Life with Luigi: The Football Game (CBS, 1949)
Jody Gilbert is one hefty Hollywood lady who revels in her bulk—she often credits it with keeping her working in films and, come Life with Luigi and other programs, radio. “I’m a girl of parts,” she has told a gossip columnist, May Mann, “and the more parts the merrier. Why should I worry over my avoirdupois? It’s done all right for me so far. If I lost any one of these chins, I might be just another actress. As it is, I’m a person of some weight around here.”
She will be, at least, until the House Committee on Un-American Activites calls her to testify in 1953—when Life with Luigi ends on both radio and television—after she will be named by a writer known as Harvey Narcisenfield. Gilbert will be bent on making a mockery of the proceedings which, by then, become something of a mockery themselves in the eyes of many, left and right alike.
Notoriously enough, she’ll stand as much on the Fifth Commandment (honouring thy father and mother, which she compares to honouring the Founding Fathers) as the Fifth Amendment and otherwise do her best to scramble her moment during the hearings. Whether she was or wasn’t a Communist manages to become lost—she will hardly become as notorious, in either direction, as other performers, writers, directors, et. al.—but she will also find it impossible to find further show business work for a decade to come.
In time, however, Gilbert will return to the character acting by which she has always made her living, in film and on television, right up to the day she will be killed in an automobile accident in 1979.
It’s Life with Luigi, however, where Gilbert may yet be most familiar—if only because she plays Rosa, the chunky daughter, whom her father Pasquale tries incessantly, and by hook, crook, and anything else he can think of, to marry off to J. Carroll Naish’s hapless title character. John Dunning would come to immortalise Gilbert’s Rosa as having “the loudest fat-girl laugh in all radio.” Even if Gilbert herself is actually half the girl one imagined Rosa to be.
The real problem: the Pasquale-Rosa gag begins wearing thin within the show’s second season. Though Life with Luigi will earn immortality as the radio show that finally knocks Bob Hope off his long-enough-standing Tuesday night perch for keeps—as it will in 1950-51, indicating perhaps that Hope’s overfamiliarity is just a little less tolerable by then than Luigi‘s one-and-a-half-joke exercise—there will linger the nagging thought that Life with Luigi could be and should be more, and better.
Which may ask too much of a show whose brainfather is a man whose signature radio hit (My Friend Irma) is a flagrant theft of My Sister Eileen—and about half as clever.
Tonight: Luigi (J. Carroll Naish) has two tickets to his first live football game, thanks to night school classmate Olsen (Ken Peters), provided he escorts Olsen’s attractive niece—and ducks Pasquale’s (Alan Reed) scheme to sabotage the date and bring him “back” to Rosa (Jody Gilbert).
Miss Spaulding: Mary Shipp. Horowitz: Joe Forte. Schultz: Hans Conreid. Announcer: Bob Stevenson. Music: Lud Gluskin. Director: Mac Benoff. Writers: Mac Benoff, Lou Derman.
FURTHER CHANNEL SURFING . . .
The Pepsodent Show starring Bob Hope: The First Heart and Soul (NBC, 1938)—Mr. Jokes, Inc. whips through a round of Halloween jokes, recalls a name-droppable Halloween party, engages a little mad fun with guest Martha Raye, and tries to convince Professor (Jerry) Colonna to tone down the volume on the upstairs dance studio. Announcer: Bill Goodwin. Music: Skinnay Ennis Orchestra, Six Hits and a Miss. Director: Possibly Norman Morrell. Writers: Possibly Milt Josefsberg, Norman Panama, Jack Rose, Al Schwartz.
Texaco Star Theater with Fred Allen: Trouble Hearing the Show (CBS, 1942)—Robert Benchley complains that there’s too much interference on his radio when he wants to listen to Fred (Allen) and company; the March of Trivia addresses coffee rationing. Vintage if occasionally dry offering from Allen’s second peak period. Additional cast: Portland Hoffa, Jack Smart, Minerva Pious, Alan Reed, John Brown, Charlie Cantor. Announcer: Arthur Godfrey. Music: Al Goodman Orchestra, the Merry Macs. Writers: Fred Allen, Roland Kibbee, possibly Nat Hiken.
The Baby Snooks Show: Halloween (CBS, 1946)—First refusing to let Snooks go out for Halloween, then escaping her clever little ideas about his pending insurance examination, Daddy (Hanley Stafford) gives in on behalf of getting a little nap—and ends up getting into his own mischief, after his plan to teach her a genuinely frightening lesson in Halloween mischief-making backfires. Mommy: Arlene Harris. Additional cast: Ben Alexander, Frank Nelson, Georgia Ellis, Sarah Burder, Robert Bentz. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Director: Possibly Ted Bliss. Music: Carmen Dragon. Writers: Philip Rapp, possibly Jess Oppenheimer.
Our Miss Brooks: Mr. Conklin’s Car Pool (CBS, 1953)—The blustery principal (Gale Gordon) schemes to strong-arm Connie (Eve Arden), Boynton (Bob Rockwell), and Walter (Richard Crenna) into joining his car pool at $8 a month each to help him pay for the beast, and Harriet (Gloria McMillan)—of all people—schemes to break that arm. Mrs. Davis: Jane Morgan. Miss Enright: Mary Jane Croft. Announcer: Verne Smith. Music: Wilbur Hatch. Writer/director: Al Lewis.
Broadway is My Beat: The Amelia Lane Murder Case (CBS, 1952)—Muggavan (Jack Kruschen) finds a foundation librarian shot late at night, launching Clover (Larry Thor) toward a twisted triangle involving a college coed (Barbara Whiting), a widowed romance language professor (Herb Butterfield) who’s known the librarian for decades, and a troubled young man (Sam Edwards)—who professes to love the older woman—during whose hospital visit the librarian dies. Additional cast: Norma Varden, Edgar Barrier. Tartaglia: Charles Calvert. Announcer: Bill Anders. Music: Alexander Courage. Director: Elliott Lewis. Writers: Morton Fine, David Friedkin.
Lux Radio Theater: A Free Soul (CBS, 1937)—Ginger Rogers and Don Ameche step into the Norma Shearer (an Oscar nomination) and Clark Gable film roles, and Charles Winninger takes the Lionel Barrymore (an Oscar win) role: The free-spirited daughter (Rogers) of an alcoholic defence attorney (Winninger) becomes romantically involved with the gambling gangster (Ameche) her father defended successfully against a murder charge, but the polo player (Jack Arnold) she jilted to take up with the gambler now needs her father’s defence more than her restored love, after he solved her problem leaving the gambler the hard way. It’s not as soapish as it sounds; it’s a lot less overacted than you might fear; and, if you’re going to bring one of the last of the pre-Motion Picture Production Code films to radio, this is the way to do it, even if it seems a little more tame than the film—but, then, that’s where the grip of the drama may lie. Additional cast: Claire Whitney, Myra March, Edward Maher, Eddie Cane, Lou Merrill, Norman Field, James Eagle, Justina Wayne, Sally Creighton, Frank Nelson, Ken Chavel. Host/producer: Cecil B. DeMille. Music: Louis Silvers. Adapted from the screenplay by John Meehan, and Becky Gardner, from the William Nack stage play, based on the novel by Adela Rogers St. John.
Romance: Daddy Long Legs (CBS, 1943)—The Jean Webster novel—previously made into a silent film classic starring Mary Pickford, and yet to made into a musical with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron—is adapted here: In 1914 (two years before Webster herself dies in childbirth), a wealthy American (Myron McCormick) agrees to send orphaned Judy Abbott (Florence Williams) to college, discovering she has promise as a writer, on condition she agree to write him once a month and never know his true identity, while Judy gains a learning and an independence she never could in the orphanage. Miss Pritchard: Gladys Thornton. Announcer: Frank Gallop. Music: Charles Paul. Director: Marx Loeb. Adapted by Jean Holloway.
Escape: Flood on the Goodwins (CBS, 1949)—When an English Channel fishing boat searches for victims of a Nazi-sabotaged tanker, a Nazi agent (Barton Yarborough) who has finished another mission hijacks the boat and forces its captain (Will Geer) and owners (Jack Edwards, Betty Lou Gerson) to take him to Belgium. Slightly predictable but written and performed well enough to stay with it, anyway. Additional cast: Eric Snowden. Announcer: Frank Goss. Music: Del Castilio. Director: William N. Robson. Writer: James Poe, adapting a story by David Divine.
Suspense: The Dunwich Horror (CBS; AFRS rebroadcast, 1945)—Ronald Colman as Henry Armitage in the H.P. Lovecraft classic about a fatherless child born into a strange household, killed by dogs, and discovered to be not quite as he seemed, exposing a terror in his family’s farmhouse. Additional cast: William Johnstone, Joseph Kearns, Elliott Lewis. Announcer: Truman Bradley. The Man in Black: Joseph Kearns. Music: Bernard Herrmann. Sound: Berne Surrey. Writer/director: William Spier.
Truth or Consequences: The Hot Seat (NBC, 1947)—Guessing about “Miss Hush”; a wife has no clue she’s been wired into a hot seat with her husband able to zap her by way of a switch covered by a rug, among other stunts veering between the rubber room and the funny farm—and it’s even money which. This is part of how what began as a kind of spoof on the burgeoning giveaway shows became a perverse phenomenon in its own right. Host: Ralph Edwards. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Unidentified. Director: Ed Bailey. Writers: Mel Vickland, Ed Bailey, Bill Burch.
The Six Shooter: Ben Scofield (NBC, 1953)—Ponset (James Stewart) wants to help his old friend, Clay City Sheriff Ed Scofield (William Conrad), bring in a Wells Fargo robber and killer, but then Ponset learns why Scofield doesn’t really want him involved—the horseshoe prints near the bank belong to the sheriff’s son’s horse. Blacksmith: Herb Vigran. Additional cast: Parley Baer, Jimmy McCallion. Announcer: Hal Gibney. Music: Basil Adlam. Director: Jack Johnstone. Writer: Frank Burt.