The rain has stopped and the weather has finally warmed up. I was beginning to think it would stay cold and gloomy forever. We have the screen door open and our indoor cats are totally engrossed in watching “Cat TV”. They keep a hunter’s eye open for any birds or squirrels that might stray into the backyard. I love it when their little butts wriggle when they spy their prey. Good thing there is a screen door separating our mighty little hunters from their unsuspecting would-be victims.
I have a gaggle of hilarious radio shows and fun shorts to celebrate the return of Spring. First up are two radio shows featuring some of my favorite comedians. Both shows center of preparations for the yearly Easter Parade. An Easter Parade is an American cultural event that began in the 1870s. Early Easter Parades or processions began as solemn religious events. Congregations would gather and proceed together to their local church, sometimes singing, sometimes carrying religious statues and banners. Over time, the pronouncement of Roman Emperor Constantine I that people were to dress in their finest clothes for religious celebrations combined with good luck superstitions, like the old proverb of “At Easter let your clothes be new, Or else be sure you will it rue”, to turn religious celebrations into shows of prosperity. Churches in New York City began decorating their naves with bright Easter flowers in the mid-1800s. As the flower displays grew more and more elaborate, people began to mirror the bright and colorful blooms by wearing new and sometimes elaborate clothes. After church, crowds of finely dressed people would stroll from church to church to see the beautiful flower displays. By 1890, the Easter Parade was an established New York cultural event. Clothing and hat makers and shops advertised Easter wear and for retailers the event became almost as important as Christmas sales. Protestors also flocked to the various Easter Parades to showcase the plight of sweatshop workers and the unemployed. The Easter Parade was at the height of its popularity in the 1940s and 1950s and the religious elements had mostly vanished in favor of a celebration of American prosperity. Many of today’s Easter Parades include not just people and families in elaborate clothes but also pets in fun and outlandish costumes.
Our two radio programs feature Easter Parade preparations and celebrations. In “Gracie Buys George an Easter Outfit” from the March 25, 1948 broadcast of The Burns and Allen Show, George bemoans the fact that his wife will soon be wanting money to buy herself a new and expensive Easter outfit. Unbeknownst to George, Gracie has decided that this year George needs a new getup. She wants it to be a secret and enlists the aid of the local tailor in a sneaky plot to get George’s measurements for his new suit. But George and his friends quickly become suspicious of the strange man lurking in the bushes. George is the perfect straight man and Gracie is the master of the ridiculous illogic. They began their radio program in 1934 as a flirtation act with George as Gracie’s suitor. By 1941 they changed their show to a successful sitcom format that continued with their television show that ran from 1950 to 1958. This 1948 Easter Parade episode includes ads for their sponsor Maxwell House Coffee as well as a musical interlude from Meredith Wilson and the orchestra and runs just under thirty minutes. The audio quality is excellent and Gracie is an absolute hoot as she bewilders everyone around her.
Our second radio show is “The Easter Parade” from the April 17, 1949 broadcast of the Jack Benny Program. This show begins with Jack’s valet Rochester (played by Eddie Anderson) sneaking a peak at Jack’s diary but mostly features Jack and his girlfriend Mary Livingstone (played by Jack’s real life wife, Sadie Marks – although she later legally changed her name her popular character’s name) enjoying the Easter Parade and meeting various friends and neighbors. Comedy patter include a neighbor boy taking his pet bunny to Jack’s house because he has “more lettuce than anyone in Beverly Hills” (a reference to the long standing joke that Jack is filthy rich but notoriously miserly), fat jokes (sadly) with show regular Don Wilson, and a stop to buy cigarettes which becomes an ad for the show’s sponsor Lucky Strike Cigarettes. Between each silly meeting, Jack and Mary sing Irving Berlin‘s popular song Easter Parade. Their last meeting is with series regular Dennis Day who sings his own version of Easter Parade. The show includes ads for Lucky Strike and the audio quality is excellent except for one short spot of static.
Next up are two very short but hilarious adventures of my favorite big cats from the Big Cat Rescue. The rescue opened in 1992 and is located on 67 acres near Tampa, Florida. They do the good work of rescuing and housing exotic felines, caring for injured and orphaned native wildcats, and advocating for ending the private trade and ownership of exotic cats. They are home to twenty big cats and nearly 70 smaller cats including lions, tigers, leopards, lynxes, servals, sand cats, and many more. Our two Easter episodes are “Big Cats vs Easter Eggs” and “Big Cat Easter” and both are very short, only two to three minutes long. Both feature various felines having fun playing with large paper mache eggs or eating real eggs. There is even a caretaker dressed up in a bunny suit. The cats are all gorgeous and they have great fun chasing their various eggs.
Finally, we have two Springtime cartoons. The first is Suddenly It’s Spring and stars Raggedy Ann. American writer Johnny Gruelle created the character of a little doll named Raggedy Ann in 1915 for a series of books he wrote and illustrated for young children. He patented his Raggedy Ann Doll and sadly received final approval from the Patent Office the same month that his 13 year old daughter, Marcella, died from an infection. Raggedy Ann was later joined by her brother Raggedy Andy. This animated short features just Raggedy Ann and is a heart tugging little story. Ann and the other toys are devastated that their little girl owner is sick. The doctor says just seeing the sun would help her get well but it is winter and the days are gloomy. Raggedy Ann goes on a quest to ask the sun to come out and shine. This is a sweet story and the art is often lovely but there was one very jarring sequence that I was not expecting. Raggedy Ann must visit various characters: Smiley the Sun can not shine until Cloud moves, Cloud can not move until Breezy blows, Breezy can not blow until Mr. Zero melts the snow, and Mr. Zero still has two weeks before winter ends. It was all very sweet until Raggedy Ann visits Cloud. Cloud is a stereotype blackface character with an exaggerated Southern accent who is just too lazy to move. Very jarring but demonstrates how pervasive racism is. Suddenly It’s Spring is from 1944 and runs ten minutes. The sound is excellent and the art work is colorful and pretty and Raggedy Ann and the toys all look suitably heartbroken but the Cloud sequence may upset many viewers.
The next animated short is To Spring from Happy Harmonies in 1936. This is a nine minute long story that features little gnome like characters who wake up and start to mine an assortment of colors that are crushed and used to make all the bright colors of Springtime flowers and blossoms. It is a big job and the little guys are all hard at work but Old Man Winter is not yet ready to let Spring arrive. This is a cute and colorful cartoon that was also the first directorial effort from future cartoon great William Hanna of Hanna-Barbera fame. The gnome characters are quirky looking and work hard to distill Spring colors, they even have a somewhat annoying little chant “It’s time for Spring I say!” that younger viewers may soon start repeating, and Winter is suitably gloomy. The colors hold up pretty well although there is a little fading and some blurriness. Audio quality is great. There is also a version done with American Sign Language. The ASL version has a woman doing Sign alternating with scenes from the cartoon and is about 30 seconds longer than the original. This is also a great way for beginners to practice their ASL.
Also great is that all these Easter and Spring shows are absolutely FREE in the Public Domain at the Internet Archive! Just click the links and enjoy the end of Winter:
–The Burns and Allen Show “Gracie Buys George an Easter Outfit”
–The Jack Benny Program “The Easter Parade”
-Big Cat Rescue: Big Cats vs Easter Eggs
-Big Cat Rescue: Big Cat Easter
-Raggedy Ann: Suddenly It’s Spring
–To Spring, ASL version