Harry James, Dinah Shore and Johnny Mercer mug backstage before Call for Music
The Billboard teases the new Philip Morris program, Call for Music, co-starring Dinah Shore and Harry James (Jan 24th 1948)
The Billboard teases the possibility of Johnny Mercer joining Call for Music
(Jan 31st 1948)
Dinah Shore's new radio vehicle made the cover of The Billboard of Feb 28th 1948
Philip Morris sponsored Call for Music over both CBS and NBC
Philip Morris featured its Revelation pipe tobacco during Call for Music
The contemplated move to NBC signaled the departure of Lawrence and Lee from their writing and production credits (The Billboard of May 1st 1948)
While holding open the door for a possible Fall Season of Call for Music, Dinah Shore apparently felt that the proposed downsizing of the popular feature didn't merit her return. (The Billboard of June 19th 1948)
During a rehearsal for Call of Music, Dinah dances with Van Johnson while hubby George Montgomery ignores them.
Philip Morris and Company was one of the most prolific sponsors of Radio throughout the Golden Age, bankrolling virtually every Radio genre heard during the era:
- 1934 The Leo Reisman Orchestra
- 1935 Johnny [Roventini] and The Foursome
- 1938 The Perfect Crime
- 1938 What's My Name?
- 1939 Breezin' Along
- 1939 Guess Where
- 1939 Johnny [Roventini] Presents
- 1939 Name Three
- 1939 Where Are We?
- 1940 Crime Doctor
- 1941 Great Moments from Great Plays
- 1941 Philip Morris Playhouse
- 1942 Author's Playhouse
- 1942 Purple Heart
- 1942 The Philip Morris Program
- 1944 It Pays to Be Ignorant
- 1945 Talent Theater
- 1946 Heart's Desire
- 1946 The Johnny Desmond Follies
- 1947 At Home with The Berles
- 1947 Horace Heidt's Youth Opportunity Program
- 1947 Kate Smith Sings
- 1948 Call for Music
- 1948 Everybody Wins
- 1948 Philip Morris Playhouse
- 1948 The Dinah Shore Show
- 1948 The Mel Torme Show
- 1948 This Is Your Life
- 1949 Against The Storm
- 1949 Casey, Crime Photographer
- 1949 Hogan's Daughter
- 1949 Ladies, Be Seated
- 1949 One Man's Opinion
- 1950 Candid Microphone
- 1950 Truth Or Consequences
- 1951 Philip Morris Playhouse on Broadway
- 1951 The Bickersons
- 1951 The Strange Romance of Evelyn Winters
- 1952 My Little Margie
- 1952 What's My Line?
- The Eddie Cantor Show Business Show
Cigarette advertising played a major role in Radio of the 1930s to 1950s. One of the Advertising Industry's most lucrative sectors, the Ad agencies of the era ruthlessly competed with each other for Tobacco Industry accounts. Given the highly addictive nature of tobacco products of any kind, the Tobacco Industry was one of the United States Economy's most recession-proof, inflation-proof, and depression-proof industries. And indeed, the tobacco industry of the era routinely poured a significant amount of its profits into both Print and Radio advertising throughout the period. The industry also ensured that tobacco products were routinely employed in all manner of Film productions of the 20th Century.
After the Golden Age of Radio had come and gone, Philip Morris acquired the Miller Brewing Company in 1970, General Foods in 1985 and Kraft Foods in 1988. One might well argue that Philip Morris, U.S.A. inherited the legacy for a lion's share of the most important sponsorships throughout the Golden Age of Radio--Philip Morris, Kraft Foods, and General Foods having sponsored over 300 popular Radio programs of the era. In 2003, the Philip Morris companies changed their name to the Altria Group.
But thoughout both World War I and World War II, the tobacco industries routinely shipped millions of free cartons and pouches of tobacco products to the G.I.s overeas on every fighting front--the better to ensure that overseas G.I's wouldn't be forced by War to abandon their smoking addictions. And also to ensure that American tobacco products made even more significant inroads into the occupied countries on the fighting fronts. The Tobacco Industry was equally generous to the G.I.s during the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam Conflict. And in fact, it's been estimated that three times as many of the G.I.s of the era ultimately died of tobacco-related illnesses than the entire estimated 292,000 fatal American servicemen casualties of World War II.
Of course as history has revealed, Tobacco Advertising was also one of the era's most deceptive and misleading, routinely citing the health 'advantages' of a particular tobacco brand over its competitors. The more naked and bald-faced tobacco campaigns of the era routinely employed doctors and nurses to endorse the health efficacy of a particular brand's tobacco products. And quite naturally, another huge portion of the Tobacco Industry's profits were plowed back into influence peddling and lobbying against any form of regulation of tobacco products of the era--a practice that continued well into the 1990s.
Given the ruthlessly competitive and morally bereft nature of the Tobacco Industry of the era, it's no wonder that that same ruthless competition greatly influenced the Radio programming of the era. Indeed, to this day, most advertising historians and economists continue to cite the Tobacco Industry's influence peddling of the 20th Century to be the template from which most other deceptive corporate advertising practices achieved such illogical--and counter intuitive--success throughout the 20th Century.
Dinah Shore's rising star
While steadily increasing her popularity with one hit record after another, Dinah Shore got her first major boost from Eddie Cantor and his Time To Smile program between 1940 and 1942 and with frequent appearances on the long-running Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street with Paul LaValle during the same period. She'd also appeared over The Revuers during the same period while getting yet another boost from Xavier Cugat during 1940.
By 1941 Dinah Shore embarked on a long-running series of her own programs over three different networks and for six different major sponsors:
Throughout the entire period of headlining her own starring vehicles over both Radio and Television, Dinah Shore continued to make hundreds of guest appearances on other programs as well as performing in hundreds of AFRS and AFRTS programs of the 1940s and 1950s. And indeed her frequent appearances before military audiences both stateside and overseas endeared her to a generation of G.I.s and their families. Dinah Shore continued to be a favorite of G.I.s. for the remainder of Dinah Shore's life.
Philip Morris teams Dinah Shore and Harry James over CBS
"Call for Philip Morris" had been the signature Radio tag for Philip Morris for going on fourteen years by 1948. 'Sung' by famous little person Johnny Roventini and his several 'stand-ins' over the years, it was a natural extension to refer to their new Dinah Shore, Harry James and Johnny Mercer vehicle as "Call for Music." And indeed the pairing of jazz vocalist sensation Dinah Shore with Harry James and his Orchestra would seem to have been an equally natural hit premise. The Billboard thought so as well, almost weekly hyping the proposed series from its first teaser in mid-January 1948. By the time Call for Music actually premiered the two proposed leads were augmented by legendary Tin Pan Alley songwriter Johnny Mercer.
The concept for the series was something of a novelty as well. Drawing upon the preeminence of each of the co-stars in their respective entertainment fields, Dinah Shore represented the popular songs of the era, Harry James represented Big Band music of the era, and Johnny Mercer represented the Tin Pan Alley and Broadway songwriting of the era. Call for Music was specifically targeted to the 18-25 demographic of the era and Lawrence and Lee's [Jerry Lawrence and Robert Lee] Call for Music's scripts were heavily weighted with the popular 'jive talk' of the era, an aspect that apparently disturbed noted Radio critic John Crosby to no end. Here's a sample from the March 22, 1948 edition of Oakland Tribune:
Teams With Songwriter
By JOHN CROSBY
Dinah Shore, the velvet-voiced lady from Tennessee, and Johnny Mercer, the songwriter, have teamed up on a new show titled "Call for Music" (8:30 p.m. California Daylight Time, Fridays) and, in all but a few details, it's a very happy arrangement. Unfortunately the two singers have brought along Harry James, who is Betty Grable's husband, the butt of a great many tiresome jokes and also a trumpet player of considerable reknown. James' trumpet, I understand, drives certain young ladies right out of their wits and has a somewhat similar effect on me. It makes a loud, assertive, insistent noise that gets under my skin, though probably not in the way James plans.
To pass on to more pleasant matters, Miss Shore occupies a rather special niche among feminine singers. Her voice is as recognizable as Jack Benny's. Her style is one of those patented and exclusive features the automobile manufacturers are always talking about and is so distinctively her own that she could cry for help in Times Square and be identified almost immediately.
This unique quality has a way of subtly altering the meaning of lyrics. When Miss Dinah--as I'm sure the family servitors refer to her--tackles "McNamara's Band," the whole character of Ireland changes. Magnolias start sprouting all over the ould sod. She has at various times transformed Sioux City Sue into a southern girl and rather casually placed the penthouses of Manhattan somewhere around New Orleans. In spite of these drastic geographical rearrangements, Miss Shore has a lovely haunting voice, her phrasing is among the most skillful to be found among popular singers, and I'm happy she's back on the air.
As for Mercer, he is perhaps second only to Bing Crosby as a master of rhythm. Someone once remarked about Crosby that he sounded the way all men think they sound in the shower. The same remark might more aptly be made about Mercer, who sings as if he immensely enjoys the sound of his own voice and doesn't particularly give a hoot if anyone else does. His voice, if you can call it that, is foggy, hollow, casual and extremely self-assured. Mercer has been obscured by his songwriting, a more lucrative enterprise. Hollywood, in fact, is bubbling over with song writers who also sing and can hardly be prevented from singing if anyone is careless enough to leave a piano exposed.
Mercer's particular talent is an ability to implant a tune so thoroughly into your own mind that you find yourself whistling it the next day. He clings tenaciously to the melody rather than revising it to his own taste, a gesture of respect from one songwriter to the rest of the profession which I greatly admire. And, if that isn't enough recommendation, he is also a real, lowdown blues singer who can bring an air of conviction to some of the silliest lyrics ever written. Parenthetically I'd like to insert the observation that the blues seem to be reasserting some of the popularity they enjoyed back in the '20's. The other night Miss Shore embraced with magnificant courage "My Man," a song that I thought was buried with Helen Morgan. She sang it very well, too.
In spite of the excellence of its component parts, there are a number of things wrong with this show. It's badly written, and loosely put together. James, Mercer and Miss Shore are required to give tongue to some of the most ridiculous jive talk I ever heard. Miss Shore is forced, conceivably at the point of a gun, to simper like a fourteen-year-old school girl and Mercer, an intelligent adult, is made to utter noises which most teen-agers of my acquaintance outgrew in the sixth grade. This sort of thing, I imagine, is aimed at the jukebox set and--I'm just guessing here--is written by men with one foot into middle age. All I can say is that they are insulting the intelligence of the teen agers. Jive talk is not exactly deathless prose but the real thing is a lot better than this. These writers ought to get out of the Brown Derby some night and do a little research near a jukebox.
Copyright, 1946, for The Tribune
As might be obvious from John Crosby's observations above, Crosby wasn't particularly hip to the 'jive talk' of the eighteen to twenty-five year-olds of the era. Given that Call for Music was specifically targeted to the 18-25 demographic of the era, Crosby's disdain for 'jive' was entirely understandable. Crosby wasn't particular enamored of Johnny Mercer either. But as history later proved, Johnny Mercer's songwriting talents became the stuff of Radio, Television, Film and Recording Industry legend. It's also true that Mercer had any number of other detractors of the era--but not among the target demographic.
Nor was everything sweetness and light behind the mike of Call for Music. While the legendary writing/producing team of Jerome 'Jerry' Lawrence and Robert Lee had gotten Call for Music off to an entertaining start, the team soon became disenchanted with the heavy-handed tactics of Philip Morris and its ad agency--Biow--in controlling the pace and content of the program. At about the same time as the Lawrence and Lee kerfuffle came to a head, Philip Morris decided to move Call for Music from CBS to NBC.
The format of Call for Music changed somewhat with the series' shift from CBS to NBC. The move to NBC also brought a new writing and producing team--Bill Brennan at the helm and Robert Smith doing the writing. During the CBS broadcasts of the series, Dinah Shore and company had introduced several 'medleys' as a featured element of the program. Messrs. Brennan and Smith made the medley element a key feature of the entire NBC run. Call for Music continued to feature segments dedicated to Dinah Shore, Harry James and Johnny Mercer, but in a more structured, uniform format for the remainder of the run.
The CBS run of Call for Music comprised an audition for Philip Morris and ten weekly broadcasts between February 13th 1948 and April 16th 1948. NBC continued the broadcasts beginning on April 20th 1948 and running for eleven more episodes until June 29th 1948. The trade papers and newspapers of the era cited the break beginning July 6th 1948 as a 'summer hiatus,' for the popular program, signaling the possibility that the series would return in the Fall of 1948.
Another distinction between the CBS and NBC renditions of Call for Music were Philip Morris' promotion of its Philip Morris Cigarettes during the CBS run and promotion of its Revelation Pipe Tobacco during the NBC run.
Philip Morris had determined to downsize the scope, talent, format and budget for Call for Music. Costing a reported $11,000 per half hour over both CBS and NBC, Philip Morris proposed dropping both Harry James and Johnny Mercer from any future Call for Music broadcasts and reducing the budget to $8,000 per half hour--at most. By the Fall of 1948 it had become apparent to all parties that the proposed new format simply wasn't attractive enough to continue the series.
As things actually transpired, Call for Music didn't return from its hiatus for a Fall 1948 Season. While continuing to appear with great regularity as a guest performer in both Radio and Television, Dinah Shore's Television offers began to consume most of her attention, as well as new exposure in Film. Call for Music was by no means Dinah Shore's last regular program over Radio, however. Dinah Shore's long association with Chevrolet brought her back to the radiowaves in 1954 with her last regular Radio program.
|RadioGOLDINdex, Hickerson Guide.
Notes on Provenances:
The most helpful provenances were the log of the RadioGOLDINdex and newspaper listings.
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