The Small House Half-way Up in the Next Block
June 25, 2007 4:15 PM   Subscribe

When people think of Old Time Radio, they usually think of the standards: Amos 'n Andy, Burns and Allen, Dragnet, etc. etc. I won't link to them because they are all over the 'net, and you can find them easily. But you almost certainly don't know about Vic and Sade ... and you should.

Read the good Wikipedia article first, to whet your appetite even more, then go listen! [more inside]
posted by woodblock100 (25 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
From one commentator: "... [each] story was told in thousands of 12-minute sketches without dramatic continuity, the best of them standing alone like fine short stories. Each was a little slice of life, an American original, in a category of its own making, as inimitable as its author's fingerprint."

Time magazine described the show (in the '40s) as one in which nothing much ever happened although it had seven million listeners and was drawing thousands of fan letters a week. It was a favourite of Ray Bradbury, Stan Freberg, Ogden Nash, Jean Shepherd, James Thurber ... do you need any more recommendations? :-)

If I were to tell you that it was a daily radio 'soap', you wouldn't click the link, thus missing out on this treasure, so I won't. A guy, his wife, and the boy who they are bringing up - for most of the life of the program, these are the only characters we heard. Nothing actually 'happens', at least not in the way that modern soaps have endlessly contrived plots. In Vic and Sade it's all about these three people, and if you like 'em, you'll love 'em.

Here are a few of my favourites:
Office Work at Home | Rotten David Telephones | Two Tons of Coal

The bad news is that out of the more than 3000 shows produced, just around 300 survive. The recordings were tossed out during a radio network cleanup session.
posted by woodblock100 at 4:15 PM on June 25, 2007

Thank You!
posted by RecordBrother at 4:26 PM on June 25, 2007

The 1970s probably seem like it would qualify for Old Time anything to a lot of MeFi'ers, but it was the heyday of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, which I'd listen to very quietly late at night so as to avoid getting in trouble for staying up on school nights. This site has an episode guide. It's apparently featured these days on, too.
posted by pax digita at 4:54 PM on June 25, 2007

You need to listen to it on this for full effect.
posted by caddis at 5:15 PM on June 25, 2007

pax digita, I was born in '65 and I had exactly the same experience as you. I'm press my ear against the radio so that I could keep the volume way down low, and I'd listen to "The CBS Mystery Theatre." This was in Bloomington, Indiana, and the closest station that carried "Mystery Theatre" was WBBM in Chicago. From my location, that station was crackly and would fade in and out, which added to the romance and spookiness. And I had no friends who listened to it. No one I new seemed to know about it. So it felt like a private thing between me and my radio. It almost felt like dreams.

My first AskMe question ever -- wish is still unanswered -- was about a mystery that happened to me as I listened to "The Mystery Theatre."
posted by grumblebee at 5:23 PM on June 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

[moved some of huge-ish post into woodblock100's first comment]
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:38 PM on June 25, 2007

Thank you for this. Best of the web.

"Office work at home" has moments that remind of of the better parts of The Big Lebowski. The kid alternating between eloquence and imbecility is a great touch.
posted by anthill at 5:40 PM on June 25, 2007

I'm gonna need a bigger mp3 player.
a thousand times thanks!
posted by Busithoth at 6:11 PM on June 25, 2007

His voice bears an unfortunate resemblance to the stapler guy from office space.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:26 PM on June 25, 2007

This is wonderful. I'd never heard of it before. Thank you!
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 6:54 PM on June 25, 2007

Thank you for this!

If I may nominate another show of interest -- Martin and Lewis had a radio show. It's pretty formulaic in spots, but I like it a lot, even more than their much-lauded TV show. (And I find it no hardship to listen to Dean sing a couple of songs!) Some of the radio episodes can be found here, but there are more out there.

I also find Lucille Ball amusing in My Favorite Husband.
posted by tomboko at 7:37 PM on June 25, 2007

MetaFilter: Person makes an innocent little remark and fellas jump out of their undershirts screaming like panthers.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 7:47 PM on June 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I had been a bit afraid that this post would fall pretty flat - most MeFites seem to be on the rather youngish side - but as there has been positive reaction to it, here is a bit more material of interest:

Instead of downloading the programs one by one from the page I linked earlier, you can get them on an mp3 CD from these people.

Two books full of original scripts have been published:
Vic and Sade: The Best Radio Plays of Paul Rhymer. New York: Seabury Press, 1976. (30 scripts). Jean Shepherd's foreword is here.

The Small House Halfway Up in the Next Block: Paul Rhymer's Vic and Sade. Rhymer, Paul, ed. by Mary Frances Rhymer, foreword by Ray Bradbury. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1972. (30 scripts). Bradbury's foreword is here. Don't miss it.

The scripts contained in those two books are online here.

Even though only a small fraction of the programs survive, there are plenty of scripts left. Once you've heard enough of the original episodes, and are thus familiar with the sounds of their voices, you can 'reconstruct' the missing programs, by reading the scripts with the sound of the original voices in your head ...
posted by woodblock100 at 9:34 PM on June 25, 2007

My mom didn't know about Vic and Sade out in the hinterlands of Kansas; but, I have some of the Ogden Nash & James Thurber books she and her parents 'generation-gapped' about. She remembered how they listened to the radio every night. One of her favorite shows was Lights Out the heart beats still haunt her...
posted by taosbat at 9:45 PM on June 25, 2007

I don't think the Out nor heart links work as I hoped. If the heart link works this time, the Out link was supposed to be External Chicken Heart mp3.
posted by taosbat at 10:10 PM on June 25, 2007

Also: I was about to say that tomboko's link to deserved it's own fpp, but then I found that it was already posted nearly a year ago. Still, definitely wort a visit, especially now that they've added some shows from the Columbia Workshop and the Mercury Theater, including Welles' original version of War of the Worlds.
posted by thecaddy at 10:12 PM on June 25, 2007

Great post! Thanks!
posted by vacapinta at 10:59 PM on June 25, 2007

I'm an OTR fanatic,so I certainly have heard of "Vic & Sade". I just never warmed up to it much. It's an acquired taste.

If you want great stuff that's been all but forgotten, check out The Judy Canova Show, or Danny Kaye.
posted by RavinDave at 11:15 PM on June 25, 2007

Careful with that "Vic & Sade." It's strangely compelling. I initially didn't think too much of it three-four years ago when I first starting listening, but whenever I do listen, I tend to listen to several in a row.

Old-Time radio is certainly a passion of mine! (self-link :-)
posted by grubi at 5:55 AM on June 26, 2007

most MeFites seem to be on the rather youngish side

I'm 19 and I'm loving these old radio programs.

I'm going to need a bigger iPod...
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 6:29 AM on June 26, 2007

I loved the Jack Benny stuff. They're going down Hollywood Blvd in the Maxwell. Rochester's driving, Mary's in the front. Benny and Dennis Day are in the back seat. They see a billboard: "Orange Juice on sale -- 10 cents a gallon." Suddenly, there's a tremendous screech and Mary screams: "Rochester! Why'd you slam on the brakes like that?" "I didn't!" he protests, "that was Mr. Benny."
posted by RavinDave at 9:23 AM on June 26, 2007

I wish I could enjoy Jack Benny. The jokes were often so funny. But Rochester and his caricature of black servitude makes me feel so -- embarrassed that I can't comfortably listen to the show. Am I overreacting? Of course the times were different, but though I don't turn a hair at women-driver jokes, and can merely shake my head with rueful amazement at brazen cigarette jingles ("Chesterfields are best for YOU!") -- listening to Rochester just makes me feel bad for him, and I can't laugh.
posted by tomboko at 10:04 AM on June 26, 2007

Tomboko, you're not overreacting. I'm sure many people feel the same way. There is another way to be, though I don't know if it's a way one can choose to be.

I'm rarely embarrassed or offended or outraged by bigotry from the past, though I'd be totally appalled if, say, a co-worker or friend said something racist. So what's the difference?

First of all, I'm totally secure that I'm not a bigot and that I'm never going to become one. I'm not saying that I'm immune to the odd, fleeting ugly thought. I'm human. I'm saying that I'm 100% secure that, at core, I'm an accepting, loving person. I never worry that something is going to make me racist or sexist or whatever. I'm not saying that you worry about this happening to you. But if, by chance, there's a small part of you -- even an irrational part -- that feels this way, it makes sense that you'd be uneasy listening to Rochester.

I'm also not part of a "liberal" group that has rituals of speaking out against prejudice. If you are, you're going to feel an urge to react against prejudice wherever you find it, because you've been under social pressure to do so -- maybe for a long time. Such social pressure is good! I just happen not to be under it. I dislike prejudice, but it's not something I talk about with my friends in general.

But the big issue has to deal with how you view the past. I've a huge history buff. And if you spend a big percent of you life reading and studying history, you can't escape from the fact that the past was, in many ways, an ugly time. The present can be ugly too, but it's possible to make changes in the present. You can't change the past. It is what it is. I know that you know that, but is it in your gut?

Another issues is what sort of model you have in your head for art or entertainment or artists. Does an artist have to be a good person? Does art have to be "pure"? I don't expect artists to be different or more enlightened than other people, and I expect art to represent the time when it was created. Before I even start delving into something from say, the 1950s or the 1800s, I expect to find certain attitudes (just as I expect space ships and laser battles when I go to see "Star Wars"), so I'm not surprised when I encounter those attitudes.

Finally, there's the issue of what harm, if any, it causes for bigoted stuff to be floating around in the world. I don't think anyone's ever proven a causal link between bigotry in art and bigotry in life. I'm not saying it doesn't exist, but I bet it's complicated and has more to do with the way art is viewed than art itself. If we're interested in learning about REAL history, and if art is part of history, then we should embrace it, warts and all, or we're not facing the reality of the past.

I want to see "Merchant of Venice" complete with anti-semitic parts; I want to see "Taming of the Shrew" complete with sexist parts. I know those parts won't make me sexist or racist; I doubt they'll make the world more racist or sexist; and though I think Shakespeare was a great genius, I don't expect him to be "right thinking" in all ways.

Of course, none of this can stop you from having a gut feeling and none of it implies that your feeling is "wrong" or "unsophisticated." We all interpret art in our own unique ways, and those ways aren't fully under our control.
posted by grumblebee at 9:53 AM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think you'd have to look long and hard in the Jack Benny opus to find any sort of genuine racial slurs -- and if you find ANYTHING at all playing off Rochester's race, it'd probably be a throw-away line on one of the absolute earliest shows. Benny made a conscious decision NOT to go down that route. Unless you mean that the mere existence on the show of a black character working as a valet is, in and of itself, a harmful stereotype. Then, I suppose, Benny should be excoriated for hiring Phil Harris and perpetuating the hurtful myth that all Irishmen are drunks. In short, there are far, far greater targets for your ire. Indeed, most ANY way that Rochester is portrayed could be slammed by someone determined to find racism. Did Benny pull a gag on Rochester? Oh, my!! -- he's portraying blacks as stupid. Did Rochester pull a gag on Benny? Oh, my!! -- he's portraying blacks as devious.
posted by RavinDave at 12:29 AM on June 28, 2007

Thanks for your perspective, grumblebee. I'm interested in history, too, but hearing voices on the radio, actually from the past, feels quite different than reading about, say, slavery in the Roman Empire.

RavinDave, I believe my response is primarily to Rochester's fawning, "Yes boss" manner. That is what embarrasses me. It's not the 'stupid' or the 'devious' or any such, it's the 'servile' I'm reacting to. Reading about it, I am aware that it was the policy of the show to have Rochester himself, not other characters, make the racial jokes. But does that make it OK? It still makes me squirm.

Did I say that the Jack Benny show was bad? I did not. I said I couldn't enjoy it and I explained why. I was not expressing ire. I was expressing sorrow.

I know it's my loss. I love comedy, and I hate to miss out on good jokes. But I can't seem to travel in time and unlearn what I know.
posted by tomboko at 4:41 AM on June 28, 2007

« Older Virtuoso Vertiginousness   |   The glass flowers of Leopold Blaschka Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments