August Membership Meeting

Our Annual Picnic/General Meeting is on August 2nd , 2014, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.  The location is our current President’s residence at 400 N.W. 163rd Street in Shoreline, WA.  Cecilie Hudson and her husband David Kalman will provide a hot BBQ, chairs, and lawn games, and shelter if it rains.  Table settings, condiments, and beverages will be provided:  just bring your favorite picnic potluck dish!  If you are in town and have not met the REPS “locals” we urge you to join us. No need to RSVP.  The last few years we all had to bring sunhats and lotion, if you catch the drift…

 

 

Radio Memories 2014 NEWS

The Radio Enthusiasts of Puget Sound want to celebrate the Golden Days of Radio with Radio Memories 2014… with legendary radio comedians… spine tingling thrillers… provocative mysteries… and astonishing adventures!

We hope that for one great Saturday this October, REPS can roll out the red carpet  to welcome the stars and fans of  Old Time Radio.   Our current Radio Memories Fundraising Campaign will end on August 31, 2014.  We will know then if we have the means to produce this grand event!  We are a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and would be delighted to accept your tax-deductible contributions at this address:

REPS , c/o Randy Clawson, 26242 43rd Ave. S., Kent, WA 98032-7176

old time radio gathering in seattle tacoma 2014

Stars from radio will once again step before the microphone in reenactments of classic shows featuring  live music, live sound effects,  and  a talented cast.  Look forward to many of the performers re-creating their original roles  from Radio’s Golden Age.

It’s an opportunity to make new friends… and get the autographs of, and get to know, the Voices of Radio’s Past Era!

participants in REPS showcase

Panel Discussions… Interviews and Presentations… Hear stories of  the Golden Age of Radio from those who were there and worked with the biggest names in radio and on the most popular shows… including  stories of what really happened behind the  microphone!

Event Schedule coming soon…

 

2015 REPS Showcase Old Time Radio Convention

The 2015 REPS SHOWCASE Old Time Radio Convention promises fans of the Golden Days of Radio a really great time. Next year’s convention will be the 22nd time REPS has produced the SHOWCASE event. That’s right, the 22nd time! Can you believe it?

The REPS Showcase really is a special event. Whether it’s meeting the people who appeared in many of our favorite radio shows of yesterday or getting together with other fans, it’s always a great time to be had.

Enjoy the many performances that are staged at each convention. Performers love coming to REPS and the creative freedom they have in producing truly fun shows. In the last couple of years Chuck McCann has played Phil Harris in a recreation of the Phil Harris and Alice Faye show as well as performing as Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy in a Chase and Sanborn Hour reenactment. Tommy Cook thrilled us in the title role in 2011 when he performed in a terrifying tale from Lights Out. We have produced thrillers from Suspense, a full production of The Wizard of Oz from The Lux Radio Theater, The Great Gildersleeve (with Shirley Mitchell reprising her original role of Leila Ransom)and many more. The list of shows that have entertained the Showcase crowd the last few years has been too numerous to all list here.

We certainly have had a fun time and fans travel from around the country to join the merriment.

Gregg Oppenheimer,Michael Kacey and Tim Knofler have each made the trip up from California to produce and direct shows for the REPS SHOWCASE each year. They have been telling others around the country what a great time they have and they encourage other fans to head on out to the SHOWCASE! Among those fans are Edward Blanchard from New Hampshire, Joel Klein from New York, quite a few folks from California and more.

REPS is about celebrating those days of Old Time Radio and encouraging the art of modern audio theater. That’s our niche – the REPS identity and who we are. With this specific focus we don’t have the thousands of people who come crashing through the gate to attend the convention as if REPS were Comic Con or Monster Bash. However, as a smaller event, fans have the experience and pleasure to enjoy a more intimate experience and a better opportunity to mingle with the special guests! We hope you can join us for the 2015 REPS SHOWCASE.  Dates and location will be announced later this year.

 

‘I Love Lucy’… The Untold Story

Posted by Gregg Oppenheimer

i love lucy the untold storyI’m excited to announce that I’ll be directing a live, full-cast performance of my original radio play, “I Love Lucy: The Untold Story”, Sunday, March 3, 2013, at 4pm, at Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation, 16019 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades, CA.

It’s a humorous look behind the scenes at the creation of TV’s most beloved sitcom, based on my dad’s memoir: Laughs, Luck… and Lucy: How I Came to Create the Most Popular of Sitcom of All Time. Since its New York premiere in 2011, the play has had successful productions on both coasts, as well as a nationwide broadcast on SiriusXM Radio.

Our phenomenal cast features such talented performers as Charlene Tilton (Dallas’s “Lucy Ewing”), Dick Van Patten (star of “Eight Is Enough”), Phil Proctor (founder of the legendary Firesign Theater comedy troupe), William Schallert (“Dad” on “The Patty Duke Show”), Second City alum Lance Kinsey (“Lt. Proctor” in all the “Police Academy” films), and musical guest Dora Pearson (lead female vocalist for Sha Na Na). Also featured are Tommy Cook (“Little Beaver” on “The Adventures of Red Ryder”), Ivan Cury (star of “Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders”), Stuffy Singer (“The Jack Benny Program”), Gregg Berger (“Odie” on “Garfield & Friends”), and Alan Oppenheimer (“The Six Million Dollar Man”).

The show, which runs about 45 minutes, will be performed in the style of old-time radio, with the actors and singers standing at microphones, scripts in hand, plus sound effects and recorded music.

After the show, refreshments will be served, and you’ll have the opportunity to mingle with members of the cast.

Proceeds benefit Kehillat Israel’s “Sages” seniors program. There is no charge to attend the event, but any donations are welcome. (The suggested donation is $18) Free parking is available.

gregg oppenheimer i love lucy radio play

Gregg Oppenheimer

For further information, please contact Kehillat Israel’s Director of Programs & Marketing, Matt Davidson, at 424.214.7454 or mdavidson@ourKI.org

We’re going to have a lot of fun on March 3rd, and I really hope to see you there.

P.S. If you can’t make the March 3rd performance, be sure to check out the full-cast recording of “I Love Lucy: The Untold Story” now available at iTunes, at Amazon.com, at Audible.com, and at Audiobooks.com. All royalties from sales of the recording benefit the Motion Picture & Television Fund.
Posted 11th February 2013 by Radio Enthusiasts of Puget Sound

Transcontinental Terror

New Audio Productions for Halloween! Now Posted Online for Your Listening Pleasure.

horror radio shows for halloweenThis last Halloween, for the third year in a row, six audio theater companies from around the world teamed up to present a full evening of original audio horror! Transcontinental Terror: An Express Train to Audio Horror featured masterful productions by contemporary audio theater’s most exciting, inventive production companies — companies spanning half the globe.  Each of the productions are now posted online for your listening pleasure and are an example current Audio Dramas now being produced.

Part 1 of 6 of Transcontinental Terror live Halloween horror event featured Wireless Theatre Company (London, England) with “The Maiden without Hands” and “The Cask of Amontillado”.

Part 2 of 6 of Transcontinental Terror. Featuring Electric Vicuna (Halifax, Nova Scotia) with “Coach #6″ and “One by One”

Part 3 of 6 of Transcontinental Terror. Featuring FinalRune Productions (Portland, Maine) and Aural Stage Studios (Buffalo, NY) with “Dark Passenger” and “Intensive Care”.

Part 4 of 6 of Transcontinental Terror. Featuring Chatterbox Audio Theater (Memphis, Tennessee) with “Master Zacharius” Part 1 and Part 2

Part 5 of 6 of Transcontinental Terror. Featuring Icebox Radio Theater (International Falls, Minnesota) with “All Hallow’s Eve”

Part 6 of 6 of the Transcontinental Terror. Featuring 19 Nocturne Boulevard (Seattle, Washington) with the HP Lovecraft classic “The Rats in the Walls”.

Suspense: Hitchcock’s Established Reputation

Martin Grams Jr is a research-consultant, based in Pennsylvania, whose fields include movies, TV, and radio. He is the author of ‘Suspense: Twenty Years of Thrills and Chills’ , a fascinating history of a show that ran on TV and radio for two decades. We’re grateful to Mr Grams for permission to print the following article, based on material in his book.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK ONCE WROTE, ‘terror is often accompanied by suspense in the unfolding of a thrilling narrative — or, to put it another way, a story which gives the reader a feeling of terror necessarily contains a certain measure of suspense.’ Known throughout the years as ‘the master of suspense’, Hitchcock kept viewers on the edge of their chairs with tales of mystery, murder, and mayhem. One of the most popular suspense shows to be broadcast over network airwaves claimed a similar privilege; Suspense was on the air for more than twenty years, and was considered quite an ambitious series at the time, inviting Hollywood and Broadway stars to perform some of the most daring character portrayals ever brought to life from a typewriter.

Stars such as Frank Sinatra, Claude Rains, Clifton Webb, Mike Wallace, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Dinah Shore, Jack Benny, Ezio Pinza, and many others appeared on the show at least once during their career, and so it was no surprise that Hitchcock got into the act as well. In fact, Hitchcock managed to play one of the most important roles of the series. He helped bring the show to air.

In July of 1940, CBS needed a summer replacement for The Lux Radio Theatre which was scheduled to go off the air for the season. In view of the fact that radio programs were broadcast live at the time, there arose a dire need for a small, short-run show to take the series’ time-slot until its return in the fall. During those small tenures, it was pretty common for radio stations to present episodes of experimental new series for a trial run, in hopes that the listening audience would write to the studios and show the series’ popularity by asking for a prime-time version. Most summer series never came back but every once in a while, one of them would strike attention from the listeners and the rest… as they say … is network history.

During this particular summer, CBS came up with a better idea than a new program. On July 15, 1940, Forecast premiered in Lux’s place as a pilot presentation show. Each week for a total of eight weeks, the network presented two half-hour episodes of varied entertainment. The first episode could be a comedy, and the next a western. The week after would present a horror tale and afterwards, a musical game show. Hollywood stars were hired to help support each proposed program, and after every production announcer Thomas Freebairn would ask the listeners to write in and give their opinion.

On the second presentation of July 22, 1940, Forecast offered a mystery-horror show titled Suspense. With the co-operation of his producer Walter Wanger, Alfred Hitchcock received the honor of directing his first radio show for the American public. The condition agreed upon for Hitchcock’s appearance was that CBS make a pitch to the listening audience about his and Wanger’s latest film, Foreign Correspondent. To add some flavour to the deal, Wanger threw in Edmund Gwenn and Herbert Marshall as part of the package. All three men (including Hitch) would be seen in the upcoming film, which was due for a theatrical release the next month. Both Marshall and Hitchcock decided on the same story to bring to the airwaves, which happened to be a favorite of both of them: Marie Belloc Lowndes’s ‘The Lodger’. Hitchcock had filmed this story for Gainsborough in 1926, and since then it had remained as one of his favorites.

Herbert Marshall portrayed the mysterious lodger, and co-starring with him were Edmund Gwenn and character actress Lurene Tuttle as the rooming-house keepers who start to suspect that their new boarder might be the notorious Jack-the-Ripper. [Gwenn was actually repeating the role taken in the 1926 film by his brother, Arthur Chesney. And Tuttle would work again with Hitchcock exactly 20 years later, playing Mrs Al Chambers in Psycho.] Character actor Joseph Kearns also had a small part in the drama, and Wilbur Hatch, head musician for CBS Radio at the time, composed and conducted the music specially for the program.

Adapting the script to radio was not a great technical challenge for Hitchcock, and he cleverly decided to hold back the ending of the story from the listening audience in order to keep them in suspense themselves. This way, if the audience’s curiosity got the better of them, they would write in to the network to find out whether the mysterious lodger was in fact Jack-the-Ripper. For the next few weeks, hundreds of letters came in from faithful listeners asking how the story ended. Actually a few wrote threats claiming that it was ‘indecent’ and ‘immoral’ to present such a production without giving the solution.

Although letters and phone calls poured in concerning the Suspense program, Forecast broadcast a comedy starring Ed Gardner the week after. Titled Duffy’s Tavern, it exposed listeners to a situation comedy where the humor and wisecracks took place in a flea-infested bar where only ‘the elite meet to eat’.

Duffy’s Tavern became an instant success with a response so large that it made Suspense look like an amateur production. This was probably why a few months later, Duffy’s was scheduled for a prime-time, late-night show. Suspense, on the other hand, was tossed onto the shelves not to be heard of again for almost two years, until another summer series was needed. Suspense resurfaced but this time as a fourteen-week summer replacement for Random Harvest which went off the air permanently in June of 1942. This trial run was what made CBS executives notice the possibility of a nightly prime-time series with the same format. Unknown at the time, this still-experimental anthology series would later run for more than twenty years before being pulled off the air.

Alfred Hitchcock never again got into the act of working on or for Suspense, but his work on the side helped shape the series. His fourth American film, RKO’s Suspicion (1942), starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine, was based on the novel ‘Before the Fact’ by Francis Iles. When Suspense made the transition to television in March of 1949, producer and director Robert Stevens decided to present the same story as the second episode, starring Ernest Truex and his real-life wife Sylvia Field. [Note: Suspense on television and radio overlapped for a few years. On radio it ran from 1942 to 1962, on television it ran from 1949 to 1954.]

This teleplay was repeated again in November, with Charlton Heston and Meg Mundy in the lead roles. The televised version was more of a copy of the movie than the novel. Despite this compliment, though, Hitchcock in general seems to have preferred the radio series, almost turning into a fan by tuning in to the program whenever he got the chance. On the one day of the week that Suspense aired, Hitch always made sure that the day’s shooting of his latest film would be completed a few hours before broadcast in order to be home in time to listen to the latest installment of chills and thrills. During the early 1950s, staff writer John Michael Hayes co-wrote a few episodes with other staff writers, and it was love at first sight as regards Hitchcock and Hayes.

Hitchcock called on the young writer and offered him a job scripting his next movie. Hayes accepted the offer and together, the two men collaborated in bringing to the screen such classics as Rear Window (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), The Trouble With Harry (1955), and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956).

In 1945, Hitchcock decided that he, too, should have his own mystery show. Working with a few sound technicians and radio hands, he had an audition show recorded on a transcription disc and presented it to the ABC.

The show was titled Once Upon a Midnight [from Poe's 'The Raven']. Much like Suspense, each episode would feature a different tale of mystery and horror, personally supervised by Hitchcock himself. Hitch would also host, narrate, and direct each production. Felix Mills was hired as the chief musician, and at Hitchcock’s insistence, the music was used more for emphasizing verbal and physical actions than for forming musical bridges between scenes. The story brought to life was Francis Iles’s story ‘Malice Aforethought’. Hume Cronyn, a friend of Hitchcock’s, took the lead role as the murderous doctor, with a supporting cast of unknowns. Cronyn had appeared in Hitchcock’s last two films, Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Lifeboat (1944), and in helping to boost Cronyn’s career, Hitchcock gave him what other work was available. Hoping to raise the ABC’s curiosity, Hitchcock again ended the program with a quick cut, then announcing that the conclusion would be given the week after.

But to his sorrow, ABC did not buy the idea after listening to the demo, and the project was more-or-less scrapped. Nonetheless, some time afterwards — the internal evidence suggests 1946 or 1947 — a radio production of The Alfred Hitchcock Show apparently did go to air, and it was indeed an adaptation of ‘Malice Aforethought’, though with a new cast and a different script.

On the original demo recording, Hitchcock explained that ‘murderers are serious people. You know, one thing that has always fascinated me about criminals, is that when you walk down the street, any passerby might be a murderer. They don’t all wear black mustaches. I imagine most murderers behave just like ordinary people, until suddenly one day they turn and stab you in the back.’

Joseph Cotton recalled a time during the filming of Shadow of a Doubt when he could not do any scenes because he didn’t know how a murderer might look and behave.  Hitchcock took Cotton out on the streets and gave him the same explanation as he did to the listeners in Once Upon a Midnight. Perhaps this also helps explain why Hitchcock often claimed that Shadow of a Doubt was his favourite film.

Suspense also brought to the radio waves stories which Hitchcock had either used previously or would turn to later. “The Thirty-Nine Steps” (3/3/52) featured Herbert Marshall as Richard Hannay, the fleeing suspect whom Robert Donat portrayed in the 1935 film. In “Rope” (7/8/42), Richard Widmark starred as Rupert Cadell, a role Jimmy Stewart would play in 1948. And it was the television episode called “Fifty Beautiful Girls” (7/1/52) that brought Grace Kelly to Hitchcock’s attention. Kelly would then star in his next three films, the first being Dial M for Murder (1954).

Because Suspense featured a star performer each week, and because most performers were under contract with major studios, it became a weekly ritual to announce at the end of each drama which film the guest was soon to be appearing in. Of the 1,206 episodes, three featured a pitch for a Hitchcock film. The first was the episode “Murder Strikes Three Times”, with guest star Marlene Dietrich, broadcast on February 16, 1950. Hans Conreid co-starred. The announcer was Harlow Wilcox, who made a pitch for Warner Bros’ latest film Stage Fright.

Another pitch for a Hitchcock film occurred on the musical episode “The Death of Barbara Allen” (10/20/52), starring Anne Baxter and William Conrad. Harlow Wilcox made a pitch for Warners’ I Confess. The third such pitch took place on the episode called “Want Ad” (1/25/54), starring Robert Cummings. The Warner 3-D film Dial M for Murder was announced as an upcoming cinema attraction.

Hitchcock featured stories from Suspense in his anthology books which began appearing in the late 1950s. David Devine’s ‘Flood on the Goodwins’, Gibbon Perceval’s ‘Second Class Passenger’, Evelyn Waugh’s ‘The Man Who Liked Dickens’, and Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Whole Town’s Sleeping’ were but a few to be included.

One of the later anthologies featured the short novel ‘Sorry, Wrong Number’, by Lucille Fletcher and Allan Ullman, which was originally published by Random House in 1948 during a virtual SWN craze (climaxing with the release of the film version, starring Barbara Stanwyk). It became probably one of the most famous and successful episodes to ever be performed on Suspense, and understandably Hitchcock wanted to distribute the suspenseful story to his readers. Alfred Hitchcock Presents was Hitchcock’s second and only successful anthology series to grace the airwaves. It premiered just a year after Suspense went off television. Hosting, supervising, and occasionally directing each episode, Hitchcock managed to lure and capture the faithful Suspense listeners from their radios. Even though Hitch used many of the same previously-published stories that Suspense had already featured, such as Thomas Burke’s ‘The Hands of Mr Ottermole’ and John Collier’s ‘Wet Saturday’, a few stories originally written for the program were adapted for Hitchcock’s television series. Harold Swanton wrote “The Long Shot” (broadcast on 1/31/46), and years later, on November 27, 1955, his teleplay of the same radio story was used on Hitchcock’s television program. “The Long Wait” (11/24/49) was retitled “Salvage” when it was adapted for AHP (11/6/55). “Alibi Me” was originally written by Therd Jefre, and Walter Brown Newman adapted the story for radio’s Suspense program of 1/4/51. When this story made the transition to AHP in November of 1956, Bernard C. Schoenfeld adapted the teleplay not from Jefre’s story, but from Newman’s radio adaptation.

Arthur Ross wrote an original Suspense radio play titled “The Evil of Adelaide Winters” (9/10/51) which he later adapted for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour of February 7, 1964. Kim Hunter starred in the lead role, originally played on Suspense by Agnes Moorhead. On October 4, 1955, Suspense presented “Good-bye, Miss Lizzie Borden”, adapted for the series by Lillian de la Torre, from her original one-act play. Just three months later, the same story was performed on AHP (1/22/56), but under the title “The Older Sister”.

Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia also got into the Suspense act by co-starring with Thomas Mitchell in the TV episode “A Time of Innocence” (12/2/52), and in a small supporting role in the radio adaptation of Wilkie Collins’s “The Moonstone” (11/16/53). “The Moonstone” was broadcast as a two-part story but Patricia did not appear in the second half. Robert Stevens, the first producer and director of television’s Suspense, directed a handful of episodes for AHP.

Writers Morton Fine and David Friedkin, who wrote numerous episodes for Suspense on radio, later wrote scripts for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and David Friedkin also became producer of the Hitchcock Hour for a short time.

After all these years, both the Suspense and Hitchcock series have left us vivid memories of murder and surprise. But if you think about it, you’ll see that had Hitchcock not agreed to present the 1940 radio version of ‘The Lodger’, Suspense may not have premiered at all. And had Suspense not gone to air, the Hitchcock television show may not have become what it is remembered for. Certainly both series helped each other in more than one way. Fundamentally, if it were not for Hitchcock and his fascination with the macabre, probably neither show would have existed, nor achieved its high reputation.

Which leaves us with the unanswered question of what other shows could have possibly been influenced by ‘the master of suspense’?

©1997, by Martin Grams, Jr

The above article represents unpublished material from ‘Suspense: Twenty Years of Thrills and Chills’ by Martin Grams, Jr. Over 400 pages long.

www.martingrams.com

The Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy Show

BY TERRY BAKER

Imagine you are a network radio executive back in the mid-1930′s. You’re looking for a new idea for a comedy show and one of your employees says he’s got a sure-fire winner for you. He suggests that you hire a ventriloquist. This gentleman would do his act, talking to his dummies just like they were real persons. The logical first reaction (after threatening to throw this man out of your office) would be that this idea would never work. One can only appreciate a ventriloquist if you actually see him working, something you obviously could not do on radio. Well, we all know that such an idea could work, and did as the Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy Show.

old time radio edgar bergen charlie mccarthy

Edgar Bergen was born in Chicago on February 16, 1903. The Bergens were a middle class family. His father came to the United States from Sweden in the 1890′s and made a decent living as an architect and dairyman. While Edgar was still young, his father became very ill and decided to retire. The family moved to a small dairy farm in Decatur where Mr. Bergen hoped he could get well. It was here that Edgar got his first taste of show business.
In order to help the family’s financial situation, Edgar got himself a job at a local movie theater when he was only 11. He literally started out at the bottom, stoking the basement furnace. Being an ambitious lad, Edgar quickly earned himself a promotion upstairs where he not only ran the film projector, but operated the theater’s player piano as well.

Being a part of the entertainment industry greatly increased Bergen’s interest in it. He tried his best to attend the various vaudeville shows that came through town and was amazed by the talents these performers displayed. Edgar was especially fascinated by ventriloquists and how they could literally throw their voices. So much so that be began practicing the art himself. He started out by imitating animals and other people in the neighborhood. He even went so far as to spend a quarter of his hard earned money on a book about magic and ventriloquism. Few wiser investments have ever been made. The book gave Bergen the chance to perfect his technique and get the most out of the talent he had been blessed with. The more he practiced the better he got. Bergen would practice whenever he got the opportunity and found great pleasure in playing jokes on both friends and family alike. His favorite prank was to knock on the bottom of a chair, then throw his voice to make people believe that someone was at the door.

Since every ventriloquist needs a dummy, Edgar decided to make one himself, Using paper-mache and a Halloween mask with a movable mouth, Bergen fashioned a small boy that he named Rastus. He even put together his own routine. Edgar knew his act wasn’t very good but his mother encouraged his efforts and even invited him to perform at some of her church functions. His father’s health grew worse through the years and he died when Edgar was only fourteen. Soon after, Mrs. Bergen moved the family back to Chicago. Edgar was now in high school and busy with his studies but he did what he could to help out the family financially. Besides taking various odd jobs, Bergen continued to work on his act and got an occasional job performing at local lodge halls.

Bergen attended Lane Tech for two years, then transferred to Lakeview High School. It was at Lakeview, during his senior year, that Edgar decided to create a new dummy for his act. The result was Charlie McCarthy. Edgar had been tired of his hand-made dummy for some time and was determined that his next one would be professional quality no matter what the cost.

But what should it look like? Bergen drew a few sketches but nothing really grabbed his attention Until he noticed a young Irish newsboy named Charlie selling papers around his high school. There was something about this boy’s smiling face that Edgar loved and he began drawing sketches of Charlie in his history book. Bergen then took his finished drawings to a local carpenter by the name of Theodore Mack. After studying the sketches, Mack quoted Edgar a price of $35 to carve his figure out of pine. Trouble was, Bergen only had $17 and it had taken him six months to save that. It took some quick calculation, but Edgar determined that if he stopped going to the movies and trimmed his other expenses he could pay Mack off in about twelve weeks. Mack agreed to the arrangement and started the work.

Edgar was so excited about the prospect of his new partner that he made plans to take a summer job after graduation performing on the Chautauqua Circuit. Chautauqua was a roving vaudeville show that featured young talent. The shows usually took place in tents and were sponsored by churches or local businesses in the small towns in which they played. Bergen thought this would be a wonderful learning experience and would also bring him some much needed cash as he planned to attend Northwestern University in the fall.

He had to graduate first, though, and the prospects were not looking too bright. Bergen had become so preoccupied with his future plans that his grades started to slip. In February, Edgar’s history teacher, Miss Angel, informed him that he was flunking her class and unless his grades improved he would not be receiving his diploma.

Even the threat of failure did not help Bergen focus on his studies. He was far more interested in how Mr. Mack was progressing on his project. It was a long three months but the wait proved worthwhile. Mack had done a magnificent job capturing the facial expression that Bergen had seen in that newsboy. Edgar chose 10 call his new dummy Charlie McCarthy. Charlie for the boy who inspired him and McCarthy as a tribute to the man that made it.

Charlie made his stage debut a few weeks later at Edgar’s spring recital program. Since Bergen knew he was going to flunk anyway, he decided to go out with a bang. He created a routine where Charlie portrayed a fellow student who poked good-natured fun at Miss Angel and the school principal, “Square Deal” Brown. Afterwards Edgar was surprised to learn that Miss Angel enjoyed his performance. She had no idea how talented Bergen was and told him that ! The world needed laughter a lot more than another history teacher. She offered to tutor him in an effort to bring up his history grade and with her help, Bergen graduated on schedule.

After a pleasant summer with Chautauqua, Edgar started college in the fall of 1922. Charlie went right along with him and it was only through the money raised by his ventriloquist/magic act that Bergen was able to stay in school. He performed on weekends at many of the smaller vaudeville houses throughout the Chicago area, usually earning around five dollars a day. He quickly dropped the magic portion of his act after one theater manager told him that he could only continue working there if he did so. This was fine with Edgar as it meant more stage time for Charlie.
Bergen’s initial desire for attending college was to go into medicine but his stage success soon changed those plans.

Edgar switched his major to speech and earned his degree by attending class in the summer and performing with vaudeville troupes in !he winter. For a decade Bergen toured the old vaudeville circuits. These shows took him across the United States, down through South America and over to Europe. All the while Edgar continued to improve his routine and soon he and Charlie were one of the most popular ventriloquism acts on the circuit.
Like all performers of the day, Bergen ran into hard times during the early 1930s. The depression had its grips around America and the increasing popularity of radio and talking pictures caused vaudeville audiences to decline dramatically. Jobs became harder to come by and while Bergen never had trouble finding work before, now he was going three, sometimes four weeks between engagements.

As money grew tighter, Edgar realized that if he planned to stay in show business some changes would have to be made. In early 1935, Edgar made the decision to try his hand at something new nightclubs. He got a job at Helen Morgan’s club in New York where Sophie Tucker was starring. To appeal to the more sophisticated audience in attendance, Bergen thought about using another dummy. He had contacted Esquire Magazine and inquired about using their symbol Esky for a dummy. After giving initial approval, the publishers changed their mind, so Edgar simply spruced up Charlie. He donned Charlie in a tuxedo and a monocle and even gave him a slight British accent.

The act was a big success and Bergen took it to all the top clubs throughout the country: Sometimes Bergen found himself appearing in two places on the same night. In Chicago, for example, Edgar would do three shows at the Chez Paree and then move over to the Chicago Theater (where he headlined for the first time) and do two more.

He was now mingling with the cream of high society and the contacts Bergen made at these clubs would lead to his next big career break. In the fall of 1936, Edgar was appearing at the Rainbow Room in Manhattan when he was asked to entertain at a private party for Noel Coward. He accepted the offer and the publicity generated by this performance got the attention of the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency. This agency handled the booking of talent for the Rudy Vallee program and they invited Edgar and Charlie to be the guests on the show. Bergen knew that many stars had gotten their start on Vallee’s show and he quickly accepted the invitation.

Bergen had tried to get into radio several months earlier, but had been turned down. While playing the Chez Paree in Chicago, Edgar auditioned for station WMAQ and was told by station manager Clarence Menzer that his act just wouldn’t work on radio. Menzer (who would later become vice-president of NBC) felt that the radio audience would be confused by a ventriloquist and wouldn’t believe that Bergen was doing both voices. Edgar argued that it really wouldn’t be ventriloquism on radio. He would simply be providing the voice of another character in the same manner as Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll did with “Amos ‘n’ Andy.” Bergen’s words fell on deaf ears though as he failed to get the job.

Edgar and Charlie made their radio debut on December 17, 1936 and the audience loved them. They became so popular that they were invited back for 13 consecutive weeks. This created a problem as Edgar had to write a new routine for each show. In vaudeville Bergen would take a month or more to write a new act. He then had the luxury of trying it out on a new audience every night, refining it as he went. In radio you were playing to an audience of 30 to 40 million people and to keep them listening you had to have new act every week. Fortunately Edgar was talented writer and was able to come with new ideas for every performance.

Within months of their last appearance with Rudy Vallee, Edgar and Charlie had their own show. Standard Brands (which also owned Vallee’s program) hired them to star in their own comedy-variety show and The Chase & Sanborn Hour first aired over the NBC Red network on May 9, 1937. Their sponsor spared no expense in ensuring the success of the show. Not only were they given an outstanding time slot (Sunday evenings at eight) but they were surrounded by one of the finest and most expensive supporting casts on radio.

Don Ameche (who had gotten his start on the First Nighter program) was brought on to be the master of ceremonies. English orchestra leader Ray Noble directed the music and was also a fine comedian. Opera star Nelson Eddy provided the vocals and Dorothy Lamour helped with the music and comedy sketches. But the biggest star among the regulars and one of the main reasons for the show’s early success was legendary comic W.C. Fields.
Fields had little previous radio experience and had turned down other offers to star in his own program.

However, a desire to lessen his movie workload because of health concerns and a most generous salary offer from the show’s sponsor ($6,500 a week) convinced Fields to come aboard. He and Bergen respected each other’s abilities and worked beautifully together. His comedic timing and brilliant wit were assets to the show and he became the perfect foil for Charlie. The exchanges between the two became the highlight of each show. Charlie would constantly ridicule Fields about his penchant for alcohol and W. C. responded with threats to turn Charlie into kindling. It was up to Bergen to keep them apart. Fields was a regular for only five months but had a great hand in the initial success of the program. He continued to make occasional guest appearances for the next six years.

The truly amazing thing about the show was the fact that listeners began thinking of Charlie as a real person, albeit a wooden one. This was a tribute to Edgar who created and executed Charlie’s character to a point where it was believable. Bergen portrayed Charlie as a young boy who hated school and got into mischief just like any other child. Bergen served as a father figure to Charlie and it was his job to teach Charlie the proper way to behave.

While Bergen may have had top billing, there was no question that Charlie was the star of the show. Charlie was the reason people tuned in and that was just fine with Edgar. Bergen was a quiet individual offstage and through Charlie he was able to express himself in a manner he otherwise would not. Charlie was cocky, boastful and likely to say just about anything. Audiences never knew what to expect from him. He’d be flirting with a glamorous Hollywood starlet one minute and getting into trouble with his school principal the next. Within weeks of its debut, the show was the top-ranked program in the nation, a spot it would hold for the next three years. But, the show was nearly canceled in the middle of the first season because of the infamous” Adam and Eve sketch. ” Edgar and Charlie were not involved in the incident but their careers were threatened just the same.

Don Ameche and guest star Mae West performed a comedy skit in which they played Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. On paper the sketch seemed harmless and was passed by the NBC censors, but that was before Mae and her sultry voice got involved. Don realized something wasn’t right during rehearsals. Mae was holding back, but the sketch still seemed a lot more risque than it should have been. Don was afraid what would happen when she really let go during the performance and his fears proved justified. Today this routine would not even raise an eyebrow, but some 54 years ago it sent a panic through the radio industry. NBC affiliates were inundated with calls from irate listeners wondering how they could let something this obscene on the air.

The FCC launched a full investigation of the matter and demanded a transcript of the show, a copy of the show and a list of all network stations that carried the broadcast. In the U.S. House, Representatives demanded that action be taken against NBC for allowing “this foul and sensuous radio program” into American homes. Both NBC and Chase & Sanborn issued formal apologies and Mae West was banned from all future network radio appearances for a period of 15 years. NBC would not even allow her name to be mentioned on the air. The end result was that the show’s ratings went up two points!

Charlie was the hottest thing on radio and made Bergen a very wealthy man. Besides his radio salary (around $10,000 a week), Edgar earned close to $100,000 a year in royalties from the sale of Charlie McCarthy merchandise. They also appeared in nine feature films and some dozen Vitaphone shorts through which added to their popularity and to Bergen’s pocketbook as well.

In turn, Edgar made sure that Charlie was well taken care of. Charlie’s limbs were changed frequently to protect against wear and tear and he traveled in a specially designed trunk. His wardrobe rivaled that of many a Hollywood star. Edgar even mentioned Charlie in his will. Bergen bequeathed ten thousand dollars to the Actor’s Fund of America to establish a Charlie McCarthy Fund. This money was to be used to provide ventriloquist entertainment for underprivileged and handicapped children. There was quite a panic when Charlie was “kidnapped” in’ March of 1939. A reporter friend decided to play a joke on Bergen and swiped Charlie from his Waldorf-Astoria hotel room. New York police and FBI agents were called in but the reporter returned Charlie the next day and Edgar chose not to press charges.

The radio show was rolling along in 1939 when Edgar added another character to his repertoire. He felt the show needed a contrast to Charlie’s know-it-all attitude. He wanted to create a character that was dumb but lovable and of course needed a dummy to reflect such a personality. Bergen did a detailed study on character analysis as related to facial expressions and Mortimer Snerd was a combination of weak features. Bergen would say later that Mortimer was “scientifically stupid.”

After the first few seasons it became obvious that the rapport between Bergen and his dummies was the best part of the program. In order to capitalize on this fact the sponsor changed the format of the show. In 1940 it was shortened to 30 minutes. Don Ameche, Nelson Eddy, and Dorothy Lamour were let go (although Don would return later) and replaced by a weekly guest star. Abbott & Costello came aboard as regulars for a season, but the emphasis of the show really shifted to Edgar, Charlie and Mortimer.

There’s an old show business adage that you’re only as good as your material and this show certainly bore that out. A ventriloquist on radio was certainly a novelty at first but if the show wasn’t funny, audiences would have stopped listening. If a radio program hoped to survive it had to be well written and Bergen worked hard to maintain the quality of the show. It took Edgar and his writers the entire week to prepare for each broadcast, but their commitment to excellence showed in the finished product that went out over the air.

The show remained one of the top-rated programs on radio throughout the 1940′s, falling out of the top five only once through the 1948 season. The show changed very little during these years. A few reoccurring characters were introduced such as Ersel Twing (played by Pat Patrick) and Professor Edwin Carp (played by Richard Haydn). Edgar also created two new dummies, man-hungry Effie Klinker in 1944 (named after program writer Zeno Klinker) and Podine Puffington several years later. Each was used sparingly though and never reached the popularity of Charlie or Mortimer.

Bergen ended his eleven year relationship with NBC in 1948 along with other network stars like Jack Benny and Red Skelton. They all signed with CBS because of substantial capital gains tax breaks offered by that network. Edgar took a year off from radio, but returned to the air for Coca-Cola in 1949 (in the same Sunday evening time slot) and regained nearly all of his previous audience. Even as audiences were switching to television, Bergen remained loyal to radio and was one of the last comedy-variety shows on the air when it was cancelled in 1956.

Edgar had no trouble keeping himself busy after his radio career ended. In January of 1956 he started a 14-month run as emcee of the television game show “Do You Trust Your Wife?” on which Charlie and the others made frequent visits. He and his dummies also made countless guest appearances on top TV variety shows. Bergen even did some stage work again, performing his act in Las Vegas and other top theaters around the country.

For those of us who didn’t think he could, Edgar even proved he could perform without his dummies. He made several films and also portrayed Grandpa Walton in the made-for-TV movie “The Homecoming” which was the pilot for “The Waltons” television series. Producers asked him to continue the role when the series started in 1972 but Bergen declined, citing his age and his desire to spend more time with his wife and children.
Early in September of 1978, Edgar officially announced his retirement. He died of a heart attack a few weeks later.

Memories of Edgar Bergen and his magnificent talent are still with us today. We continue to listen to his classic radio programs and, thanks to a generous donation from Mrs. Frances Bergen and the Bergen Foundation, the figures of Charlie McCarthy, Mortimer Snerd and Effie Klinker are on permanent display at the Musuem of Broadcast Communications in Chicago. The U.S. Postal Service even issued a commemorative 29-cent postage stamp honoring Bergen & McCarthy.