It is that time of year again. The time when we all start plotting our Christmas shopping strategies…. Actually I mean it is that time of year when we eat, watch parades, eat, watch football, eat, gather with friends, and eat. The shopping strategy sessions usually wait until after eating. This year I have gathered a mixed cavalcade of radio and television. They are a procession that ranges from 1947 to 2013 but they all show the fun, and the frustrations, of the spectacle of Thanksgiving. Enjoy!
The Milton Berle Show – “Salute to Thanksgiving”
First up is a radio episode from November 25, 1947 starring legendary comedian Milton Berle. Milton was born Mendal Berlinger in 1908 and was destined for comedy almost from birth. He won talent shows at age five which led to roles in silent films as a child actor. His first part showed him getting thrown from a moving train in The Perils of Pauline in 1914. By age 16 he had chosen his stage name of “Milton Berle” and embarked on a successful vaudeville career. Milton made the jump into radio in the mid-1930s. But he had only middling radio success until he hit stardom with The Milton Berle Show in 1947. It only lasted about 96 episodes but Milton considered it, “The best radio show I ever did… a hell of a funny variety show”. The radio show acted as a springboard to television. For his new television show, Texaco Star Theatre, Milton used many of the routines and many of the cast members from his radio show. He was a smash hit and became known as the first major American television star with as much as 80% of US television sets tuned to watch “Uncle Miltie”.
The “Salute to Thanksgiving” episode of Milton’s radio show opens with a Philip Morris commercial followed by Milton bantering with announcer Frank Gallup. Milton relates the problems he had ordering Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant. Milton could not decide what to order and finally said, “Here’s something on the menu” and the waiter responded, “Don’t move! I’ll kill it!” After another Philip Morris commercial Milton opens the “Thanksgiving Forum” with silly questions from the “audience” made up of the show regulars. Then there is a love song followed by a skit about last year’s Thanksgiving. Milton wants his wife to stick to doing the cooking, “In this family, you just do the cooking and let me tell the jokes” and his wife snaps back, “Either way we’ll starve!” Milton and his wife win a turkey raffle and get a live turkey that they decide to name Julius. Milton intends to fatten up Julius and have a big turkey dinner. But things do not go the way Milton plans.
The Milton Berle Show “Salute to Thanksgiving” runs just under thirty minutes and is just hilarious. Internet Archive has a copy with excellent audio except for about one minute that begins around the seven minute mark. The sounds fades out and everything becomes very staticky. But audio quickly comes back and continues to be excellent until the very end. The banter is fast and the jokes hilarious but I do think Uncle Miltie is just that much more funny when you can actually see his face.
The Jack Benny Program – “Turkey Trial Dream”
Jack Benny was born Benjamin Kubelsky in 1894. He began playing the violin at age six. By fourteen years old he was playing his violin in dance bands and by 1911 he was playing it in local vaudeville theaters for the grand sum of $7.50 a week. Jack continued to play the violin throughout his long career in vaudeville, on radio and television, and in films. He got his big show business break with his weekly radio show, The Jack Benny Program, in 1932. The hugely popular radio show ran until 1955. Jack made an equally successful jump to television with the similarly titled The Jack Benny Show which ran on CBS television from 1950 to 1965. Jack’s radio show and television show often overlapped and Jack would often sign off his radio show with, “Well, good night, folks. I’ll see you on television”.
Jack’s “Turkey Trial Dream” radio episode ran on November 30, 1947 and is 29 minutes and 33 seconds long. This includes commercials from the show’s sponsor, Lucky Strike cigarettes, banter with announcer Don Wilson and Mary Livingstone (Jack’s real life wife), and a love song by Dennis Day. The highlight of the show is a skit that has Jack and his valet and chauffeur, Rochester (played by the great Eddie Anderson), arguing over which of them gets the chore of killing their live turkey in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Eventually Rochester gets stuck with the job and Jack goes to take a nap. Unfortunately for Jack, he was some guilty feelings about cutting short the turkey’s life and begins to dream that he is on trial for turkey murder and the judge, jury, and witnesses are all angry turkeys.
The Jack Benny Program “Turkey Trial Dream” is hilarious. Jack has long been one of my favorite comedians and his banter with Mary, Don, and especially Eddie Anderson, is laugh out loud good. The copy on the Internet Archive is in excellent condition. The only problem with this radio episode: no violin playing!
The Abbott and Costello Show – “Plymouth Rock”
Burlesque and film comedy duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello turned their talents to radio with their popular radio show The Abbott and Costello Show that ran from 1940 to 1949. They even had a second radio show, The Abbott and Costello Children’s Show, that overlapped and ran from 1947 to 1949. Abbott and Costello had a bit of a problem when they first started out in radio: their voices were too similar and radio audiences, who could not see them and their different height and shapes, had trouble telling them apart during their rapid fire repartee. Costello solved the problem by adopting a high pitched childish voice and that childish voice and persona helped propel the duo to comedy greatness.
The “Plymouth Rock” radio episode of The Abbott and Costello Show ran for thirty minutes and 29 seconds on November 11, 1948. It includes banter between Abbott and Costello about relatives, football, dating and marriage, and the huge cost of turkeys. There is also a love song and more banter about Costello’s bad luck at a turkey raffle. The highlight of the show is a skit involving a play that Costello wrote titled “Brave Little Band of Pilgrims Who Landed at Honest John’s Rock”. The skit is laugh-out-loud funny as Costello mucks up the entire Thanksgiving legend.
Abbott and Costello are one of my all-time favorite comedy duos. One of their best comedy routines is the classic “Who’s on First”. It is just total comedy genius. Luckily, Internet Archive has both a radio and a television version of “Who’s on First” for your laughing pleasure. IA also has an excellent copy of the “Plymouth Rock” radio episode. Even better, all three are available FREE on Internet Archive.
Big Cat Rescue – A Big Cat Thanksgiving!
Big Cat Rescue is an animal sanctuary on 67 acres near Tampa, Florida. They began operating in 1992 and are devoted to rescuing and housing big cats, rehabilitating injured and orphaned native wild cats, and ending the private trade and ownership of all kinds of exotic cats. Nearly 30,000 tourists a year visit Big Cat Rescue and millions more have seen the many short videos the Rescue have put about about their gorgeous felines.
A Big Cat Thanksgiving! is a short four minute long video of some of the Rescue’s felines enjoying their Thanksgiving dinner. The video shows a little bit about how the meals are prepared then there is lots and lots of hungry cats chowing down. The Internet Archive’s copy is excellent, the music is sprightly, and the images are close up but not gory. And the cats really enjoy their turkey meal.
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet – “Day After Thanksgiving”
My final offering is a fun tale of one family’s hungry tribulations on the “Day After Thanksgiving”. The adventures of the real life Nelson family began in 1935 when orchestra leader Ozzie Nelson married his singer Harriet Hilliard. The duo quickly decided that their separate musical careers would keep them too much apart. A common radio career seemed the perfect answer and led to entertainment stardom. They got their own radio show in 1944 and it ran until 1954 for a whopping 402 episodes. Their real life sons David and Eric (aka Ricky) joined the radio show in 1949 when they were ages twelve and eight. The family made the jump to television in 1952. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet ran 14 season on television until 1966 for a humongous 435 TV episodes. The show was “the first prime-time scripted series on American television to reach the 10-year milestone”. The show strove for realism, focused on the family dealing with every day problems, and even featured exterior shots of the Nelson family’s real life home (interior scenes were shot on a sound stage).
The Ozzie and Harriet TV episode “Day After Thanksgiving” premiered on November 28, 1952. It was only the ninth episode of the very first season. The episode is in black and white and runs for just over 25 minutes. The Nelson family had their Thanksgiving the day before at an aunt’s house. They did not bring any turkey leftovers back with them which is just fine with dad Ozzie. Ozzie claims he is absolutely stuffed from all the turkey he did eat and he will jot be hungry again for at least two days. Ozzie is glad there are no turkey leftovers because he is tired of every year having to eat leftover turkey day in and day out until it is all gone. The two boys totally agree with their dad; they are tired of turkey. But as the day goes on, Ozzie and David and Ricky began to get a little hungry for that special taste of turkey. As they talk with neighbors and friends about Thanksgiving and turkey and various turkey recipes, their hunger begins to grow and grow. But they have no leftovers and there are no turkeys in any store in anywhere town.
The Internet Archive copy of “Day After Thanksgiving” is in decent shape. The audio is great but the video is blurry and a bit faded (common problems for its age). None of the blurriness detracts from the amusing story. The family and the story are sweet and plain old wholesome and their antics in search of turkey is very funny. And it is an everyday kind of thing: I bet many people have gotten totally sick of turkey when there is a ton leftover only to really crave it when there is none left at all.
The Internet Archive has all these fun shows available to watch online of download completely FREE. Just click the following links and enjoy!