Amoeblog

Happy Birthday, Gunsmoke - The Greatest Radio Western of All Time

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 26, 2011 12:24pm | Post a Comment
Gunsmoke was, without question, the greatest radio western of all. It debuted 59 years ago today, on April 26th, 1952. Having been exposed to juvenile westerns like The Lone Ranger and Red Ryder as well as the boring Gunsmoke TV series, for a long time I avoided the radio program. Besides, it was set in Kansas.
 
Then one day, I tuned in to an episode already in progress. Not knowing what it was, I didn't immediately change the station and was drawn into what sounded like a vivid, violent film noir, albeit set in 19th century Dodge City. When I realized it was Gunsmoke, I was surprised to say the least, but also hopelessly hooked.
 

Gunsmoke was created by director Norman MacDonnell and writer John Meston at the behest of CBS's programming chief, Hubell Robinson. His boss, CBS chairman William S. Paley, was a fan of another classic CBS program, The Adventures of Philip Marlowe. Robinson had suggested to the West Coast CBS Vice-President, Harry Ackerman, who had developed the Philip Marlowe series, to create a 
"Philip Marlowe of the Old West" in the 1940s.
 
In 1949, Ackerman and the famed scriptwriting duo of Mort Fine and David Friedkin created an audition script called "Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye" based on one of their Michael Shayne radio scripts, "The Crooked Wheel." It starred Michael Rye as Matt Dillon. A second audition used Howard Culver, who employed a lighter approach. CBS OKed the latter but Ackerman's contract as the star of Straight Arrow (on the Mutual Network) interfered. Gunsmoke was thus shelved until three years later, when MacDonnell and Meston discovered it whilst working on their own adult-oriented western.
 

The new version cast the inimitable William Conrad as Marshal Matt Dillon, Howard McNear as Doc Charles Adams, Georgia Ellis as Kitty Russell and Parley Baer as deputy Chester Proudfoot. The writers sought to create the first realistic western, one populated by sociopaths and without untarnished heroes. Stories unflinchingly depicted rape, lynchings, murder, prostitution, scalping, massacres, theft, drug addiction and more. Justice was often not served. 

What made the dark tone even darker was the unrivaled sound effects department, who created the most vivid and soundscape I've ever heard on any radio program through use of subtlety and multiple layers of rich and realistic sound.
 

Almost immediately there was discussion about adapting the hit program for TV. MacDonnell was naturally reluctant. TV was almost always sanitized, neutered and dumbed-down almost beyond recognition. CBS didn't care. The radio cast was given a token audition out of respect although they were never serious. Though an amazing actor with a great voice, William Conrad was not traditionally photogenic. The portly Kentuckian looked old for his age. His TV replacement was the square-jawed, tall James Arness... the sort of spotless archetype the radio program so successfully avoided. The pictures taken at Knotts Berry Farm, given the fact that it was all show, make the charade all the more sad.
 
The TV series went on until 1975. The radio series ended in 1961, only one year before the date generally given as the death of old time radio. Lucky for those of us too young to have caught it the first time around, Gunsmoke remains popular on internet radio stations and episodes are available for purchase on CD.
 
 
 

Broadway is My Beat

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 27, 2011 12:13pm | Post a Comment



Broadway Is My Beat
, was a dark, gritty radio drama that began airing 62 years ago today on CBS, debuting February 27, 1949. The series revolved around Times Square homicide detective Danny Clover.

NEW YORK ERA

When the program debuted, it was produced in New York City. Clover was portrayed by actor Anthony Ross, a New York native and veteran of film and stage. His greatest exposure came playing the role of the Gentleman Caller in the 1944 original run of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie.

The series' theme song was an instrumental rendition of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's "Manhattan" and it was scored by Robert Stringer, a Nebraska-born composer who primarily wrote stock music for B-films, nearly always uncredited.

It featured scripts by Wisconsin-born (and later blacklisted) Peter Lyon, production by Lester Gottlieb, direction (and later production) by direction by Casey, Crime Photographer's John Dietz. Bern Bennet was the original announcer. 

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Bill Thompson - The Voice of Droopy Dog and Wallace Wimple...

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 8, 2010 01:45pm | Post a Comment


Today is the birthday of radio and voice actor Bill Thompson. Although he also sang for a bit with The Sinclair Weiner Minstrels, he was best known for voicing the characters Wallace Wimple and Droopy Dog.

William H. Thompson was born on July 8, 1913, in Terre Haute, Indiana to a Vaudevillian family. Bill began his career making regular appearances on Don McNeill’s variety show, The Breakfast Club, on Chicago radio in 1934.

Around 1936, he joined the cast of Fibber McGee and Molly, where he played several characters including Widdicomb Blotto (aka Horatio K. Boomer) and Nick Depopulis. In 1937 he introduced The Old Timer, whose classic statement, “That's pretty good, Johnny, but that ain't the way I heeerd it!” became a national catch phrase. In 1941, McGee’s frequent foil, Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, left the show to star in his own sitcom, The Great Gildersleeve.

Thompson ultimately reintroduced Mr. Wimple in 1941 to fill "The Great Man’s" newly-created vacancy. Wallace Wimple was a henpecked milquetoast who lived in fear of his abusive, oft-discussed but never seen/heard wife, “Sweetie Face.” His mush-mouthed greeting, “Hello, folks,” was another big laugh-getter and inspired Tex Avery to build a character around his voice. The result was one of MGM’s most enduring cartoon characters, Droopy Dog. The jowly Droopy Dog was one of the most beloved cartoon characters of all time; he was a mild-mannered basset hound who was usually motivated by his romantic pursuit of various beautiful, vaguely disturbing anthropomorphic beauties. Given his lethargic demeanor and small stature, he was frequently exposed to bullying which would provoke hilarious displays of surprising physical strength, albeit meted out with his normal, stone-faced stoicism.

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Confession

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 8, 2009 05:55pm | Post a Comment

Confession is a crime drama anthology that originally aired on NBC from July 5 to September 14 in 1953, Sunday nights at 9:30. Each episode featured Paul Frees as Richard McGee -- then the director of California Department of Corrections. John Wald was the announcer.

                

The rest of the cast changed from episode to episode and was a veritable "who’s who" of radio talent of the era, including: Alice Reinhardt, Anthony Barrett (aka Tony Barrett), Barney Phillips, Charlotte Lawrence, Dan Rhys, Eddie Firestone, Eve McVeagh, George Peroni, Gerald Mohr, Gloria Grant, Helen Kleeb, Jack Kruschen, Jack Moyles, James Edwards, Jay Loughlin, Jester Hairston, Joel Davis, John Crawford, John McIntire, Jonathan Hole, Joyce McCluskey, Lamont Johnson, Lurene Tuttle, Les Tremayne, Maidie Norman, Marvin Miller, Sam Edwards, Stacy Harris, Virginia Gregg, Vivvie Jennis and Warren Stevens.

Each episode begins with the Wald solemnly intoning “The confession you are about to hear is an actual recording...” (followed by two loud, distinct beeps of the Canadian Beeper Phone). Then the interviewer vocally encourages the convict to begin their confession, gently prodding “alright... go ahead... make the statement please." Then the convict/protagonist reads the beginning of their confession before the program segues into a dramatization of the events of the confessor's arrest.

In the premiere episode, the interviewer suggests “if there’s comfort for the listeners it’s that you’ve [the convict] been apprehended.” The way the criminals give their accounts is distinguishable from comparable examples with fictional stories of most TV, film and radio of their era. Unlike those frequently over-the-top characterizations of criminals, on Confession, the criminals laconically tell their tales with unpretentious, unembellished language spoken with the seemingly distinct cadences, accents and slang of the era. The realism is further abetted by the subtle acting, with characters coughing, occasionally mumbling unintelligibly and sometimes interrupted by the interviewer giving instructions to speak up, lean toward the mic or sometimes even correcting the confessor's reading of their own confessions as they convincingly stumble through their written accounts. The sound effects are used sparingly and skillfully and the most memorable sound is that of the spare, haunting piano score of Michael Sumogi (or Somage in some accounts) which contributes to an uneasy disquiet.

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The Death of Old Time Radio

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 30, 2008 12:25am | Post a Comment

THE END OF THE GOLDEN AGE

On this day (September 30) in 1962 CBS radio broadcast the final episodes of Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and the Golden Age of Radio came to a close. 

 

RADIO'S BEGINNINGS 

Radio Drama (also frequently referred to as Old Time Radio or OTR) really began in the 1920s. Before that, there was audio theater which consisted of plays performed for radio broadcast. It wasn't until August 3, 1922 at the Schenectady, New York station WGY that the in-house actors, The WGY Players, broadcast a performance that augmented the drama with music and sound effects, creating a vivid aural tapestry. The result was a worldwide explosion in what was an instantly popular new art form. Within months there were radio dramas being produced across the USA, as well as in Canada, Ceylon, France, Germany, India, Japanand the UK.



RADIO DRAMA'S ADOLESCENCE 

In 1934, the anthology series Lights Out debuted and exploited many of radio's unique qualities to massive success. The program was penned by Wyllis Cooper and aired at midnight. Cooper employed stream of conscious monologues, multiple first-person narrators and internal monologues which were at odds with the characters' spoken dialog. It's most often remembered, however, for its gruesome and explicit sound effects which attempted to suggest joints being ripped from sockets, skin being eviscerated, heads being decapitated and other depictions of violence that would still be pushing the envelope, even on modern cable television programs.

  

Radio drama's most well-known moment came in 1938 when Orson Welles on the Mercury Theater of the Air broadcast War of the Worlds. Virtually everyone has heard tales about the mass panic that supposedly ensued. It turns out that this supposed reaction may've been invented by newspapers who were threatened by the radio news' growing dominance. Since there are no verifiable reports of nationwide panic, it seems that newspapers were attempting to create a moral panic to save their own skins. Indeed, how likely is it that a people used to  both radio dramas and the instantly recognizable voice of  radio drama mainstay Orson Welles would, for some reason, think that he was acting as a newsman covering a Martian invasion? If Kelsey Grammar was on TV reporting that Earth was being attacked by another planet, would you assume it was real and panic? If your answer is yes, then you are a dullard.

 


RADIO'S END

Radio drama began to lose ground in the 1950s for several reasons. Mainly, television (though around for some time) exploded in popularity and, with the novelty of a visual aspect, stole the dramatic thunder from radio (and film too), partially by dumbing down the writing and toning down the violence to broaden its audience. Many radio dramas attempted to make the transfer to television in order to survive. Often this necessitated re-casting key roles because, whilst a voice actor might've sounded the part, they didn't look it.

At the same time, music radio began to make a comeback. Forced by the 1940s writers strike to look elsewhere for music (rather than pay pop songwriters more), music radio popularized previously marginalized music forms like Hillbilly and Rhythm & Blues which grew in popularity and merged into Rock 'n' Roll. The dissemination of this electrifying new development in music was aided by a new recording format, the 45 rpm single. Now families could rock out or veg out on their own and radio rapidly lost ground before going the way of silent film and magic lantern shows.

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