Clara, Lu & Em: The New Grandchild (CBS, 1942)
Radio’s first soap, which is as much a comic offering as a melodramatic serial and maybe more, was born in a sorority house and snuck on the air in 1930. For the next six years, especially after NBC picked it up for national air off WGN in Chicago, Clara, Lu & Em would be a weekday fixture and a kind of radio innovator.
The show’s whose gentle humour and quiet style probably helped provide at least a few blueprints for the likes of Lum & Abner and Vic & Sade, especially by way of the three creator/writer/performers—Louise Starkey (Clara), Isobel Crothers (Lu), and Helen King (Em)—winging about half of each show but, more significantly, bringing an entire cast of supporting characters to life simply by talking about them believably.
Recurring themes usually included two husbands. Clara’s Charley was a mechanic, had fathered three sons with her, and was more of a reactor than a motivator; Em’s Ernest shared six children with her but bore a kind of irresponsibility and tended to benign neglect of his wife ever since his mattress business collapsed. And Lu was considered the most playful of the three, though her husband seems rarely to have been a topic: the character didn’t marry until 1935.
For a nation wracked by the Great Depression, the three ladies with their understated wit and very real life concerns seemed to empathise with the Depression anguish of real women. The daily pleasantry was shattered when—three months after the ladies were persuaded to convert to a prime-time half-hour version, sponsored by Frigidaire—Isobel Carothers suddenly died in 1936, having been hospitalised with strep complicated by pneumonia. She was only 37.
Starkey and King pulled Clara, Lu & Em off the air at once, refusing to continue without their friend and partner. But in 1942, the two have decided at last for a second bite at the proverbial apple. They’ve reached back to their Northwestern University alma mater for another classmate, Harriet Allyn, as the new Lu. The problem is that they should have reached back only so far.
For the new Clara, Lu & Em isn’t very new at all, and that’s the major problem. It might have seemed at first like rediscovering three old friends, but before long it becomes what happens often enough when old friends re-appear: nothing can be quite the same because it’s too much of the past. The show is too much of its original lifetime of the early-to-mid 1930s, and the humour now has stayed there too securely. Its new life will barely outlive the half-hour version that ended only with Carothers’ death, and its place as a comic soap pioneer will be taken by the more contemporary entry Lorenzo Jones.
Tonight: The trio (Louise Starkey, Harriet Allyn, Helen King) learn Elizabeth Anne Wills has a baby girl, prompting gossip and rumination including “the women’s Army.”
Announcer: Bret Morrison. Writers: Louise Starkey, Harriet Allyn, Helen King.
TUNE IN TODAY . . .
Lum & Abner: Abner Sells the Store to Snake Hogan (NBC Blue, 1935)—And Snake (Chester Lauck, who also plays Lum) could buy it thanks to shifty Squire (Norris Goff, who also plays Abner and Dick Huddleston). They don’t skip a beat, though they have a couple of hiccups. Writers: Chester Lauck, Norris Goff.
The Goldbergs: Sylvia’s Tantrum (CBS, 1941)—While Molly (Gertrude Berg) jauntily prepares a feast for one and all, including Esther Miller (Joan Vitez), Jake (John R. Waters) tries to brace Allyson (unknown) with Esther’s discomfiting presence, but Sylvia (Zina Provendie) isn’t exactly in the mood to accommodate. Deft as normal. Sammy: Alfred Ryder. Rosalie: Roslyn Siber. Announcer: Clayton (Bud) Collyer. Writer/director: Gertrude Berg.
Our Miss Brooks: A New Job in Norwich, Connecticut (CBS, 1949)—To the mild amusement of her worshipper Walter (Richard Crenna), Connie (Eve Arden) ponders an offer to become the secretary to Norwich’s mayor, but good luck getting martinet Conklin (Gale Gordon) to set her free. Nice to settle into your groove once and for all. Boynton: Jeff Chandler. Mrs. Davis: Jane Morgan. Harriet: Gloria McMillan. Announcer: Bob Lamond. Music: Wilbur Hatch. Writer/director: Al Lewis.
Bob & Ray Present the CBS Radio Network: The Bob & Ray Employees’ Picnic (It’ll come to us, 1959)—Wally Ballou (Bob Elliott) reports from some God-forsaken upstate New York hamlet on the employees’ picnic, abetted by Hy Schermerhorn (Ray Goulding). Pretty good for a team who may not have had employees. Writers, depending on your definition: Bob Elliott, Ray Goulding.
Broadway is My Beat: The Harry Brett Murder Case (CBS, 1950)—Bar pianist Brett is shot dead on his elevated revolving platform, and Clover (Larry Thor) walks into a web of resentments among fellow musicians . . . especially a trumpeter who seems a little too tight with the manager’s wife (possibly Betty Lou Gerson) and talent booker. Spellbinding as usual. Tartaglia: Charles Calvert. Additional cast and announcer: Unidentified. Music: Alexander Courage. Director: Elliott Lewis. Writers: Morton Fine, David Friedkin.
Dragnet: The Big Signet (NBC, 1952)—A restauranteur is beaten severely in a holdup at his establishment, but one of the two robbers is dead. Standard sobriety. Friday: Jack Webb. Smith: Ben Alexander. Additional cast: Vic Perrin, Virginia Gregg, Harry Bartell, Ralph Moody. Announcers: George Fenneman, Hal Gibney. Music: Walter Schumann. Director: Jack Webb. Writer: Jim Moser.
Academy Award Theater: Hold Back the Dawn (CBS, 1946)—A European gigolo (Jean-Pierre Olmad, in the Charles Boyer film role) genuinely falls in love with the American teacher (Olivia de Havilland) he marries to stay in America. Elegant presentation but too much missing even allowing the abbreviated format. Music: Leith Stevens. Director: Dee Engelbach. Adapted from the Billy Wilder-Charles Brackett screenplay by Frank Wilson. Announcer: Hugh Brundage.
For the Record: Benny Goodman and his All-Star Band; vocal guests: Mildred Bailey, Perry Como (NBC, 1944)—He’s between full orchestras thanks to the 1942 recording ban, but the King of Swing is just as deft with small groups, including tonight’s all-star combo including Roy Eldridge, Teddy Wilson, Mildred Bailey, and Perry Como. Highlights: A pleasing reading of “Jubilee” by its hitmaker, Bailey; and, Como, showing an unusual feeling for pure jazz (Como earned his spurs with the anything-but-jazz Ted Weems aggregation, before launching a solo career that wouldn’t take off in earnest for another year following this performance), with “Goodbye, Sue.” Host: Deems Taylor. Announcer: John Gary.
News & Comment
Baukhage Talking: Midday Washington Summary (ABC, 1947)—H.R. Baukhage (he introduced himself strictly by his surname on his broadcasts) is a little-remembered but once-distinguished news commentator with a reputation for fairness. Today, however, Jack Bell fills in for the commentator and reports on, among other things, the notorious “Sergeants Affair”: the hanging of two British guards held hostage by the Irgun, in retaliation for the deaths of three Irgun fighters at the hands of the British, during the war of independence that resulted in the creation of Israel. The hangings were condemned even by many in the formal Jewish Resistance Movement as “defiling” the war for independence.