Vic and Sade: When The Building Falls In


Do you remember being bored? I mean, boredom is still with us. But it’s attenuated now, chopped up into small bits of boredom between something exciting happening on Facebook or watching the spectacle of the Future Disgraced Former President’s self-immolation or the like. And a lot of that is still an expression of boredom, since boredom is the state in which anything is sufficient to hold our attention. A video of a bird putting a cover on a cat isn’t actually interesting, but compared to nothing going on, it’s interesting enough.

But back in the days, we could be bored in quantity. Just have days, especially summer ones, when time stretched out and there wasn’t any prospect of something asking for attention. I’m not saying those were better days. They weren’t. By nearly all measures we are so much better off today that we have cell phones and abundant Internet and are never that far from someone we want to communicate with or something we find entertaining to watch or do.

In this Vic and Sade episode, from the 13th of June, 1939, it’s the boring part of summer. And the best of all possible things happens: something exciting comes up. A good part of an old building collapses. Rush gets to see it. And one of his friends is inspired. He turns something already exciting into a performance. Maybe it’s the sort of thing that could happen today. But I do wonder if it takes being bored, and knowing what the face of long stretches of quiet, inactive summer evenings imply, to see a chance like this and make it something even more.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index held steady today, not changing at all, as more cautious traders worried they were under surveillance by a cheetah and didn’t want to make a move lest they get caught in a rundown between second and third base.

331

Vic and Sade: Meet The Parade Community


I don’t know when this episode of Vic and Sade first aired. It’s dated 1941, but it includes Rishigan Fishigan (of Sishigan, Michigan) as a major off-screen player. And he doesn’t seem to have been introduced before the 12th of December, 1941. The show aired five days a week, but that isn’t a lot of time for Rishigan Fishigan to get promoted from a name on the boss’s Christmas list to a telephoned friend of Vic’s. But they did have as many as thirteen chances to get him kind-of on-stage. (I don’t know whether the show aired Christmas Day, 1941. Nor how many times it might have been preempted for news.)

It’s got to be from early in Rishigan Fishigan (of Sishigan, Michigan)’s tenure, given how exasperated Sade is by the length of his name. So maybe it’s a 1942 episode. No matter. I am delighted by the main conversation’s proposition that one could get a weekly list of all the parades going on in the country. It’s the sort of thing that surely exists today. My love and I schedule our December around a listing of when Rankin/Bass specials are going to air and on what channel. And I find Vic’s proclaiming that he’s a fan of parades likely. It doesn’t seem just a defensive reaction to Sade’s skepticism about the parade list. Remember that Vic was happy to join the All-Star Marching Team for his lodge, and that went off on its own weird little way.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell thirteen points over the trading day, providing a much-needed hushing to all the Another Blog, Meanwhile analysts talking about when we’re going to need to buy an index board that handles four digits instead of just three. Honestly. I get your enthusiasm and all that but really, go play outside.

311

Vic and Sade: Meet Rishigan Fishigan


Sometimes a throwaway gag is too good to dispense with. In this installment, from the 12th of December, 1941, Vic’s boss has given him a list of people to buy Christmas presents for and twenty dollars to do it with. Sade expects she’ll have to do all the bother and that it will be an incredible bother. She’s right, as she makes Vic read the list and consider the complete lack of guidance into what sort of thing any of these people might want or how much they should spend on it.

The last name introduced is that of Rishigan Fishigan, of Sishigan, Michigan. It’s such a catchy name. It’s a catchy town name. It seems like it always attaches to the end of his name, so he’s spoken of as “Rishigan Fishigan of Sishigan, Michigan”. And I am sad that there is no such place as Sishigan, Michigan. We should rename something to be it.

The name must have caught Paul Rhymer’s imagination. Rishigan Fishigan would reappear, in mentions, and eventually as a friend of Vic’s. In later incarnations of the show he would even be a regular character, with dialogue on-microphone and everything. Given how many catchy names Rhymer created I wonder why Rishigan Fishigan (of Sishigan, Michigan) took such hold, although I suppose to say aloud it is to answer the question.

There are a lot of amusingly scrambled place names in the Christmas gift list — I can feel Sade’s righteous anxiety that none of this can be right, even if she allowed that she could buy anything for people she doesn’t know anything about — but I like to think that the choice of “Seattle, Iowa” was retaliation for the existence of “Des Moines, Washington”. I have a friend who lives in Des Moines, Washington, and it nags at me every time I need to send him a card or something. We need some thought put into our Des Moines requirements.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Repeated heavy waves of selling struck the trading floor at Another Blog, Meanwhile over the course of the day, so of course the index went up eighteen points. At this point we have to suspect some of these traders don’t actually know what they’re doing and they’re just making numbers go up and down without thinking about the long-term implications.

324

Vic and Sade: Meet Five Men From Maine


I’ve got a couple reasons to feature this bit of old-time radio. First is that my friend from Maine isn’t on the Internet this week so it’s safe to talk about the state. Second is that I haven’t really featured Vic and Sade lately, so I’d like to give it some attention. It’s the kind of show that isn’t everyone’s taste. But if it is your taste, it’s a powerfully strong taste. So please consider taking ten minutes and listening to it. (The show has a sponsor, as most did back in 1941, and goes on and on. You can zip ahead to about 2:45 into the show before missing anything that isn’t about Crisco, and you can bail out again at about 12:30 in the recording.) So here’s the Vic and Sade for the 30th of May, 1941.

Something I love in the world is that so much of it doesn’t quite make sense. We’re surrounded by weird little incidents and connections and coincidences. Here, Vic gets, by way of a phone call, an invitation to do something perfectly daft: travel — at his own expense — from the middle of Indiana off to Maine to meet five people he’s never heard of for no reason other than that they’d like to meet him. How does this make sense? Hard to say. But I particularly love how Rush comes to ponder how phony-sounding the five men in Maine are. Series creator and author Paul Rhymer had a love for creating names off exactly peculiar that they’re amusing without ever feeling like deliberately funny names. If you live with people named Edson Box, Fred and Ruthie Stembottom, Y Y Flirch, Hank Gutstop, or Rishigan Fishigan from Sishigan, Michigan, how do you call anyone out on having a suspicious name? But what other explanation makes sense?

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped 21 points and it’s still over 300 and if you think that’s normal you don’t know what normal is, and I know none of us have had any idea what normal is, not since, like, what? When David Bowie died? The day before that was about the last normal day, wasn’t it? Please communicate in care of this office if you have information one way or another.

306

In Which I’m Briefly Written By Paul Rhymer


In August of 1817 President James Monroe, as part of a tour of the several states, visited Detroit. But he did not visit the nearby, newly-created Monroe County. It would have been easy enough for him to visit, since it was only about a day’s travel away. But he didn’t. According to the article, nobody from Monroe County invited the President over. President Monroe might have expected Monroe County residents to come to Detroit to see him, but nobody did. You can forgive them this, because nobody told any Monroe County officials that President Monroe was going to visit the area. Anyway, they probably didn’t care, since nobody lived there except some French-Canadians who’d been ruined in the War of 1812 and didn’t much care about the American government, the Canadian government, or any of that. And Monroe probably didn’t care since there were already four other counties named for him. I mean, I’d be thrilled to have a fifth county named for me, but James Monroe lived a way more fascinating life than I have. He had other stuff on his mind.

I know anything about this because of an article in the March/April 2017 issue of Michigan History. And I couldn’t help reading choice quotes from this to my love. I have a habit of doing this. My love appreciates my reading stuff from the books and magazines I’m going through. I assume, anyway, based on how much time my love spends not punching me in the kidneys.

Anyway where this gets really fascinating is that nobody in Monroe County much cared about how President Monroe didn’t come visit them. It had been a long trip and he just wanted to go home. Until 1937, anyway, when one local historian declared that President Monroe had so visited the county, and even found a log cabin where he allegedly spent the night. This set off a little flurry of local historian claims that Monroe might have set foot in Monroe County. But, the article goes on to explain, historians do not regard this as credible, and they have their reasons.

And as I sat there, reading quotes to my love about this time 200 years ago that President Monroe did not visit Monroe County, and while there were people who thought he did, here are the reasons we think there was no such visit and why nobody much cared, I realized: I am living my Vic and Sade spec script. It’s every bit as wonderful as I imagined.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped two points as investor confidence was shaken by Matt looking up the lyrics to the J Geils Band’s Angel In the Centerfold and learning that yeah, everyone did remember the lyrics right.

125

What You Missed At The Record Show


Like five cups left out where someone put a teabag in and then discovered the hotel’s complementary coffee and tea service didn’t include hot water, just two kinds of regular coffee. Also one full cup of coffee-tea hybrid abandoned after two sips.

Supertramp’s Breakfast In America in the five dollar bin.

Oh wow this is totally Paul McCartney’s most embarrassing 80s single.

The greatest hits of the Beatles, 1962 – 1964, rendered by early computer synthesizer.

The daily high temperatures for Schenectady, New York, from the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58, rendered as a waltz, as the first album my hand even touched and I wasn’t even trying to make something like this happen. How does this happen? How does this keep happening? $3 and the woman selling it marked it down to $2 before I even said anything and then suggested if I wanted all four copies I could have them for five bucks.

Supertramp’s Breakfast In America in the dollar bin.

Wait, how could Allan Sherman have done a riff on the theme to Saturday Night Fever? Is that even possible? Can someone check?

The greatest hits of the Beatles, 1962 – 1965, rendered on xylophones.

Two guys trying to walk back the “White Disco Sucks” label on a Bee Gees album when the customer admitted to liking it although of course not so much as their pre-disco stuff.

Supertramp’s Breakfast In America in the two dollar bin.

A disco cover of the themes to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek, The Great Race, and Gone With The Wind.

The Belchertown (Massachusetts) Savings Bank 1968 gift to its listeners of select favorite memories from the golden age of radio … oh, I get it, they’re saving these precious memories, that makes thematic sense as a tie-in and oh that’s a lot of Amos and Andy to put on one record but at least they break it up with … good grief Life with Luigi? Was all the non-ethnic-humor stuff from old-time radio unavailable somehow?

The greatest hits of the Beatles, 1963 – 1965, rendered by a string quartet.

That table with all the concert video DVDs that couldn’t look more sketchy if he were underneath a giant flickering neon sign reading “SCAMMER” although hey, he’s got the whole Woodstock ’99 concert this says.

A box just labelled “prog rock” next to two boxes just labelled “Beatles”.

The great news events of 1944 as reported by Morse Code international transmission.

The Who’s Tommy sung by an all-twee children’s chorus for some reason.

An ever-growing bundle of people arguing over what was the best Kinks concept album, splitting off an argument about what was the best concept versus what was the best rendition of that concept, all united by the belief that more people ought to listen to Arthur.

Gene Pitney’s She’s a Heartbreaker, which on the cover explains it includes Gene Pitney’s hit She’s a Heartbreaker, which at least gets one thing clear and understandable in this confusing world.

No, no, this is totally Paul McCartney’s most embarrassing 80s single.

A read-along story cassette book for 3-2-1 Contact? I totally need this except by any reasonable definition of “Need” but look how much of the book is the Bloodhound Gang.

Kid whose family was at the hotel wandering in from the swimming pool to stare at the records and then leave without making eye contact with anyone.

Listen To History: John Cassavetes portrays John Cameron Swayze as the news reporter covering the Zimmerman Telegraph, the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, and Warren G Harding’s Death in a recreation of how network radio might have covered these events and what exactly is on sale for $6 here? What level of reality is in operation?

Supertramp’s Breakfast In America in the miscellaneous bin.

A disco cover of the themes to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, The Gazebo, and A Face In The Crowd.

A bunch of interview clips the Beatles offered but stripped of all possible context.

The soundtrack to Midnight Cowpoke which turns out not to be the soundtrack to a porn film which would be bizarre enough but this leads to the discovery of “stag party records” that, okay, wait, they’re just music with women groaning? And this was a thing people were supposed to listen to in any context? Play this “sexciting” album in your car? Yes, we know car LP players were a thing but what? And they were still making these late enough in the day they could do an album riffing on aerobics? What the heck is the heck with this? What?

The cast of One Day At A Time sings the greatest hits of Motown.

A two-LP set of The Greatest Hits of Zager and Evans?

Haven’t got any idea what this is but it’s thick in a box of prog-rock covers so amazing I want to get a better look at it without making eye contact with the guy selling them because if I do he’s going to talk about them and I can’t have that much personal contact with someone can I?

A disco cover of the themes to 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Black Hole, 1941, and Klute.

Supertramp’s Breakfast In America in the Beatles bin.

The Fat Boys’ You Know, Only One Of Them Is Actually Kind Of Fat, The Most You Can Say About The Others Is They’re Slightly Chunky Or Maybe We’ve All Just Gotten Tubbier Since 1989.

Is it possible that Paul McCartney 80s singles are infinite and there is no most embarrassing one?

The Kinks debate approaching the conclusion that while it is impossible to define what exactly makes something a concept album, having a track subtitled “Part II”, “(Reprise)”, or “Entr’Acte” means you’ve got one.

How To Set Up Your Record Player, an instructional album that seems to present an impossible bootstrapping problem.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped ten points today but then thought better of it and figured that just the one was sufficient.

127

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley?


[ Edited the 24th of May, 2017 to add: ] Hi, fans of Gasoline Alley looking for summaries of the plots. I’m glad to provide what I have. This post might be out of date, though. My most recent report on what’s happening in the strip should be at or near the top of this page. The rest of this essay is about what was going on as of February 2017, which it no longer is, and is becoming less so every day. Thanks for being around.


I, too, thought I was done with story strips. And then I realized I’d forgot one. And what a one to forget: it’s, I believe, the oldest syndicated comic strip that isn’t in perpetual reruns. Coming to us from the 24th of November, 1918, it’s …

Gasoline Alley.

If you know anything about Gasoline Alley you don’t need me to tell you anything about Gasoline Alley. It’s one of those comic strips that’s been around forever even though the last child to grow up enthusiastically reading it went on to fight in King Philip’s War. Have to admit, a someone who only started paying attention to it in adulthood, the kids are missing something. That something is a lot of old-time radio references. I honestly wonder how artist/writer Jim Scancarelli wasn’t hired to draw the Lum and Abner comic strip.

So the comic strip is a slice-of-life serial comic. Its big gimmick, and the thing that’s let it last nearly a century, was the day in 1922 when protagonist Walt Wallet discovered the orphan Skeezix on his doorstep. Since then most of the characters in the strip have aged more or less in real time. People get born, they grow up, they move off, they move back, they marry, they have careers, they bring new people into the strip, they retire. The whole cast is impossibly vast and interconnected in ways that only Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury compares to.

Walt Wallet is still around, even though the progression of time makes him something like 115 years old. I imagine Scancarelli is a little too sentimental to kill the comic’s original star, even if there have been like four whole generations of plausible lead characters since then. He doesn’t even have to kill Walt. Scancarelli embraces a bit of magic whimsy in the comic (a lot, really), and one of the conceits is the Old Comics Home. It’s the boarding house for all the characters from the classic old comic strips. They have a visit every year or so. I can’t imagine anyone objecting if Walt, and maybe Skeezix too, were to pay their annual visit to Mutt and Jeff and Buster Brown and Smokey Stover or whoever and just … not come back.

But Walt Wallet does come back. And the current storyline, begun the 16th of January, stars him. He’s inspired by a newspaper advertisement offering “big bucks for your inventions”. After several days sleeping on it he has an inspiration. It’s a combination freezer-fridge-stove-grill-microwave-TV, the sort of thing you might create as a dubiously practical all-in-one contraption for a 60s sitcom. Wallet admits he got the idea from thinking about how in Dick Tracy the B.O. Plenty clan had a stove with a built-in TV set. I don’t know that this actually happened, but I believe it. Scancarelli shows a love for this particular kind of pop culture. He is not so reference-crazy as the actual current staff of Dick Tracy, but then neither is the writing staff of Family Guy. Still, he could hold his own in a highly referential conversation with them.

'Isn't this the invention of a lifetime? A combination freezer, fridge, stove, grill, and microwave! Well! Aren't you going to say anything?' 'I'm speechless!'

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 30th of January, 2017. There’s an optional TV also. No, it isn’t connected to the Internet, because there is no non-ridiculous reason to connect your refrigerator to the Internet. Will say that’s a pretty good example diaram considering so far as I know Wallet hasn’t been trained in graphic design and he’s also older than graphic design.

Wallet’s idea underwhelms Skeezix and his nurse. But he attracts the attention of Gasoline Alley TV’s Shark Bait. So he goes to the TV studio to pitch his idea — or really the novelty of a 115-year-old inventor — to the jury of millionaire investors. He gets to the studio and meets, who else but Frank Nelson.

You know Frank Nelson. OK, you know that guy on The Simpsons who goes YYYyyyyyyyyeeeeeess? That’s Frank Nelson they’re impersonating there. He appeared in a lot of Jack Benny Program episodes as the clerk or ticket-taker or information desk guy or anyone at all that Benny would have to get information from. And he’d instead get “YYYyyyyyyyyeeeeeess” and “OOooOOOoooh” and insults. This may sound like thin stuff, but, again: character actor. And done for one or two minutes a week, two weeks a month, the character doesn’t exactly get old. It gets familiar, the way a fun running gag does. Frank Nelson’s reappeared in Gasoline Alley to torment Walt Wallet because, like I said, Jim Scancarelli’s an old-time radio fan. The comic probably reads fine if you have no idea what’s being referred to here. If you know how the lines should be read, I imagine they’re funnier.

But I don’t know what it reads like to someone who doesn’t get the references. Scancarelli likes them, and will keep making them. Even if they’re a little baffling. A while back he introduced Molly Ballou, radio reporter. Who’s carefully introduced as the sister to Wally Ballou, famously mis-cued reporter for Bob and Ray. And shortly after that he introduced Polly Ballou, Wally and Molly’s other sister. I understand wanting to do a little Bob and Ray fanfic because who would not? And it’s simple professionalism to do it with your own character, because that way, if you screw up nobody’s qualified to tell you you’re wrong. (Frank Nelson’s appearances have, I believe, avoided coming right out and naming him, allowing for some deniability if the character goes completely wrong. At the cost of confusing people who realize there’s a reference to something here that they don’t have enough stuff to Google.)

But why make them Wally Ballou’s improbably young-looking sisters? In the comic strip that defined “comic strip that passes more or less in real time”? Why not make them his daughters, or granddaughters? And why Molly and Polly, when it seems like one would do? Maybe it’s pure self-indulgence. As cartoonist self-indulgences go this seems quite tolerable to me. Or maybe I just like that I get the references.

'Uh, excuse me! Where do you want me to go?' 'Oooh! I'd love to tell you ... but I can't.' 'Why not?' 'This is a family newspaper!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 20th of February, 2017. Fine, call it a dumb old joke. It was my best laugh of the day from the comics. Also I hadn’t thought of it before but now I realize Scancarelli could totally slip in Harold “The Great Guildersleeve” Peary in too. He’s got the basic design down.

So, as of this week, Walt Wallet’s gotten onto Shark Bait. It’s going out live because Gasoline Alley TV just does that. You can roll with it or you can read something else, okay? There’s an odd bit of confusion in the show’s opening about whether the jury is a panel of millionaires or billionaires and that might be a hint there’s some mischief up. I make no predictions for how it’ll resolve except that at the end of it Walt Wallet will not be a millionaire. The strip doesn’t break reality that much, plus, think of the biographies of every inventor you know. How many of then end with “died in poverty after long court fights with the companies that ripped off his/her patents”? Yeah.

This is the storyline running Monday through Saturday. On Sundays the comic strip runs separate gags. They’re usually one-off panels, not connected to any storyline. And they’re usually the sort of big dumb old-school sketch comedy stuff that was old when old-time radio was new. And Scancarelli draws it in this warm, friendly, very gentle style. It works for me. I like that kind of comedy. Don’t know that it communicates today.

'I'm the Genie of the Lamp! I'll grant you 3 wishes for letting me out!' 'Can I have 10 billion dollars?' 'Your wish is my command!' 'How about world peace?' 'Easier done than said! What's next? This is your last wish! It better be a good one!' 'Make me lose 200 pounds and look like I did when I was 20!' 'Gad-zooks, man! I don't have that kind of power! I'm only a genie!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 5th of February, 2017. The typical sort of Sunday business for Gasoline Alley. Since the joke is old, take the chance to look at the art. This is some pretty lively stuff, especially considering the scene is just two characters talking and would play just as well without any visuals. There’s not enough good art on the comics pages; good on Scancarelli for insisting on it in his work.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell eight points following uncertainty as to which of the paczki is the strawberry and which is the red raspberry. This might have been weathered but similar doubts were raised regarding the blueberry and the prune ones.

98

Statistics Saturday: What The Full Moon Reveals About You


Source: The C E Hooper Radio Survey of the 2nd of June, 1939.

Werewolf, werebea, weredragon, werecat, weremeerkat, were-oh-were-has-my-little-dog-gone,were-gym-teacher,were-Dave,were-off-to-see-the-wizard,were-robot.
I’m as alarmed as the rest of you by how many people, even ones pure in heart who say their prayers by night, may become someone who can’t distinguish homonyms when the autumn moon is bright. Still, I’m refreshed that we don’t see significant numbers of were-abstract-concepts, like someone who turns out to be a were-supererogatory-behavior or a were-purple or a were-number or something. You’d think you’d see more of that just from how many abstract concepts there are. The only one I can think of even in fiction is Romeo, who spent so much time as a were-4 named “Art”.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose sharply as everyone took the what-the-full-moon-reveals-about-you test and more people came out “were-dragon” than even they had secretly hoped. Even Mopey Pete who figured he couldn’t hope to do better than were-hyena and would have been okay with that came out were-sea-serpent and yes, that ranks below were-dragon but it’s still pretty cool, especially if it comes with a bay or major lake to were- in.

129

Jack Benny: Goodbye 1941, Hello 42


And for another thing I can share anytime but that feels timely today: a New Year’s Eve broadcast from The Jack Benny Program. Through the early 40s Jack Benny had a tradition that was antiquated even then. The final sketch of the show would be a little allegory of the old year briefing the new year on what the state of the world was.

These always sound as odd pieces. Dennis Day even says as much. (I forget if he’s confused the same way every year.) The tradition they’re writing in is just not present anymore, at least not in pop culture. I imagine someone’s doing good web comics or sketches or such like this, but I don’t know them. But as we see out the most trying year I remember going through here’s a glance at how a particular bit of pop culture viewed its joining into a dark and deadly valley.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

This time the Another Blog, Meanwhile index was unchanged because it was a real and proper holiday and everybody expected to spend it not doing the trading thing. Also we’re sure we’re going to get a spare set of keys for the floor so we don’t again have a thing where we get an unexpected day off. Wait, that’s stupid.

UNCH

Henry Morgan and the Discovery of Air


Old-time radio had many genres of show. Many of them still exist, albeit on television. (In the United States, where commercial interests sent them.) Soap operas, famously, still carry on, though nobody would say they’re healthy. Police and detective shows we’ll never be rid of. Medical dramas too. Suspense anthologies … all right, we don’t really have that anymore, although thrillers and crime procedurals nearly cover that gap. Sitcoms — with or without laugh tracks — come and go, but they’re steadily around. Game shows have mutated, but they’re still around.

But there’s one that isn’t really still around, not in United States anyway. I’m not even sure what exactly to call it. It’s the kind of show typefied by The Jack Benny Program. It’s centered around a strong, comic host, and there’s a set of regular supporting cast with clear punchy comic personas. There’s some topic, often drawn from the news, that all the regulars riff on for a while. Then a musical interlude. Then a spoof of something or other. A lot of shows fit this admittedly quite general template. Jack Benny fits it (less perfectly as the show ages and it turns into a semi-sitcom). Fred Allen too. Bob Hope. Red Skelton. Some of these shows are great. Some are agony, at least to my tastes. Depends on whether you like the host.

So here’s an example of that genre. It stars Henry Morgan, a comedian who is reliably described as “caustic”. This episode doesn’t show off anything “caustic”. I would describe it more as “sly”.

I wanted to use the embeddable little radio player that archive.org offers. But it won’t link to the file I want because whoever uploaded this episode in the first place included spaces in the file name. WordPress’s thing for embedding archive.org audio can’t handle that. So I’m afraid I must ask you to download or open in a fresh tab one of these links:

It’s a fast-paced show, with as its first centerpiece a mock-documentary about the discovery of air. I love mock-documentaries. Always have. The form of the factual essay and the content of nonsense tickles me. It ends with a spoof of game shows. Along the way there’s riffs about the other leading radio shows of the day, which was September 1946. It’s a sharp, densely written mix of stuff. I’m sorry the audio gets fuzzy at a few spots mid-show, but I want to feature more of Henry Morgan and this seemed to be a pretty good introduction, all things considered.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Today it was the mainstream index’s turn to drop two points. Traders working on the Another Blog, Meanwhile index say they totally meant to get the number up to something impressively big, like 94 or even 95. Which isn’t all that big, but is still a pretty good-sized uptick. But then they noticed how distracted I got trying to find the episode of The Henry Morgan Show I really wanted to show off, and if it’s on archive.org I don’t know where, and they were feeling down because I was clearly irritated by all this. And that was before I found out embedding the episode I settled on was another hassle. It’s kind of them to worry so but they really shouldn’t. I can cope with bigger disappointments than having to show off a different episode of a favored comedian than I otherwise might.

86

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

Stan Freberg: College Football Report and Westerns


Everybody loves spoofs. I suppose they satisfy our desire for transgressive mockery without demanding the self-cutting introspection of satire. That makes me sound snobby about spoofs and it shouldn’t. A great spoof is a celebration of the good and bad of something. And we need sometimes entertainment that doesn’t ask how we justify our thinking.

Stan Freberg among many things produced fantastic spoofs. His Dragnet spoof made his name and solidified “Just the facts, ma’am” as the phrase the original show would be known by. In his one-season radio show he’d do a lot of spoofs, many of them really great.

A great spoof needs to capture something essential about the original. It might be the original’s rhythm, it might be its attitude, it might be just the way it sounds. To some extent a spoof needs to be precise. It needs to follow a template that could plausibly be the original’s. If it doesn’t then it becomes something like an Elvis or a William Shatner impersonation, something that at one time had something to do with the original but now is an entity unto itself. That’s not to say they’re necessarily bad, but to say that they’re their own thing, no longer based on the original.

But there’s a danger in capturing the sound of the original too precisely. That problem it’ll eventually be sixty years later and nobody is going to know what your spoof was going on about. There’s a bit of this in the Stan Freberg Show I want to share here. It aired originally the 22nd of September, 1957.

So. There’s two big spoofs there, one of a sports-radio announcer/interviewer, another of a western. If you’re not a fan of old-time radio then I’m going to guess the sports-radio thing made better sense. There are still sports announcers and interviewers kind of like this and you can imagine an interview coming close to but not quite that. The other spoof is of a western and that probably sounds all the more bizarre.

Freberg was taking seriously his responsibility to get his spoof right, to make it just this close to the thing he was spoofing. The sports-radio guy he’s spoofing was Bill Stern, pioneer of radio sports reporting. A fair number of his recordings survive. He had this bombastic and, must be said, addictive style, delivered in a breathless rush and sprinkled with amazing human-interest stories that might even be true.

The western, now, that probably reads stranger. We just don’t have so many westerns. And the image of the old-time radio western is, well, what people think The Lone Ranger was. Big, broad, cartoonish melodrama with dramatic declarations and gunfights and claim-grabbers and salted gold mines and big, broad dumb gags. That was one thread of western, yes. But there was another line, which for want of a better term I’ll call “adult westerns”. These varied, of course, but they would try for a more sedate, more grown-up tone. They’d be more meticulously paced and there’d be more of the sound effects of men walking in full, noisy garb than of gunshots. They’d try to address more grown-up topics, like drought, economic failure, and racial tension. Gunsmoke, the show Freberg was most specifically targeting, could be wretchedly depressing. It was the sort of show where the silver lining is that at least the floods will put out the range fire before washing away the railroad bridge the ranch-hands would use to get into town to riot.

So if this seems like a bizarre segment to listen to that’s just the problem that Freberg captured the sound of Gunsmoke and its ilk too well. I think you can infer what he’s mocking from this, but it is easier to understand, and funnier, if you’ve heard more of the adult westerns that 1950s radio offered. (Many are easy to find.)

The “sponsor” is an easier spoof to understand. That’s mocking Quaker Puffed Wheat and Quaker Puffed Rice. These breakfast cereals were shot from guns on every 15-minute program radio aired between 1939 and 1958, if my sampling is representative. That maybe communicates easier since we’re still spoofing commercials, and there’s an inherent goofiness that doesn’t need much setup.

Well, I hope you enjoy the show however much sense it makes.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose four points and then just knew it when it turned out the alternate index also rose four points. Someone went off and wrote a paper about how this proved that the markets were reflecting underlying real value and therefore the index traders were perfectly efficient. This went over 98 percent as well as you’d expect and there was a lot of pointing and snickering over the matter.

98

Why I’m Not Ready To Talk About How September Treated My Blog Just Yet


So I found there were some ancient Jack Benny Program podcasts that my iPod somehow had for some reason and I got to listening. And they had some real obscure ones, like from his show before Jell-O picked him up as a sponsor and before his writers had invented Phil Harris and everything. And the show was weird back then, since he didn’t have any of his famous cast except Mary Livingstone and she was still mostly doing Dumb Dora. And then they got to what sketch they’d do on the next week’s show. “Next week, folks, we’re going to do a real old-fashioned style minstrel show!”

So I had to cry out, “NO! DON’T DO IT, JACK BENNY PROGRAM OF 1933!” and throw myself at the iPod, smothering it with my body and saving my whole platoon from the imminent racefail. And while my iPod’s Otter case was strong enough to withstand my falling all over it, and the next episode turned out to be one from 1944 and everything was normal, I’m still not quite up to par. Jack Paar was Benny’s summer replacement host for 1947. But you can see why this has me all off my schedule.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Traders were feeling optimistic about the Another Blog, Meanwhile Index given how they were able to remember all the Next Generation episodes mentioned yesterday except the drunken-singalong one, and that they really are all legitimate episodes and some of them even good ones. Also that you could too win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Hairstyling, just like if you were going to make a joke about technical Emmys.

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Bob and Ray and the Campaign Microphone


I feel like listening to something today. Here’s an October 1959 episode of Bob and Ray Present the CBS Radio Network. As often for these shows it’s a set of several sketches, all done by Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding. None of the sketches really involve one another so if you don’t care for one premise — a Broadway actor going over the failure of his musical; a political-news interview with a possible candidate for the upcoming presidential election; the Bob And Ray Trophy Train arrives in Memphis — you can zip ahead a few minutes and enjoy the next. I wouldn’t.

While listening to the Vic And Sadecast, an hourlong podcast about Vic and Sade, my love assessed that I have a love for wordy humor. Not puns, mind you, or jokes that consist only of putting a word where it doesn’t belong. More humor in which there is wonderful care about picking words so that they are just odd enough to be funny even if you can’t point to a specific laugh line. I think my love’s right in this as with so many regards. Bob and Ray sound rambling and improvised; it’s part of their charm. I don’t know how much Bob and Ray and their writing staff got done by editing and rewriting into shape and how much they got done by being really good writers and improvisors. It’s hard to pick any line, though, and find a variation that would be better. You can make lines more obviously meant to be punch lines, but then the whole sketch would be lessened. Anyway, do enjoy, please.

Sade and the Marching Auxiliary


If you’ve been listening along with Vic and Sade episodes this week you maybe noticed that not much happens in them. The characters talk about what they’re up to, but they don’t do much about it. That’s part of the style of the show. It has an almost classic respect for the ancient unities of Greek theater. Each day’s installment is one scene, at one time, and rarely do characters enter or exit, at least not much. Doing stuff is almost impossible in the ten minutes or so of conversation they have.

But stuff happens between episodes. And, more, it’s remembered. Vic and Sade is a representative of the serial-sitcom. It could have storylines going and progressing and developing, five days a week, just the way they might on soap operas. Vic and Sade isn’t a strong representative of the genre, the way that Lum and Abner or the difficult granddaddy of them all, Amos ‘n’ Andy, are. Vic and Sade stories aren’t as long and don’t dominate weeks of storytelling the way the more dedicated serials do. But it’s there.

Here, for example, at least after about the first two and a half minutes (spent talking about the wonders of Crisco and perhaps local advertisers), is a continuation of Vic’s All-Star Marching Team. The Marching Team is hoping to put together a Ladies Auxiliary. Sade is targeted to participate. She’s uninterested in marching and she and Vic talk just a little past one another about the point. The Marching Team was based on an absurd premise to start. And now the Ladies Auxiliary promises to be further absurd, as it can’t just be the wives of the Marching Team members. Many of them aren’t married. (One has intentions of marrying his beloved early in 1948, a joke which barely registers until you know that this episode is from the 22nd of February, 1941.) It’s not the straightforward absurdity of the original Marching Team premise, and its need to rehearse when none of the members can get together. That doesn’t keep it from finding wonderful absurdity anyway.

Vic and the Marching Team


Maybe I’ll just carry on with the old-time radio and make it a Vic and Sade week. Picking out episodes makes me want to hear more episodes, and I like talking about the stuff I enjoy. So here goes.

One of my favorite comic modes is the deadpan absurdity. The name almost explains it. Presenting the most ridiculous idea possible with the straightest face possible delights me. If someone questions your absurdity, you can own up to it … or you can try explaining why it really makes sense all along. Take the second path and you are entering the heady woods of the American heritage of tall-tale folklore, of the reductio ad absurdum that earns mathematicians their pay, and — if you happen to answer every objection soundly — conspiracy theory.

Vic belongs to a lodge, the Sacred Stars of the Milky Way, the way many people did in 1941. The way even more sitcom men did. The lodge wanted to organize an All-Star Marching Team. The head lodge chose ten members, Vic included. Lodge headquarters wants them to practice marching as a unit. The members are distributed across the country. The members aren’t asked to spend money and time travelling to each other.

So … how to rehearse marching as a unit when you just can’t get together? And there’s an answer, and it’s ridiculous. There’s obvious objections. They’re answered with a straight enough face that it all almost makes sense. It’s wonderful.

And a note for listeners: boy, the sponsor’s introduction really does go on, doesn’t it? If you are already as sold on Crisco as it is possible for you to ever be, you can skip to about two minutes thirty seconds in and the start of the real action.

Vic and Sade, with algebra, without Vic, Sade


I’m still feeling in an old-time radio mood.

Vic and Sade starred Art Van Harvey as Vic, and Bernardine Flynn as Sade. That was, apparently, enough cast to start with, but they adopted Rush, played by Bill Idelson, soon enough. Most of the scripts depended on the three, or two of the three if one of the actors got a day off, describing events to one another. A problem arose in 1940, when Van Harvey became ill. Every long-running radio show had this problem occasionally. If the actor’s illness was known about long enough in advance they could rewrite around the part. If it was sudden, they could just have someone else fill in. (There’s at least one episode of Burns and Allen with someone else playing the part of Gracie Allen, and that is not a role to step into lightly.)

To cover for Van Harvey’s illness, author Paul Rhymer brought a talked-about character in. This would be Uncle Fletcher, played by Clarence Hartzell. Uncle Fletcher could take the part of someone for Sade and Rush to talk to, or at least talk around, at least as well as Vic did.

It does mean we have curiosities like this episode, though. It’s from the 9th of October, 1941. It’s a two-actor day. So it’s an episode of Vic and Sade with neither Vic nor Sade. It’s built on Rush attempting to do his algebra homework, and Uncle Fletcher attempting to coach him through it. As I’d said, many Vic and Sade episodes are driven by the characters talking not quite past one another. This is a fine example of the form.

Vic and Sade hear about Rush’s Speaking Acquaintances


I’m in the mood to share some more old-time radio. This is an episode of Vic and Sade. It’s a strange show. It was for most of its run a daily, 15-minute program. It’s classed as a situation comedy, although it’s not what you would imagine from “radio sitcom from the 1930s and 1940s”. You might get that from how its Wikipedia page insists one of its catchphrases was “Is there a perfumed lady, heavily veiled and greatly agitated, hiding under the davenport?”. (I do not remember hearing this in any episode I’ve listened to. This might be instead a “memorable quote” from the show. However, I haven’t heard all the three hundred or so episodes that survive. Perhaps something happened.)

If I must describe it briefly, I’d say it’s “three people obsessively talking almost past one another”. It’s a small cast — Vic, Sade, and their son Rush — talking about what’s of interest to them. Often it’s some trivial daily event. Sometimes it’s a project that’s become urgent to one of them and uninteresting to the rest. It’s not a program to dip into casually. Something in it will be amusing if you listen to it while doing other stuff, sure. But it’s one of those shows that presents itself as deeply mundane. It keeps piling on the day’s premise until you reach the point of noticing they’re having a crazed conversation. There’s no guessing where that moment will hit for you. But it’s there.

Vic and Sade was written, all three and a half thousand episodes, by Paul Rhymer. Rhymer had left the newspaper business when the Bloomington (Illinois) Pantograph learned he was interviewing people who didn’t technically exist. Radio probably fit him better. He had a knack for writing people who are ridiculous yet not quite unbelievably so. People who could plausibly make a catchphrase of “You’ll send your undershirt to Detroit parcel post”. And he could string together words in that way that makes every sentence more interesting than it has to be to hold its information. It’s hard to pin down a punch line. Any sentence might suddenly strike you as the funny part, and you’re right. There are reasons most of the series was done without a studio audience.

And the episode I mean to have highlighted above — called “Rush’s Speaking Acquaintances”, based on Rush’s obsession of the day — gives a glimpse of one of Rhymer’s talents. He could compose funny names that are actually funny. The show would collect legions of discussed and typically-offscreen characters, all with names that feel off without ever quite being distractingly impossible. You don’t know how impressive this is until you’ve paid attention to people making funny names. Mix in some absurd touches and discuss without anybody quite finding their point, or convincing anyone else of it. It’s almost a course in how to write character-driven comedy.

Bob and Ray Tell You What’s On Channel 6


I want to share some of the gentle, absurd, kindly wonderful humor of Bob and Ray. Here’s something a bit mysterious. Its description on archive.org is able to give only some information about where it’s from. It was an Armed Forces Radio Service transcription disc. It would seem to come from one of their 1958-era broadcasts, apparently on NBC’s Monitor weekend service. I can’t pin it down more precisely than that.

The audio is patchy. But I think their appeal comes through. They offer brownies to the audience and that goes as well as anyone might hope. There’s a look into the difficult world of the soap opera writer. And there’s a review of what could be found on TV. I too would watch that Weird Theater tales meant to keep you in suspense.

Bob and Ray Put Up The Storm Windows


I’m still feeling a little woozy and a more bit lazy, so let me give you something to listen to today. This is another Bob and Ray Present The CBS Radio Network. an episode from the 23rd of October, 1959. It’s seasonal. I’d be putting up the storm windows myself if I quite felt up to it right now.

The center sketch of this, One Fella’s Family, is a parody of something specific. The tone of it probably gives that fact away. What it’s a parody of is probably as forgotten as it used to be famous. They’re playing off the series One Man’s Family, a radio soap opera that ran from 1932 to 1959. And it kept the same actor for the main Man, J Anthony Smythe, for that whole run. (It also had two short-lived TV adaptations, one in prime time and one in daytime.)

The show had an irresistible comic hook. Episodes were introduced as being from a particular book and chapter of the tales of the Barbour Family. I would say that’s the high point of the episodes, honestly. The show strikes me as the tale of Henry Barbour sighing and grumbling about how his kids won’t listen to him, until they finally decide to listen to him. It’s a style of drama I don’t get much into.

Bob and Ray don’t have the great arcs of the kids figuring they’re too smart for college or whatever else went on in One Man’s Family. As with many of their bits, the story is of characters not quite able to do simple things. The closer you listen, the more absurd it all is.