TCM Dedicates Programming Week To Finding Jim Scancarelli


Turner Classic Movies, at least in its United States feed, is spending a bunch of this week showing strings of movies. Many of them were adapted from or into old-time radio shows. Let me see if I can find them all.

Tuesday evening, the 1st of May, are a bunch of Blondie movies: Blondie (1938), Blondie Meets The Boss (1939), Blondie Takes A Vacation (1939), Blondie Brings Up Baby (1939; they really cranked them out when they realized they had something back then); Blondie On A Budget (1940), and Blondie Has Servant Trouble (1940). I’ve never seen any of these that I remember. They do all star Penny Singleton, whom you’ll remember as the female voice actor who wasn’t June Foray on every cartoon, 1940 – 1965. (Yes, yes, Bea Benederet. It’s hyperbole.) After the first movie, based on you know exactly what, this got turned into a radio series. That starred Singleton and Arthur Lake, a man who sounds like he should have been Allan Young but wasn’t. This is nowhere near the whole Blondie movie series, which ran until 1950 and came out with an estimated four hundred million films. Previously unsuspected Blondie movies are still being unearthed to this day, at a rate of one film every 56 hours.

After that is a bunch of Mexican Spitfire films starring Lupe Vélez, but I don’t think that was ever made into a radio series. I know nothing past the existence of the series and that I remember some people talking about someone as “a Mexican Spitfire” when I was a kid. I’m sure there’s nothing uncomfortable to see in an early-40s Hollywood film series about a temperamental Mexican woman!

Wednesday the 2nd there’s a run of Masie movies, starring Ann Southern. That’s the original Masie (1939), then Congo Masie (1940), Gold Rush Masie (1940), Masie Was A Lady (1941), Ringside Masie (1941), Maisie Gets her Man (1942), Swing Shift Masie (1943), Masie Goes To Reno (1944), Up Goes Masie (1946), and Undercover Masie (1947). Ann Sothern and the character would go on to the radio series, The Adventures Of Masie. That, as the movies, are nominally about about Masie trying to break into show business. The movies I haven’t seen but the plots cover what seems like the normal spread of 40s comedy film series topics. You know. Helping a ranch foreman beat a murder rap. Getting stranded in the African jungle. Hanging around a boxing camp. Working at the war plant. Saving a beleaguered inventor. Exposing a phony psychic. The usual.

After that Wednesday comes some films I’ve seen. The first is Look Who’s Laughing (1941). This was 1941’s much-needed crossover between Fibber McGee and Molly and Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. There’s a plot for some fool reason. Fibber McGee and Molly was a proto-sitcom. There’d be some theme for the week. Each regular character would come in and do some jokes about that with Jim Jordan and Marion Jordan and then leave. Here, I don’t know, they wanted to tell enough of a story that a boring couple could have a romance. It’s got Lucille Ball. More important, Edgar Bergen’s the only ventriloquist to ever appear in a movie or TV show and have his character not be the psychotic killer, so, enjoy. (Yes, yes, Paul Winchell in the Three Stooges clip show Stop! Look! And Laugh. Hush.) If you don’t already like either big, long-running radio show I’m not sure this would sell you on them. But if you want to know what the Fibber McGee and Molly cast looks like here’s a good chance. They don’t quite look exactly right. Well, Harold Peary does. Peary was The Great Gildersleeve on radio and in here. Later on, he’d portray Big Ben, the whale with the clock in his tail on some of the crazier Rankin/Bass Frosty-and-Rudolph specials. This is why his voice sounds familiar from somewhere. You’re welcome. He also did some wild Faygo commercials in the 70s, but who didn’t?

And after that comes Here We Go Again (1942), the title one of Molly McGee’s catchphrases. It’s the second Fibber McGee and Molly crossover with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. This time they’re at a resort hotel without a lot of the regular Fibber McGee and Molly supporting players. I think the plot had something to do with the Great Gildersleeve and a super-gasoline formula that might be important to the War Effort but, you know. Just, there’s some charming stars of radio doing their business here. Nobody cares about the plot.

That leads to a bunch of movies based on The Great Gildersleeve. The character started out as Fibber McGee’s best foil, and then spun off into his own show. And one of the first fully-fledged sitcoms. Gildersleeve became a bachelor father with a couple of vaguely related kids, trying to date and deal incompetently with work. TCM’s showing the movies The Great Gildersleeve (1942), Gildersleeve’s Bad Day (1943), Gildersleeve on Broadway (1943), and Gildersleeve’s Ghost (1944). I think that I’ve seen the last of these. It’s about Gildersleeve’s run for mayor and the assistance he gets from a couple of ghosts. You can’t imagine you saw something like that, right?

Now, what of all that do I plan on watching? Oh, I don’t know. I’m at the point where I’m kind of glad when my talk shows and The Price Is Right go into reruns so I don’t feel like I need to catch up on those. And this is a lot of old-time-radio-branded extruded movie product. I mean, the movies (that I’ve seen) are pleasant enough. I’m not sure any of them would show off why, like, Fibber McGee and Molly was such a pop culture catchphrase factory for about twelve years there.

My personal taste is to say that Fibber McGee and Molly‘s the best of the shows. Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy is reliable fun, but with a smaller cast of good characters (Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, really). The Great Gildersleeve, Masie, and Blondie are second-tier interests to me. You can, with sympathy, see why people liked them. It’s that as pioneers of sitcom conventions, a lot of their best tricks were worn down by imitators. Or done better by sitcoms that could learn from their example and their imitators. If you like the characters, and it’s really easy to like Harold Peary, Penny Singleton, or Ann Sothern, that’ll carry you through. But I have to listen to them partly in the spirit of historical appreciation.

So I’d recommend, of this, Look Who’s Laughing and Here We Go Again. Then whatever of the other series sounds most appealing. I’m inclined toward the ones that put Masie in the Congo and the Great Gildersleeve teaming up with ghosts for the potential craziness of the scenarios. If you can’t judge, go with the first in the series. Or leave them on the TV while you’re going about your business. They’ll be easy enough to drift in to and out of. If this doesn’t bring the cartoonist for Gasoline Alley out of hiding nothing will.

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Fibber McGee and Molly Leaving for Hollywood


I’m still in an old-time radio mood. So here’s a 1941 installment of Fibber McGee and Molly. The show’s got great name recognition, if allusions to it on Mystery Science Theater 3000 are any guide. Granted, by that standard, Averell Harriman still has great name recognition.

But it’s of historical importance. The show was one of those that created the situation-comedy genre. As often the case with those that create a form it doesn’t have the form quite right. The show tends to have very loose plots, to the extent it has plots at all. There’s typically just a gimmick for the episode and then riffing around that. The bunch of wacky neighbors and friends come on, usually one at a time, to add their riffs, and then after 25 minutes of this, two musical numbers, and a minute spent praising Johnson’s Wax, something ends the situation. It hardly seems like the same sort of entertainment as, say, Arrested Development.

But I think it’s of more than just historic importance, at least in some episodes. The one I’ve picked here, “Leaving for Hollywood” and originally run the 24th of June, 1941, closed out the broadcast season. It’s built on the McGees closing up their house and saying goodbye to everyone because they’re off to Hollywood for the summer … to make one of the movies based on the Fibber McGee and Molly show. The movie, Look Who’s Laughing (mentioned in the show as the Old-Timer worries about the title) featured most of the radio program’s cast in a story that intersects with Lucille Ball and Edgar-Bergen-and-Charlie-McCarthy and some story about the town’s airstrip.

And there is something almost strikingly modern. We have the fictional conceit that we’re listening to the stuff happening to the McGees and their acquaintances. And yes, it breaks the fourth wall a couple times each episode for the needs of commerce or just to let Jim Jordan get in a good side crack. But here’s a story all about winding up the “real” affairs of the McGees for long enough to let them make a movie about themselves. It’s a weird blending of layers of fiction. I don’t think the 1941 audience was confused or blown away by this; it just feels too natural that the listeners are in on the artifice of the show. (Note the biggest laugh of the episode is one that subverts the show’s best-remembered joke. And its next-most-famous running gag appears just to be mocked too.) I imagine someone listening to the show for the first time would find nothing surprising about the structure, except maybe for the conceit that perfectly good half-hour radio comedies should be adapted into 80-minute movies with far too much plot and nothing happening. It’s only weird if you stop and point it out, which I hope you see now that I have.

Minor note: the second musical number within the show, about 19:30 in, is the Kingsmen singing “The Reluctant Dragon”, based on the Disney partly-animated Robert Benchley vehicle and that’s fun.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

So here we are, trying out reporting just the breakaway alternate Another Blog, Meanwhile Index and that’s up two points from where it was yesterday. And I don’t want to say anything to the traders who are trying to work out why it is there’s been no divergence in the indices since they split off all that while ago. But I will say that based on what I have they’re in for a nasty surprise regarding today’s mainstream index returns.

104

Molly McGee At A Roller Coaster


Bit of a change for these sorts of Friday things. Rather than a video I’d like to share an old-time radio program. This is the Fibber McGee and Molly that originally aired the 17th of June, 1941. It’s titled “Amusement Park”. I don’t know whether that was the script name or just how the Fibber McGee and Molly fans chose to name it. If I have overcome archive.org’s horrible new interface, this should be a link to download an MP3 to it. If I haven’t overcome archive.org’s horrible new interface, well, you should be able to select track 21, “Amusement Park”, below and listen in your web browser, rather than your MP3 player or audio program of your actual choice. Mostly, though, archive.org’s new interface is horrible.

Anyway. Fibber McGee and Molly was a proto-sitcom. The show started as being about vagabond motorists Fibber and Molly having encounters with amusing locals. After a few years of this they won a house in a raffle (really) and settled down to what’s almost the modern format of the genre. Most episodes give Fibber some modest task to attempt, at home, while Molly comments, and comical neighbors drop in, one at a time, to riff on that.

It’s not quite the sitcom as perfected, mostly because the episodes don’t really have plots. They have themes and jokes circling around the theme. But most of the time you could scramble the appearances by the comical neighbors and have about as good a show. There’s not a running storyline; at best it’s got running jokes. Which seems really odd because the show would have stuff develop over the course of episodes. Indeed, this episode introduces something that would be picked up on the next week, their close of the 1940-41 broadcast season.

I mentioned with Rube and Mandy last week that Amusement Park movies tend toward storylessness. But for Fibber McGee and Molly that works, since the format begs for chance encounters and nothing much happening. The curious thing about this episode is that Fibber and Molly don’t actually do anything but walk around and talk and try to use a photo booth. Before the episode started Fibber apparently rode the roller coaster twelve times, but none of that’s on-microphone. That seems quite odd considering it’s a radio show, and they only need sound effects to put the cast on anything. And the show even features a comic song praising the Sound Effects Man.

The best sound effect, though, is in the voice acting. Teeny, the Little Girl who keeps nagging Fibber for food, was voiced by Marion Jordan. So was Molly McGee. In most episodes of the show, Teeny is one of the comic neighbors, who drops in for her bit and disappears after delivering a minute or two of jokes. And in most episodes Molly makes some excuse to leave the scene. This is one of the few episodes where Marion Jordan has to do both Molly’s and Teeny’s voices, repeatedly, and extendedly, in the same scenes. And, you’ll remember, live. It’s a neat bit of voice acting, one it’s easy to not realize is going on.

There are a couple of racially tinged jokes here. Most are like how funny it would be for a Zulu person to hear the Hut-Sut Song. That was a contemporary nonsense-verse novelty song you hear in a couple of Looney Tunes. (And where are the modern nonsense-verse novelty songs, by the way?) In the Sound Effects Man song there’s a reference to shooting “redskins”; I’m sure they just meant to honor the football team.

I do get a strange feeling listening to this because I know the original broadcast date. It was the 17th of June, 1941. World War II was nearly two years old. President Roosevelt had just the month before declared the Unlimited National Emergency that left the United states all but officially at war with Germany. The German invasion of the Soviet Union was less than a week away. Not a hint of this creeps into the dialogue. Japan’s terror-bombing of Chongqing had recently killed four thousand residents who were in a bomb shelter. It would be out of character (and, for Operation Barbarossa, anachronistic) for people to talk about the war while at an amusement park. (There were scattered references to the war in earlier episodes, such as the one in which Fibber McGee’s gotten his draft notice.) But there is this strange tone to hearing so much small, normal, routine things in the midst of such an epic picture.

Big Changes On Campus


As we approach the start of the academic year, sneaking up from the side which has not got sharp teeth this time, we in the alumni association would like to present our side of campus developments to everyone who glances at this article while looking for the columns where they see how many of their classmates who seemed destined for really interesting lives have settled into horribly boring fates where they aggregate content or tell you how to position your brand or something.

The most important change on campus has been the stepping up of the historicization program. We hope by these renovations and reconstructions to bring a world-class sense of historic appearance to our campus and find some pride in the many incidents to have happened on or around here.

The second most important change on campus has been the adoption of a spell checker that allowed historicization to proceed. That can’t be right, can it? There’s no way the program stumbled onto a word like that on purpose. We have to suppose the spell checker was a block of feral code adopted by the public relations department and so overly kind to it.

The major goal of historicization, which just can’t be a thing, has been to locate points on campus in which noteworthy things have happened and find ways to denote them. For example, it has long been a part of campus legend that Marian Jordan of Fibber McGee and Molly once pronounced the Rathskeller in the fourth floor of the Biology Laboratory “confusing”. This historic site has been noted in excessively detailed histories of old time radio as “a thing that exists” and that it “probably happened, I mean, why not?” We are proud to be bringing it out of this obscurity by completing the demolition of the Biology Laboratory and the installation of a concrete fountain with an interactive touch-screen video monitor able to explain in nearly more than 24 languages that a server error has occurred and this interaction will be shut down.

The Werthram Class of 1867 Hall, believed to be the largest building on campus imprecisely named for hard candy, has been almost fully demolished to allow street traffic better lines of sight to the rest of the main quadrangle, and the plans to demolish the main quadrangle to allow for better lines of sight to the Werthram Class of 1867 Hall have been put on hold while we look into the controversy about which demolition we were supposed to do. Maybe we were supposed to demolish the traffic. Anyway the location of the former building, believed to be a spot where legendary bad vaudeville act The Cherry Sisters never played, is now marked by a WiFi hotspot.

Several alumni, and we’re sure you know who you are and will stop asking already, will be glad to know the results of the inquiry into the deconstruction of the Old Sig Ep House, the spot where Christopher Columbus first spotted land, where the transcontinental railroad was built, the battle of the Marne was fought, and where John F Kennedy challenged NASA to land a man on the Women’s Campus and return him safely to the Rathskeller. As a result we have added to the historical plaques one explaining that it turns out our source for these events turned out to be a spoof issue of the student newspaper. Probably that it was called the Campy Push Dizzy Snooze should have tipped us off sooner. We tracked down one of the co-authors of the piece and he tweeted back to us a link to his essay on six ways to tell whether you’re managing your career brand.

The news on the campus beautification front has been no less mixed. The restoration of the 1974 Sculpture Garden saw the chance to add part of the artist’s original plans which were too technically challenging to be part of the original Brutalist installation. While the heat rays, the swinging mallet, and the swarm of bees carrying sharpened cocktail swords have proved controversial they are doing wonders at speeding pedestrians along.

Any questions? Please let us know. It’s important that we be able to make ourselves believe we’re doing valuable journalism work.