erinptah: Cat in a backpack (happy)

A combination "as-complete-as-I-can-get-it link roundup" and "Gracie Allen appreciation post."

The Burns and Allen Show (Radio)

Early on, the show is basically a recorded standup routine, with George and Gracie as generic comedians. Around late 1941 it turns into a more narrative audio sitcom, with George and Gracie as a married couple in the suburbs.

Gracie had an incredible work ethic. did shows with terrible migraines. She did shows when she had a broken nose and could barely talk. Here's George, referencing the 3/24/29 show:

"In all the years we performed together she missed only one performance. That was a radio show, and her headache was so bad she couldn't get out of bed. Our friend Janie Wyman, who'd just won the Academy Award as Best Actress, played Gracie's part. That was about right."

The Burns and Allen Show (TV)

Episodes for the first two seasons were often "remade" for the next six, which probably explains why a bunch of them aren't uploaded.

"Screenwriters had an easy time writing for us. In our first few pictures they wrote the dialogue for all the other characters until we entered, then they instructed: Burns and Allen do four minutes here. That's what they wrote for us: Burns and Allen do four minutes here. Then, later in the script they wrote: Burns and Allen do four minutes here. So writing parts for us was easy.

[...] The shooting schedule usually provided a full day for us to do a complete scene, but because we were used to doing shorts, we could film our whole bit in two hours. Then everybody would stand around wondering what to do to fill the remainder of the day before they could go home. Hollywood was so accustomed to dealing with temperamental stars who took much longer than scheduled that they just didn't know how to deal with actors who finished too quickly."

Related

"Let me tell you a little story about Aunt Clara. She wasn't really rich, but Papa Burke left her a little money. When Gracie and I were starting out in vaudeville we weren't doing very well, so every week Aunt Clara would send us a check for $25. Every week. Even after we'd become big stars, earning thousands of dollars a show, we still received that $25 check every week from Aunt Clara. Well, Aunt Clara never knew it, but she lost almost everything she had in the stock-market crash. But she never knew about it, because Gracie found out and arranged to have enough money deposited in Clara's account each month to cover all her expenses. That went on for years. It's a good thing Gracie did, too, otherwise we would have stopped getting those $25 checks."
erinptah: Cat in a backpack (happy)

Welp, I've gotten to the domestic-abuse jokes in My Favorite Husband. Or, to put it another way: wow, this show talks about spanking a lot. Maybe it would work if you could headcanon in some kind of kinky domestic-discipline negotiation backstory, but mostly it just feels very Fifty Shades of Cooper.

...which is compounded by the fact that "making out" is the only thing Liz and George seem to really enjoy about each other. The narration bills them as a Happy Couple, but a fair amount of the comedy is from the "straight married people fight with each other" school. A regular gag is George saying something vaguely positive about another woman, and Liz bursting into tears about how clearly he doesn't love her anymore. George can be super condescending, and both of them will end up in situations where they're yanking the other's chains, and the joy they take in it has an edge of meanness, instead of, say, fondness.

It has its charms, and at their best they'll hit genuinely funny and clever notes, so the series is still in the "listenable" pile. Re-listenable, not so much.

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For the record, there are things that don't make the "listenable" pile. I'm not so desperate for audio material that there's nothing I won't bounce off of, honest.

A few old-school radio comedies that got rejected: Vic and Sade; Duffy's Tavern; Fibber McGee and Molly (Great Gildersleeve was a spinoff of this, but even the Gildy episodes felt subpar); the radio version of The Red Skelton Show.

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I said MFH felt like watered-down Burns & Allen Show -- you know, it's possible George and Gracie could've made something better out of the same material? Their IRL happy marriage, and their general adoration of each other, glows through their characters. (Same way Stephen Colbert's general human decency showed through in "Stephen", come to think of it.)

But the material they got was different, too. They don't make fun of each other. There's that power balance I talked about, where Liz's George doesn't seem to rely on her for anything, while Gracie's George relies on her to have the talent and make the money. (And Gracie, in turn, relies on George to have good business sense...and do the housework.)

Here, have some demonstrative episode recs....

1948-10-07 Kleptomaniacs: George becomes convinced that Gracie is the compulsive thief who's been stealing from local stores.

This is the point when George Cooper would have sat Liz down for a lecture (and maybe a spanking, for good measure). George Burns, though? He worries about her -- considers that maybe he's been contributing to her compulsive behavior by not paying her enough attention -- tries to cover for her -- and, when he gets caught, pleads guilty.

Gracie, who is not the thief, hears about this, becomes convinced George is really the thief...and, you guessed it, takes it upon her own shoulders to cover for him.

1949-02-17 George Collects Alley Cats: Lots of shenanigans with cats, until the new neighbors adopt one from George and Gracie. Meanwhile, Gracie gets the idea that George is being wooed by the neighbor wife. She ends up going over and demanding him back...and of course "George" is what they named the cat.

(Gracie: "...you want to buy him?" James Mason: "Yes, I'll give you fifty dollars!...Is he worth more?" Gracie, earnestly: "No, the price is right, but I love him!")

And this is where Liz would have started wailing, or maybe gotten all jealous of Pamela Mason and ended up cackling with joy when something bad happened to her. But Gracie? When she hears about how "George" loves sleeping at the foot of the Masons' bed, and is all frisky and excited about living with them, she decides that if this really is best for her husband, she'll resign herself to giving him up.

Burns & Allen are undoubtedly staying on my hard drive for re-listening purposes. Repetitive ads and all.
erinptah: (Default)

Highlights of the previously-mentioned "burning through a ton of audio" situation.

I keep griping about these shows' flaws, which are inevitable because 1950's, but for the most part they're deeply enjoyable. Time to share some more of that joy, in Fun Sample Episode Downloads form.

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Our Miss Brooks:

Punny, deadpan-heavy farce about schoolteachers. If you missed the previous episode rec post (or even if you didn't), those links still stand.

Taxi Fare (1955-06-19): Miss Brooks gets a cab ride home, doesn't have the money to pay the driver, and tries to raise it by scaring up some of the money she's loaned to friends and acquaintances over the years. Taking the same cab to visit some of these people might not have been the best strategy.

When they show up at Mr. Boynton's apartment, he ends up inviting Miss Brooks to visit his parents over their vacation. Although, as he puts it, "I don't want you to think that bringing a boyfriend to my apartment has influenced me in any way." And we all totally believe it. Yep.

Cat Burglars (1955-08-07): There's been a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood, so Principal Conklin enlists Miss Brooks to keep an eye on his daughter while he's out of town. Includes some lovely defending-ourselves-against-criminals slapstick. Also, this (abridged) exchange from when Mr. Boynton doesn't quite grasp the reason Miss Brooks is breaking their date that night:

"I honestly didn't think it would matter so much to you..."

"Oh, it doesn't! Doesn't matter in the least! If you've found some other man you'd rather go out with, go right ahead. You've probably met someone who's taller, and more handsome, and with a better personality than I have...if so, good luck to you!"

"If so, who needs it?" [Audience joy.] "That is -- you don't understand, Mr. Boynton...."

"Oh, don't try to spare my feelings! I don't blame you for preferring to drive around in a Cadillac instead of my old heap. After all, why should a girl waste her time on a poor schoolteacher, when she can enjoy the comforts and luxuries a wealthy playboy has to offer? I couldn't expect you to pass up cocktails and dinner and dancing at some swanky restaurant, to go out with me! ...Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get a glass of milk to wash this all down."

Sneaky Peekers (1955-08-14): Our heroine accidentally orders a copy of the wrong Rodin statue for a school cultural exhibition -- instead of The Thinker, they get shipped The Kiss. You can tell this takes place before the Internet, because this is shocking, racy content...and half the cast is eager to get a look.

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The Burns and Allen Show:

The character versions of George and Gracie are wonderful, but every time I read something about the actors behind them, I get all these bonus feelings. Some praise the real George had for Gracie upon her retirement: "Her lines were the toughest in the world to do. They didn't make sense, so she had to memorize every word. It took a real actress. Every spare moment — in bed, under the hair dryer — had to be spent in learning lines."

And here's the thing, I hadn't even thought about it. Because in-universe, she makes it sound so natural. Now that's talent.

Gracie Takes Up Crime Solving (1947-03-06) and Kill The Rat (1947-03-13):

Gracie gets a little too into a detective program (The Tall Man, with Rudy and Trudy, a parody of The Thin Man's Nick and Nora -- who were also an inspiration for Beyond Belief's Frank and Sadie), and takes on crime-solving missions of her own. The first of these contains Gracie infiltrating "the underworld" with this flawless cover identity: "You bet I'm tough. You ever hear of Alcatraz? ...I'm his sister. Gracie Catraz."

In the second, she thinks a couple of gangsters are out to kill George, and ends up seeking out Rudy and Trudy themselves for help. Both times, Meredith Wilson (a guy so modest, he once accidentally bumped into a woman and thought "the honorable thing to do" was to marry her) gets wrapped up in the scheme, including supporting her "Gracie Catraz" identity by playing her "moll."

Gracie Goes to New Orleans (1948-02-26): Gracie is leaving on her own for a vacation, and George's biggest worry is that she'll buy expensive hats while she's there...until he gets overheard addressing a friend on the phone as "Dimples," and word gets back to Gracie that he's making plans with a girlfriend. Now George has to scramble to convince Gracie that he was only talking to their friend Bill Goodwin (who is a love interest for nearly every woman in town, but not for him).

"Why would anyone call him that?" "Because he's got dimples!" "So? He's got a head, but they don't call him Heady! He's got feet, but they don't call him Tootsie! He's got a lot of fans, and they don't call him Fanny!"

(When George originally said "goodbye, Dimples," Bill replied with "goodbye, Wrinkles." It's tough to be George.)

---

The Great Gildersleeve:

Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve scrambles to raise his niece and nephew, keep on good-enough terms with Judge Horace Hooker (who put them in his custody), and generally get along with the town. Oh, and support the troops as WWII kicks off in the background.

The first season (1941-42) is very plot-of-the-week, but the second one (42-43) seems to have an actual Arc, with one episode setting up plot points that get developed in the next. If this keeps up, it'll be the most continuity of any of these comedies I've listened to.

Canary Won't Sing (1941-11-30): Gildy wins a canary from a fundraiser at Birdie's Lodge (part of her "having a life of her own outside cooking for the family" background). A good prototypical example of one episode's worth of shenanigans -- our heroes start with "how can we get this bird to sing?" and it takes them to places like "uh-oh, the police just mistook our library-book list of bird foods gets mistaken for a secret criminal code"

Wooing Amelia Hooker (1942-06-28): Gildy gets a flirtation going with Judge Hooker's sister. The judge tries some shenanigans of his own to thwart the idea. Teenage niece Marjorie thinks the budding romance is sweet; tween nephew Leroy doesn't see the point: "What does he want a wife for? He's got Marge to sew on his buttons, and [Birdie] to cook for him, and Judge Hooker to fight with! What more could a guy want?"

...This was the point when I reflected that, if this series was produced today, there would be a bunch of Gildersleeve/Hooker rivalshipping. And that I am strangely okay with that.
erinptah: (sailor moon)

I currently have a day job that involves 6-8 hours of relatively mindless database-querying. I am burning through a ton of podcast and old-timey-radio hours.

Latest show put in rotation:

My Favorite Husband is a 1948-1951 domestic comedy, the forerunner of TV's I Love Lucy (the female lead, Liz, is Lucille Ball, and some of the radio show's plots got straight-up lifted for TV). To me, not having seen Lucy, it sounds like somebody's suburban AU of the Burns and Allen Show.

Doesn't help that the male lead is also named George. There was even an earlier one-shot version where George Burns and Gracie Allen played the lead roles!

Going by the early episodes, it's...not quite as good as Burns & Allen. Liz Cugat is a lovable oddball with her head in the clouds, just not as delightfully, consistently zany as Gracie-the-character. George Cugat is another long-suffering straight-man husband, but one of the fun complexities in George Burns's character is that he can be as ridiculous in his wife under the right circumstances, and we haven't seen that from Cugat.

And their careers are different, which messes with the balance of the marriage. In both shows, the husband controls the couple's finances, but with Burns and Allen, they both work in show business -- and everybody knows that Gracie is the powerhouse of the team. ("Don't worry about money, George, you've got one of the biggest talents in the business!" "Oh, thanks, Bill..." "...so as long as Gracie stays married to you, you're fine!") You understand that they're both making the money -- it's just that George, as The Sensible One, is definitely the one who should be managing it.

With the Cugats, their George has one of the blandest middle-class jobs imaginable (a vice president at a bank), and Liz doesn't work. So there's more of a sense that this is George's money, he's the only one entitled to it, and he lets Liz use it out of generosity. Less interesting and less egalitarian.

To be fair! Burns & Allen is a high bar to hit, so even somewhat-watered-down Burns & Allen makes for good listening. And there are points in favor of My Favorite Husband. The advertising is less intrusive. There's more humor based on the sitcom-dilemma-of-the-week, in contrast to humor based on running gags that can get repetitive.

Also, Burns & Allen has an uncomfortable streak of "casual/accepting toward domestic violence" humor. I don't mean slapstick, none of the good characters are shown hurting each other, the show realizes that this is a bad thing -- there's just a disconnect about how bad. That hasn't shown up in My Favorite Husband, so I'm hoping that's a sign of a cultural shift (and not just a sign of "you haven't gotten to that episode yet").

Most of the show is available on The Internet Archive. A few are misnamed files that are duplicates of other episodes, which is a shame (usually TIA's downloads are better-curated), but there's plenty of My Favorite Husband to listen to.
erinptah: (daily show)

Latest adventure in old-timey radio comedy: The Great Gildersleeve. A judge names Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve the custodian of his orphaned niece and nephew, setting up a silly family sitcom.

The show premiered in August 1941, which means that partway into the first season, an episode is literally interrupted with the announcement of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Scripts after that start getting shaped by the war in realtime, with the characters planting victory gardens, writing letters to soldiers, and saving their money for war bonds -- all in tandem with standard shenanigans.

(There's this one where a goat wanders into their yard, and Gildy calls City Hall trying to get someone to come pick it up...the way he gets bounced from department to department, with nobody quite grasping what he wants, is still 100% relevant. Meanwhile, the nephew is hoping they can keep it as a pet, and tries to hide it in his room overnight -- and the judge, who's still keeping tabs on Gildy to make sure he's a responsible guardian, is not amused to find out they named the goat after him....)

Also, the sponsor is Kraft, and one of the first-season ads announces their brand-new innovative debut of mac-and-cheese-in-a-box. So, lots of historical interest here.

I'll rec the show with one caveat: period-typical racism keeps cropping up. A slur against Japanese people here, an offensive impression there, and one of the main characters is black -- the cook/housekeeper, Birdie -- with an accent that definitely wouldn't fly in a series produced today. To be fair, she doesn't strike me as any sillier or less-developed than the white characters, and she's established early on as having a life and interests outside her job. But YMMV. Brace yourself if necessary before listening.

---

Speaking of period-typical racism: Our Miss Brooks was doing so well, and then came this one episode that just whacks you over the head with awfulness every couple of lines. The title is "Bartering with Chief Thundercloud," and if you are already wincing in anticipation of where that might be going, I assure you, it went there.

I love 99% of the series, but if you've picked it up on the strength of my reccing, do yourself a favor and skip that episode.

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Still working through the Burns and Allen Show, too.

Gracie Allen is a national treasure. There was a whole sequence where she ran for President in the 1940 election -- as the leading candidate of the Surprise Party.

That's from early in the radio show, when the premise is "we did our vaudeville show, but recorded it." Around 1941 they realize that just because the actors are standing on a stage, that doesn't mean the characters have to be -- so it turns into more of a sitcom, with storylines, different settings, characters who are more in the vein of "neighbors and friends" than "the guy who does the music and the guy who plays the door-closing sound effect."

Later, the show made the leap from radio to television -- there are 100+ episodes of the TV show on this Youtube channel, if you want to get a taste that way.

(In fact, it might be the best way to jump in. The radio show's biggest drawback is that it features the most hit-you-in-the-face product placement imaginable. Same talking points, every single time, and integrated into the plot of the show, so you can't just skip over hearing for the 100th time how Swan is a great wartime buy that breaks in two with a simple twist of the wrist etc etc etc.)

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