Thursday, May 2, 2019

Lux Radio Theatre

Jimmy Stewart, Joan Blondell, and host William Keighley
from a rehearsal for the 1945 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation
of Destry Rides Again.
For a period from the Twenties into the early Fifties, radio was the dominant medium in the American home. In the days of Old Time Radio, the various radio networks aired a variety of shows, including action/adventure shows, anthology series, situation comedies, variety shows, and many more. Among the most prestigious shows to air during the era of Old Time Radio, as well as one of the most popular was Lux Radio Theatre. Lux Radio Theatre had huge budgets when compared to most radio programmes. It also boasted the biggest stars of the era. Even if Lux Radio Theatre didn't feature some of the biggest names from the Golden Age of Hollywood, it would be of interest to classic movie buffs. Quite simply, Lux Radio Theatre regularly adapted recent motion pictures.

Lux Radio Theatre debuted on NBC's Blue Network on October 14 1934. Its original host was John Anthony playing the show's fictional producer, Douglass Garrick. John Anthony stayed with the show until June 30 1935. Thereafter Albert Hayes portrayed the show's host and fictional producer, Douglas Garrick. It was a position he held until May 25 1936. For the Lux Radio Theatre's first two seasons it aired adaptations of Broadway plays. It would not be until its third season that it began adapting movies.

Lux Radio Theatre would not remain on the Blue Network for long. It was on July 29 1935 that the show moved to CBS, where it would remain for nearly the next nineteen years. The third season of the show would see several changes to Lux Radio Theatre. Originally broadcast from New York City, Lux Radio Theatre moved to Hollywood in 1936. The move to Hollywood would see Lux Radio Theatre begin adapting movies, as well as a new host. It was on June 1 1936 that legendary director Cecil B. DeMille took over as the show's regular host. It was that same date that Lux Radio Theatre aired its first adaptation of a movie, The Legionnaire and the Lady starring Marlene Dietrich and Clark Gable. It had been filmed in 1930 as Morocco, starring Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich.

There were two basic reasons that Lux Radio Theatre moved to Hollywood. The first was, quite simply, the ratings. By 1936 the ratings for Lux Radio Theatre had dropped and it was in danger of cancellation. At the same time, with the growth of the motion picture industry, the talent was increasingly moving from New York City to Hollywood. Quite simply, it was becoming harder for Lux Video Theatre to attract big name actors in New York City. The executive at the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson in charge of the Lever Brothers account (Lever Brothers being the company that made Lux) was Danny Danker. It was Mr. Danker who convinced both J. Walter Thompson and CBS to move the show to Hollywood. This would solve the problem of attracting big names to the show. At the same time it was decided to do adaptations of movies rather than Broadway plays, motion pictures having long ago overtaken stage plays in popularity.

After its move to Hollywood and its slight change in format, Lux Radio Theatre went from a show faltering in the ratings to one of the most popular shows on the air. At its height it drew an audience estimated to be around 40 million people. Lux Radio Theatre grew in popularity and power to such a point that the major studios would actually alter their shooting schedules so that their stars could appear on the programme. Lux Video Theatre also paid very well for top stars. Big names could expect to get $5000 simply for appearing on the show for an hour.

Over the years Lux Radio Theatre featured some very big stars. The actor who appeared the most was Don Ameche, who appeared in 18 episodes. Close behind Mr. Ameche was Fred MacMurray with 17. Of actresses it was Barbara Stanwyck who appeared the most, with 15 episodes. Loretta Young was a close second with 14 episodes. A list of the stars who appeared on Lux Radio Theatre through the years reads like a Who's Who of the Golden Age of Hollywood. They included  such big names as Lionel Barrymore, Gary Cooper, Joan Crawford, Bing Crosby Bette Davis, Irene Dunne, Edward G. Robinson, Ginger Rogers, Jimmy Stewart, Loretta Young, and many more.

This is not to say that everything always went smoothly for Lux Radio Theatre. In 1944 there was a proposition on the ballot in California that would have made the state a "right-to-work" state. That is, it would have prohibited union security agreements, meaning that someone would not have to have a union membership to get a job. As might be expected, AFRA opposed the proposition and as a result charged all of its members $1 to fund its campaign against the proposition. Cecil B. DeMille disagreed with AFRA's stance on the proposition, as well as requiring members to pay $1 to fund their campaign against it. As a result, he refused to pay his dollar. AFRA then suspended his membership, which meant he could no longer work in radio. Of course, it also meant that he could no longer host Lux Radio Theatre.

Lux Radio Theatre would then utilise several guest hosts until they found a new permanent one. In 1945 Lionel Barrymore, Walter Huston, Mark Hellinger, Brian Aherne, and Irving Pichel all hosted the show. William Keighley became the show's next permanent host in 1945 and would stay in that position until 1952. Irving Cummings then hosted Lux Radio Theatre until it went off the air in 1955.

Over the years Lux Radio Theatre adapted some very well-known movies. At times these adaptations would even include members of the original cast of the movie. On February 22 1937 the show adapted Captain Blood with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. On May 9 1939 Lux Radio Theatre aired an adaption of My Man Godfrey with William Powell and Carole Lombard. Even when a particular adaptation did not include members of the original cast, the casting could be interesting. The February 15 1937 adaptation of Brewster's Millions featured Jack Benny and Mary Livingstone. The November 4 1940 adaptation of Wuthering Heights featured Ida Lupino and Basil Rathbone. Through the years Lux Radio Theatre aired adaptations of such movies as Stella Dallas, Dark Victory, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Rebecca, The Lady Eve, The Maltese Falcon, Road to Morocco, and many more.

Like many radio shows, Lux Radio Show made the transition to television. Lux Video Theatre debuted on October 2 1950. Lux Video Theatre never proved as popular as the original radio show. The highest it ever ranked in the Nielsen ratings was #25 in the 1955-1956 season. In all, Lux Video Theatre lasted seven seasons. It was a respectable run, but nowhere as long as the radio show's 21 years on the air.

As television increased in popularity, the ratings for Lux Radio Theatre began to decline. This was particularly the case as the show entered the year 1954. It was on September 15 1954 that Lux Radio Theatre returned to NBC after nearly 19 years on CBS. The show's ratings did not improve, and Lux Radio Theatre ended its run on June 7 1955. In all, Lux Radio Theatre ran a remarkable 21 years.

While many classic film buffs are interested in Old Time Radio as well, Lux Radio Theatre would be of particular interest to them for its close ties to classic film. It is not simply that it adapted many movies now considered classics, but that it starred the biggest movie stars of the era and for many years was hosted by one of the best known movie directors of all time. Fortunately, the majority of episodes have survived so that they can still be enjoyed in a variety of formats, from CDs to mp3s to streaming.

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