Sunday, May 31, 2015

May 31: Happy Birthday, Fred Allen

Not a lot of show biz icons got their start in a library, but that's exactly how it happened to Fred Allen, born on this day in 1894. Bless that Boston Public Library for hosting a little variety show for patrons--it gave Allen a chance to take up some juggling and perform a bit of comedy. The encouragement he got from impressed audience members sent him into local amateur night competitions, and the rest is history.

We today know Fred Allen as a master satirist and pioneer of meta-humor, with one example being his fictional feud with Jack Benny. This reality-bending brand of comedy would later become more commonplace, finding homes in the repertoires of Andy Kauffman, Sacha Baron Cohen, and David Letterman, whose pugnacious exchanges with various guests were infused with a mock-venom.

We also know him as the long-time host of The Fred Allen Show and then Texaco Star Theater
You may recall, from the latter, Allen's Alley, home to Sampson Souse, John Doe, Socrates Mulligan, Parker Fennelly and others. Let's not forget Senator Beauregard Claghorn whose stammer would become the inspiration for the Warner Bros. cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn.

But what I like best about Fred Allen is that mug of his. Take one look at his face and it's impossible not to think, "now there's a comedian!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

May 30: Happy Birthday, Ben Bernie

Who hasn't whistled "Sweet Georgia Brown"? It's a jazz standard and the theme song of the Harlem Globetrotters, and it was co-written by today's birthday boy, Ben Bernie, whose orchestra made the song's first recording. 

Bayonne, NJ's own Ben Bernie was a violinist, bandleader, and radio star. From 1930 to 1943 he hosted various radio variety shows, all bearing his name. This vehicle allowed him to popularize his catchphrase "yowza, yowza, yowza!" He became one of the most beloved radio personalities.

One trait of his radio career was a fictional feud with writer Walter Winchell, a little publicity stunt. So go up to your friends, give 'em a couple of "yowza"s, and see if they recognize the source.

Friday, May 29, 2015

May 29, 1939: 'When a Girl Marries' Debuts on CBS

 
May 29, 1939: The series, "When a Girl Marries", was first heard on CBS and continued to be heard on radio for eighteen years.

This radio drama series was created by American screenwriter Elaine Sterne Carrington.  It is one of the most popular drama series of all time.

The series followed the story of a  married young couple, Harry and Joan Davis,  who faced endless problem brought about by their social backgrounds-- Harry came from a impoverished family, while Joan was from a wealthy, high-society family.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

May 21: Happy Birthday, Raymond Burr

A happy birthday to legendary actor Raymond Burr, born this day in 1917. Radio fans know that he did a lot as an actor besides playing the famed role of Perry Mason. He was also Captain Lee Quince on the "adult Western" series Fort Laramie. Aided by excellent writers, Burr was able to get deep into the psychology of the cavalry leader. 

And let's not forget Dragnet. Burr played the Chief of Detective on Jack Webb's legendary series, making him an A-list radio star. He also appeared in Pat Novak For Hire.

Improbably, the actor who played so many masculine, no-nonsense characters would go on to become a great wine maker and owner of Raymond Burr vineyards.

Friday, May 15, 2015

May 15: Happy Birthday, James Mason



Not always mentioned among big stars like Clark Gable and Cary Grant; not always among celebrated artists such as Laurence Olivier, Marlon Brando, or Al Pacino, James Mason certainly earned the right to be called one of the great film actors of all time.

Mason was nominated for three Oscars and and three Golden Globes, and his resume reads like a who's who of classic movies: Lolita, North By Northwest, and Julius Caesar.  Also not too shabby were A Star is Born and Bigger Than Life.

While radio was passing the baton of dominant media on to movies (with television a newbie), the British Mason appeared on a few of the big American shows: Suspense, Maxwell House Coffee Time, Studio One, and The Fred Allen Show.

We say a happy birthday to actor James Mason!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

May 5: Happy Birthday, Tyrone Power


Could Tyrone Power have been anything other than an actor? The branches of his family tree included Laurence Olivier and Tyrone Guthrie, who instituted the Stratford Festival, while his great-grandfather, Tyrone Power (1795-1841) was an actor, as was his father Tyrone Power, Sr. Thus, the man known for his parts in The Black Swan, The Mark of Zorro, and Blood and Sand couldn't have been better suited for a life on stage and in front of the camera.

Today's birthday boy made many solid appearances on some of the biggest radio shows, such as Lux Radio Theatre, The Cavalcade of America, and The Gulf Screen Guild Theatre. On Jan. 7, 1940, he starred alongside Humphrey Bogart in an adaptation of Robert Sherwood's "The Petrified Forest." Power's radio travels also allowed him to work with Gale Gordon, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Hans Conried. So take a moment and remember the times you heard Mr. Power on the radio, on this, the day of his 1914 birth.