Friday, June 14, 2013

Slidell Radio City Playhouse: Our Shows

Slidell Little Theatre is launching the inaugural production of the newly formed Senior Actors Theatre of Slidell (SATS) with a live broadcast June 15, 2013, of “Slidell Radio City Playhouse,” a re-enactment of programs popular during the Golden Age of radio.

The Radio City Playhouse production will feature three shows from the 1940s: two comedies and one suspense drama!

The shows we’ve selected to re-enact are (in order of production): My Friend Irma: episode “Seeing Ghosts”; Sorry, Wrong Number; and The Great Gilderslevee, episode “Income Tax Forms.”

The following is some background material about each of our shows...

My Friend Irma

Marie Wilson (left) and Cathy Lewis

My Friend Irma, created by Cy Howard, was a top-rated, long-running radio situation comedy, so popular in the late 1940s that its success escalated to films, television, a comic strip and a comic book. Marie Wilson portrayed the title character, Irma Peterson, on radio, in two films and a television series. The radio series was broadcast on CBS Radio from April 11, 1947 to August 23, 1954.

Dependable, level-headed Jane Stacy (portrayed by Cathy Lewis) began each weekly radio program by narrating a misadventure of her innocent, bewildered roommate, Irma, a dim-bulb stenographer from Minnesota. They lived together in an apartment rented from their Irish landlady, Mrs. O'Reilly.

Irma's boyfriend Al was a deadbeat, barely on the right side of the law, who had not held a job in years. Only someone like Irma could love Al, whose nickname for Irma was "Chicken." Al had many crazy get-rich-quick schemes, which never worked. Al planned to marry Irma at some future date so she could support him.

Professor Kropotkin, the Russian violinist at the Princess Burlesque theater, lived upstairs. He greeted Jane and Irma with remarks like, "My two little bunnies with one being an Easter bunny and the other being Bugs Bunny." The Professor insulted Mrs. O'Reilly, complained about his room and reluctantly became O'Reilly's love interest in an effort to make her forget his back rent.

Irma worked for the lawyer, Mr. Clyde. She had such an odd filing system that once when Clyde fired her, he had to hire her back again because he couldn't find anything. Useless at dictation, Irma mangled whatever Clyde dictated. Asked how long she had been with Clyde, Irma said, "When I first went to work with him he had curly black hair, then it got grey, and now it's snow white. I guess I've been with him about six months."

Irma became less bright as the program evolved (she thought flypaper was airline stationery!). She also developed a tendency to whine or cry whenever something went wrong, which was at least once every show. Jane had a romantic inclination for her boss, millionaire Richard Rhinelander, but he had no real interest in her.

The film My Friend Irma (1949) starred Marie Wilson and Diana Lynn, but is mainly remembered today for introducing Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis to moviegoers, resulting in even more screen time for Martin and Lewis in the sequel, My Friend Irma Goes West (1950).

(pictured from left) Kenneth Faherty, Beth Harris, Linda Wendle,
Margaret Rennie, Helen Joffe and Robert Jahncke.

Sorry, Wrong Number

Agnes Moorehead as Mrs. Stevenson

"Sorry, Wrong Number" was Suspense radio's biggest hit and became "radio's most famous play," says author and historian Christine A. Miller, and the only Suspense radio play to be made into a movie.  

Miller’s blog, Escape and Suspense! is devoted to the enjoyment of the CBS radio show Suspense and its sister show Escape.” In addition to providing considerable research into each show, Miller also includes audio links to the actual broadcasts.

The Suspense radio show was a thriller that ran on CBS Radio from 1942 to 1962. Between 1947 and 1954, Suspense also had a sister show named Escape, which focused on classic short stories and exotic adventure.

According to Miller, "Sorry, Wrong Number" was performed eight times between 1943 and 1960, “and it created a phenomenon of its own by provoking tremendous listener response.” All eight versions starred Agnes Moorehead in the lead role of Mrs. Elbert Stevenson.

The radio play was written by Lucille Fletcher and, aside from ‘The Hitchhiker,’ it is her best known work.

In the 1948 film Sorry, Wrong Number, the role of Mrs. Stevenson was played by Barbra Stanwyck, for which she later received an Academy Award nomination.  Stanwyck performed the role of Mrs. Stevenson once on radio, along with her costar Burt Lancaster in1950.

For complete details about Sorry, Wrong Number, please visit Miller’s blog here.

(From left) Kenneth Faherty, Linda Wendle as Mrs. Stevenson, Robert Jahncke,
Helen Joffe and Beth Harris. Not pictured, Bob Gault.

The Great Gildersleeve

Harold Peary as Gildy

The Great Gildersleeve is a radio situation comedy broadcast from 1941 to 1957. It was one of broadcast history's earliest spin-off programs. The series was built around the character Throckmorton Philharmonic Gildersleeve, a regular character on the radio comedy show Fibber McGee and Molly.

The Great Gildersleeve enjoyed its greatest popularity in the 1940s. Actor Harold Peary played the character during its transition from the parent show into the spin-off and later in four feature films released at the height of the show's popularity.

In Fibber McGee and Molly, Gildersleeve had been a pompous windbag and nemesis of Fibber McGee. But "Gildy" grew so popular that Kraft Foods—promoting its Parkay margarine—sponsored a new series featuring the somewhat mellowed and always befuddled Gildersleeve as the head of his own family.

The Great Gildersleeve premiered on NBC on August 31, 1941.The Gildersleeve character was located to Summerfield to oversee his late brother-in-law's estate and rear his orphaned niece and nephew, Marjorie and Leroy Forester. The household also includes a cook named Birdie.

At the outset of the series, Gildersleeve administers a girdle manufacturing company ("If you want a better corset, of course, it's a Gildersleeve"); later and during the remainder of the show he serves as Summerfield's water commissioner.
A key figure in the Gildersleeve home was cook and housekeeper Birdie Lee Coggins (Lillian Randolph). In the first season Birdie was often portrayed as less than intelligent, but she slowly developed as the real brains and caretaker of the household.

His niece Marjorie matured to a young woman through the 1940s, marrying in 1950 Walter "Bronco" Thompson, star football player at the local college. Look magazine devoted five pages in its May 23, 1950, issue to the wedding. After living in the same household for a few years, the newlyweds moved next door.
Leroy, who remained age 10–11 during most of the 1940s, began to grow up in the spring of 1949, establishing relationships with the girls in the Bullard home across the street. He developed interests in driving, playing the drums and dreaming of a musical career.

Outside the home, Gildersleeve's closest association was with the executor of his brother-in-law's estate, Judge Horace Hooker, with whom he had many battles during the first few broadcast seasons. After a change in scriptwriters in January 1943, the confrontations slowly subsided and the two men became friends. During the second season, pharmacist Richard Q. Peavey and barber Floyd Munson joined Gildersleeve's circle of acquaintances.

In the fourth season, these three friends, along with Police Chief Donald Gates, formed the nucleus of the Jolly Boys Club, whose activities revolve around practicing barbershop quartet songs between sips of Coca-Cola.
Several women passed through Gildersleeve's life during the series, including three he almost married before settling into a pattern of casual dating.

In 1950, Harold Peary was convinced to move The Great Gildersleeve to CBS, but sponsor Kraft refused to sanction the move. Peary, now contracted to CBS, was legally unable to appear on NBC as a star performer, but Gildersleeve was still an NBC series. This prompted the hiring of Willard Waterman as Peary's replacement. Peary, meanwhile, began a new series on CBS which attempted to reproduce the Gildersleeve show with the names changed. The Harold Peary Show, lasting one season, included a fictitious radio show within the show. This was Honest Harold, hosted by Peary's new character.

Starting in mid-1952, some of the program's long-time characters (Judge Hooker, Floyd Munson, Marjorie and her husband) were missing for months at a time. In their place were a few new ones (Mr. Cooley, the Egg Man, and Mrs. Potter the hypochondriac) who would last only a month or so. By 1953, Gildersleeve's love life took center stage over his family and friends. His many love interests were constantly shifting, and women came and went with great frequency.

In 1954 the show's format changed drastically. After missing the fall schedule, it finally appeared in November as 15-minute episodes that aired five times a week. Only Gildersleeve, Leroy and Birdie remained on a continuing basis. All other characters were seldom heard, and gone were Marjorie and her family as well as the studio audience, live orchestra and original scripts.

The show quit broadcasting in 1957.
(from left) Ginger Stevens, Kenneth Faherty as "Gildy", Helen Joffe
Robert Jahncke, Don Boyle, Becky Eaton and Beth Harris.

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