Sunday, March 27, 2016

OTR Baseball Episode 4: The Baseball Instructor with Fibber McGee and Molly (1935)

For my next installment of baseball on Old Time Radio, I am going to share something from the comedies.  There are quite a number to choose from - and I'm sure I will get to most of the good ones over the summer.  Today, for the first comedy, I am going with Fibber McGee and Molly.  This series is one of the all-time classic radio comedies, running from 1935 through the fifties.  From the WMAQ studios in Chicago, Jim and Marian Jordan starred in over 1600 shows as their alter egos, though only a fraction survive today.  During the early years, they were sponsored by Johnson Wax, headquartered in nearby Racine, Wisconsin.  They were a staple of the NBC Network and one of the most famous voices from Old Time Radio.

San Francisco Giants 1, Philadelphia Phillies (San Francisco, California - Wednesday April 18, 2012)

Fans waiting to enter AT&T Park  

(San Francisco, California - Wednesday April 18, 2012)

We are heading to one of the most famous addresses in all of popular culture. 79 Wistful Vista - the home of Fibber McGee and Molly.  This episode is called the Baseball Instructor and it dates from July 22, 1935.  This was one of the earliest shows in this long-running series.  In 1935, the World Champion Detroit Tigers were led by Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg.  Over on the National League, the pennant winners were led by Gabby Hartnett.  1935 was also when Fibber McGee and Molly started - and they received some good reviews right off the bat:
Fibber McGee and Molly - Billboard - April 27, 1935 (page 10)
Fibber McGee, aided by his wife and heckler, Molly, Contributes a funny and enjoyable program, one, in fact, that is likely to send the name of the team into the higher bracketed radio field. In common with other radio acts, the Fibber isn't actually a new wrinkle - he is sort of an Irish Baron Munchausen - but with the combination of a good delivery with good materials insures success.  First show was well paced and liberally sprinkled with laughs.

We find ourselves at 79 Wistful Vista on opening day of the baseball season.  Molly, as it turns out, is a huge fan with an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball history.  And there is nothing that she would rather do on this opening day than visit the ballpark.  However, the game is sold out.  Still Fibber insists he can get into the game, however, he will not buy a ticket.  As he puts it "If I can't get in on a pass - I won't go!"

Fibber McGee insists it will be his good luck that gets them into the game.  After all, he is the president of the chamber of commerce and is blessed with good fortune.  When he is offered tickets, all seems like it is going according to plan.  But those tickets were not for the opener, so they pass.

When Mayor LaTrivia comes to see the McGees, he brings them a big problem.  The Mayor (played by the great radio and TV actor Gale Gordon - who we will hear on future episodes on this series), as it turns out, is not a baseball man.  So he is supposed to throw out the first pitch, but he does not know how to do just that.  So Fibber McGee is up to the task of teaching the Mayor how to toss out the opening pitch.  And remember how you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice, practice, practice!

The Baseball Instructor (July 22, 1935)

Old Time Radio Baseball Series and Other Links

Saturday, March 26, 2016

OTR Baseball Episode 3: Baseball and Gambling from Boston Blackie

For my next installment of baseball on Old Time Radio, I head to Boston.  Not necessarily the city, but the person.  One of my favorite Old Time Radio series is Boston Blackie.  These crime stories always leave the police, especially Police Inspector Farraday, frustrated and befuddled.  But to the rescue is Boston Blackie - who always solves the crime and saves the day.  Each of episodes starts the same way - with this phrase that says everything you need to know about Boston Blackie:

"Enemy of those who make him an enemy,
 friend to those who have no friend."

Boston Blackie moves effortlessly on both sides of the law, but in the context of this radio show, is only interested in doing what is right.  The character was created by author Jack Boyle, Boston Blackie was a safecracker who served time in prison before turning his attention to making things right.  The most well known episodes were syndicated by Frederic W. Ziv to Mutual and other networks after World War II.  Staring in the role as Boston Blackie was Richard Kollmar.  Mary Wesley (his constant companion) was played by Jan Miner.  Maurice Tarplin plays Police Inspector Farraday, who starts off most episodes with the belief that no matter what the crime was, Blackie was involved.  Tarplin is also know as the voice of the Mysterious Traveler and The Strange Dr. Weird.  

San Francisco Giants 1, Philadelphia Phillies (San Francisco, California - Wednesday April 18, 2012)

San Francisco Giants 1, Philadelphia Phillies 

(San Francisco, California - Wednesday April 18, 2012)

There are two baseball themed episodes from Boston Blackie.  For this installment, we are going to feature the episode called Baseball and Gambling from April 29, 1947.

When you're in debt to the tune of $50,000 to a gambler by the name of Carter, you have problems.  But when you have baseball-playing brother who is the hottest hitter in the game - you might have a way out.  Sounds like the fix is on - or is it?  The brother of "Slamming" Sammy Saunders is just in this pickle.  He owes $50,000 to Carter having lost it all playing roulette.  However, Carter is willing to tear up the IOUs if he would introduce the baseball star to a "certain young lady."  Is it too good to be true?  Probably.

Right after this strange encounter, Joe Ash, another person who is mixed up with gamblers, is visited by Carter.  Joe Ash was typing a letter to Boston Blackie seeking help.  Carter shoots Joe - but with the letter written to Blackie still visible in the typewriter ribbon - suspicions run crazy in Inspector Farraday's mind that Boston Blackie was behind this.

This "certain young lady" turns out Catherine Gray, a friend of Carter.  While Boston Blackie immediately things that she will try to get Sammy Saunders to throw some games, but this is not the case as he continues to hit up a storm after they met.  If they do not want Sammy to throw the game, is there something else that is happening on the diamond?

Listen for the cameo appearance by sportscaster Bill Slater as...wait for it...the sportscaster.  Hope you enjoy this episode.  I am going to mix in more crime stories for sure, but am prepping some historical pieces as well as the comedies.  Enjoy!

Baseball and Gambling (April 27, 1947) 

Here are some links to programs relating to Old Time Radio and Boston Blackie:
Old Time Radio Baseball Series and Other Links

Thursday, March 24, 2016

OTR Baseball Episode 2: The Day That Baseball Died from the Columbia Workshop

OK...getting back to my series of blog entries that showcase the way that baseball has been used as a programming theme on Old Time Radio.  Hoping to keep these coming more frequently over the course of the next few months.  Today's entry is going to take us to one of the most creative shows every to be broadcast over the airwaves - the Columbia Workshop.

66/365/431 (August 16, 2009) - Midwest Sliders vs. Southern Illinois Miners (Ypsilanti, Michigan)

Game between the Midwest Sliders and the Southern Illinois Miners (of Marion, Illinois) on Sunday August 16, 2009 - Frontier League Baseball in Ypsilanti, Michigan

The Columbia Workshop was a staple of the CBS Network from 1936 through 1942 and from 1946 through 1947. According the Rob Lackmann's Encylcopedia of American Radio, the Columbia Workshop was designed "to develop new writing talent for radio and to experiment with innovative techniques for presenting drama on the medium." One of the most creative voices from the Columbia Workshop was Norman Corwin, though he did not work on this episode.  There were a number of baseball-themed episodes in this series that I will showcase. I think I am going to start off with a fantasy that was aired on September 28, 1946 and titled "The Day That Baseball Died."

This episode was reportedly repeated on September 28th to coincide with the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox (which would be won by the Cardinals in 7 games).  In Variety on Septemeber 25, 1946 (page 37 - thanks to ProQuest Historical Newspapers), we see an article about this broadcast:

"CBS felt that proximity of World Series games made it a natural for repeat, along with fact that web received an enormous fan mail urging the reprise."
"Repeat will differ from original production only in omission of music; it's been decided that the musical score was superfluous."

It was common that shows would reuse scripts, especially if they generated fan letters as this one naturally did.  One of the reasons I wanted to showcase this episode today was the way that it started off. As the episode starts, you hear how umpires and fans call strike outs in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Cuba. Technically, they are all the same, with English and Spanish used accordingly. But with the warming of relations between the United States and Cuba, and the big game on Tuesday March 21st between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team in Havana, it seemed like a cool way to connect that event with a broadcast from 1946.  Now this story really does not have anything to do with Cuba - but it is a nice connection to make on this historic week.

The story focuses on the riots and consternation that were caused when a right handed pitcher threw a pitch that was so unhitable, that it ran the risk of ending the game of baseball as they knew it.  When we think of the best pitchers we might have seen - like Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Bob Feller, just to name a few - there are days when they were nearly perfect.  But with this new pitch, there would be no reason to even play the game.

The pitch that was the best defense against any batter was the Knucklerduster and then the Knuckleduster II.  The creator of this pitch was named Red and he worked on it for six years before he would throw it in a game.  He also broke his fingers a number of times trying to get the grip just right!  But the result was a pitch that not only was hard to hit - it was debated if it even crossed home plate.

The story is fun and ponders what could happen to baseball if someone could invent a pitch no on could hit!  The show starred Bill Slater as the commentator (who learned first hand how difficult it was to throw the pitch), Santos Ortega (a prominent CBS radio actor) as the justice trying to determine how baseball should proceed and Art Carney as the pitcher (Red) who invented the pitch.  If that name is familiar, it is because of his fame from early television's classic show, The  Honeymooners (with Jackie Gleason).  Irving Teitle is credited as the writer and Howard Barnes was the director.  I hope to have new episodes of this podcast series at least every week - to carry me through to the World Series.  I hope you enjoy!

The Day That Baseball Died (September 28, 1946)

Here are some links to programs relating to Old Time Radio and Columbia Workshop:
Old Time Radio Baseball Series and Other Links

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

OTR Baseball Episode 1: Baseball Murder on 'The Saint' with Vincent Price

I have wanted to start a series of blog entries that showcase the way that baseball has been covered on Old Time Radio.  I have done a few other series (ChristmasLighthouses - which I still need to finish - and Diets - which I still need to finish...but the other way).  I have a few more ideas, but watching baseball in spring training got me thinking that I needed to get the ball rolling on this.  I am going to feature Old Time Radio programs that have baseball as a central theme.  There are some mysteries, crime stories, lots of comedies, and a great number of historical pieces.  I will share these every week or so through the season (there are a number to cover).  There are also excellent ones for other sports, which could start up in the Fall.

46/365/2602 (July 27, 2015) - West Virginia Power vs. Hagerstown Suns (Minor League Baseball - July 27, 2015)

West Virginia Power vs. Hagerstown Suns (South Atlantic League - Minor League Baseball 
July 27, 2015)

There were a number of actors who brought Leslie Charteris' great character Simon Templar to the air.  But none of them can hold a candle to the best of them all.  From 1947 through the early 1950s, Vincent Price provided the voice for The Saint.  With this great role, Price brought a wit and charm to the role that was not captured by any of the other radio actors who played the part.  One of the funny things about The Saint is that they often repeated stories, with slightly different names.

The baseball episode is a great one to start off this series.  The episode is called "Baseball Murder" and aired on September 3rd, 1950 with Vincent Price in the main role as Simon Templar.  The story is one of my favorites and I hope you enjoy it also.

The story starts with Simon and his favorite cabbie Louie (played by Lawrence Dobkin) heading out to the see the Blue Sox.  (This reminds me of going to the Utica Blue Sox games when I lived in Cooperstown).  They are the minor league team in town and they have a baseball first - a father and son playing on the same time at once (Something that first really happened when Ken Griffey and Ken Griffey, Jr. played for the Seattle Mariners in 1990 and 1991).  Lefty Miller is the aging former major leaguer who is wrapping up his career - or as he calls it "playing out the string".  Phil Miller is the son who is rising fast and is as close to a sure thing as might be out there.  While they claimed that they were great friends, the truth is that they were estranged ever since Lefty divorced Phil's mother.

Lefty called over to the Saint to see if he can help determine if he is getting mixed up in thrown games and gamblers.  Key to this arrangement is a seductress who will not leave Phil's side.  But when Lefty is suddenly found dead, of an apparent suicide, The Saint gets to the bottom of it all.

The focus of the mysterious woman in Phil Miller's life seems to have the feel of the career of Eddie Waitkus and his shooting.  Waitkus was a Philadelphia Phillies first baseman who was shot by an obsessed fan in 1949 (one year before this episode aired).  That shooting would serve as one of the the inspirations for Bernard Malamud's The Natural which was published in 1952.

One other fun element is that the thug that was working with the femme fatale was constantly mentioning what his analyst said - which beckons to Tony Sporano and the famous HBO series The Sopranos.  The number of elements in this story that go beyond 30 minutes of radio time are pretty remarkable.  The episode was written by Dick Powell - who is better known as a movie star and the radio actor playing Richard Diamond.  Those scripts were written by Blake Edwards (of Pink Panther fame), so maybe some of it rubbed off!  Joining them were director Helen Mack and actors Hal March, Jack Moyles, Ed Mack, Bob Clark, and Gloria Blondell,

Baseball Murder (September 3, 1950 on NBC)

I hope to have new episodes of this podcast series every week - carry me through to the World Series.  I hope you enjoy!

Here are some links to programs relating to The Saint:
Old Time Radio Baseball Series and Other Links