A Song For Snowbound Friends & Family!

Memorial Day was Decoration Day.

Vintage Memorial Day Card of Lady Liberty & Her Blossoms

We’re having a peaceful holiday weekend, but it’s very easy to forget why we have this holiday and what it is about, so I wanted to take a moment and reflect on the actual holiday. Memorial Day was once know as Decoration Day. Under either name, it’s a day to remember those who served and perished during war. The first Decoration Day was held shortly “after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union soldiers who died in the Civil War.” The holiday has been expanded to encompass those from wars since. Parades and cemetery visits punctuate this day, and gravesites are decorated. The following poem shares the mixture of love, loss, gratitude, and suffering traditionally experienced today.

Decoration Day

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sleep, comrades, sleep and rest
  On this Field of the Grounded Arms,
Where foes no more molest,
  Nor sentry’s shot alarms!

Ye have slept on the ground before,
  And started to your feet
At the cannon’s sudden roar,
  Or the drum’s redoubling beat.

But in this camp of Death
  No sound your slumber breaks;
Here is no fevered breath,
  No wound that bleeds and aches.

All is repose and peace,
  Untrampled lies the sod;
The shouts of battle cease,
  It is the Truce of God!

Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
  The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
  Your rest from danger free.

Your silent tents of green
  We deck with fragrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been,
  The memory shall be ours.

A Week of Endings for Old Time Radio

Last week Norman Corwin passed away. Corwin was a pioneer in the Golden Age of Radio. A prolific multi-hyphenate in that field, he wrote, directed, and produced his own material. He was nicknamed “The Poet Leaureate of Radio” because even his prose plays had the heightened resonance of poetry, but they were anchored to earth by his humanism. Corwin was one of the last living legends of an art form that vanished from commercial radio in the United States, but there are those who keep old time radio alive by sharing or selling copies of shows, rebroadcasting them on small stations, recreating for contemporary audiences, and even writing new productions.

My husband and I spent time with such folks this weekend. We attended the 2011 Friends of Old Time Radio Convention, but not before I prepped. While I enjoy many old time radio programs, my overall knowledge of radio history has been superficial. I always plan to learn more, so I made myself read up on the subject. I started with Leonard Maltin’s The Great American Broadcast.

Maltin’s book took twelve years for him to write. Like Kevin Brownlow and his Hollywood silent film documentary, Maltin started his project when more old time radio stars and behind the scenes creatives were living. His book gives an overview of this golden age’s history peppered with quotes from those who were there. He delves into the jobs of all who made the programs and particular aspects of the shows like their sound effects and commercials.

In his book, he shares a quote from Corwin that illustrates what made old time radio so great. Radio is:

“at once both public and private. Radio is much more direct; it’s one to one, whereas [with] television you’re talking not to an ear, you’re talking to an eye–a mechanical eye. Also, the eye is a very literal organ and the ear is a part of the senses. The ear is the organ through which we receive, after all, the music of Beethoven, Brahms, and all the great composers, who don’t speak a word to us. It’s all said in symbolism, in symbolic harmonies and symbolic melody; even symbolic cacophony does something which enlists our collaboration, to the extent that we are required to collaborate as we are when we read a book. Then we are giving something. We are not just taking. Television, too often, puts the reader in the position of a passive receptor, of a spectator. This is less likely to happen in radio.

“There’s no set designer like your own self; you furnish the mise-en-scène, the wardrobe, the physical proportions of the actor, and the setting. Then radio is doing something that television very rarely achieves.”

Corwin’s death contributed to casting the pall over the convention as did Peg Lynch‘s absence due to poor health, but the real culprit was the knowledge that this was the last FOTR convention. With so many old time illuminaries passed away, there are not many that remain. They tend to be some of the former child actors and others who came in at the tail end of the Golden Age, and many of the event committee members have aged.

Still there was fun to be had. The live recreations entertained; the panels educated; and we made a couple of vendors happy with our purchases. The camaraderie of fellow enthusiasts was evident, and they were welcoming to first-timers like us. At least one old time radio featured guest was seated at each table. On our last night we had several at our table, and they were quite lively and chatty.

We were glad to attend finally, but it’s sad to think of past guests we missed and will never get the chance to meet. We were offered advice on what to attend next year. There are regional old time radio events like REPS in Seattle. Some recommended the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention and said it is likely to subsume the guests and groups performing at FOTR, while others could not imagine next year without the convention. They were hoping to bring it back somehow. Perhaps they will. After all, they are an imaginative crowd.

Happy Fourth of July!

Debbie Reynolds celebrating the Fourth of July

At Chez Gallagher, we’re very excited about the holiday. We may not be as hands on with the holiday celebrations as Debbie is above, but we’ve got a full slate of activities planned. One I’d like to share with you.  If you’d like to step back in time and experience a live old time radio-style Fourth of July broadcast, then you should tune into Maxwell DeMille‘s Club Cicada tonight.

Club Cicada is somewhere I’ve meant to go, but haven’t yet. It’s a Sunday night, retro-style night club, where the ladies and gents are always well-dressed. Even without the weekly party, how could they resist dressing up for the James Oviatt Building, which is a gorgeous art deco highrise?

Lucky for those of us whose geography distances them from the nightclub, it continues the tradition of live music broadcasts. The modern twist is that you only need a decent internet connection to catch their webcast, complete with video. Tonight’s program features Dean Mora and his 18-Piece Orchestra performing a tribute to the armed forces. It starts at 8:30 PM PST tonight.

Like Fibber McGee’s Closet

My husband couldn’t find his boots this morning, so I told him to check the front closet. He wanted me to check but I refused. I said it was getting to be too much like Fibber McGee’s, and he needed to wrangle it. He claimed not quite.

After reviewing that clip, I’d agree. His boots did not magically fall into his hands when he opened the closet door!

An Extended Holiday

Our Christmas holiday brought with it a certain laziness. We stayed snuggled up in the house with our kitties, music, movies, radio, reading, and cooking.

Some new-to-our-music-rotation favorites were Christmas with the Puppini Sisters, The Crosby Christmas Sessions, Jo Stafford’s Happy Holidays: I Love the Winter Weather, and Pink Martini’s Joy to the World.

A lot of that radio was of the old time variety. Some highlights include Jack Benny, The Great Gildersleeve, Our Miss Brooks, and George Burns and Gracie Allen. An episode of Truth or Consequences brought us to tears. Listening to that show isn’t for the faint of heart. A hospitalized, paralyzed soldier was brought aurally home through the magic of radio only to be brought to tears himself by a special surprise.

I caught up with some blogs, newspapers, and the latest edition of Zelda, but some books remained neglected–only for now.

I’ll save movie details for my film blog, but I will share that we’ve been watching Christmas movies since Thanksgiving, and my husband was in charge of this year’s programming.

And like Carole Lombard above, “Santa” gave us thoughtful and delightful presents. I keep smelling my wrists to whiff the Lily of the Valley perfume he gave me, while my husband has lounged every evening in his red plaid robe.

A lot of ham, root vegetables, Brussels sprouts, cookies, and chocolate were consumed, but exercise routines have been resumed before any disastrous effects were noticed.

The holiday was just what we needed, so much so we’re taking an extended holiday this year. Neither of us are working between Christmas and New Year’s. After all isn’t the best gift the gift of time with loved ones?

Happy Fourth of July!

We’ve been enjoying a comfy, cozy holiday at home today. It’s nice to take a time-out when we’re normally busy rushing about. We’ve been playing old time radio programs all day, some holiday-related. I was surprised when my husband found an episode of Yankee Yarns set in my hometown of Fairhaven, Massachusetts, about one particular Fourth of July celebration.

Here’s Old Time Radio Cat‘s description of the series:

Yankee Yarns is an entertaining show about New England created by Alton H. Blackington. Touting himself as a storyteller, Alton weaves tales that are alternately amazing, eccentric, horrifying and comical. His “yarns” include stories of the sticky Boston streets of 1919, when a gigantic tank of molasses burst and coated the town, or of silly Connecticutians who gather a pool of $10 million to mine gold at the bottom of the ocean.

Yankee Yarns found themselves being told in many forms throughout the years, from radio to newspaper stories to lectures, and finally in a book. Radio listeners pestered Alton long and hard for scripts of his broadcast, so much so that he finally wrote himself a book in 1954. So whether you’re in the mood for a spine tickle or a throat giggle, Yankee Yarns will leave you satisfied.

This particular episode concerns a group of boys, one of them a Delano, who cannot abide by a fireworks curfew. Instead they construct an elaborate plan on how literally to shake things up for the holiday.  They build their own “bombs”, which they plant around town and set off at midnight, driving the local police crazy. The whole tale is narrated in an unmistakable New England accent, lending a bit of local color to the proceedings.

Happy Father’s Day!

Vintage Father's Day Card

Today is the one-hundredth anniversary of Father’s Day. The first celebration occurred on June 19, 1910. The holiday was created by Sonora Smart Dodd, who faced an uphill battle getting it officially recognized. Mother’s Day was already popularized, but the idea of a Father’s Day was little more than a joke to the average person. She thought men like her father, a single parent of six children after her mother’s death, deserved recognition. Sceptics saw the day as little more than another artificially created, commercialized holiday. Even merchants, who took the opportunity to flog their wares, used satirical advertisements to show they were in on the joke. Presidents starting with Woodrow Wilson supported the day, but it was not legally designated as a permanent holiday until 1972 by President Richard Nixon. (Source: Wikipedia)

Culturally we seem to have come a far way from the original attitudes surrounding the holiday. Most families celebrate Father’s Day with sincere enthusiasm, and whether those fathers are parents to actual human beings or the beloved family pet(s), Daddies all over the world are luxuriating in attention and gifts today. We, unlike earlier generations, are more likely to know our parents as people and have closer emotional bonds with them.

The greatest gift we can give each other is ourselves–our personality, love, attention, skills, and knowledge, so let us recognize today the men who have been brave enough to be that honest and devoted. A Happy Father’s Day to them!

The above image was found and altered from the one on Beth Leintz‘s blog Gathering Dust.

National Accordion Awareness Month

Shiina Accordion

The ukulele is not the only vintage instrument enjoying a worldwide revival (See performers like Janet Klein to learn more). Accordions are becoming increasingly popular, and this weekend’s California Report contains a cute tribute to National Accordion Awareness Month. Skyler Fell (of Thee Hobo Gobbelins) represents the younger generation captivated by the accordion, and Vince Cirelli represents the older one excited to see his favorite instrument re-embraced.

Not Your Average Cookie

When I got married, I went the non-traditional route and chose a San Francisco City Hall wedding à la Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio. Unlike Marilyn who wore an almost understated dress suit (nothing with an ermine collar could truly be plain), I wore a bright pink halter top dress, but that’s the closest I came to incorporating any princess elements into the event. Afterward we treated some local friends to a fine dinner to celebrate. We didn’t intentionally leave out long distance family or friends, but those farther away dears couldn’t or wouldn’t travel West for one reason or another. Hubbie and I have talked about possibly having a reception on the East Coast at some point, and when we do, I plan to steal an idea gleaned from a New York Times lifestyle piece.

In December reporter Ron Lieber covered the cookie tables found at Pittsburgh wedding receptions. Their tradition may have been born from ethnic customs and further encouraged by the Great Depression. No matter how fancy the wedding, guests expect a cookie table. This buffet of sweets is one of their wedding highlights. Families spend hours baking and arranging their cookie tables (or they pretend they did and hire caterers), and then the families pray they don’t suffer the embarrassment of running out of the goodies, especially since guests expect to take some home.

I like how this tradition has persisted despite wedding commercialization, and the cookie table adds the homemade crafty element that may be trendy right now, but is ever practical and fun. Baking and sharing is giving of oneself for others enjoyment, and what better way to share the joy of a new union than sharing a sugar buzz with those you love? I’m thinking we’ll have an anniversary party on the East Coast, and the only demand we’ll make of our guests is to bring a plate of cookies for a cookie table. One friend had a candy buffet at his wedding reception this summer that was a big hit, so I’m sure our friends would be game.