Monday, January 5, 2009

Movie Stars on the Radio

A couple of weeks ago, a reader posted a comment on my essay on “Theater Guild on the Air” from September 2008 (see link to post here):

Professional Tourist said...
I have been trying to track down a copy of the Theater Guild on the Air production of "The Little Foxes" with Agnes Moorehead, which was broadcast on January 4, 1948. So far I've had no luck -- the Internet Archive site, which you link above, does not have this particular program, and I haven't found any place else on the net that has this one.

Do you know of any additional resources for these Theater Guild on the Air programs (preferably in MP3 format, but CD would work too)?

Thank you.
December 19, 2008
Jacqueline T Lynch said...
Hi, and welcome to the blog. I've taken a look around the sites with which I'm familiar, and unfortunately I've come up with nothing. There are a few episodes of Theater Guild on the Air which seem to be missing, or at least not commercially available. I know how frustrating that is. I'm still looking for an episode broadcast the following month, "Romeo & Juliet" with Dorothy McGuire and Maurice Evans. The only source I've found is the Paley Center for Media, formerly called the Museum of Television and Radio. I'd have to go to New York City to listen to it. I may just, sometime.

I've checked their database, but among the many entries they have for Agnes Moorehead, the show you want isn't among them.

I'll keep looking, and if ever I find it, I'll post it on the blog. I hope our readers will keep an eye out, too.

I hope some of our readers can help with Professional Tourist’s request. It raised for me the question of why more old movie buffs are not also old radio buffs? Old movies and old radio are like peanut butter and jelly. They go together.

This blog has addressed the appearances of Hollywood stars on old radio before, in the above-mentioned post, and in a post on the Lux Radio Theatre from April 2007.

Part of the reason for so many old movie fans not to jump on the old radio bandwagon could be that many of these programs were difficult to obtain before the days of Internet. Early collectors of classic radio programs, which today are commonly referred to as “Old-Time Radio” or “OTR”, had to scrounge for reel-to-reel audio or transcription to acetate disks. In the nostalgic craze of the 1970s, some old time radio programs became available on vinyl LP, and later cassette.

Today, collectors are more fortunate in obtaining a wide selection of OTR shows on audio CD, as MP3 files, and in the presence of so many dealers in old time radio with easily accessible websites and some of which also publish mail order catalogues.

One website is The Vintage Radio Place, which also posts a valuable log of programs with dates and guest stars.

Another site is, which offers interesting collections of programs. I’m shortly due to receive from this dealer a collection of appearances on different programs by Barbara Stanwyck, and another with a collection of different Shakespearean presentations on radio. If you have a favorite star or program, this site offers entire collections, including collections of programs relative to different holidays or subjects.

There are a number of these sellers of old-time radio packages, and also free sources like the Internet Archive of shows in public domain. You can also listen to streaming audio of old-time radio shows on, hosted by Wayne Boenig.

OTR fans can also enjoy a wealth of information on one of my favorite blogs, The Easy Ace.

Newcomers to OTR might think of old radio in terms of serial programs for children, like “The Lone Ranger” or “The Shadow”, but most stars of Hollywood’s heyday performed on radio, and some of them, like Barbara Stanwyck, or Joseph Cotten, performed on radio a lot.

I’ve also been surprised reading through biographies or autobiographies of film stars through the years that they rarely mention radio performances, yet this was an important part of an actor’s resume before television.

Radio curiously melded together the competing worlds of Film and Stage, which usually disdained each other. Here, before a standing microphone and usually before a live audience, those two worlds collided, and usually with fascinating results.

(Actually, some programs were not done live, but recorded without an audience, on disk, and played for later radio transmission. It has been noted that Joan Crawford, who did not do a lot of radio, preferred this method because she was not a stage actress and the thought of performing live made her anxious. She preferred having the control of being able to do over a mistake.)

Radio was the place for newcomers to get their first jobs. Jennifer Jones had her own local program in Oklahoma when she was still Phyllis Isley. Robert Walker and Dorothy McGuire both started on radio soap operas.

Radio was the place for actors and actresses to play roles which otherwise would not be offered to them, playing Shakespeare, playing roles which were older or younger than they might normally be cast. Or, play against type. Heroes and heroines became killers and nasty people without any noticeable detriment to their film careers. Character actors, like Agnes Moorehead, frequently played leads on radio.

Radio was the place where almost the entire cast of a movie could be reunited, such as in Screen Guild Theater’s production of “How Green Was My Valley” in 1941, with Sara Allgood, Walter Pidgeon, Donald Crisp, Roddy McDowall, Rhys Williams, and Maureen O’Hara.

Radio was the place where actors who never performed in a film together, could be paired off like Humphrey Bogart and Dorothy McGuire in “The Valiant” on Screen Guild Theater, a play that had been written by another actor in the show, Robert Middlemass.

Middlemass wasn’t the only author to trod the boards, or rather the airways. Novelist Edna Ferber played Parthy Hawks in a Campbell Soup Playhouse production of “Show Boat”, based on her novel, in 1939 that starred Margaret Sullavan, with Helen Morgan reprising her original Broadway role as Julie. Ferber clearly threw herself into the role, which was her acting debut, but since there was no actual scenery to chew, we can just say she approached the part with gusto.

Radio was the place where stars got their own shows, like “Bold Venture” with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, a steamy series set in Havana, where they do a take on their “To Have and Have Not” characters. One of my favorite characters in this series is the sarcastic chief of police who once returned a lost purse to Bacall’s character, named Sailor Duval. He said he knew it was hers because it didn’t have any money in it.

Ronald Colman and wife Benita Hume played in the comedy “The Halls of Ivy”, and Dana Andrews starred in his own noir-ish series, “I Was a Communist for the FBI.” Phil Harris and Alice Faye ran amok in a funny situation comedy, “The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show.”

And if you’ve never heard the comedy “Our Miss Brooks” with Eve Arden, her sardonic delivery is as delightful as any of her film performances, and she’s backed up by Gale Gordon, who was probably the best foil anybody ever had on radio. Again, here we have a case of an actress who never got lead roles in film, but made radio her ticket to stardom and became an icon of popular culture.

Radio was where actors and actresses got a crack at performing roles made famous by others, like Loretta Young in a Campbell Soup Playhouse production of “Theodora Goes Wild” in 1940, a role performed on film by Irene Dunne.

Ronald Regan and his then wife Jane Wyman took over the Dennis Morgan and Barbara Stanwyck roles in “Christmas in Connecticut” in 1946 on Screen Guild Theater. If you listen to this one, the sound is distorted in the first few minutes, but hang on, it clears up. And probably the funniest performance by a sound effects guy comes when they do the scene of bathing the baby. The audience continually breaks up.

Radio was a seat-of-your-pants venue, where when Screen Guild Theater’s “History is Made at Night” had a last-minute cast change. This 1940 show was meant to feature Charles Boyer and Myrna Loy, but the announcer tells us that Greer Garson is stepping in at the last minute because Myrna Loy has spent the last week in Cedars of Lebanon Hospital “fighting a bad case of the flu.” It was Greer Garson’s first radio performance in the United States, and as is supposed to happen in theater, the understudy became a star.

Actually, the understudy was already a seasoned actress and on her way to being groomed to become one of MGM’s biggest stars. Where else but in old time radio would a star acquiesce to understudy status? Filling in for each other at the last minute was common in radio then. Barbara Stanwyck even famously filled in for Mary Livingstone on the Jack Benny Show. All one needed was a script in hand, a good voice, and steady nerves.

While old-time radio has become more easily accessible than ever, there are still, unfortunately, a number of missing programs that collectors and fans are trying to locate. For the newcomer, a whole new world is opened when listening to these programs. Largely, it is a world of your own imagination, and that is the most astonishing, and gratifying, part of it, as well as getting to enjoy favorite actors and actresses showing another side.

For a gallery of photos of stars behind the mic, have a look at the Old Time Radio Scrapbook.


Ann said...

I'm writing to tell you that the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center and Theater will be opening for the first time this summer (2009) in Hepburn's beloved seaside town of Old Saybrook, Connecticut.
To find out more about this wonderful venue named after the 4 time Academy Award winner, you can go here:
You can become a "Founding Fan" of the theater here:
Help us spread the word. We'd love it if you'd link to us on your page.
Thanks so much!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Ann, thanks for stopping by. I'll certainly link to the website, and I hope everyone who can will make a point of visiting the new Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center and Theater after it opens this summer. Looking forward to it.

Laura said...

Hi Jacqueline,

Loved this post. It's quite timely as I just watched THE 39 STEPS and discovered the DVD copy owned by my dad has a Lux Radio recording of 39 STEPS starring two of my favorites, Robert Montgomery and Ida Lupino. I've put in a request to borrow it. :)

I collected a few Lux Radio productions on LP as a teenager, including MY MAN GODFREY, MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, THE CANTERVILLE GHOST, and NATIONAL VELVET.

"Part of the reason for so many old movie fans not to jump on the old radio bandwagon could be that many of these programs were difficult to obtain before the days of Internet."

This is definitely the case for me. It's seemed like such a big world of unobtainable gems, and even knowing that stuff is out there on the Internet, it seems kind of overwhelming to start sorting through it (grin), though that's been a long-term goal of mine.

I look at lists of Lux shows like this and wish I could own them all...the Robert Montgomery shows alone would keep me busy for weeks (JANE EYRE with Montgomery and Ingrid Bergman, for example...fascinating).

Thanks for all these great resource ideas, I'll be bookmarking this post.

Best wishes,

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, Laura, thanks. A Robert Montgomery fan like yourself would have many shows to enjoy, as he was prolific on radio. In a way, it's like discovering a movie by your favorite star you'd not seen yet. You get to enjoy the thrill of first discovery all over again. Happy hunting.

Laura said...

"In a way, it's like discovering a movie by your favorite star you'd not seen yet. You get to enjoy the thrill of first discovery all over again."

I like that thought! It's definitely how I felt when I learned about THE 39 STEPS and JANE EYRE. Lots more out there to explore. :)

Best wishes,

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

That brings to mind how disappointing and depressing it is to find you've read an entire favorite series of novels and there's no more to follow. What a letdown.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the radio shows do offer an alternative experience of our favorite performers. For example, during the war at my blog (cheez, I write about it like I lived through it or something) I listened to a lot of Birdseye Peas Open House with Dinah Shore and Groucho Marx mp3s. As a Marx fan, hearing Groucho's timing performed live before the mic, something that wasn't really be captured in a studio picture with retakes for multiple angles, only increased my admiration for his comedic talent (btw Jacqueline, Dinah sings more than a few of the standards recorded by our Jo Stafford in those shows).

Thanks for sharing so many sources for more radio programs. I'm looking forward to delving into more of them.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, Thom. Your observation on his comedic timing is great. I don't think I've heard any of the Birdseye shows with Groucho and Dinah. I'll have to try that out. You've certainly taken a lot back with you from the war. Now you can go to college on the GI Bill and move to the suburbs.

I'm just now starting a 1937 adaptation of Henry IV with Walter Huston, Dame May Whitty, Brian Ahearne, and Humphrey Bogart -- yes, Humphrey Bogart, as the rebellious Hotspur. Heaven. They sound like they're having a great time.

Jim said...

I'm curious. Did actors under contract to movie studios do radio work as part of their paycheck, or did they get paid separately? Was it like a second job, or totally gratis? Or was it perhaps a combination of both, depending on who we're talking about? Thanks!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, Jim. Welcome to the blog. Movie actors working on radio were paid separately for their radio appearances. That was something worked out by their individual agents. However, because so many stars also plugged their own films at the time of their radio appearances, that they were probably encouraged to do so by the studio, and therefore perhaps received some kind of reward for it.

One show, I think it was the Screen Guild Theater, was unique in that the stars performed for free, donating their pay for their appearances to the Screen Actors Guild in support of health and retirement benefits for other actors in need.

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