That New Radio Show
By Cory!! Strode
At no point did Tom Liebold think that he would be the biggest star in American radio. He worked the underground comedy circuit, burlesque shows and anyplace he could get a microphone and an audience drunk enough to laugh at his jokes. He'd been doing it at night in New York since he was old enough to get into clubs, and had to work as an office messenger during the day in order to pay the rent on his crappy little apartment.
Most of his days were spent working, and writing down whatever he could think of in a little notebook in his back pocket. Then, at night, he would craft those ideas into jokes. Sometimes they would work and he'd keep working the wording until it was perfect. Sometimes they didn't, and he'd rip that page out of his little notebook and keep working until he had a good hour's worth of material. Of course, he rarely got to use it all in one night, but having a solid hour's worth of jokes was the goal.
However, his days as a standup comedian ended in 1948 when radio producer Vic Fox saw him performing his act between sets of women taking most of their clothes off to indifferent jazz music.
Tom was one of the seven people that Vic hired to write and perform in a show he was trying to pitch to the radio networks as a new kind of variety show. The problem was, radio people were busy converting everything to TV, and they no longer worked to try and get new shows on the air. Vic didn't give up, and decided that if the networks wouldn't take his show, he'd work on getting it in individual stations, having them pay him to run it, instead of paying networks.
It was an innovative idea, and one that could have done very well if not for the endless march of audiences away from radio and toward television.
Still, the show that resulted, That New Radio Show lasted from 1949 to 1954, and for a time, was the most talked about radio show in the nation. The ratings were never really known, and there were large parts of the country that never did put the show on the air (including nearly the entire South). Tom Liebold was one of the breakout stars of the show that first year, and while the show was on the air, was the most sought after comedian in the Northeast.
Tom now works in Hollywood, scripting major motion pictures and says that despite the setbacks of being known as a radio performer knows that screenwriting fame is well within his grasp.
Where did this young star come from? What was his family like? Where did he get his talent for making fun of the world around him?
-Tom Liebold, Stand Up And Talk. 1956
That New Radio Show is an example of how America's enemies have taken over the entertainment industry and are working to subvert this country from within. The show, which most plays in the Northeast and West, calls itself a comedy program, but it routinely attacks American Leaders, our brave young fighting men in Korea protecting us from the Communist Horde, family values and the American Way of life. Mr. Fox has said in interviews with such leftist magazines as "The New Yorker" that he is proud of the fact that he finds humor in such topics as race mixing, the capitalist system and American Government. In this book, we will lay out why this man is one of the most dangerous men in America, and why all good Americans should do whatever they can to get his subversive filth removed from the public airwaves.
-Introduction to Victor Fox, Radio Subversive - 1953
I think that my time on That New Radio Show was the best of my life. I was a punk kid, just a couple years out of high school, and they picked me after reading the work I did in a horrible little college humor magazine. He said that it was easy for him to tell that I was re-writing everything I could to save the stuff that I didn't write, he knew that I would be great for his radio show.
The kids on that Saturday Night thing talk about how hard it is to perform live, and how it burns through material. They should have tried a live radio show that went 39 weeks in a row, with the only break for summer, since no one listened to the radio then. We went through material so fast, I would spend the first month of summer just sitting at the bar, drinking and seeing how long I could go without saying a damn thing out loud.
We all thought we were going to be huge stars after that. I mean, we'd walk down the street in New York and everyone knew us. We didn't have drugs to keep us going, just the thrill of being on the radio and whatever our vice was. I remember in the 60's, all the kids who found the old records we did said that we had to be doing a lot of drugs. The only drug around there the first couple of years were the diet pills the owner took. Then again, we all did a lot of those, not that we were fat or anything, but we had 60 minutes of comedy to write and perform every week, without a break. Still, it wasn't anything like what they started doing in movies and TV in the 70's. I'm amazed any of those people are still alive.
Except for Mary. She was the first person I ever knew who did any kind of drug, and she went through that stuff the same way I went through women. By then, I wasn't working a lot with Mary, even though she was the big star of the show. I always wondered if she would have been as big if people knew about her the way we did. Oh, we loved her, but she sure didn't fit the times. Even if she were a man, she wouldn't have fit the times. I don't know if there would ever be a time that Mary would fit.
Oh, and Tommy. Tommy couldn't turn down anything. Must have been from his days in burlesque, but he was a lot different than we were. It's a damn shame what happened to both of them. Mary most of all. Everyone loved her, and it wasn't enough.
My weakness was the women. You wouldn't think that women would throw themselves at a guy whose job was to read a script into a microphone on Friday nights, but fame attracts women. And I didn't much mind it.
Not at all.
I thought it would last forever.
Nothing ever does, though, does it?
-Excerpt from Carl Baker's Autobiography, unpublished
Don't you believe those people who say that radio is dying. We've got six of the hottest young performers who are going to show you that radio is STILL your best entertainment choice as That New Radio Show gives you three different shows in one! On Friday Nights at 11 PM, listen as you get a night at the theater, a comedy show and a glimpse into the new music that you will be hearing at all the best nightclubs all in one feature packed hour! Radio has never sounded like this before, but we predict that all radio programs will sound like That New Radio Show just as soon as they hear how entertaining it is!
That New Radio Show! Coming to selected radio stations in September!
- From "That New Radio Show"'s press kit, 1949
There are a lot of different ways that Victor Fox would say that he got the idea for "That New Radio Show" according to his interviews. It wasn't that he had a bad memory so much as the idea seems to have come from a lot of different places.
In his first interviews, as the show was getting started, he said it was an attempt to capture the fun of the USO shows he saw while he was stationed overseas during The War. He, like the other soldiers, liked the mixture of laughs, pretty girls and songs, but back in the barracks, the humor wasn't nearly as clean as what the shows showed the soldiers liking. Back in the barracks, it was dirty jokes, long stories about girls back home and talking about breaking the law and getting away with it. There was a danger to the stories in the barracks, since if the commanding officer heard some of them, they'd be on kitchen patrol for the duration.
In the later years of the show, when they were a hit among certain groups, he'd talk about how he wanted to break through the barriers and give people a show that wasn't all formula, canned jokes and endless running gags, like most of radio was at the time. He even said that he got people who had never worked in radio before because if he ever heard another joke about Jack Benny being cheap, he'd throw his radio in a lake. It's hard to know how much of that was true, and how much of it was him just being brought to that attitude by the young performers he had on the show. Either way, it branded the show as an "outlaw", and while it was routinely ranked among the lowest for people over 45, it was the number one syndicated show for people aged 18 to 34, with the largest audience of men under the age of 25 of any show where it was being aired. If you had that audience now, you'd be sitting on a gold mine, but back then, advertisers only cared about total households.
After the show was over, he told what might have been the truest story. The idea came to him when he found out he was losing the only hit the company had worked for had, and they asked him to find a way to replace it when the host retired.
In 1948, Vic Fox was the assistant station manager at KCCO, a non-network station in New Jersey. The station was managed by Brad Wald, who had gotten to that position because he was the host of the only show they had that they created themselves and sold to other stations, "Jazzmines". Jazzmines was a 90-minute show where Brad would bring in jazz musicians and they would jam, and talk about what they were doing as they played. They discussed improv, talked about how they played off of each other's riffs, and generally treated it like a night at a club where they were telling the customers what they were doing. It had a small following, and had been on the air for 7 years and was carried on 25 stations nationwide, mostly concentrated on the coasts.
Brad was a slight man, and his poor health had kept him out of the war, but Vic was a big bear of a man, almost 230 pounds, six feet tall, and while he had a bit of a paunch, he lifted weights four to five times a week, so he could fill out the shoulders of a suit. Brad was balding, bespectacled and knew very little about business. He'd started at the station in order to supplement his living playing in clubs, and when the owner had found out he knew ever jazz musician in New York City, they decided that he would bring them in on a weeknight, record a session and sell it to stations to play on Friday nights. Since that point, Brad's whole job as station manager was to create the show and the assistant station manager did all the other work at the station.
That's where Vic came in. He got the job as assistant soon after he got out of the Army, and was the one who hired and fired, filled the schedule, drove the sales people to sell the ads and made it so Brad could do what he did without having to bother with actually doing his job. Vic never got mad about it, simply because Jazzmines was a minor hit, the station did well and he was paid better than most of the other people he knew. He hadn't settled down, since he had enough money and was still attractive enough to get the ladies, so he didn't worry about a mortgage, appliances or the like.
Where Brad dressed in fine suits, well tailored and looked almost like a dandy, Vic bought his clothes off the rack, usually forgot to wear a hat, and generally looked as if he'd just rolled out of bed, thrown something on and come in to work. Mostly because it was what he had done.
And yet, despite their differences, Brad and Vic worked well together. They knew each other's faults, and were able to work around them. Brad was the creative guy who put together a show that made enough money that everything the station itself made was just gravy.
As summer came, Vic could tell that something was going on. The owner, Charles Rose, was coming in more often, and actually using his office. Before that spring, he'd seen Charles in his office a handful of times, but as April turned to May, he would see him coming in to work at the station at least three times a week.
Now, Charles was a character. His father had built the station up in the very early days, locating it in New Jersey right across the border from New York so that he could broadcast into New York City without having to deal with the New York government, which he felt was out to get businesses whenever they needed votes. His father, Bill, had been the kind of guy who would rather put together a new business deal than spend time with his family. He'd be on the road, hustling with the ad sellers, shaking hands and cutting deals, all the time making sure that the station got better rates than the other stations he knew of. When the networks started forming, Bill thought it was the dumbest idea he'd ever heard of.
Right before the war, Bill died, and Charles was brought in to run the business, as Bill other two sons had moved far away and were owning businesses of their own. Charles, who wasn't even out of college yet, was told to keep the radio station running, and if he did, it would all be his. He finished school and had an inward and outward philosophy that probably had more to do with "That New Radio Show" than anyone at the time thought.
His external philosophy was to do as little as possible, and look as if he was nominally in charge. His internal philosophy, which he ran the station by, was to hire the best people, tell them that they would share in the success, and get out of their way. Charles didn't know a damn thing about business or radio. He'd majored in English with a minor in mathematics, and had done everything he could to not take a single business class. Some would say it was because he wanted to be the opposite of his father. He said it was because he thought the whole idea of spending all of your mental energy on making money was a tremendous waste of potential.
Charles wasn't much older than Vic, but he dressed even more casual, rarely wearing a tie, rarely making sure his shaggy hair was well kept and never wearing a suitcoat in the office. Charles was always battling with his weight as well, and would go through three sets of clothes a year. By the time summer came around, he was losing weight, and then in the fall he would start to gain it again because he couldn't go outside and exercise by walking.
So, when he was coming into the station more and more, Vic had to have known that something was up. Vic says now that he just thought Charles was bored at home, but no matter what he thought then, by early June, everything changed.
It was the first week of June, and a couple of hours before Jazzmines was going to be records when Charles called Vic to meet him in his office. When Vic got in, Brad was already sitting in one of the chairs, and Charles shut the door.
The office itself was filled with empty bookshelves, because Charles always said that he would eventually fill them with books that he'd read and thought the rest of the staff at the radio station should read. The problem was, when Charles would finish a book, he would toss it in a box, and then never ever bring the boxes to the station. When his wife would find the boxes, filled with novels, she'd take them to her church to be sold at a rummage sale, whereupon they would have a spat, she would promise never to do it again, and the whole cycle would repeat. The desk was Spartan normally, but now it was covered with notebooks, sandwich wrappers, pill bottles, a couple of very out of date calendars and tons of little knick knacks that normally would have been at home, but Charles had brought them in so that it felt like he had something in his office other than work.
Vic sat down and waited for Charles to take his seat, which took longer than a normal person. Charles was very easily distracted, and he had to make sure the Venetian blinds on the windows were perfectly set so that the room had light but wasn't blinding. He then picked up a couple of the knick knacks and started to arrange them on one of the bookshelves, talking about how he keeps meaning to decorate the office, but there just isn't ever any time. By the time he sat down at his desk, the room had been partially rearranged.
"I have some bad news to tell you, Vic, and I hope to you take it well," Charles started.
Vic knew at the moment that he was going to be fired. He'd been slacking lately, mostly because he was very hot for this redhead he'd met a couple of months before. She was an artist's model, but was trying to get into acting. He would be up with her until all hours of the night, and after the first few times of coming in late and no one saying anything, he just thought it wouldn't be a big deal if he got an extra hour or two of extra sack time.
He started thinking of all the jobs he could be working to try and get when they tossed him out. He'd never worked in a factory, but there were always jobs there. Good union jobs with benefits. He knew just about every club owner in the area, and could probably get something with them too, but he'd have to give up his nights for working if he did that.
Before he could map out his entire life after being fired, Charles said, "Brad has decided to leave the station. He's going to move out to LA where he's got a job offer to work on music for movies. What a bastard, leaving me here all alone, and getting rid of the one big success we've got."
"What do you mean?" Vic asked.
"Jazzmines," Brad said, "Part of the deal I had with Charles when I left was that it was my show. If I wasn't working on it, it wouldn't be done anymore."
"Why did you make a deal like that?" Vic asked Charles.
"Simple," Charles said, leaning back as far as his high back chair would allow, "The only reason the show is on the air is because Brad knows everyone, and they want to jam with him. If he goes, why would anyone want to come here? It's not like we pay them very much. Being on the show gets them gigs, we tape it on a night there isn't much work, and we don't have a huge audience. The show was Brad's baby. I'm going to let it end."
Vic scratched his head and said, "Well, this is great for you, Brad. I'm amazed you were able to keep it a secret this long. When do you leave?"
"End of the month. We're going to tell the stations when we send them the show, and the listeners in next week's show. It'll be a great month, I'm getting everyone in who's anyone and we're going to have four all-star sessions. Then, we have our 13 weeks of reruns, and then, it's over."
"Damn shame, too," Charles said, "Now it means I have to promote you. Well, that's not the damn shame. You're already doing the job. The shame is that we are losing our cash cow. I tried to keep him, but Hollywood has a hell of a lot more money than I do. And with Television starting to heat up, Brad won't be hurting for work."
Brad looked a bit embarrassed and said, "Hey, they're hiring me because of who I know. They want me to get other guys out there with more talent than they have now. The whole big band thing is fading out, and they think jazz might be on the comeback."
Vic didn't pay attention to them for a bit as he started thinking. Yeah, he'd just got a promotion, but the problem was that the radio station wasn't doing the best. They were slowly losing advertisers, and if television was going to be as big as he'd heard, they could all be out of a job in five years. He thought while Charles and Brad talked about old times and old shows. Then, when there was a pause in their conversation, he said, "Have you thought about replacing Jazzmines with something else?"
Both of them stopped talking and looked at Vic. Vic had never given much of a damn about Jazzmines, sticking to his own job and spending his nights in clubs where it didn't much matter what kind of music they played as long as it was the kind that women liked.
Charles was the first to say anything, "No, because I don't know a damn thing about radio shows. The only reason Jazzmines got to be on the air was because Brad decided to bring in a bunch of musicians when we had dead air to fill."
It was a little more complicated than that, but Vic doubted if even Charles knew how Brad had made the show so popular.
Brad was as shocked as Charles, but didn't dismiss the idea.
"What kind of show are you talking about?" Brad said. He told Vic later that he was in a state of shock when he'd mentioned starting a new show, since Vic had never shown any interest in the creative side of things.
"I don't know," Vic said, "But I know that we've got a good thing going here, and to just let some of it fade away would be a shame. We've got a month, and then we're in reruns until September, right? That should give me time to get something going."
"I dunno, Vic. The stations will want to have their new shows in place when we get done with reruns, and the market is really soft for new shows. Besides, you don't know anyone in music," Charles said.
"It doesn't have to be music," Vic said, running with his idea, half formed, "The way we sold Jazzmines was to tell people it was like going to a nightclub when you had to stay home. Why can't we keep up that idea, just not do it the way we are doing now. Why not make it a night at the theater, or..."
"Vic, the only theater you go to is burlesque," Brad laughed, "And you can't get girls in pasties to work well on the radio. Maybe when they get TV you can have that sort of thing."
"No," Vic said, a bit too loud, "It doesn't have to have dancers, but it can have the same sort of little skits and stuff they use to keep their license. It could be a variety show."
Charles stood up and walked over to his window, he didn't look at either of them when he talked, which was his habit when he was lost in thought, "Look, Vic, I don't know a damn thing about entertaining people. I just hire people who know how to do that. I don't know a damn thing about making money either, so I hire people to do that. You know how to make money, I know, or I would have gotten rid of you years ago. Do you think you could pull together this idea of yours in a month?"
Vic thought a moment. He was pitching a show with no format, no stars, and no scripts. All he had was a concept, and a weak one at that. However, he always told people that he knew he had to pursue the idea because it was the first creative one he had ever had. He wasn't about to give up in a meeting without at least trying it.
Before he left that office that day, he had gotten Charles to give him a month to pull something together to pitch to the stations carrying Jazzmines as a replacement, and Brad had promised to show him where talented, but undiscovered people were spending their time. New York was a short car drive away, and Charles said that they could spend as much time as they needed to get the idea set up.
After the show started, Brad did everything in his power to give all of the credit to Vic, even when Vic would tell people that he worked with him as a talent scout. It wasn't that Brad didn't want credit for the show, it's that he knew that he had nothing to do with the actual work.
Brad, being a quiet, bookish sort of guy never really stood out when he went anywhere, but Vic was the kind of guy that other people just liked talking to. It was made evident when they went on their first talent hunt later that week.
Brad was lining up tickets to off-Broadway plays and talking to his jazz friends about people who might be looking for work, but the first place they went was the burlesque club that Vic spent too much of his time in. Vic prided himself on never dating dancers, but he loved to watch them. When he and Brad came in the club, the people who worked at the club greeted Vic, some coming up and chatting with him as Brad found a quiet stool at the bar and ordered a drink. The club itself was pretty small. Most people who wanted to see a burlesque show went to New York, where the big talent was. This was more of a place for men to go after work, or for dancers who were just starting out and didn't do so well on the stage.
Vic, however, seemed to be in his element, according to Brad. Vic quickly grabbed his sleeve and motioned him toward a table down front, where they were being set up with drinks. Brad couldn't help but be impressed. He'd been playing in small jazz clubs for years, and most of the people who got that kind of treatment were either big spenders or mobsters. Which is why, after they were seated, he leaned over to Vic and said, "Is there something you aren't telling me about your life?"
"Like what?" Vic said, smiling and waving at the people who were yelling hello to him over the band.
"Like, I know your salary and I know you can't afford to be getting this kind of treatment," Brad said.
Vic waved him off, "Nah, I'm a regular and know a bunch of the guys here. The place is owned by a friend, and before I got a job at the station, I was a bouncer here."
"That's something you forgot on your resume."
"You're leaving in a month. I might slip up and tell you a lot of stuff I wouldn't have when you could fire me."
"I still could, you know."
"Not likely," Vic said, pulling out a cigar and cigar cutter from his jacket pocket, "I'm doing a good job, and I'm about to be a big time radio producer. If you're nice to me on the way up, I might give you a job."
They both laughed over that, and the house lights went down. They watched a couple of dance acts that mostly seemed to involve a woman taking her clothes off in the slowest possible manner, until they got down to pasties, at which point they would wave at the crowd and leave the stage. Vic was leading the applause and hooting, which Brad seemed a bit more interested in who was playing the band.
After the first two dancers, a comedian came out. He couldn't have been more than 19, and still looked like a teenager, sweating on stage as he wore a suit that was a size to big, since he would "grow into it." He started with a few lame jokes about the dancers, and told everyone to drink up and he would get a lot funnier.
Then, almost as if a switch was flipped in his back, he started a routine that went for about ten minutes that had everyone rolling. Vic laughed for the first two, but then realized that he was looking at someone he could hire for the show. His routine was fresh, not a bunch of old jokes strung together with good timing, but a long story that led from one joke to the next without any sort of segue he could notice. It was as if the kid was just out there, talking, except that he used different voices for the characters in the story.
It was a simple one, just going to the car dealer to buy his first car, but he wove a story around it, setting up each joke so that the audience knew what was coming next, but laughed anyway. However, the thing that Vic couldn't get over was how rapidly he could switch from voice to voice. By the end of the routine, he'd done almost 20 different voices, and in some cases, had three and four different characters talking to each other with no one being confused as to who was talking to who.
It was amazing to Vic. Yeah, it was funny, the audience had gone from wanting him off the stage for the next dancer to giving him a huge round of applause and shouting for an encore when he finally did leave the stage for the next girl.
Vic looked over at Brad, and Brad was easily thinking the same thing. They had to hire that guy before anyone else found him.
* * * Tom Liebold had only been working the club for a few months when Vic and Brad told him that they were putting together a radio comedy show, and they wanted him to be involved. The oddest thing to Tom was that they didn't ask him to audition, just told him that they wanted to hire him. It was a break he wasn't even expecting, but then, he had next to no experience in show business, and didn't know how strange it was to be hired without an audition.
Tom was 19, and telling jokes at the burlesque club was the second job he had had, the first one had been bagging groceries. He'd been working since he was 16, mostly because his family had a lot of trouble making ends meet. His father had worked in the coalmines, but when Tom was 7, his father had been trapped in a cave-in, and the rescue effort hadn't gotten to him and the other miners in time. It was a rumor around the town that the mining company had called off the rescue effort when they calculated that it would cast less to pay out life insurance claims than to keep digging to try and save the workers. Tom's mother didn't believe it, but Tom did, and that thought that companies would trades lives for money fueled his politics.
At 19, he was still a gangly, goofy looking young man, with a close cropped mane of black hair, a strong nose and deep-set eyes that looked serious, even when he was telling a joke. Part of the style of his delivery was that he kept a stone cold expression on his face, and his jokes were so broad that the contrast helped with the sub-par material. However, the work he excelled at was in impressions and charactures of people. He had a number of characters he used on stage who were all figments of his imagination, but he also did impressions of politicians that were dead on.
He learned quickly that the only political humor he could get away with was the broad stuff, calling them liars or cheats in different ways. Any time he started doing jokes about actual current events, he got very little reaction, mostly because the people who came in weren't' quite as interested in what was going on in government as he was. Not many people were.
As he had grown up, he'd developed a radical way of looking at the world that didn't fit into any category neatly. He saw all political beliefs as inherently corrupt, and after going to a meeting of the local communist party when he was 16, he loudly declared that they were just as greedy as capitalists, but they wanted the government to control business rather than business controlling government. He made the front page of the newspaper for being kicked out of the meeting and causing the police to be called.
Luckily for him, the police were on his side and broke up the meeting with a few arrests and thanking Tom for leading them to the "agitators". Tom had also been very interested in the war when he was in junior high and high school, following it with a passion, even though he wouldn't be old enough to enlist. He often told friends that the US fighting the Nazis was the only good thing the government had done in his lifetime.
He'd gotten the job at the club when he was bagging the groceries of someone who worked at the club and was making wisecracks to keep himself from being bored while he worked. As he bagged the groceries, he did a routine involving three different people arguing over which bag to put the food into. The person happened to be the owner of the club and he told Tom to drop by about getting some stage time.
Tom debated it for a couple of days, knowing that if he took the job, he couldn't tell his mother where he was working. The years since his father passed had been hard on her, and she'd supplemented the settlement the mine gave her by taking in laundry, cleaning houses and cooking meals for people. Tom had two younger sisters who helped their mother, and Tom was expected to keep a job so that they could keep up the house payments, since they were still five years from paying off the mortgage.
Tom did go to the club three days after he'd been given the offer, and was whisked onto the stage to tell a few jokes and show that he could keep people entertained between dancers, and he did well enough that he got hired. The money was enough that he could leave the grocery store, lose the employee discount there and still bring home twice as much money as he made bagging groceries.
He wasn't there more than a week before he had three solid 15 minute sets that would get laughs every time. He would rotate in new jokes to try them out, but whenever the crowd wasn't biting on the new stuff, he went back to the material that he knew worked. He also had an explosion of creativity, and when he felt comfortable, would suggest new routines to the dancers, most of which had been doing the same skits and dances since the war.
Tom used to talk about the time as being his favorite time in show business, being able to try out new material at the drop of a hat, the only rule was that he had to keep people from leaving between girls, and being backstage with exotic dancers in various stages of undress, but the reality was that while he was there, he was consumed with the fact that he'd fallen into the job so easily that he could lose it just as easily. He hadn't had time for a girlfriend with having to work so much through high school, so he didn't feel comfortable around the women backstage, and would often turn away to give them privacy as they changed, something that endeared him to them. They saw him as the club's "little brother," and were thankful that he actually had some new ideas.
When Vic and Brad approached him, he reacted the same way he had when the club's owner had, worried that he might be making a bad decision and waited three days before going down to the station to find out about the job. By then, Vic and Brad were in New York, but they'd left a note for Tom that they were willing to hire him at a rate about double what he was getting at the club and he would only have to work once a week.
The once a week part appealed to Tom more, since he'd been working seven days a week since he'd started working. What he didn't know was that once they hired him as a writer, days off would be just as few and far between at this job.
* * *
By the time Tom took the job, Vic had already decided on two other cast members, both women. He and Brad had decided that they wanted to scout out talent in off-Broadway plays, trying to find people who hadn't worked in radio before. As much as he denied it in later years, that aspect of the show was the thing that Brad brought to the mix. He'd started Jazzmines by just bringing in people he'd worked with in small clubs, partly because they were his friends, and partly because he'd always hated auditions. Vic, who knew nothing about putting together a radio show, had asked how the show should be put together, and Brad said that they would look for talent, rather than have a casting call, so that they could get fresh voices instead of people who wanted to do yet another situation comedy or "show-biz" variety show. By the time the cast was all together, Brad's dislike of normal show business had seeped into everyone who worked on the show, to the point where all you needed to say in a read-through to shoot down a joke or sketch would be to say "That's so Jack Benny."
The first person they picked for the show was Mary Allred, who was working in a prototype improvisational group in a tiny little theater in New York. Brad knew the theater since they had jazz nights on the weekends, and acting during the week, more an acting class than an actual theater group. They got there and saw that there were only about 20 people in the audience, and Vic wanted to leave right away, but Brad got him to stay, saying, "At the very least, anyone from here would be happy to get paid to perform."
"What do you mean? I could see if they get a part of the gate, they wouldn't get much, but..."
"No, these people are all students. They are paying for acting lessons, and their classes are to come up with stuff based on what the audience suggests."
Vic was very skeptical, but when the show started, there were five performers and a single teacher, who would ask the audience for situations and then give the actors an assignment based on those suggestions. The other four performers were stiff and often seemed like they were lost, trying to think something up.
Mary, on the other hand, took over the stage every time she was called up to perform something. She was short, a tiny bit stocky, with short brown hair in a bob and huge brown eyes. She was a master of facial expression, sometimes able to get a laugh with just a reaction to something stupid said by another actor by looking out at the audience and slowly raising a single eyebrow. Her timing was impeccable, and she could think quickly, often guiding the other actors working with her into funny ideas. Mary was a leader, and Vic and Brad stayed until the class was completely finished, just to see what she would do next.
When the class was done, they stayed in the lobby until the teacher came out, and they got permission to go backstage to talk to her.
Backstage, Mary was a much different person. On stage she had been the master of her domain, the queen of all she surveyed, but backstage, her dressing area was a disaster area, with clothes strewn everywhere, utter chaos on the dressing table, and tons of notes written on the wall all around her mirror and dressing cabinet.
It mirrored what she was like in school, a whirlwind of chaos that couldn't keep anything in any sort of system, but somehow seemed to be on top of whatever whirlwind she created. There is very little information about her from before she got to New York and started taking every acting class she could afford, but it is known that she came from a small town named Raven's Port Illinois, which was a very small farming community, and her father was sharecropper through the depression, working land owned by a bank. He got to keep half of the profits, did all of the work, and any money he spent had to be approved by one of the bank managers.
Mary went to the local school, but was in trouble from day one. In Kindergarten, she was thought of as a troublemaker, often finishing the lesson long before the other children and exploring the toys and other lessons that the teacher hadn't gotten to yet. She wasn't a popular child through grade school, but she made up for it by getting as much attention as she could, that led to her being a discipline problem.
She didn't talk much about her past, and never mentioned her family, but in some of the sketches, it was easy to see things from her past show up. The sketches based in school usually had her involvement, and she said in a number of interviews at the time that the principal who lived to smack children with "The Board Of Pain" was almost entirely truthful about the principal at her grade school. There is a little more information about her in High School, as she was involved in choir, the drama club and anything else that involved getting up in front of a bunch of people on a stage.
About the only time she wasn't in trouble was when they were getting ready for a play or a concert, and she spent the rest of her time with various boyfriends, whom she would be madly in love with until they did something she considered "cheating", at which point they would be objects of her wrath, which was considerable.
The example that most people in Raven's Port remembered was when boy she went to Junior Prom with spent most of the meal talking to a female friend whom was at the same dinner table. They had a loud argument on the dance floor later, in which she left the Prom angrily. Later that week, the boy's car had its engine completely removed in the night and placed inside his barn, and filled with cattle manure. No one could ever prove it was Mary who did it. She denied it, but did so in such a way that any of the other boys she dated always made sure that they were very careful when they talked to other girls.
Mary also had a reputation for being promiscuous, and as she was in high school during World War II, it was not a good thing to have in a small town. Mary never saw it that way, but often said that when she fell in love, she couldn't stop herself from making the relationship physical. Either way, by the end of her Senior year, she had a number of State awards from singing and had been in every school play since her Freshman year. She could not wait to get out of Raven's Port and to New York, when she would tell everyone that she would be a huge star on the stage.
She didn't even try for a college scholarship, thinking that college would be a waste of her time, but she knew she needed to take more acting lessons. She left Illinois on a train two weeks after graduation, and never returned. In New York, she found a small apartment that she paid for with a waitressing job, and started acting classes immediately, going to every audition for a play that was posted.
She got a number of small roles, but didn't attract any attention. Her personal life was still pure chaos unleashed, as she fell in love with a man the week she moved to New York, and would split her time between staying at his apartment, working and going back to her own apartment to get ready for either a class, a role or work. She'd been in New York for 2 years when Vic and Brad saw her, and had been through 3 different boyfriends, all of which had been actors. One was almost 20 years older than she was, and that is who she was seeing when Vic and Brad offered her the job.
From what she told the other cast members, he was in radio, working on a show that was "at the top of the ratings", but she would never tell anyone who it was. They broke up a couple of weeks before the debut of "The New Radio Show", and backstage, she seemed as if she was falling apart. She would lock herself in her office when she wasn't needed for writing sessions of rehearsals and cry herself sick, but when it was time to perform, she was just as fresh and bright as she had been on the stage during the improvisational sessions.
That night, when Vic and Brad went back stage to talk to her, they were amazed at the mess she had around her dressing area. It stood in stark contrast to the other dressing areas, which were filled with props and notes, but looked neat and tidy compared to hers. Then again, a fifteen-year-old boy's bedroom looked neat and tidy compared to her dressing area.
Brad was the one who did all the talking, even though Vic was the one who was actually putting the show together. He explained that they were putting together a weekly comedy show that would feature sketches, it wasn't a situation comedy, and that they would need performers whom would write and act in their own material.
"I don't write anything," Mary said, "I just act."
It was at this point that Vic took over, "You did your writing tonight, up on that stage. They gave you an idea and you just made up the whole thing. That's the kind of writing we want."
"You mean that you're going to just let us make stuff up about anything and put it on the air?" she asked.
"Anything that won't get us in trouble."
"What about the other people? What if they can't keep up?"
"That's why we'll have scripts. My idea is that we spend a couple of days writing, they practice for a day and record it all on Thursdays."
"I dunno," Mary said, "I don't really work that way. The stuff we do here in class is just to get us to create emotions and characters. If I had to sit down with a bunch of other people and start thinking up what they would do...I don't think I could do that."
"How about if, instead of you sitting down at a typewriter or anything like that, you just make stuff up, we get a secretary to write it all up, polish it a bit, and use that? Do you think you could work that way?"
Mary thought a bit before she asked how much she would get paid.
Mary often said that the main thing that won her over to be on the show was the fact that she liked the idea that the scripts were put together fast, so that she wouldn't get bored with the material. Her biggest problem in acting was the fact that she had to memorize the lines and deliver the same lines in the same way for a long period of time. Even with a director ready to shout at her, she had a lot of trouble keeping from changing her lines to what she thought would work better on a near nightly basis. She complained that the other actors with "more like machines that people," and she would quickly get bored with parts when she felt she couldn't let the characters grow.
The pay was nice too, and even with having to ride to New Rochelle daily, it was a lot more than she was making as a waitress.
* * *
The only other performer that fell in their laps on that trip was Ellie Schwankle. Ellie was working at a Jazz Club as a waitress and occasional singer, and a couple of musicians Brad knew recommended her. Ellie wasn't really trying to be an actress, but instead wanted to be a full-time singer.
Ellie was incredibly beautiful, which made her the first of the stars that caught the public's attention when the show started, even though she never really fit in with the cast. She was married to a guitarist who made a solid living working with a big band at one of the lesser-known clubs. Her husband had gotten her a gig singing with the band on the slow nights, just so she could get some experience. Syd, her husband, also thought it was nice that her got to spend three night of the week with his wife at work. They had met in college, she was majoring in education and had thought she would be a music teacher when she graduated. Syd had been in the military at the beginning of the war, and was stationed in Pearl Harbor on the day of the attack.
He was credited with shooting down two Japanese planes, but had no idea if he had actually hit them or if it had been one of the other gunners. He also took a load of shrapnel in his leg, and was discharged from the army because of his injuries. He had to use a cane when he walked, but it hadn't slowed him down at all.
He immediately went into college upon getting out of the military, and was taking business classes, but during his stay in the hospital, he'd taken up the guitar, and was playing in clubs to put himself through school.
After college, he and Ellie had gotten married, and he landed a gig with a big band, and supplemented his income by doing the accounting for the club and helped the musicians with their own finances. The club didn't make a lot of money, and they didn't pay the musicians the top dollar, but Syd had an instinct for investment and knew how the tax laws so well that everyone who let him take over their finances made out better than people who were in much bigger bands.
Syd also had a knack for knowing what was starting to get hot, and would make sure that the club owners and other musicians were investing their money, rather than just spending in on booze and broads like so many of the other musicians he'd known.
Ellie was soft spoken, but had a singing voice that sounded almost operatic when she sang. She also had an easygoing manner in front of a crowd, and would charm people between songs.
It didn't hurt that she was a gorgeous figure, and the face of a movie star. Syd always said that he had married far above his station, but Ellie loved him dearly, and had trouble when she was away from him too long.
Vic and Brad spent their last night on their "talent hunt" in the club where they worked, and Brad immediately said that they should hire her.
Vic, was a bit more skeptical, "We don't need singers. We need comedians and actors. If I hire her, we'll have to give her a song every week."
"No, you wouldn't," Brad said, "Look at how she can work the crowd. She's got stage presence."
"Who cares? We're on the radio! No one will care how big her tits are or how round her ass is. I'll take someone who got beat with the Ugly Tree if they are funny, and I don't' see her as funny."
"You need performers," Brad said, "And she can perform. Her voice is perfect for radio, and if she didn't work here on weeknights, someone would have already picked her up."
Vic listened a while longer, taking the opportunity to have a few more drinks. Then, as she finished up her set and the band took 15, he finally asked, "Why her? We've seen a shitload of people. What's the big deal about her?"
Brad, who had not taken his eyes off of her the whole night, said, "She's about to be a huge star. She just needs the right platform. Your show could be that platform, and once she's big, you'd get all the credit. That means more ads, more stations and more money. You don't need her on the show, but if you put her on the show, she'll put you on the map."
"How do you know that?" Vic asked.
"Simple," Brad said, "think back to when she was on the stage. No matter what she was doing, the crowd was silent. How many other people have we seen in places like this where people weren't at least placing drink orders or talking to their dates. She grab a crowd and doesn't let them go until she's done."
Vic thought back and agreed with Brad. Since Brad knew Syd, they waited until the next day to call and offer her the job. Because of Syd's business background, he was able to negotiate a great deal for Ellie to be on the show, and she would be the highest paid performer, provided Syd took a job at the radio station to handle the paperwork that Vic was doing now. When they left, Vic said that they had gotten the short end of the stick, and he was worried about how Charles would take the news that they'd hired a new assistant station manager without consulting him.
That would be the least of their worried about the deal they had put together to get Ellie on the show. The other thing that Vic hadn't been happy about was that Ellie would get to sing on the show every week. Vic hated that part of radio, since in his mind, shows that did that came to a screeching halt for the weekly song, but Brad convinced him on the car ride back that it was something that the audience expected.
"What else does the audience expect?" Vic asked.
"I dunno," Brad answered, "I just know that on every comedy show, they have the running gags, continuing characters, a singer to give the other performers a break and a nice wrap up at the end."
According to Brad, it was during that car ride back that Vic took over creative control of the show, and why he doesn't see himself as having a part in it, even though he stayed through the summer to help get the cast into place. Vic started talking about how he wanted to challenge the expectations of the audience, give them things they didn't expect. Surprise them by taking all of the normal conventions of radio comedy and turning them on their head.
Brad said that he didn't say much of anything on the drive back, but that Vic talked like a man possessed, pulling a notebook out of the back seat and writing down things he wanted to do with the show. Making fun of other radio shows and movies, but not with lame gags, but insulting what made them bad. Vic talked about how he wanted the show to get jokes to the audience, but do it in a way that challenged how they thought, like Mark Twain and Will Rodgers had done.
By the time they got back to the station, Vic had filled three pages with notes and asked Brad to come to his office with him to bounce ideas around.
To Vic's credit, he always mentioned Brad being there and being the inspiration for the show. Brad, on the other hand, always said he was just a witness to Vic's creativity being born.
Either way, by the time they went home that night, Vic had a clear idea of what he wanted to do, and Brad thought that the show would be pulled off the air in 6 weeks.
* * *
Carl Baker was the next person picked for the show, and his being picked was mostly luck. When Vic and Brad got back to the station after their New York City tour, they were wondering how they would fill out the show. They'd been looking for a week and only had three performers, only two of whom had any sort of writing ability.
It might have been easier if Vic had wanted to do auditions, but he argued against them, saying that it was like a job interview and the job he was asking people to do was different from typing or making car parts. He wanted people who were so committed to doing the kind of stuff they were going to put on the air that they were already doing it, not wanting to find a job and then start doing it. Brad and Vic spent a lot of time in Vic's office, talking about the philosophy of the show Vic wanted to put together. Vic would talk about how he wanted it to have the kind of energy that radio was lacking, not just a comedy show but a show where people had no idea what they would be hearing next. He usually used Orson Wells as an example of the kind of talent he was looking for. Brad, who had been in show business for a while, and knew how performers worked, would say that Vic needed to get a bunch of talented people together and get them to work together, and the stuff they would come up with would be good because they would start playing off each other.
These conversations went long into the night, usually involving a lot of Chinese food and beer, so that when the finally did leave the station, Vic's office was filled with empty beer bottles, take out containers and smells that would drive most of the staff away from the office until Vic dragged himself back in the next day, tired, slightly hung over, and no closer to getting any new people hired.
After two weeks of this (and calls from Tom and Mary asking when they should quit their jobs and show up for work), Vic came into his office around noon and saw that Charles was in his office, tossing empty food containers in a garbage can and drinking one of the leftover beers from his mini-fridge.
Before Vic got a chance to apologize, Charles sat him down and showed him a huge stack of magazines, mimeographed collections and newspapers.
"This is where you are going to get your writers," Charles said, clearing off the chair across from the desk in Vic's office last and tossing the newly empty beer bottle in the trash.
Vic started looking through the stack and saw that it was a rather large collection of college humor magazines. He'd heard of Harvard Lampoon, but these magazines and newspapers had names like "Ugh" and "The Semi-Monthly Mess". He leafed through them, and listened at Charles explained, "Those are college humor magazines. I overheard you and Brad arguing about the show, and I agree with both of you. You're right that you want people who are fresh and haven't done this kind of thing before. If we're going to make it, it has to be something that stations can't get anywhere else, otherwise, why not get the shows that have been around so long that everyone knows them? Brad's right, though, that you need people to come in and show you what they've got. You can't expect people to just fall in your lap. You got a few, but those are going to be the exceptions."
Charles leaned back in his chair, and even though Vic was the one behind the desk, Charles had the air about him that let anyone know who was in charge here. Vic was leafing through one of the magazines and saw that they had crudely drawn cartoons, with funny captions underneath that were just on the border of being offensive. There were poems. A lot of poems. Vic skipped over them, as he'd never much cared for poetry in school, and he could see no reason to read some college student's funny parody of a poem he didn't know. As he scanned the magazine, however, he stopped on a couple of longer articles, his eye caught by a funny title or a line at the beginning of the article that was clever. He earmarked a couple of pages and said, "Where did you get these?"
"I called a bunch of colleges here on the East Coast and had them send me their humor magazines and newspapers. These are people who want to write so much that they are putting it in the hands of fellow students and advisors so that they can get through to an audience. They're hungry. They haven't worked for Jack Benny writing gags for the past 5 years. I think this is what you are looking for. But I DO think you are going to have to audition them, since none of them have worked in radio, that I know of."
"What about bringing them in and all the expense of that?" Vic said, looking that some of the magazines were from colleges in Virginia and Florida.
"If they can't afford to drive up or take a train, then they don't want a job in show business as bad as they think, now do they?"
Charles stood up, went over to the mini-fridge and pulled out another beer, the last one, and "You only have another month of Brad being around. Then, you are on your own. I know you can do it, but I'd be happier if Brad got you through the first week or so with the people, because he knows how to get great work out of people. Most of the musicians he has come in are here because they aren't that good and this is the best way for them to get a break. He makes them better than they really are by working with them. It's why Jazzmines did so well.
"You are a business guy, and you could sell socks to bears, but I know you are in over your head with the whole show biz thing. Brad will get you started, and then you just do whatever he did," Charles said.
As he was about to go out the door, Vic stood up and said, "What if we bomb? We're going from a jazz show to a comedy show and none of us know a damn thing about how to make a comedy show."
Charles smiled and said something that Vic never forgot, "With Brad leaving, we've lost our show anyway. If you last six months, that's six months longer than it would have lasted without trying."
Vic spent the rest of the day reading through the magazines, writing down names of people who weren't just funny, but were doing more than one thing. If someone had an article and drew a cartoon, Vic wrote their name down. Anyone who had radio, public speaking or performing in their biography got written down as long as their written work wasn't horrible. There were a few people that Vic saw were above and beyond the other writers, and he put them on his "A" list of people to call first, even if they didn't have any experience. By the time Brad came in to start work on Jazzmines, Vic had a list of about 25 names.
As he left the office, he knew that he had a good start, but he was still very light on women. He wanted the cast to be at least half women, and he had settled on a cast of either six or seven people, since the budget he'd been given by Charles only allowed for a cast of six. He had decided early in the project that he would give up part of his salary if he could get seven good people. He was counting on the show either being a huge hit, which would give everyone, including himself, raises; or the show being a massive failure and he would be letting everyone go in a few months, leaving him with only the station manager's salary.
That night, he remembered what Charles had said and watched as Brad worked with the musicians. Since there were only three shows left, Brad was only bringing in the top guys, but he was still helping them get their parts right, pushing them to use more improvisation and going over the top when they did something he liked, praising them as if they had just cured smallpox.
It was a different style than Vic used, since he was more likely to pull you aside and tell you privately both good and bad news. It was a joke around the office that when Vic said, "Could I talk to you," he would flip a coin before you made it in. Heads, he'd give you good news, tails, he'd give you bad. They also said that if the coin landed on its side, he'd fire you, since Vic never fired anyone. Even if they were doing a horrible job, he'd first transfer them to another job he thought they could do, or he would get one of his friends to call the person with a job offer.
Vic just couldn't stand firing people. It was his one weakness, and when the cast of That New Radio Show discovered it, they used it like a weapon.
The next few days, Vic was on the phone, running up huge long distance bills. He was calling everyone on the "A" list, asking if they were graduated yet, and if they had found a job doing writing and performing yet. Most of them had already taken comfortable business jobs that paid far better than Vic could afford to pay. They all talked wistfully of writing for radio or movies, but that for right now, they had to make a living. Vic said later that he kept the list of people who turned him down, and would watch the credits on movies and TV shows to see if any of them actually went back to working in writing or entertainment. When he died, not a single one of them had.
The first person that said yes to an interview and audition was Carl Baker. He was living in Boston, but would be willing to take the train down to New Rochelle and try out for a job as a writer/performer.
There were about 20 on the "B" list who were interested, and Vic told them that there would be a casting call for the show in one week. They were to bring new material that they thought would work on a radio comedy show and that the station would be hiring either two or three people, depending on how many people who showed up who were talented enough to make it.
Carl was on a train the very next day.
Carl had started writing at a very young age, and he always said it was due to a long childhood sickness. He was confined to his bed for six months when he was six years old, and became a voracious readers of children's novels, pulp magazines and comic books. When he was well enough to be out of his room, yet not well enough to go back to school, he would write his own versions of the stories he had read. He wrote more Doc Savage and Shadow adventures than he had read, and by the time Superman, Batman and other comic book heroes appeared on newsstands, he was more than ready to write prose adventures for them as well.
By the time he was able to go back to school, he was far ahead of the other children his age at reading and writing and was placed in advanced classes for those lessons, but was with his own grade for science and math, as he didn't have an interest in those subjects while he was home.
Carl's illness had stunted his growth, according to his mother, and he was shorter than most men, which always made him a bit self-conscious about how he looked. He had a thick mop of sandy blonde hair that he rarely paid much attention to, thick glasses, but a warm, easygoing smile and an almost girlish face so that in High School, he was the object of desire for girls who were looking for a "sensitive" man. Because he'd been out of school as a child so much, he wasn't a target like the other bookish students were of the other students. The few times one of the bullies would try to harass him, he would talk them out of it in such a way that the person didn't know why they had been cruel to him in the first place.
Carl always assumed it was because he could "cloud men's minds" as the Shadow had done, but mostly it was because he always could see the best in people, and tended to bring it out, even if there wasn't much there to be best. As he got older, he knew he wasn't a pulp hero, but still said it because it would put people at ease.
By the time he was done with High School, he'd gotten a full scholarship and was ready to be in college. His parents would not have been able to afford college without the scholarship, and by the time Carl left home, he felt sorry for his father, who was doing backbreaking labor at the docks, working himself to an early grave.
In college, Carl quickly discovered the college newspaper, literary magazine and humor magazine and made it his mission to be the best writer at all three. By his Junior year, he was at the top of his class, winning literary contests through the magazine and the editor of the humor magazine, under an alias so as not to appear that he was monopolizing all of the writing related activities.
Even with all of that, he was having trouble making a living at writing. The pulps he had loved as a child were dying, comic books were being produced by studios that worked as assembly lines where artists were needed and writers were plentiful. He was submitting work to magazines, but getting little interest. He considered novels and attempted to write one during his senior year, but found he lacked the disciple for serious novels. Before he got the call from Vic, he was ready to leave college for a summer, come back and work on his Master's degree so that he could enter college as a teacher instead of a student.
Carl always said that he saw the call from Vic as yet another sign that the world was looking out for him. His childhood illness had passed, and not only did it not leave him crippled, but gave him a mind for reading and writing he couldn't have had otherwise. School had been easy for him, and the scholarship to college had fallen into his lap. Carl said in every interview that he did not know that his high school teachers were submitting applications for scholarships, so when he received so many, it was a surprise. Then, in college, he quickly assumed the role of the "up and coming young writer" without having to do much more than sit at the typewriter he was given on his 9th birthday and bang out what was in his head.
He had bad habits from this luck, though, and the worst was that he did not know how to edit himself. After years of being told how brilliant his writing is, he was unable to cut anything from it. On the contrary, when he edited, his works usually grew, almost doubling by the time he was done with the second draft. He also was very protective of his work, rarely letting others see it until he felt it was ready, which slowed him down and made it harder for him to take criticism.
However, the thing that got him the job was that he was fast, and skilled at writing. Carl's use of the English language was such that he could sit down with anyone, look over their work, and point out exactly what they needed to change for a piece that wasn't working to be the highlight of the show.
He made it to New Rochelle a couple of days before the open audition, and he met with Vic while Vic was still trying to figure out what he would do for the audition. Carl had come with samples of his work, but Vic didn't pay much attention to them. Instead, after an hour of talking, Vic grabbed the newspaper from the lobby, gave it to Carl, showed him a small room with a typewriter and said he had an hour to come up with something funny from the paper.
An hour later, Carl came out of the room with an essay, a sketch for three characters and a quick series of one liners all based off of events from the paper. Vic, oddly enough, didn't tell Carl he was hired for a couple of days, but had already told everyone else in the office that Carl had been hired. He told Carl to show up the next day at noon and they would meet with Brad to figure out how they would hold auditions.
Carl, who hadn't bought a ticket back, found a cheap hotel room and thought it was all part of the audition, since he had no idea how writers were hired for radio shows.
The next day, when he showed up, Vic brought him back to his office, and he, Brad and Vic stayed there until 2 in the morning. They hammered out how they would audition people, the questions they would ask, and that the cast members who had already been hired would be involved in the process (which set up problems during the first year, as the first people hired felt they had seniority and power over who could stay and who would go).
The next day, Carl was called at his hotel room at eight in the morning and asked to come in and meet with Charles. It was the day after that meeting that Carl found out he had been hired right after his audition, and he set about looking for an apartment he could afford on his new salary.
Carl said that he used that experience in his first written bit for the air, where a person comes into a job interview and by the end of the interview had talked the owner of the company into changing things so that they no longer made tires and instead made cars. It didn't take Carl long to move, and while he was packing his stuff, renting a truck and moving, the rest of the cast was hired, with one exception.
Richie Abel was hired by Charles.
Vic and Brad had nothing to do with it, even though Vic took both the credit and the heat for Richie being on the show.
The way Vic found out about Richie would be strange in any other company, but it was very typical for how Charles did business. When Vic came into the office that morning, he was actually early, comparatively. He had been too tired to go out that night after talking to over 20 people on his "college writer" list the day before, and was frustrated with the lack of progress. So frustrated that at one point he asked on of the secretaries if they knew any jokes, because he was so desperate he would hire anyone who knew three knock knock jokes and could type.
Somehow, Charles had found out about it, and called one of his friends who ran a nightclub in Harlem and asked for the name of the most underpaid comedian who he knew of. Three hours later, Charles was on the phone with Richie, telling him to meet him for dinner that night.
Charles didn't much give a damn about what someone's skin color was, partly because he thought differences based on race were proof that mankind wasn't all that intelligent, and partly to thumb his nose at the society people he had been raised around. So, when Richie told him that it might not be a good idea for them to go to a restaurant together, since people could cause a lot of trouble if a black man and a white man would be seen having a business dinner, Charles told him to leave all of that to him, just to be at the Western Steak House in New Rochelle at 9 p.m. that night.
Charles then called the Western, told them that he wanted to buy every seat they had from 8:30 p.m. onward. The manager of the restaurant told him he couldn't do that, and after arguing with the man for about five minutes, Charles thanked him and hung up. He then called the owner of the restaurant and asked how much money he made on an average weeknight after 8 PM. The owner tried to evade the question until Charles broke into his little speech on proprietary information and business privacy to say that he had tried to rent the place for the evening and was told he couldn't do it by the restaurant's manager, and he was getting ever closer to just renting out another place. The owner gave him a figure and Charles said that if they were treated with respect and dignity, anyone working would get a 50% tip, but if there was a single problem, he would use his radio station to warn people away from eating there and give free ads to the place's competition.
Richie was in his early 20s and had served in the military stateside after getting out of high school. The war had been over by the time he got out of basic, and he'd used the money from the military to move to New York and try his hand at performing. Richie was incredibly handsome, and his time in the military had given him the body of a weight lifter, hard, toned and big across the chest and shoulders. He kept his hair very short, and if his skin were lighter, his features could have passed for white. He was tall as well, a little over six feet tall, and showed up to the restaurant wearing his tuxedo he used for being on stage, and it was perfectly tailored and made him appear to be quite the dapper gentleman. He preferred to be dressed in suits, and used his stage work as an excuse to spend a bit more money than he should on clothing.
Later that night, as they ate, Charles tried very hard to get Richie to open up and talk about himself, but Richie would quietly sit, only giving polite answers and not following up on any questions and opportunities to speak. When the main course came, Charles was near the end of his rope and said, "I am trying to give you a job on a new comedy radio program my station is putting together. I was told you were funny, but hungry. I have seen the hungry, but I've got no evidence in any way of the funny. Why should I hire you, Mr. Abel."
"Richie, sir," he corrected, "you can call me Richie."
"My mother taught me to be polite and address people by their proper names," Charles said between bites of a huge rib eye steak, "I also know that addressing someone as Mr. or Miss gets their attention and lets them know that you are serious. Obviously that point is lost on you, since you are too damn meek to accept an honorific."
Richie stopped eating and stared at the man across from him. Charles was an imposing person, and the fact that he had rented out an entire restaurant was intimidating to say the very least. He was still getting stares from the waitresses, and the bartender had refused to look him in the eye, treating him as if he was a minor annoyance to be tolerated instead of a customer to be served. He felt as if he were being put on display by a white man with a lot of power who wanted to show off and let him know who was boss.
Sure, Richie's agent had told him this was a real job offer and could be make him a lot more money that telling jokes between bad singers at a third rate club that wanted to be the Apollo when it grew up, but it all seemed to rub him the wrong way. He quit eating and said, "I'm not meek. I'm suspicious. Why would a powerful white guy want to put a black comedian on his show? Do I get to be the main character's servant? The black man who they run into when they are betting? The fried chicken salesman one week and the watermelon salesman the next? Just do like those guys on Amos and Andy do and hire a bunch of white guys to play your Negro characters. I'm not a minstrel."
"About time you showed me your spine," Charles said, putting down his fork and talking a large drink of his gin gimlet. He winced as the alcohol hit him and stared Richie dead in the eyes, "I heard you were funny. My producer can't find people who are funny, and the ones he is finding all have the same background. I don't want to listen to a show like that. I'll be honest, I think this show is going to lose me a lot of money. I had my accountant look at the budget and he said I could lose up to twenty thousand dollars in the first year. I don't mind losing money. I didn't earn it and I didn't much care for the man who did.
"So, if I am going to lose money, shouldn't I get to decide how I lose it? My feeling is that I'd rather lose it by putting on something new and interesting than the same old crap that's on the radio all the time. That's how Vic talked me into it. He's a good man, you'll like him, once you get past the fact that he doesn't much like to work. Anyway, he's trying to this thing, and the way he talks about it, he wants to do something that's new, different and matters. I like that idea. I like the idea that we're going to do a comedy show that makes people uncomfortable.
At that point, Charles smiled and said, "And what will make them more uncomfortable than finding out that the man who makes them laugh isn't who they think he is? What if one of the men that makes them laugh is someone they would have assumed is inferior? That'd mess some people up. Maybe enough so that they change their way of thinking. And if it doesn't, at least I tried, right?"
Richie felt uncomfortable again, but this time for a very different reason. He paused a moment, and then took a drink of his own Coca-Cola to let his thoughts settle before he said anything. "So," he began, warily, "you are going to have me work on the show to show that Negroes are just as good as white people?"
"No," Charles said, picking up his fork and attacking his steak again, "I am going to have you work on the show because you are funny. Showing that Negroes aren't an inferior race is a welcome side benefit. Now, I'm still waiting for the funny part. I showed my cards, time for you to show yours."
They stayed at the restaurant for the rest of the evening, until Richie begged off so that he could still get a ride back to Harlem. When he got outside, a cab was already waiting and took him home, paid for by Charles. Charles stayed in the restaurant for about a half-hour, chatting with the waitresses and drinking a few more cocktails. He gave generous tips to the waitresses, the cooks, the bus boy, but stiffed the bartender, telling him that when a man who tipped very generously brought in a business associate, that associate was to be treated like a king, addressed as sir and looked square in the eye if he wanted to get a gratuity.
The next day, Charles got in touch with Richie's agent, offered him the standard contract they were using for all of the performers and told him that he should help his client find an apartment close enough that he could work at the radio station late without having to worry about finding a ride home or getting arrested on the way home.
When Vic was introduced to Richie, he was very polite, shook his hand, welcomed him to the team and asked if he could talk to Charles in private.
Richie quickly left the office and went down to the room that was set aside for the coffee maker, refrigerator and a small table for employees to use for breaks or lunch. The room itself was small, and barely had enough room for the table and four chairs that were in it, and Richie sat down at the table and started leafing through the newspaper, waiting to see what was going to happen.
When he was out of the office, Vic shut the door and said, "You do realize he's a Negro, right?"
"Oh my dear sweet heavenly God. He is?" Charles said.
Vic closed his eyes and shook his head before saying, "You know what I mean. We have Southern stations. If we show them our new cast and there's a Negro, they'll drop us immediately."
"They haven't dropped us with black musicians."
"That's because they are just playing instruments, they aren't talking and acting and writing."
"So, what you are telling me is that we can have Negroes on the show, as long as they don't say anything?"
"Dammit, that's not what I mean. You know this will cause problems!"
Charles shrugged, "He's funny, you need funny people, and I don't see what the big deal is. It's not like you're going to stop the show to tell everyone that segregation is wrong and demand it stop. He's just a funny person who writes his own material. Besides, it's radio. Why does anyone have to know he is a Negro?"
"Because, when we..." and with that Vic paused. He thought about what Charles was saying about no one knowing what anyone looked like. He had his own argument in his mind, and Vic said that it was at that point the final piece of what the show would become fell into place. Vic walked around his desk and sat down. He thought a couple of beats longer, just enough to make sure he would phrase what he was going to say exactly the way he wanted.
"I don't do the publicity, Mr. Rose. I leave that up to you. My job is to put together the best cast and create the best comedy show we can. Is it OK if I delegate all of the publicity to your office?"
Charles smiled and said, "Why yes, Mr. Fox. I'll get some people right on that. You just concentrate on creating a radio show."
Charles left the office without saying anything else, and sent Richie into Vic's office. Richie sat down only when offered a chair and said, "Am I still employed, Mr. Fox?"
"Of course you are," Vic said, "And don't call me Mister. I don't have time for that sort of thing. I didn't like it in the Army and I won't tolerate it in civilian life. Charles said you're a funny guy and you write your own material. The only restriction I am putting on what you write is that we have a lot of southern stations, so I will veto any jokes that will offend our southern audience's ideas about race, race relations or the current struggle over segregation."
Vic paused a moment, watched as Richie took that in and then added, "Unless it makes me laugh."
* * *
The rest of the college writer interviews did not go as well, with many of them coming in saying they wanted to do something new and innovative, but the ideas that they gave during the interviews bored Vic to the point of toying with the idea of writing the show himself. Thankfully for everyone involved two big things happened.
First he talked over the idea with Brad during Brad's last week and Brad convinced him that it wouldn't work.
Second, the two last people who were in the original cast found their way into the show. As with all of the other cast members, they didn't join the traditional way, but instead had a series of coincidences and luck to get them into the job.
While Vic and Brad were discussing Vic taking a role on the show just to get things started, they were at a nightclub that they hadn't been to before, because Brad wanted to see if it was any good before he left for LA. He thought that he had been to all of the decent jazz clubs in the area, but he found out about one that had only opened within the last six months from one of the musicians who was going to be on his last show, and when Vic said he wanted to talk to him about an idea, Brad made him go along to the new club. As they argued, Vic noticed that the waitress was paying a lot of attention to what they were talking about.
Vic later said that the only reason he told Heather Spears anything about the show was because he wanted to get her back to his place. Heather was a waitress at the club to earn money so that she could go on acting auditions, but hadn't gotten very many callbacks. Partly because she wasn't all that good an actress, and partly because she was a perfectionist who would go over her lines to the point of making them appear as if she was acting instead of looking like she was playing the actual part. She said that she always thought too much about what she was doing until she was on 'That New Radio Show" because there wasn't time to do the kind of over analysis she usually did on her parts. Once the radio show started, there was no time to even memorize things, and in a lot of cases, sketches were being finished in one room by a writer as some of the actors would be recording a different sketch.
Heather was the oldest of the original cast, and even though Ellie was already married, it was Heather who swiftly moved into the role of "Den Mother" as the cast came together. She said it was just the way she was, since she was a little girl, since her mother died at a very young age, and her father would work long hours in a tire factory, she was the one who made sure that the house was clean and there was supper on the table. Even with this extra responsibility, she was active in the speech and drama clubs of her high school, going to a number of local and state competitions for debate and one person acting.
Her father passed away the summer after she graduated high school, so she had to miss going to college when she spent the next five months straightening out his affairs, paying off the debt he'd been saddled with from her mother's long illness and other duties that most 17 year olds don't have to deal with. When it was all done, she found that she owned the house they had lived in free and clear, but had no money moving forward, since the insurance had only paid off the family's debts and mortgage. She got a job at a local diner and put aside her dreams of acting for five years.
She was engaged to a boy who went off to war in 1944 and was killed in combat in 1946 in Germany. She later said that that was why she sold the house and moved to New York, since she just couldn't understand how he had been safe all through the war and then died in a firefight after Germany had surrendered. She often said that when she got the letter informing her of his death, that she decided that she had wasted enough of her life just getting by and wanted to either succeed or fail on a grand scale.
By the time she got to New York in 1947, she was 24, had no acting experience and a nice apartment rented in a quiet neighborhood that reminded her of home back in Minneapolis. She worked at a few restaurants until she found out about a new jazz club opening near her apartment.
She took the job there because she would be able to walk home, and she knew that when a new nightclub opens, a lot of people who work in entertainment go there. She was hoping for big tips and even bigger leads. She'd done a few small roles on the stage, nothing to allow her to quit schlepping drinks to people, but enough that she still thought she could make it as an actress.
Heather was stunning, and looked a bit older than 25 when she started on the show. She was tall, had a short shock of red hair, huge brown eyes, a narrow face and a figure that seemed more like what women were expected to look like in the 70's. She thought that one of the other reasons she didn't get a lot of roles on stage was because she wasn't a classic hourglass figure in vogue at the time.
She had overheard Vic and Brad talking about a new radio show while she was serving them drinks and the rest of the night, she made sure that she was near their table so that she could overhear what they were talking about.
When she asked about the show, Vic thought that he would be able to get her home with him, and she did flirt with him quite a bit, but never did see his apartment. Instead, she got an appointment to meet with him and brad the next day to talk about her joining the cast. She knew nothing about radio and had never written a single joke in her whole life, but she knew that she wanted to have a job in entertainment, and if this was the one to drop into her lap, she'd go for it.
Her audition went well as she said she hadn't had time to write anything, and Vic tossed her one of Carl's pieces from his college humor magazine days and asked her to read it. She had a great Midwestern voice and because she didn't have time to over think the role, gave a reading that convinced Vic to hire her. When she left, he was already trying to figure out if she would be asked to write sketches as well, or if he would have to pay her differently since she wouldn't be writing.
Steve Callihan was a much different story, as he heard about the show from Tom. Steve was one of the other comedians that worked at the same burlesque club as Tom, but he hadn't made an impression, since his jokes were far more traditional than Tom's. He told the quick one liners that were just on the edge of smutty, and while his delivery was good, his jokes weren't anything unique. He had very little stage presence as well, and backstage would often complain to the other comedians that his material was just as good as theirs, and he didn't understand why it didn't get a laugh.
Steve was a native of New Rochelle, and his father owned a very successful Ford dealership, and was considered the bad child of the family. When he was young, he was often in trouble for his "smart mouth" and never really got along with his father. As he grew up, he was often the "funny friend" of the popular kid.
When he finished high school, he was expected to take a job at the dealership, but after six months of trying to sell cars and coming home tired and miserable, he told his father that he just wasn't cut out to be a salesman. They had a huge fight, which ended with Steve leaving home. He had very little money saved, and no idea what do with his life, so a few days later, he came back home, hat in hand, and asked for another chance. He lasted two more weeks at the car dealership, and the last car he sold was how he got the job at the burlesque show.
The owner of the club was in to buy a new car, and none of the other salesmen would work with him, because of his seedy reputation. Steve had no problem with it, and said later that it was the only time he ever felt like he could be a salesman. He would often follow this up by saying that if his show business career ever ended, he could make a very nice living with a store that catered to smut peddlers and reprobates because he could speak their language.
He was offered a job when he told the man that he would sell him the car at a painfully low rate that would negate his commission, since it was the last car he was ever going to sell. He was offered a job the minute the transaction was done, first just working behind the bar, but as he became friends with Tom, he moved into the performance end of things. He started by being the "silly man overwhelmed by the women" in on stage skits, and then put a few jokes together and got a solid ten minutes worth of material.
One night, when Tom was talking back stage about how they were having trouble getting performers, Steve asked if he could apply. Steve was a bit of a hefty guy, with a round face and a messy mane of black hair, but he wasn't half as unattractive as he thought he was. He tended to dress in jeans and flannel shirts when he wasn't on stage, which he said was in response to his father's constant nattering at him that he wouldn't amount to anything if he didn't dress for success.
When Steve came in for his audition, he was in his one black suit, and he did his best ten-minute set to show that he could come up with jokes. During his interview, Vic grabbed a newspaper and threw it at him, telling him to come up with 5 jokes based on what was in the news section. Steve struggled a bit, and took small stories that were used to fill space in the paper and did odd stream-of-consciousness ramblings about them, but they were funny enough that Vic hired him.
There was less than a week left before Brad was to leave for the West Coast when Steve was hired, and Vic was sure that he now had his seven person cast. He was budgeted for eight, but he was so tired of looking that he thought he could work the show with four men and three women, and he would use the money he saved on the eighth cast member to put into advertising and outreach, trying to get new stations.
Jazzmines was going to have a bit of a blowout for its last show, and Brad was having over 20 musicians in the studio as he taped the show, and they would talk about the show, play a large jam session and thank the audience. It was planned as a solid goodbye to a small but faithful audience, and they would announce that they were planning a new radio show to take its place in September once they were done with reruns.
As Brad and Vic sat around the office the day before the final show's recording, Brad was thinking how best to get the new show off the ground. Vic was going over his cast members, trying to figure out when to bring them in to start working, and what the format of the show would be, bouncing ideas off of Brad when Brad said, "You should have Tom and Mary come in and do a sketch in the middle of Jazzmines. Just so the audience knows is coming in the fall."
"We've only got a day," Vic responded, "there's no way they can have material worked up by then."
"Just have them do their audition pieces. They can slam five or ten minutes together if you call them today. Just have them show up. In fact, have the whole cast show up so we can introduce them, and have Tom and Mary do about five minutes each."
Vic still didn't like the idea, not just because his cast wasn't ready (Carl and Ellie weren't even within a day's drive of New Rochelle, since Carl was packing his old apartment and Ellie was with her husband on a gig in Florida), but he didn't want to step into Brad's big celebration. "This is your party," he said, "This show that I'm doing is going to be so different from yours, it might just alienate your audience in the middle of your big night. I am not going to step on your toes."
"You don't understand jazz," Brad said, "or me. I already have my glory. I'm going to Los Angeles to make incredibly stupid money working for movies and TV. This is just a bunch of guys getting together who won't see each other against having one last blow out. Jazz isn't about one great musician and a bunch of back up artists. It's about everyone bouncing things off of each other and coming up with things better as a group than we could have as individuals. When they new guy comes in, you tell the audience how great he is and have him keep up with you. I say you bring in the people you have, they do their bit and we introduce them to people so that next fall, they'll already be known. The audience will want them to succeed because they already know them."
Vic grudgingly agreed and got on the phone. He was able to get Tom, Steve, Mary and Heather to come in, but Charles didn't have a phone, so they weren't able to get him to come in. They left a message at his work, but Charles said that it never got to him, and by the time he listened to the last Jazzmines, he thought he'd been cut from the show already.
The next night was a total mess, but Brad wouldn't have wanted it any other way. There were too many musicians for the studio, so they had them come in in groups of 7, and they switched out after every 15-minute jam, getting a different mix. In the middle of the show, Brad brought the new people in and chatted with them for a 15 minute segment, asking them about their backgrounds, what they wanted to do on the radio, and got them each to tell a funny story or series of jokes. Vic was so busy with the musicians that day that he only get a few minutes with each of the new people, telling them to make sure they were clean, charming and funny.
Funny was what they were, and Brad had the most trouble interviewing Tom, since he was cracking up so much at Tom's answers. Tom did a number of voices, and dominated the show, making it to Heather and Steve only got to say hello, how happy they were, and a couple of quick jokes.
Mary, who had been almost as funny as Tom, beat herself up verbally after her segment, going into Vic's office and saying that she was horrible and needed to quit. She promised to make it up to him, but that she knew she wasn't ready to work in radio if they were going to have to be funny on demand.
Vic calmed her down (which he would become very adept at doing) and when the recording was done, had her wait in his office as his listened to their segment. As he listened, he could see that Tom was going to dominate the upcoming show, but that all of them were warm, funny and talented people. In Mary's segment, she told a story about a day long quest for a decent bagel that had him laughing so hard he could not believe that she wasn't proud of her work. He was back in his office in minutes, assuring her that she was perfect. By the time they were done, it was getting to be almost 10 pm, and everyone who worked on the show as exhausted.
Brad had asked everyone to stay until they were sure that the show had recorded properly, but Tom had had to get back to the burlesque club since he hadn't gotten enough notice to get someone to take his spots. They all loaded up in a series of cars and drove out to a club that Charles had rented for the night, and had a wrap party that was bigger then Vic had ever heard of. There was food, booze and when people were done eating, and a huge jam session where everyone who could play an instrument was playing an improvisational session that they called "The Jazzmines Symphony."
Brad always wished he would have been sober enough to remember how the music went, because he said in every interview that it was the best music he ever composed, mostly because he had all of his musician friends with him, and they just built upon each other's talent. Mary, Steve and Heather stayed together at one table, and ended up being the audience, along with Vic, who was acting as the host of the evening, making sure there was enough booze for the crowd, which grew as people from the station, friends and family of the musicians, and anyone who had any connection to the show turned up.
When the party finally broke up at 5 a.m., Vic told the cast members that they would be starting work the first Monday of August so that they could get a test show out to the stations who carry Jazzmines, and they would all be big stars.
Heather remembered that Vic was the last one to leave, making sure that Brad got a ride home, the musicians all were safely on their way, and the people who ran the building were taken care of. It was always something that stuck with her, how Vic would take care of all of the details, making it so all the creative people could just live their lives and he would take care of the bills, the clean ups and the planning. When she offered to help, Vic just said, "This is the stuff that I do best. Go home and get some sleep. I'll need you well rested in five weeks."
End Chapter One
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