Was Life of Riley Originally a Groucho Marx Vehicle?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to radio and the people “behind the microphone,” so to speak, and whether they are true or false.

RADIO URBAN LEGEND: Life of Riley was originally a Groucho Marx vehicle!

While it may be true for movies, as well, the media of Radio and Television seem to be places where the following statement is particularly true – strong performances (or, in the alternative, strong personalities) can often make the difference between a show being a classic and a show being forgotten.

A great example of this phenomenon is the classic early situation comedy from 1941 (and likely THE original situation comedy, at least in how we think of the term today), Life of Riley.

The show is basically a generic sitcom, with its sole distinguishing plot characteristic being that it is about lower middle-class people in New York City, specifically a wing riveter at an Aircraft plant named Chester A. Riley.

The title “Life of Riley” is play on the phrase “Living the life of Riley,” which means living an expensive lifestyle (this, of course, was meant as an ironic title).

While the only distinguishable plot characteristic was the setting of the sitcom, the one thing that REALLY set it apart was its star, veteran movie character actor, William Bendix.

In the able hands (and voice) of Bendix, Riley was kept from turning into an insufferable lout, which the character easily could have turned into. Riley did not have the depth of, say, a Ralph Kramden or an Archie Bunker, but Bendix still kept him grounded in life enough that listeners could root for the guy. The addition of John Brown’s gravedigger character Digby O’Dell, really sold the show, making it a permanent hit. It was even one of the rare radio hits that continued as a major hit on television (an early attempt to adapt it for television show had Riley played by none other than the future Ralph Cramden himself, Jackie Gleason) with Bendix eventually playing the character on the most successful adaptation of the show on television.

Here’s an ad for the show from one of their first sponsor, the American Meat Institute…

Amazingly enough, though, the Life of Riley almost never existed, because it was based on a failed pilot that originally starred Groucho Marx!
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Did the Pestering of Reporters Lead to the Famed Description of the NBC Monitor?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to radio and the people “behind the microphone,” so to speak, and whether they are true or false.

RADIO URBAN LEGEND: Pat Weaver came up with the trademark description of The NBC Monitor on the fly when being pestered by reporters.

The NBC Monitor was a radio program that basically saved NBC Radio in a time when radio was deemed on its way out with the advent of television.

The show almost defied definition, as NBC (Radio and TV) President Pat Weaver came up with the idea of developing a weekend program that would put together the best minds available to NBC and producing quick bits of news and infotainment that would last the whole weekend. It would work so that no matter when you turned to the program, you would be able to get SOMEthing interesting to listen to.

It was seen as a bizarre gambit by Weaver at a time when radio stations were locked into general 30 minute or 60 minute shows, but it definitely paid off.

Basically, it is the same principle Weaver used on television for NBC’s Today Show (which still goes on today). You just use up blocks of time with interesting people and viewers will tune in. Soon, basically every radio station affiliate across the country were “on the Monitor Beacon.”

The show was introduced with an otherworldly sound called the Monitor Beacon (it would also be used to transition out of station breaks).

Courtesy of the great Monitor tribute site, The Monitor Beacon Tribute Pages, click here to hear an MP3 of the Monitor Beacon sound.

In any event, as you might imagine, it was difficult for Pat Weaver to describe a show that would have, say, X minutes of an old-time radio show then X minutes of visiting a Celebrity Chef then X minutes of straight news then X minutes of Bob and Ray doing a comedy routine then the weather (done in a breathy, sexy voice by “Miss Monitor,” played by actress Tedi Thurman) then X amount of minutes of live jazz.

So when he first described the show to affiliates on Friday, April 1, 1955, the affiliates must have felt that this was some sort of April Fool’s joke by Weaver! While they did not fully grasp the concept all that well, Weaver had an even tougher time when he debuted the concept to reporters in a press conference a few days later.

It is there that Weaver actually came up with the phrase that would forever be connected to the Monitor – and he did it on the fly!
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Did David Sarnoff Work a Telegraph Three Days Straight Covering the Titanic Sinking?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to radio and the people “behind the microphone,” so to speak, and whether they are true or false.

RADIO URBAN LEGEND: David Sarnoff stayed on the telegraph for three days straight getting the first details of the Titanic sinking.

As horrific of a tragedy the sinking of the Titanic was, it turned out to be a major boon for the future of radio.

At the time of the Titanic sinking, wireless communication was only just beginning to become a major tool, particularly for naval vessels, who could use telegraphs to communicate with people at great distances.

That any of the passengers of the Titanic survived the sinking was due entirely to the fact that the ocean liner Carpathia picked up the wireless transmissions of the Titanic’s two Wireless Operators (who continued transmitting until they literally could not do it any longer).

This, coupled with the fact that the ship closest to the Titanic, the Californian, did not stop to help because their Wireless Operators were asleep and their wireless station shut down, was a major success, of sorts, for the American division of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company.

It proved the impressive utility of wireless communication, and it did so in a massive news story with the whole world paying attention.

While surely the radio industry would have eventually started ANYways, this definitely gave it a jump start.

One person that this ALSO gave a jump start to was a young Marconi Wireless worker named David Sarnoff.
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Is There a Transgendered Character in the Super Mario Brothers Universe?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to video games and whether they are true or false.

VIDEO GAME URBAN LEGEND: Super Mario Brothers features a transgendered character.

In Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers 2, one of the various bad guys that Mario and Luigi have to fight is named Birdo.

Birdo would spit eggs, flames or some combination of the two. In Japan, the charcter was known as Catharine.

In the user manual, here is how Birdo is described:

Birdo thinks he is a girl and likes to be called Birdetta. He likes to wear a bow on his head and shoot eggs from his mouth.

The Japanese version says “Catharine” and “Cathy” in place of Birdo and Birdetta, respectively.

Well, as is the case with most of his former villains, Mario ended up befriending Birdo, and Birdo shows up in Mario Tennis…
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Did Iraq Really Use Playstation 2 to Help Develop Their Weapon Systems?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to video games and whether they are true or false.

VIDEO GAME URBAN LEGEND: Iraq was using Playstation 2 to help develop their weapons systems.

The second edition of Sony’s popular video game console, PlayStation, was released in 2000. Through various delays, only a million or so people had purchased consoles by the end of 2000, making it an extremely hard to find item, especially for Christmas 2000.

Right in the middle of all the fears of the shortage of PlayStation 2’s was the report in December of 2000 by WorldNetDaily that Iraq had imported 4,000 PlayStation 2s!

The WorldNetDaily report tied in with some reports that had come out when the game was first released. When the PlayStation 2 was first produced, the Japanese Ministry of Trade had to approve of its release outside the country because of two aspects of the console.

1. It had a powerfully encrypted memory card. Anything over 56 bit encryption has to be approved by the Ministry before it is exported from Japan. PlayStation 2 had a 128 bit encryption. Sony said it needed the encryption to keep people from making copies of videos or music.

2. The central procession unit (CPU) of the PlayStation 2 had impressive graphics processing. It theoretically could be used as the “eyes” of a missile guidance system.

WorldNetDaily argued that that is why Iraq was importing all of these PlayStations, because the “toys” would be able to pass by any weapons embargo placed on Iraq.

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Did Final Fantasy Get Its Name Because it Was the “Final” Chance the Company Had For Succeeding?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to video games and whether they are true or false.

VIDEO GAME URBAN LEGEND: Final Fantasy got its name because it was the “final” shot at the company succeeding.

Square was founded by Masafumi Miyamoto in 1983 soon after graduating from college. At first, Square, which was devoted to developing computer games, was part of a larger company owned by Miyamoto’s father, but in 1986, Square spun off as its own company. Its games were published under the brand name Squaresoft.

One of the earliest employees at Square was a young man who had recently taken a break from college, Hironobu Sakaguchi. Sakaguchi began working part-time at Square, and while part-time, he developed Square’s first two games, The Death Trap and its sequel Will: The Death Trap II, but by the time that the company spun off, Sakaguchi was the Director of Planning and Development.

Square’s first games, which were developed for the Nintendo Famicon Disc System, did not go over very well.

The company was in desperate need of a success soon or it was very likely that it would go out of business.
Sakaguchi, too, was frustrated, but the company placed all of their hopes on a game that was designed to respond to the success Square’s competitor, Enix, had with the role playing game Dragon Warrior.

The game was titled Final Fantasy.

It sold 400,000 copies and basically saved the company from financial ruin.

There are basically two stories about where the name Final Fantasy came from (it IS a bit of an odd name).

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Did Shakespeare Leave Stratford-on-Avon Because He Was Arrested for Poaching Deer?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about plays and playwrights and whether they are true or false.

THEATER URBAN LEGEND: William Shakespeare left Stratford-on-Avon in the mid 1580s because he was arrested for poaching deer.

For centuries now, there has been one part of Shakespeare’s life that just doesn’t seem to be accounted for.

He was married at age 18 to the 26-year-old Anne Hathaway in 1582. They had three children, born in 1583 and 1585.

The next time anyone has definitive information about Shakespeare is when he popped up on the London theater scene in 1592.

Every story that has come about to explain what happened in those seven years originated years after Shakespeare’s death, but one particular popular one involved deer poaching.

As the story goes, and this was offered up by four separate biographies of Shakespeare in the 1700s, Shakespeare, who had a grudge against Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, which was right across the river to Stratford. Shakespeare mocked Lucy in two separate plays.

So the legend is that Shakespeare was caught deer poaching on Lucy’s deer park at Charlecote and left Stratford for London to avoid punishment (an alternate to this legend includes Shakespeare being caught and whipped and then sent from Stratford).
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Did the Pulitzer Prize Committee Choose to Award No Prize Rather Than Award Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about plays and playwrights and whether they are true or false.

THEATER URBAN LEGEND: The Pulitzer Prize Committee chose to award no Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama in 1963 rather than to give it to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Edward Albee’s play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of the more remarkable works of drama in the 20th Century.

The play was first staged in 1962.

The story takes place at the home of George and Martha, a history professor at a college and his wife, the daughter of the president of the college. They have taken a new professor and his mousy wife out to dinner and are now back at George and Martha’s place for more drinks. The night continues as George and Martha slowly descend into a tirade of increasingly violent behavior towards each other.

Albee wished to take a darn look at the “standard” American couple and show the darkness hidden behind a typical white heterosexual couple in the early 60s.

The play opened to widespread acclaim.

It won the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play.

However much acclaim it attracted, though, it attracted the same amount of controversy. The play contained copious amounts of profanity and sexual references. In 1962-63, that was still quite shocking.

It was SO shocking that it resulted in a similarly shocking result when the 1963 Pulitzer Prizes were awarded.
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Did Henrik Ibsen Write an Alternate Happy Ending to A Doll’s House?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about plays and playwrights and whether they are true or false.

THEATER URBAN LEGEND: Henrik Ibsen wrote an alternate happy ending to A Doll’s House.

A Doll’s House was published by Henrik Ibsen in 1879.

Here is a portrait of Ibsen…

The play was the first of Ibsen’s works to be a massive hit, and it is likely still his most famous work.

The play centers around Nora, a wife and mother who slowly realizes that, all throughout her life, she has been treated as almost like possession – first by her father and now by her husband.

She dramatically, and quite controversially for 1879, leaves her husband and children at the end of the play, responding to her husband’s pleas that the only chance to save their marriage would be if they could completely change their the way they approach their life and marriage, which she says would take “the greatest miracle of them all.”

As she leaves, her husband takes some solace in the hope that said miracle could take place and the play ends with her slamming the door, punctuating her exit.

It was definitely a controversial ending for the time – a woman leaving her family?

It was SO controversial that when it was going to be staged in Berlin, the famous actress Hedwig Niemann-Raabe said she would only play the part of Nora if the ending was changed. Having an actress of Raabe’s stature take the part was a major coup for Ibsen, but he, of course, did not approve of the idea of changing the ending of the play.
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Did Robert B. Parker Invent a Character in a Novel Series for Helen Hunt?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about novels and novelists and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the novel urban legends featured so far.

NOVEL URBAN LEGEND: Robert B. Parker created a popular series of novels just so an actress could have a good role – a role she never ended up playing.

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) began writing novels in 1971.

His most famous series of novels starred the Boston private eye known as Spenser.

Spenser was so popular that he received his own TV series called Spenser for Hire, starring Robert Urich and Avery Brooks (whose character, Hawk, had a spin-off series after Spenser for Hire).

The show lasted three seasons from 1985-1988, and also had a series of TV movies in the 1990s.

One of Parker’s most recent lead characters was the female detective Sunny Randall, also a Boston P.I.

The character appeared in seven novels since her debut in 1999’s Family Honor (most recently, 2007’s Spare Change).

Randall had an odd genesis, though.

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