This is an online encyclopedia of personalities of Old Time Radio. It is designed for educational and entertainment purposes.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Jack Carson (1910-63)

John Elmer Carson was born October 27, 1910, in Carman, Manitoba. Although he was born in Canada, he grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His father was in the insurance business. He was a U.S. citizen by his parents' U.S. citizenship. It was in college that Jack first made a name for himself in acting. At 6'2" and 220 pounds, he was a big man. He was pegged to be Hercules in a production at Carleton College. During the performance, he clumsily knocked over everything on the stage. A fellow student, Dave Willock (1909-90), saw a talent for comedy so, after graduating, the two had a vaudeville act... Willock and Carson. The two went to Hollywood together in 1937. Eventually, they would work separately but continue their friendship until Jack's death. Dave Willock was the narrator for the children's cartoon series, Wacky Races.

Jack's first radio gig was on the Kraft Music Hall in 1938. He did this program on a sporadic basis. He also performed on the Gulf/Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater, Birds Eye Open House, Camel Comedy Caravan, Lux Radio Theater, and numerous Armed Forces Radio Services shows during and after World War II. He was ineligible to enlist in the armed forces because of a heart murmur, so he went on several tours with the USO both in the United States and overseas.

In 1943, he began his own radio show for CBS, which was done at Columbia Square. By this time, he was a well establish motioned picture actor, who would gain critical acclaim for his portrayal of Wally Fay in Mildred Pierce (1945). Radio would be his mainstay into the middle '50s.

He would eventually break into TV but this would not prove to be what he was remembered for, since he died at such an early age. Married four times, it was his second wife who gave him two children. His brother, Robert S. "Bob" Carson (1909-79), was a busy character actor in the movies.

In 1962, Jack was rehearsing for a Broadway play, Critics Choice, when he collapsed with stomach pains. It wasn't for many months that these pains proved to be stomach cancer. Jack quit the Broadway play and began writing a book about his personal relationship with Jesus Christ as a Christian believer.

He died on January 2, 1963, at his home in Encino (Los Angeles), California. He was only 52. Dick Powell also died on the same day of the same affliction. They were close friends.

During the early 1940s, before he got his own radio program, when he had no other acting work, he was often not seen for many weeks. He later admitted that during this time he had been touring America, working for the Clyde Beatty Circus as a clown.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Jack Webb (1920-82)

John Randolph Webb was born April 2, 1920, in Santa Monica, California. His father was Jewish and his mother was a devout Roman Catholic. The father left the home when Jack was still young, so he grew up as a Roman Catholic. Jack's mother supported them by running a boarding house n West Los Angeles. One of the tenants was a former jazz cornetist from the 1920s. He gave Jack a recording of Bix Beiderbecke playing "At the Ball." That led to a livelong love of jazz.

Jack graduated from Belmont High School in 1938. He went to a school to study art afterwards and, before that was over, he was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II. He served as a crewmember of a B-26 Marauder in the Army Air Force. Discharged from the Army in San Francisco, he stayed in the city where he worked as a radio actor for several shows there.

The first was called One Out of Seven. In this amazing radio program, Jack did all the voices. Jack was a big proponent of racial equality, which was the theme of that show.

The second was The Jack Webb Show. This program proved what I always believed about Jack: He was a comedian at heart. The Jack Webb Show was a comedy much in the same vein as the Jack Benny Program. Today, there are only two episodes left of the show, from April 3 and 10, 1946. The latter episode announced the winner of the "I Hate the Jack Webb Show Contest." It is very possible that this was the last show of the shortlived series. The show aired on West Coast affiliates of ABC and was performed at KGO in San Francisco. (The winner of the contest lived in Reno, Nevada.)

Other shows included Johnny Modero--Pier 23, Jeff Regan--Private Investigator, Pat Novak For Hire (he was one of two actors in this program), and Murder and Mr. Malone.

Having been a child actor, Jack still knew people back in Hollywood. In July 1947, he married lounge singer Julie London, who was also from L.A. They moved there in 1948 and Jack then began appearing in motion pictures, as well as numerous radio programs. He appeared in a movie called, He Walked by Night (1948), in which he played a crime technician for the California Highway Patrol. Jack loved the realism of making it look like he was a real law enforcement person. Sergeant Marty Wynn of the Los Angeles Police Department was the advisor for that motion picture.

Befriending Sgt. Wynn, Jack told him about a project he would like to try on the radio. It would involve two police officers working together. The entire program would feature one or both officers. This way the whole story could be told from point of view of the police, giving them a favorable impression by the public. Marty loved the idea, so Jack had some other friends write up some scripts and, in June 1949, Dragnet became a reality.

The original two officers were Sergeants Joe Friday (played by Jack) and Ben Romero (played by Barton Yarborough). Barton was much older than Jack but Jack was the one in charge on the show. The first episode was extremely violent. The NBC Department of Standards and Practices was very upset about the violence. Jack tried to explain that he was trying to be as real as possible. The next week was better. However the network was still not happy. Dragnet began as a summer replacement program. Being sustained (meaning that it didn't have a sponsor), the network could easily throw the show off the air and be happy it was over. Jack decided to completely overhaul the show. Even the theme music was changed. Humor was added. Every episode of the series, no matter how vile the crime was, would now have an element of comic relief. His shortlived comedy series in San Francisco proved that he was a master of comedy and sarcasm. And the formula worked. Within one month, Dragnet became NBC's most popular summer replacement program.

One of Dragnet's biggest fans was Walt Disney. Jack had been combing the movie studios to look for one that would help him produce the series on television. Walt Disney said he would do it but, since Jack had his own production company (Mark VII Productions), they would be responsible for the actual production. Disney would provide the studio and the distribution. Jack and Walt ended up becoming close friends. Jack had to build a soundstage at the Disney Studios in Burbank, since the place was basically set up for making animated pictures. The one live action feature Disney had done at this time, Song of the South (1946), was filmed at the Sam Goldwyn Studios in West Hollywood. Walt told Jack if he could build an adequate soundstage, Walt could do anything for him. Jack agreed. (The building is now the main soundstage on the site.)

The TV series started going into production in 1951. At this time, Jack was also doing another radio series, Pete Kelly's Blues (this would also become a TV series, as well as a motion picture). After four episodes of the television series were finished, Barton Yarborough (1900-51) died suddenly of a heart attack a few days before Christmas. Ben Romero died along with his portrayer. An episode on both the radio and TV series bears this out. It was called, "The Big Sorrow." Joe Friday had some relief partners in the meantime. These included Sgt. Ed Jacobs (portrayed by Barney Phillips [1913-82]) and Detective Frank Smith (portrayed by Herbert Ellis [1921- ]). Joe would keep Frank Smith as his partner, although the actor portraying him would change. He was Ben Alexander (1911-69).

Nicholas Benton Alexander IV was born in the the little Nevada desert town of Goldfield. He had been a child actor from the age of three. His best known film of his childhood was All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), which he did at the age of 18 (which was considered a minor prior to 1972). He continued to act in movies until the early 1940s. He also worked as a radio actor, as well as a scriptwriter (which was usually not credited to him). Jack Webb used both of those talents on Dragnet.

Dragnet was produced as a movie in 1954. Disney was producing the TV series under the pseudonym Sherry Productions. Disney went ahead and allowed the movie to be filmed on his lot, however, Walt said he couldn't help with the distribution, since it would be revealed that Disney was actually producing the motion picture. Not a man to waste time, Jack began going from studio to studio to seek a major distributor for his film. Only he just went to one studio. Warner Brothers, also located in Burbank, said they'd gladly distribute the movie as well as do everything they could to make sure that Walt Disney's name wasn't connected with Dragnet (this was a big deal to Walt.)

When Dragnet began to be seen in reruns, Universal was the distributor. (Universal is located in Universal City, which is adjacent to Burbank--known today as Universal Studios Hollywood, it's actually not in Hollywood, nor is it within the city limits of Los Angeles... it's in Universal City, an unincorporated town named for the movie studio!)

Jack did many other projects after the 1950s version of Dragnet on TV. He brought it back to TV in 1967, with Universal as the distributor. He did many other TV shows as well.

Jack Webb divorced Julie London in 1953. She had both of his children, Stacey (1950-96) and Alisa (1952- ). He would remarry three more times. Julie would marry singer/composer/actor Bobby Troup.

Best known for his character, Joe Friday, Joe's badge number, 714, was retired after Jack died at his apartment on December 23, 1982, in West Hollywood. He was given a police officer's funeral with full honors, including a seventeen gun salute.

There had been a couple of reincarnations of Dragnet, the last one was seen on ABC in 2003, in which Detective Joe Friday worked with Detective Frank Smith. Joe had badge 714. Many diehard Dragnet fans thought this was in very poor taste. Fortunately, the program was a major flop.

Jack Benny (1894-1974)

Benjamin Kubelsky was born February 14, 1894, in Chicago, Illinois, to Emma Sachs Kubelsky, whose husband, Meyer Kubelsky was a Jewish haberdasher in Waukegan. Although this was long before the age of the automobile, Emma didn't want her son, whom she knew would become famous, to be born in the Podunk town of Waukegan. His parents came to the United States from Lithuania and did everything in their power to make their son famous, starting with violin lessons at age six.

He was playing professionally at age 17 (he had been expelled from high school for being a poor student, much to his father's dismay.) In 1911, he began playing for the Marks Brothers (later known as the Marx Brothers). He met their cousin, Sadye, whom would later become his wife and adopt the stage name, Mary Livingstone (pronounced Livingston). He also did some other musical work traveling with various musicians and orchestras.

He joined the U.S. Navy during the First World War and spent the entire period at the Great Lakes Naval Base near his home. After his discharge, he began performing comedy under the name Ben K. Benny. This sounded too close to a popular bandleader at the time named Ben Bernie. So, he adopted the name, Jack Benny. Jack (or Jackie) is a slang term meaning sailor, since he was a sailor during the war.

In 1922, he had a Passover seder with Zeppo Marx (spelling now changed) and he met his distant cousin, Sadye again. They married in 1927 and she would adopt whatever name her character was in whatever performance they were involved in. For example, in Jack's first talking motion picture for Warner Brothers, a short called Bright Moments (only the soundtrack survives), she was Marie Marsh.

In 1932, Jack did his first radio program. It was a musical program in which he gave the impression that he didn't think much of his talents. This evolved into a miserly spendthrift. His wife became Mary Livingstone, a girl from New Jersey (actually, Sadye Marks was born in Washington State and grew up in British Columbia). There would be several announcers, band leaders, singers, and other players. The best known ensemble included Jack, Mary, Don Wilson (announcer), Rochester Van Jones (played by Eddie Anderson), bandleader Phil Harris (actually a "front;" the band was really led by Mahlon Merrick), and singer Dennis Day. During its last five years on radio, Phil Harris was replaced by Bob Crosby, who was also a front. Mahlon Merrick was Jack Benny's orchestra leader from 1936 until his death in 1969. Mahlon had met Mary's brother, Hilliard Marks, when they were students at Washington State College. Mahlon wrote the Washington State fight song, as well as the Gillette Look Sharp March.

In 1950, while still busy with radio, Jack began doing television for CBS. The last radio program aired in May 1955, although there would be reruns for the next five years after that. Jack stayed on CBS television until 1965, and he did some periodic specials after that. The TV series was much like the radio series, except that Mary didn't appear after 1958. For a while, their daughter Joan took Mary's place and then there was no one. He later appeared on NBC until a few months before his death.

Jack died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 80 on December 26, 1974, at his home in Beverly Hills, California. The cancer had only been diagnosed in October.

Jack's close friends included George Burns, Fred Allen, Bob Hope, and Frank Sinatra. All these men, except Fred Allen (who died in 1956), were present at his death.

An Introduction to Old Time Radio...

If you want to know about Old Time Radio but you don't know where to start, this is the right page to come to. If you think you are too old to enjoy this medium of entertainment, you are not. Even though the Golden Age of Radio lasted roughly from 1930 to 1950, most of the shows are enjoyable by everyone at any age. This was what people did before there was television.

The programs are very similar to television. There were dramas, situation comedies, game shows, soap operas, news, sports, musical shows, variety shows, and even movies. The big difference between radio and TV is that the pictures on radio are better...

How can I say that? When you watch television, you don't have to create a picture. It's already done for you. With radio, you are responsible for creating the image in your mind.

And you don't have to keep your eyes focused on the radio, either. You can listen to radio while cooking, driving a car, or sitting on the beach, watching people.

This site will not offer any recordings of radio programs, however, it will offer links to websites. For right now, go to this website to see some of the stuff that's out there.

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