Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Radio Recap: Behind the Scenes in Hollywood

Behind the Scenes in Hollywood was a transcribed radio program which ran in 1945. It was hosted by Bidwell McCormick and featured brief stories about Hollywood of the day. At times it was little more than gossip or an early radio version of those magazines you find at the movie theater.

Listening to this series it is remarkable how amateurish it sounds; Bidwell McCormick was apparently a publicist for RKO Pictures, but as a radio personality he's not quite there; his pitch is frequently too soft, he stumbles over words and has to repeat himself. Those bumbles are what's really odd about this series - I mean, it was transcribed. They could've gone back and fixed it every time McCormick made a mistake. It makes me wonder whether these programs even actually aired, or if this was just a proof-of-concept... or maybe only the outtake discs survived.

When I saw the show dated as being from 1945 at first I was dubious because the first episode has a story about the making of The Robe, a 1953 picture. But, indeed, not only was the Robe in production that early, the film rights had been snapped up before the book was even published!

Despite the issues I have with this show, I actually think it's an interesting radio program. For someone likke me who enjoys Hollywood history, it is an interesting snapshot of what the industry was like just as World War II was ending. The show occasionally took time to explain some of the technical details of how films were made such as sets and props, so it's not entirely without merit.

Old-Time Radio Researchers have a playlist for this program available on Youtube.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Radio Recap: The Strange Dr. Weird

The Strange Dr. Weird was a horror anthology program that ran for 29 episodes from late 1944 until early 1945 on Mutual. It was a 15-format, which is a little unusual for that type of program. It was created by Robert A. Arthur of the Mysterious Traveler and was likewise hosted by Maurice Tarplin, the host of that program, using the same manner of presentation that he did on the earlier show.

Beyond its delightfully goofy name, the Strange Dr. Weird is very much like the Mysterious Traveler in miniature. With commercials, intro and outro removed the shows have only about 10 minutes of actual drama. That doesn't leave a lot of time for suspense - the plots move terribly quickly as situations are introduced, the complications arise, then the surprise ending hits like a freight train.

The plots move at such breakneck speed that I've long assumed that the Strange Dr. Weird recycled and abridged scripts from the Mysterious Traveler, similar to the Sealed Book. Maybe they did, but looking at episode titles of the lost broadcasts of the Mysterious Traveler, I don't see any matches. But Robert A. Arthur was a very prolific author - they might be recycled from somewhere else in his massive bibliography.

So, the Strange Dr. Weird feels a little clipped, but it does mean it's never dull. Sometimes the twist endings work well because you haven't had much time to consider where the plot is going - it simply reaches the climax so quickly. Of course, since there's very little fat in the scripts, it also means that all the details which remain are important, so if you do like to predict where stories are going you'll recognize the foreshadowing very easily.

If you like the supernatural, there's plenty to find in this series in episodes like "The Man Who Talked with Death," "the Knife of Death" and "Murder Will Out." There's also lots of great mad science episodes like "The Man Who Lived Twice" and "Murder, One Million B.C."

Again, I do find the character of Dr. Weird to be far, far too much like the Mysterious Traveler. When he repeats his outro reminding listeners he's in "the house on the other side of the cemetery" I half-expect to hear him say, "I take the same cemetery every week at the same time."

You can listen to the Strange Dr. Weird on the Internet Archive.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Radio Recap: Stroke of Fate

Stroke of Fate was a short-lived radio program which aired on NBC in the fall of 1953. I've seen it called NBC's answer to the CBS radio program You Are There. I think there are similarities, but they're very slight; You Are There was a dramatic program in which teams of CBS reporters pretended to be back in time, recording some significant historical event. Stroke of Fate is about alternate histories, stories in which due to a "stroke of fate" events took a different course.

Stroke of Fate was certainly similar to You Are There, but only up to a point - up to that titular "stroke of fate." Through scenarios such as Robert E. Lee leading the Union army, Alexander Hamilton surviving his duel with Aaron Burr or Marie Antoinette evading the guillotinne, there's only so much actual history on display; some episodes begin with the "stroke of fate." In others, the "stroke of fate" doesn't occur until the 2nd half of the program. In certain episodes the "stroke of fate" is somewhat buried and the show invites listeners to guess at what precise moment they diverted from actual history.

There is some definite educational value to the program since they bring up all kinds of minor historical details and make them more important by altering them. And the series does feature real historians at the end of every program who provide important context. Perhaps it's greatest strength as a program about history is that it doesn't diverge too far from the moment in time when the "stroke of fate" occurred - they don't engage in wild speculation about events decades or centuries into the future.

The show certainly has a very romantic view of history; episodes such as the one where Alexander the Great lived on certainly heap a lot of praise upon him. Stroke of Fate tends to treat the subjects of each episode as great people who were denied the full magnitude of greatness.

You may recall I don't usually enjoy NBC's dramatic programs as much as those of CBS (see: The Chase, Cloak and Dagger, Hollywood Star Playhouse, Radio City Playhouse, Top Secret and Whitehall 1212). But I'm not going to put down Stroke of Fate too harshly - it has very strong writing and a decent cast of actors (including Everett Sloane). Also, it only ran for 13 episodes, so you don't get tired of it. There isn't another show quite like this, so it's an interesting diversion.

The Old-Time Radio Researchers Group have a playlist for this series here!

Sunday, May 22, 2022

New Vlog: Junk Food Part VI!

Another new outing for my vlog - my 6th video on junk food in Angola with, once again, a large helping of Angolan-produced junk food!

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Radio Recap: The Fat Man

The Fat Man was a radio program which ran from 1946-1951 on ABC. I had heard episodes here and there but never really focused in on it. As it turns out, this is not an easy series to get into because very little of it survives today! Despite a 5-year run, there are only 11 episodes in circulation today!

Mind you, there are 36 episodes of the Australian version of the Fat Man from 1954-1955 which leave us with a better idea of the usual content of the series, but not to the quality of the original program. I found a playlist of the surviving ABC and Australian episodes here on Youtube.

The Fat Man was a detective program starring J. Scott Smart as Brad Runyon, the titular "Fat Man." It was popular enough that in 1951 Smart starred in a film version of the program. And Smart is truly the element which makes the Fat Man unique. His voice had a heavy drawl which Smart seemed to use as a means of audibly conveying his character's girth. It works; Brad Runyon dialogue sounds like every other hard-boiled detective (his episodes usually open with a screed against crime that sound like they were lifted from Philip Marlowe) but the way in which he drawls out the tail end of sentences really sets the program apart.

The Fat Man claimed to be created by Dashiell Hammett. It seems as though that wasn't true, but presumably because Hammett had written the Thin Man, the show's actual creators didn't want to be accused of ripping him off. Likely Hammett got some token payment in addition to a credit at the top of each episode. It probably helped the Fat Man to have Hammett's name -- at first! Later, thanks to the red scare, Hammett was accused of being a communist. Although I can't pinpoint when it happened (due to the scarcity of episodes), the Fat Man had definitely dropped Hammett's name before the series ended.

Those few remaining episodes are pretty good detective dramas - not really out of the ordinary, but I find them a bit more lively than, say, Michael Shayne or Philo Vance. In all, a good detective program.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

New vlog: Junk Food (part 5)!

I've just posted another episode of my vlog, this time featuring a new round of junk food sampling. It's been difficult to find junk food in Angola that were actually produced in Angola, but this time I managed to find 4/5 items that were made in Angola!

Monday, May 9, 2022

RIP: George Perez

Three days ago, comic book artist George Perez died at age 67; it was an event the comics industry had braced itself for since he announced he was suffering from pancreatic cancer. There was a great outpouring of love from fans and professionals which I'm sure helped comfort him in his last days.

I wish I could say I was a bigger fan of Perez's work - I like his work, but I sensed long ago that I didn't rank him as high as many other comic book fans did. That became most apparent when he returned to the Avengers in 1998 - I thought the book was too nostalgic and backward-looking at the time (looking back, Perez's final Avengers story - the miserable "Nefaria Protocols" crossover - was not exiting on a peak).

For me, the high point of his work was Crisis on Infinite Earths, the 12-issue mini-series that represented (or, rather, was supposed to present) the demise of the original DC Universe and was such a landmark that the history of DC super-heroes is impossible to relate without saying "pre-Crisis" and "post-Crisis" somewhere.

I suppose what I loved was the level of detail he put into his work, especially the mobs of people he drew - not just when he packed the pages full of super heroes and super villains - even mobs of normal people put effort into supplying distinctive faces. But yes, those mobs of costumed characters were a highlight because he could render them appropriately - it didn't matter whether it was Batman or Ultra the Multi-Alien, if he drew it they looked "right" -- no matter how much space they occupied in the panel.

He drew some great Avengers stories in the David Michelinie years in the 70's, then came back for more in the 90's with Kurt Busiek (which does have highlights, even at the time I liked his art, excepting some costuming choices). His New Teen Titans casts a huge shadow over those characters as basically he and Wolfman's work is the only "definitive" Titans work, no matter how twisted their publishing history gets.

By every account he was a terrific guy; rest in peace, Mr. Perez.