Sunday, December 25, 2016

25 More Days of Old Time Radio Christmas - Day 25: Christmas with Don Ameche and the Elgin Watch Company

As we have reached the 25th Day of my Old Time Radio blog celebrating Christmas, we are at my other favorite episodes - or series of episodes: The Elgin Watch Specials. These 2 hour shows are too long to be broadcast on Greg Bell's Old time radio channel (#148), but are simply the best part of the holidays for me, especially if you are cooking in the Christmas.   Here is a link to all the previous OTR Christmas entries.  

197/365/1658 (December 25, 2012) - Flapjack Christmas Morning (2012)
Flapjack my beagle - Christmas 2012

One of the really cool shows I stumbled onto a few years back were the Elgin Seasonal Specials for Thanksgiving and Christmas in the 1940s. These were also known as Elgin's "2 Hours of Stars."  The shows were sponsored by the Elgin Watch Company of Elgin, Illinois. Starting in 1942 for the soldiers overseas, the Elgin Holiday Specials were two hour programs that featured the brightest stars in radio and the movies. Heard on these programs is Bing Crosby, Mario Landa, Jimmy Durante, Bob Hope and were all hosted by Don Ameche. The Internet Archives has five total shows (see the link below). One of the real treats takes place one hour into the show from 1945. Jack Benny gave a twisted performance of Sorry Wrong Number, one of the most iconic episodes of Suspense. Also, given that the program runs 2 hours, these are not commonly played on current radio programs like XM 148.

I read that the specials had very different purposes.  The Thanksgiving shows were to get you to think about Elgin Watches and accessories for Christmas gifts.  The Christmas shows were to get you to think about Elgin Watches as you cashed in your gift certificates that you might have received for the holidays.  Variety reported in June 1949:

Shows last year cost Elgin an estimated $100,000 each, of which $26,000 went for network time and $60,000 for talent. First program to get the axe was the Christmas package, which was aimed at coaxing recipents of gift certificates into post-holiday buying of timepieces. Last year's January business, however, was reportedly so far from expectations that the watch company figured it has a white elephant on its hand. J. Walter Thomson agency made a fight to save the plum, with no luck.
As a great variety show that lasts two hours, it is a perfect thing to have on your radio (or computer) as you cook the Christmas meal.  It has been on the radio in my kitchen these last few years over the holidays.  Though we are not cooking for Christmas this year, it is a regular for me and will be my go-to Old Time Radio program for both Christmas and Thanksgiving.  I hope some day to write up something more in-depth on this program.

Here are links right to the Elgin's Christmas Shows:

Elgin's 3rd Annual Christmas Show (December 25, 1944)

Summary:  The show features and all star list of radio and movie actors including: Ginny Simms, Eddie Anderson, Jack Benny, Louis Silvers and His Orchestra, Manny Klein, The Swing Wing, The Charioteers, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Carmen Miranda, Joseph Szigeti, The Les Paul Trio, Barbara Jo Allen, Bob Hope, and Bing Crosby.  The great Don Ameche served as the master of ceremonies.  I think it is totally great to hear any early performance by Guitar great Les Paul and his Trio!  Bing Crosby also went off the Christmas script and sang "Don't Fence Me In."  The routine between Bob Hope and Bing Crosby was fantastic as well.

The shows have great Christmas music, and some pretty funny comedy bits.  I particularly enjoy the long skit between singer Ginny Simms, Jack Benny and Eddie Anderson about how they were rehearsing for this song on the Elgin special.  The performance also by guitar great Les Paul is fantastic.

In the Variety Radio Reviews of the program (which appear in the December 27, 1944 issue - page 28):

This third annual Elgin Watch Christmas Day star-studded show was a boff companion piece for the company-sponsored Thanksgiving program-and that's another way of saying that you'll probably have to wait a long time (until, perhaps, Elgin shoots the works on another ultra-package) to match the 120 minutes of entertainment that went out over the CBS network from 4 to 6 p.m.  And like the Thanksgiving show, this one not only went into the homes of the nation's Yuletide celebrants, but circuited the global warfronts.   
Here was a Xmas package that couldn't but help momentarily gladden the hearts of those GIs holding down the battle line forts.  As such it will stand as a tribute to Bob Hope-Bing Crosby-Jack Benny & Co. (and with due acknowledgement to the whole supporting cast); to the top scripting job sparked by Carroll Carroll and overall Tony Stanford production that combines a properly tempoed humor and hilarity with a complete awareness of the sensitivities involved in justifying a gay, laughing-at-home mood in contrast to the misery and tragedies that the boys overseas are encountering.  It was to a large measure, that sensitively-wrought portion that helped make the show memorable, particularly in the treatment it was given by Don Ameche, who emceed the show (there ought to be a Society of the Promotion of Ameche as Permanent Emcee for Such Occasions), and in the Crosby windup spiel.
 The show was well paced and marked by a proper integration of drama, comedy, music (both in the hot and longhaired idiom), all with dignity and, for the most part, in good taste, but essentially it was a show build for laughs - laughs to hypo GI spirits and those at home with a stake in the war via concern for sons, fathers, brothers, sweethearts.  It was comedy with a purpose, and in paying the freight, Elgin contributed its own generous portion of extending the season's greetings.
Not that the program was without its imperfections.  In keeping with that overall good-will-toward-men theme, those Elgin pitches could have been soft-pedalled; similarly the multiplicity of plugs to fie in the products of the guestars were overworked.  There was, too, a middle-portion boggin down in which Carmen Miranda, in particular, came off second best.  
But add up that wham Crosby-Hope latter portion routine with its spontaneity and warm, infections quality; that Jack Benny-Rochester-Ginny Simms fiddle accomp comedy stretch; the latter's sock renditions of "Hallelujah" and "Wish You Were Waiting for Me"; add, too, the Burns & Allen-Don Ameche laugh-packed skit, the Charioteers singing "Poor Little Jesus Boy," the Les Paul Trio doing "Danger - Men At Work," the hot routine of the Swing Wing (Mannie Klein) musical combo from the Santa Ana Army Air Base Band, the change in pace via Joseph Szigeti's flawless violinistics, and it's easy to understand why this Christmas package couldn't miss.
I was not familiar with Carroll Carroll....but he was a comedy writer who died in 1991.  Here are his writing credits from the RadioGOLDINdex.

Elgin's 4th Annual Christmas Show (December 25, 1945)

Summary:  The show stars  Don Ameche as the masters of ceremonies and a all star cast including:  Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Ginny Simms, Red Skelton, Bob Crosby and The Bobcats, Barbara Jo Allen (as "Vera Vague"), Allan Jones, Artur Rubinstein, Ella Logan, Alan Reed, General Omar Bradley, The Charioteers, Larry Storch, and The Elgin Orchestra conducted by Louis Silvers.

Elgin's 7th Annual Christmas Show (December 25, 1948)

Summary: The show stars  Don Ameche as the masters of ceremonies and a all star cast including: Sandra Berkova. Lauritz Melchior, Al Jolson, Danny Thomas, Red Ingle, Jack Kirkwood, Jo Stafford, Edgar Bergen, Sandra Berkova (a 15 year-old violinist), Cass Daley, Ozzie Nelson, Harriet Hilliard, Robert Armbruster and His Orchestra, and Jane Morgan.

I hope you have a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and enjoy these wonderful recordings!

Here are some links to programs relating to the Elgin Watch Specials:
Another 25 Days of Old Time Radio Christmas (from 2016) & Other Links

25 Days of Old Time Radio Christmas (from 2015) & Other Links

25 Days of Old Time Radio Christmas (from 2014)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this "Advent Calendar" of old-time radio!