Radio stars (May 1933)

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RADIO STARS Backstage with Stoopnagle and Budd Lang rises from her chair in the center of the stage and marches to a mike. It towers over her head and she climbs atop a box to get her lips on a level. The crowd around us leans forward, interested. Most of them have heard her cute, cooed songs and the giggle at the end. I asked her about that laugh once. "I can't help it," she answered. "My brothers used to choke me when I was a little girl, trying to make me stop. But I couldn't help it." I OOK! She's singing, but we can't hear a word. Her lips move. She grins at the mike, makes eyes at it, wrinkles up her pretty forehead and shrugs her shoulders. We might as well be stone deaf. Never mind! The engi- neers are stepping it up all it needs. Suddenly, the orchestra stops. She sings on. Now we hear the softest, truest tone you could imagine but so weak it wouldn't wake a slumbering gnat. The orchestra booms in after the break and finishes the piece with her. At its end, her face lights like a bonfire and her shoulders do a shimmy. You just know she is doing that celebrated Jeannie Lang giggle. Then like an elf that had strayed into the studio, she jumps off her box and dances back to her chair. The Colonel and Budd slide into a fresh skit. Somehow, they make it seem like play. That chest-high bench they lean on holds their manuscript. The black cylinder of the mike is only a few inches from their mouths. This time, Budd represents an interviewer who goes to interview Adolph Hitler, the new German Chancellor. To fit the Hitler part, the Colonel draws out a (Continued from page 24) glistening high silk hat and dons it. The sketch is a typical Stoopnagle triumph. It ends with the interviewer answering all his own questions and Herr Hitler talking to himself in a corner. More music. William O'Neal—Big Bill to his pals—marches to the mike that was above Jeannie's head. It just reaches his chin. No trouble hearing his voice. When he booms out his top notes he sways his tall body back away from the mike to keep from cracking it. Finishing softly, he brings his lips almost to the black metal mouth. They call that "mike technique" in the broad- casting studios. Louis Dean swings into rapid-fire action. We hear the reason for this half-hour radio show. Because Louis Dean's persuasive voice can sell a lot of Pontiac automobiles. Listen! Did you ever hear of a better car. Pontiac, Pontiac, Pontiac! Louie pounds the word. On his oath, there is nothing better built. The Colonel and Budd muscle into his sales talk with a burlesque on Chandu, the Magician. They call their skit, "No-Can-Do, the Musician." XARS. NICHOLS comes to a bench and picks up a pair of wooden blocks. She pounds them unrhythmically on a leather pad. Those are horses hoofs. Budd and the Colonel talk in a half-dozen different voices. One says: "I think my favorite music is Rach- maninoff's Prelude in Asia Minor." "My country is beautiful," says Budd. "In the spring, the verdure, the won- derful verdure ..." "Ha-ha," squeals Stoopnagle in a high falsetto. "Verdure dere, Sharlie." The audience rocks in its seats. And the show goes on to a hilarious finish. At the end, the Colonel squats a bit breathlessly before a tiny organ a half- dozen feet from a mike. His fingers sweep the keyboard in the fantastic number that introduces and completes every Gloomchaser presentation. Louis Dean tries again to sell ten million lis- teners a 1933 Pontiac and Andre Kos- telanetz rounds out the half-hour with his full-throated music. At the end, Louis Dean says, "This is the Columbia Broadcasting System." Beyond a window at the chamber's far end, an engineer leans back stiffly and flips a switch. The studio goes off the air. People rise and put on their coats. We hear odds and ends of chatter. "I'm simply amazed." "She can't be a day over sixteen." "They used to be much funnier, you know." "My dear, of course they're married." Being a funny man is a tough job. When the Colonel and Budd came down from Buffalo and gave their first pro- grams, many a radio row wisenheimer said they couldn't keep it up. Still, they do keep it up. But it takes work. Tonight, after they leave here, they will go back to their office and work until the dawn on a new vaudeville act. Work, work, work. It's their one and only peeve. If the Colonel's great scheme of Stoop- nocracy ever conies into being, they will eliminate all that. And eliminate all the people who want other people to work. But it's funny, isn't it, that the guys who set out to eliminate everybody's pet peeves, have to work so hard (which they hate) to do it. How Sherlock Holmes Cot On the Air The Theatre Guild in New York thought enough of her to hire her. She was a star in the famous Garrick Gaieties that had all Manhattan by the ears for a time. As a touring star, she admits, how- ever, she wasn't so hot. Not her fault, as I shall show you. The booking agents gave her an impossible job, and it was Edith's task to put her head into any number of figurative lions' dens. EDITH had what is known as a "sophisticated" act. Vaudeville muckymucks wanted to know what vicinities would like such an entertain- ment and which would thumb their noses at it. So they sent the Meiser gal. She found out. And she'll never for- get. One desolate week, she went through an entire seven days without a laugh. The seventh night, she was low (Continued from page 25) and despondent and heartsick. Any- body would have been. Anybody human would have been broken to bits by an audience that received in glum silence the same subtle sallies that had New Yorkers rolling in the aisles. She was about ready to toss in the sponge and go back to her knitting. But . . . That seventh night, a boy of about ten years of age sat in the very first row. At Edith's very first swiftie, he opened his mouth wide and laughed. A moment later, he laughed again at a wise-crack, so uproariously that the house began to laugh, too. And again! "In all the right places," Edith remem- bers. That show was the biggest suc- cess that she ever had on the road. Back in New York after a while, in- stead of tending to her knitting, she married. Tom McKnight, a Dart- mouth man, seemed reason enough for anyone to quit the hazardous life of the theatre. But even marriage couldn't kill old habits. She had a habit of writing out silly verses for songs, and cute or curious ideas that popped into her head. One such idea was a radio presenta- tion of the Sherlock Holmes tales. As long as she could remember, the Eng- lish sleuth had been her favorite char- acter in fiction. Before you could say petunia, she had put him down on paper. Dialogue, action, sound effects, and all. That's what she was trying to peddle when we met her at the beginning of this story. All writers who have something to sell, "peddle" their wares. So she be- came a peddler, an unsuccessful but persistent one. And she kept at it. And she sold it. I don't have to tell you how many people listen to the words of Sherlock and Doctor Watson (Continued on page 40) 38