Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Classic TV Christmas



Christmas and Holiday themed radio shows were very popular during the 1930s and 1940s, and so it comes as no surprise that Television carried forth that tradition when it came into its own.

Just about every TV series had a Christmas episode each year.  Some shows repeated the same show (or a variation of it), while others managed to do a new Christmas show every year.


The Jack Benny Show, each year, had Jack out trying to buy the cheapest gifts he could for his staff, driving the store clerk to the brink of madness.   While everyone knew what was coming, it managed to be hilarious every year anyway. 

From 1960, we’ve an example where an indecisive Jack drives sales clerk Mel Blanc to suicide.



The Jack Benny Christmas Show - Jack Benny
An annual event on Jack Benny's radio show, Jack takes a trip to the local department store, only to run into some familiar characters. Notice Mel Blanc in his usual role as the salesmen unfortunate enough to have to wait on Jack, again, again, and again! 




The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet ran on ABC TV from 1952 until 1966, outlasting many of its contemporaries.   Never a huge ratings success, it nonetheless proved durable with its gentle humor, helped along by the enormous popularity of Ricky Nelson who became a teenage heart throb.


Prior to its TV incarnation, Ozzie & Harriet ran on the radio from 1944 until 1954.


This particular episode is a repackaging of a 1956 episode, with a new opening and a closing song by Ricky, broadcast in 1964.


"The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" 1956 Christmas episode



Charles Ruggles (1886-1970) had one of the longest careers in Hollywood, lasting nearly 6 decades.  He appeared in more than 100 films, and countless TV shows.   During the early days of TV, he starred in a very early sit-com called The Ruggles.


While few episodes survive today, the Christmas episode from sometime between 1949 and 1952 remains.  This is a kinescope of a live episode, and frankly its is better than many other TV shows of this genre that would come along over the years.


This classic TV program, "The Ruggles", aired on the ABC-TV Network from 1949 to 1952. A few episodes survive, and presented here is one of them, a "Christmas" episode. The show was aired live, but this print missing a few minutes of footage, however it's still watchable.




Classic TV: 'The Ruggles' Christmas episode




You Asked For It  was a very popular viewer request show which ran, first on the DuMont Network and then ABC, from 1950 to 1959.


The premise was simple on this, admittedly, low budget show.   Viewers would write in with requests of things they'd like to see on TV.


Here is a Christmas themed episode (missing a few minutes) from sometime in the 1950s.




Classic Christmas TV: 'You Asked for It'



And last in our roundup today, an episode from the Gruen Guild Playhouse, an  early anthology series sponsored by the Gruen Watch Company.   Broadcast in 1951, this Christmas special is summarized on the IMDB thusly:


Disgusted that he's been moved from the hardware department to duties as a department store Santa Claus and angry that his wife wants to go to work and earn money, young father Joe Peters deserts his family. While in his Santa role, Joe chances to meet his daughter and discovers what she really wants for Christmas.



Classic Christmas TV: 'Joe Santa Claus'

Friday, December 4, 2009

Holiday Movie Fest





With Christmas 3 weeks away, now is a good time to present a unique archive of Christmas related movies and cartoons. 

This particular repository can be found at Classic Movies Online, which has a great selection of public domain movies of all types.  Each week they feature 5 movies on their marquee, but you can access all of their movies (by category) anytime you wish.


A few of these movies have been featured in the past on this blog (like the 1955 TV version of Miracle on 34th Street), but you’ll find a nice selection of obscure, yet entertaining holiday fare on this site.




Babes in Toyland (1934)


A Holiday Classic in every sense of the word.  You don’t have to be a Laurel & Hardy fan to love this film, as this is nothing like any of their other films.  Based on the Victor Herbert/Glen MacDonough operetta, this weaves Mother Goose characters into a Christmas pastiche.


The Miracle on 34th Street (1955) [tv]


Last year I blogged about this production in Two Small Miracles For The Holidays.  I wrote:


A lesser known remake appeared on the 1955 20th Century Fox Hour television show, which ran on CBS from 1955 to 1957.  The show aired at 10pm on Wednesday evenings, and was shown on alternate weeks.


The US Steel Hour, another anthology show, shared the time slot.


Starring Teresa Wright, McDonald Carey, and Thomas Mitchell, this 1955 remake runs only 45 minutes, but retains a good deal of the warmth and whimsy of the original. 


A Christmas Without Snow (1980) [tv]


A TV movie that deserves to be a Christmas Classic, starring Michael Learned (The Mother on The Waltons), and irascible John Houseman (The Paper Chase, among others).


A sentimental and at times emotional drama. Probably not something that younger kids would enjoy.


Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964)


`Fabulously awful’ and `Spectacularly appalling’ according to one reviewer on IMDB, and that is about right.  But little kids may not notice, and may be entertained (if not brain damaged).

Pia Zadora’s infamous screen debut, and a foil for MST3K.  You’ve been warned.


Scrooge (1935)


Seymour Hicks as Scrooge


Even though the 1935 British entry, Scrooge, was the first talkie version of this Christmas Classic, it was at the very least, the 7th filmed version of the tale. The earliest being Marley's Ghost made in 1901.


Starring Seymour Hicks as Scrooge, this was a familiar role for the 64 year old veteran actor.  He'd practically made a career out of the character, first appearing on stage as the skinflint Ebenezer in 1901, and playing the role many times thereafter.


In fact, he played the role in the 1913 silent film Scrooge.




The Candle Maker (1957)

A candlemaker entrusts his son with making candles for their church on Christmas Eve.

Somewhere In Dreamland (1936)

An early Fleischer cartoon, about two poor children who dream of a land filled with ice cream cones, popcorn fields, and a chocolate syrup river.

Snow Foolin' (1949)

A Sing-along cartoon with the bouncing ball, but with a lot of funny sight gags as animals prepare for winter.

The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives (1933)

Santa takes a poor orphan to his workshop.

Santa's Surprise (1947)

An attempt at racial diversity with 5 children from around the world attempting to `help Santa’, but unfortunately suffers from some racial stereotyping common during that era.

The Little King - Christmas Night (1933)

The Little King was a cartoon strip, originally in The New Yorker, which began in 1931.  It eventually became part of the Hearst Newpaper syndicated strips in 1934.   This is a cartoon rendition of a Little King Christmas story

Jack Frost (1934)

A young grizzly bear ignores his mother’s warnings about going out into the winter, and needs Jack Frost’s help.

Hector's Hectic Life (1948)


Hector is a dog with who has to keep 3 puppies from making a mess while his owner is gone.


The Christmas Visitor (1959)

A British rendition of `Twas the Night Before Christmas . . .’

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

The Burl Ives animated Classic we all remember.


Christmas Comes But Once A Year (1936)

Another depression era Fleischer cartoon, with kids in an orphanage disappointed to receive broken toys.  There’s a happy ending, though.




And one more, this time from The Internet Archive, of a half hour Four Star Playhouse production called `The Answer' (1954), starring David Niven, Carolyn Jones, and Anthony Caruso. 


`The Answer' was nominated for 4 Emmy's & won the 1955 DGA award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement for Television. 

The story is by Leonard Freeman, a name that many will recognize as the producer of such critically acclaimed shows as Hawaii Five-0 and Route 66





Four Star Playhouse - The Answer - Leonard Freeman
Starring David Niven Directed by Ray Kellino Original Air Date: 23 December 1954 (Season 3, Episode 13) Anthony Caruso ... Bart John Harmon ... Sailor Carolyn Jones ... Dolores Jack Lomas (as Jack M. Lomas) David Niven ... Deacon Nestor Paiva ... Rocco Richard Reeves


The Answer reaffirms just how good early Television writing and acting could be.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Christmas Karaoke






You never know where a search for blog material will lead you.   I certainly didn’t start off looking for karaoke videos (I’ve never even been to a Karaoke Bar!), but find them I did.  


And with a little work, you can put together a fun Christmas Eve DVD to share with your family.

Of course, to do that, you need to download videos from Youtube.  And to do that, you will need a little `help’.

I personally use Applian Technology’s Replay Media Capture program, but there are a couple of free alternatives, if you don’t feel like buying $40 worth of software.   


First, Applian makes a free toolbar, that will allow you to save Youtube videos (after you’ve viewed them).   It’s not something I use, since I have the more robust Replay Media Capture software, but if you don’t mind adding a toolbar to your browser, it is a free alternative. 


The Freecorder Toolbar will also convert video formats, which is very handy when you want to burn video to DVD.


Real Player, version 11 also offers the ability to download videos from tube sites like Youtube.


You will also need software to burn a DVD.   I use NERO 9, although there are freeware and shareware alternatives.   If you don’t already know how to burn DVDs, there are tutorials available on the web.


Worst case, you can always just gather around the computer for a Christmas Eve sing-a-long.


I’m just going to embed a few  videos in this blog, but you’ll find links below to more Karaoke videos.   Some are fully orchestrated, while others are a simple piano accompaniment.

Enjoy, and maybe start a new Holiday Tradition in your house.











"ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS YOU" [Karaoke / Instrumental]

Away In A Manger

Silent Night

O Come, All Ye Faithful

God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen

Deck The Halls

Joy To The World! The Lord Is Come

The First Noel

We Wish You A Merry Christmas

Angels We Have Heard On High

What Child Is This, Who, Laid To Rest

Good King Wencelas

Silver Bells - Kara...



A search of YOUTUBE with the terms `Christmas Karaoke’  will turn up more videos.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

An Armed Forces Radio Holiday





The Armed Forces Radio Services (AFRS) was born in the early 1940s as a morale booster for service men and women stationed around the world. 


The first, and one of the most well remembered AFRS radio shows was Command Performance, which began its long run not quite 3 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. 


During WWII, Hollywood turned out for the troops, and there was no shortage of talent eagerly volunteering to appear on Command Performance, or to appear at the Serviceman’s Hollywood Canteen, or to tour military bases, outposts and hospitals. 

Bob Hope,  Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, Judy Garland, Betty Grable, Frank SInatra,  Victor Borge . . .  the list of performers is as long as it is remarkable.

Many of the radio shows popular in the states during the 1940’s were transcribed (recorded to a shellac or metallic disk) and replayed over AFRS shortwave system.   It was a piece of home, beamed to our armed forces around the world.

In 1942 the Elgin Watch Company sponsored  2-hour Christmas and Thanksgiving radio extravaganzas for the AFRS, which became a yearly event.  


We are lucky to have 5 examples – each two hours in length, to remember these wonderful performers by. 


Three Christmas and two Thanksgiving Shows.  



These recordings are more than 60 years old (and made before recording tape), so the audio quality isn’t perfect  . . . but the talent, sentiment, and nostalgia shine through.


You can either listen online, or download them to your computer.  First a list of the shows, and then some notes on a few of the performers you will hear. 


Elgin-471127_6th Annual Thanksgiving Show          27 MB


Elgin-481125_7th Annual Thanksgiving Show          27 MB

Elgin-441225_3rd Annual Christmas Show               27 MB

Elgin-451225_4th Annual Chistmas Show                27 MB

Elgin-481225_7th Annual Christmas Show               26 MB





Don Ameche was the host of all 5 of these shows, and like many radio stars of the 1940s, he was also a film actor.   His film debut was in 1935 in an uncredited role as a prisoner in Clive of India.


Bigger roles awaited, and in 1938 he would star with Tyrone Power and Alice Faye  in  In Old Chicago.  Later that year, the same three would appear in  Alexander’s Rag Time Band.  


The following year Ameche would play D'Artagnan in The Three Musketeers and  the lead in The Story of Alexander Graham Bell.  Heaven Can Wait,  Swanee River and dozens more would follow.


Although a popular radio performer during the early 1940s in such shows as The First Nighter Program, Family Theater and the Betty and Bob soap opera, it would be his teaming with Frances Langford in The Bickersons that would be his biggest radio hit.


See Not Exactly Ozzie And Harriet for classic episodes of the Bickersons.




Vera Vague, who appears on several of these shows, wasn’t a real person.  She was the persona of actress Barbara Jo Allen, who invented the shrill-voiced, man-hungry spinster `Vera Vague’ after sitting through an interminable lecture at a PTA meeting on world literature by a prototype for the character.  


Although primarily a radio performer,  Barbara Jo Allen had also appeared in the movies, but after the early 1940s she was so closely associated with the Vera Vague character she could do little else.




Ginny Simms was a popular Big Band singer of the 1940s, primarily with the Kay Kyser Band.   Her biggest hits included "Deep Purple," "Indian Summer”,"I Can't Get Started," "I Love Paris," and "Stormy Weather."


A popular radio songstress, she also appeared in a handful of movies during the late 1930’s to mid-1940s, first in That’s Right – You’re Wrong  in 1939.  She appeared in the Abbott & Costello movie Hit The Ice, and the Cole Porter Bio-pic  Night & Day.



Cass Daley was a comedienne and singer who worked on stage (1936-37) Ziegfeld Follies, movies The Fleet’s In (1942) and  Star Spangled Rhythm (1942),  and on radio as a cast member of The Fitch Playhouse and then host of her own show, The Cass Daley Show.


When radio declined in the 1950s, so did Daley’s career.  She attempted a comeback in the 1970s but died when she tripped and fell onto a glass table, severing her carotid artery.

Cinnamon Bear - A 72 Year-Old Christmas Tradition


Note: This is a repost from last year, but the links to the radio shows have been changed.  The links in the old blog are no longer valid.



In 1937 a Hollywood production company called Transco (Transcription Company of America) produced a 26-episode children's Christmas program called The Cinnamon Bear.


Since that time, the Cinnamon Bear program has reportedly been broadcast somewhere in the world every holiday season.


In some locales, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, it has become a much beloved yearly radio tradition.


In 1951, the Cinnamon Bear program was done with hand puppets on TV (using the audio from the radio show).  The show was so popular, it wasn't uncommon in the 1950's to find department stores with a Cinnamon Bear that kids gave their Christmas wish lists to.


And a new book was released on the program's 70th anniversary.



Jerrel McQueen and Timothy Holmes illustrated this book published in 2007 by Beautiful America Publishing Company. –Wikipedia


Its 26 15-minute episodes (with commercials) were designed to be aired six nights a week from November 29th to the grand finale on Christmas Eve.


Geared for the 3 to 8 year old crowd (not that adults couldn't enjoy it!), the plot involves the adventures of Judy and Jimmy Barton as they go to the enchanted world of Mabyeland in search of their missing silver star that belonged on the top of their Christmas Tree.



Along the way they meet the Cinnamon Bear, a miniature stuffed bear with shoe-button eyes who would serve as their guide, and other characters like the Wintergreen Witch and Fe Fo the Giant.


The copyright status of these shows is a little blurry.  The Wikipedia lists the copyright as being current, and held by the heirs of the author, Glanville Heisch, who died in 1986.


The shows, however, are available for free download from a variety of sites,, and are rebroadcast each year by a great many radio stations.    You’ll also find some Cinnamon Bear Coloring books available for download from this site.


The cast includes some familiar names and voices.

  • Joseph Kearns (as the Crazyquilt Dragon) is best remembered for his role as Mr. Wilson in the TV series Dennis The Menace.
  • Howard McNear (as the Cowboy, and Sammy the Seal) created the role of Doc Adams on radio's Gunsmoke, but the baby boomer generation knows him as Floyd the barber on the Andy Griffith Show
  • Gale Gordon (Weary Willie the Stork and Oliver Ostrich) was an accomplished radio actor as well, but is best known for playing Theodore J. Mooney on The Lucy Show.
  • Frank Nelson (Captain Tintop) was Jack Benny's long time foil, appearing as a variety of rude salesclerks.  His signature lines "Ye-e-e-e-s?"  and "Oo-oo-oo-ooh, DO they!"  are imitated to this day on shows like The Simpsons.


In the tradition of Alice in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz, these are wonderful fantasy trips for children of all ages. 


A reader has pointed out that hotlinks to the Cinnamon Bear website produce an error, so to access these shows please go to the Cinnamon Bear website. 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Say Goodnight, Dick





In the 1960s there was a concept known as a `happening’, which started out to mean a performance, or event meant to be considered `art’, but evolved into any `cool’ meet up of people or an event.

On television, the closest thing to a weekly `happening’ – one that everyone my age had to watch – was Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In.

While hardly an original concept, it was the right show at the right time for a television generation ready for something a little more risqué, a little more political, and that embraced the `youth culture’ of the 1960s.

Along the way, it turned a number of unknowns into stars. Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin, and Arte Johnson to name a few.  Dick and Dan became overnight successes after only having been a comedy team for 15 years.


Laugh In quickly became `the show’ to get booked on.  Big stars would work for scale (about $210) just to get a chance to be dropped through a trap door, or be doused with water. 

John Wayne, Lena Horne, Liberace, Rock Hudson, Victor Borge, Bobby Darin, Rosemary Clooney . . . even Colonel Sanders appeared.

Laugh In was so popular, Presidential Candidate Richard Nixon made a guest appearance.  He often credited his presidential win to appearing on the show. 


Hubert Humphrey, his opponent,  was offered a guest shot but declined.


But the Rowan and Martin story starts many years earlier, long before they were `king makers’

Dan Rowan was born in 1922 aboard a carnival train, and performed a singing and dancing act with his parents until he was orphaned at the age of 11. 


He graduated high school, hitchhiked to California, and got a job in the mailroom at Paramount Studios.   In short order, he ingratiated himself with the studio head Buddy DeSilva, and within a year had been made the studio’s youngest staff writer.

During WWII he served as a fighter pilot, shot down two enemy planes, and was shot down and seriously wounded in the Pacific.


Dick Martin, also born in 1922, started his show business career as a staff writer on the radio show Duffy’s Tavern, which ran first on CBS, then NBC radio from 1941 to 1951.


In 1952 he would team up with Dan Rowan and do fairly a successful nightclub act.   Comedy duos, of course, were very popular.  Abbott & Costello, Martin & Lewis,  Burns and Allen, Laurel & Hardy . . .  the list goes on.  


Rowan & Martin worked many of the variety shows of the 1950s and early 1960s, including hosting the Colgate Comedy Hour, but they never managed to make a big breakthrough.


In 1958, they made a movie called Once Upon A Horse, a western comedy that failed to jell at the box office, but that wasn’t as bad as it sounds.  It also starred Martha Hyer, Nita Talbot, and Leif Erickson, and a young and uncredited Mary Tyler Moore as a dance hall girl.


In 1960, Rowan & Martin saw their contract canceled with NBC. Martin ended up playing Lucy’s next door neighbor for a couple of years in The Lucy Show, and he and Rowan returned to nightclubs in 1964.

Their big break came when they were tapped to host the summer replacement show for The Dean Martin Show in 1966.   That exposure led to Laugh In, which premiered in January of 1968 and would run until March of 1973.


The rapid fire, pop-culture, youth oriented format of Laugh In owed more than a little of its pedigree to Burlesque, the blackout skits of TV’s first comedic genius Ernie Kovacs, and the political humor of That Was The Week That Was (TW3).


Dan was the straight man, to Dick’s dumb dora, playing the male equivalent of Gracie Allen.   The show was hardly cerebral in content, but it was often `adult’ in tone.   


Knock-knock jokes, double entendre’s (that drove the censors nuts), political jibes, and a stage full of trap doors were part of the comedic artillery used each week. 


A `joke wall’, chicken jokes, catch phrases that like “You bet your sweet bippy” and `Sock it to me!” flew off the TV screen so fast, that if one bit fell flat, if you waited 10 seconds, there would be another joke on its way.   


The #1 show for its first two years, Laugh In saw several favorites leave the cast after the third year, including Goldie Hawn and Judy Carne.  Ratings remained good, but slipped to 13th in season 3 and 22nd in season 4. 

Over it’s 140 episode run, the show introduced a number of up and coming performers, including Dave Madden – would go on to The Partridge FamilyFlip Wilson who would hit big on his own show, Teresa Graves who would score with Get Christie Love,  and ventriloquist act Willie Tyler and Lester.


The insane antics of the cast may seem a little dated today, with `mod’ clothes, `swingin’ 60’s party music, and political references that may mystify those not around at the time – but the zany humor still rings true, and you can see star power in the cast.


GUBA has 7 hours of Laugh In on their site.  


If you were around in the 1960s you probably saw all of these shows.  They are certainly worthy of a look back, if just for nostalgic reasons.    If you missed the 1960s . . . well, this is a good introduction to where our hearts and minds were.




















Dan Rowan passed away in 1987 on Manasota Key, Florida from lymphatic cancer.  He was 65 years old.

We lost Dick Martin last year, at the age of 86. 


He’d made the transition from comedian to director, and directed episodes from more than a dozen TV shows over a 30 year time span.  He was a particularly prolific director for Bob Newhart, working on 3 of his series over the years.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tall And Angular In The Saddle


The man in the saddle is angular and long-legged. His skin is sun-dyed brown. The gun in his holster is gray steel and rainbow mother-of-pearl, its handle unmarked. People call them both "the Six Shooter”




Just about every big Hollywood star, at one time or another during the decades of the 1930s through the 1950s, made a foray into radio.  


In fact, for many, it was part and parcel of their studio contract. Radio was used by Hollywood to promote their movies, and the stars who played in them.  


Jimmy Stewart, over the years was arguably one of the most beloved stars in Hollywood.   In 1985, several years after retiring from the movies, he received an Honorary Oscar, and said, “This was the greatest award I received, to know that, after all these years, I haven't been forgotten."


The audience then proceeded to give him a 10-minute standing ovation.  It was a remarkable moment.


Soft spoken, and reserved, you’d never guess that he held highest active military rank of any actor in history, and was a much decorated World War II hero. 


During the war he served in the Army Air Corps and rose to the rank of colonel; after the War, he continued in the US Air Force Reserve and achieved the rank of (1-star) Brigadier General.  During the war Steward earned the Air Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Croix de Guerre and 7 battle stars.


For much of his early career, Stewart played the nice-guy `everyman’ (although he occasionally played the bad guy, such as in After The Thin Man in 1936), but by 1950 he began to remake his image, often playing more cynical and craggier characters in westerns.

While he would score big with movies like Harvey (1950), No Highway In the Sky (1951), The Glenn Miller Story (1954), and Rear Window (1954) his `adult’ westerns of that period remain classics of the genre.


The Far Country (1954)

The Naked Spur (1953)


Bend of the River (1952) 


Broken Arrow (1950)

Winchester '73 (1950)


It was during this time that Stewart made the classic radio series, The Six Shooter.  It first aired on April 1st, 1954 . . . and in all, only 39 episodes were produced.   But they remain among the best of the `adult’ westerns that radio presented.


Stewart played Britt Ponset, a cowboy who drifted around the west with his horse, Scar.  Each week they’d find new adventures as they interacted with the people he’d meet in his travels.


The show used whimsy, and even outright comedy, at times. . . but could be as hard edged as carbon steel when it wanted to be.  Stewart’s whispered narration became a bit of a trademark of the show.


While there are many who proclaim that Gunsmoke was the best radio western, or Have Gun, Will Travel . . . for my money, nothing beats The Six Shooter.  


And had it started a few years earlier, when radio was in its heyday, perhaps we’d have more than 39 episodes by which to judge it. 


The complete series can be downloaded from The Internet Archive either as a single zip file or as individual episodes.


Stewart would reprise the role of Britt Ponset in a General Electric Theatre TV episode called "The Town with a Past" in 1957. 


And in 1957, John Payne would play the character in an episode of The Schlitz Playhouse of Stars.   That ended up being a pilot episode for the TV show The Restless Gun, which ran for 78 episodes on NBC in 1957-1958.


While they recycled a number of the radio plots, they changed the main character’s name from Britt Ponset to  Vint Bonner, once the series began.  


The horse’s name remained Scar, however.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Ol' Pea-Picker




Tennessee Ernie Ford (February 13, 1919 – October 17, 1991) born Ernest Jennings Ford, was a TV host and country – gospel singer who gained national fame and popularity in the 1950s.  


His early career in radio began after WWII in San Bernardino and Pasadena, California.  It was there that he created the persona of `Tennessee Ernie’, a wild, tall-tale telling Hillbilly, on a morning show called the Bar Nothin' Ranch Time.

Ernie picked up the nickname, The Ol’ Pea-Picker  from a `countrified’ expression he used on his radio show; “Bless your little ol’ pea-pickin heart’.


Ford was a mildly successful recording artist in the early 1950’s, recording singles such as "Shotgun Boogie" and  "Blackberry Boogie”, and recorded a duet with Kay Starr in 1950 that charted well called “I'll Never Be Free.”

Ford made frequent radio appearances, and had his own syndicated Radio show The Tennessee Ernie Show and in 1954 briefly hosted the revived NBC quiz show Kollege of Musical Knowledge, which had formerly been bandleader Kay Kaiser’s radio and TV show.


But it was probably his portrayal of `Cousin Ernie’ on the I Love Lucy Show, that brought him to national attention.   Here is a clip from that classic episode.



In 1955, Ernie would record “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier".  Davy Crockett mania was sweeping the country due to the  Disney retelling of those tales, and the record charted at #4 on the country charts.

It would be Sixteen Tons, however, that would assure his position as a singing star, and give him an unforgettable signature song.  It would remain #1 on the pop chart for 2 months, and the country charts for 10 weeks.


Sixteen Tons established Ford as a `cross-over’ star, and paved the way for his television career.


In 1956, Ford released an album of religious hymns, and his career singing gospel music took off.  His album stayed on the billboard charts for an astonishing 227 consecutive weeks.


In the late 1950s Ford hosted an NBC TV series called The Ford Show, named not after the host, but wryly named after the sponsor – Ford Automobiles.   At Ernie’s insistence, the show always ended with a gospel song – something the network objected to, but which became one of the most popular segments of the show.


The Internet Archive has two half hour episodes from The Ford Show, one with guest star Charles Laughton, and the other with Molly Bee.



Tennessee Ernie Ford with Charles Laughton
The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show from 1959 with Charles Laughton as Guest

Molly Bee
The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show 1960 Molly Bee 

During the early-to-mid 1960s, Ford helmed a daytime talk show on the ABC network called The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show.


In 1967, Ernie would pay a return visit to Lucille Ball’s show, this time on her Lucy Show, more than 15 years after playing `Cousin Ernie’.    That show is in the public domain as well.



Lucy Meets Tennessee Ernie Ford
The Lucy Show ep Lucy Meets Tennessee Ernie Ford 

Ford’s career began to dwindle by the end of the 1960’s, although he continued to make personal appearances.   Most of his recordings after 1970 were in the gospel arena.  


Ford, who reportedly fought a long-term battle with alcohol, passed away in 1991 at the age of 72.  

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Creature Features




Growing up in the early 1960’s, Friday Nights meant Shock Theatre at 11:30 at night on our local TV station (WTVT-13) , a late night treat I was allowed to partake in from about the age of 8 onward.

Most of the films were the old Universal Horror movies from the 1930’s and 1940’s.    Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman . . . 


Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night

May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms

And the autumn moon is bright. 


But I digress . . .

Saturday afternoons, on another local station, we got newer, more sci-fi related fare, on something called Terminus Theatre.   Movies with Marshall Thompson or John Agar, or sometimes if we were lucky, Kenneth Toby!


So I was exposed to all of the classics growing up.


Many of these films, in retrospect, were pretty bad.  Not that they aren’t still enjoyable, but they often were low budget affairs, thrown together for the Drive-in market.   Rubber monsters and wooden actors.


I confess, about once a year, I spend an afternoon reveling in their badness.  I draw the line with the badly dubbed Japanese monster movies.  Even as a kid, they never grabbed me.


Some, however, are genuine classics of the genre. 


And so, with Halloween just a week away, I present a handful of some the `better’ (a purely subjective choice on my part) horror movies available from the Internet Archive.  





House on Haunted Hill - William Castle
Frederick Loren has invited five strangers to a party of a lifetime. He is offering each of them $10,000 if they can stay the night in a house.


A classic that is derivative of Agatha Christie’s 10 Little Indians, but who cares?   You’ve got Vinnie Price doing what he does best, scaring the dickens out of the audience, and a cast that includes Richard Long and Elisha Cook jr.

IMDB has it with 6.8 stars, and I quite agree.




Horror Express - Bernard Gordon
An English anthropologist (Christopher Lee) has discovered a frozen monster in the frozen wastes of Manchuria which he believes may be the Missing Link. He brings the creature back to Europe aboard a trans-Siberian express, but during the trip the monster thaws out and starts to butcher the passengers one by one.


Shakes on a Train.  Anytime you can put Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in a Film together, you can pretty much count on it being worth the time to watch it.   Look for Telly Savalas as Captain Kazan.  This train-bound horror film garners a  respectable 6.4 on the IMDB ratings.





The Last Man on Earth - Samuel Z. Arkoff
Based on the chilling Richard Matheson science fiction Classic "I am Legend" This classic features Vincent Price as scientist Robert Morgan in a post apocalyptic nightmare world. The world has been consumed by a ravenous plague that has transformed humanity into a race of bloodthirsty vampires. Only Morgan proves immune, and becomes the solitary vampire slayer.


They keep remaking this movie  (The Omega Man, I Am Legend) but this Spaghetti Horror film arguably remains the best version.  This is the widescreen version. This 1964 classic tops the ratings heap with a 6.9 on its IMDB Page.






The Little Shop of Horrors - Roger Corman
Seymour is picked on by everybody in his life until he discovers a strange plant that makes him a media sensation. Only the plant has unusual dietary needs--human blood. You can find out more about this movie on its IMDB page. You can download an avi of the movie here.

King of the low-budget horror genre, legend has it that Roger Corman filmed this gem in just 2 days.  It has since inspired a broadway musical and a movie remake, and dozens of parodies.


This classic horror/comedy gets a decent 6.2 on its IMDB page.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

R.I.P. Soupy Sales





Soupy Sales (January 8, 1926 – October 22, 2009) – born Milton Supman died on Thursday at the age of 83.  `Soupy’ was a shortened version of his childhood nickname, `Soup bone’, and he used it first as a DJ and then later in television.

Sales earned a masters in journalism from Marshall College, but worked on the side in nightclubs as a singer, dancer, and comedian.


During the late 1940’s and early 1950’s Sales worked on locally produced TV shows for stations out of Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Detroit.   Everything from teen dance shows, to a late night TV variety format.


In 1953, the Soupy Sales Show (aka Lunch with Soupy Sales and before that 12 O'Clock Comics) was broadcast locally in Detroit by WXYZ-TV, and was picked up by the ABC network in 1959 for national syndication.


In 1960 the show moved to Los Angeles, but the show was dropped by ABC in 1961.   It ran locally, and was picked up again by the network as a late night replacement for Steve Allen in 1962.  That run didn’t last very long, either.

In 1964, Sales moved to New York, where his kids show was broadcast on WNEW-TV.  Screen Gems licensed 260 episodes for syndication, and it is this show that is best remembered today.


The show was a combination of slapstick, comic skits, and appearances by guest stars . . . including Fess Parker, Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, and the Shangri La’s.  While most thought of it as a `kids show’, much of the humor was directed at a more adult audience.


Below is a clip with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.


Some of the puppets used in the show included:

  • White Fang, "The Biggest and Meanest Dog in the USA,"
  • Black Tooth, "The Biggest and Sweetest Dog in the USA",
  • Pookie the Lion
  • Hippy the Hippo


The show is famous for two `incidents’, both of which have become part of the legend of early TV.


On New Year’s Day, 1965 – peeved at having to work on a holiday – Sales ended his show with  an appeal to kids to tiptoe into their  parents' bedrooms and remove those "funny green pieces of paper with pictures of U.S. Presidents" from their pants and pocketbooks. "Put them in an envelope and mail them to me," Soupy told the children. "And I'll send you a postcard from Puerto Rico!"


But hey, listen to Soupy tell the story.




The second incident involved an `unseen guest’ at the door (a recurring bit) that unexpectedly turned out to be topless stripper.  The show was filmed late at night – without an audience – and so practical jokes like this were common.  


Soupy shares the story – and the film clip that didn’t get aired – on the Bob Costas show.




And last, but not least, a full episode of the Soupy Sales show from 1965 on the Internet Archive.



The Soupy Sales Show
An episode from 1965.


While Sales reached the height of his popularity in the mid-1960s, he was a regular contestant on several game shows in the years that followed, including What’s My Line, The Match Game, and Hollywood Squares.

He also had a mid-morning radio show on WNBC (AM)  during the 1980s.   He was famously `relieved’ from duty in the middle of a show after ranting about the failure of the station to renew his contract.


Sales died this week after a long illness, at the age of 83.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Three Radio Chillers For Halloween




Although the movies of the 1930s brought horror to mainstream America, with such classics as Dracula, Frankenstein, and King Kong . . . it was the fertile ground of radio drama that produced the most (and arguably some of the best) horror entertainment.


So pervasive were horror and suspense programs on the radio during the 1930s and 1940s, that the outcry of clergy and teachers often reached a fevered pitch. The sordid and gruesome radio fare, from shows like The Inner Sanctum and Lights Out, they feared was going to be the ruination of the country’s youth. 


That, and swing music by Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey.


I’ve select 3 of my favorite horror/suspense OTR episodes, that will hopefully spur many of you on to explore the thousands of others that have been preserved and archived on the internet.   


Unlike the movies, or TV, these episodes require your attention and mental participation.  The use of your imagination to fill in the horrifying blanks.   


So turn the lights down low, gather your family around the computer, and enjoy . . .



Three Skeleton Key


Tired of the everyday routine? Ever dream of a life of romantic adventure? Want to get away from it all?

We offer you... Escape!      (cue dramatic music)

Escape. Designed to free you from the four walls of today for a half hour of high adventure.


With that famous opening (often intoned by William Conrad) one of the best anthology series of the late 1940’s and early 1950s brought us tales of  ESCAPE!   


Admittedly, this is one of my favorite series (you find another offering follows).   


ESCAPE! was the little, low-budget show that could. 


A summer replacement for the long-running SUSPENSE! - which attracted big name stars - Escape is well remembered for doing a lot with very little.

Nearly all of the episodes from its 7 year run are available for free download, including from.  (Internet Archive)  (Real Player Episodes)


The episode Three Skeleton Key stars Vincent Price in a radio adaptation of the George G. Toudouze 1937 short story which is available online to read.


Three Skeleton Key is the first, March 1950 production of this story.  It would end up being produced twice more by Suspense!, but this first one is considered to be the best.

Rats, Vincent Price, and an old light house . . . and almost no hope of ESCAPE!



Shipment of Mute Fate

Many of the radio scripts from ESCAPE! would end up being re-produced on ESCAPE! or SUSPENSE! a number of times, often with different casts. 


A Shipment of Mute Fate was produced at least 4 times, but I’ve always been partial to the first run-through, starring a young Jack Webb in 1947  (see You Really Don’t Know Jack). 


Escape! had a thing for snakes, and in this case, the story revolves around a South American Bushmaster – perhaps the deadliest snake in the world – loose aboard a small passenger ship. 

`Mute Fate’ comes from the Latin name for the snake, Lachesis Muta, which refers to the silent rattle the snake possesses.  No warning for the careless trespasser onto the snake’s territory.


Aside from the suspenseful plot, and surprise ending, this is an opportunity to hear Jack Webb before he adopted his mono-toned Sgt. Friday persona.



The Thing on the Fourble Board


Jumping now to  Wyllis Cooper’s Quiet, Please, we get one of the most highly regarded horror scripts ever produced for radio. 


Cooper, who had created Lights Out years earlier created Quiet, Please with Ernest E. Chappell, who had previously been a radio announcer. 


He turned out, however, to be a terrific radio actor and used  silence, and the dreaded `dead air’ to great effect.


It is said that Cooper’s scripts, read by anyone else, would have run only about 11 or 12 minutes.   But the pauses that Chappell built in stretched them out to nearly 30 minutes.


You’ll find more than 100 episodes available at


In The Thing on the Fourble Board, we hear the story of a roughneck, working the oil fields, who discovers something remarkable up on the fourble board of his oil derrick.  



If you like these, there are hundreds of other episodes from these two series, plus thousands more from Suspense, Lights Out, The Mysterious Traveler, Inner Sanctum, The Hermits Cave, and many, many more.


Some, today, would be considered camp, or even silly.  A few, like The Hermits Cave, were admittedly over-the-top.


But before we’d been jaded by CGI movies, and had seen a thousand rip offs of these early plots on TV, these shows were very chilling indeed.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Night America Trembled



With Halloween rapidly approaching, this is the time of year we look at some of sci-fi and horror offerings of radio, early TV, and the movies.  None is more famous than the infamous `War of The Worlds’ broadcast of Halloween night, 1938. 


Although this Orson Welles broadcast was the subject of one of my earlier blogs, written back in 2008,  I’ve an interesting addendum for classic TV fans. 


A Studio One presentation called `The Night America Trembled’.


But first, a brief revisiting of the original radio broadcast.


Among Halloween radio broadcasts, there is none better remembered than the Mercury Theatre's  War of the Worlds,  broadcast on Oct 30st, 1938.  My parents were listening that Sunday night, and having tuned in from the beginning, knew this was a dramatic presentation. 


Anyone who listened to the first 2 minutes of the show heard the introduction by producer and star Orson Welles.   But the next disclaimer wouldn’t come until 40 minutes into the show.



Orson Welles

Orson  Welles


The Mercury theatre – while a critical success – was considered a a bit of a `highbrow’ show, and had far fewer listeners than their competitor on NBC, the popular Chase and Sanborn Hour with Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy.  


So the truth is, most of the country wasn’t even listening that night.


Those that did tune in late, however, found that their local CBS station was broadcasting a program of `dance music by Ramon Raquello’ and his orchestra instead of the Mercury Theatre.


Within moments, however, there would be a simulated `news flash', indicating that astronomers had detected explosions of `hydrogen gas' on the planet Mars.


With increasing frequency (far too fast, but hey, it was only an hour show), more news flashes would break into the `music program'.


First, with an interview with an `astronomer' named  Richard Pearson (quite obviously voiced by Orson Welles), who discounts any concerns over Mars being inhabited.


Within seconds, however, there are reports of seismic activity in New Jersey, and the next 30 minutes are a series of flash news reports covering the landing of a space craft in Grovers Mill, New Jersey, and its subsequent attack on the people there.


Soon New York City is under attack by "five great machines" wading across the Hudson River.  


Now, the story goes that more than a million people believed this radio broadcast to be real.     I doubt that.   


There were disclaimers during the shows intermission, a full disclamer in the first two minutes, and quite frankly it has the `sound and feel' of a radio drama.   


Anyone alarmed by this broadcast  would certainly have checked other stations to see if they, too, were carrying the`news'.   The next day, there was a great to-do make over the broadcast, and recriminations against Welles and his radio troop. 



While the `panic' caused by this show was probably exaggerated, some people did apparently take it to be real.   In any event, legend or fact, it is a piece of history now. 


Listen to the most famous Halloween radio broadcast of them all.

1938-10-30 War of the Worlds


Twenty years after that famous broadcast, Studio One  opened their 10th season with a dramatic re-enactment of that broadcast, and the reaction of America.   


Narrated by the most famous newsman of the era, Edward R. Murrow, this was a prestigious presentation that captures the mood of the nation in those nervous years just prior to World War II.


You’ll spot a lot of young, not-yet-quite famous actors in the cast including Ed Asner, John Astin, Vincent Gardenia, James CoburnWarren Oates and Warren Beatty.  The `stars’ of this production, however, are Ed Murrow and Alexander Scourby.





The Night America Trembled
Studio One 10x01 The Night America Trembled


This was the film debut of both John Astin and James Coburn, both destined to stardom in the decade to come. 


As you watch, remember that this was live television, with no chances for re-takes, no post-production editing.  This was acting (and directing) without a net.   And something that few TV shows dare to attempt today.


The days of live drama were nearly at an end by 1958, with video tape and film soon to replace the `stage bound’ production so common during Televisions first decade.  


The original radio show, followed by the TV re-enactment, would make a fine (and educational) evenings’ double feature in the days ahead.