Sunday, May 10, 2009

Radio Memories: Family Footsteps

We sometimes take a round-about route getting there, but it seems that many times we sons eventually end up following in the footsteps our parents hoped we would.

For this week’s Radio Memories post, our weekly remembrance of the days of radio drama, we pay tribute to mothers on Mother’s Day with one of radio’s most famous moms, Alice Aldrich, in one of radio’s first situation comedies: The Aldrich Family.

From 1939 to 1952, audiences heard Mrs. Aldrich lean out her kitchen window to give her classic opening cry, “Hen-ree, Henry Alll-drich!”, followed by her son's high-pitched reply, “Coming, mother..!”, a tagline so well-recognized in its time that it would still echo for decades to come, serving as a punchline in many contemporary Warner Brothers cartoons.

The actor portraying 16-year old Henry, “the typical American teenager”, for most of the series' run was Ezra Stone, the same actor who originally played the character on stage in the hit play that formed the basis for the hit radio series. He was a good fit for radio, since in reality he was a cigar-smoking heavy-set short guy who looked nothing like what the mind’s eye would imagine the scratchy-voiced teenager should look like.

When radio drama was eventually eclipsed by television's rising star, Ezra Stone went on to a long career as a director, working on various TV series until the early 1980s, when he assumed his father’s position in a non-profit educational foundation. His father had emigrated to the US from Lithuania in 1902, and became such an avid US history buff that he amassed a huge collection of items connected with early Americana. He started the David Library of the American Revolution, in Pennsylvania, in order to be able to share his passion for early American history with his fellow countrymen, and Ezra Stone took his late father’s place as president of this philanthropic Library, until his own untimely death in a car accident in 1994.

This week's particular episode has survived without an original airdate, but I suspect it is from the first summer season in 1939. We can hear actor Norman Toklar playing Willie Marshall, lover of fudge and peanuts (“that’s all I ever eat!”), a character that proved to be short-lived due to WWII. When star Ezra Stone went into the army, Tokar, who had been Stone’s understudy for the original play, took his place behind the mike as Henry Aldrich.

After the war Tokar followed Stone in career choice as well, becoming a director in his own right. After years of working on shows like Leave It To Beaver, his ability to direct children brought him to the attention of Walt Disney. Tokar’s final two decades were spent at the Disney studio, directing gentle comedies like The Happiest Millionaire, Candleshoe, and The Apple Dumpling Gang.

One fascinating bit of dialog occurs in the first minute of the program; Henry's exasperated father is lecturing him on responsibility:
"I used to get up at six o’clock every morning, and after helping my father milk the cows I walked three miles to school, sometimes through four feet of snow…”
This is the same lecture I used to get from my own dad, almost verbatim..! It leads us to ask, how many generations now have been complaining that the latest spoiled one doesn't know the meaning of hard times...?

And how many generations of mothers have responded by standing up for their sons, resolutely seeing in them the potential for good, no matter how off-track their present paths may be leading them...

Previous Radio Memories posts:
Tom Mix, Terry and the Pirates VE Day broadcasts from May 8 1945
You Are There: The Capture Of John Wilkes Booth
Fort Laramie: War Correspondent
CBS Radio Workshop: Son Of Man
Great Gildersleeve: Easter Rabbits
Dimension X: Time And Time Again
An American In England: Women Of Britain
Cavalcade Of America: Bob Hope Reports
The March Of Time: Feb 10 1938 broadcast
Hear It Now: Coming Home From The Korean War
Escape: Vanishing Lady
Rogers Of The Gazette: Rewinding The Town Clock


truepeers said...

Ha, after your intro I couldn't help but imagine a short stocky cigar-smoking figure as I listened!

Charles Henry said...

LOL, whoops! That will teach me to cut back on the behind-the-mike trivia..!

Dag said...

I still Mrs. Aldrich calling out. I'll never live long enough to forget. Nope, not even old-timers disease will shake that loose of me.