OTR was very much alive and well in Brockton, Massachusetts, during the first weekend in May. The Anna P .Buckley Arts Center of Massasoit Community College with its fine auditorium proved to be the perfect place for such a venue. The view from every seat in the house was superb, and the college folks who engineered the audio had definitely done their homework! Hats off to producers Bob Bowers, Alan Chapman and Ken Ward; and likewise to Bobís coordinators Mike Pevzner and Tim Trask for facilitating first class productions.
Ken Meyer, former host of Boston radio station WEEIís Radio Classics Live show, did warm-ups for both the Friday evening and Saturday afternoon sessions, aided by Janet Strazdes who is with Radio Collectors of America. Their trivia questions were mostly related to the shows about to be witnessed and served to separate the die-hards from the diletantes.
The formal program began with a salute to radio westerns with Bostonís own Fred Foy as The Lone Ranger in Burly Scottís Sacrifice. In a separate ceremony Fred Foy received the Ken Meyer Award for 1997. It should be duly noted that Ken Meyer did his Tonto lines from memory. Everyone else used a script!
Friday Evening: Act I
Next, Parley Baer recreated his Chester Proudfoot role in a Gunsmoke episode Chesterís Dilemma. Roland Blanchette was a convincing Matt Dillon. Will Hutchins then took center microphone to re-create his Tom Brewster role on TVís Sugarfoot. The radio version was a scene from The Hideout. The huge cast of players was seated across the stage and consisted of local and regional radio personalities as well as students at the college. Before intermission Peg Lynch and Parley Baer took the limelight to create the first of four episodes of Ethel and Albert. This reviewer never happened to hear this show during its heyday, so the formidable talents of creator/writer/actress Peg Lynch came as a happy surprise. She and Parley Baer worked marvelously together with the timing and dynamic interplay of a Lunt/Fontaine team. By the end of the weekend I felt that I knew Ethel and Albert as well as the likes of George and Gracie or Vic-Ďn-Sade. If Peg and Parley come within a few hundred miles of your neck-of-the-woods this season, donít miss them!
After intermission we were treated to a rendition of the aria "Vilia" from The Merry Widow by Joan Beck, wife of the sound effects wizard Barney Beck. Jess Cain then did a touching tribute to the late Norm Nathan who was the reigning monarch of all-night radio in New England for many years.
Friday Evening: Act II
At this point Arnold Stang made his entrance to become "Gerard" on the Henry Morgan Show episode in which Henry (tastefully impersonated by Jess Cain) tries to fix Gerard up with a bimbette named Minerva. Played by Ellen Kelly, Minerva provides mood music for the courting ritual with her vacuum cleaner. The ever cautious Gerard makes it hilariously clear that he isnít having any -- thank you very much! The audience, old and young, fell in love with Arnold Stang all over again.
More comedy followed with a complete stagecast of a Screen Directorís Playhouse production: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. Jess Cain and Rosemary Rice were the Blandings. Rosemary Rice is a Grammy Award winner who may be best known for her nine years on the I Remember Mama series. Arthur Anderson directed while Will Hutchins and Arnold Stang assumed supporting roles. This reviewer was particularly taken with a characterization of the Blandingsí well driller, Mr. DeSander, played by Bob Dryden. Obviously pedigree shines through, for the program notes revealed Bob to have a radio lineage second-to-none: Stella Dallas, Pepper Youngís Family, The Guiding Light, Big Town, Gang Busters...You name it, Bob has done it!
Following an Ethel and Albert encore we left the theater for some sleep. Thatís not quite accurate. One of us interviewed Arnold Stang for SPERDVAC until 12:45 AM!
At 2:00 PM we returned to Buckley Auditorium for the final Radio Classic sessions. Your reporter managed to explode the myth that "only housewives listened to the radio soaps" by knowing ALL the answers to the trivia questions about The Romance Of Helen Trent. Charlotte Munsick sang an original musical salute to oldtime radio accompanied by Bob and Dolly Fruzetti. As one who has attempted this sort of thing, Iíd like to tip my hat way off to Dolly Fruzetti for her live music themes, fills, and bridges on a digital piano throughout the two days of presentations. An enviable performance! After Albert confesses to Ethel that he no longer has a driverís license, we were treated to more delightful sitcom nostalgia when Dagwood Goes To the Circus, starring Will Hutchins (who even LOOKED like Dagwood Bumstead!) and Rosemary Rice who simply looked lovely and was nowhere near as irritating as Penny Singleton in those Blondie films.
Saturday Afternoon: Act I
After intermission Barney Beck, who had done sound effects for everyone from The Shadow to Bert and Harry Piels, demonstrated his impressive collection of gadgets and widgets assisted by Eugene Ewing.
Radio at its artistic best came next with a Columbia Workshop production of Lucille Fletcherís My Client Curley adapted by Norman Corwin. Arnold Stang starred in the role of Herb,the promoter who takes over a very special caterpillar that dances only to the tune "Yes, Sir! Thatís My Baby!" Talented youngsters Guy Marochino and Artie Sharpe were most believable as "Stinky" and Bobby, the original discoverers and trainers of the unique insect. Ellen Kelly did a very believable Eleanor Roosevelt. Arthur Anderson directed "My Client Curley" and provided convincing impressions of commentators Walter Winchell and Gabriel Heatter. While talking with Arthur and his wife at the Saturday night cast party I was fascinated with his accounts of eighteen years on Letís Pretend as a cast member of Orson Wellesí Mercury Theater production on Broadway of Julius Caesar. Arthurís book named in honor of the kiddy show is now high on my Christmas wish-list! Parley and Peg returned for a final visit with Ethel and Albert before we all braved the rain and headed for the evening cast party back at the Brockton Holiday Inn. Quite frankly, if this reviewer had known in advance that the high point of the cast party was to be a "Sing-a-long" he would have socialized elsewhere. As it turned out, we crooned and warbled (and hollered) familiar radio commercial jingles: praising the likes of Fitch Shampoo,"the foaming cleanser" and "twelve full ounces, thatís a lot." It was a blast!
In retrospect, when such a class act is held within easy commuting distance of Boston: the "Athens of America," it is only fitting and proper to report the attendance figures at "Radio Classics Live VIII" as follows:
- Friday evening: CDLXXV
Next year...be there!
- Saturday afternoon: CCL