Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! I’ve been listening to a lot of old time radio sitcoms lately, and I just wanted to highlight a few episodes (essentially, all the ones that I enjoyed) and share them with you in today’s post, which, if there’s interest, could potentially become a semi-regular feature.
01. The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny (01/28/39)
I’ve been listening to a lot of Jack Benny lately, and one of the first shows I selected was this 1939 episode, known among collectors and fans as “Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs,” because Jack and the gang put on a parody of the Disney film (with Walt in the audience). This was actually the second time they’d done this sketch, although it was slightly revised for this performance. It’s not brilliant comedy, but worthwhile for fans of the classic picture. (Jack plays the leader of the dwarfs, who, in this sketch, are gangsters, while Mary does a spot-on Snow White voice!)
02. The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny (11/05/39)
Later that year (though in the following season), Jack and the gang put on a parody of The Women (1939), an MGM film that paired together two of this blog’s past Film Friday subjects: Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford. (Hence, this episode’s title is “The Women.”) In the sketch, Jack takes on the Shearer role, Don plays the Crawford role, Phil gets the Russell role, and Dennis plays Jack’s 16-year-old daughter. Mary hosts. Again, not brilliant comedy, but smartly played and for the fans of the film, a worthwhile listen.
03. The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show (11/25/40)
What appealed to me most about this episode, which is titled “Rehearsing Next Week’s Show,” is how meta the series is. Modern listeners may not realize that this was a popular concept in old time radio comedy — especially on shows like Jack Benny and Burns and Allen. Thus, most of my enjoyment of this episode comes from the totally unique premise, which begins following the conclusion of last week’s show, as George tries to wrangle the cast and crew together to rehearse the next episode. There’s a funny bit with the cast trying to rehearse a restaurant scene.
04. Duffy’s Tavern (03/14/44)
My readers should know that I have an affinity for shows set in bars. (Or, an affinity for one particular show set in a bar.) Ensemble cast, limited sets, one act structure, etc. Before Cheers, there was Duffy’s Tavern, “where the elite meet to eat.” In this episode, theatrical diva Gertrude Lawrence comes to visit and rehearse for a play that bartender Archie (a wannabe Noel Coward) has written. It’s shockingly hilarious, and though the series’ regular mode-of-operation involved guest-stars-of-th- week, the regular ensemble is also excellent, and I can’t wait to hear more.
05. The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show (10/23/49)
I must admit, I’ve only listened to one of episode of the series — it’s this one, entitled “Sponsor’s Formal Party Honoring Harris” — and I was very impressed with both the quality of the music (naturally) and the comedy. The story involves a party that the Harris’ are attending. Alice has bought a new dress for the occasion, but Phil, thinking it’s an old one, gives it to Remley’s bawdy tattooed girlfriend. Lots of comedy here. Fans of Harris and Faye, check out this series. (I know I’ll be listening to some more!)
06. The Lucky Strike Program Starring Jack Benny (01/08/50)
There was a change in the official title of Benny’s show when he got a new sponsor, but this is essentially the same show with the same cast as the last ’39 Benny episode. This installment has become known to collectors as “Drear Pooson” because of Don’s slip of the tongue while trying to say “Drew Pearson.” This is turned into a screamingly funny joke by Frank Nelson as a waiter. The main sketch involves a murder investigation and features cameos by Frank Sinatra, Rosalind Russell, Gene Kelly, and Prince Michael Romanoff.
07. My Favorite Husband (10/14/50)
Yes, this is the series that inspired I Love Lucy (1951-1957, CBS) and from which many scripts of the television series were adapted. I’ve listened to many episodes over the years, as several are featured on the DVD sets, but I hadn’t listened to this one, “Liz Cooks Dinner For Twelve,” before. The plot is exactly as it sounds. Katie, the housekeeper, is on her vacation, so when George has a large party coming over for dinner, Liz (with the help of Iris) must cook dinner alone. Things, naturally (and amusingly) go disastrously. Solid episode of a usually solid (if not great) radio series.
08. Our Miss Brooks (11/01/55)
We’ve covered Our Miss Brooks (well, the TV adaptation) a lot on this blog, and I featured one of my favorite radio episodes in a January Wildcard Wednesday post. This episode, “The Switchboard Operator,” which was broadcast in 1955 when the TV series was in its unfortunate final season, utilizes an original premise (when most of the scripts were remakes). After losing Mr. Boynton in a poker game to Miss Enright, Miss Brooks schemes to keep Boynton and Enright from meeting at Eagle Springs by taking over the latter’s job as switchboard operator. Hilarity ensues; brilliant writing and playing. One of my favorites!
Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in tomorrow for more Xena!