… If Radio Were Under Carole’s Thumb (November, 1936)

Glamorous Carole Lombard would make some startling changes in our broadcasts!

By: Wilfred Healy

Having heard beforehand that she is a young lady with definite opinions and knowing that she is one of the most gracious gals in Hollywood, we walked into our Carole Lombard interview date with head and notebook held high, in spite of the fact that it was one of those Mondays when you wake up wondering what ever became of Sunday.

Radio is a fine thing, we thought to ourself, even on this bluest of all possible Mondays and Carole is a fine girl. In fact, anyone who submits herself to the ordeal of an interview on Monday, any Monday, is not only fine and beautiful – she is positively astounding. And we’ll fight the man who says she isn’t – only not on a Monday, if you don’t mind.

By the time we had run all this through our so-called mind we found ourselves seated in the Lombard dressing room, reaching for the Lombard cigarettes. (It is an unwritten law, strictly adhered to, that no interviewer smokes his own. He just sits there, mooching and listening. They whisper of a case, several years ago, when a writer new to Hollywood actually bought a drink for the interviewee. Naturally, he was promptly tossed out of the press club, shorn of his credentials, and shot the next morning at sunrise.)

Now that we know how interviews are conducted, and who pays, let’s get on with this one.

“I understand from the first paragraph that you’re a young lady with definite opinions,” we began. “Do you suppose you could tell your public what you’d do if you suddenly found yourself ruler of the air waves?”

“My first definite opinion,” said the lovely Miss L., “is that I shouldn’t care to inherit that throne. Of course if it were forced on me and the salary were okay, I’d start right at home and do something about guest programs.”

“With four or five national radio hours emanating from Hollywood using picture personalities as guest stars, it seems highly implausible to me that the sponsors can dig up enough good material with which to surround all their expensive talent.”

“For instance, I’ve had several offers to appear and so far I’ve turned them all down, simply because I haven’t found a suitable vehicle. I don’t like radio versions of last year’s pictures, because I don’t think people want to hear a rehash of something they might not have liked in the first place. A good radio dramatization of a current picture, if that picture lends itself to radio adaptation, is swell, but in my own case, The Princess Comes Across is the only one of my recent pictures which would fit radio requirements. My Man Godfrey is a good comedy and screen audiences like it, but I’m sure that kind of comedy on the air would sound something just out of Major Bowes.”

Carole Lombard, as you might well imagine, prefers comedy to any other type of radio program. She wouldn’t be averse to doing a comedy series herself if the right script and the right offer came along. Anyone who saw her grand Garbo impression in The Princess Comes Across knows what Carole can do with comedy. She was so good in that role that a haughty foreign star on her own lot – Paramount – held a private showing of the picture just to make sure it was Garbo Carole was mimicking.

“With radio under my thumb I would proclaim Jack Benny as my favorite comedian,” Miss Lombard continued. “His delivery is perfect, his diction is smooth and he’s a natural master of ceremonies. Besides, he advertises his sponsor’s product in the most painless method possible. For instance, I never touch Jell-O, but I buy loads of it simply because of Jack Benny.”

“One of the major faults with radio programs is that there is not enough painless propaganda. That, of course, will all be changed when I’m queen of the air. One of the first of my royal edicts will be this: Every sponsor in the country will listen to a command performance of Fred Waring’s Ford show. That’s my Utopia of all radio programs. The music is swell, the program has vitality, and Mr. Ford mentions his product only twice in the entire session. ‘Watch the Fords go by’ tells just as much about the product as an announcer’s saccharine speech about the tremendous merits of so-and-so’s salad dressing, and, as I mentioned before, it’s painless. At this moment, for instance, I have a garage full of Fords and I’ll bet you can ransack the house for even a drop of so-and-so’s high pressured salad dressing.”

“If I were ruler of the air, I would certainly add Fred Allen to the list of my favorite court jesters. His programs are fresh and, aside from his amateurs, very funny. Offhand, I can’t think of any radio comedians who can be classed with Benny and Allen. They are, to coin a word, terrific.”

There are other programs which would also win regal favor. For instance:

The Hollywood Hotel program. Miss Lombard has appeared on it twice, doing radio versions of her current screen hits. She particularly admires Bill Bacher, the program’s director, for his knowledge of radio and his ability to get the utmost out of the program’s dramatic sketches.

The Fleishmann Hour. Mainly because Rudy Vallée is an expert master of ceremonies.

The Kraft Music Hall. Because she’s a good friend of Bing Crosby and because she likes his easy manner of delivery. The program sometimes impresses her, however, as being too informal. And for the advertising department, there are no kind words.

And with radio under her thumb, Carole would bear down on:

All hillbilly quartets from the hills of Brooklyn.

Most masters of ceremonies. The majority of them think all they need is a microphone and a script. They should be forced to learn it’s a specialized art, by listening to Jack Bennyand Rudy Vallée.

At least half of the amateurs. Some of the amateur programs are good, some are funny, and some go beyond all comprehension.

Recorded dance programs. Because between each two numbers you are reminded at length that for ten cents down and for ten cents a week you can be the envy of your set with a complete outfit in fashionable mackerel cerise.

Sunshine hours. This is usually an early morning atrocity. You get out of bed, still half asleep, to be greeted with a cheery good morning from someone whose voice has a phony ring to it. All cheerful philosophers probably beat their wives.

“Frankly, I’m terribly fond of radio. There’s more excitement about it, for a performer, than either the stage or the screen. When that little red light goes on you know you have to go out there and turn in a performance, because there are no retakes in radio. You’re either good – or you’re aromatic, to put it mildly.”

“My first radio appearance was with Bing Crosby and it was, to say the least, an experience. I was so frightened my hands froze to the script, my voice wasn’t in its customary place and my knees knocked right through a pair of five dollar stockings. I was supposed to be doing comedy, but I raced through that script like Sir Malcolm Campbell going to a fire. Since then I’ve calmed down a bit, and – in case any prospective sponsors are listening – I can now face a microphone with what might even pass for aplomb.”

“My favorite radio day? Sunday, by all means! On Sundays I get everything from symphonies to Walter Winchell, with stops along the way at Major Bowes and wherever I happen to flip the dial. Maybe I’m wrong, but every program sounds good on Sunday. Could it be, as I suspect, because they are good?”

“Perhaps,” we suggested, grabbing the rest of Lombard cigarettes, “it’s because Sunday is always so far away from last Monday.”

It can’t be that, because next Monday is always just around the corner. Like television. Tell me, what do you know about television?”

We don’t know a thing about it. So if anyone hears any rumors, please wire us collect, because we’d like to see Miss Lombard again.