The CBS Radio Workshop: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (CBS, 1956)
It takes a great deal of imagination, and perhaps a small dollop of chutzpah, to think you can forge a viable radio documentary about any house, never mind the White House, but then again The CBS Radio Workshop isn’t your ordinary dramatic/documentarian anthology.
The grandchild of the legendary Columbia Workshop, the show has a powerful legacy to try equaling, and time will come when several old-time radio historians and analysts will give The CBS Radio Workshop the upper edge. At minimum, this series equals its grandparent; there will be those installments that cause enough to believe it bettered it.
It’s the brainchild of William Froug, whose hero earlier had been none other than Columbia Workshop ‘s most distinguished participant, Norman Corwin. With CBS vice president Howard Barnes giving free reign on the grounds that the show wouldn’t be able to find a sponsor in old-time radio’s dying decade, thus liberating the network to try anything, Froug—who works under Barnes directly—proposed resurrecting the old Workshop and got Barnes to sign off on the idea, suggesting only the formal name change.
Little does Froug know just how enthusiastic will be the reception at the network and among the performers who help bring The CBS Radio Workshop to life.
Everybody on the second floor of CBS Radio at Columbia Square was excited about the show. Every day guys were coming into my office pitching ideas. [William] Conrad had a show idea; so did [composer] Jerry Goldsmith. I had never seen such excitement in my nine years at CBS.—William Froug.
Columbia Square, of course, is CBS’s major West Coast facility, and The CBS Radio Workshop is born under the influence of the legendary Radio Row: Conrad, Parley Baer, Lurene Tuttle, Jack Kruschen, Joe Kearns, Vic Perrin, Sam Edwards, Gloria Henry, Charlotte Lawrence, and Elliott Lewis will be among the show’s earliest cast members. Kroug would be beseiged soon enough from New York—the Big Apple side of CBS wants a piece of this delicious new action, too, and in time the new Workshop will rotate between New York’s and California’s Radio Row, alternating them every other week.
Tonight: It probably seems only too fitting that, with Election Day approaching, the series should feature a dramatised documentary on the origin, building, and history of the Washington residence to which many, including incumbent Dwight Eisenhower seeking a second lease and challenger Adlai Stevenson seeking his first, have sought to live for four years at minimum.
It probably seems intriguing to be reminded that the man who first chose the site might have been the Father of His Country but, even as her first President, never actually got to live in the house built on that site. John Adams would be the first President to live there; his prayer would be carved over the state dining room fireplace on the orders of Franklin D. Roosevelt. “May none but earnest and wise men rule under its roof,” Adams prayed.
I’ll leave it to you to decide how often that prayer has been answered within the walls of a house built when the United States’ population was barely that of the Bronx in a future century, a house that got its name when—following the blackening of the outer walls in an attack by British soldiers—a coat of white paint was brushed over the entire outer structure. I’ll leave it to you further to determine if that was the only non-suspicious whitewash ever committed upon or within the White House.
And I’ll also leave to you the opportunity to enjoy broadcasting’s first known in-depth telling of the story of the house itself, president by president from John Adams forward.
Cast: Unannounced, but possibly including Parley Baer, Jackson Beck, Hans Conreid, June Foray, Joseph Julian, Joseph Kearns, Lurene Tuttle. Narrator: Alan Jackson, CBS News. Announcer: Bob Hite. Music: Charles Paul. Director: Paul Roberts. Writer: George H. Faulkner.
FURTHER CHANNEL SURFING . . .
The Charlie McCarthy Show: Charlie v. W.C. Fields (NBC, 1942)—The feuding between W.C. Fields and Edgar Bergen’s wood alter ego could be almost as classic a running gag as the Jack Benny-Fred Allen mock feud—especially when Don (Ameche) and Bergen urge Charlie to apologise to Fields over previous insults, before Charlie offers to autograph Don’s muscle with a tattoo pen. Announcer: Buddy Twiss. Music: Ray Noble Orchestra, Dale Evans. Director: Earl Ebi. Writers: Probably Carroll Caroll, Dick Mack, Shirley Ward.
Duffy’s Tavern: The Poker Game (Blue Network, 1943)—Archie (Ed Gardner) thinks Charles Coburn (himself) would be the perfect candidate for a new front man capable of hustling the unsuspecting into the flea trap. Eddie: Eddie Green. Finnegan: Charles Cantor. Miss Duffy: Florence Halop. Announcer: Harry Von Zell. Music: Paul Weston Orchestra. Writers: Ed Gardner, Abe Burrows.
Suspense: The Statement of Employee Henry Wilson (CBS, 1943)—Normally carefree Henry Wilson (Gene Lockhart) has just about had it with the upstart who overtook him in their company ranks and has treated him with barely-disguised condescension and contempt since, forcing a showdown over a mistake in Wilson’s work that the upstart plans to take to the boss. It’s not quite as trite as it sounds, which should tell you something about this series’ genius. Additional cast: Unknown. The Man in Black: Joseph Kearns. Music: Bernard Herrmann, Lucien Morowick. Sound: Berne Surrey. Director: William Spier. Writer: John Shaw.
Dragnet: The Big Light (NBC, 1952)—A film director is killed in an on-set accident involving a falling stage lamp, but Friday (Jack Webb) and Smith (Ben Alexander) begin to doubt it was an accident, especially when determining it occurred a) when the studio doctor wasn’t present; and, b) a day after the victim argued with a first assistant director over a practical joke involving a sculpture as heavy as the fallen stage lamp. Straight, no chaser, as usual for this show. Additional cast: Whit Connor, Jack Kruschen. Announcers: George Fenneman, Hal Gibney. Music: Walter Schumann. Director: Jack Webb. Writer: John Robinson.
Frontier Gentleman: Nasty People (CBS, 1952)—London Times reporter Kendall (John Dehner) only thinks he’ll find repose in Independence, Kansas, after his horse turns temporarily lame, but the family that gives him shelter in a trading post seems particularly solicitous of him . . . perhaps too much for another guest who urges him to leave before supernatural doings can consume him. This shamefully short-lived series is two episodes from riding off into the permanent sunset, but here’s a perfect example of why it sometimes gets even more respect than even Gunsmoke does—it can take the absurd and make it believable in Western terms without going over the top or reverting to the exhausted Western cliches. Additional cast: Virginia Gregg, Eddie Firestone, Parley Baer, Paula Winslowe, Vic Perrin. Announcer: Bud Sewell. Music: Wilbur Hatch, Jerry Goldsmith. Writer/director: Antony Ellis.
Gunsmoke: Old Man’s Gold (CBS, 1958)—Traveler Cassius Mahew (Ralph Moody) takes his gravely ill wife to Doc (Howard McNear) and asks Matt (William Conrad) to guard what he calls a suitcase full of valuable family heirlooms while he tends his wife’s slim chance of recovery, until they can continue their trip further West, but Matt faces a problem when her brother (Harry Bartell) arrives with a demanding interest in the heirlooms, the suitcase turns out to contain a lot of cash, and Mrs. Mahew dies. Kitty: Georgia Ellis. Chester: Parley Baer. Announcer: George Walsh. Music: Rex Khoury. Director: Norman Macdonnell. Writer: Marion Clark. (Warning: Some interference in the recording.)