Basil Rathbone Grew to Hate Sherlock Holmes

The cover story in the August 2022 issue of Nostalgia Digest goes into detail on how playing the world’s most famous detective Sherlock Holmes made Basil Rathbone a household name but greatly limited his chances to play anyone else.

Stone Wallace writes:

Sherlock Holmes was a role that Basil embraced at first, but eventually — and perhaps inevitably — his association with the character began to feel more like a straitjacket than a ticket to fame. Over the four years at Universal, the films became repetitive and formulaic; more than that, Basil began to feel that people were starting to think of him as Holmes to the exclusion of everything else.

One exclusion that particularly stung was losing the role of Sir Henry Wotten in MGM’s glossy production of The Picture of Dorian Gray. …

Basil complained that “when you become the character you portray, it’s the end of your career as an actor” and he worked hard to establish himself in different types of roles during this time. He even returned to movie villainy, playing a Gestapo chief in 1943’s Above Suspicion and Lord Rockingham in the 1944 adaptation of Daphne de Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek (the latter, we must note, also featured Nigel Bruce, though not as Dr. Watson.

Rathbone did better escaping the shadow of Holmes in radio, starring on Lux Radio Theater, Cavalcade of America and Theater Guild on the Air.

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Minnesota’s Yodeling Legends: The DeZurik Sisters

When the Grand Ole Opry and National Barn Dance ruled country music over the airwaves, a pair of sisters from Royalton, Minnesota, became two of the biggest stars on the popular programs.

Though they could sing and play the guitar, the DeZurik Sisters became famous for yodeling:

The only question was how to go about learning an art that’s so little known. Imitating the best yodelers seemed the best solution. The first yodel song was the “Alpine Milk Man.” The had heard it many times on the WLS National Barn Dance and they tried to make their yodels sound as much as possible like the radio variety.

The next step in their musical career was their invention of the “double-yodel” with which their radio listeners have since become familiar.

Only six songs by Carolyn and Mary Jane DeZurik were released as records, but they also appeared in the 1940 musical Barnyard Follies as the Cackle Sisters.

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One Million Bottles of Burgermeister on the Wall

When Henry E. Picard took over as general manager of San Francisco Brewing in 1944, sales were dropping on all 14 of the company’s beers.

Picard suspended production of all the beers except Burgermeister and hit the radio with $50,000 in advertising ($540,000 in today’s dollars) to make a unified push for that brand. A new Burgermeister jingle was written:

Burgermeister, Burgermeister
It’s so light and golden clear,
Burgermeister, Burgermeister
It’s a truly fine pale beer

Within a decade sales were up to one million barrels a year. The company changed its name to Burgermeister Brewing in 1956 and was sold to Schlitz in 1961.

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Rochester the Butler Served Up Jokes

There’s a new post up on Tralfaz that explains the enduring appeal of Jack Benny’s butler Rochester, who was played by the comedian Eddie Anderson:

Eddie Anderson’s character worked so well because he was supposedly put upon, but he always got the better of his employer. He smoked his cigars, read his diary, had parties where friends drank his booze, and could see through his BS about his age, romantic prowess and musical abilities. Listeners and viewers could identify with that, they like to think they’re superior to their boss.

There was more to it than that, as time progressed. Like the audience, Rochester liked his boss and occasionally would work in concert with him to pull off something. When television rolled around, you could see there was a friendship between the two.

The blog is named Tralfaz after the dog Astro’s original name on The Jetsons. Did you know Astro was first owned by the billionaire G. P. Gottrockets before he ran away and ended up with George, Jane, Judy and Elroy?

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Mandel Kramer, Radio and TV Crimefighter

The actor Mandel Kramer portrayed the police chief Bill Marceau on the TV soap Edge of Night for 20 years, receiving a Daytime Emmy nomination for best supporting actor in 1979. His run was the second longest for an actor on the soap behind Ann Flood as Nancy Karr.

Even before he broke into television, Kramer fought crime on radio as Harry Peters on CounterSpy:

Ordinarily, on other programs in which he appears, Mandel Kramer is a two-faced, ornery killer, as likely to be erased on a show as not. It is seldom Kramer lasts to the end of any show — except on CounterSpy, where he is Harry Peters, the hard-working associate of David Harding. …

In 1943, he tried out for Harry Peters, got the part, and has been successfully solving cases with David Harding week after week. When he’s not doing Harry, he spends the rest of his working hours getting bumped off on other programs.

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Frank Sinatra Saves Santa Claus on WAMU

This weekend’s Big Broadcast on WAMU continues the holiday theme with these episodes about Christmas:

  • My Favorite Husband: Lucille Ball as Liz Cooper – Original air date December 16, 1949. CBS network. The show explores what George is planning to give Liz for Christmas, with only seven shopping days left. 7:30 p.m. Eastern
  • Suspense: The Cave – Original air date December 20, 1955. CBS network. The fanciful tale of two boys on a Christmas Day adventure who chance upon pirates in a magical cave. 7:30 p.m. Eastern
  • Dragnet: The Big Little Jesus – Original air date December 22, 1953. NBC network. A Catholic mission in Los Angeles files a police report because their statue of Jesus has been purloined. 8:30 p.m. Eastern
  • Rocky Fortune: The Plot to Murder Santa Claus – Original air date December 22, 1953. Frank Sinatra stars as Rocky Fortune and Old Blue Eyes must foil a scheme to off Old Saint Nick. 9:30 p.m. Eastern
  • The Shadow: Cold Death – Original air date December 19, 1937. Mutual network. Orson Welles portrays The Shadow, who enters the thoughts of a Scrooge-like slumlord keeping reporters out of his shantytown with gangsters. 10:00 p.m. Eastern
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Eddie Cantor’s Tribute to Glenn Miller

As the master of ceremonies, Eddie Cantor gave a tribute to Glenn Miller at his band’s final concert in November 1945, held almost a year after Miller’s plane went missing during a flight over the English Channel while he was serving in the Air Force performing with a military orchestra.

Here’s what he said:

Glenn Miller was a very wonderful man who led a very wonderful band. As a civilian, he led an orchestra that for three and a half years was the number one band in America. Glenn could have stayed here in America. He could have stayed and made himself a lot more money, and then, if he wanted to, he could have retired, an independently wealthy man. But he chose not to. He was an extremely patriotic man, and he felt an intense obligation to serve his country that had gone to war. So, he disbanded his great orchestra, and he formed an even greater one. Still, he could have remained here in America. But again, he chose not to. Instead, he chose to take himself and his orchestra overseas, to where he felt he could do the best for our fighting men. And what a tremendous morale-building job he and his men did over there.

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One Man’s Family Lasted 27 Years on Radio

One Man’s Family was the longest-running radio soap in American history, broadcast from 1932 to 1959. It depicted the lives of San Francisco stockbroker Henry Barbour, his wife Fanny and their children Paul, Haze, Clifford, Claudia and Jack.

Creator Carlton E. Morse helmed the series for the entirety of its 3,256-episode run. The soap was enduringly popular despite being completely grounded in reality, as described in Tune In magazine a decade after its debut:

Out of the half a hundred who have played various parts, most of the original cast still remain through the perpetual saga: Some of them began as script schoolchildren and were written into adulthood, others who started as juveniles are now playing romantic leads. When a member of the cast is drafted, dies, or gets married, so it is written into the script and even though he returns no more, his memory is kept alive through references. Becoming a part of One Man’s Family is almost a practical guarantee of a lifetime job, and pleasant security.

The mystery of its appeal is still a mystery. Its theme is nothing more complicated than the daily happenings of an average American home. Its institutional family attempts to intercept certain phases of ordinary happenings, philosophies, weaves in wars, floods and calamities to give it a timeliness, but it always remains the closely knit story of a family of 12. There is little or no conflict. On some shows, nothing actually happens.

The show made it to television but didn’t have the same success. General Foods offered to sponsor a new version as a daytime soap on NBC in 1965 but the network decided to start Days of Our Lives instead.

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Lone Ranger Rides Again in Illinois

The old time radio historian Martin Grams visited the Lone Ranger Museum in Mount Carmel, Illinois, earlier this year and spent two hours seeing all the exhibits:

The display is located in the Wabash County Museum at 320 Market Street. A mock studio shows Fred Foy and Brace Beemer holding a Lone Ranger radio script. A saddle owned by Brace Beemer, authenticated by his family, is on display. There is a fascinating display case of memorabilia owned by radio announcer Fred Foy. Young children can use plungers to replicate the horse hoofs of Silver just as the sound men accomplished on the radio program. The casting call board from the original studios of WXYZ is on display just as you walk through the door. Over 1,500 items related to The Lone Ranger are available for display, rotated on a regular basis to ensure every visit will have something different.

Mount Carmel was the birthplace of Brace Beemer, who played the Lone Ranger on radio for the last 13 years that it aired.

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Portland Hoffa Was Fred Allen’s Stooge

Fred Allen and Portland Hoffa met on the vaudeville circuit in 1922 and hit it off so well they were married five years later, a union that lasted until his death in 1956.

Back in the 1920s, she was performing as a dancer on Broadway and the vaudeville circuit while he did comedy routines and juggled (badly). Then Portland became Fred’s stooge, as Hilda Cole explains in Radio Stars magazine:

He married her and made her a stooge. His stooge. He made a hoofer into a stooge — and what happened? But wait. Maybe you don’t know what a hoofer is. Well, suh, the sons and daughters of vaudeville call all dancers “hoofers.” And a stooge? That’s the guy planted in the audience to heckle the comedian on stage. Sometimes he has a seat in the first row downstairs. Usually, he is in a box. Or he may be on the stage. No matter where he makes his headquarters, he “feeds” the dumb, oaf-like queries that give the comedian his chance to spring his laugh line. That’s your stooge. Understand?

Hoffa became a stooge, but before she surrendered, believe you me, it took a deal of crafty Allen strategy.

The couple’s comedic partnership found its greatest success on radio. He once called her distinctive high-pitched voice “a clarinet reed calling for help.”

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