Texaco Filling Stations and services were aggressively promoted in most of Texaco's Radio commercials
New York's famous Hippodrome circa 1930s
Interior of New York's famous Hippodrome circa 1930s
Circus Elephant performing inside The Hippodrome circa 1920s
Program from the 1935 Musical, Jumbo
Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart penned the Music and Lyrics for the Jumbo Musical
John Hay Whitney was the 'angel' that bankrolled Billy Rose's musical circus, Jumbo, to the tune of $225,000 in 1934. After five postponements and 233 performances at The Hippodrome, Billy Rose's circus extraganza ultimately lost $150,000. Whitney is seen on the left holding the dog, 'Broadway' Billy Rose on the right, sitting on the steps.
Brilliant satirist and screenwriter Ben Hecht teamed with Charles MacArthur (below) to create the story behind the muscial Jumbo
Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht (above) wrote the book behind the musical Jumbo
Jimmy Durante appeared in both the Musical and the Jumbo Radio serial as Claudius 'Brainy' Bowers
Young singing sensation Donald Novis appeared in the Jumbo Musical, the Radio serial, and The Fire-Chief Concert
Sultry Torch Singer Gloria Grafton appeared as Mickey Considine in both the Jumbo Musical and the Radio serial. She also helped inaugurate The Fire-Chief Concert.
Jane Pickens replaced Gloria Grafton at about the midway point in The Fire-Chief Concert. Pickens went on to be featured in several Texaco-sponsored Texaco Star Theatre productions.
The Texas Company--far better known as Texaco--was a prolific sponsor of Radio throughout the Golden Age of Radio. From the earliest days of broadcast Radio, Texaco produced and sponsored all manner of highly popular Radio programs:
1932 The Fire-Chief Program
1935 The Jumbo Fire-Chief Program
1936 The Fire-Chief Concert
1936 Texaco Town
1938-1949 Texaco Star Theatre
1939 The Ken Murray Show
1940-2004 The Metropolitan Opera
1941 The Treasury Hour -- Millions For Defense
1942 The Jane Froman Show
1942 The Texaco Star Theater Summer Show
1943 The James Melton Show
1946 The Eddie Bracken Show
1948 The Gordon MacRae Show
1948 The Milton Berle Show
Two of it's longest running programs were Texaco Star Theatre and The Metropolitan Opera. Texaco Star Theatre introduced some of Radio and Television's most durable stars to a national audience, such as Jimmy Durante, Fred Allen, Ed Wynn, Ken Murray, Eddie Cantor, Jane Froman, Jane Pickens, James Melton, Eddie Bracken, Gordon MacCrae, Tony Martin and Milton Berle.
From its earliest productions, Texaco mounted some of the finest popular programming ever heard over Radio. Texaco never stinted on production costs--or talent. Often employing Texaco's own orchestras and singing groups, Texaco's branding of both their productions and talent set the standard for many of the more well-heeled sponsors of the era.
Texaco was an oil company, first and foremost. From the very beginning of its sponsorship of Radio programming, Texaco pitched its entire line of petroleum based products and services. Its primary pitch from the earliest days was its production of gasoline derivatives set apart by meeting standards set by the United States Government for emergency vehicles and aircraft. Its Fire-Chief brand of gasoline, as well as its Sky-Chief, higher-octane gasoline were both based on the emergency vehicles and standards concept. Texaco touted the fact that an alleged 'majority' of Fire Departments across the nation employed Texaco's Fire-Chief gasoline almost exclusively, due to Texaco meeting and exceeding the aforementioned government standards. A Fire Chief's helmet and fire trucks were prominently featured in most of Texaco's print advertising of the era.
Texaco Marfak services ad promoting its 1941
Treasury Hour -- Millions For Defense over CBS
Texaco was also one of the first petroleum sponsors to aggressively promote their automotive services and ancillary products right along with their gas and oil products. As one of the very first petroleum companies to market their products in--then--all forty-eight states, Texaco had a powerful incentive to mount a national advertising program through every medium available. Texaco acquired its Havoline brand of oil products through its acquisition of the Indian Oil Company in 1931. It began the promotion of its Fire-Chief brand of gasoline in 1934--and its Sky-Chief brand in 1938. An automotive services innovator, Texaco commissioned noted industrial designer Walter Teague to design a modern service station building that could be standardized and replicated throughout the nation.
Walter Teague-designed Texaco Service Station circa 1940
Teague's 1937 design was a model of innovation and utility that soon became mimicked by competing service stations throughout the world. Featuring rounded building corners, porcelain covered tile panels for the walls, up to four service bays for mechanical services, Marfak lubrication, tire repairs, and washing, the stations were a model of utility, space-optimization and streamlined design. Teague's design was also the first to incorporate both men's and women's restrooms into the design, along with large plate glass windows overlooking the gas pump area and encasing an office for the service manager or owner. The large plate glass window afforded an opportunity to prominently display--and promote--tires, batteries and accessories [T.B.A.].
Texaco airs The Jumbo Fire-Chief Program, serializing Billy Rose's Jumbo Stage production.
The concept for Texaco's 'Fire-Chief' programs evolved from its promotion of its Fire-Chief gasoline--and by extension its alleged adoption by most Fire Departments across America. Throughout the mid to late 1930s, the Fire-Chief brand soon became as much a household word as Coca-Cola or Jello. But in fact it was the Circus that launched Texaco's longest running series of programs; programs that would air almost continuously under one Texaco-themed name or another from 1935 till 1950.
The 1935 Billy Rose spectacular, Jumbo, had acquired as its venue New York's famous Hippodrome to house its combination musical comedy and live circus. Great hooplah and lavish rehearsal teasers to the press became an almost daily news item leading up to Jumbo's premiere on November 16, 1935. By far the era's most extravagant Broadway production, it was nonetheless mounted during an era of great theatrical bloodletting in the wake of The Great Depression. Employing John Considine's Wonder Show as its setting, the production featured, among numerous equally amazing features, a full-sized circus elephant. Jimmy Durante emerged as the star of the multi-faceted production, portraying Claudius B. Bowers, the proud--and highly protective--keeper of Jumbo the Elephant--and namesake of the production.
The production's music and lyrics were penned by no less than Rodgers & Hart from a book by no less than Charles MacArthur (Helen Hayes' hubby) and Ben Hecht. The music was provided by no less than Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra, carried its own glee club--Charles Henderson's thirty-two Razorbacks, featured acrobats, a full complement of clowns, a 35-foot tall puppet, animal acts and in the final scene of each performance featured Jimmy Durante allowing the 8,000 lb. Jumbo to place its foot over Durante's head. Indeed, the only venue then available in New York to house such a production was The Hippodrome, a 5,000 seat theatre with a 60 foot high ceiling. Could such a monumental production ever fail?
Well in fact it could--and did. Jumbo folded after 233 performances, running from November 15, 1935 through April 18, 1936. In spite of its relatively short run, the production put Jimmy Durante's career into overdrive, further established Billy Rose as one of Broadway's greatest, most ambitious innovators, launched Charles Henderson's Razorbacks, launched Donald Novis's career, revived A.P. Kaye's career, and eventually found its way to a 1962 film of the same name, which garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Score for Rodgers & Hart.
Meanwhile, on the way to its film adaptation, Jumbo was turned into a Texaco-sponsored Radio serial feature starring Jimmy Durante as Claudius B. Bowers. Texaco aired its Jumbo Fire-Chief Program from October 29, 1935--two weeks prior to Billy Rose's Jumbo premiere on November 16, 1935--to February 25, 1936. The Radio serial had orginally been intended to coincide with the premiere of the musical, but owing to yet another in a long line of postponements, the Jumbo Fire-Chief Program premiered while the musical was still in the last stages of rehearsals. The Radio version comprised a total of eighteen installments tracing Claudius B. [for 'Brain'] Bowers' efforts to save Jumbo and the fate of The Considine Wonder Show. The Radio serial was an excellent opportunity for both Texaco and Billy Rose. Rose's knack for hyping a production served him well during the run-up to Jumbo's premiere. The opportunity to have a Radio production provide a weekly reminder of the extravagance of the Hippodrome production was a Stage promoter's dream.
The Jumbo Fire-Chief Program serialized the story underlying Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht's tale of the fate of 'Brain' Bowers and his Jumbo. Texaco's production featured Charles Henderson's Razorbacks, singing sensation Donald Novis, and substituted Adolph Deutsch's Orchestra for that of Paul Whiteman. The Texaco production also retained both Gloria Grafton, as Mickey Considine, and A.P. Kaye as Mr. Jellico. In short, the only thing missing from the serialized version of Jumbo over Radio was the popcorn, peanuts, and sawdust--and Paul Whiteman.
While we'd imagine that the Jumbo Fire-Chief Program would, most optimistically, have been slated for twenty-six episodes, it's apparent that both Billy Rose and Texaco could see the writing in the sawdust for the live Hippodrome production and its consequent effect on the Radio serialization. While a splendid, highly ambitious and critically acclaimed production, it remained afterall, a Great Depression-era production. Rose's 'angel' and benefactor, John Hay Whitney, bankrolled Rose's Jumbo in 1934 to the tune of $225,000--about $3.6M in today's dollars.
After five major postponements, a run of only 233 performances, and the effect of mounting such an ambitious production in post-Depression New York, the production ultimately lost $150,000--or about $2.4M in today's dollars. Though the postponements were an added expense, one can't help but wonder how much the production would have lost had it opened six months earlier, as planned. The postponements were undoubtedly a blessing in disguise, in retrospect.
Undaunted, Texaco quickly regrouped, adeptly launching an extension of the Jumbo Fire-Chief Program titled, The Fire-Chief Concert.
Texaco doubles down on Jumbo and The Hippodrome
The Fire-Chief Concert premiered on January 21, 1936--halfway through the Radio serialization of Jumbo and at about the time that Billy Rose's box office receipts would have been revealing a somewhat more realistic promise for the full Hippodrome production of Jumbo. Texaco's clever response was to mount a classy, high-end variety program, leveraging the notoriety of Jumbo's Hippodrome production, while leaving open the possibility that it might further leverage Jumbo's success--or slim possibility of success--into a 52-week run of a variety format.
Borrowing almost all of the Jumbo Fire-Chief Program musical talent, The Fire-Chief Concert featured Donald Novis, Gloria Grafton, Henderson's Razorbacks, and the Adolph Deutsch Orchestra. And though the production lost the services of Jimmy Durante, it gained the marvelous arrangements and magic fingers of young Eddy Duchin and his orchestra. At about the time that the Jumbo Fire-Chief Program serialization was winding down, Gloria Grafton left The Fire-Chief Concert, replaced by lovely songstress Jane Pickens.
The Fire-Chief Concert was characterized by both framing the production around the musical, Jumbo, as well as by its dedications to a noteworthy city or state during each program. We're presuming that 'noteworthy' in Texaco Ad Men's parlance would be cities or states in which Texaco was attempting to achieve greater market penetration against its competitors. Texaco saved its namesake dedication--to the State of Texas--for its last program.
The counterpoint between Donald Novis and Gloria Grafton's duets and solos, the Henderson's Razorbacks' predominantly glee-club tunes, the rather more formal Adolph Deutsch orchestral pieces and marvelous young Eddy Duchin's orchestral arrangements kept the short-lived series bright and varied. The surviving recordings of the canon are mostly well transferred and highly listenable.
Louis A. Witten announced and emcee'd the series and acted as the company spokerpserson for its commercial plugs. Witten's short expositions regarding the locale to which each program was dedicated were concise and interesting as well. Quite predictably, the newspaper listings of the era tended to favor the program that was dedicated to their locale only, rarely noting the dedications of other programs of the series.
Billed as a 'bigger and better' Jumbo Fire-Chief Program, the two programs were actually quite different, though linked thematically with the Jumbo musical. Announcer Witten routinely touted the fact that 'all 4500 invited guests' to each production were there at the largesse of The Texaco Company and its thousands of Texaco Dealers across the nation. One significant distinction between the Jumbo Fire-Chief Program and The Fire-Chief Concert was the response of the 4500 invited guests. In the Jumbo Fire-Chief Program host Witten cautioned the audience to hold their applause and laughter for the program breaks, while in The Fire-Chief Concert, the audience was free to express their approval throughout the program.
Both the Jumbo Fire-Chief Program and The Fire-Chief Concert, given their overlapping runs and tie-ins to each other, should really be heard together--and collected together. Though two separate and quite distinct programs, collecting one of them alone makes no sense without collecting the other. Without both to compare, one is left with the impression that he or she has arrived late in a conversation. We recommend collecting both series, each an extension of the other.