BY-WAYS - 12/5/46 - Visit to NBC studios

Last week I promised to tell you about our visit to the National Broadcasting Co. in Hollywood, with Fibber Magee and Molly as the highlight of our day. Charlie had just come back from Spokane, Wash. A returned veteran rightly reclaimed his old job - which was the one Chuck was holding down. Jobs are just as scarce in Washington as they are in California. Chuck expressed a desire to visit Hollywood. So the first rainy day - a day off for Virgil - we drove up there. We won't do it again on a rainy day, for, as I told you last week, a "rain" out here may mean an inundation. That very night the Pacific Coast Highway, over which we had traveled a few hours before, became a canal. At chuck's request we had 'phoned for chance reservations to the Bob Hope show, but of course they were all taken. You send for your tickets two weeks in advance. We were told that the only tickets available were for "A Date With Judy." We arrived about 2:30 p.m. - in the pouring rain. N.B.C. studios are on the corner of Sunset and Vine. The building - of apple green stucco, built on severely plain lines, depends on its chromium trim and lighting effect for beauty that takes the eye. The wide steps, that extend the length of the building on Sunset (at least half a block) lead up to a sheltered veranda. Under the curved roof of this veranda are the long tubes of colored light - yellow, blue, and rose. It is beautiful at night. After we got our tickets for "Judy," and the rain abated a little, we visited Tom Breneman's restaurant, just across the street on vine. After seeing Clifton's Restaurant in L.A. three years ago, I was disappointed in Tom's place. For two reasons: The shabby carpet - and the cocktail bar. There is a good reason for the former - but no excuse for the latter. The restaurant is closed on Tuesday (the day we were there), but the cocktail bar was wide open. We were allowed to go in the restaurant and look around. It has a South Sea Island atmosphere, with a bamboo hut effect at the Vine St. end, soft lights enclosed in multi-colored "balloons." We then drove up to the largest bowling alley in the world - located on Sunset - about four blocks east of Vine. It has 52 lanes. Chuck bowled a game, but as he wrote his brother, he was so over-awed by the huge and modern emporium that he bowled a shabby 125. We had planned to eat our early supper at Breneman's - but, after reading the price list, I am glad they were closed to diners. We ate at a drugstore, corner of Sunset and Vine, the best ham salad sandwiches we ever tasted. Excellent pie, too.

The studio audience assembled early for "A Date With Judy." The studio seats about 200, I should think. "Father Foster" in the Judy sketch, came out from behind the velvet curtains to welcome us, and teach us our studio manners. He assured us that hearty laughs would be most welcome. The announcer would give us the signal when to applaud. "Mr. Foster," who is really John Brown (so he says), then introduced his "family." Mrs. Foster, Randolph, and Judy. Randolph sounds like a young boy over the "mike" - but he is old enough to have dark whiskers. He is very short in stature. "Igi," the young orchestra leader, who sounds too nasal and simple, is quite a fine-looking young man. Louise Erickson, who plays the part of Judy, is a beautiful blonde, with the daintiest of features. Her transparent skin flushes or "blushes" easily. She is really a highly intelligent young woman - still quite shy of audiences. Mr. and Mrs. Foster are both wholesome. We thoroughly enjoyed their skit. When we came out of there at 6:00 o'clock (Pacific Coast Time), there was a long line of people waiting for the "Fibber & Molly" show. The rain was pouring down in buckets and that time the elements did us a favor, for not nearly all the ticket-holders showed up. We tagged on to the end of this line - went right from one studio to another, without leaving the sheltered veranda. Behind the heavy velvet curtains an orchestra was practicing. In about five minutes the curtains were opened and we were given a preview of Billy Mills and his fine orchestra at work. They were having a wonderful time, laughing, chewing gum, just completely relaxed. They went over some hard spots in the music two or three times. Then the King's Men practiced their song. One of them sits at the piano; the others group around them. They are just plain men - most of them homely - not young any more. But how they can sing!

Billy Mills went off the stage, and in came a much shorter man, in an almost shabby tan-brown suit, holding an umbrella over his head. He stepped up to the conductor's podium, shook his umbrella, shook his gray hair, shook his coat, picked up the baton, and directed the cleverest little burlesque number you ever heard. The various instruments would pop up for a phrase of only two notes, perhaps. Many of the phrases ended in a squeak. The audience roared. That was Fibber, and his clever way of warming up his audience. He was so nonchalant about everything. He introduced all the cast; first, "My partner - this year" - and out came smiling Molly. Then, "Dr. Gambel," who is a behemoth of a man; "Mayor La Trivia," who, like Dr. Gambel, looks to be about 45, dark, and fairly handsome. Bill Thompson is a husky, barrel-chested, black-haired "whiz" about 32 - the most versatile of them all. He looked the part of the Irish cop that he took that night. But how he can ever weaken his great voice to "Mr. Wimple," I'll never tell you. Unfortunately for us, he didn't play the part of Mr. Wimple that night. Harlowe Wilcox was introduced as a young lad, just getting a start in radio. This was before Harlowe appeared, and Fibber had us believing that Harlowe was ill. How we applauded the popular Harlowe! He is a handsome, debonair man-about-town - at least 40, gray-haired, with crisp gray mustache, tall, with all the poise of a veteran announcer. That was the night that Fibber and Molly were expecting Ronald Coleman, and were brushing upon their English dialect - I mean London dialect. Even the commercial was in keeping with the atmosphere of Old England. Very clever. Of course it turned out that the message was from "Ronnie, the coal man" - also played by Bill Thompson. Molly sits at a little table for all her mike work. She doesn't look too rugged, and is very stoop-shouldered. She looks quite young now, with her short blonde hair and her winsome smile. Fibber goes to her behind the curtain, and leads her out for introduction, or curtain call. You can see that they are still sweethearts. The only person on the stage who seemed to work hard at his job was the sound-effects man. He has a little half-booth on a wooden platform, about five feet square, at the left center of the stage. He has to watch his cues assiduously. We were sorry that Fibber's hall closet door wasn't opened that night. I forgot to describe Billy Mills, who I thought was one of those emaciated, starving-in-a-garret song-writers - because he has written such good songs: "Wagon Wheels," "Home on the Range," etc. But Billy Mills is well-filled out - and looks like a prosperous business man. He is quite bald. And now, on Tuesday nights, when you turn your dial to the Johnson's Wax program, just picture one great, happy family, who radiate wholesome fun and good-will. I hope you get to see them sometime. Happy Thanksgiving!

Florence B. Taylor

Next - 12/12/46 - Mt. Wilson
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