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Monday, September 01, 2008

John J. Anthony (1902-70)

Lester Kroll was born September 1, 1902, in New York, New York. From 1920 to 1925, Lester was a New York taxi driver. In 1926, one of Lester's passengers told him about a radio station he was starting up in Queens. The radio station was WMRJ. It was located in the Merrick Radio Store at12 New York Boulevard in Jamaica, Long Island. Lester had just married Stella, a former Earl Carroll's girl in 1925 and she would bear him two sons. At first, Lester worked under his own name. He was mainly a disc jockey but he was also a general announcer. A prankster at heart, one of his pranks didn't take too well for wife Stella and she divorced him in 1929, moving to California with the boys. Vengefully, Lester refused to pay alimony and child support. This got Lester in trouble with the law. He spent three months in the New York City Jail for not making those payments. Eventually he would mend his ways. He sought professional help and began his own radio series where listeners would call in with their problems in 1930. Radio historians consider this the first instance of talkradio.

Using the names of his two sons, John (who was called "Jack") and Anthony, he came with John J. Anthony. Ask Mr. Anthony was a program dedicated to helping the sufferers from an antiquated and outmoded domestic relations code. WMRJ moved its location in 1930 and again in 1931 before it went off the air in 1932, a victim of a challenge of another station on the same frequency 100 miles away. When WMRJ went off the air, its radiated power peaked to 100 watts full power.


Once Lester matured, he proved he could counsel anyone, despite being a high school dropout. Having a stage name, he was never challenged. He came up with a clever scheme, which also was not challenged: As John J. Anthony, he claimed he did all the study of a fully licensed psychiatrist at the "world famous" Institute of Marital Relations on the campus of Vassar College, then an-all women's university. He was heard on several stations after WMRJ went off the air and married Ettile Sorella in 1934. It was said that "Mr. Anthony" had marriage counseling clients who could not afford his costly $25 an hour fee (in 1935 that would be something in the neighborhood of $200 an hour in 2008), could be heard on his radio program: "No names, please!"

The Goodwill Hour (taking its name from the "kind" gesture Mr. Anthony was doing to give them free counseling sessions) began broadcasting on WMCA in New York in 1937 and was eventually heard on the Mutual network (via New York's WOR). The name of the program was changed to the John J. Anthony Program in 1945. The sponsor was Carter's Products, manufacturers of Carter's Little Liver Pills and Arrid antiperspirant-deodorant.

There were lots of jokes about John J. Anthony and, in fact, Mr. Anthony was often a guest star on many of the situation comedies of the day. From a psychotherapists point of view, the programs were very well done. The program went off the air in 1953. Lester Kroll moved to the West Coast, eventually settling in San Francisco. The Goodwill Hour was briefly on the air again in 1957 on the Mutual network. In the 1965 film Divorce American Style, he made an appearance as the divorce court judge. John J. Anthony died in San Francisco, California, on July 17, 1970, at the age of 67. His son, John "Jack" Kroll became a popular columnist for Newsweek magazine in 1965. Jack died in 2000.

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As a sidenote, Carter's Little Liver Pills soon came to be known as Carter's Little Pills (by which they are still called in Canada) and now they are Carter's Laxative in the United States. Now you know why that man in the first picture of this thread is smiling now, hmmmm? The company that makes them is Church and Dwight, whose first claim to fame was making Arm and Hammer Baking Soda. Now they make Arrid deodorant, Brillo soap pads, Pepsodent toothpaste, and many other products that used to be made by another company.

6 comments:

David Perle said...

Thank you so much for the wonderful information that you provide here about Lester Kroll! He had a first-cousin named Lester Perle, who was my grandpa. I just found out about Lester K. and "John J. Anthony" a few nights ago via one of my grandpa's sisters, who is *103* years old and had just told my mom about that part of the family. I found some other entries about Lester Kroll and the radio program online, and will research a little more, but none of what I found before had as many details as you provide.

Despite your saying that he was a cab driver here, I saw that his 1925 New York State Census listed him as being a fur salesman that year when he was married to Stella. (Being that I work for PETA, I was less than thrilled about that.) I suppose he probably did both to make ends meet...?

Thanks again!!

David Perle

George Garrigues said...

I used to listen to him as a child when I had to stay home from school because of frequent colds and such. He had a soft, pleasant voice, and he was usually quite gentle with his callers, some of whom (just about all women, as I recall) were obviously upset. I do remember him saying "No names, please!" when somebody blurted one out. I suppose there was no time delay in those days.

Kim Westland said...

I found out in high school that he was my great Grandfather, but had not heard much else about him. Wow! I am so happy to learn more.

The Krolls said...

John J. Anthony was my grandfather. His son, the late Jack Kroll of Newsweek, was my father. He talked about John J. Anthony from time to time and my mother also filled me in on some things. There are some quality recordings of his radio shows on a couple of websites. I'd be interested to hear from those here that are also family members at lmkirvine@hotmail.com.

Scott Pitzer said...

He was apparently on the air in Los Angeles as of November, 1967. That's according to a Herald-Examiner radio log I scanned. Saturday, 10pm, KLAC 570AM.

Scott Pitzer said...

I recall Henry Morgan's parody-- I believe he was "John J. Morgan" for that sketch.
A lady is telling her personal history, and comes to "... and that's where I met my husband, the father of my children."
"Oh, so you met these two men, did you?"
(Today it might not even get a laugh-- it's too close to real life.)

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