The Milton Berle Show: Salute to Public Servants (NBC, 1947)
Of all the comedians who were raised in vaudeville and remained visual clowns at heart despite their ascendancy in old-time radio, Milton Berle may have been suited least to the aural medium. And he knew it.
Reading from a script didn’t feel as good to me. I was too used to winging it in front of a live audience . . . I did okay, but I never felt I was getting across at my best.
—Milton Berle, in his autobiography.
He was radio’s best-known failure: never able to mount a decent rating despite numerous attempts in many formats over a 13-year span, Berle finally gave up the blind medium and went exclusively to TV in 1949. There, Berle could make full use of his goofy teeth and elaborate mugging in ridiculous costumes.
—John Dunning, in On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.)
Perhaps Berle’s sole saving radio grace (He worked too fast—Irving Brecher) is the very thing that goes on to comprise a fraction of his television style—his once-famous self-deprecation, what Gerald Nachman (in Raised on Radio) would call “taking us into his confidence that he knew, and he knew that we knew, how second-rate it all was. His what-the-hell-it’s-only-a-stupid-show attitude helped the program limp along and gave Berle his rapport with his listeners.”
Until, after a year’s worth of a revamped radio warmup, Berle would bring Texaco Star Theater (once a distinguished enough radio marque, especially when it was attached to Fred Allen in the early 1940s) to television, become the earliest superstar the picture box medium would have, turn Tuesday nights into the most madcap on the tube, and—in part because Uncle Miltie wouldn’t (and never really did) know the meaning of the term calm down, in part because familiarity certainly would come to breed contempt, and in part because efforts to revamp and cure Mr. Television toward the end (radio titan Goodman Ace would be one such attempted revamper) would prove to be a case of sending the horse after a cart that had long careened off the cliff—burn himself and his audience out almost as fast, it would seem decades later, as he would light their fire in the first place.
Tonight: Once you get past the by-now-customary Berle opening salvos, it’s just what the title says it is. Nothing more, nothing less. Little left untouched, which is both its saving grace and it’s biggest problem. And if you aren’t out of breath before the show is two-thirds complete, count your blessings.
Cast: Pert Kelton, Frank Gallop, Jack Albertson, Al Kelly, Johnny Gibson, Charlie Irving, Billy Fang. Announcer: Frank Gallop. Music: Ray Bloch, Dick Forney. Writers: Hal Block, Martin Ragaway.
FURTHER CHANNEL SURFING . . .
The Wonder Show with Jack Haley: The Hatfields and the McHaleys (CBS, 1938)—Jack (Haley) reviews his experience filming with Alice Faye; Lucille (Ball) fumes over their movie date; and, the cast re-enacts a famous family feud . . . with a little more cacophony than the real McCoys and Hatfields managed to feud with. Additional cast: Gale Gordon (also announcer), Artie Auerbach. Music: Ted Fio Rito Orchrestra. Director and writers: Unknown.
The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show: The Sponsor Drops By (NBC, 1940)—It’s enough to prompt George (Burns) to don his best suit for dinner, amusing Gracie (Allen), Truman (Bradley), Senor (Lee), and Artie (Shaw). You get what you’ve learned to expect by now, and that’s not a terrible thing. Announcer: Truman Bradley. Music: Artie Shaw and his Orchestra. Writers: Paul Henning, possibly Keith Fowler, George Burns.
The Abbott & Costello Show: A Trip to Palm Springs (NBC, 1943)—Bud (Abbott) and Lou (Costello) have to rent a car to motor to Palm Springs with ideas about getting Veronica Lake (herself) to co-star in their next film. This show includes the pair’s classic “U Drive” routine, which is almost the equal of “Who’s on First” for language play and timing. Mrs. Niles: Iris Adrian. Little Matilda: Millie Gray. Announcer: Ken Niles. Music: Freddie Rich and his Orchestra, Connie Haines. Writers: Pat Costello, Leonard Stern, Martin A. Ragaway.
The Great Gildersleeve: Gildy Sponsors the Opera (NBC, 1945)—It begins with a new lady in Gildy’s (Harold Peary) life . . . and continues after he objects to being snubbed for the local opera committee, at first. Marjorie: Lurene Tuttle. Leroy: Walter Tetley. Birdie: Lillian Randolph. Hooker: Earle Ross. Peavey: Richard LeGrand. Additional cast: Unknown. Announcer: John Laing. Music: Jack Meakin Orchestra. Director: Frank Pitman. Writers: John Whedon, Sam Moore.
Bob & Ray Present the CBS Radio Network: Lawrence Fechtenburger (We Give Up, 1959)—The intrepid star voyager continues having his hands full with candidate Billy Headstrong; meanwhile, Wally Ballou interviews a toymaker. Writers, reputedly: Bob Elliott, Ray Goulding.
Crime Club: Death Blew Out the Match (Mutual, 1946)—A small boat approaching a Cape Cod island carries passengers to a rather dangerous interlude involving an accident-rended invalid. Take it at face value. Host: Raymond E. Johnson. Additional cast: Unknown. Writer: Possibly Wyllis Cooper.
Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: The Henderson Matter, Conclusion (CBS, 1955)—Dollar (Bob Bailey) gambles to prove Pauline Henderson (Lillian Byas) lied about her estranged husband’s drinking the day he died, leading to a powerful rancher who tried to convincing the dead man to reconcile with his wife rather than go through with their divorce—leading to an unexpected and unwanted showdown. Additional cast: Irene Tedrow, D.J. Thompson, Rush Thorson, Bob Bruce. Announcer: Roy Rowan. Music: Amerigo Moreno. Director: Jack Johnstone. Writer: John Dawson.
Mayor of the Town: Intermezzo (CBS, 1942)—A renowned pianist (Carl Esmond) moves into Springdale ahead of a recital in Chicago, but the man’s fiancee (Bea Benaderet) is just as jarred as the mayor (Lionel Barrymore) to learn why he’s ready to leave his art and love behind entirely. One of the best-written and most naturally-acted episodes of this series. Marilly: Agnes Moorehead. Music: Gordon Jenkins and his Orchestra. Director: Jack Van Nostrand. Writers: Jean Holloway, Leonard St. Clair.
Suspense: The Black Curtain (CBS, 1943)—Cary Grant seems comfortable if just a little bemused as an amnesiac missing three years of his life that may or may not be more, shall we say, adventurous than any life he does remember—injured in a building accident, he’s now wanted for a murder he may not have committed, with his only hope for redemption in the form of a paraplegic. Roma Wines couldn’t have chosen a bigger bang by which to launch its longtime sponsorship of this series if it tried. Boy in the street: Walter Tetley. Additional cast: Unknown. The Man in Black: Joseph Kearns. Announcer: Truman Bradley. Music: Bernard Herrmann. Director: William Spier. Sound: Berne Surrey. Writer: Possibly John Dickson Carr, based on the novel by Cornell Woolrich and the screenplay by Garrett Fort.
The CBS Radio Workshop: The Day the Roof Fell In (CBS, 1956)—A do-it-yourselfer (Joe Helgeson) is driven from doing it himself right to a nervous breakdown and intensive analysis. Drollery to the tenth power but not quite enough to discourage someone from doing it himself. Dr. Manning: Barry Kroger. Helen: Elspeth Erick. Kennelly: Jackson Beck. Additional cast: Ralph Bell, Leon Janney, Elaine Ross, Joseph Julian. Announcer: Bob Pfeiffer. Music: Ben Ludlow, Alfredo Antonini. Director: Paul Roberts. Writer: Charles S. Monroe.
You Bet Your Life: The Secret Word is “Face” (NBC, 1953)—And facing Groucho Marx are a pair of grandparents (not related), a telephone girl paired with a small town mayor, and a department store buyer paired with a circus worker. Announcer: George Fenneman.
Gunsmoke: Speak Me Fair (CBS, 1956)—Matt (William Conrad), Doc (Howard McNear), and Chester (Parley Baer) have their hands and hearts full trying to solve a brutal attack in which a Kiowa chief’s young son’s tongue was cut out, which may be connected loosely to poaching on a wealthy but nasty rancher’s (Harry Bartell) land. This, too, would be adapted for the television series in due course, and something would be lost in the translation, somehow. Kitty: Georgia Ellis. Additional cast: Vic Perrin, John Dehner. Announcer: George Fenneman. Music: Rex Khoury. Sound: Ray Kemper, Tom Hanley. Director: Norman Macdonnell. Writer: Les Crutchfield.