Radio was an important part of many Hollywood careers, But formed the backbone of Frank Sinatra’s success, especially in the beginning. Long before Sinatra made a film, his voice could be heard on the radio, crooning love songs to bobbysoxers. He got hist start at 19, on the Major Bowse Amateur Hour, and soon became a regular on the show. Sinatra range with big bands in the early 40s, where had had even more opportunities to appear on radio. By 1943, he was hosting Your Hit Parade, as well as a short show bearing his name. He would keep up both shows, under various names and networks, throughout the 40s. As Sinatra’s singing career hit a snag in the early 50s, he still had limited radio work, including as start of Rocky Fortune, a vehicle for his comedy talents. He didn’t sing on the NBC show.
I’ll admit to giving you a very brief overview of Sinatra, the radio star. But you’ll get some sense of his presence from this week’s three recordings; Your Hit Parade, from 11/8/43, Songs by Sinatra, recorded 9/13/45, and The Boarding House Double-cross, a Rocky Fortune episode from 1953.
Unlike most actors I’ve featured on HOTR, Richard Widmark did not turn to radio as a means of promoting his film career. He started on radio, working as supporting player, then lead in daytime serials and mystery programs, from the late 1930s to the mid-40s. His first radio appearance was in 1938’s Aunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories, but he went on to appear regularly on The Shadow, Columbia Radio Workshop, and several mystery series. Even in early radio, he was often a villain, or unstable character, though he could play comedy, too. Widmark had the lead in the soap, Front Page Farrell, until it switched networks.
In 1946, Widmark made his Broadway debut, and that success propelled him to Hollywood where he made his first film, Kiss of Death. It’s still among his most memorable, and chilling performances, and got Widmark an Oscar nomination. He continued working in film, as a leading man in noir and Westerns, making occasional return visits to radio in recreations of his films, and as a guest on variety shows. Widmark died in 2008.
Marlene Dietrich appeared frequently on radio in the 1930s, mostly in Lux Radio Theater adaptations of her films. During the war years, she actively raised funds during bond drives and entertained the troops in person and via radio. She appeared in post-war years on variety shows, and in 1953, she briefly had her own series, A Time for Love. This week, we’ll hear the second episode of the series, from January 1953.
Breakfast in Hollywood aired on the Blue Network from 1941 to 1948. The show originated daily from Tom Brenneman’s restaurant in Hollywood and featured Brenneman walking through the restaurant, chatting up the mostly female, and frequently tourist patrons.
In 1946, Harold Schuster made film by the same name, using the show (and Brenneman) as a backdrop for a series of intertwined melodramatic stories. You can watch on YouTube, or download it from The Internet Archiv.
The Breakfast in Hollywood radio show ended in 1948, soon after Brenneman’s untimely death.
MGM star, and serial Academy Award nominee (she won once) Greer Garson spent her radio career performing in adaptations of her own films for Lux Radio Theater. She was also active in on-air wartime fundraising, and performed on variety shows with Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy and Jimmy Durante. This episode of HOTR, which was suggested by a listener, features an episode of Academy Award, in which Garson takes the female lead in a 1946 adaptation of Brief Encounter.
The words Rita Hayworth and radio star don’t seem to quite fit together. Celebrated primarily for her beauty and glamour, Rita Hayworth electrified the motion picture screen. But did she have the personality for a medium without pictures, or even the inclination to perform there? Apparently the answer was yes. Between 1942 and 1947, she is credited with 34 radio appearances, on program ranging from the dramatic Lux Radio Theater and Suspense) to the light-hearted Edgar Bergen. She was also a popular attraction on wartime series, Mail Call and Command Performance. In this episode of HOTR, we hear Rita paying “herself” on the Burns & Allen program from March 21, 1944.
In the post-war years, Judy Garland appeared on many of the leading radio variety shows, including Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and The Big Show. She also contributed her time and talnet to charitable and political causes. In this episode, however, we hear one of Judy’s several dramatic performances. From December 1946, it’s an episode of Suspense called “Drive In”.
Judy Garland was among the most active film performers on radio during World War II. The war happened to coincide with the height of Garland’s early film success, but she was also an enthusiastic participant in the war effort.
On this episode, you’ll hear Judy play Esther Blodgett, twelve years before her crowning achievement as star of the musical film version of A Star Is Born. You’ll also hear a high-spirited episode of Mail Call, a popular variety show intended to build military morale.
“A Star Is Born” Lux Radio Theater, December 28 1942
Long before she made her first MGM film, Judy Garland was known to radio audiences. Shortly after signing with the studio in 1935 (at age 13) Judy began appearing on radio shows sponsored by the studio, and eventually landed regular roles on other variety shows including Jack Oakie’s College, and the Popsodent Show. Her first national radio appearance occurred on October 26, 1935, on MGM’s Shell Chateau program.
On this episode of HOTR, you’ll songs from three radio programs, and a complete episode of MGM’s Good News, which aired during the run-up to the release of The Wizard of Oz. Today you’ll hear:
“Broadway Rhythm”, Shell Charteau, October 26, 1935
Command Performance was Hollywood’s gift to the men and women serving overseas during World War II. Produced by the US War Department with 100 percent donated labor and facilites, the show featured appearances by performers as requested by servicemen. Each show featured a star MC, musical acts, comedy, and variety. Today’s episode was produced June 30, 1942. Spencer Tracy serves as host, with appearances by Groucho Mrx, Barbara Stanwyck, Victor Borge, and Mary Lee, among others.