Today is “Grab Bag” day here at Entertainment Legends Revealed, where each week we feature a different area of the world of arts and entertainment (that is not featured on the other four days of the week, that is). Each week you will see grab bag legends from one of these following 25 “Grab Bag” categories (I might expand the list in the future, but for now, we’re sticking with these 25).
This is the second in a series of examinations of legends related to radio and the people “behind the microphone,” so to speak, and whether they are true or false.
RADIO LEGEND: A daily Washington D.C. radio show played a re-run episode that clearly should not have been re-run.
In 1998, Kojo Nnamdi took over a long-running daily morning talk show called Public Interest on WAMU in Washington D.C. that first began as The Fred Finke show in 1977 (when it was a nighttime public interest show). After a couple of host (and name) changes, WAMU went with “Public Interest” rather than naming it after the new host, Nnamdi.
In 2002, they ended up naming it The Kojo Nnamdi Show anyways, which is what it remains called to this day.
In November of 2002, Nnamdi woke up sick one day and did not feel that he would be able to come in and work.
Without adequate time to find a guest host, the producers decided to re-run a recent show.
They grabbed a show from October and popped it in.
The show went on as it normally did, with Nnamdi discussing various topics. However, while discussing dreams and nightmares with neurologist Richard Cytowik, a bulletin interrupted the show.
Five people had been shot in Montgomery County!!
Yes, the producers had unwittingly chosen the October 3rd episode of the program, the day that the infamous “beltway sniper,” John Allen Muhammed first broke into the news with his early morning sniping murders of four random strangers in Montgomery County, Maryland (just north of Washington D.C.) which was coupled with a shooting from the previous day (Muhammed would go on to murder a sixth victim later that night).
(Here’s Muhammed from his later trial for mulitiple counts of murder – he was convicted and executed in 2009…
While the sniper had been caught a few weeks earlier when the rebroadcast aired, you can still imagine the panic such news started, as the idea of a copycat sniper would be far from unheard of.
The show actually continued for another three minutes before the deluge of phone calls prompted WAMU to pull the plug on the re-run. The network apologized profusely, even sending personal apologies to anyone who wrote into the show.
I can only imagine what Nnamdi was thinking when he woke up from his illness later that day! He had inadvertendly been caught up in a sort of War of the Worlds for the 21st Century!
RADIO LEGEND: Gracie Allen received tens of thousands of votes in a joke campgaign for President in 1940.
In the past, I’ve discussed the fact that Gracie Allen never actually said “Goodnight, Gracie.” on the popular television series starring George Burns and Gracie Allen (which was an extension from their equally popular radio show).
Now I’m going to debunk ANOTHER part of the Gracie Allen legend.
As you likely know by now, married entertainers George Burns and Gracie Allen were one of the most popular comedy duos of the 20th Century.
Allen’s act involved refining the “dumb blonde” character to absolute perfection.
Another way that Allen stood out was in the popularity of her publicity stunts. One popular gag involved her looking for her “lost brother George.”
She would show up on all different radio shows looking for him. It was great fun and great publicity for their radio show.
Another stunt involved Gracie running for the President of the United States in 1940.
Check out Radio Revisited if you’re interested in purchasing recordings from these landmark comedy programs.
Allen definitely DID “run” for President – as a member of the “Surprise Party.” However, for years the punchline to the gag was that she actually ended up getting actual votes!
Most accounts say 50,000 votes (I’ve seen others ranging from 40,000-50,000).
That would be pretty remarkable!
However, we actually know who got votes in the 1940 Presidential Election, and Gracie Allen was not a major votegetter.
It is kind of odd, really – it’s not like this information is guarded heavily. I get that people might not have known at the time how many votes she ACTUALLY got, so it’s fair enough that the story continued to be told then, but I’ve seen it cited as true in plenty of RECENT texts, and that’s pretty odd.
According to Dave Leip’s Atlas of US Presidential Elections (one of the greatest election data websites out there), here is how the voting went down…
As you can see, if we presume that, somehow, Allen got ALL of the write-in votes, she still would not have even cracked 2,000.
This does not take away from her legacy as a brilliant comedian, of course, just perhaps her legacy as a Presidential candidate (politically she was fine – she became the Governor of the State of Coma soon afterward!).
RADIO LEGEND: A popular radio series changed the name of the show (and title character) because the novelist who originated the character was blacklisted.
STATUS: Basically True
Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade had already found success in novels…
and film (with some help from Humphrey Bogart)…
before gaining radio success, as well, with the 1946 radio serial, The Adventures of Sam Spade, starring Howard Duff as Spade (Duff was largely an unknown in 1946 – within a couple of years he would be famous and married to Ida Lupino!).
The show was sponsored by Wildroot Cream-Oil.
Here is an old ad campaign for the show that appeared in comic books of the time…
Wildroot Cream Oil also used one of Al Capp’s characters in their ads, using the catchphrase, “Get Wildroot Cream-Oil, Charlie!”
This becomes important later.
The show debuted on ABC and then ran on CBS for a few years.
So it’s now 1950, and Hammett has been blacklisted by the government due to his constant protests for civil rights. The show had already removed his name on the credits.
Now, though, Howard Duff, as well, has been getting some inquiries from the House Un-American Activities Committtee.
So Wildroot Cream-Oil decides to cancel the program. Even though it is still popular, they figure that they just don’t need the hassle.
But they don’t want to give up the show ENTIRELY, so they just invent their own “new” radio show called, of course, Charlie Wild, Private Detective – made up of their name and the “Charlie” part of their ad campaigns!
The new show even kept Spade’s secretary, Effie Perrine!!! Just the name changed, basically.
The show was popular enough that they even make a short-lived TV version of the series during the early 1950s that ran on three of the four TV networks of the time (Cloris Leachman played Effie!).
NBC soon decided that THEY were going to keep doing Sam Spade even if Wildroot didn’t want to sponsor the show, but they, too, decided that Duff was too toxic of a lead (he was eventually named in Red Channels, which was basically the guide book for who to blacklist), so they re-launch the series a few months after Wildroot dropped them, but with Steve Dunne playing Spade. It did not last long.
Karmically enough, though, sixty years later, Sam Spade is still a well-known character and Dashiell Hammett is a bit of a legendary figure while Charlie Wild is about as popular as, well, Wildroot Cream-Oil!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org