Re: FW: Rare Episodes of Old-Time Radio Soap Operas

B. J. Watkins

Congratulations on an interesting and well written article, Larry.


From: <> on behalf of Larry Maupin <lmaupin@...>
Sent: Thursday, April 30, 2020 6:35 AM
To: '' <>
Subject: [OldTimeRadioResearchers] FW: Rare Episodes of Old-Time Radio Soap Operas

This is an article I have recently completed.  Here is a little background.  Several Years ago I borrowed some cassettes taken from Reel G-763 of the SPERDVAC General Library Catalog containing five soap operas among other programs.  That is probably all the introduction necessary to the study itself, which begins now:  


Reel G-763 of the SPERDVAC General Catalog is entitled SPERDVAC OTR SPECIAL and includes episodes of Just Plain Bill, Against the Storm, The Guiding Light, and Midstream.  There is also an uncataloged episode of  The Brighter Day on that reel.

What is interesting about the reel is that most of the soap opera episodes on it do not yet appear to be in general circulation even at this date.  I have perused the Old Time Radio Researchers Library collection to determine if any of these episodes are included among its roughly 86,000 and have ruled out to my complete satisfaction  those of The Brighter Day, Midstream, Just Plain Bill and The Guiding Light.  It would be nice to see these made more widely available to the general public. 

I did find an episode of Just Plain Bill in the OTRR Library collection that is dated only 1946 (no month or day) and was possibly the next one aired after the one titled "Basket of Fruit" on SPERDVAC Reel 763.  It continues the same story line, and helps us narrow the year down to 1946.  I have heard The Guiding Light episode titled "Dinner With Martin Kane" and there is not one by that name in the OTRR Library collection. The Guiding Light has only two untitled episodes in the collection, and I have listened to them and neither of them could conceivably be entitled "Dinner With Martin Kane."  As for Against the Storm, I think it probably is not in the OTRR Library collection because no episode there is titled "Siri Has Lunch With Philip." 

Here are my conclusions.  The episode of The Brighter Day on Reel 763 is not in general circulation at this time.  The episode of Midstream may be more widely circulated but is definitely not in the OTRR Library collection at this time.  I have stated my conclusion about the AGAINST THE STORM episode above.  As for Just Plain Bill and The Guiding Light, their surviving episodes are so widely available that the ones on Reel 763 can possibly be found elsewhere.

As for the episodes themselves, each reflects the overarching themes, the principle characters, the values and the dramatic orientation of the series to which it belongs.  

The episode of The Brighter Day is a good example.  It is not titled because although it is in the SPERDVAC Library collection it is not listed in the catalog.  In my notes I have given it a title of "Stirrings of Spring."  This serial is values-oriented and emphasizes matters of the home and hearth more than the more melodramatic and action-oriented soap operas like Stella Dallas.  The Reverend Richard Dennis, a widower, struggles to provide for his five children on the meager salary that his small but devout congregation can provide him.  The episode broadcast on KLON-FM in Long Beach, California on July 4, 1980 centers on fifteen-year-old Patsy Dennis, whom we find washing her hair one evening, is studious, and considers herself one who is inclined to lead an intellectual life.  But she has learned that Otis J. Hopkins plans to ask her to the prom, which is stirring some romantic thoughts within her.  She interprets the night sounds of frogs and insects as "all mating calls."  Here are a couple of notes that might be of interest: (1) The price of a prom ticket circa 1946 was $2.75; (2) Patsy's brother Grayling is on a bowling team.

Just Plain Bill was named for Bill Davidson, the Barber of Hartville who dispensed haircuts, common sense and sympathy to a generation of the small town's residents.  While some surviving episodes of this serial are character-driven, the majority are steeped in mayhem as one plot line after another finds Bill or his daughter Nancy under attack by an assortment of deranged wrongdoers.  One is even a forerunner of today's mass murderers.  He steals some weaponry and sets about single-handedly trying to eliminate Hartville's entire population.  In the episode on Reel G-763, Bill has been seriously injured at the boat dock by a blow on the head by someone who thinks he may have witnessed the deliberate drowning of Evelyn Groves a few minutes earlier.  Then Judith Seymour, who may have murdered Evelyn over an inheritance, tries to poison Bill by leaving a basket of fruit at his home. 

There are only three surviving episodes of Midstream, but they are remarkable for the wealth of detail they provide about everyday life in 1939 and are rich in social and cultural history.  One of them, in my opinion the best of the three, is not in the OTRR Library collection.  All of them deal with an emotional affair between beautiful Midge Conway, who is unhappily married, and architect Timothy Storey.  One of them was broadcast December 1, 1939 over WMAQ-Chicago and is listed in the SPERDVAC General Catalog on Reel 300.  While her husband Alan is out of town on business, Midge leaves her young son with Alan's parents early one morning and goes horseback riding with Timothy "on a woodland path in the outskirts of the city."  Then they decide to have breakfast  ("eggs, bacon, jam and coffee') at a tavern they come upon at the top of a hill.  While the meal is being prepared they notice an electric player piano and discover that it plays only waltzes.  Timothy puts in a nickel and they dance to "The Beautiful Blue Danube."  Unable to stop themselves, they break into exclamations of love for each other.  The OTR soap opera that dealt most explicitly with outright adultery was The Guiding Light, but this one is clearly headed in that direction.  This episode would make a very nice addition to the two that are presently in the OTRR Library. 

The episode of The Guiding Light on Reel 763 has a remote but fascinating connection with the very roots of the program.  In the early years of the serial the Reverend John Rutledge was the pastor of "the Little Church of Five Points" (Jim Cox, The Great Radio Soap Operas, p.64).  He adopted an orphan named Ned who subsequently married the pastor's daughter Mary.  In the "Dinner With Martin Kane" episode a woman named Myrna who has recently been divorced from Ned is at a restaurant with her employer, who is in love with her.  Myrna has her own radio program on a Los Angeles station, does not love Martin, is very unhappy, and wonders whether she should move back East to seek a better life.  I think The Guiding Light is probably the best long-running old-time radio soap opera in terms of its unflinching willingness to confront controversial and serious issues head on.  It deals with alcohol abuse, mental illness, spousal abuse, adoption and child-rearing, and adultery. 

The acclaimed radio soap opera Against the Storm is set against the background of World War II.  In the episode aired on Friday, March 22, 1940 Professor Jason McKinley Adams, patriarch of the family, is sitting in the garden reading Plato's Republic.  Then Siri, his daughter who is in college, comes outside and tells him she is on her way to have lunch with Philip Cameron, who is her brother-in-law and Professor Adams' son-in-law.  Philip bemoans his unhappy marriage to her sister Christy, and she refuses to side with him or give him sympathy.  Unfortunately, his misery does detract from her enjoyment of the "baked Alaska" she has been devouring.  Note: There is a wonderful piece of internal evidence in this episode that helps date it.  In the middle, a promotion is given for a new radio program called Truth or Consequences that is to debut "tomorrow night" on NBC.  March 23, 1940 is on a Saturday and John Dunning (On the Air, p.682) confirms that to have been the radio program's initial broadcast date.  If prior attempts to date precisely episodes of Against the Storm have proven difficult, this may help in dating them as well.      



Larry Maupin

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