The Old Gold Comedy Theatre
It's always exciting to hear a radio show you've never heard before -- but it's particularly exciting to discover an entire radio series that hasn't been heard since it was originally broadcast. That's the case with
"The Old Gold Comedy Theatre," an NBC anthology series broadcast for a single season between 1944 and 1945. Hosted by comedy star Harold Lloyd and featuring some of the biggest names from film and radio, this half-hour series was preserved from 78 RPM discs by Richard Simonton and has now been digitally restored by Radio Archives.
Mr. Simonton has graciously agreed to share with us a few notes about the series:
Preston Sturges was a hot property in 1944. Recently emerged as the director of tremendously successful comedy films such as "The Lady Eve" and "The Palm Beach Story," he had attained the summit at Paramount Pictures and was about to begin his descent toward oblivion, until again appreciated decades later by new generations.
Harold Lloyd had admired the view from Paramount's summit nearly twenty years earlier and was also, in 1944, decades away from being rediscovered, although his earlier influence was remembered by Preston Sturges. They were pals -- not close friends, but sometimes would hang out together at Preston's restaurant or Harold's bowling alley.
Sturges could afford to turn it down when offered the position of host and director of a proposed radio program. "The Old Gold Comedy Theatre" was intended as a lighter version of "The Lux Radio Theatre," hosted by Hollywood pioneer (thirty years as a director and counting), Cecil B. DeMille. The story goes that when Sturges declined the job, he nominated Harold Lloyd in his place.
Harold Lloyd had performed on the stage as a youth, then entered the motion picture business in about 1912, a year or two before even DeMille. By the mid-1920's, he was the leading star of comedy films, surpassing all others in popularity and income. Some of his sound films were successful, but never approached the appeal of his greatest silents. While many film stars, such as Harold's early leading lady, Bebe Daniels, were to become popular in radio, Harold's only involvement had been as an investor in KMPC, along with Bing Crosby, Amos 'n Andy (Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll), and Paul Whiteman.
Harold Lloyd could never resist a challenge. He had to be good at everything he did, if not the best. Before tackling the job of host/director for "Old Gold Comedy Theatre," he made extensive recordings -- voice tests -- to "get the hang of it." By the first broadcast, Harold was at least capable, if still a bit forced and nervous. Later in the series, he sounded more relaxed, which indicated that he could have mastered it by the second season, if only there had been one. The contract called for Harold to be paid $1500 per broadcast, with an increase to $2000 by the second year and $2500 by the third, but for whatever reason, the series didn't catch on and lasted for only one season of 32 shows. The scripts were all cut down from successful comedy films of recent years, but were perhaps too truncated in half-hour form, despite the presence of big-name guest stars from the movies (and some often-heard radio character actors).
78 RPM acetate discs of 29 of the shows were found in Harold Lloyd's basement, along with some of the scripts, without which the show would have been virtually lost, except for some AFRS re-broadcasts as "The Comedy Theatre," with the commercials removed.
A couple of years later, Preston Sturges and Harold Lloyd made a film together. "The Sin of Harold Diddlebock" ended their friendship and Harold's film career. (Howard Hughes later recut the film and issued it as "Mad Wednesday.") Watching the film about two months before his death, Harold admitted that maybe it wasn't as bad as he had once thought.
The series ran for only thirty two broadcasts, twenty nine of which were preserved by Mr. Lloyd in their original network form on 78 RPM copy discs; an additional broadcast is included here in an edited Armed Forces Radio Service version, leaving only two programs yet to be found. The first broadcasts of the series are included in this five hour collection, with the remainder of the series available in Volume 2.
#1 The Palm Beach Story
Claudette Colbert and Robert Young star in an adaptation of Preston Sturges' screen farce about a struggling married couple who end up divorced over a $700.00 gift, the affections of an eccentric millionaire, and the unwanted attention of the millionaire's man-hungry sister, as played by Natalie Schafer.
Sunday, October 29, 1944 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Old Gold Cigarettes
#3 True To Life
A successful and highly-paid soap opera writer, played by Dick Powell, rents a room from a 'typical American family' in order to get some fresh plots for his waning series. But as the show once again becomes a big hit, he begins to feel guilty about his charade - especially when he falls in love with the daughter of the family, played by Rosemary DeCamp. Victor Moore also stars in this charming romantic comedy.
Sunday, November 12, 1944 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Old Gold Cigarettes
#4 Vivacious Lady
A young university professor comes to New York to retrieve his errant cousin -- but promptly falls in love with a nightclub performer and marries her after a whirlwind romance. When he goes back home, he can't bring himself to tell his conservative and ultra-respectable academic family about it. Lee Bowman and Linda Darnell star.
Sunday, November 19, 1944 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Old Gold Cigarettes
Adapted from Booth Tarkington's story, Joseph Cotten stars as Clarence, a recently discharged soldier who finds himself playing handyman, nursemaid and personal confidant to a wealthy but highly dysfunctional family.
Sunday, November 26, 1944 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Old Gold Cigarettes
#6 Take A Letter, Darling
Susan Hayward and John Hodiak star in the story of a struggling artist who takes a job as a secretary to a female advertising executive. While working together to obtain a multi-million dollar tobacco account, they find themselves falling in love.
Sunday, December 3, 1944 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Old Gold Cigarettes
#8 Lucky Partners
Order in the court! Bedlam reigns when a sidewalk artist, played by Herbert Marshall, shares a chance on a $150,000 sweepstakes with a young woman (Jane Wyman). There's one catch, though: if they win, the artist insists on taking her on an "imaginary" honeymoon - much to the suspicion of her fiance' (Sheldon Leonard). (Two of the 78 RPM discs from which this program was taken were cracked, so a brief portion of the opening is missing and listeners may note a very occasional skip. This is the only copy of the program known to exist.)
Sunday, December 17, 1944 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Old Gold Cigarettes
#9 Bachelor Mother
Brenda Marshall plays Polly, a clerk at Merlin's Department Store who is mistakenly presumed to be the mother of a foundling baby. Outraged at her "unmotherly" conduct, store owned David Merlin, played by Louis Hayward, becomes determined to keep the single woman and "her" baby together -- and ends up falling in love with Polly.
Sunday, December 24, 1944 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Old Gold Cigarettes
#10 Room Service
Jack Oakie, Stuart Erwin, Donald McBride, and Cara Williams star in an adaptation of Allen Boretz and John Murray's frenetic stage farce about a shoestring theatrical producer and his company, holed up in a hotel, who con and contrive to get financial backing for a play before the hotel manager finds they have no money. This edited version of the network broadcast, recorded by the Armed Forces Radio Service, is the only recording of the program known to exist.
Sunday, December 31, 1944 - 30:00 - NBC/AFRS rebroadcast
#11 The Lady Eve
Charles Pike (Ralph Bellamy) is the heir to a brewery fortune, but his only interest is the scientific study of snakes. Returning on a ship after spending a year up the Amazon, he meets card sharks Handsome Harry Harrington (Guy Kibbee) and his beautiful daughter Jean (Betty Field). They fall in love, but Pike quickly rejects her when he discovers her con-artist background. Vowing revenge, Jean proceeds to adopt an English accent and the guise of a British Lady -- causing the unsuspecting Pike to fall in love with her all over again!
Sunday, January 7, 1945 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Old Gold Cigarettes
#12 Nothing But the Truth
A young stockbroker bets $10,000.00 that he can tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth for a full 24 hours -- with hilarious results. Alan Young and Anne Baxter star.
Sunday, January 14, 1945 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Old Gold Cigarettes