Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Happy birthday, Jane Ace!

Old-time radio and television fans know of writer-humorist Goodman Ace’s reputation for being a first-rate comedy scribe; he was head writer on The Big Show and Danny Kaye’s radio show and also wrote for the likes of Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Perry Como and Bob Newhart.  In fact, one oft-told story about Goodman concerns a complaint that Kaye had after reading a radio script in rehearsal—dissatisfied with what was written, Kaye snapped: “Well, I’m the highest-paid straight man in show business.”

Without missing a beat, Ace replied: “Jack Benny makes three times the money you do.”

Die hard OTR devotees know that in addition to contributing jokes and scripts for comedians Goodman also had his own program, a quarter-hour sitcom that originally began on Kansas City’s KMBC one day when Ace, who was on the air doing a film review show, was signaled by the station’s producer to continue talking because the individual scheduled to follow him had failed to show up.  He cajoled his wife Jane into coming into the booth, where the two of them chatted informally about the game of bridge, coupled with commentary about a recent murder case.  From this inauspicious debut, Easy Aces was born.

Jane Ace was born in Kansas City one hundred and ten years ago on this date, and met her future husband while attending the same high school.  As George Burns had Gracie Allen, Goody had Jane—his “awfully-wedded wife,” as she would often call herself.  But while Gracie was the queen of “illogical logic,” Jane was the mistress of the malaprop—she had a unique way of phrasing a coin that made her one of radio’s most endearing characters, even though I know of many OTR fans today who can become quite impatient with her sing-songy voice.  Among her famous “Jane-isms” (and some of my favorites): “Home wasn't built in a day,” “You could have knocked me down with a fender,” “Up at the crank of dawn,” “Now, there's no use crying over spoiled milk,” “I'm completely uninhabited,” “I don't drink, I'm a totalitarian,” “Well, you've got to take the bitter with the better” and “The way things are these days, a girl's gotta play hard to take.”

From their Kansas City beginnings, Goody and Jane took Easy Aces to Chicago in 1931 and the program began airing nationally on CBS in 1932 before moving to NBC in 1935.  It stayed there until 1942, when it moved back to CBS—and expanded to a half-hour series a year later before giving up the ghost in 1945.  Ace revived the show briefly in 1948 as mr. ace and JANE and it also appeared on television via the DuMont Network in 1949-50.  (The Easy Aces broadcasts that have survived for a new generation of listeners to enjoy are those syndicated by Frederick Ziv from 1945-47; transcriptions of previous shows that were recycled).  Jane, who had no professional acting experience, was sort of relieved when the program ended because she really did enjoy being a housewife—she came out of retirement briefly when she and Goody appeared on NBC’s Monitor in 1955 (and a series of commercials after that).  Jane passed on in 1974, but every time I hear Manhattan Serenade I can’t help but think of her and her long-suffering husband ("Isn't that awful?")…and how they entertained audiences as “radio’s original comedy couple” during those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.

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Jeff Kallman said...

Old friend, never did the words "Isn't she awful" come out of Goodman Ace's mouth. It was always "isn't that awful" (or "isn't this awful"). Nor did he ever refer to her as his "awfully-wedded wife" . . . he had her refer to herself that way. ;)

About the closest Mr. Ace would come to insulting her in character (or out of it) was his affectionate, "Oh, she's fine, if you like Jane."

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Old friend, never did the words "Isn't she awful" come out of Goodman Ace's mouth.

You're right...and I knew that, except that sometimes when I type my fingers have a tendency to overrule my brain. I'm currently seeking help for it.

Nor did he ever refer to her as his "awfully-wedded wife" . . . he had her refer to herself that way. ;)

Well, now it's really getting serious. Thanks for keeping me honest.