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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Milton Cross (1897-1975)

Milton John Cross was born March 16, 1897, in New York, New York.  In 1910, at the age of 13, he saw his first performance of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He was a trained serious singer, a tenor.  For about five years, he had a distinguished singing career.  In 1923, he became the pioneer announcer of radio station WJZ in Newark, New Jersey, during the days of radio's infancy. He also announced part of the inauguration of President Herbert Hoover in 1929. WJZ eventually moved to New York City, where it became the flagship station of the Blue Network of NBC, sharing facilities with WEAF. WJZ is known as WABC today. WEAF became WNBC and is known as WFAN today. WJZ moved from 30 Rockefeller Plaza in 1946 when the Blue Network, which had already broken from NBC in 1942, became known as ABC.

On December 24, 1931, NBC began to broadcast the concerts of the Metropolitan Opera and Milton Cross became the Voice of the Metropolitan. Since opera broadcasts don't happen every day, Mr. Cross announced other programs on NBC.  He announced game shows, gothic dramas, and mostly musical shows. OTR fans know him best as the narrator for This is Your FBI. He narrated the program and helped sell some darned good life insurance. It's difficult for most fans of Old Time Radio hear his voice and not think of him saying,  "... the Equitable Life Assurance Society." 

He continued broadcasting the Metropolitan Opera for exactly 43 years.  He only missed two broadcasts for all those years. The first time was in 1933, when his eight year old daughter, Lillian Gale died. The second time was 40 years later in 1973 when his wife, also named Lillian, died. Incidentally, the tombstone for Lillian Gale originally intended for her alone. But it ended up also marking the grave of her parents, who are buried on top of her.

His movie career only consists of four pictures: Historic Greece (a 1941 school documentary); Gaslight Follies (a documentary from 1945 in four parts about entertainment of the past--he narrates the first part; the other narrators are Ben Grauer, John B. Kennedy, and Ethel Owen); Fifty Years Before Your Eyes (a 1950 documentary about the twentieth century); and Grounds for Marriage (a 1951 comedy, in which Mr. Cross narrates a dream scene from George Bizet's opera Carmen).

Old Time Radio fans remember Milton Cross as the narrator of This is Your FBI, as stated previously. But he only narrated 18 episodes of that series. He did much more work on Information Please, the Chamber Society of Lower Basin Street, and the soap opera Betty and Bob.

Book lovers know Milton Cross from the musical reference books he authored, edited, or co-authored. While, because of their popular appeal, they have never been widely accepted as textbooks for serious musical study, because of their simplicity, many postgraduate students of music have relied on his material to help them study for their final written comprehensive examinations (including your loyal 'Blogger!) These books are written in the form of novels. They lack cross referencing, which is  what college textbooks should have. 

Here are some of the books Milton Cross authored, edited or co-wrote:
  • Complete Stories of the Great Operas
  • More Stories of the Great Operas 
  • Encyclopedia of the Great Composers and Their Music [two volumes] (with David Ewen)
  • Milton Cross' Favorite Arias from the Great Operas
  • From the Beauty of Embers: A Musical Aftermath (with Gordon M. Eby)
Cross never retired. He died suddenly at the age of 77, of a heart attack, at his home in New York City on January 2, 1975. He was getting ready for his next broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera.


Texaco (later Chevron/Texaco) was the sole sponsor of the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts 1940-2004.  Originally, the Met was sponsored by a pool of advertisers, as most commercial broadcasts are sponsored today. These sponsors included Lucky Strike cigarettes, Listerine toothpaste and mouthwash, and RCA electronics. Today the sponsor is Toll Brothers house contractors.


John said...

I believe that Mr. Cross was the narrator on an excellent 1940s/1950s vinyl recording (perhaps 78 rpm) of Clement Clark Moore's "T'was The Night Before Christmas". I would be interested in obtaining a copy of that recording.

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