Advertisements
Tag Archives: The Great Gildersleeve

Hollywood Russell and The Case of Dead Air in Studio Two

25 Sep

September 25, 2015

We’ve got something a little different for you tonight. Please read the addendum at the bottom, and enjoy!

HR Dead Air

The radio studio was pitch black. The only window didn’t look out on the New York skyline but instead gave a view to a very small and cramped control room. The gauges and dials, which usually gave off a small electric glow even when the studio wasn’t in use, were invisible. The room was soundproof but the quiet was broken by the very slight creaking of a door hinge. Normally, leading to a broadcast studio, the doors would be oiled regularly to keep any stray sounds from going out over the air in a live broadcast. A hand groped through the doorway and found the light switch, which the hand flipped on with an almost, but not quite audible click. The station manager, Jim, walked in and stood just inside the entrance. “This is it,” he said. “Was it, I mean.”

Behind him walked a man in a trench coat and fedora. A private detective, he looked very much like a fictional shamus whose adventures had been broadcast from that studio for almost two decades.  “This isn’t how I imagined it.” Hollywood Russell took off his hat and laid it on a small wooden chair near the door.

“It’s not how anyone imagines it. You’re not supposed to imagine it. This isn’t a broadcast studio, it’s Fibber McGee’s closet. It’s The Shadow’s inner sanctum. It’s the Daily Planet.” Jim looked around. “It was my home for a long time.”

Hollywood stood among the double rows of folding chairs where an occasional audience sat. WJP wasn’t a large station and never hosted the game shows or big network programs that audiences flocked to. He paced the length of the small studio, mentally estimating the length and width, and stopped in front of the cluster of microphones, set upon a small stage, where the actors had yesterday performed their last show. It was an afternoon soap opera fittingly called “One Man’s Passion.”

The station manager let out a small sigh. “People want television. It isn’t enough to hear words from a box, they need to see things too. Whatever happened to imagination? All we’re raising is a generation of children who will have their eyes plastered to the images on the screens in front of them.” Then, more darkly, “I’ve heard that some families even have two.”

Hollywood, who didn’t own a television himself, merely grunted and sat down in the chair directly in front of the main microphone. It stood about 5 feet high, with a brass plaque that read “WJP” in art deco style. He shut his eyes and saw a somber man announcing that war had broken out in Europe. He saw a trio of sisters singing about a bugle boy in Company B. He saw a man of mystery in a beautiful black car. He saw another man, in shirtsleeves, feverishly working his Rube Goldberg-like instruments and franticly switching from one odd looking device to the next, all the while creating the sounds of a rocket ship about to take off as the countdown commenced from X minus three, two..

“I’m really glad you came, Russell. I’m not sure I’d be able to do this myself.”

Hollywood roused himself and looked around once again. For a second he was sure he was in a peaceful town where the great water commissioner was about to fall in love yet again, but just for a second. He blinked and it was back to the solid concrete walls and softly carpeted stage, but he was sure he saw a single page of a script fluttering to the floor, just out of his line of sight, and when he turned he was just as sure he heard, however faintly, a mocking laugh out of the shadows.

The manager glanced around. “I hear it too. I hear all of it. Everything.” He sighed. “And now it’s gone.” Jim turned his back almost angrily on the empty studio and his eyes fell on the wall calendar. It had a picture of Louis Armstrong, telling the world that a certain brand of cigarettes soothed his throat. With a “hrmmpf” Jim pulled the hanging page off the calendar. It was September 7th.

“Lock up for me, will you Hollywood? This is all too much for me. Shut it all down and lock it up tight. Kill the power to the microphones. I’ll meet you downstairs in the bar. Don’t mind if I start without you.” Jim tossed the key on a chair and without a glance backward, left the studio. “I’m never coming back here again” he said to himself as he slowly walked down the hall.

A small smile played across Hollywood’s face. “Well now, I wouldn’t say that.”

He took one last, slow look around. He made sure the switches were off, that the microphones were closed and that everything was in order. Jim didn’t need a detective, he just needed someone to do what he couldn’t. And isn’t that all that a guy like Hollywood Russell really did?

Hollywood walked to the door, grabbed his hat, shut the light and walked out. A couple of seconds ticked by on the clock, and the door reopened. In the darkness, Hollywood found his way to a small desk off to the side of the microphones. On one side stood a very old cathedral-style receiver, a relic radio; on the other a small gooseneck lamp. He turned it on and aimed its beam right at the WJP plaque. Its reddish-yellow letters gleamed like the sun in the blackness.

Lights out, everybody.

But not for Relic Radio.

radio-studio-1930s_________________________

This written in response to the sad news that the Relic Radio forum was shutting down. While the main site, www.relicradio.com, will continue providing a great selection of old time radio shows (and you can find them on iTunes), the message boards are now gone. This story is a tribute to Jim, who runs the whole show, but also to the shows we loved. And as such, there are a few tributes to Old Time Radio in the story. I’ve listed many of them for you.

“New York skyline.” This might be the first Hollywood Russell story to explicitly state that it is set in New York. I did it intentionally in this tale because NYC was the home base of the Mutual Network, broadcasting out of WOR (which still exists) and was where Superman and The Shadow, among others, originated.

“Slight creaking of a door hinge.” Inner Sanctum famously began with the creaking of a door hinge.

“Fictional shamus wearing a trench coat and fedora.” Take your pick- Sam Spade, Phillip Marlowe, Richard Diamond, etc.

“It’s Fibber McGee’s closet. It’s The Shadow’s inner sanctum. It’s the Daily Planet.” Fibber McGee and Molly, The Shadow, Superman.

“A trio of sisters singing about a bugle boy in Company B.” The Andrews Sisters and their most famous hit, “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B”

“A man of mystery in a beautiful black car.” The Green Hornet and his car, the Black Beauty.

“The countdown commenced from X minus three, two…” X Minus 1, famous adult sci-fi program.

“A peaceful town where the great water commissioner was about to fall in love yet again.” The Great Gildersleeve.

“A mocking laugh out of the shadows.” The Shadow.

“Well now, I wouldn’t say that.” The Great Gildersleeve.

“Lights out, everybody.” Horror program by Wyllis Cooper and Arch Obler.

There is also a very slight and subtle Star Wars reference that you will either spot or you won’t. You may not think a Star Wars reference fits but it does because A- there was a fantastic radio version of Star Wars broadcast over NPR stations in the 1970’s and B- searching for info about that show was how I found Relic Radio.

I put in one or two personal touches that I’ll keep to myself, but, the date on the calendar- September 7th– was the last day of the forums. The call letters of the station mean something too, but I’ll leave that little wink and nod to the fellow forum members. And Jim.

Advertisements

My Review of Fibber McGee and Molly

17 Jul

July 17, 2014

Fibber McGee and Molly is an Old Time Radio show, meaning that no one under the age of 50 has heard of it. Well, that’s not entirely true. OTR has a thriving sub-culture of radio show collectors, each hoarding old and rare copies of shows that originally aired from about 1935 to 1963. You and I don’t get to listen to these. Old records (called “transcription discs”) are treated like gold, only rarer, and are only played once every epoch when wizened old men pay homage to The Great and Terrible Victrola and play these discs while taking their communal liver pills.

Aside from that, there is a ton of old radio shows available out there for free and they aren’t hard to find. Are they in the public domain? Trust me; you are better off not asking. Move along.

I’ve got some favorites and even though they date back decades, you are very familiar with at least one of them, a guy you may have heard of called Superman. And another favorite isn’t quite as big but he is currently being published and can be found pretty close to ol’ Supes, The Shadow. I also enjoy The Jack Benny Show and Abbott and Costello, just to name a few.

There are also some shows I really don’t care for, and I recently came into possession of a free collection of one of those shows, Fibber McGee and Molly. Now, I do tend to be a discriminating snob, but on the other hand, free is free, and who am I to look a $40 value in the mouth? I decided to give it a listen because my favorite comedy, The Great Gildersleeve, was a spin-off of this show and I was eager to hear his early appearances.

Gildersleeve does not appear in these shows.

I am nothing if not a fair man and I have to admit that, in all honestly, while I have not come to love Fibber McGee and Molly, I have come to hate them.

Fibber+&+Molly+V7

Fibber McGee is- wait for it- a fibber. He lies. He exaggerates, He makes himself out to be a big man and he is not. (But if he has no influence, why does the Mayor always drop by his house? I have no idea, the Mayor hates him.) Molly is his wife who affectionately calls her husband “McGee.” She’ll also lovingly refer to him as “Fibber” or “Himself,” as in “Himself has been thinking of flying an airplane.” She has a habit of laughing hysterically whenever an actor flubs a line, which seems to happen quite a lot on this show.

Most of the humor of the show comes from the broad characterizations of the supporting characters and Fibber’s (Jim Jordan) less-than-subtle wordplay. While the audience laughs at even the least funny pun, very often some of the jokes come and go without a whisper of a laugh, a point even Fibber will sometimes remark on. Marian Jordan, who played Molly, battled alcoholism most of her life. And while that isn’t a laughing matter, it is amusing to try to guess how far in the bag she is during any given performance. Sometimes she laughs so hard at some of the jokes (especially the flubs) that you wonder what show she’s listening to that only she can hear.

One of the conceits of this show is that everyone in town stops by their house, for no reason, at any time. This includes The Mayor, Mrs. Carstairs, who is the local rich woman and sounds like Margaret Dumont from the old Marx Brothers movies, Doctor Gamble who is not and is never funny, and other assorted neighbors with funny voices. There’s the wimpy guy who sounds like Droopy Dog, the old guy who sounds old, and the little girl who messes up the English language and is obviously voiced by a middle-aged man. (Actually, Molly provides her voice, and what does that tell you about Molly?)

And don’t get me started on Harlow Wilcox, the Johnson Wax salesman who is so annoying even Fibber seems to dislike him- and that’s the sponsor’s product!

Everyone takes a shot at insulting Fibber and out of all of them, the doctor is the least funny. He’ll walk in and say “Hello, trombone,” or “Hello Molly, hello tennis shoe.” Is that funny? No, it is not. There is no context for any of that. Why is he calling him “trombone?” There is no set up for it, no rhyme or reason. If Fibber was playing in a band, ok, maybe.

arthur-q-bryan-dr-gamble

Although the show is generally not funny, and gets less funny the more Molly opens her mouth, the more I listen the more annoying it gets. Like I said, people just drop by all the time and that’s how Fibber gets to interact with them. Fred Allen used to walk down Allen’s Alley and knock on doors. This is the same thing except Fibber stays home and everyone comes to him.  But there is almost never any reason for them to drop by. There will be a knock on the door, Mrs. Carstairs will walk in and immediately get caught up in the McGee shenanigans, then say she has to get going and leave. Why did she stop by to begin with? We never find out. Then The Old Timer will stop over, Fibber will badger him about something and he’ll leave, and we’ll never know why he came by. Then Wallace Wimple would come and go, and why we’ll never know. (BTW, he calls his wife “Sweetie Face,” which just sounds ridiculous.) OK, maybe I’m being picky. After all, this is a silly sitcom and all the coming and going is just to set up McGee for jokes anyway. But on at least one occasion it was glaringly stupid.

In one particular episode, it was ten degrees below freezing and Fibber, with his usual false bravado, was threatening to go out for a brisk walk by the lake. Of course, he had no intention of going. Did I mention it was also snowing and hailing outside, with a wind strong enough to knock over tress? Then there is a knock on the door and Doctor Gamble comes in. After a few “jokes” Fibber tells him he’s going for a walk, and the doctor tells him that it isn’t fit for man nor beast outside, that he saw a snow drift as big as a house, that Fibber would freeze before he got three feet. The doctor then said goodbye and left. So what was he doing out? What did he want at the McGee’s? Where was he going? No clue. Seemed like he just went out to tell Fibber not to go out. I would have just used the phone. Then Mrs. Carstairs stopped by, said it was so cold her butler froze and left, as mysteriously as she arrived. Then everyone else did the same thing. If it was so nasty out, what were any of them doing outside? We’ll never know.

You know, if the jokes were funny, if the show made me laugh, none of this would have bothered me.

Overall, and seriously, Fibber McGee and Molly really isn’t bad. I have gotten one or two chuckles out of it, but in the long run, I’ve gotten more laughs from watching some baby ducks on the side of the road.

%d bloggers like this: