#1: Jack Benny- "Jack Benny's Golden Memories Of Radio", 1969:
A very nice nostalgic six-record set covering the many aspects of radio as it was in the golden era of the 1930s and '40s. And who better to narrate it than the star of arguably the greatest American radio comedy show of them all, Jack Benny? The set covers comedy, drama, commercials, sports, and of course news (WWII material takes up 3 of the 12 sides). And to top it all off, the 12th side presents several veteran radio actors in a chilling 20-minute drama called "Cat Wife", a "Twilight Zone"-ish tale of a man whose nasty and abusive wife turns into a cat- quite a stirring finish after marathoning through all six records. It's a very interesting set, and a good education for anybody who wants to know why radio is an important medium, and what it meant in its heyday. I grew up listening to an abridged version which I think was three records instead of six, so it was nice to get the full set these many years later.
#2: Edgar Bergen- "The Edgar Bergen Show", 1974:
This album has two full half-hour Bergen shows- one from 1952 and one from '42. The 1952 show is notable for being perhaps the only radio appearance made by a young up-and-coming actress named Marilyn Monroe. The show was broadcast in late 1952, right after her breakthrough roles in "Don't Bother To Knock" and "Niagara", so she wasn't quite the superstar she would be just a couple of years later. She very rarely made guest appearances of any kind on either radio or television, so this is a nice collector's item if you're a Monroe fan- although at the time I bought this record, I was too young to know who she was!
Guests on the other side include Abbott & Costello, who appeared regularly on the Bergen show in the early '40s, and Edward Everett Horton, who did not. This show is amusing but mild, although A&C are a highlight- the Monroe show has better writing.
#3: Edgar Bergen- "Fractured Fairy Tales", 1979
Issued shortly after Edgar Bergen had passed away, this album contains a half-hour show on one side and three excerpts from various shows on the other side. The half-hour show is Bergen (with Charlie McCarthy, of course) appearing on the "Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater" in 1946 in an adaptation of Disney's "Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs." Bergen's performance is sharp and funny, and the supporting cast is good too. The second side consists of excerpts from Bergen's own show, where he tells a skeptical Charlie the stories of Little Red Riding Hood, the tortoise and the hare, and Jack and the beanstalk. All three are wisecracking vintage radio fun. I enjoyed this one very much.
#4: Hector Berlioz- "Symphonie Fantastique", played by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Well, it's nice to have something a little different once in a while.
When I was a kid, I went through a phase of listening to a lot of classical music. Much of it didn't stick, and I've never been an expert on the subject- far from it- but there are certain pieces I like, and "Symphonie Fantastique" is one of them. I heard the fourth movement, "March To The Scaffold", when I was a kid and was hooked, and heard the equally colorful fifth movement, "Dream Of A Witches Sabbath", shortly thereafter. Those are still my favorite parts, but there's much to enjoy the whole symphony. And while I have no vocabulary when it comes to classical music, suffice it to say that I've heard some less-than-stellar versions of this piece, and fortunately this is not one of them. The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra plays it wonderfully. I love all my comedy records, but it's nice to have a little bit of high culture in my collection once in a while too.
Tomorrow: round 1 of 2 with a groundbreaking comedy legend.