Thursday, October 29, 2020

Old Time Radio Halloween Episodes

Anne Gwynne. Charlie McCarthy, and
Edgar Bergen
By the late 19th Century, Halloween had become widely celebrated throughout the United States. It would only grow in stature as the 20th Century progressed. By the time of Old Time Radio, Halloween was major enough a holiday that many, perhaps most, radio shows featured Halloween episodes. In fact, what might be the single most famous episode of a radio show was a Halloween episode. The Mercury Theatre on the Air's episode "Invasion from Mars (based on H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds)" aired on October 30 1938 and was described in Orson Welles's final words as "..our own radio version of dressing up in a sheet jumping out of a bush and saying 'Boo!'"

Not only did many radio shows feature Halloween episodes, but some featured multiple Halloween episodes. In the course of its long run, The Jack Benny Program featured at least six Halloween episodes, while the holiday was acknowledged in yet other episodes whose plots centred on other subjects. The episode "Jack Goes Trick or Treating with the Beavers," which aired on October 31 1948, contains one of the earliest references to trick-or-treating in American mass media.

Like The Jack Benny Program, Fibber McGee and Molly would feature more than one Halloween episode. The show centred on married couple Fibber and Molly McGee (played by real life married couple Jim and Martha Jordan) and a wide array of friends and acquaintances. Among these was the McGee's pompous neighbour and Fibber's rival Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve (played by Harold Peary). The first Halloween episode of Fibber McGee and Molly was simply entitled "Halloween Party" and aired on October 25 1938. The plot centred around the McGees throwing a Halloween party, at which Fibber's punch and a ghost story played central role. The show's second Halloween episode centred on Gildersleeve and was titled "Gildersleeve's Halloween Party." It aired on October 24 1939. In the episode the McGees attend a Halloween party at Gildersleeve's house at which Fibber decides to play a prank.

Sitcoms and anthology shows were not the only genres of radio shows to include Halloween episodes. Variety shows did as well. In fact, a Halloween episode of a variety show aired opposite The Mercury Theatre on the Air's notorious "War of the Worlds" episode on October 30 1938. The Chase and Sanborn Hour starred ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy. In the October 30 1938 episode, Edgar Bergen refused to let Charlie McCarthy have a Halloween party and later Mr. Bergen tried to  to tell a ghost story. The episode also guest starred Madeline Carroll and Don Ameche, who performed the play, "There's Always Julia." Judy Canova and her kin, told of their visit to a football game. Finally, Madeline Carroll presented Charlie with a letter from one of his French admirers. While The Mercury Theatre on the Air's "War of the Worlds" episode did not cause the mass panic as urban  legend would have it the fact that some listeners were convinced of an invasion from Mars led theatre critic Alexander Woolcott to write to Orson Welles, "This only goes to prove, my beamish boy, that the intelligent people were all listening to a dummy and all the dummies were listening to you." Indeed, as much of an uproar as The Mercury Theatre on the Air caused, it was soundly beaten in the ratings by The Chase and Sanborn Hour.

The October 29 1944 episode of The Chase and Sanborn Hour would actually feature Orson Welles as a guest on the show. In the episode Orson Welles gave Bergen and McCarthy a tour of a museum. In the episode Edgar Bergen also told Charlie McCarthy a ghost story, while Charlie invited another one of Edgar Bergen's dummies, Mortimer Snerd, to his Halloween party.

Among the most popular radio sitcoms during the Golden Age of Hollywood was The Aldrich Family. The radio show was based on the Broadway play What a Life by Clifford Goldsmith and in turn inspired a series of movies produced by Paramount, starting with What A Life in 1939. The Aldrich Family debuted on July 2 1939 on the NBC Red Network. Despite its title, The Aldrich Family centred on teenager Henry Aldrich (played by Ezra Stone). His best friend was Homer Brown (played by Jackie Kelk and later others). The Aldrich Family featured episodes centred on various holidays, including Mother's Day, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and even April Fool's. The episode "Halloween Pranks" aired on October 31 1940. At that time a common Halloween prank was to ring a house's doorbell and then run away. In the episode Henry and Homer decide to ring only one doorbell that year, but the prank goes horribly awry.

Another popular radio show was The Baby Snooks Show. The show featured legendary vaudevillian Fanny Brice as Baby Snooks, a precocious little girl. Fanny Brice had originated the character on vaudeville in 1912. The character proved popular, so it probably came as no surprise to listeners when the character debuted in 1936 as part of The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air. It would continue to be a segment of other shows (including Good News and Maxwell Coffee Time) until it finally became its own show in 1944.

On The Baby Snooks Show, Baby Snooks lived with her parents, Lancelot "Daddy" Higgins (initially voiced by the legendary Alan Reed) and his wife Vera "Mommy" Higgins. The Baby Snooks Show featured at least two Halloween episodes. In Halloween, which aired on October 31 1941, Daddy won't let Baby Snooks go out with her friends on Halloween, but she pesters him until he finally lets her go out. Daddy then decides to pull a prank on Snooks and her friends by donning a mask complete with tusks. The November 1 1946 episode, "Halloween Show," is significant in that Baby Snooks goes trick-or-treating, making it one of the earliest references to trick-or-treating in American mass media.

While Baby Snooks had originated on vaudeville, some radio shows were spun off from other radio shows. One of the earliest spin-offs, if not the first, was The Great Gildersleeve. Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve proved so popular on Fibber McGee and Molly that he was given his own show, which debuted on August 31 1941. On the show Gildersleeve moved from the Wistful Vista of Fibber McGee and Molly to Summerfield. There he was surrounded by a new ensemble of supporting characters, including Judge Horace Hooker (played by Earle Ross), pharmacist Richard Q. Peavey (Richard LeGrand) and barber Floyd Munson (played by Mel Blanc for one season, and then Arthur Q. Bryan). Along with Police Chief Donald Gates (played by Ken Christy), Gildersleeve, Judge Hooker, Richard Q. Peavey, and Floyd Munson formed the Jolly Boys Club in the show's fourth season.

Like Fibber McGee and Molly before it, The Great Gildersleeve featured more than one Halloween episode. The fist, "Halloween Party," aired on October 31 1943. In the episode Gildersleeve threw a Halloween party, but found himself with more tricks than treats. Another Halloween episode aired on October 29 1947. In the episode "Halloween Party with Doris," Gildersleeve is not particularly enthusiastic about attending a Halloween party where the Jolly Boys will be, so he creates a plot to get his current girlfriend Doris alone. In the October 31 1951 episode "Lost Boy on Halloween," Gildersleeve found his plans for a date and a party sponsored by the Jolly Boys put aside when he and his friends try to help a lost boy get home.

Just as Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve's Halloween plans sometimes go awry, so too did Archie Andrews's plans in the Archie Andrews episode "The Halloween Party." As readers might have guessed, Archie Andrews was based on the popular Archie Comics character of the same name. In "The Halloween Party," Archie convinced his mother to let him host a Halloween party at the Andrews residence. Unfortunately, for Archie he found himself so busy playing host that his rival Reggie was able to monopolize Veronica's time. It aired on October 29 1948.

While Archie wanted to hold a Halloween party, teacher Connie Brooks (played by Eve Arden) most definitely did not. In "Halloween Party" (which aired on on October 30 1948), Miss Brook initially turns down student Walter Denton's request that she host a Halloween party. Miss Brooks changes her mind when Walter tells her that Philip Boynton (played by Jeff Chandler), the shy biology teacher on whom Miss Brooks has a crush, is looking forward to it, she changes her mind.

While Halloween parties figure in many episodes of Old Time Radio shows, it should come as no surprise that haunted houses do as well. In the October 29 1944 episode of The Life of Riley, "Halloween Haunted House," Chester A. Riley (played by William Bendix) and his son Junior visited a haunted house on Halloween. The October 31 1948 episode of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, "The Haunted House," Ozzie and Harriet also visited a haunted house on Halloween.

Of course, the Halloween episodes I have listed are certainly not the only Halloween episodes of radios shows that aired during the Golden Age of Hollywood. They aren't even necessarily the only Halloween episodes of the individual shows I have cited. Halloween episodes were as common on Old Time Radio as they would later be on television. From the mid-Thirties to the Fifties, there probably wasn't a year when there weren't radio shows that featured Halloween episodes.

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

Very interesting. Of course, I'll never catch up on them all this year but it is nice to have a plan for next October.