Rose Marie: 90 Years a Trouper

Rose MarieVery few performers have ever managed to carve out a nine-decade career in show business, but that’s just what Rose Marie (Baby Rose Marie, to Cladrite Radio listeners) has done—and she’s still going strong. Since launching her career at the ripe old age of four (she had a weekly radio program that was broadcast nationally before Shirley Temple was even born), Rose Marie has enjoyed success in vaudeville, radio, records, motion pictures, Broadway, and television.

A delightful new documentary, Wait for Your Laugh, documents Rose Marie’s amazing life and career, and we’re delighted to share a very lightly edited transcript of a telephone conversation we recently had the pleasure of enjoying with her. Buckle your seat belts; it’s a delightfully wild ride. As you’ll soon see, Rose Marie is as sharp and as funny as ever.

Cladrite Radio:  I have a lot of things I’d like to talk to you about.

Rose Marie:  First of all, let me ask you a question.

Cladrite Radio:  Sure.

Rose Marie:  Did you see the movie [Wait for Your Laugh]?

Cladrite Radio:  I did!

Rose Marie:  What’d you think of it?

Cladrite Radio:  I loved it. I thought it was great.

Rose Marie:  What’d you like about it?

Cladrite Radio:  I’m very interested in the popular culture of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, in addition to …

Rose Marie:  That’s my era.

Cladrite Radio:  It sure is. I have an online radio station that features music of that era. I play some of your records on the station.

Rose Marie:  Oh, nice.

Cladrite Radio:  When I got the chance to interview you, I was so excited. I’m a fan of your music, and I grew up with you on TV as well.

Rose Marie:  I know, everybody says that. It makes me feel so old.

Cladrite Radio:  Oh, well, I’m not so young myself.

Rose Marie:  I’m 94, wanna bet?

Cladrite Radio:  You’re doing great. You’re probably doing better at 94 than I am at 59.

Rose Marie:  Okay.

Cladrite Radio:  I wanted to ask you about the documentary. Whose idea…

Rose Marie:  I’m very happy to tell you. I’m very proud of it. I love it. I’m so proud of [director] Jason Wise, I can’t stand it. I think he’s a genius. I think he’s going to be one of the biggest men in the business in a couple years. I think this will introduce him to everybody. I think he’ll even be bigger than Steven Spielberg.

Cladrite Radio:  I’ll bet he wouldn’t mind that a bit.

Rose Marie:  Oh, he’s wonderful. You have no idea. You don’t know how particular he is. When we decided to do this thing, I kept everything from the time I was three years old. Postcards, pictures, film, anything I had, I kept. When he talked about doing the documentary, he says, “Let’s talk.” I said, “I have everything in scrapbooks. Why don’t you just go through everything?” I emptied out my house, and I mean he cleaned me out of everything. He put it in that documentary. Just a genius.

Cladrite Radio:  All the materials that we see in the documentary, the film clips we see and some of the programs and promotional materials and various things that are included in it…

Rose Marie:  All mine. All mine that he dug up out of my house.
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A Trip Through Columbia Network Studios!

We recently came across this 1934 pamphlet/game board. It was a handout from WCCO, a Minnesota radio station that began operation in 1922 as WLAG (the call letters were changed to WCCO in 1924). But the pamphlet appears to have been issued by the CBS network, not an individual station. It’s our bet that this was distributed by CBS-affiliated stations across the country.

In 1934, CBS was headquartered in New York City (much of their programming originated from Steinway Hall on West 57th Street in Manhattan), and we can only guess that it’s that facility that’s depicted here (but we encourage more astute radio historians than we are to chime in if we’ve got that wrong—Edit: A more astute radio historian did chime in; see the comments below).

Among the famous (and perhaps now not-so-famous) faces you’ll see on your stroll through the studios are crooner Dick Powell, theatrical impresario Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel, Irving Kaufman (in his Lazy Dan, the Minstrel Man mode—really? Blackface on the radio?), Bing Crosby, Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians, Isham Jones, and George Burns and Gracie Allen, among others.

Click below to see a higher-res version of the image, or to view or download an even larger, higher-res version, click here.

A Trip Through Columbia Networks Studios

Radio Pioneers of the Algonquin Round Table

The Algonquin Round Table New York: A Historical Guide coverOur friend Kevin Fitzpatrick, chronicler of all thing Dorothy Parker, has a new book out that we think will be of great interest to many of our readers. The Algonquin Round Table New York: A Historical Guide allows the reader to “explore the shadowy speakeasies, majestic hotels, glittering theaters, and other locations frequented by the legends of the Algonquin Round Table.”

We’re pleased as punch to have this guest blog from Kevin. We think his new book is terrific and we’re confident you’ll find it an entertaining and engaging read.

When I was compiling the material for my new book, The Algonquin Round Table New York: A Historical Guide, I was struck by the group’s versatility. I’d originally believed the group, which met from 1919 to about 1927, was the realm of newspaper and magazine writers. However, by researching the biographies of all thirty members, it became clear the group had their fingers in every form of mass entertainment and media.

It turns out that there were members with careers that stretched from silent pictures to live television, such as actresses Margalo Gillmore and Peggy Wood. Robert Benchley made the first all-talking short, The Treasurer’s Report, released in March 1928 by Fox. Marc Connelly and Dorothy Parker both wrote captions and scenarios for the silents, then later jumped into writing plays and talkies.

But if there is one format that most of the members drew paychecks from after the Round Table ended, that’s radio. Many members of the group appeared as guests, commentators, writers, or actors. Benchley and Parker had their short stories adapted for dramatizations. Harpo Marx whistled his answers on-air. Others made the transition from newspapers to microphones, trading on their popularity as writers.

The book has more than 100 locations around the New York area tied to the lives of the “Vicious Circle” that met at the Algonquin Hotel on West Forty-fourth Street. Here are three spots from their radio days, all within walking distance of the Round Table.

NBC, 30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and Franklin P. Adams on Information PleaseFranklin P. Adams was a veteran newspaper columnist with 35 years’ experience when his services were no longer needed. Radio saved him, and a quiz show was the last hurrah of his brilliant career. In 1937, the Herald Tribune didn’t renew his contract. With an encyclopedic knowledge of literature and trivia and a family of five to support during the height of the Great Depression, the offer to be a regular panelist on a radio quiz show came as a blessing.

The format of Information Please was simple but brilliant. Listeners mailed in questions. If the question stumped a panel of experts, the listener won a small cash prize. The show was unrehearsed and conducted before a live studio audience. The 30-minute program moved like lightning, and experts and guests had to answer quickly. On May 17, 1938, Information Please debuted on the NBC Blue Network (later ABC). Clifton Fadiman, a literary critic who wrote for The New Yorker, was master of ceremonies. The show was an overnight success, and more than 25,000 questions poured into the studios.

One question put to F.P.A. in 1938 was to finish the Joe Miller gag, “Who was that lady I saw you with last night?” To which he replied, “There are two answers: That was no lady, that was my wife. And the other is that was no lady, that was your wife.” The show continued for ten years, mostly on NBC. Over time, just about every Round Table member appeared as a guest.

NBC has always been associated with Rockefeller Center. John D. Rockefeller Jr., son of the founder of Standard Oil, owned the land and helped create the landmark. The area bounded by Fifth and Sixth avenues from 48th to 51st streets contained numerous speakeasies before demolition in 1930. NBC has called 30 Rockefeller Plaza home since the building was completed in 1933, spanning corporate ownership from General Electric to Comcast. More than a dozen buildings form the complex today, with “30 Rock” as centerpiece. Radio studios were the original tenants (hence Radio City) and now television studios. The Art Deco buildings are landmarks inside and out.

CBS, Carnegie Hall, 881 Seventh Avenue
When radio networks became national broadcasters in the late 1920s, some of the live programming was classical music. Symphonies and orchestras dominated as networks tried to reach upper class listeners. William S. Paley signed the New York Philharmonic to CBS in a major coup and gave the network enormous prestige.

Deems Taylor, composer Sigmund Romberg, and Alexander Woollcott in the studio, circa 1935Beginning in 1936, Deems Taylor served as commentator during intermissions. Already a star composer and conductor, he had been a newspaper music critic but never a broadcaster. His role at CBS was an enormous success, and Taylor found himself giving weekly music lecturers to a huge audience during Sunday afternoon concerts in Carnegie Hall. He helped listeners understand what they were hearing and helped a generation appreciate classical music. Taylor also introduced listener questions, interviewed orchestra members during intermissions, and brought the whole experience of classical music into the nation’s living rooms. A broadcaster for more than ten years, Taylor became the country’s best-known authority on music.

The building was saved from a wrecking ball in 1960 and underwent multi-million dollar renovations in recent years. Today the Isaac Stern auditorium, the main performance hall, seats 2,800.
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