If you’ve read HOMICIDE FOR THE HOLIDAYS, then this is the rendition of A Christmas Carol that’s mentioned in the first chapter (although not by name). This version aired December 23, 1938 – the night of the Witchell’s Christmas party.
A movie version of A Christmas Carol had just come out starring Reginald Owen. That was a bit of casting blasphemy at the time since Lionel Barrymore was famous for his portrayal of Scrooge on the radio. He’d reprise the leading role (on radio at least) in 1939.
By the way, if Lionel Barrymore sounds familiar to you it’s probably because you know him as nasty old Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. (That character isn’t far off Ebenezer Scrooge – except that Mr. Potter never has an epiphany and never becomes a better person…)
In keeping with the theme of shows that Vivian and her friends and family may have listened to during the events of Homicide for the Holidays, today’s show is a children’s program that aired between Thanksgiving and Christmas 1938. It’s in the vein of The Cinnamon Bear (if you’ve heard of that) about two children who find a tiny bear in the attic that takes them on a fantastic adventure. That program is from 1937 so it doesn’t qualify for my 1938 series – though it was repeated every Christmas for years. As a matter of fact, my daughter and I are going to a live stage production of The Cinnamon Bear next weekend.
Jonathan Thomas and His Christmas on the Moon is about a six-year-old that goes on an adventure to the moon to rescue a kidnapped Santa. It’s amazing to me that small children would sit quietly in front of the radio and listen intently to a story like this using only ::gasp:: their imaginations. It was a different time.
Here’s a snippet from Homicide for the Holidays (Viv and Charlie #2):
She could picture the ad already: Graham’s face in three-quarter profile, a self-assured half smile on his lips, his dark-brown eyes trained on the reader, a Sultan’s Gold cigarette balanced in fingers held below his chin. The text appearing in a balloon above him would read:
Graham Yarborough, radio’s Harvey Diamond, says, “I smoke nothing but Sultan’s Gold. The mellow taste and smooth fla¬vor of Sultan’s Gold cigarettes calm my throat and assure me of a confident vocal delivery every time.”
And one from Dig Deep My Grave (Viv and Charlie #3):
The national campaign for Sultan’s Gold cigarettes that she’d appeared in with Graham had been a success. “You’ll be sold on Sultan’s Gold,” she thought. It was a catchy slogan. The ad had featured illustrated photos of her and Graham smiling at each other from opposite sides of the page. Speech bubbles came out of each of their mouths. Vivian’s said, “Here, Graham, smoke a Sultan’s Gold. That mellow flavor and cool menthol taste will assure you of a confident vocal delivery every time.” Graham’s said, “Thanks, Viv. Harvey Diamond’s got to be on top of his game, and with Sultan’s Gold, that’s assured.”
Of course, advertisers pulled Santa into their schemes at the holidays as well. It’s weird to think there was a time when this wasn’t weird, isn’t it?
This episode of the Jack Benny Show aired on December 25, 1938. That’s right in the middle of the events of Homicide for the Holidays, and Vivian would have certainly been listening (along with almost everyone else in the country). If you’re not familiar with Jack Benny, his schtick was that he was a cheapskate and sort of an arrogantly loveable loser. So it’s no surprise that when he invites the celebrity couples of the day (Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor, Carole Lombard and Clark Gable, Ginger Rogers and Ronald Coleman) to his Christmas open house that none of them show up.
Listening to Jack Benny is like getting a big, warm hug for me – especially his Christmas shows. So get yourself some hot chocolate (or a hot toddy), put your feet up, and escape to Christmas 1938 for 30 minutes or so.
And I have a HOMICIDE FOR THE HOLIDAYS Pinterest board! If you’d like to peruse what the holidays looked and sounded like in late 1930s Chicago – go have a look. There’s also some gorgeous 1930s fashion, Chicago locations – and some hints about some pop culture mentioned in the book (I’m lookin at you, Rudolph Valentino).
This contest is now closed. Congrats to the winner, Karen O.!
HOMICIDE FOR THE HOLIDAYS (Viv and Charlie Mystery #2) comes out in about six weeks (October 10, 2017 to be exact), so I’m giving away a fabulous, Christmasy themed old time radio prize!
What could you win?
RADIO’S GOLDEN AGE CHRISTMAS
(5 Hours on 5 CDs) The Holiday Season was a very special time during radio’s Golden Age. Here is a wide assortment of programming during those times featuring two radio adaptations of the best loved Christmas films. It’s A Wonderful Life: Lux Radio Theatre’s adaptation of the classic 1946 film with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed re-creating their screen roles. Miracle on 34th Street: Lux Radio Theatre presents the radio version of the 1947 film about Macy’s Santa Claus with Edmund Gwenn re-creating his movie role as Kris Kringle. The Red Skelton Christmas Show of 1951: Features Red as many of his characters during the Christmas Season. The Jimmy Durante Show of 1947: with Jimmy as Santa Claus and guest Margaret O’Brien on Santa’s rounds for the night. And an assortment of holiday skits, music and stories featuring Al Jolson, Bob Hope, Boris Karloff, Charlie McCarthy, Gary Cooper, Hopalong Cassidy, Orson Welles, Spencer Tracy, Bing Crosby, Dixie Lee and Family.
“YOU’VE BEEN POISONED” mug
Godiva Milk Chocolate Cocoa Mix (Does not contain poison… ;))
Cozy Wool Slippers hand knit by yours truly (mostly while watching Hallmark mystery movies and bingeing American Ripper)
Gingerbread Scented Candle from Red Dog Candle Co.
How can you enter?
Email the receipt or picture of the receipt proving you pre-ordered HOMICIDE FOR THE HOLIDAYS (paperback or ebook) to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “HFTH Giveaway”. I’ll randomly pick one winner on October 10, 2017.
Texas Guinan (pronounced Guy-nan) came to fame during the roaring 20s in New York City. She was a mistress of ceremonies, singer, and all around entertainer who held court in various speakeasies. Movie stars Ruby Keeler and George Raft were discovered as members of her dance entourage and Walter Winchell credited her with opening the insider Broadway scene and cafe society to him when he was starting as a gossip columnist (Walter Winchell pops up in Viv and Charlie #3).
Texas had some trouble with the government over violating the Volstead Act (aka Prohibition), so she brought her talents to Chicago’s infamous Green Mill in the winter of 1929/30, booming her trademark “Hello, Suckers!” from the stage of the cabaret. (The Green Mill still exists, of course, but I believe what was the cabaret on the second floor is now either office space or part of a Mexican restaurant.) As fate would have it, a very young Vivian Witchell snuck out of her bedroom one evening and attended a Guinan performance at the Green Mill.* You can read about it in HOMICIDE FOR THE HOLIDAYS.
Unfortunately, Texas got into even more trouble with the law when her manager/boyfriend was involved in a shooting at the Mill in March 1930 that shut down her show.
According to the article in the Tribune she was quite the sass-mouthed dame: After the shooting, she showed up at the police station and said, “I’ve brought the Rolls who’s got the coffee?” (referring to her Rolls Royce). She is also quoted as saying, “This is my first record at this police station. I usually make them for the talking machine people.” She offered to type up her own statement (they declined), then she offered to take the policemen to dinner (they declined), and she finally left them with, “You can always reach me at any court in New York.” (referring to all of her legal troubles in that city).
She left the US for Europe with her troupe after that. Here’s a newsreel clip of her upon her return to the US where she recalls her infamous greeting by calling herself “the biggest sucker in the world…”
Sadly, Guinan died in 1933 of amoebic dysentery that she contracted at Chicago’s Congress Hotel. Here’s a clip of her appearance in a movie called Broadway Through a Keyhole that was released three days before her death (and written by Walter Winchell).