Note: These two brief journeys down Memory Lane originally appeared in TODAY’S SENIOR Magazine as part of a continuing series.
Remember When “The Shadow” Knew?
By Tom McBride and Ron Nief
When we were kids—it was just yesterday, plus 60 years or so—our favorite radio program was The Shadow, a crime series about a psychic vigilante named Lamont Cranston, determined to prove that the fruits of crime were always bitter. Traveling through the “Far East” Cranston acquired a gift that “clouded men’s minds” so they could not see him.
This presented a real disadvantage to criminals, whom Cranston managed to scare and snare. He therefore put an end to their felonious deeds, every Sunday afternoon.
The Shadow himself was a truly scary character. He would open the show with a blood-curdling baritone that intoned, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” And then there would be a cackling laugh, the stuff of which little kids’ nightmares were made. But the show was irresistible.
The Shadow was a frightening adult who turned out to be a good guy after all. Maybe that’s why we kids liked him so.
The big problem for us was that The Shadow came on the air Sunday afternoons. We’d almost invariably be visiting our grandparents, who bored us, and so we’d beg our parents if we could escape to the car, there to listen to The Shadow on the radio.
This presented a real dilemma for our parents. They knew we were bored and wanted to get rid of us for a while. But if they turned on the car radio without the engine running—an essential safety precaution—they’d run the battery down.
What should they do? Generally they risked a low battery. They were desperate to divert us.
Today kids wouldn’t even ask for permission to exit adult company. They’d just sit there and attach their earphones and watch or listen to whatever they wanted on their tablets or smart phones.
We were so low-tech back then—except for The Shadow, who could cloud men’s minds!
Ron Nief and Tom McBride are the authors of several books including The Mindset List of the Obscure:74 Famously Forgotten Icons from A to Z. (Sourcebooks, 2014). Check it out on AMAZON.
Firing on TV: It Didn’t Start with Trump
Tom McBride & Ron Fief
Firing folks on live TV didn’t start with Donald Trump. It started with a guy named Arthur Godfrey.
Godfrey was the biggest name in television in the 1950s, on the air five days and two nights a week. He had no dazzling talent, yet he enjoyed high ratings on a morning talk show, a weeknight amateur talent show (which once rejected Elvis Presley), and a weeknight variety show.
He came up the radio ranks in Washington, DC, and got his biggest break when, describing the funeral of Franklin Roosevelt in 1945 for a national radio audience, he gushed, “God bless you, Harry Truman,” and broke up in tears. Godfrey had dared share with the national public his own overwrought state, which matched theirs. He was one of them.
What was Godfrey’s appeal? He could chat. He was the master of palaver. Observing that most radio announcers were stiff and formal baritones, he concluded there was a market for soft-speaking, neighborly tenors.
As a big TV star, he even made fun of his sponsors. When Paper Mate pens claimed their ballpoints could write through butter, Godfrey apologized on air for not having any butter around to ruin the ink. He displayed a Singer sewing machine, and when he could not figure out what one drawer was for, he insisted that this must be the place you hid a little bottle of scotch.
But the fame went to his head. He emerged as a nasty control freak, who liked humiliating his “little Godfreys” (the singers and announcers who were regulars on his morning show). And then one day in 1953, he fired one of his most appealing singers, Julius La Rosa, on the air. He announced “Julie’s swan song.” La Rosa had no idea this termination was about to come. Godfrey had become jealous of Julie’s popularity. The nation recoiled against their once-beloved Arthur, and his popularity waned
Thirty years later he and Julie tried to reconcile.
They started squabbling right away.
Ron Nief and Tom McBride are the authors of several books including The Mindset List of the Obscure: 74 Famously Forgotten Icons from A to Z. (Sourcebooks, 2014). It’s available at Amazon and at wherever they sell good books!