Nope, you couldn't see them. In fact, there was hardly any chance at all of spotting them.
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, compared to todays, was far from advanced, fans seemed largely unfazed and, actually, happy to have these programs to follow. The essential ingredient was ones 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 made up 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, welcoming of fan letters, and willing to correspond with fans.
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, with much pleasure, I share some core examples of radio's prized figures (show creators and actors and actresses alike), who represented 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), was a multifaceted show business actress who worked in films, television, and theater projects. For radio, she certainly made a name for herself, too, such as with Abies 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 over NBC in 1938; Mystery-Adventure I Love a Mystery, beginning over the NBC Red Network in 1939; Serial Drama Midstream, beginning 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 replied to my researched letter of seven pages by sending an 8-by-10 autographed picture.
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; Comedy-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 numerous 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 subsequently 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. He was also heard at various times on NBC Blue and CBS.
But it was with Mystery-Drama One Mans Family that he set new standards. The show had a 1932 to 1959 run, during such time Morse amassed over 3,200 written scripts in all. The landmark presentation revolved around the Barbours, the fictitious family that scores of listeners identified with and faithfully followed through the clan's good and trying times spanning several generations of family members.
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 enjoy one of the fields longer runs, lasting until 1952.
Morses other work included NBC Mystery Serial, a show whose subjects ranged from episodes like Captain Post: Crime Specialist and 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 another soap opera styled in the One Mans 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.
Instead of 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 Radio (OTR) Conventions that paid him homage.
When he was in his late 80s, Morse sent both a picture and letter through the mail from his California home, in 1990.
Actor Page Gilman, from One Mans Family, was Jack Barbour. His character likewise enjoyed durability, lasting for the serials 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 Mans 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 me a picture and letter from his Roseburg, Oregon, home.
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 performing 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; Childrens Variety The Horn and Hardart Childrens 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 research.
The list of these talented and colorful personalities goes on and on - more than we could ever cover in this space.
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 screens, as future generations would, but rather from the spoken word. Minus a screen, the mediums 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 eras heyday. In a realm immersed in expression, and representing the values of the period, they openly conveyed how much their following meant to them.
Anyone who would like to learn more about the radio veterans and which ones are still around, (for a chance to contact them) should check these resources: Books like The Encyclopedia of American Radio, The Big Broadcast, Radios Golden Age, Radios Golden Era, and The Great American Broadcast.
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 website (accessible via http://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 people.
Editors Note: 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 United States and abroad. In the present decade, media focus also shifted to the online world and writing about vintage show business figures for electronic sites. He has been inducted into volumes of Whos Who in America and Whos Who in the World and resides in Pennsauken, Camden County, New Jersey.