Saturday, February 27, 2010

Speedy Relief



Martha Tilton


In the late 1940s and early 1950s Television was elbowing its way in, but radio was still the primary form of home entertainment. Almost anyone could afford a radio, whereas a TV could run a month’s salary or more.

Some areas of the country didn’t see a regular TV broadcast schedule until the mid-1950s.    So for a lot of reasons, Americans turned to radio for their news, information, entertainment . . . and company.


Sometimes, all it took was a simple format, a gracious host (or two), and some pleasant music to make a successful show.


Last month I highlighted one of the last of this genre, the Bing Crosby-Rosemary Clooney show  (see Exiting An Era, Side By Side).  Today I’ve some episodes of a show that came a full decade earlier, starring a pair of singers that relatively few remember today.


Curt Massey and Martha `Liltin’ Tilton.


The show was originally called Curt Massey Time (sometimes billed `with Martha Tilton’), but changed to Alka_Seltzer Time in the early 1950s to reflect the sponsor.


This was a daytime (weekdays) 15 minute show of music and banter that showcased the talents of Massey and Tilton, and Country Washburne and His Orchestra.   


While these quarter hour shows could never be described as spectacular, or even particularly memorable . . .  they are  undeniably nice


Curt Massey was a capable radio singer and The Liltin’ Miss Tilton was (and still is) a vastly under appreciated talent. Together they produced a cordial quarter hour that many people were quite happy to invite into their daily lives.


Today, Curt Massy is probably best remember for co-writing and singing the Theme from the TV show Petticoat Junction, which has survived in reruns for 40 years.  


Martha Tilton, originally the `Miss’ in the quartet Three Hits and A Miss, was a popular Big Band Singer, gaining national notoriety with the Benny Goodman Orchestra in the late 1930s and later with the Glenn Miller Orchestra.


She sang the memorable jazzy rendition of "Loch Lomond" for Benny Goodman's 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, and had a string of hits as a solo artist in the 1940s. 


Her biggest hits includedI’ll walk Alone”,That’s My Desire”, and "How Are Things in Glocca Morra". 


A small sampling of her Benny Goodman years include:


What A Little Moonlight Can Do         3.25 MB

Thanks For The Memories                  2.94 MB

The Lady Is A Tramp 1937                 1.44 MB

The Moon Got In My Eyes 1937           2.87 MB


Alka Seltzer Time is one of those old radio shows that doesn’t require much of a commitment from the listener.  There are no punch lines to miss, no plots to keep track of, and nothing the least bit complex or controversial.  


The music, however, is sweet, nostalgic, and very well done.  Tilton and Massey have great chemistry together. 


Sometimes that’s all it takes to create a little bit of radio magic.


The following shows can be found on the Internet Archive 


   First Song - On the Sunny Side of the Street           3.31 MB

   First Song - Choo Choo Train                                 3.32 MB

   First Song - Moon Light                                         3.28 MB 

   First Song - When Love Goes Wrong                      3.31 MB 

   First Song - I've Got Spurs That Jingle Jangle         3.31 MB 

   First Song - Moonlight When Shadows Fall              3.31 MB 

   First Song - Choo Choo Train                                 3.32 MB

   First Song - Medley of Hawaiian Songs                   3.31 MB

   First Song - It's Istanbul, Not Constantinople          3.30 MB 

   First Song - Tunes From Old Records                      3.32 MB

   First Song - I'll Fall In Love With You Every Day      3.31 MB

   First Song - Honey, I'm In Love With You               3.33 MB 

   First Song - It's Istanbul, Not Constantinople          3.31 MB 

   First Song - Just To Be With You                           3.32 MB

   First Song - Put On A Bonnet                                 3.32 MB

   First Song - On The Sunny Side Of The Street         3.34 MB

   First Song - Papaya Mama                                     3.28 MB

   First Song - Tell Of The Time                                3.25 MB

   First Song - The Collegiate Ra Ra                          3.29 MB

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Now You See Him . . .




The H.G. Wells classic, The Invisible Man, has been the subject of more than a dozen move, radio, and TV productions over the past 80 or so years.  


During the 1950s, it was even adapted for British Television (and broadcast in the US on CBS) as a sort of adventure/spy/Science Fiction program.  


While not exactly true to the H. G. Wells version, the series followed the adventures of Dr. Peter Brady who accidentally renders himself invisible when a lab experiment goes awry.    


He is first locked up as a security risk, but then is `recruited’ to do spy work for the government.   


The creator was Ralph Smart, who would go on to create one of the great 1960’s spy series,  Danger Man (aka Secret Agent) with Patrick McGoohan).  


The original pilot for the show was never aired, as Smart realized that the special effects were simply too crude, even for TV back then,  They reshot the pilot, this time with better production values, and the series ran 26 episodes over two years.


The lead character was never credited, since his face was never shown.  Johnny Scripps, a midget, played Dr. Brady ensconced inside his suit – his diminutive size allowing him to see through the button holes in Brady’s suit.


When viewed in context (low budget, made more than 50 years ago, and during the height of the cold war), this remains a nifty little series as long as you aren’t expecting much in the way of special effects.


Certainly worth a look, particularly if you remember this one from your childhood as do I.


Here then is the first episode, and a link to the entire series, available on The Internet Archive.



Invisible Man - Secret Experiment (1958)
First episode of the 1958 British television series "H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man". Not really anything to do with the Novel, the series is a fantasy-espionage series - like Danger Man or the Avengers with the added invisibility gimmick.


The entire run of 26 episodes is available at this link.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Sunday Quickie: The Wilhelm Scream




Over the years, you’ve probably heard it hundreds (perhaps thousands) of times, it has become so ubiquitous in films  But few know the story behind `the Wilhelm scream’


It began in the 1951 movie Distant Drums, with a scene showing a soldier dragged under in the swamp by an alligator.


As he is struck, he screams . . . 



The scream was recorded and dubbed into the scene in post production, and legend has it that Sheb (“Purple People Eaters”) Wooley who was an extra on the film, recorded the famous cry.


The scream was saved to Warner Brother’s sound department, and showed up again in a western called Charge At Feather River in 1953.  This time, a solider named `Wilhelm’ stops to light his pipe, and takes an arrow in the thigh for his trouble.


For the next twenty-four years the `Wilhelm scream’ would appear occasionally in movies (sometimes more than once), including:

"The Command" (1954)
"Them!" (1954)
"A Star is Born" (1954)
"Land of the Pharaohs" (1955)
"The Sea Chase" (1955)
"Helen of Troy" (1956)
"Sergeant Rutledge" (1960)
"PT 109" (1963)
"Harper" (1966)
"The Green Berets" (1968)
"The Wild Bunch" (1969)
"Chisum" (1970)
"Impasse" (1970)
"The Scarlet Blade" (1974)
"Hollywood Boulevard" (1976)


Ben Burtt – working on the sound effects for the first Star Wars movie (1977) found it on a reel of tape and used it in the laser fight aboard the Death Star.


Burtt dubbed the the 2 second clip as `the Wilhelm scream’ after the cavalryman in Charge at Feather River.


After that, the scream showed up in other George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg films with regularity.   Other sound effects designers began using it too, as sort of an inside joke among them.  


Pretty soon, you could hear the Wilhelm scream in more than 100 movies and television shows.  And the number is growing.


So a compilation seems in order of a scream that has become a piece of film history.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Good Night Mrs. Calabash, Where Ever You Are







Continuing with last week’s tribute to Jimmy Durante, today we’ll look at his post-1940 career which included movies, records, radio, and TV appearances. 


Although Durante found work, and some success in the movies, he was hardly a `movie star’.  


With the exception of You’re In The Army Now (1941) and The Great Rupert (1950) most of his appearances were in supporting `character’ roles, usually with 3rd, 4th, or even lower billing. 


His high powered stage presence which worked to great effect on the Broadway stage was at times too overpowering for the movies.  Subtlety was not Durante’s stock in trade.


During the 1940s, it would be radio (and personal appearances) where Durante would shine brightest.  In 1943 Durante teamed with a young comedian named Gary Moore in the The Durante-Moore Show that ran until 1947. 


Sadly, very few of these shows appear to have survived.


Four that are a available on the Internet Archive include:

Sorry, the Lion Is Busy             6.53 MB

Bond Rally, the                        6.33 MB

Thanksgiving Pilgram Opera    6.56 MB

(36), the                                6.93 MB


Jimmy’s next radio show would go on for another 3 years, with a cast that included songstress Peggy Lee, and Candy Candido and a series of co-hosts that included Arthur Treacher and Allen Young.


Here we are far more fortunate to have available more than 3 dozen episodes, with guest stars such as Boris Karloff, Red Skelton, Bob Hope, Al Jolson, Van Johnson, Lucille Ball, and Eddie Cantor


You’ll find a nice selection at Tennessee Bill’s OTR Site  HERE or on the Internet Archive  HERE. 


Like many radio personalities, Durante also appeared frequently as a guest on other people’s shows.   He was a semi-regular on NBC’s The Big Show in the early 1950’s (see A Really Big Show), and appeared on many variety shows.


Despite his gravelly voice, Durante was to become a successful recording artist, with not only novelty hits, like Inka Dinka Doo, but with his surprisingly poignant renditions of standards like September Song,  Make Someone Happy,  Young At Heart, and As Time Goes by.


A few of these recordings to enjoy include:


Jimmy Durante - SEPTEMBER SONG 1.47 MB

Jimmy Durante – Smile                   2.68 MB

Jimmy Durante - Young At Heart     2.60 MB


Durante was such a part of American culture, he was even caricaturized in a Warner Brothers  Tweety-bird Cartoon,  A Gruesome Twosome in 1944. 




The early 1950s saw the slow demise of radio as America’s top home entertainment option and the rise of Television.   And Durante – nearly 60 by then – took to this new format like the old pro he was.


In 1950 and 1951 Durante alternated with Danny Thomas, Ed Wynn, and Jack Carson as the host of 4 Star Revue before moving on to his own TV show.


Here we have a clip from about 1955 from Jimmy’s TV show where he reunites with his old Vaudeville Partner Eddie Jackson, and together they show us what real showmanship is about.



And here is Jimmy doing a novelty song called The Umbriago.



And from 1959, we have this hour long Kinescope of NBC’s Sunday Showcase, starring Jimmy along with guests Jane Powell, Ray Bolger, Eddie Hodges and Jimmie Rodgers




''Sunday Showcase'' - Jimmy Durante Special (NBC, 1959)

An 1959 episode of the TV series "Sunday Showcase", which consisted of TV specials. This episode features Jimmy Durante, with special guests Jane Powell, Ray Bolger, Eddie Hodges and Jimmie Rodgers. This special aired on NBC during 1959 in colour, but only a black and white kinescope survives of the telecast.



During the 1960’s (while well into his 70s) Durante would appear on TV variety shows such as The Hollywood Palace on a regular basis.  Here is a clip from 1969.




It would be this same year that Jimmy would become a Holiday icon for a whole new generation, narrating Frosty The Snowman for the perennial Christmas cartoon.



During the last decade of his life, Durante suffered several strokes, and finally retired from show business.  Truly as beloved an entertainer as existed during the 20th century.


At the end of each performance, Jimmy would end by saying `Good Night, Mrs. Calabash . . . Where ever you are’.  


For many years this sparked much speculation as to who, or what Mrs. Calabash was.   Many believed it to be a reference to his first wife, who died on Valentine’s Day 1943.


That mystery was solved, according to the Wikipedia, in 1966.


At a National Press Club meeting in 1966 (broadcast on NBC's Monitor program), Durante revealed that it was indeed a tribute to the first Mrs. Durante.

One time while driving across the country, they stopped in a small town called Calabash, which Mrs. Durante loved. He recalled the town as being near Chicago. "Mrs. Calabash" became his private pet name for her, so years later he came to sign off his radio program with "Good night, Mrs. Calabash." He added "...wherever you are" after the first year.[2]



So, it is only fitting that I end this post with a clip of Jimmy saying `Good Night’ at the end of his show from the 1950s.



Goodnight, Mr. Durante . . .  Where ever you are.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Song’s Gotta Come From The Heart




Jimmy Durante in 1933


Even for later generations who weren’t around during the golden age of movies, radio, and Television it is pretty easy to understand why some stars or entertainers made it. 


No one can look back at the artistry of Fred Astaire’s dancing and have any doubts as to his talent. or listen to the singing voices of Judy Garland or Frank Sinatra and marvel that they made it.  


Some actors and actresses made it on talent alone, while others parlayed good looks into a career.  In some cases, they had both.  And some could sing and dance as well.


Again, no real mystery that they succeeded.  Although for reasons that are harder to quantify, thousands of equally talented individuals didn’t make it in Hollywood.


But there were other stars whose success – looking back - today’s generation may find a bit difficult to understand.   And I would suspect that Jimmy Durante fits into that category.


But the truth is, Jimmy Durante was one of those stars that it was hard not to like.  

Sure, his singing voice was gravelly, his jokes often lame and predictable, and his acting something less than world class . . .  yet somehow he became one of the most beloved entertainers of the 20th century.


None of this is to say he was without talent.  Hardly.  


He became a well respected jazz pianist as a young man in the second decade of the last century. His comic timing was impeccable. And most important of all, he created a persona that people liked.  


His massacring of the English language, his self-deprecating humor . . . even his choice of musical numbers  . . .  all brought a smile to his audience’s lips. 


He was the  unpretentious `everyman’, with the funny voice and the even funnier nose, who obviously was having as good a time up there on stage as were his fans were having in the audience. 


Like I say, it was hard not to like Jimmy Durante.  And that led to a career that spanned seven decades.


James Francis "Jimmy" Durante (February 10, 1893 – January 29, 1980) dropped out of school in the eight grade to become a full time ragtime pianist, and went by the name `Ragtime Jimmy’. 


By the late 1910’s he was playing piano for NYC’s Original New Orleans Jazz Band, as the only member not from New Orleans. It was there he developed his trademark of stopping in the middle of a song to tell a series of jokes, with the band punctuating his punch lines. is an absolutely terrific repository of knowledge of, and recordings from, jazz greats from before 1930.    There you’ll find a handful pre-1920 recordings with Jimmy and the band, along with this picture.




Durante moved into vaudeville, and radio, by the mid 1920s. He also appeared on Broadway in shows such as Show Girl (1929), Strike Me Pink (1934), and Red, Hot, & Blue (1936). 


But it was in Billy Rose’s Jumbo (1935) where he is confronted by a cop as he attempts to sneak Jumbo out of the circus who asks him, “Where are you going with that elephant?’, and he responds `What elephant?’, that regularly stopped the show.  


Durante would reprise the role in the 1962 film that retained little resemblance to the original production.


Durante also began appearing in films, often with silent film star Buster Keaton, in the early 1930s including The Wet Parade (1932) and Broadway to Hollywood (1933).


Two public domain examples of Jimmy’s early movies include:



Palooka - Edward Small
Palooka is a 1934 comedy film based on the comic strip by Ham Fisher. Joe Palooka (Stuart Erwin) is a naive young man whose father Pete (Robert Armstrong) was a champion boxer, but his lifestyle caused Joe's mother Mayme (Marjorie Rambeau) to leave him and to take young Joe to the country to raise him. But when a shady boxing manager (Jimmy Durante) discovers Joe's natural boxing talent, Joe decides to follow him to the big city, where he becomes a champion and begins to follow his father's path...






Land Without Music aka Forbidden Music - Walter Forde Forbidden Music, or 'Land Without Music', teams Jimmy Durante with Richard Tauber (now that's a strange pairing if ever there was one) in a tale about a land so obsessed with music its Princess outlaws all forms of musical expression - Tauber of course plays an opera singer who makes regular visits back to the country of his birth to appear in concert; but how will he fare under the new rules? 


Great movies?


Well, hardly.  But they are likable movies.  


In 1934, Durante would pen the novelty song `Inka Dinka Do’, and it would become a major hit, and would become his signature song (although not the only song associated with him).


This rendition with the Harry James Orchestra is from the 1944 movie, Two girls and a sailor.



During 1935, Durante starred in the `Jumbo Fire Chief Show’, which was a replacement for Texaco's "The Fire Chief" starring Ed “The perfect fool’ Wynn.  


This was essentially a radio serialization of the Broadway Musical   Billy Rose’s Jumbo, in which Durante was appearing.   


Spread out over 19 episodes, only 12 have survived.


Trouble with the IRS                                6.89 MB

Romantic Mix-Up                                     6.79 MB

Jumbo Is Hidden                                      6.70 MB

The Circus Is to Be Sold                            6.56 MB

An Investor for the Circus                         6.87 MB

Brainy Modernizes the Circus                     6.74 MB

An Old Fashioned Show                             6.64 MB

The First Payment Is Due                          6.86 MB

Fights with Bosco                                     6.89 MB

Brainy Woos a Wealthy Woman                 6.62 MB

The Wealthy Woman Visits the Circus        6.87 MB

The Big Fight                                           6.74 MB


There’s more to the Durante story, of course.  A lot more.


For those who don’t already know, the title of today’s blog comes from the 1947 musical `It Happened in Brooklyn’, which starred Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, Katherine Grayson, and Peter Lawford.


Perhaps not the greatest of musical comedies, but well remembered for  a show stopping number by Durante and Sinatra; “The Song’s Gotta Come From the Heart’.  


I’ll leave you with this clip from Youtube of the old master showing a young Frankie how to sing, and a promise to return with another installment on Jimmy Durante next week.

Until then.  Enjoy.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Original Late Night Variety Show




A dozen years before Johnny Carson took over the reins of the Tonight Show – and long before Jack Paar and Steve Allen redefined the genre -  NBC began an experiment in programming that has, in one incarnation or another, lasted nearly 6 decades.    

The late night variety show.


As you might expect, NBC was the first network to commit to a late night variety show, believing that it could pull audiences away from the incessant reruns of B movies (often with The Syncopated Clock as a theme song) usually found playing on the late, late show on the other channels.


The show came about due to the visionary work of  Sylvester `Pat’ Weaver  (father of actress Sigourney Weaver and brother to comedian `Doodles’ Weaver) who began his career as a radio producer in the 1930s  (Fred Allen’s Town Hall Tonight), and who eventually became head of programming for the NBC radio network.


In 1949 he was brought over to the struggling NBC TV network in hopes that he could break the CBS’s stranglehold on the ratings.  One of the first innovations that Weaver introduced came in the form of Broadway Open House  which ran Monday through Friday from 11pm to Midnight.


The show was supposed to be hosted by comic Don "Creesh" Hornsby, but Hornsby died suddenly two weeks before the show premiered.


In a last minute bit of substitution,  Morey Amsterdam, who already had hosted a variety show on the Dumont network, covered Monday and Friday nights and a brash young comedian named Jerry Lester did Tues-Weds-Thurs.




Lester had previously been the host of DuMont’s Cavalcade of Stars, but walked off the show earlier in the year.  Filling in for AWOL Lester was a young comedian named Jackie Gleason, who moved the show to CBS and became a mainstay of TV for 20 years.


Amsterdam would leave Broadway Open House quickly, leaving Lester to cover five nights a week.  


Lester was the master of `low comedy’, and his antics were what you might expect from a baggy pants vaudeville comedian of another era.   Pratt falls, rapid fire deliveries (so if one joke fails, the next is already on the way), and juvenile antics.


He was, however, exactly what the late night show needed.  Someone was lively, who was able to ad lib, and someone who could do an hour a night.


Lester padded his show with regulars,including dancer Ray Malone, accordionist Milton DeLugg, announcer Wayne Howell and vocalists Jane Harvey, Andy Roberts and David Street.


The show began in May of 1950, but in mid-June Lester hired buxom Jennie Lewis for a bit part, where she was to read some poetry, act dumb, and give the show some eye-candy.   Lester named her `Dagmar’, and smirked about her `hidden talents’.



Dagmar was an immediate success, and became a regular member of the cast.   While looking like the proverbial blonde Bombshell,  Dagmar exuded a naiveté, a wholesomeness, that belied her outward appearance.  


That make her attractive to men and non-threatening to women.  It was persona that American audiences had never seen before.


By the end of the year, Dagmar was a sensation.   American TV’s first sex symbol.

Her popularity grew to the point where she was getting more fan mail than the host, Jerry Lester.  In 1951, out of frustration, Lester quit the show.   Dagmar went on to host it briefly, before the show was canceled later in the year.


Lester, who died in 1995 after years with Alzheimer's, would go on to work on the stage, and occasionally on TV until 1975.


Dagmar would go on to host her own short-lived TV show (Dagmar’s Canteen), and made guest appearances on Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and Milton Berle shows.   


But Dagmar’s days in the limelight were numbered as well.   TV has always been a fickle medium.   With the exception of a few appearances on talk shows, by the 1960’s Dagmar pretty much retired from show business.


Last month I featured a Frank Sinatra Show with Dagmar as a guest (see Sinatra With A Pencil Thin Mustache).


We’ve two full hours of Broadway Open House on the Internet Archive for your enjoyment.  Sadly, most of these shows have been lost forever, since no one believed there would be any interest in preserving them sixty years ago.





Broadway Open House - 14/December/1950
Another episode of the first late-night variety program "Broadway open house". With Jerry Lester, Milton DeLugg, Dave Street, Ray Malone, Dagmar, The Mellolarks, Joan Lorre. Guest-star(let): Laurette Luez.




Broadway Open House - 30/January/1951
The first regularly scheduled late-night entertainment program on television. It was the forerunner of "The tonight show" and was broadcast from 5/29/1950 to 8/24/1951. With Jerry Lester, Milton DeLugg, Dave Street, Dagmar, The Mellolarks, Fletcher Peck, etc. Includes some original commercials


`Pat’ Weaver, who created this genre of late night programming, would end up creating the venerable Today Show for NBC, and pioneered the practice of networks (instead of sponsors) owning a show, and selling advertisements.



And for more Jerry Lester, we’ve an episode of the DuMont Network show – Cavalcade of Stars – available as well.   This show is more of a traditional variety show, with guest stars and acts.  Jackie Robinson is a featured guest.  




Misc episode of 'Cavalcade of Stars'
1950 episode of The DuMont Network's 'Cavalcade of Stars', hosted by Jerry Lester. Also features a obscure singer, a well-known baseball player and some other people. Variety Series.


While none of these shows could be accused of being sophisticated, or even well polished, they are fascinating glimpses at a America and early Television from sixty years ago.




A little postscript.


Andrew Fielding, whom I’ve mentioned here on several occasions (his blog is in my sidebar, and he is the author of The Lucky Strike Papers, which I reviewed herehas a post about an alumnus of Broadway Open House; Milton Delugg, who wrote the hit song Orange Colored Sky.


For a lot more on the fascinating history of early television, point your browser to The Lucky Strike Papers blog.


Highly recommended.