Nope, you couldn't see them. In fact, there was hardly any chance at all of spotting them.
An Unlikely Source To Many - Radio Star Autographs Enliven Your Collection
Their voices, however, took care of it all.
During the "Golden Age" of radio (principally acknowledged as running from the 1920s to the 1950s), many a household set the radio console to that favorite serial, comedy, drama, adventure, or soap, to keep apace of the latest story and character thread. Even though the technology, as we know it, was far from advanced, fans seemed largely unfazed and, actually, happy to have these programs to follow. The essential ingredient was one's imagination: It painted the scenic picture, so to speak, upon hearing the dialogue and putting the words to images.
Just as in the other, vital forms of show business entertainment, the personnel who composed the radio field were very much alive and integral to the healthy beat of productions. They were to prove quite appreciative of their public and, as I have discovered, welcom-ing of fan letters and willing to correspond.
My research of and correspondence with these people is but one component of my hobby, since 1975, of contacting celebrities. The collection now embodies around 4,000 signed items, mainly photographs, but also letters, cards, books, and some pamphlets and the like.
Here, it is with much pleasure that I share some core examples of radio's prized figures (show creators and actors and actresses alike), who represented some of the lifeblood of the medium.
(Please Note: The following account is by no means all-inclusive. It captures a cross-section of my personal correspondence with the celebrities, and, while most of these people enjoyed busy careers elsewhere in entertainment - stage, movies, television - rather than attempt to list all their credits, I focus primarily on the subject at hand, their radio work.)
Mercedes McCambridge (1916-2004), a multifaceted actress in show business, counted films, television, and theater projects in her travels. For radio, she certainly made a name for herself, too, such as with Abie's Irish Rose, first heard on NBC in 1942; Serial Drama Betty and Bob, with its first appearance on the NBC Blue Network in 1932; Serial Drama Big Sister, debuting over CBS in 1936; Adventure Serial Dick Tracy, first heard over the Mutual Network in 1935; Serial Drama The Guiding Light, with its start on NBC in 1938; Mystery-Adventure I Love a Mystery, beginning over the NBC Red Network in 1939; Serial Drama Midstream, begin-ning on NBC in 1939; Serial Drama A Tale of Today, a weekly presentation on NBC; and Serial Drama This Is Nora Drake, which debuted over NBC in 1947. She gratefully complied with my researched letter of seven pages by sending an 8-by-10 autographed pic-ture.
Seasoned composer; singer; and vaudeville, film, and television performer Jimmy Durante (1893-1980) also gained exposure through the radio world with credits like these: Variety Atlantic Spotlight, which was heard on NBC; Variety Camel Caravan; Com-edy-Variety The Chase and Sanborn Hour, with a 1928 start; Comedy The Jimmy Durante Show; and Variety Jumbo, broadcast over NBC. Although his mobility was compromised by a stroke in his twilight years, Durante clearly enjoyed reaching out to his numer-ous fans and gladly obliged a fan letter with a signed photo.
Carlton E. Morse (1901-1993) made radio history. Originally a newspaper reporter and columnist on the West Coast, he subse-quently decided to venture into radio, where he was writer for Drama His Honor, the Barber, first heard over NBC in 1945; in addition to creator-writer Mystery-Adventure I Love a Mystery, debuting over NBC Red in 1939 and also heard at various times on NBC Blue and CBS.
But it was with Mystery-Drama One Man's Family that he set new standards, the pinnacle of which was its 1932 to 1959 run, dur-ing such time Morse amassed over 3,200 written scripts in all. The landmark presentation revolved around the Barbour's, the fictitious family through which scores of listeners identified with and faithfully followed through the clan's good and trying times spanning sev-eral generations of family members, at that. The program boasted upward of 100 credited performers across its hearty lifespan.
Morse actually juggled two successful shows simultaneously. The industrious craftsman saw his much-heralded I Love a Mystery first air on the NBC West Coast network as a daily 15-minute serial in 1939. It, too, was to embody one of the field's longer runs, lasting until 1952.
Morse's other work included NBC Mystery Serial, a show whose subjects ranged from episodes Captain Post: Crime Specialist to Case of the One Eyed Parrot. Adventures by Morse was a 52-week run of mysteries written by Morse that broadcast from 1944 to 1945 in 30-minute, weekly episodes.
Morse also wrote I Love Adventure, a 30-minute, 13-episode series confined to a single season, the summer of 1948, on ABC.
His Honor, the Barber, first heard over NBC in 1945, was a Morse-written drama that ran for a year. The Family Skeleton was an-other soap opera styled in the One Man's Family flavor. It appeared for one season on CBS from 1953 to 1954.
Morse is also linked to the radio programs Chinatown Tales, Musical Miniatures, Illustrated Tales, Split Second Tales, House of Myths, and Barbary Coast Nights.
Despite shifting into retirement, the writer, producer, and director would instead add a new title to his list of crafts: novelist. At his retreat in Woodside, California, he indulged in his writing and granted a number of interviews, while also attending the Old-Time Ra-dio (OTR) Conventions that paid him homage.
By his late 80s, Morse sent both picture and letter through the mail from his California home in 1990.
Actor Page Gilman, from One Man's Family, was Jack Barbour. His character likewise enjoyed durability, lasting for the serial's duration. With a very early start, Gilman had childhood roles in Memory Lane and Penrod and Sam prior to the big opportunity of the major program. The only thing that kept him from One Man's Family was a stint in the U.S. Army during World War II.
Following retirement of the program, Gilman ventured into newspapers on the corporate side and advanced in the ranks. The final phase of his life ushered in a third career of sorts: farming in Oregon. In 2002 he sent a picture and letter from his Roseburg, Oregon, home.
Himan Brown, born in 1910, also struck a pioneering mark in radio. He produced and directed notable programs, including Detec-tive The Affairs of Peter Salem, which was first heard over the Mutual Network in 1949; Mystery-Adventure Bulldog Drummond, beginning over Mutual in 1941; Drama City Desk, with its debut on CBS in 1940; Science-Fiction Adventure Flash Gordon, its foray on Mutual in 1935; Drama Grand Central Station, on the NBC Blue Network from 1937; Drama Grass Valley, USA; Comedy-Drama The Gumps; Drama Hilda Hope, M.D.; Mystery Inner Sanctum, beginning over the NBC Blue Network in 1941; Serial Drama Joyce Jordan, Girl Intern, first airing on CBS in 1938; Serial Drama Little Italy, with its start over CBS in 1933; Serial Drama Marie, the Little French Princess; and Detective The Thin Man, which came to radio on NBC in 1941.
The Radio Hall of Fame inductee and New York City resident sent a signed photograph during the early 1990s.
With his unmistakable nasal-sounding approach, actor-comedian Arnold Stang (born 1926) carved a prosperous niche in radio and a presence that gained surefire familiarity with the public. The bespectacled performer was to be seen in the major genres of the perform-ing medium, too, in a career spanning decades.
His radio-days endeavors included Serial Comedy-Drama The Goldbergs, which first appeared over the NBC Blue Network in 1929; Comedy The Henry Morgan Show; The Adventures of Archie Andrews; Children's Variety The Horn and Hardart Children's Hour; Comedy The Milton Berle Show, first heard over NBC in 1939; and Situation Comedy That Brewster Boy, beginning on NBC in 1941.
His signed picture was accompanied with a flattering letter of positive response to the work put in, for which he declared "super re-search."
A classically trained actor, Staats Cotsworth (1908-1979: first name pronounced like "states") was groomed for the theater where he embarked in a series of portrayals beginning in the late 1920s. But it was the lure of a flourishing medium, radio, that led to some-what of a hiatus from the stage during the 1940s. That decade, in particular, the actor was recognized as one of the busiest performers in radio, mixing both lead and guest roles in programs.
His radio days resulted in credits that practically read like an almanac, holding down a presence in as many as 10 daytime dramas in which he maintained running parts.
He was on Lone Journey, which originated in Chicago, Illinois, and first heard over the NBC Network in 1940; The Right to Hap-piness, which started out in 1939 and was alternately heard over NBC and CBS; When A Girl Marries, the serial drama first heard over CBS in 1939; Mr. and Mrs. North, the mystery-adventure debuting on NBC in 1942; Front Page Farrell; Big Sister, which began in 1936 over the CBS Network; sharing the prominent part of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the documentary The March of Time, 1943 to 1945 over NBC and ABC; Cavalcade of America, NBC, 1943 and 1944; Amanda of Honeymoon Hill, CBS, 1944 and 1945; The Sec-ond Mrs. Burton, this program began over CBS in 1945; narrator of These Are Our Men, NBC, 1947; Great Plays, NBC, 1948-1949; Macbeth, NBC, 1949; The Disenchanted, NBC, 1949; You Are There, CBS, 1948-1949; Mark Trail; and Marriage for Two, NBC and ABC (1949 to 1952).
When he managed some additional spare time, Cotsworth also turned up on such series as The Man from G-2, first heard over ABC in 1945, plus Rogue's Gallery, debuting on NBC in 1945.
Despite such a steady volume of input, Cotsworth was perhaps best recognized by listeners as the nighttime super sleuth Casey, in Casey, Crime Photographer (CBS, 1944-1945). He was the ace cameraman for the Morning Express, a crusading newspaper.
Sandwiched around this top-rate radio work, Cotsworth continued to mix in theatrical portrayals, added to television and a few mo-tion pictures.
Amazingly, the actor took on yet another dimension. As an illustrator and a painter, Cotsworth achieved a one-man show at the Hammer Gallery in New York City in 1954.
The award-winning personality and New York City resident sent a nice collage-type autographed photo in 1978.
Mary Jane Higby (1915-1986) was no stranger to the airwaves, either. Her ambitious journey through the medium has spanned roles in Comedy-Drama Joe Palooka, a story broadcast out of Chicago; Serial Drama John's Other Wife, first heard over NBC in 1936; Serial Drama Joyce Jordan, Girl Intern, which debuted over CBS in 1938; Serial Drama Linda's First Love; Drama Listening Post, first heard over ABC in 1944; Variety Parties at Pickfair, which originated from the legendary, fabled Beverly Hills, California, estate of silent film superstar, Mary Pickford (1893-1979); Serial Drama Perry Mason, first airing over CBS in 1943; Serial Drama The Romance of Helen Trent, that made its foray over CBS in 1933; Variety Shell Chateau; Serial Drama Stella Dallas, first heard on NBC in 1937; Serial Drama The Story of Mary Marlin, originating on WMAQ Chicago in 1934; Serial Drama Thanks for Tomorrow; Serial Drama This Is Nora Drake, which began on NBC in 1947; as well as Serial Drama When a Girl Marries, originating over CBS in 1939.
The New York City resident also authored the book, Tune in Tomorrow (1966), in which she reminisced about her making serials like the preceding and her interactions with colleagues.
She signed and returned the picture I supplied her around five years prior to her passing.
Gale Gordon (1906-1995), primarily a supporting actor, nevertheless gained considerable career power playing the curmudgeon, the blustery-type character. He particularly struck gold later as the irascible boss of legendary comedienne Lucille Ball (1911-1989) in her own landmark television works.
For radio, his path was soundly carved with Adventure Big Town, a program first heard over CBS in 1937; Comedy Burns and Al-len; Mystery The Case Book of Gregory Hood; Comedy Fibber McGee and Molly, originally known as The Smackouts, starting out on NBC in 1931; Science-Fiction Adventure Flash Gordon, which began over Mutual in 1935; Serial Drama Glorious One; Serial Drama Jonathan Trimble, Esq.; Comedy The Judy Canova Show, with its 1943 foray over CBS; Situation Comedy Junior Miss, first heard on CBS in 1948; Situation Comedy My Favorite Husband, with a CBS debut in 1948; Situation Comedy Our Miss Brooks, beginning over CBS in 1948; Drama Stories of the Black Chamber; along with Serial Drama Those We Love, which began on the NBC Blue Network in 1937.
Of the central facets of show business entertainment, radio, in particular, sparked the imaginations of fans. Listeners had to rely on the imagery generated not from pictures on their television, as future generations came to rely upon, but rather from the spoken word. Minus a screen, the medium's devotees still were true and large in number, eager and appreciative to follow the coming episodes of their favorite programs. The performers, likewise, showed their gratitude to the public by responding to fan mail with autographed pictures and letters, even long after the era's heyday. In a realm immersed in expression and representing the values typically more sound from the period, they openly conveyed how much their following meant to them.
Would you like to learn more about the radio veterans and who is still with us for a chance to contact them? Books such as The Encyclopedia of American Radio, The Big Broadcast, Radio's Golden Age, Radio's Golden Era, and The Great American Broadcast make for highly useful, informative tools in your celebrity name and program research.
Have Internet access? See The Friends of Old-Time Radio. It sponsors an annual convention that has been held in Newark, New Jersey. Moreover, the links on its Web site (accessible via www.lofcom.com/nostalgia/fotr/) inform you of the radio-era survivors invited to the shows, which automatically yields potential to grow your autograph collection by getting your letters out to these peo-ple.
The author is a writer and was a reporter and lead editor of two weekly newspapers covering South Jersey towns in Camden County. Subsequent years as an editor in the IT industry were complemented with being a columnist on the silent film era through much of the 1990s, for a publication with readership in the U.S. and abroad. In the present decade, media focus also shifted to the on-line world and writing about vintage show business figures for electronic sites. He has been inducted into volumes of Who's Who in America and Who's Who in the World and resides in Pennsauken, Camden County, New Jersey.