Happy Old Time Radio Holidays

Christmas-money-saving-treeNEW TREEWell, it is that time of year again. A time for children to dream of sugar plums and Santa Claus. Usually I am a big fan of Santa and twinkling lights and Christmas Trees but so far this year I am not quite in the celebrating mood. It is a good thing the Internet Archive has so many wonderful and funny shows to help get me into the seasonal mood. Here are a few of this year’s favorite Christmas radio shows: perfect for pepping up the feelings or whiling away the hours on long holiday trips!

Burns & Allen #2

The Burns and Allen Show – “Gracie’s Christmas Carol”
George Burns and Gracie Allen have long been one of my favorite comedy duos. George is an excellent straight man and nobody does addle-headed better than Gracie. The duo met in vaudeville in 1922 and married in 1929. Their first radio appearance was in London for the BBC in 1929 but they failed a 1930 audition for NBC radio. The failure did not stop them and by 1932 they were regulars on The Guy Lombardo Show. When Guy Lombardo left for a new network, George and Gracie took over his old CBS radio spot in 1934. At first their show was called The Adventures of Gracie and was a flirtation act with George as Gracie’s suitor. The show’s name changed to The Burns and Allen Show in 1936. In 1941, George and Gracie changed their radio show to a sitcom format and wrote their real-life marriage into their show. Their radio show ran until 1950 when they switched over to television. Their television show ran for eight successful years. In 1994, The Burns and Allen Show was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.

“Gracie’s Christmas Carol” was broadcast on December 23, 1936, just a few months after the show changed its name to The Burns and Allen Show. The Internet Archive copy of the episode runs just under 27 minutes and opens with a commercial from the show’s sponsor Campbell’s Chicken Soup. George and Gracie banter about Gracie’s mother and Christmas with orchestra leader Henry King and singer Tony Martin. Tony Martin sings a lovely tune titled “When the Lazy River Goes By”. Then George, Gracie and the cast get back to more comedy patter. At this time, George and Gracie’s marriage had not yet been written into the show so Gracie is very flirtatious especially with singer Tony Martin. Gracie then announces that she has written a Christmas play and she is going to make the show’s cast act in it, “And I’m going to do it sometime pretty soon right now.” Which is “Almost quicker than immediately.” (I just love Gracie’s “illogical logic”) After another commercial and a song the play begins. George plays Scroogie Poogie a miser who hoards jokes and Gracie plays Mrs. Speezywig who wants to convince him to donate some jokes. Tony Martin and Henry King play various ghosts. The play itself is a funny bit of confusion with Tony and Henry pretending to be radio stars Jack Benny and Fred Allen. The show ends with Gracie singing “I Love You From Coast to Coast”. This is the first time I have ever heard Gracie sing; the song is cute and as a singer Gracie is decent but she is a vastly superior comedian. This is a funny Christmas episode and the Internet Archive’s copy of this show has excellent audio quality.

Jack Benny On CBS

The Jack Benny Program – “Christmas at Jack’s House”
Jack Benny made his first radio appearance as a guest of Ed Sullivan in 1932. Later that same year he got his own radio show which ran from May 1932 to May 1955. During that time, Benny and his show bounced back and forth from NBC to CBS to NBC and back to CBS. Jack’s television show began in 1950, ran concurrently with his radio program, and ended in 1964. The Jack Benny Program on radio was hugely popular. Jell-O was the show’s sponsor from 1934 to 1942. Jack’s program made Jell-O so popular that General Foods could not manufacture enough to keep up with public demand because of the sugar rationing during World War II so they stopped advertising Jell-O. With Jell-O out of the picture, Jack’s new sponsor became Grape Nuts.

The “Christmas at Jack’s House” Christmas episode, broadcast on December 26, 1943, includes several commercials from Jack’s new sponsor, Grape Nuts. The first commercial even urges the audience to not buy black market during World War II but buy Grape Nuts to “help food fight for freedom”. The episode starts with Jack’s valet and chauffeur, Rochester (played by Eddie Anderson) singing to himself while cleaning and tempted by Jack’s cigars. Then the guests begin to arrive for Jack’s party. There is a bit of a kissing mixup as Jack thinks Mary (Jack’s real-life wife) is first at the door but it is actually Dennis Day. When Mary finally does arrive she remarks on Jack’s legendary miserliness by admiring his Christmas Tree, “And I don’t think a year in the garage hurt it a bit”. More guests arrive including Phil Harris and his band and the show’s writers represented by Mel Blanc. There is a musical interlude then Jack and Mary check in on Butterfly, Mary’s maid, who is helping out in the kitchen. Mary again remarks on Jack’s cheapness – he has a Pepsi Cola on ice instead of champagne. Announcer Don Wilson and Jack’s border Mr. Billingsley (played by one of the show’s writers) arrive then Dennis Day sings a medley of Christmas carols. A final guest, Andy Devine, arrives then the group argues over whether to sing or play games. Jack solves the question by playing his violin. In reality Jack was an excellent violinist but in character he plays very very badly and the group try to drown him out with a rendition of “Jingle Bells”. Don Wilson even sings about Grape Nuts to the tune. Jack takes a phone call from his girlfriend Gladys while the guests all sneak out to bury his violin in the backyard. This hilarious episode runs twenty-eight minutes twenty-eight seconds and has excellent sound quality.

Abbott & Costello #3

The Abbott and Costello Show – “Christmas Shopping for Lou’s Girlfriend”
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello first worked together in vaudeville in 1935 when Lou’s partner of the time became ill and Bud was a last minute substitute. The pair’s comedy patter on radio, in films, and later on television was so hilarious that they became the most popular comedy team of the 1940s and early 1950s. Their first radio appearance was in 1938. In 1942 they got their own weekly radio show which mixed comedy with musical interludes. Bud and Lou specialized in vaudeville style repartee with often tongue-twisting or confusing dialogue that would get Lou into trouble. The most famous example is “Who’s on First” where Bud tries to describe a baseball game and Lou hilariously is totally confused by the names of the players; Who is the name of the player on first but Lou thinks Bud is asking a question.

“Christmas Shopping for Lou’s Girlfriend” was broadcast on December 14, 1944 and runs just over 29 minutes. The Internet Archive copy includes the commercials for the show’s sponsor, Camel Cigarettes, as well as musical interludes by Freddy Rich and his orchestra and the song “Clang Clang Clang Went the Trolley” by Connie Haines. Bud reminds Lou that it is nearly Christmas and asks how his shopping is going. There is some verbal confusion when Lou considers buying a piano and Bub asks about the wood, “Maple, walnut, or cherry?”. Lou does not know a thing about wood and thinks those are flavors and Bud is a spy for Jell-O. Bud then asks to borrow some money from Lou. This is one of their all time classic skits: Bud wants to borrow $50 but Lou only has $40. Bud suggests Lou give him the $40 and owe him $10. Poor Lou gets totally and hilariously confused and ends up owing Bud more money then he started with. Later in the episode, the pair look for gifts in a department store and run into more verbal problems. Bud and Lou use another classic skit when Bud suggests buying mules (a type of bedroom slipper) and Lou thinks he means mules (the animal). Lou also tries out a weight reducing machine with unfortunate results. The show ends with a salute to the “Yank of the Week” and a plea for nurses to volunteer for the USA war effort. IA’s copy of this Christmas episode has excellent audio quality.

Great Gildersleeve #1

The Great Gildersleeve – “Twas the Night Before Christmas”
All of our three previous Christmas radio shows combined comedy patter or sitcom with musical interludes but The Great Gildersleeve is a straight sitcom with only the occasional little bit of music. The Great Gildersleeve was one of “broadcast history’s earliest spin-off programs” since the character of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve was originally introduced on the Fibber McGee and Molly radio show in 1939. In 1941 the character got his own radio show with the character tweeked just a bit. Gildy became more mellow and got a ready made family in the form of his orphaned niece and nephew and a housekeeper named Birdie Lee Coggins. Harold Peary starred as Gildy from the beginning but in 1950, he was convinced to move his show to a new network. But the sponsor, Kraft and its Parkay Margarine, refused to move. This left the show on one network and the star on another, legally. Harold Peary got a new show but it only lasted one season. The Great Gildersleeve got a new Gildy, Willard Waterman, but the show’s popularity declined. The decline may have been because the change of stars but there were also many changes in the cast and story. Longtime characters disappeared and the story focused more on Gildy’s lovelife. Finally the only regular characters left were Gildy himself, Birdie, and Leroy. The Great Gildersleeve made the jump to television in 1955 but only lasted 39 episodes.

The Gildy Christmas episode “Twas the Night Before Christmas” was originally broadcast on December 24, 1944. The Internet Archive copy includes the commercials for Parkay Margarine. The story starts out two days before Christmas. Leroy and Marjorie are worried about their uncle Throckmorton. Gildy is facing the possibility of a breach of contract lawsuit from a woman when Gildy had just been trying to help a friend propose. Gildy is definitely not in the Christmas spirit. Then his friend, Judge Hooker, arrives. Coincidentally the Judge is the friend Gildy was trying to help but also the one who would have to oversee Gildy’s case. The Judge tells Gildy the case has no merit and suddenly Gildy gets his Christmas spirit back and rushes off to do some shopping. Along the way, he invites all sorts of friends to come over for Christmas Eve. Early Christmas Eve Gildy, Leroy, and Marjorie decorate the Christmas tree. Gildy reads the story “Twas the Night Before Christmas” even though Leroy considers it “kid’s stuff”. Then the guests arrive, Gildy gets some mistletoe kisses, and the whole gang sings “Joy to the World”. There are some funny moments and situations but the episode ends on a sentimental note as Harold Peary wishes everyone in the real war-torn world could sing with them. This sweet Christmas episode also has excellent sound quality.

Red Skelton #1

The Red Skelton Show – “Christmas Show”
Comedian Red Skelton got his start on radio with a guest appearance in 1937. In 1938 he became host of a show called Avalon Time. In 1941 he became host of The Raleigh Cigarette Program where many of his best comedy characters would be created, including Clem Kadiddlehopper and the Mean Widdle Kid. The band leader and vocalist for Red’s show was the married team of Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Hilliard. When Red was drafted in 1944, Raleigh shut his show down, too, and Ozzie and Harriet took the opportunity to start their own radio show: The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. After the war, Raleigh welcomed Red back to radio and to his old show. By 1948, though, Raleigh thought production costs were too high and withdrew as sponsor. Proctor & Gamble’s Tide Laundry Detergent became Red’s new sponsor and remained until the end of his show in 1953. In 1951, Red also made the leap to television with the hugely popular The Red Skelton Show that ran until 1971.

Red Skelton’s Christmas episode “Christmas Show” was broadcast on December 25, 1949 and runs just over 29 minutes. Red and his friend and announcer Rod O’Connor are beginning to worry because it is getting late and there has been no sign of Santa Claus. Red and Rod decide to go to a coffee shop while they wait for Santa. There is a musical interlude of a medley of Christmas music including “Silent Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” by orchestra conductor David Rose. Rod O’Connor, on his way to the coffee shop meets Willie Lump-Lump (one of Red Skelton’s characters). Willie is drunk and in the middle of the road. Rod offers to drive him home but Willie refuses and their conversation ranges from Willie’s car (or lack thereof), complaints about his wife, and the suggestion that that red-nosed Reindeer might be responsible for Santa’s disappearance. Red finally arrives at the coffee shop and meets up with Rod. They also meet a couple of eccentric characters then hear carolers singing “Deck the Halls”. It is now 3am and Red and Rod start home but Rod happens to spot something strange on the roof of a neighboring house. He knocks and Lurene Tuttle as the mother of Junior the Mean Widdle Kid opens the door. The Mean Widdle Kid also known as Junior is one of the Red Skelton’s best known characters and it turns out he has managed to capture Santa and steal all of the toys for himself. Rod and the mother are aghast and the show takes a serious turn as a solemn Santa bemoans greed, laziness, and the lust for power. Junior gets a change of heart and gives the toys back and Santa sets off again on his yearly journey.

Well, now I am feeling more in the Christmasy spirit. I am off to start baking sugar cookies and chocolate chip cookies now. Just click on the links below to listen to some of our FREE radio shows and I hope you all have a Happy Holiday!

The Burns and Allen Show – “Gracie’s Christmas Carol”

The Jack Benny Program – “Christmas at Jack’s House”

The Abbott and Costello Show – “Christmas Shopping for Lou’s Girlfriend”

The Great Gildersleeve – “Twas the Night Before Christmas”

The Red Skelton Show – “Christmas Show”

For more holiday cheer check out these posts:

The Last Christmas Present Under the Tree

Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore

Merrily Caroling Christmas Houses

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