Tuesday, September 8, 2009

“What do you do for a living?”

I get asked this question a lot, particularly from individuals I’ve run into on Facebook recently. (One of them, a girl with which I once attended high school, started a chat conversation with a query as to what I had been up to for the last twenty-eight years; as a rule, I fall back on one of my father’s quips: “Shh…don’t tell anyone, but I’m in the witness protection program.”) I’m sort of between jobs right now, which means I often have to resort to ingenious methods to create enough wealth to pay the bills at the end of each month. (It’s not all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, kiddies…despite what you may have heard from Lesley Gore. I guess my response to the titled question should be: “You call this living?”)

When I tell old and new friends that most of my copious free time is spent writing liner notes for old-time radio CD collections, their eyes have a tendency to glaze over (though I should point out that I can’t swear to this—it’s difficult to tell when you’re online) and it’s not that hard to discern that they’re frantically looking around for the exits. Beginning in April 2004, I started composing a few for the First Radio Generation Archives (I recently noticed that my first assignment, Jeff Regan, Investigator, is no longer available), and in 2006 I was asked by Mark Tepper—who was operating a small company called Radio Again in those days—to do a little scribbling on their releases as well. Mark is now top Kahuna at Radio Spirits, and as a result I’ve continued freelancing for some of RS’ collections, most of which can be seen in the thumbnail images under “Available at Radio Spirits” to your right.

Yesterday, Radio Spirits released two collections that I had a hand in and I thought I’d take advantage of a slow movie day to tell you about them. The first is Jack Benny’s Picture Parodies; a compilation of twelve vintage broadcasts on six CDs that revolve around spoofs of motion pictures as presented on The Jack Benny Program. This would be an ideal gift for the classic movie buff in your family (even if you happen to be the aforementioned buff); there are some wonderful, laugh-out-loud moments in the programs on this set (I’d be a little disappointed if there weren’t, considering it’s Benny) and I think the funniest broadcast is a spoof of It's a Wonderful Life (1946) from February 2, 1947. Jack has just returned from seeing the Jimmy Stewart-Frank Capra classic with Mary (they even bump into director Capra on the way home) when he’s visited by an angel (the incomparable Victor Moore) who shows him what life would have been like if he’d never been born. The choicest bit is when Jack visits Dennis Day, who has now become a big-time radio star…working for Jack’s nemesis Fred Allen (voiced here by Peter Lind Hayes, who you may remember as Mr. Zabladowski in the 1953 cult classic The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.). The twist here is that since Jack was never born, he and Fred never had a feud (Fred rhapsodizes about loving “every thing and everybody”), and what’s more—Dennis plays all of the characters in “Allen’s Alley” (well, with the exception of Mrs. Nussbaum), allowing him to do his impressions of Senator Claghorn, Titus Moody and Ajax Cassidy. Truly one of the best Benny half-hours I’ve ever listened to, and I think you’ll agree as well.

The other collection is Baby Snooks: Why, Daddy?—which collects twenty-eight vignettes performed by Fanny Brice and partner Hanley Stafford originally heard on Maxwell House Coffee Time between 1941 and 1943. (Brice parlayed her appearances on the Good News program onto this successful series which teamed her up with another Good News featured performer, Frank Morgan—though the two performed in separate parts of the program, only appearing together on rare occasions.) The skits—presented on four CDs—are often uproariously funny, though I’ve always been disappointed that only the Snooks sketches have survived from these broadcasts; Ben Ohmart of Bear Manor Media fame offered up the full Monty in The Baby Snooks Scripts and The Baby Snooks Scripts: Volume 2 with reprints of the scripts of some of the Maxwell House shows, and the Morgan material is every bit as hilarious as the Brice stuff. (Both of these books are also available for purchase at Radio Spirits.) Listening to both Brice and Stafford work together is a euphoric experience; it’s a darn shame as well that the post-Maxwell House shows (The Baby Snooks Show) have slipped through the cracks as well. In conclusion, OTR comedy fans shouldn’t be without either of these fine collections—so why not stop by the website and place an order today!


Pam said...

Ummm... how about, "I'm a writer."

Matthew K. said...

Knowing you reside in Athens, GA, I deduced that you were a literature professor at UGA. Getting paid to write about stuff you love is cool, too.