miss Brooks’ house? Everything! At least, until Miss Brooks discovers that the good looking biology teacher, Mr. Boynton (played by Jeff Chandler), is coming. Then a party at Connie Brooks’ house is a wonderful idea!

When Connie hears what a hard time Mr. Conklin has been having, having the party at the Conklin’s house seems like an even better idea! What could possibly go wrong? Listen Here to the old time radio classic Our Miss Brooks halloween broadcast find out:

Ginger Rogers

Eve Arden: Old Time Radio Voice Actress

EA019In an era of radio that was filled with stereo types, Eve Arden managed to rise above them as her own woman and developed on of radio’s best loved characters.
Eve Arden, who was born Eunice Quedens, related that she had an unhappy childhood. She was torn between divorced parents and continually self conscious about her looks (she claims to have needed therapy because her mother was so much more beautiful than she was). Probably her best therapy was to join the magical world of show business. She quit school at the age of 16, joined a touring company, and changed her name (taken from a jar of cold cream on her dressing room table).
Whatever insecurities she may have faced as a child, Eve Arden carried herself with the undeniable swagger of a depression era business woman or highly desirable sophisticate. During the early part of her film career she was often cast in supporting “second banana” roles. Eve Arden would be the sensible friend who took the leading lady by the shoulders to tell her to “snap out of it” or she would play the smart mouthed but sophisticated comic relief. No matter what character she was called to play, she unabashedly played Eve Arden.

Arden made a number of friends and connections while a starlet, which would serve her well later in her career. While working on Stage Door (1937) she became good friends with Lucille Ball. When the movie was adapted to radio’s Lux Theater, stars Ginger Rogers, Rosalind Russel, and Adolphe Menjou appeared, but Arden, who had made a career out of snappy comebacks, stole the show and proved that she was a natural for radio.
Her first regular radio role was again the sensible second banana to contrast the lead’s zaniness on the short lived Danny Kaye Show. Arden and Kaye were long time friends, and had carried on a discreet affair for years. In the end Danny was unwilling to leave his wife, and the professional collaboration came to an abrupt end.

Arden was too tough to be knocked down, and soon landed what would be her best known role. CBS wanted to develop a comedy around a “smart” female character, and the role was offered to Lucille Ball. Lucy was already committed to My Favorite Husband, but recommended her old friend Eve Arden. The project became everyone’s favorite high school teacher, Our Miss Brooks. The show trod over several stereotypes. The teachers in typical teenage comedies like Henry Aldrich, Archie Andrews, or A Date With Judy existed to make life miserable for the kids. Connie Brooks was young and attractive enough to be a confidant, but mature and respectable enough to be taken seriously. She was just man-crazy enough to hold a continuing flame for her absentminded science teacher boyfriend, but tough enough to stand toe to toe with her stack-blowing principal Osgood Conklin, played by Gale Gordon.

Our Miss Brooks had a nine year run on radio, and was thought to do enough to humanize the portrayal of educators that Arden was awarded an honorary lifetime membership to the NEA. When the show made the transition to television, production was turned over to Desilu Studios, the production company belonging to Lucille Ball and her husband.
Arden returned to “educational comedy” in the 1978 movie musical Grease. She played the role of Rydell High School principal as a female parody of Gale Gordon’s Osgood Conklin.
Eve Arden has been honored with a Star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame at 6714 Hollywood Blvd for her work in Television, and for her contributions to Radio at 6329 Hollywood Blvd.

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.