Thursday, December 29, 2016

Roll Yuletide!

Merrrrrrrrry Christmas, cartooners!  Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays to every member of the TDOY faithful!  I had hoped to get back into the blogging habit by Wednesday of this week…but I’m having too much fun spending quality time with the family (both the ‘rents and sisters Kat and Debbie), so I’ve decided to extend my holiday vacation through the rest of this week.  (Plus, I’m trying to shake off a really wicked cold, an extra Christmas gift from Kat.)

The ‘rents and I joined Kat and her partner’s family for a sabbatical in a big honkin’ cabin located in beautiful downtown Lake Lure, NC.  Now…I must admit that I shed my country boy origins many years ago—but the retreat was rather sweet, and everyone ended up having a swell time.  (Particularly Mom and Dad, who don’t get out of the house much.)  The food was fantastic (we had the traditional Roast Beast, and it was amazing), the company most pleasurable…and I got the opportunity to meet-and-greet with a cousin whom I have not seen in over thirty years.  I was also amused by the antics of my nephew Davis, who plays Monopoly as if he were auditioning to be the Mini-Me version of Donald J. Trump.  (I’m not making this up.  He kept running around, holding a wad of Monopoly cash and singing out “I’m really rich!”)

We returned to Rancho Yesteryear just in time to greet sister Debbie and her family, who’ll be staying with us until Sunday; they gifted me with some Amazon gift cash that I have socked away for blank DVD-R emergencies.  I’d like to send out a special “You’re good people” to Todd, who also bestowed me with a gift card—this one of the Barnes & Noble variety (it was put to good use purchasing the third season DVD release of Lou Grant).  Sister Kat got me some goodies for a stocking, including some antique collectables of two of my personal heroes, pictured below:

I mostly received presents of the “spanking new duds” variety, but I did splurge a bit and took advantage of a couple of Blu-ray sets that were on sale at for one day only: The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection and The Honeymooners “Classic 39” Episodes.  (I told Rick “Cultureshark” Brooks about this last one, and he, too, was able to capitalize on the sale price.  Fa la la la la la la la la…)  I feel kind of bad that I wasn’t able to mail out the traditional custom-made TDOY Christmas cards (I had a last minute medical matter that gobbled up the Shutterfly funds I had set aside for that cause) but I do want to thank everyone who sent a bit of holiday cheer in card form to the House of Yesteryear—I promise there will be cards sent out in 2017.

I hope everyone had as splendiferous a Yuletide as I did…and since this looks like the last post in 2016, I want to extend a hearty handclasp to one and all as we roll in 2017.  (I have a feeling we’re going to need all the luck that’s available.)  Auld Lang Syne, cartooners!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Forgotten Noir Fridays: The Case of the Baby Sitter (1947)

In 1947, movie mogul Robert L. Lippert decided to “liberate” Hal Roach’s “streamliner” concept—very short features running anywhere from 40-50 minutes—by producing a pair of detective films starring Tom Neal, the doomed protagonist of the B-noir classic Detour (1945).  Neal played would-be gumshoe Russ Ashton, who takes over an investigative agency that’s down on its uppers, hiring Howard “Harvard” Quinlan (Allen Jenkins) as his partner (though “Harvard” seems to be around mostly for sh*ts and giggles) and Susie Hart (Pamela Blake) as his gal Friday.  Susie is the focus of the first entry, The Hat Box Mystery (1947), in which she’s hired to take a candid of a philandering wife…and winds up involved in murderHat Box also introduced Harvard’s girlfriend, Veronica Hoopler (Virginia Sale), who runs a nearby diner and feeds our sleuthing trio until they can make their bidness a resounding success.

The quartet returned that same year in The Case of the Baby Sitter, which finds Ashton and Company hired to look after the infant scion of the Duke and Duchess of Leradia (George Meeker, Rebel Randall) while the royals attend a function.  The task of keeping an eye on the nipper falls on the dimwitted Harvard…but what our detective heroes do not know is that a) there is no such place as Leradia, and b) the Duke and Mrs. Duke are actually a pair of jewel thieves, Phil and Mamie.  They’ve pulled a double-cross on a safecracker named Silk (Keith Richards—and no, not the Rolling Stones guy) in a heist involving the famous LaPaz diamond…and now Silk, with the help of his moll Maxine (Lona Andre), is going to retrieve the stolen gem while double-crossing his boss”—a gangster appropriately nicknamed “Diamonds” (Ed Kane).

This kid gets his own credit, by the way.  I wish I had his agent.

“Murder Stalked the Nursery...With Diamonds as the Pay-Off!” the promotional material for The Case of the Baby Sitter hyperbolizes, because there isn’t any murderer…and even the (always reliable) IMDb credits the child thespian pictured above as “The Kidnapped Baby”—the little rugrat never leaves his freakin’ crib, ferchrissake.  There isn’t any time in Baby Sitter for this kind of interesting plot development, because most of its 40 minutes has been assigned to the comic relief provided by Jenkins, who is apparently in this vehicle only because Sid Melton had not yet been invented.  The rounding up of the jewel scofflaws is very quick—it’s almost like the filmmakers looked at their watches and remarked: “Geez, this thing is about over…we need to wrap this up pronto.”

My esteemed ClassicFlix colleague—and the man who makes doubly certain the boxes of Goobers and Raisinettes are stacked neat and pretty at In the Balcony—Cliff Weimer has a slightly higher opinion of The Case of the Baby Sitter than I do…though having Allen around is always a plus (he gets more screen time than “star” Tom Neal, interestingly enough) as is the small contribution of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear fave Tom Kennedy as a dumb cop (there’s a stretch) and easy-on-the-eyes Rebel Randall as one of the baddies.  (Kennedy was also present and accounted for in The Hat Box Mystery—though I don’t know if he played the same character he did in Baby Sitter; I haven’t seen Hat Box yet.)  The mercifully short running time of this movie is its chief saving grace, because the script is pedestrian and the production values slightly above that of a set for a dinner theater production.  (Cliff wonders if these two films were planned as episodes for early television…though I tend to agree with him that since they were produced in 1947 that seems awfully early for TV.)

The Case of the Baby Sitter is the second “co-hit” on VCI’s Forgotten Noir Volume 9 set…and at the risk of going off on a rant, there’s nothing remotely “noir” about this entry (though its “Forgotten” status is never without question).  The debate about what constitutes “film noir” rages on in salons and saloons even today; my definition is not unlike that of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s explanation on what defines pornography: “I know it when I see it.”

But with Baby Sitter, that’s the last of the Forgotten Noir releases from the dusty TDOY archives—this feature will continue on Fridays for a couple more months (because I rented some of the later volumes from ClassicFlix), and when I’m done with that—I’ll re-launch the snarky Crime Does Not Pay write-ups that I did previously on an intermittent basis.  If I’m absent from the blog for a couple of days next week, it’s because I will probably be performing in the annual Christmas with the ‘Rents here at Rancho Yesteryear (with special guest stars Sisters Kat and Debbie) …but I’ll try to check in to make sure those dang neighborhood kids haven’t swiped the wreath off the front door.  Happy Holidays, cartooners!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

B-Western Wednesdays: Partners of the Sunset (1948)

Rancher Bill Thompson (Steve Darrell) returns from a business trip to Tucson…and boy, does he have some swell news for his son Dan (Jay Kirby)!  Janice (Christine Larson), the pretty little gal at his side, is now his new mom…and no one should be surprised that Dan takes this bulletin with all the enthusiasm of a proctology exam.  It’s mostly due to Janice being old enough to be his younger sister, but that don’t make no never mind to Bill: they’re married, and if Dan doesn’t like it he can lump it.

Dan doesn’t like it, and so he vamooses from the ranch—bitter about the fact that his pop has reneged on his promise to bequeath him some of the horses they raise on their spread.  Ranch foreman Jimmy Wakely (himself) and chief-cook-and-bottle-washer “Cannonball” (Dub Taylor) ride into town in an attempt to patch things up between father and son.  Actively working against this reunion is stepmother Janice, who’s really a conniving little rhymes-with-witch out to take Bill’s fortune.  She’s assisted in this endeavor by her brother Les (Leonard Penn) …who isn’t her brother at all!  (Quel plot twist!)  The scheming pair cleverly frame Dan for his father’s murder, and it’s Jimmy (once again) to the rescue.

The fifty-three-minute length of Partners of the Sunset (1948)—and if you can figure out how that title connects with the plot of this movie, the phone lines are open—makes it just slightly longer than your run-of-the-mill episode of a typical TV western.  This doesn’t make it a terrible movie, you understand—it’s just that the overall presentation covers a lot of all-too-familiar territory.  Boyd Magers at Western Clippings gives this Jimmy Wakely programmer two stars, which seems about right…maybe I would bump it up half-a-star.  It’s painless to take, and Jimmy sings a couple of nice up-tempo ditties in It’s a Beautiful Day (Wakely sings and curries his horse as his bandmates accompany him on fiddle, guitar, and steel guitar—the way country music should be) and Press Along to the Big Corral.

The pluses in Sunset include a very good performance from Christine Larson, who’s a cut-above your usual B-Western ingénue—particularly when she’s fluctuating back-and-forth between sweet-as-apple-pie wifey and wicked stepmother.  She’s joined in her villainy by Leonard Penn (as Les, the “brother” who has difficulty keeping his hands off his sis), and between the two of them they are ruthless in their intentions to make sure Dan swings for fratricide (Les is really responsible for the vile deed, hitting Bill with one of those figurines that folks used to keep around the house for just such occasions).

You also can’t go wrong with having Dub Taylor as your sidekick if you find yourself in the occupation of singing cowboy; there’s a running gag throughout Sunset where “Cannonball” is desperately trying to catch an elusive fish (“Ol’ Smokey”) that will produce a stray chuckle or two, and Cannonball also gets some funny lines. (Jimmy: “What’s with the funny look?” Cannonball: “I always look this way!”)  The rest of the cast is dependable if not remarkable; the only name I recognized other than Wakely’s and Taylor’s was Marshall Reed, who was a regular on TV’s The Lineup (a.k.a. San Francisco Beat).  Marsh plays a bad hombre who agrees to help young Dan swipe those horses from his pa’s ranch, and winds up in a well-shot saloon donnybrook with Jimmy (well…more like Jimmy’s stuntman, Bob Woodward).  (Reed’s character connects right on Wakely’s button in one scene, which made me laugh out loud.)

Directed by master journeyman Lambert Hillyer (who helmed a previous Wakely vehicle covered in this space, 1949’s Gun Law Justice) and scripted by B-Western veteran J. Benton Cheney (I see Cheney’s credit on a lot of episodes of The Cisco Kid before I watch those Trackdown episodes I DVR off of Heroes & Icons), Partners of the Sunset is little more than a passable time-killer from one of the silver screen’s most engaging sagebrush presences...but that don’t make it all bad, as a cowpoke once explained to me.  It’s on DVD, available for purchase or rent on the Warner Archive MOD set Monogram Cowboy Collection: Volume 1.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Lynch mob*

We had a most excellent response in terms of entries for the latest giveaway here at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear—a chance to win one of two copies of the Radio Spirits The Couple Next Door collection Merry Mix-Ups.  As always, I wish I could hand out a set to all that entered because as The Great One always said: “Ooooh…you’re a good group.”  Alas, I cannot…but I can pass along Mix-Ups sets to Dan M. of Washington (my sister Kat’s former stomping grounds) and to longtime TDOY supporter and proprietor of Saturday Morning Archives, Monsieur hobbyfan.  (The hobmeister also blogs at The Land of Whatever—didn’t want to leave that out.)  Congratulations to both of you, as the champagne flows freely in your respective neighborhoods in recognition of your triumphs.

The next giveaway on the blog will be after we ring in the new year of 2017 (if my schedule is accurate, it will be announced on January 7) and if you’ve friended me on Facebook you’ve received the news of what OTR collection has been submitted for prizedom.  (If you’re not into the social media phenomenon, I will give you a hint: it involves a ventriloquist’s dummy.)  So keep an eye out for the announcement, and remember—Thrilling Days of Yesteryear is the phrase that pays!

*I did not come up with this one; blame Andrew “Grover” Leal.  Sadly, he doesn’t have an “off” switch.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Forgotten Noir Fridays: Pier 23 (1951)

On this week’s edition of Forgotten Noir Fridays, we return to the titular environs of San Francisco private investigator Dennis “Denny” O’Brien (Hugh Beaumont), who puts groceries on the table with a boat rental business when he’s not out shamusing.  (I’ve seen two of these movies so far—the first being the previously discussed Danger Zone [1951]—and I’ve yet to see anyone inquire about renting a boat.)  O’Brien’s first client is kindly Father Donovan (Raymond Greenleaf), a priest who hires Denny (I think O’Brien does this one pro bono, since men of the cloth rarely have any spare change rattling around in their cassocks) to intercept one Joe Harmon (Chris Drake), who’s planning to crash out of “The Rock” later that evening.  (How Harmon endures that lengthy swim goes unexplained, as you might have already guessed.)  If Father Donovan can sit Joe down for a chinwag, he can convince that little lost lamb to return to the incarcerated flock and stay on the straight-and-narrow.

O’Brien meets Harmon at a predestined spot, and the escaped con says he’ll palaver with the good Fadduh once he’s made a stop at an address…where the two men meet up with Joe’s sister Ann (Ann Savage).  Ann introduces Denny’s noggin to the business end of a heavy bit of bric-a-brac, and when our hero comes to…Joe is dead from multiple stab wounds.  The plot thickens when O’Brien learns from Father Donovan that the man he met is not Joe Harmon—but a fellow inmate named Mike Greely!

After O’Brien wraps up the Harmon affair (in less than a half-hour—damn, he’s good) he’s then hired by wrestling referee Mushy Cavelli (Johnny Indrisano) to play courier and pick up an envelope containing mucho dinero after a scheduled bout between grapplers Willie Klingle (Bill Varga) and Ape Danowski (Mike Mazurki).  (Kind of a crappy thing to do to a kid, naming him “Ape.”)  Klingle dies of a heart attack during the match, and Denny is pressed into service to investigate as to why Willie would ever be cleared to climb into the ring when everyone knew the guy had a bum ticker.

"He don't bounce no more." TDOY fave Mike Mazurki gets gumshoe Hugh Beaumont in a headlock as ubiquitous Lippert starlet Margia Dean looks on.
In the review I wrote for Danger Zone, I mentioned that it, Pier 23, and Roaring City (1951) all consisted of non-telecast episodes from a syndicated TV series based on the Jack Webb radio shows Pat Novak…For Hire and Johnny Madero, Pier 23.  (Pier 23 is the third “Denny O’Brien” entry—someone at VCI apparently issued these “co-hits” on their Forgotten Noir DVD releases out of sequence.  Roaring City will be covered in this space in future.)  Hugh Beaumont couldn’t carry Webb’s jockstrap on any given day of the week, but if you’re willing to overlook this handicap you might get a little enjoyment out of Pier 23. 

(Andrew “Grover” Leal pointed out to me on Facebook the other night that I had once written Beaumont played “TV’s saddest excuse for a father on Leave it to Beaver” in an installment of TDOY’s Crime Does Not Pay series [1940’s You, the People].  I didn’t remember being that harsh—and in my defense, Mr. Grover recalled me saying Beaumont was the worst TV dad, which was not quite the way I worded it—but the evidence clearly shows that I voiced a negative opinion of the legendary boob tube pop, and so I have no other recourse but to own it.  For the record, I don’t think Ward Cleaver was the worst—at least not while Mayberry RFD’s Sam Jones is in this contest—but Ward’s reputation as a wise patriarchal sage has been embarrassingly inflated over the years.  On a slightly related note, the Crime Does Not Pay efforts will resurface on the blog sometime next year…because I was finally able to obtain that Warner Archive MOD DVD set.  More on this as it develops.)

The chief asset of these movies is the presence of character great Ed Brophy as Professor Frederick Simpson Schicker (the movie version of Pat Novak’s “Jocko Madigan”), who gets the lion’s share of the best dialogue.  (When O’Brien asks his pal “You gonna stay drunk all your life?” Schick responds “It's all a matter of will power...I'm probably the only man in the world who intends to carry a hangover into eternity...")  Having Mazurki on hand is another check in the “plus” column (Mike kind of combines his characterizations of Moose Malloy from Murder, My Sweet and The Strangler from Night and the City for the Ape), and the movie’s noir bona fides get an assist by casting Ann Savage as a cold-blooded dame in the first of the two stories.  (We all have our favorite femme fatales in noir, but Savage is the probably the only one who could rip out the hero’s heart and munch on it like an apple.)  The supporting cast is filled out with most of the familiar Lippert faces: Richard Travis (as Lt. Bruger), Margia Dean, David Bruce, Raymond Greenleaf, Harry Hayden, etc.  Joi (billed as Joy) Lansing has a brief bit as a cocktail waitress, and the first actor to play “Runt” in the Chester Morris Boston Blackie film franchise, Charles Wagenheim, can be glimpsed as a “policy man.”

When they say "Spartan"...they ain't just whistlin' Dixie.

Lou Morheim and Herbert Margolis, who scripted many a Johnny Madero broadcast, receive story credit on Pier 23 (since most of the Madero episodes are lost to the ravages of time and neglect, I can’t confirm whether or not they recycled these plots from the radio show…though I suspect they probably did) with screenplay honors going to Julian Harmon and Victor West (the dialogue is prime Novak: “The pier was as deserted as a warm bottle of beer…”).  B-picture journeyman William A. Berke sat in the director’s chair on this one, and if you’re curious to have a look you can rent Pier 23 on Forgotten Noir Volume 9 at a ClassicFlix near you.  (Next week: the last of Volume 9’s “co-hits,” 1947’s The Case of the Baby Sitter.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Peg Board

Hi, cartooners!  Consider this your mid-week reminder that Thrilling Days of Yesteryear is hosting a fantabulous swag giveaway, and two lucky members of the TDOY faithful will win a copy of the Radio Spirits CD collection The Couple Next Door: Merry Mix-Ups.  The Couple Next Door was a quarter-hour sitcom created by Peg Lynch (who also brought The Private Lives of Ethel and Albert to the airwaves), and ran on CBS Radio from 1957-60.  The Merry Mix-Ups set—valued at a SRP of $24.95—offers up six hours of rib-tickling entertainment with twenty-four episodes starring Peg and Alan Bunce as The Couple, and character great Margaret Hamilton as “Aunt Effie.”

The entries for the giveaway have been tres encouraging so far!  And you still have time to enter—just shoot me an e-mail at igsjrotr(at)gmail(dot)com with “Merry Mix-Ups” in the subject header by 11:59pm EST this Saturday the 17th, and the next morning I will choose two winners via the number generator so I can quickly mail out the prizes to those lucky people.  (The offer is limited to U.S. residents only.  Sorry about that, Chief.)  Good luck, one and all!

B-Western Wednesdays: Hollywood Round-Up (1937)

In the world of the B-Western, there are only so many plots to go around.  You can only have a certain number of times when unscrupulous wealthy people want to rape the people’s land for precious minerals (or just take their ranches regardless of whether there’s gold, copper, silver, etc. present) or fighting Indians on the warpath or thwarting stagecoach hold-ups.  Occasionally, filmmakers who churned out oaters would get a little creative…and a popular diversion would be building the movie plot around the making of a B-Western.

The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ recently aired Scarlet River (1933) as part of their month-long tribute to Myrna Loy; this Tom Keene programmer features our hero as a cowboy actor who comes to the aid of real-life ranchers, and there are very brief cameos from RKO stars like Myrna, Bruce Cabot, Rochelle Hudson, and Joel McCrea.  A better example is a fun little Roy Rogers vehicle, Under California Stars (1948), in which Roy not only plays himself (he returns to his ranch after wrapping up shooting on his latest feature) but is joined by the likes of fellow Republic co-workers Monte Hale, Allan “Rocky” Lane, and Don “Red” Barry.

One of the Gene Autry features I managed to snag during our Starz/Encore/Movieplex “freeview” was The Big Show (1936); this western casts “America’s favorite singing cowboy” as both himself and a silver screen star named Tom Ford.  Gene doubles for Ford’s stunts in his pictures, and is pressed upon to keep impersonating the actor at the 1936 Texas Centennial celebration when Tom takes a fishing vacation.  Show is an entertaining little romp—one of the best early Autrys—though it does suffer from that irritating quality present in Gene’s films when the narrative must come to a screeching halt so that our hero (or someone else in the cast) can warble a song.

Mack V. Wright is credited as the director of The Big Show, and interestingly enough served as the production manager of a movie that’s quite similar to Show: 1937’s Hollywood Round-Up.  Round-Up features Grant Withers as Grant Drexel, the box office champ of Crown Pictures, a studio that specializes in cranking out oaters.  Though Drexel is the idol of many a kid who enjoys a Saturday matinee, in real life he could use some coaching in the social skills department…because he’s a bit of a prick.  When Carol Stephens (Helen Twelvetrees), an on-the-wane star is loaned out to Crown because she’s “box office poison” at her home studio, Drexel starts taking a few liberties during one of their love scenes.

Grant is soon set straight on this matter by Buck Kennedy (Buck Jones), the genuine article when it comes to cowboys…and a man who’s forced to demean himself as Drexel’s double to keep groceries on the table and oats in his horse Silver’s feedbag.  Kennedy has a thing for Carol himself, particularly after befriending her younger brother Dickie (Dickie Jones), and the romantic rivalry between Buck and Grant for Carol’s attentions eventually comes to a boil, prompting “the star” to have his stunt man fired.  Buck is only temporarily in the unemployment line, however; he’s hired by a rival studio to appear in their production…which includes filming a hold-up on the town bank.  The only problem is: the hold-up is real—the company are really a gang of outlaws, and they’ve left Buck holding the bag!

I like Dickie Jones, so I was kind of sorry to see him in The Grey Bar Hotel. (Why don't these things ever happen to She Who Must Not Be Named?)

I really believe Hollywood Round-Up to be a superior picture to The Big Show…primarily because there’s no musical numbers to slow down the action, and primarily because star Buck Jones is one of the most likable individuals to ever sit tall in the saddle.  Buck was one of the major assets in our Serial Saturdays presentation of Riders of Death Valley (1941), a chapter play that paved the way (along with the 1941 Columbia serial White Eagle) for the former silent movie hero to appear in a series of Monogram oaters known as The Rough Riders franchise.  (Jones was one of the many victims—close to 500 in all—who perished in the infamous Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston on November 28, 1942.)  Jones has been described as the middle point between Tom Mix and William S. Hart, and I find myself becoming more and more of a fan with each movie I see him in.  He has a wonderful sense of self-deprecating humor, and makes for a first-rate sagebrush hero without resorting to the moralizing of many of his peers.

TCM ran Hollywood Round-Up as part of a day-long feting of Helen Twelvetrees, who is also one of the movie’s pluses.  The scene where Helen’s Carol Stephens is told by Federal studio boss Lew Wallace (Eddie Kane) that he’s loaning her out to Crown is very well-done (Carol is visibly upset, and Twelvetrees nails it without being mawkish), and though despondent at first, Carol demonstrates she’s a trouper by showing her professionalism and making lemonade out of her situation.  (I’ll take a moment here to remind folks that if you’re interested in learning more about Ms. Twelvetrees you should check out fellow CMBA member Cliff Aliperti’s biography Helen Twelvetrees: Perfect Ingénue—available as an actual book or e-book at an Amazon near you.  Yes, I could use a check this month.)  Twelvetrees also has a solid chemistry with her leading man.

Hollywood Round-Up was comedian Shemp Howard’s first film for Columbia.  (Shemp plays Oscar Bush, the assistant director, and generates much mirth despite Scott Clevenger’s dissenting opinion.)  Howard was so well-received in Round-Up that he appeared in an additional Buck Jones vehicle, Headin’ East (1937) …and that started him on his long association with the studio—appearing in Andy Clyde shorts (often as Andy’s obnoxious brother-in-law) and The Glove Slingers comedies before starring in his own series of two-reelers and then replacing brother Curly in The Three Stooges.  I am not going to lie to you: I DVR’d this film solely on Shemp’s participation, and I’ll freely admit that I’m fond of it because he’s always welcome ‘round Rancho Yesteryear.  But Round-Up turned out to be a pleasant surprise, and it features familiar Columbia players in Kane and Monte Collins (perfect as Withers’ fast-talking agent).

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Putting a wreath on The Couple’s Next Door

I’ve got just enough space before 2016 comes to an official close to do one more giveaway on the ol’ blog…and since this is that holiday time of the year, I figured I’d take another stab at offering up a chance to win one of two sets of the Radio Spirits collection The Couple Next Door: Merry Mix-Ups.  (There are a few Yuletide-themed broadcasts in this set, so it is most appropriate.)

Back in March, I tried to give away these sets…and to my genuine astonishment (and amusement), I didn’t get one entry.  Nada.  Zilch.  Now, I can understand why this was the case: it was at a time when the weeds had started to multiply around Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, since I had fallen into a quicksand pit of slackitude when it came to posting.  By the way, no one is more surprised than I at my recent spate of activity at TDOY; I have already doubled (and then some) the number of posts that I managed to cobble together in 2015.

Because I am committed to recycling, I’m going to borrow a few paragraphs from that original March 2016 post to give the TDOY faithful a little background on The Couple Next Door:

Actress-writer Margaret Frances “Peg” Lynch—who, sadly, was summoned to the Great Audition Room back in July of 2015 at the age of 98—was one of the most amazing individuals employed during Radio’s Golden Age.  Her website rightfully boasts that she was “the lady who invented sitcom”—that sitcom being The Private Lives of Ethel and Albert, which premiered over NBC Blue on May 29, 1944 (an earlier version had appeared previously in three-minute installments over several local stations at which she was employed).  It was a simple, character-based sitcom: Peg played Ethel Arbuckle (Lynch stepped in when the network brass didn’t think any of the actresses who auditioned were suitable), a typical housewife married to a typical husband in the form of Albert Arbuckle.  Albert was played initially by Richard Widmark, who eventually moved on to a stage and film career, and he was replaced by Alan Bunce…whose chemistry with Peg was quite convincing.

Ethel and Albert spent most of its run on radio as a five-day-a-week quarter hour—it was expanded to a half-hour in its final season before it was cancelled on August 28, 1950.  After that, it became one of the boob tube’s early successes—first as a fifteen-minute segment on Kate Smith’s variety show, and then as a half-hour series that aired on all three of the majors (ABC, CBS and NBC) from 1953 to 1956.  Lynch went on record as not being overly fond of the TV Ethel and Albert (“…I always felt it spoiled my timing…I would have to hold up for the laugh…”) so when she got an opportunity to revive her creation for CBS Radio beginning in December of 1957 she leapt at the chance.  The only snag was that because she had signed away the rights to “Ethel and Albert” sometime ago, she would have to rename the new series The Couple Next Door.

The Couple Next Door is a quirky little situation comedy in the mold of Vic & Sade (without the engaging eccentricity) and Lum ‘n’ Abner (without the bucolic wackiness).  I only had a passing familiarity with the series before I was asked to contribute liner notes, but in listening to the shows it wasn’t long before Couple Next Door worked its magic on me.  What I enjoy so thoroughly about Peg Lynch’s writing is that it doesn’t come off as writing; the dialogue sounds perfectly natural to the ear—it’s as if you caught yourself eavesdropping on a neighbor couple’s conversation by accident.  Several of the broadcasts in the Merry Mix-Ups collection are Yuletide-themed; one of the funniest is an outing that finds Mr. Piper (Bunce) having to drop off a parcel at the post office and being stymied by the nitpicky regulations that the clerk insists must be followed to the letter before it can be sent on its way.  (You have no idea how much I identified with his situation.)

As Mike “Mr. Television” Doran later noted in the comments section of the original post, Peg eventually arranged to re-obtain the rights to Ethel and Albert, since she and Alan reprised their characters in several laundry detergent TV commercials (Mike seems to recall it was Cheer, but he’s not 100% on that).  With that out of the way, here’s what you need to do to enter TDOY’s giveaway (the Merry Mix-Ups set has a SRP value of $31.95):

1) Send me an e-mail with “Merry Mix-Ups” in the subject header to igsjrotr(at)gmail(dot)com.  You have until 11:59pm EST on December 17, 2016 (next Saturday) to enter.

2) Make sure you are a U.S. resident or have a U.S. mailing address.

3) If you’ve won one of the blog’s contests in the past thirty days, it’s the height of proper netiquette to maybe sit this one out to allow fellow members of the TDOY faithful a more sporting chance of winning.

4) I will choose two winners Sunday morning (via the Random Number Generator at of December 18th and inform the lucky persons of their tremendous good fortune.  Keep in mind that when entering, you don’t have to provide a snail-mail address…but I will need it once you receive that “Congratulations!” e-mail.

5) As always…there is no number five.

The swag will be sent out to the winners as quickly as I can, owing to the timeliness of Christmas and all.  So there you go—a chance to win some truly remarkable comedy from the waning days of Radio’s Golden Age, and I think you’ll be as enchanted with The Couple Next Door as I am.  Good luck to all who enter, and remember—Thrilling Days of Yesteryear is the phrase that pays!