Article announcing the first CBS Forecast season of 14 'preview' programs, dated July 15, 1940
Article announcing the second CBS Forecast season of 12 'preview' programs, dated July 14, 1941
Article announcing the first CBS Forecast season of 14 'preview' programs, dated July 15, 1940
Article announcing the second set of CBS Forecast programs of Season One, dated July 22, 1940
Article announcing the third set of CBS Forecast programs of Season One, dated July 29, 1940
Article promoting Week Four of CBS Forecast's first season, with Of Stars and States as the focus, Aug. 4, 1940
Article promoting Week Five of CBS Forecast's first season, with Leave It To Jeeves as the focus, Aug. 11, 1940
Article promoting Week Six of CBS Forecast's first season, with Back
Where I Come From and a Dramatic Double Feature, Aug. 18, 1940
Article promoting Week Seven of CBS Forecast's first season, with Bethel Merriday and All God's Children,
Aug. 25, 1940
Article announcing the second CBS Forecast season of 12 'preview' programs, dated July 14, 1941
Article announcing Week Two of
the second CBS Forecast series with
51 East 51 and Mischa The Magni-
ficent, dated July 21, 1941
Article announcing Week Three of the second CBS Forecast series with Pibby and The Houlihans and Deductions Deluxe, dated July 28, 1941
Article announcing Week Four of the second CBS Forecast series with Song Without End, the story of Claude
Debussy, dated August 4, 1941
Article announcing Week Five of the second CBS Forecast series with Class of '41 and Hopalong Cassiday [sic], dated August 11, 1941
Article announcing Week Six of the second CBS Forecast series with Country Lawyer, arguably the finest preview by CBS of the entire two Season run of Forecast, dated August 18, 1941
Article announcing Week Seven of the second CBS Forecast series with Three Wishes and Search for A Sponsor, dated August 25, 1941
Lovely Bea Wain holds the distinction
of being Command Performance
U.S.A.'s first requested performer
with her rendition of Chattanooga
Choo-Choo on March 1, 1942
A Negro Minstrel Show parodied at the Savoy Hotel, ca. 1941
What remains of The Tree of Hope in
front of the old Lafayette Theatre,
The setting for the original Tree of
Hope in front of the Lafayette
Theatre, ca. 1935
Ethel Waters, ca. 1941
Duke Ellington, ca. 1941
Mercer Ellington, ca. 1942
Herb Jeffreys, ca. 1954
Hall Johnson of the Hall Johnson Choir, ca. 1957
|"Marked for future reference . . ."
Preview programs weren't new in Radio. Since the mid-1930s the major Film Studios had been plugging their latest productions through a multitude of Movies On The Air types of programs. They were much like the trailers shown in later years in movie houses across America, and very much like those annoying five to seven movie trailers we each pay $10 to see with our favorite movies of today. But these were on Radio. The Film previews simply served to create interest in the listening public. In one instance, Warner Bros. attempted something similar to Radio program previews with its Warner Academy Theater often referred to as Encore Theatre of The Air, in which promising rising young Warner Bros. stars were featured in screenplays upon which the listening audience could phone or write in to voice their approval or disapproval for a given talent or screenplay.
Radio program previews--or public auditions--were a new wrinkle in test marketing for their day. CBS and NBC both exercised this technique during the 1940s. CBS's rendition was called CBS Forecast. NBC's rendition was called NBC Premieres [For Your Approval] and the later Show Case which auditioned BBC Programmes for possible adoption by the network. Not to be outdone, MBS also employed the format with its For Your Approval in 1946 and emcee'd by Sherman 'Jock' MacGregor. It was a very innovative way to gauge the potential of a proposed program to a far greater audience than test marketing auditions might disclose. To be sure, CBS, NBC, and MBS performed such focus group testing for smaller productions. They'd invite a cross-section of their target audience to one of their studios, give them the grand tour, treat them like honored guests, then sit them down and gauge their responses to a test program.
But the major broadcasts that CBS Forecast, NBC Premieres and MBS For Your Approval produced were far grander in both scope--and potential, if they clicked with a nationwide audience. It's CBS Forecast that we'll examine and chronicle here. If you've already taken a peek ahead, you'll have noticed both the calibre of talent and the potential scope of some of these proposed programs. Any one of them, by the time they reached this stage of network assessment, might very well have taken off with the public. But the network had to be sure on two counts:
- Would they generate strong enough prime-time ratings to risk airing them as sustaining productions until a major sponsor could be brought on board, or . . .
- Would a potential listening sponsor be so taken with the proposed program that they'd make CBS an offer to sponsor the program on spec . . .
The more resource-intensive productions certainly merited a wider test audience--especially proposed programs with major name stars. Major talent might receive $5,000 to $10,000 a week for a program they performed in on a recurring basis. Add another $4,000 to $7,000 per week in production costs, technical support, marketing, supporting cast, orchestra, etc., and you're talking a major investment for the day. CBS Forecast simply provided CBS a wider net to cast over the airwaves and perhaps snag a bigger fish in the process. And indeed, they did--on occasion. But before we get ahead of ourselves, we'll address the framework for the First Season.
Given the network's desire to gain the most visibility for their previews, they enlisted--and obtained--the support of the print industry to help tout the potential winners. Placing quarter-page announcements with newspapers in their target markets, they gave most of the proposed productions a reasonably good send-up. With accompanying photos of either the proposed stars or groups they were promoting, they helped to further whet the appetite of the readers--and potential listeners. Placing the entire run in the same prime-time time slot helped as well. Broadcasting on Mondays, after the dinner hour, gave CBS their best bang for the buck--and best opportunity for success.
CBS inaugurated its first Forecast season in the Summer of 1940. This was another strategic move. CBS's prime-time slots were invariably occupied with one or more of their nightly, longer-running successful programs. In this instance it was Lux Radio Theatre, a solid, already long-running, highly popular CBS drama and movie anthology. Most major productions broke for the Summer. So rather than fish around for something to keep the slot warm for three months, CBS essentially put the onus on themselves with these two seasons of Forecast. It was a clever, well-calculated gamble. Forecast's opener for its first season was a half-hour of Variety followed by a half-hour of Drama. Airing from both coasts during most of the Forecast broadcasts, the variety program, The Battle of Music aired from CBS's New York Studios. The dramatic test program, The American Theatre, aired from CBS's Hollywood Studios.
Whenever CBS aired a double bill they would generally air the New York broadcast first in the line-up, followed by the Hollywood broadcast. Given the prime-time Lux Radio Theatre slot allotted to Forecast, it made better sense to air the East Coast broadcast first.
Season One: Week One
The Battle of Music was a fascinating concept. Pitting a contemporary Dance Band against a more traditional Symphonic Orchestra provided a rarely heard counterpoint between the two, often dissonant, major music formats, hence the name. Conjecture as to its merits aside, the airwaves were already filled with any number of Band Remotes, as well as a full compliment of traditional symphonic orchestral offerings. In addition, programs such as The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street already provided some of that counterpoint and entertaining dissonance. Esteemed Metropolitan Opera commentator Milton Cross delivered the critique of the mostly Jazz, Boogie-woogie and Swing music program, given in equal measure of tongue in cheek and artistic assessment. It ran for twelve years. The Battle of Music might very well have made a respectable run, but it wasn't picked up . . . . then. But it was picked up some five years later, as Battle of Music with Deems Taylor and Leonard Feather. So score this one a delayed fuse, perhaps.
The first Hollywood presentation starred Frederic March and Florence Eldridge in a proposed American Theatre series. The test program was The Gentleman From Indiana, a dramatic slice of American life much in the mold of The Best Years of Our Lives. Proposed as an inspirational dramatic anthology series, The American Theater would have drawn on the finest American novelists of the 19th and 2oth Centuries, anthologizing a broad cross-section of simple, hardworking Americans and the values they held most dear. The Gentleman From Indiana was written by Booth Tarkington, and adapted for the proposed series by John Houseman of the Mercury Theatre. Houseman also directed the production. The stirring music was scored and directed by Lud Gluskin. Married couple, Frederic March and Florence Eldridge performed very poignantly and effectively, but The American Theatre wasn't picked up.
Season One: Week Two
Forecast's second double-bill offered up a Comedy/Variety vehicle starring Danny Kaye with the working title, When You Were 21, and broadcast from New York. Proposed as an anthology of retrospectives on noteworthy years in America's Entertainment Past, it was more a vehicle for Danny Kaye's versatile antics than any other element of the production. And in that regard it worked, albeit on a timed fuse basis. Danny Kaye would launch his well-received The Danny Kaye Show with Lionel Stander four years hence, in much the same mixed format--minus the retrospective hook. So perhaps give this preview a close, but no cigar.
By contrast, CBS struck solid gold with the Hollywood broadcast of Forecast's second double bill. Proposed as a suspense thriller anthology, aptly titled, Suspense, the preview production mounted The Lodger with no less than Alfred Hitchcock directing his own adaptation of his own 1926 silent film chronicling the infamous Jack The Ripper--The Avenger. As if that wasn't enough to kick-start Suspense into regular production, The Lodger starred Herbert Marshall in the key narrating role, with Lurene Tuttle--Radio's First Lady, Joseph Kearns--later to be Suspense's The Man in Black, and Edmund Gwenn. Wilbur Hatch--of The Whistler--provided the wonderfully atmospheric musical scoring and direction. It was a stunning presentation, as might be expected from the sheer talent behind the preview. Intended as a vehicle for the only recently immigrated Alfred Hitchcock and his already lengthy filmography, the concept in its original form would have seen Hitchcock adapt his many films for a Radio thriller anthology.
Within two years, Suspense would commence a twenty-year Radio run, and one of CBS's greatest success stories of its Radio History. Suspense would go on to six highly successful seasons in early Television as well. If CBS hadn't gained one other 'Suspense' out of the two years of Forecast previews, Suspense alone recouped CBS's investment a thousand times over. As it turned out, Suspense didn't need Alfred Hitchcock to sustain it, nor did Alfred Hitchcock need Suspense to kickstart his career in America. But this historic juxtaposition of one of history's great Radio thriller anthologies and one of history's greatest thriller directors makes this broadcast one of The Golden Age of Radio's genuine treasures.
Season One: Week Three
Forecast's third week was another mixed bag and, again, somewhat bittersweet. From Hollywood, Forecast introduced Angel, a conceptual dramatic anthology centered around a Red Cross Nurse, and starring Loretta Young. From New York, Forecast debuted Duffy's Tavern with Ed Gardner.
Given all of the well-deserved publicity The American Red Cross earned throughout the first half of the 20th Century, it defies logic why this program wasn't picked up. The concept wasn't lacking in the least, and Loretta Young and Elliott Lewis were predictably effective in their respective roles. CBS's West Coast maestro, Wilbur Hatch, again scored the preview. A beautifully sympathetic treatment of a True Boardman story, we personally found Angel very compelling. One can only surmise that the timing simply wasn't right for its star, Loretta Young. For whatever rationale, Angel wasn't picked up--ever.
By contrast, the Duffy's Tavern preview evolved into another silver mine for CBS--and a gold mine for NBC-Blue and NBC. Ed Gardner debuted his irrepressible 'Archie', manager of Duffy's Tavern. A precursor to any number of local watering hole formats that followed it for the next sixty years, Duffy's Tavern was an almost Runyonesque treatment of the second home--and refuge--that, for many during the era, was their local neighborhood bar. Duffy's Tavern eventually ran for eleven years for CBS, NBC-Blue and NBC and another year in its Television incarnation. The Radio program also spawned a star-studded feature film, Duffy's Tavern (1945). All in all a very lucrative franchise, indeed. And it all started here, in CBS's Forecast.
Season One: Week Four
Forecast's fourth week brought one of the run's relative turkeys, an hour-long Variety format posited around the concept of presenting one American State's performers and musical and comedic traditions each week for, one would surmise, an intended forty-eight weeks. Perhaps they'd have lumped Rhode Island and Delaware into one week and brought the run in at forty-seven weeks. Not to demean the concept, but with the Nation at War and on the brink of being at War on two fronts simultaneously, one can't really see such a format succeeding. Sooner or later one or more of the smaller states would have come up dry, and in any case, we were a nation trying to pull together, not compete or attempt to one-up one state over the other. Given the political temperament of era, one has to wonder if this wasn't just another CBS attempt to appease Representative Martin Dies of Texas. In any case, the Hollywood broadcast preview showcased the State of Texas. One of the brighter spots of the presentation was the opportunity to showcase young starlet Virginia Vale. Hedda Hopper and Knox Manning were also predictably entertaining. Needless to say, Of Stars and States didn't make the cut.
Season One: Week Five
Forecast's fifth attempt was another stark contrast in formats--and quality. From New York we got The Life of The Party, a kitchen sink kind of production, positing the notion that every entertainer "has at least one bit he or she can do better than just about anyone else." In a more rational vein, the Hollywood broadcast was an attempt to star Edward Everett Horton and Alan Mowbray as Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, the valet from P.G. Wodehouse's classic comedy Leave It To Jeeves.
New York's kitchen sink broadcast had everything from American legend Bill Robinson tap dancing on a typewriter, to a musical fire extinguisher, to a man singing with his hands, to four of the Brooklyn Bums in a singing quartet--oh, and Hildegarde . . . being Hidegarde. All in all somewhat more reminiscent of The Gong Show meets The Ed Sullivan Show--with the best of the Gong Show and the worst of the Ed Sullivan Show.
Hollywood's Leave It To Jeeves offering was potentially very entertaining, but for Edward Everett Horton's treatment of Bertie Wooster. It just didn't ring true. Alan Mowbray and the supporting West Coast cast were very entertaining, and Edward Everett Horton was wonderful in almost any other role but Bertie Wooster. Apparently the listening audience agreed with us. It's really, really hard to mess up P.G. Wodehouse, but somehow CBS managed to do just that. Wilbur Hatch's transitions were--yet again--wonderfully timed and effective. But Leave It To Jeeves ultimately got left behind.
Season One: Week Six
New York contributed to both the first and second offerings for CBS Forecast's sixth week. Opening from New York with Back Where I Come From, a wonderful folk singing and story-telling retrospective on the Great Depression's horrific Dust Bowl experience of painfully recent memory. Framed against the mass upheaval the Dust Bowl poverty created, performers Woody Guthrie, Burl Ives, Len Doyle, The Golden State Quartet, Josh White and Henry Faulk contributed folk vignettes in song and story. Esteemed critic Clifton Fadiman emcee'd. If for no other reason than to hear a reasonably clear rendition of Woody Guthrie, this particular preview is a genuine keeper. Most of these performers could be heard on a regular basis on Alka Seltzer's National Barn Dance or The Bob Burns show. Putrefaction was a central theme of this presentation. Back Where I Come From aired briefly on some CBS East affiliates during the Fall 1940 season, as a fifteen-minute program for five months before disappearing completely from the CBS line-up in mid-March 1941.
Double Feature was an interesting contrast. Again from New York, Edna Best starred in Ever After, a lovely treatment by Keith Fowler of a what if hypothesis involving Snow White and Prince Charming. The question raised was, "Did they really live happily ever after?" Interestingly, Roy Atwell reprised his role as the dwarf, Happy, from the origjnal Walt Disney animated feature. To sum this one up, think Walt Disney meets The Bickersons and you pretty much have it. It was cute, novel and unique, but it got the hook.
The second half of Double Feature devoted itself to a Hollywood production of the Norman Corwin written and directed To Tim At Twenty. Starring married couple Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester, the story is a characteristically interesting Corwin twist. Charles Laughton sets down to pen a letter to his son for the son's twentieth birthday--fifteen years hence. The further twist is Laughton is an infantry officer writing from a trench on the battlefields of France, only moments away from one of those suicide charges so prevalent--and deadly--in trench warfare.
There's no question this format would have succeeded had it been given a chance. The contrast between the rather frivolous fare of Ever After and the poignant tale of a doomed man writing his last letter to his only son was a pretty great expanse of emotional impact. Had CBS turned over the entire production to Corwin's short stories, there's no doubt it would have attracted an audience--and sponsors. Corwin's genius is nowhere better showcased than in the remarkable number of poignant, shared vignettes of Life that Corwin manages to cram into this limited fifteen-minute format. Laughton and Lanchester were predictably brilliant.
Season One: Week Seven
Week Seven of CBS Forecast brought even more contrast in its two offerings. First from New York was an all-star musical montage starring gifted, legendary baritone Paul Robeson leading several Negro performers and groups. All God's Children leant a traditional Negro Spiritual theme to the half-hour with songs and readings by Paul Robeson, comedy by Eddie Green, the stirring Eva Jessye Choir and backed by the Mark Warnow Orchestra. Famous composer Earl Robinson penned the brilliant score and CBS's own Phil Cohan directed the ambitious ensemble. And ambitious it was, for a half hour format. It was over before it started. One wonders what they might have mounted with a full hour to present their talent. For its part, CBS was too politically cowardly to promote the All God's Children production, other than by the faintest of possible praise. One wonders what they could possibly have been thinking to produce it in the first place if they had no intention of promoting it. To its shame, America wasn't ready for a prime-time mixed race inspirational music format--much as it wasn't ready for the Norman Corwin message dramas of the era. In that respect both of the night's offerings were about three years ahead of their time.
Bethel Merriday was the Hollywood offering for the evening. Based on the Sinclair Lewis novel, it was CBS's hope that Margaret Sullavan might be the talent the production needed to put this preview over the top. The story traces the development of a stage actress purported to be the equal of a Helen Hayes or a Katherine Cornell. Episode 1 opens with a retrospective on Beth's formative years. Presumably subsequent episodes would have traced the various stages of her life. Adapted by Helen Deutsch specifically for Margaret Sullavan, it becomes obvious that the script was tailored to Margaret Sullavan's breathless, provocative delivery. Deutsch preserves Sinclair Lewis' gift for describing middle-American small town life. It was good theater, but not quite ready for prime-time.
Season One: Week Eight
CBS Forecast capped off its first Summer of Previews with an hour-long patriotic presentation ambitiously titled The Birth of A Nation. The format called for a series of patriotic retrospectives on the development of The Republic from its roots and everywhere in between. The preview installment traces the tribulations of Peter Zanger and his fight for Freedom of The Press between 1734 and 1735 in colonial America. Presented as prologue to the revolutionary developments to come, the selection was a good one. The acting talent was also superb with Frank Craven, Burgess Meredith, Mary Astor, Gene Lockhart and Thomas Mitchell in the leading and supporting roles. The proposed patriotic retrospective should have struck a chord, but the Nation was at War and looking forward, not backward. America was making history every day the War churned on. Ten years earlier or ten years later it might have clicked. Dupont's Cavalcade of America beat them to it--and was still airing. There just wasn't enough room at the time for another competing, prime-time retrospective of American History.
Season One Summary:
On sum, CBS Forecast's first season acquitted itself well. They got two sure-fire winners out of it, mounted fourteen interesting, varied teasers for eight weeks, and just as importantly, kept Lux Radio Theatre's spot nice and warm for another season. As history would demonstrate, CBS could have stopped right there and rested on the laurels of the Duffy's Tavern decade to come and the two decades of Suspense to come. But like a shark that needs to keep moving to keep oxygen circulating over its gills, CBS needed to continue to seek the next 'Suspense'. So it was that they dipped their toe in the shark infested water for one more Summer--The Summer of 1941.
Season Two: Week One
Arabian Nights consumed the entire hour of CBS Forecast's first offering of the Summer of '41. The first half was prologue and background. The second half was a sample episode of the proposed series, directed by Charles Vanda and adapted by True Boardman. It was a very ambitious undertaking, starring the mysterious, very private Marlene Dietrich and a supporting cast of Hollywood players, including Gale Gordon as The Sharia, or King. Simply obtaining Ms. Dietrich's participation in this exercise had to be major coup in itself for CBS. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov penned Scheherazade, Opus 35 in 1888, as a musical interpretation of the book of the "Thousand Myths" of Persian lore. Rimsky-Korsakov's atmospheric opus weaves beautifully in and out of the entire production as, one assumes, performed by Wibur Hatch and his orchestra. The back story of Scheherazade herself is truly the fabric of myth and legend. As the story went, a young Persian King had been betrayed by his first wife. In retaliation, the King married a different young virgin each day, spent the night with them, then had them beheaded the following morning. According to the legend, he'd engaged in these serially monogamous marriages for just over eight years--a total of 3,000 young wives. Against her father's wishes, Scheherazade agrees to marry the King. But when their wedding night arrives, she regales him with the first of what would become 1,000 fascinating nightly tales of Persian derring-do. Quite wisely, the story she chose for that first, critical night was a tale of a faithful wife, as suggested by pre-arrangement with Scheherazade's younger sister. According to Sir Richard Burton, Scheherazade:
"had perused the books, annals and legends of preceding Kings, and the stories, examples and instances of by gone men and things; indeed it was said that she had collected a thousand books of histories relating to antique races and departed rulers. She had perused the works of the poets and knew them by heart; she had studied philosophy and the sciences, arts and accomplishments; and she was pleasant and polite, wise and witty, well read and well bred."
Clearly the young queen was well equipped to continue to entertain the blood-thirsty Sharia with her fascinating tales. And so she apparently did, for 1,000 nights and three young sons later.
Dietrich actually played three roles in Arabian Nights; Scheherazade herself, Zamura the slave girl, and Zamar the King. Sadly, we can't hear Dietrich's rendition of Zamar The King, since only three of the 4-disc electrical transcriptions of this broadcast have survived. It's just as well. Even still, where this proposed CBS series could have led is anyone's guess--but it didn't lead to a prime-time production. But again, if we fast forward ten years, we find Marlene Dietrich finally starring in her own drama anthology, Cafe Istanbul--for Mutual.
Season Two: Week Two
CBS's second Forecast of Season Two proposed two comedy/variety formats, each with a different twist. Seemingly both situation comedies, 51 East 51 was advertised as "a new musical show with comedy, and vice versa" in which artists and performers would be weaved into the script as a natural element of the unfolding of the story for the evening. Mischa The Magnificent, by contrast, was to be more of a straight situation comedy but with some variety worked into the scripts.
51 East 51 opens the hour with its broadcast from New York. The namesake for the proposed series is a nightclub named 51 East 51, presumably its address in New York City. Beautiful band singer and chorus director Kay Thompson is the mistress of ceremonies at the club and gets to try her hand at Radio comedy for the first time. Lionel Stander and Everett Sloane are cast as a team of screenwriters known for their comedy scripts--and pranks. Erik Rhodes provides a little--emphasis on little--comic relief in his persona as Ramon, a reportedly Maurice Chevalier-esque character. Archie Bleyer's orchestra is billed as the club's band. In practice much of this ensemble falls flat. Everett Sloane in particular, cast against type as a wise-cracking comedy writer seems utterly out of place in the production. Erik Rhodes' Ramon is amusing but clearly contrived. All of this is a shame, since Kay Thompson seems to show promise as a potential singing comedienne. Basically, the ensemble attempts to portray itself as simply writers and performers passing a typical evening at 51 East 51. The program closes with hints that possible further episodes would guest star Orson Welles, Groucho Marx, Boris Karloff and Danny Kaye. Jackson Wheeler, the announcer, attempts to sneak in his own credit sotto-voce in the final seconds of the broadcast. Pretty cheesy. Much like the entire production. We feel we're in pretty good company mildly panning this preview. No less a critic than Walter Winchell observed on July 28, 1941, " . . . That Forecast item, "51 East 51" (with Kay Thompson, Lionel Stander, et al) made good listening, but they murdered it in advance--shrieking how gorgeously superior it was going to be. Look: don't make up your minds, eh, fellas? . . ."
From Hollywood, Mischa The Magnificent stars Film and occasional Radio character actor Mischa Auer pretty much being Mischa Auer. Which is appropriate since the program is described as being biographical in nature. We'll cut to the chase here and simply say this one was a stinker. Mischa Auer portrayed some fascinating, wacky characters throughout his Film and Television career but as a lead in a situation comedy about his own life he was a flop-o-roonie.
Season Two: Week Three
Forecast's third outing of the Summer was comprised of two situation comedies. The first, from New York was Pibby and The Houlihans, the story of an Irish-American family and its rollicking adventures. The second preview, from Hollywood, was Deductions Deluxe, billed as a comedy-mystery starring Adolphe Menjou and Verree Teasdale--or Mr. and Mrs. Menjou--as a pair of married society sleuths.
Pibby and The Houlihans from New York starred the famous Stage and Film character actor Dudley Digges in the role of Pibby Houlihan, head of the Clan Houlihan and scoundrel and schemer extraordinaire. The proposed series would have continued the adventures of Pibby and his scheming mateys much in the vein of Amos 'n' Andy. The reference to Amos 'n' Andy is much in evidence throughout the preview broadcast. Call this one Amos 'n' Andy meets Paddy O'Gill. Or more appropriately, Amos 'n' Andy meets James McGill, the program's director. In practice, thirty minutes of the tales of an Irish scoundrel with no apparent redeeming qualities appears to have been thirty minutes too much. Dudley Digges was fine in a role he'd pretty much perfected on the Stage and in Film in many variations, but he wasn't enough to carry the program.
Hollywood's contribution, Deductions Deluxe--pronounced Delooxe--presented an entertaining variation on those other two popular married sleuths, Nick and Nora Charles from The Thin Man (1934). The wrinkle here is the stars, Adolphe Menjou and Verree Teasdale, were actually married in real life. They portrayed Roger and Twyla Boone, of the Deductions Deluxe Detective Agency, hence the name of the proposed program. The wrinkle was charming enough and the repartee from writers Keith Fowler and Frank Galen was snappy enough. The mystery yarn was alright as well. The cast was also quite good. Gerald Mohr plays the Ordway's Irish chauffeur Jerry Hogan. Verna Felton plays society matron, Mrs. Gerald Ordway, the owner of Fluffy the Green Poodle. Arthur Q. Bryan plays Sir Oliver Trout, a fellow dog-lover. Kathleen Fitz plays Miss Alice Mason, the focus of the mystery. The canine element frames the title of the preview caper, "The Problem of The Painted Poodle," or "Who Gave Fluffy the Brush?" An entertaining enough premise and a well-spun mystery with an interesting take on the dénouement.
Of the productions from Forecast's first three weeks, this one showed the most promise. The proposed capers to follow were also interesting:
- "The Problem of the Elderly Juvenile"
- "Which of The Chorus Girls Has A Wooden Leg?"
- "The Affair of The Listening Corpse"
- "Should A Hearse Have An Outboard Motor?"
The program never aired on CBS, but NBC had already debuted The Adventures of The Thin Man in July of 1941 and NBC debuted Mr. and Mrs. North in 1942--both long-running programs following along the same lines as Deductions Deluxe.
Season Two: Week Four
CBS's sixth preview presentation--from New York--tackled another ambitious dramatic undertaking; a biography of Achille-Claude Debussy titled Song Without End. The production stars Burgess Meredith as Claude Debussy and Margo [María Marguerita Guadalupe Teresa Estela Bolado Castilla y O'Donnell] as the love of his life, his inspiration--and his Achille's heel, the similarly mono-named Gabrielle. This is a hard one to figure on two counts: 1.) there are no circulating examples of this recording, and 2.) what could CBS have been thinking. Perhaps it was a consolation prize to Burgess Meredith--he'd already gotten the hook with CBS's preview of the previous Forecast season, The Birth of A Nation.
Burgess Meredith undoubtedly turned in one of his more sensitive performances, I'm sure. But I just don't see Margo as the inspiration of Claude Debussy's life. To Francis Lederer's life perhaps. And clearly to Eddie Albert's life. But to Claude Debussy? And more apropos of the format, exactly what series was this supposed to have developed into? A retrospective on the lives of great tortured composers? Or perhaps a retrospective on tortured artists in general? Every composer in history's led a tortured life. That's what composing is . . . torture. I'm sorry, but I can see why this one scored a miss rather than a hit without ever having heard it. That's not to say it doesn't pique my interest, but it hasn't made it onto my must have list just yet.
Season Two: Week Five
Forecast's fifth outing presented two well-intentioned, but quite different send-ups. The first, from New York, was a youthful revue called Class of '41. The Hollywood offering was a juvenile western adventure, Hopalong Cassidy.
Class of '41, from New York, was a wonderful idea, conceptually, anyway. And in many ways it was ultimately quite a success for many of the artists and writers it showcased. I can almost see it as a recurring program back then. CBS stood to make out pretty well, also. With a weekly showcase of young new up and comers, there's every reason to expect it might have born even more fruit for CBS in time. But there already existed any number of ways for CBS to cast a spotlight on a young new 'comer.
The program showcased new young actors, writers, and performers--hence, the Class of '41, calculatedly ambiguous. The writers, guided by comedy pros Abe Burrows and Mac Benoff, were Herb Rickles, Sid Rogers, Ernest Lehman, Sid Garfield, Jim Backus and Lawrence Burns. The up and coming young actors were Arnold Stang, Jim Backus, and Al Bernie. The young performers were The Choralites and Gwen Davies. Jack Jordan, Eddie O'Shea, and Timmy Hodges provided the remainder of the young supporting cast. Reviewing the list of performers, it's clear that well over half of this cast went on to very productive careers in their own right. The Choralites were a bit grating after the first two or three of their pieces, but lovely Gwen Davies was a real stand-out, as was Lyn Murray and his CBS Orchestra. Jim Backus and Arnold Stang went on to compile extraordinary careers in Film, Radio and Television. All in all CBS did very well for its young protégés, but alas, the concept wasn't quite ready for a prime-time green-light.
Hopalong Cassidy, the Hollywood offering, was a delayed winner for CBS. By the Summer of 1941, Paramount had already reeled off thirty-nine of the Hopalong Cassidy Westerns. That franchise was already a well-established, continuing gold-mine for both Paramount and William L. Boyd--not to be confused with William 'Stage' Boyd, an infamous, drunken cur of the 1930s. The character had begun as Hop-Along Cassidy--he had a limp but he was fast on the draw--from the pulps to the silver screen. William Boyd reinvented the character as the squeaky clean, non-smoking, non-chewing, non-drinking, non-swearing and non-womanizing Hopalong Cassidy--basically the antithesis of the pulp character. And yes, Hoppy famously wore a black hat, but his horse was pure white, he never ever drew first and he rarely shot to kill. He'd shoot you in the hand, in the arm, in the gun, in the saddle--never in the horse, in the chaps, or in the spurs, but he'd almost never shoot to kill--anyone or any thing.
In its preview incarnation, Hopalong Cassidy was played by Lou Merrill. Most elements of Clarence E. Mulford's famous cowboy are preserved. In the preview Hoppy was asked to mosey up to Utah to look into a rustlin' problem his friend Judge Marlin has been experiencing. Hoppy leaves Red Connors to mind the Bar-20, the Arizona ranch Hopalong Cassidy calls home. After a brief, uneventful eight hundred-mile mosey (poor Topper), Hoppy arrives to find Judge Marlin indeed beset with rustlers and land-grabbers. Gerald Mohr plays Bart Collins, Judge Marlin's nephew. Ruthless rustler/con-artist/bushwhacker Clark Crandall confronts Hoppy at the local watering hole in Twin Forks, trying to warn Hoppy off the case. Never one to back down, Hoppy and his sidekicks commence ta wrasslin', tustlin', and shootin' their way out of their first showdown with Crandall.
Long story short . . . Hoppy corrals the bad-guys, saves the good-guys and does it all without spittin', drinkin', cussin', or killin' anyone. The format was pretty formulaic for the era and the full half-hour gives the yarn plenty of time to unravel. All in all an intriguing audition for the long-running Radio and Television franchise that eventually arrived in 1950. But this one wasn't an immediate winner--for CBS.
The real Hopalong Cassidy's first Radio airing was over the Mutual Broadcasting System in 1950. CBS finally obtained the Radio franchise nine months later, in September 1950, airing it for two seasons while inaugurating its wildly successful The Adventures of Philip Marlowe detective dramas during the short Summer 1951 replacement season for Hopalong Cassidy. This brought Gerald Mohr full circle, having played the villain in Hopalong Cassidy's initial airing, only to get his kick-start into a long running series from Hoppy a full ten years hence.
William Boyd had wisely literally hocked his own ranch to buy up all the Film rights to Hopalong Cassidy, as well as the Hopalong Cassidy name. [Note to self: If a time machine is invented, go back to 1946 and outbid Bill Boyd]. By the time Hopalong Cassidy finally aired over Radio, his Commodore Productions was creating the transcriptions. Almost simultaneously, The Adventures of Hopalong Cassidy began airing over NBC as their first network Television program (1949). All in all a wonderfully lucrative franchise for anyone that was a party to it for well over 20 years. On the CBS production side, Wilbur Hatch showed even more versatility scoring the Hollywood production for CBS Hollywood. Score this one another CBS winner, albeit belatedly and in a round-about way.
Season Two: Week Six
Forecast's sixth 1941 week devoted itself to a full-hour, Hollywood presentation of beloved character actor Raymond Massey in Country Lawyer. Country Lawyer chronicled the story of a small town country lawyer--Samuel Seldon Partridge-- from just after the Civil War to just before World War I. The program devotes a good fifteen minutes of its prologue and exposition to trace the multimedia history of the best-selling book, The Country Lawyer, a fascinating, behind the mike historical chronicle in itself, framed as a legal brief in support of the proposed CBS production.
The next thirty minutes launch into the first episode of The Country Lawyer, based in the charming small town of Phelps, New York. Civil War veteran Samuel Seldon Partridge actually moved to Phelps to practice law shortly after the War and moved into the law office at 15 Church Street in Phelps a few years later. Partridge never owned the building, but due to the 1939 best-selling novel, The Country Lawyer, written by his son, Bellamy Partridge, the building became known as The Country Lawyer's Office from that time forward. It still stands, virtually as erected, to this day.
We digress--though it's tempting to, given the wonderfully nostalgic frame for this program. Charles Vanda produced and directed the production. Harold Medford wrote the masterful adaptation. Wilbur Hatch composed and directed the marvelously touching musical atmosphere for the production. Knox Manning played Bellamy Partridge, Arthur Q. Bryan played Old Tic. Joseph Kearns portrayed the narrating lawyer. Frank Graham appeared as Jerry Billings. Kathleen Fitz played Mrs. Partridge. Earl Ross appeared as Fred, the District Attorney. Bennie Rubin played Charlie Hobson. Edgar Barrier portrayed Gus. Berry Kroeger, Ed Max, Grace Lenard, Bea Benadaret, and Jerry Hausner provided the rest of the remarkable Hollywood supporting cast.
All told, we can't say enough about the absolute superiority of this production. It was arguably the finest dramatic presentation of the twenty-six preview run over CBS Forecast's two years. And yet, as hard as it is to believe, the production didn't get the green-light from CBS. There has to be a fascinating sub-plot to this story in particular. The vehicle, as advertised, was unquestionably tailor-made for Raymond Massey. The supporting players, writing and direction were absolutely top-notch. Perhaps it was simply too good for Radio. The only conceivable dog in the manger may have been Massey's Film contracts at the time.
CBS did eventually get to air The Country Lawyer, but as a Lux Television Theatre (Season 3, Episode 8) production out of their fabled CBS Studio 61 in 1951, and starring Thomas Mitchell. Perhaps Massey was simply too busy with Film commitments. Between 1940 and 1945, Massey performed in twelve feature films for Paramount and Warner Bros., culminating with his astounding performance as Jonathan Brewster in the Capra-Corn masterpiece, Arsenic and Old Lace (1944). As with many things in life, if it appears to be too good to be true, it probably is. Such was the case with CBS Radio's Country Lawyer.
Season Two: Week Seven
Forecast's penultimate week of its second--and final--season previews two very different formats. From New York, Three Wishes was an amazing concept in which a famous person would be granted the chance to hear his or her three favorite entertainment wishes. If this sounds familiar, it was the format for the famous, long-running World War II production, Command Performance. In this guise, it was a famous person that would be granted their three choices. Under the Command Performance formula it was G.I.s that got their wishes granted. The Hollywood offering was A Tour of Hollywood, a musical comedy format basically performing in search of a sponsor for the format.
Three Wishes has to have been a breath-taking presentation. Alexander Woolcott (think Truman Capote's grandfather, add about 80 pounds, and you can pretty much conjure up the image) was the famed drama critic for The New York Times and The New Yorker magazine. He was also a long-running commentator on Radio. It was Woolcott that coined the famous quote, "All the things I really like to do are either immoral, illegal, or fattening." Woolcott's 'three wishes' were for the famous Stage couple Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne's rendition of the last scene from "Elizabeth, The Queen", Paul Robeson's rendition of "Water Boy", and Moss Hart, Russell Crouse, Franklin P. Adams, and Frank Sullivan's reenactment of the famous George S. Kaufman sketch, "If Men Played Cards as Women Do." The first two requests were clearly dramatic favorites. The third was a page out of Woolcott's own past. George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart had fashioned their Sheridan Whiteside character from their famous play, The Man Who Came to Dinner on Alexander Woolcott. They were also long-time friends and former members of the famed Algonquin Roundtable, a loose confederation of literary wags that used to gather at New York's legendary Algonquin Hotel for lunch throughout the Roaring '20s. Franklin Pierce Adams--or simply FPA--was another New York commentator, critic, and member of the Algonquin Roundtable. Rex Stout was also a member in good standing. Indeed, in Woolcott's vanity, he fancied himself as the model for Stout's Nero Wolfe character as well.
We wrote has to have been because we know of no circulating example of this wonderful preview. But this presentation is also historic for suggesting the amazing Command Performance U.S.A. (1942) productions that ran throughout World War II. The concept is as compelling today as it was in the 1940s, although given today's artistic temperaments the cost of such a program would be ridiculously prohibitive. Given the talent conjured up by Alexander Woolcott's three wishes the mind reels at what might have been broadcast for an entire season of such a production. The United States Bureau of Public Relations ran with this idea on a recommendation from the advertising firm Young & Rubicam, inaugurating their rendition of this concept in March 1, 1942, and subsequently folded into the Armed Forces Radio Service series as both BPR H-18 and the subsequent AFRS H-18 series, Command Performance (Command Performance U.S.A. was the stateside title). The first program of the BPR run was emceed by Eddie Cantor, as requested by a U.S. Army Private 1st Class with the initials 'R.G.' who requested Chattanooga Choo-Choo performed by Bea Wain. Thankfully Command Performance granted just such a wish a year later, running for well over four-hundred star-studded performances--and proving that G.I.s had just as good taste in great entertainment as New York critics.
A Tour of Hollywood was Hollywood's contribution to Forecast's next to last week. Billed as a musical comedy, in practice it was more a revue. Tony Martin opened the broadcast with his first ever Radio performance of the Tchaikovsky's Concerto No. 1-inspired Tonight We Love, backed by David Rose and his Orchestra. Character actor and comedian Bert Lahr performed a sketch comedy, Shangri-Lahr which opens in a Hollywood beauty parlor, and Linda Ware performs two numbers. Billed as a musical comedy, the production lacked continuity. As a revue it was notable for the introduction of Tony Martin's hit single Tonight We Love, but not much else. The format wasn't picked up.
Season Two: Final Week
Jubilee was CBS Forecast's final preview of the two year series and it was a splendid finale in every way. Regrettably, CBS didn't think much of it themselves, listing it simply as a "Variety program" in the Forecast time slot in newspaper listings throughout the country. No reference to Forecast or even CBS was made to accompany any of the listings--only the affiliate's call letters gave any hint as to its origin. This was no simple or inadvertent oversight. It was clearly CBS' intent to utterly disassociate itself with its final presentation. This is exactly what it did with the twelfth presentation of its previous season, All God's Children led by Paul Robeson. Once is an oversight. Twice is a slap in the face. CBS loved playing up Paul Robeson's appearances in its mixed card presentation, but when it got down to brass tacks, CBS Corporate wanted nothing to do with promoting an all-Negro program.
One imagines they were patting themselves on the back for even producing and airing Jubilee and All God's Children in the first place. It's instructive to remember that this was still only 1941. America's Negros were fighting and dying 'over there' for all of America. It was six years before Jackie Robinson would break the color barrier in Baseball. Not even progressive states like Massachusetts were permitted to associate either the names CBS or Forecast with their newspaper listings for either of these ground-breaking presentations. It's seventy years later and one still has to shake one's head.
Produced in coordination with the Negro Radio Workshop, the first half hour originated in New York, with a 'romantic prologue' titled Tree of Hope. The second half-hour originated from Hollywood, carrying the title Jubilee, the actual proposed preview program.
Tree of Hope refers to the tree of hope located in front of the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem, a symbol to all aspiring young Negro performers of the possibilities inherent in Hope. Through myth, lore, religion and choral interludes, the Tree of Hope theme is expanded to describe an anecdotal history tracing the progress of Negro performers in America. The narrative is astonishingly frank and pragmatic for its time. Phil Cohan directed the New York segment. The segment includes renditions of early minstrel shows, actually applauding the traditional Sambo and Mister Bones characterizations of the earlier era. Snippets tracing the birth of The Blues in the South are beautifully intercut throughout the narrative montage. The narrative then traces the birth of Jazz in the same manner. Broadway's early Negro revues are described as the most significant opening to mainstream exposure for the early Negro performers. Scat dancing and singing are explored through the frame of Bill Robinson's first break onto The Great White Way. In the final analysis the Tree of Hope is held up as the gateway to a national stage, such as that afforded by the following broadcast from Hollywood.
Orson Welles introduced the segue into the Jubilee segment. It's instructive to remember that it was Orson Welles and John Houseman of The Mercury Theatre that helped direct the all-Negro Macbeth presentation under the auspices of the WPA's Federal Theatre Project that introduced much of America to the talent of Negros in Classical Theatre. Charles Vanda directed the Hollywood segment which opens with Ethel Waters announcing her own segment of Jubilee, followed by a medley of her signature songs. Ethel Waters narrates and sings a moving rendition of The Crucifixion. She wraps up her segment with Hoagy Carmichael's standard, Georgia On My Mind. Duke Ellington swings into the next segment with his signature piece, 'A' Train, followed by Flamingo, sung by Herb Jeffreys. Monologist Wonderful Smith does a clever bit of business communicating with Heaven with Ma Bell's help. Mercer Ellington gets a boost with one of his pieces directed by 'Dad'--The Duke himself. Hall Johnson introduces America to his Hall Johnson Choir with Let My People Go, The Battle of Jericho, and Get On Board. Also heard were the Juanita Hall Singers, Hamtree Harrington, Flournoy Miller, and Georgette Harvey. 'Central Avenue Horace' Wilkes is the commentator (Los Angeles' Central Avenue was L.A.'s Harlem, the heart of Negro Clubs and entertainment during the 1940s and 1950s).
There's no rational reason why this program couldn't have enjoyed a prime-time spot on the radio dial. It was excellent--it still is excellent. As it turned out, Jubilee enjoyed the same spotlight Command Performance U.S.A. enjoyed through distribution to the troops beginning October 9, 1942, only six months after Command Performance began distribution under the auspices of The Bureau of Public Relations. The Bureau of Public Relations also pressed the first rendition of Jubilee as Freedom's People. Once transitioned to the AFRS the name was changed to Jubilee. Appropriately, Rex Ingrams introduces Ethel Waters, Duke Ellington and The Hall Johnson Choir as the lead entertainers for Jubilee's first official transcription disc distributed throughout the world to its troops. The AFRS designation, H-11 refers to how early into AFRS distribution Jubilee entered the system.
It's no wonder that the entire Jubilee run comprises some of the Jazz, Swing and Blues collectors' most prized holdings today. CBS' loss was our American troops' gain. Ostensibly created for Negro G.I.s, Jubilee, Downbeat and G.I. Jive soon became the most requested transcriptions in both the Pacific and European theatres of operation--by both American troops and international troops--with an eventual run of over 500 unique electrical transcriptions spanning 1942 to 1952. Hmmm . . . a popular, ten-year run. Too bad CBS didn't pocket a dime of that action. Success, indeed, is the best revenge.
There are a whole host of misconceptions and misinformation about this series. It's not really appropriate here. We've highlighted the most egregious misinformation in our Provenances section below. CBS Forecast has long been one of Radio's most misunderstood broadcasts. We hope we've managed to clear the air a bit and give this fine preview series its due.
Please send any comments or factual clarifications to digitaldelitoo at thedigitaldeli dot net. All rights reserved.
Copyright Digital Presence New England 2009.