You Are There: The Capture and Exile of Napoleon (CBS; AFRS Rebroadcast, 1948)
Its tag line will become large in the American vernacular, for a long while, anyway, not to mention satirised rather readily. (Art Carney’s dim-bulb sewer worker, Ed Norton, for one, was rather fond of interjecting it into the proper situations on The Honeymooners.) And it will often became next to impossible to remember that one of radio’s most unique documentary dramatisations ever was hatched in the brain of one of its most singular humourists.
Maybe it should have figured that CBS Was There, as the show was born in 1947, was the idea of Goodman Ace. In addition to his facility for language play, and the withering weariness with which he played malaproprietess Jane Ace’s husband (which he was in real life) on Easy Aces, there was always an absurdism underwriting that serial comic legend. It almost figures that Ace could and did dream up an absurdist twist such as re-creating events in American and international history as radio would have reported them—with honest-to-God CBS News reporters, yet—had radio been invented and perfected at the time
The problem is that nobody will know for years that CBS Was There—renamed You Are There in 1948—was Ace’s brainchild in the first place. He itched to pitch the idea to CBS emperor William S. Paley himself; knowing that Paley usually accepted no visits from just about anyone without at least one executive escort, Ace implored CBS’s then vice president of programming, Davidson Taylor, to provide the escort. Except that Taylor managed, somehow, to convince Ace that Paley wasn’t necessarily going to fall in love with the proposal.
Ace accepted the verdict reluctantly but not unknowingly; he was already wise enough to the machinations and pretensions of broadcasting executives. (In later years, Ace’s CBS workshop for developing comedy writers would be terminated with another CBS vice president lamenting to him, “I’ll tell you a little secret: we don’t have anybody here who understands comedy,” to which Ace replied, “I’ll tell you a little secret: that’s no secret.”) Taylor, however, managed somehow to drop the idea into Paley’s ear, one way or the other, and Paley liked it enough that the show got on the air . . . with Taylor claiming the credit for years enough, proving only too well the down or at least the dubious side of rank having its privilege.
In due course, however, Ace will receive the credit due for thinking the whole thing up in the first place, and You Are There will enjoy four seasons on radio followed by five seasons on television, where it will be anchored and narrated by a genial-sounding former wire service reporter and rising CBS News star named Walter Cronkite.
Tonight: Napoleon Bonaparte is kept captive aboard a British warship after Waterloo, complete with a minor uprising among ordinary folk, comments from Napoleon’s valet, expressions of some regret among Frenchmen and some festivity among Englishmen, an interview with the emperor himself—in which he blames himself, and his Russian campaign, for his eventual downfall—and the pronunciation of his exile to St. Elba promising a new era for a much-bruised and dissipated France.
Yes, it does go a little over the top here and there. Considering its subject, however, that may not necessarily be inappropriate. Though it was easier to capture Bill Paley . . .
Reporters: John Daly, Don Hollenbeck, Jackson Beck. Additional cast: Unknown. Sound: Jim Rogan. Director: Robert Lewis Shayon. Writers: Irve Tunick, Joseph Liss, Michael Sklar.
FURTHER CHANNEL SURFING . . .
The Great Gildersleeve: Gildy Rebuffed by Eve (NBC, 1943)—Freshly enchanted with school principal Eve Goodwin (Bea Benaderet), Gildersleeve (Harold Peary) is surprised by a “peace offering” from a contrite Leila (Shirley Mitchell) and a confession from his flighty water works secretary (Pauline Drake), but he’s slightly staggered by Eve’s wariness over their budding romance. Leroy: Walter Tetley. Marjorie: Lurene Tuttle. Birdie: Lillian Randolph. Hooker: Earle Ross. Peavey: Richard LeGrand. Announcer: Ken Carpenter. Music: Claude Sweeten. Director: Cecil Underwood. Writers: John Whedon, Sam Moore.
Our Miss Brooks: Babysitting for Three (CBS, 1948)—Lamenting the usual indifference from her would-be paramour Boynton (Jeff Chandler), Connie (Arden) concurrently laments the unusual absence of a student (Tommy Cook) whose attendance is rarely broken up, whose academic performance is enviable, and who turns out to be saddled with caring for his younger siblings while his father’s on the road working and his mother is hospitalised—affording Connie a chance to keep an eye on Boynton, who lives three doors away . . . assuming she survives being roped into helping the kid babysit the younger ones. Mrs. Davis: Jane Morgan. Conklin: Gale Gordon. Walter: Richard Crenna. Harriet: Gloria McMillan. Additional cast: Sandra Gould, Bobby Ellis, Jess Philbin. Announcer: Bob LaMond. Music: Wilbur Hatch. Writer/director: Al Lewis.
The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show: A New Drug (NBC, 1948)—Stingy Willie (Robert North) has bought the Harris children (Jeanine Roos, Anne Whitfield) a chemistry set, which doesn’t cause Phil (Harris) half the trouble Willie’s easier access to Scott (Gale Gordon) and Remley’s (Elliott Lewis) suggestion to inflate his profile do. Herself: Alice Faye. Julius: Walter Tetley. Announcer: Bill Forman. Music: Walter Scharf, Phil Harris Orchestra. Director: Paul Phillips. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.
The Halls of Ivy: The Late Student (NBC, 1951)—Reading Whitman to justify an aimless but pleasurable drive in the country with his wife (Benita Hume Colman) is child’s play for Hall (Ronald Colman) compared to their car breaking down, during which they meet a friendly and extremely intelligent student (Vic Perrin) walking long distances to and from the Ivy library—a student who left Oregon to attend an Ivy to which he isn’t even registered. Additional cast: Paul Frees, Jerry Hausner. Announcer: Ken Carpenter. Music: Henry Russell. Director: Nat Wolfe. Writers: Milton and Barbara Merlin.
Box13: Damsel in Distress (Mutual, 1948)—The friend (Lurene Tuttle) of a teenager (Betty Lou Gerson) threatened with extortion contacts Holliday (Alan Ladd) instead of the police to shield her parents. Suzy: Sylvia Picker. Kling: Edmund MacDonald. Additional cast: Alan Reed, Frank Lovejoy. Writer: Russell Hughes.
The Whistler: Nightmare (CBS, 1948)—Police chase bank embezzler Philip Adams (Joseph Kearns) into a heavily foliaged maze of estates, into one of which he slips, badly injured, to be surprised in more ways than one. Hilda Wyatt: Eve McVeigh. The Whistler: Marvin Miller. Music: Wilbur Hatch. (Whistling: Dorothy Roberts.) Director: George Allen. Writers: Robert Eisenbach, Jackson Gillis.
Dr. Christian: The Steve and Charlotte Story (CBS, 1937)—An ambitious local poet hopes to divorce her unwilling husband, until he seems to fall for an attractive accident victim he escorted from Christian’s (Jean Hersholt) office. Pretty standard entry in the series if you’re a first-time listener, though it certainly belies the idea that its audience providing the stories is a recipe for complete disaster. Nurse Price: Lurene Tuttle. Additional cast: Unknown. Announcer: Art Gilmore. Music: Ivan Ditmars. Director: Neil Reagan. Writer: Ruth Adams Knight.
Quiet, Please: The Evening and The Morning (ABC, 1948)—A condemned man (Ernest Chappell, who also narrates) who’s confessed to killing the woman he loves—the widow of his best friend, no less—reveals the surreal reason why he committed the crime. Alice: Bess Johnson. Thorpe: Martin Lawrence. Music: Albert Berman. Writer/director: Wyllis Cooper.
Information, Please: Let’s Play Post Office (NBC Blue, 1939)—Or, barring that, let’s play with a postmaster general—U.S. Postmaster General James Farley. Typically understated, humourous brain food. Panelists: Franklin P. Adams, John F. Kieran, Oscar Levant. Host: Clifton Fadiman.