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Friday, November 30, 2007

Many Dates With Judy

For having been born too late, I missed dates with Judy far greater in number than what I’d assumed was her sole appearance in the 1948 MGM musical starring Jane Powell, just released on DVD. Turns out this character had a near twenty-year run in various media, a brand name on radio and television, plus comic books and motion pictures. What started as summer replacement for Bob Hope in 1941 evolved into nine seasons of home listening. Shows like A Date With Judy revolved around teen problems at home and among school friends, with parents baffled over juve slanguage and exhibits of immaturity, but always right in the end. According to sex-deprived boys who grew up in radio's era, the girl’s voices were a major turn-on, despite all programs being scrubbed clean of inference. I pulled up a handful of Judy shows for on-line listening. One of them guest-starred Frank Sinatra; another had Joseph Cotten visiting the family. At times it sounded as though they were talking out of barrels. Radio archives are flush with some shows, bone dry on others. I located fifteen Dates With Judy. Maybe more exist, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this were all. The similar Meet Corliss Archer is said to be largely gone, which is too bad, because my elementary school band teacher, Priscilla Lyon, was the first actress to play her on radio. None of these shows are particularly funny, but it is possible to lull yourself into a sufficiently comatose state to groove with them. Girls act silly, boys their eunuch pets. Teenagers as a group behave as utter fools, presumably to blunt any threat they might otherwise pose. You can tell sponsors were parsing these scripts with surgical precision, careful to disperse reality’s intrusion. I’d love to hear from a then-faithful listener, but how many of those visit Greenbriar (or any website)? Web-based nostalgia is after all limited to those who can (or are willing to) ambulate there --- age and passing have taken a lot of older memories with them. A Date With Judy had sufficient legs to manage a daytime television berth beginning in 1951 (the cast shown above). This played live and lasted a couple of years, eventually moving into primetime. There weren’t enough episodes to strip in syndication, not a factor anyway since A Date With Judy wasn’t shot on film and would survive (if at all) on kinescope only. Fans may well have read comic books while listening (or watching), so why not spin the character off into these? Covers here represent a DC run that lasted from 1947 to 1960. They’re not collected with anything like the gusto Superman and Batman inspire, and for all the world they look just like Archie comics I used to get in the early sixties. Those were easy for me to dump later, with nary a regret since, demonstrating perhaps just how disposable A Date With Judy and its kind became once listeners (and readers) grew out of them.

Judy might have been the next Andy Hardy, had attitudes and audiences not been so changed by the war. As it was, MGM ran a decade behind the curve when it brought Andy back from service in 1946. He had not changed at all, and neither did the Hardy formula. A Date With Judy shared time warp reflecting a studio determined to maintain pre-war business as usual. Household sets are art-directed into otherworldly perfection. Teen patrons whose parents discouraged excess make-up would be reassured by on-screen peers larded with pancake and rouge. Sometimes design and outcome go in opposing directions, or maybe they intended Elizabeth Taylor to represent definitive forties jail-bait, as she certainly does here (speaking of Archie comics, Powell and Taylor are filmic dead ringers, by look and temperament, for Betty and Veronica). High school dances in A Date With Judy are divorced enough from reality to allow Xavier Cugat’s casual attendance, as if musical headliners might drop in on your prom or mine. Beyond title and character names based on the radio plays, Judy and her friends are the same sort of let’s-put-on-show Carvel dwellers Mickey and Judy had been. Metro teens behaved well and respected their elders. So had kids on radio, but more was at stake in movies. A status quo of family filmgoing had to be maintained. It was this industry’s very foundation. Let trash merchants handle the likes of Teenage --- Mad Moments Of Youth (shown here), for its disreputable hosts neither needed nor wanted Code Seals for exploitation product they ran, yet theirs was the direction an entire industry would be headed within a short decade. Jane Powell was reassurance for parents starting to worry just prior to release of films that spoke directly to their fears. Columbia’s Knock On Any Door and Universal’s City Across the River within a following year would warn that all was not well among America’s youth. Trouble in these was confined to slums, but there was always the threat it would break out. Misunderstandings with parents in A Date With Judy are resolved promptly and always short of the law’s intervention. Note Elizabeth Taylor’s contretemps with dad Leon Ames over Wall Street distractions that make him inattentive at home, then fast forward to Natalie Wood’s sexually charged Daddy rejection in Rebel Without A Cause. That must surely have been the last picture daughters would have wanted to go with their fathers to see (and vice versa). By 1955, moviegoers were bifurcating into opposing camps. What one chose for entertainment (and role modeling), the other deplored. Louis Mayer and his producers understood the madness in such a course, but there was little they could do to forestall its forward (or backward?) march.


Blogger radiotelefonia said...

One thing I thing you forgot to mention in this nice post is that A DATE WITH JUDY was produced by Joe Pasternak.

Since his arrival to MGM, in 1942, he was trying his best to repeat the Deanna Durbin formula for years. First with Katherine Grayson and then Jane Powell.

Pasternak musical are usually not as good as those produced by Arthur Freed. Even though he tried to be high brow, they results are quite vulgar. The idea of mixing classical music and opera stars with a very silly plot does not work anymore. I guess that audiences accepted them in the forties and early fifties when a ticket to the Opera House was not affordable or distance made it quite a journey. Television would change that later (... but where are the operas now?).

Had not been by Technicolor, A DATE WITH JUDY wouldn't be enjoyable.

During the golden age of broadcasting radio, a lot of shows and stars jumped to the big screen. Outside the United States many of those figures would remain forever unknown due to the language barrier. Without radio, their films did not work.

Argentina itself was in its golden age of broadcasting radio and several shows would switch to films. But in my country, those days in 1948 are remember as the last opportunity to constantly listen to your tango favorite stars with some going to exile or others simply blacklisted for political reasons. Yet, several artists did not manage to make film or even television appearance.

Xavier Cougat records were popular in its day in Buenos Aires. Yet he is forgotten while his fellow tango musicians are still been heard in the airwaves today.

In 1930, he directed a film called "Charros, Gauchos y Manolas" that tried to be the success with Latin American and Spanish audiences providing musical interludes to please the taste of our nations. The result was a big flop.

5:08 PM  
Blogger Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

I prefer A Date With Judy to Meet Corliss Archer only because I love OTR stalwart John Brown (he had a sensational sarcastic delivery), who played Judy's pop for the most of the series' run...and of course, Richard (Dick) Crenna--who was playing every juvenile nerd on radio at the time.

Though there aren't many Judy broadcasts in circulation, the OTR organization SPERDVAC has quite a few of the program's scripts for members to borrow.

6:20 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Radiotelefonia, I did consider going into the Joe Pasternak involvement with the Jane Powell musicals and their updating of the Deanna Durbin formulas, but as I'd covered some of that in previous postings on Durbin, I figured I'd leave it alone this time. I probably should have provided a link back to that story (which can be found in the Greenbriar archive).

Ivan, I was glad to hear from you on this subject as I'm a follower of your fine "Thrilling Days Of Yesteryear" site and consider you a leading authority on OTR. Nice to have confirmation about the dearth of episodes surviving on "A Date With Judy". Do any Priscilla Lyon "Corliss Archer" episodes exist? I'd really like to hear some of those. I listened to one of her "Mayor Of The Town" segments yesterday. What a kick to hear my sixth grade band teacher playing scenes with Lionel Barrymore and Agnes Moorehead!

7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jay Hickerson publishes an "Ultimate HIstory of Network Radio Programming and Guide to ALL Circulating Shows," which basically lists every old radio show known to exist and be in circulation. According to the 3rd edition (2005), there are 39 surviving episodes of "A Date with Judy" (despite running for 9 years), and 18 of "Meet Corliss Archer" (despite a 13 year run). The book doesn't tell you offhand which ones are the Priscilla Lyon ones (unless you happen to know the dates she was on?).


11:05 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...


I want to left you a bonus, a fragment from a radio show in Argentina.

This show was called "Ronda musical de las Americas", which ironically did not air (I have complete versions of all of those shows, but one that was produced in Mexico).

The programs were sponsored by Coca-Cola, were produced in 1946 at LR1 El Mundo and the original intention was to introduce the soft drink in Latin America.

The shows were unknown for years, until collectors found the acetates in a radio station, not in Argentina, but in Santiago de Chile instead.

But this clip is of interest because in it, Carlos Di Sarli play one of his own tangos partially in English. As he said, he regretted that due to the language barrier, tangos were not universally popular:

3:27 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thanks Dr. OTR. It would seem Jay Hickerson's book is unavailable, at least from Amazon, having been out of print a long time. Couldn't locate one on e-Bay either. How awful that so many radio shows are lost. Do large caches turn up anymore, or has every station and attic been searched by now?

Radiotelefonia, I listened to that excerpt. Very nice. Still think I need to wangle an invitation from Castro to come down and rearrange the Laurel and Hardy shelves in his TV stations. Some rarity would surely turn up!

7:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hickerson's book is only available from him directly. It's in print, having just been updated within the last year or so.

1:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, as noted, you can buy Hickerson's book directly from him. It's self-published, but invaluable if you're into OTR. And, surprisingly, a lot of stuff is still being turned up. Never as much as we'd like, but people are still finding caches of transcription discs. For example, one commercial company recently discovered about 400 episodes of Fibber McGee and Molly from the early 1950s. Some of these have been in circulation in absolutely wretched sound (from wire recordings), but most were simply lost in any format. And they've got the original transcription discs. There are some Holy Grails we'll probably never find, but it is surprising what still turns up. (This is why Hickerson has to keep updating his book!)


3:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was looking at the pictures you posted above and was wondering who are those three persons in the black and white photo near the top of the page. Could you tell me who they are, their actual names, and the characters they played. Also if its from film or radio. I'd appreciate it very much if you would.

Thanks in advance, Mr. Richmond

2:54 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Don't know who they are, but the photo is from the "Date With Judy" television show from the early 50's.

3:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The actors in the picture from the TV version (the prime time version vs. the earlier Saturday daytime one) are Mary Linn Baker as Judy, Peter Avarmo as her brother Randolph and Jimmie Sommers as Oogie. Sommers played the same part on the earlier one which starred Patricia Crowley and Judson Reese as her brother.
BTW Priscilla Lyon also appeared on the other big teen franchise of that era "Junior Miss," she played Fuffy Adams to Shirley Temple's Judy Graves on the first radio series based on the Sally Benson New Yorker stories and hit play. Later a movie (Peggy Ann Garner), long running radio series (Barbara Whiting who played Fuffy in the movie) and original TV musical (Carol Lynley).

1:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

will the tv series of a date with judy be on dvd anytime soon?

12:44 AM  

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