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.