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The Great Moments From Great Plays Radio Program

Dee-Scription: Home >> D D Too Home >> Radio Logs >> Great Moments From Great Plays



Philip Morris sponsored Great Moments from Great Plays under its Philip Morris Theater banner
Philip Morris sponsored Great Moments from Great Plays under its Philip Morris Theater banner


Background

Throughout the World War II years, NBC and CBS, the two great network giants of the era, were engaged in a pitched battle for market share. The rivalry throughout the 1940s was marked by numerous 'me-too' programming duels between the two. Principal rivals in news, sports, comedy and drama, primarily, the two went at it hammer and tong throughout the era. One would mount a popular situation comedy, the other would counter with an equally popular comedy format. The battle often seemed most heated with their various 'serious' dramatic programming of the era.

Great Moments from Great Plays is a classic case in point. NBC had long undertaken their flagship, sustaining Great Plays anthology beginning in the Spring of 1938. NBC's Great Plays was entering its fifth successful season when CBS mounted its Great Moments from Great Plays. The recent controversy in broadcast Radio had been over the amount of rehearsal time alloted to the classic plays that both networks had aired over the previous twelve years. The criticism long leveled at both networks was regarding the polish and virtuosity displayed in the Stage Play anthologies of the previous twelve years. Both networks admitted that, at best, one in twenty of those various anthologies had been budgeted with both the money and rehearsal time necessary to do the classics justice.

It was a valid criticism. The prevailing wisdom of the era was that at least six to seven hours of rehearsal was required to produce a faithful adaptation of the classics for the Radio format. NBC had been the first of the two network giants to take the criticism to heart. But NBC was also traditionally the most frugal of the two major broadcasters. Extra rehearsal time translated directly into higher talent costs. In the case of sustained programming, that additional cost was borne by the network itself.

Given that few sponsors of the 1940s stepped forward to foot the bill for such additional expense in a quality program, the more prestigious drama anthologies of the era continued to be funded by the networks themselves.

The criticism continued unabated throughout the 1940s. Great Plays had been an expensive undertaking by NBC. Great Moments from Great Plays, by contrast approached the quality issue by offering, not an entire play, but the 'greatest moments' from the plays offered.

Great Moments from Great Plays debuts with a novel approach

The format here is the key. Acknowledging the talent expense of devoting sufficient rehearsal time to the classic plays of the era, CBS chose instead to promote the very best of a specific play--its 'great moments.' It was an interesting approach. Had CBS mounted the series as a sustained production, it's quite possible that it would have found far greater success than it eventually did. Once Philip Morris signed on to sponsor--and underwrite--the production, it became clear to all parties that simply excising the 'great moments' from the proposed plays wouldn't be enough to meet Philip Morris' target bottom line.

Employing primarily CBS staff artists, adapters, music and direction, CBS and Philip Morris managed to shave down the costs even further. In the end, the anthology produced yet another series with great potential in concept, but with a disappointing popular and critical result in the end. This should not be taken as a reflection on the performers selected for these plays. Alan Reed in particular, performed in at least four of the excerpted plays mounted during the series. A classically trained actor with an extraordinary range, he was an ideal actor to participate in what amounted to an ensemble repertory for the series.

And indeed, as is so often repeated in the Theatre, 'the play's the thing' after all. But in the end, it would appear that CBS' reach exceeded its grasp, for no more than financial reasons. Many of the plays mounted were indeed some of the classic contemporary Stage successes of the era. The majority of the plays mounted were critically acclaimed, but not necessarily enduringly popular classics. Compound that situation by further reducing the presentation to only its 'greatest moments' and the appeal is reduced even further.

One might well have imagined a concept by which the greatest living performers of some great plays would perform in their greatest scenes or moments from those plays. The rehearsal time could have been understandably reduced to better budget the talent costs, and the end result would have been truly remarkable Radio for approximately the cost of what CBS and Philip Morris had budgeted in the end.

And indeed, the above cited concept did eventually translate into Mutual's Great Scenes From Great Plays in 1948. But in the case of the Mutual production, the Episcopal Church underwrote the production and employed its own Episcopal Actors' Guild for the talent. The result was what Great Moments from Great Plays should have been, but never was.

Alas the basis of the back and forth between the exponentially growing Radio network giants of the era and their talent was simply a reflection of the inexorable corporatization of America in general. The more the corporate networks made, the more profit they sought. The more profit they sought, the more they trimmed their budgets. The more they trimmed their budgets, the less they paid their performers. It was the beginning of the end for Radio and the performers, technicians, writers and producers could see the writing on the wall.

There are, for now, only two known exemplars of Great Moments from Great Plays in circulation: our own digitized Of Mice and Men and a circulating recording of Dead End. We can only hope that more exemplars eventually surface.

As a postscript it's worth noting that the series' announcer, Charles O'Connor (not Carroll O'Connor as widely misreported) passed away at the age of 31 a year after his work on Great Moments from Great Plays. Charles O'Connor first hired on to CBS as a staff announcer in 1931--at the time, the youngest staff announcer CBS had ever hired.

Series Derivatives:

The Philip Morris Theater; The Philip Morris Playhouse; Great Moments In Great Plays
Genre: Anthology of Golden Age Radio Stage Dramas
Network(s): CBS
Audition Date(s) and Title(s): Unknown
Premiere Date(s) and Title(s): 41-03-21 01 Outward Bound
Run Dates(s)/ Time(s): 41-03-21 to 41-10-03; CBS; Twenty-three, 30-minute programs; Fridays, 7 p.m., 8 p.m., or 9 p.m.
Syndication: CBS
Sponsors: Philip Morris
Director(s): Charles Martin
Principal Actors: Alan Reed, Frank Readick, Milton Berle, Johnny Roventini
Recurring Character(s): None
Protagonist(s): None
Author(s): Army Private Sidney Kingsley, Sutton Vane, Elmer Rice, George Abbott, John Steinbeck, George S. Kaufmann, Noel Coward, James Warwick, Moss Hart, Paul Osborn, L. E. Watkin, George Manker Watters, Arthur Hopkins, Frank Wead, Samson Raphaelson, Laurence Gross, Edwards Childs Carpenter, Lynn Root, Harry Clork, James Hagan, Allen Boretz, John Murray, Barre Lyndon, Alberto Casella, Fred Ballard, Bertram Bloch, George Brewer, Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur
Writer(s) Charles Martin [Adapter]
Music Direction: The Ray Block Orchestra
Musical Theme(s): Unknown
Announcer(s): Charles O'Connor
Estimated Scripts or
Broadcasts:
23
Episodes in Circulation: 2
Total Episodes in Collection: 2
Provenances:

RadioGOLDINdex, Hickerson Guide.

Notes on Provenances:

The most helpful provenances were the log of the radioGOLDINdex and newspaper listings.


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[Date, title, and episode column annotations in
red refer to either details we have yet to fully provenance or other unverifiable information as of this writing. Red highlights in the text of the 'Notes' columns refer to information upon which we relied in citing dates, date or time changes, or titles.]







The Great Moments From Great Plays Radio Program Log

Date Episode Title Avail. Notes
41-03-21
1
Outward Bound
N
41-03-21 Wisconsin State Journal
8 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): "
Outward Bound," a trip into the nowhere.

41-03-21 Capital Times
Great Moments from Great Plays, a new series of half-hour adaptations presenting the most thrilling portions of the world's finest drama, will be heard tonight through WBBM at 8 o'clock with Charles Martin directing. The initial drama will be Sutton Vane's story, "
Outward Bound."
41-03-28
2
You Can't Take It With You
N
41-03-28 Wisconsin State Journal
8 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): "
You Can't Take It With You."
41-04-04
3
Street Scene
N
41-04-04 Wisconsin State Journal
8 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): "
Street Scene," by Elmer Rice.

41-03-28 Circleville Herald
For the second week in succession, Charles Martin brings a Pulitzer Prize play to radio, when he presents "Street Scene," the Elmer Rice story, with most of the original Broadway cast, on his "Great Moments From Great Plays" on Friday, April 4, at 9 p.m. Mood music is played by Ray Block's 21-piece orchestra, one of the largest background units in radio.
41-04-11
4
Three Men On A Horse
N
41-04-11 Wisconsin State Journal
8 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): George Abbott's comedy, "
Three Men on a Horse."
41-04-18
5
On Borrowed Time
N
41-04-18 Wisconsin State Journal
8 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): "
On Borrowed Time."
41-04-25
6
Dead End
Y
41-04-25 Wisconsin State Journal
8 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): scenes from "Dead End."

41-04-18 Circleville Herald
Fanmail indicates that many soldiers are regular listeners to Charles Martin's "Great Moments From Great Plays" Friday nights. Martin can be sure of one uniformed dialer Friday, April 25, when he presents "Dead End." The listener will be Sidney Kingsley, buck private, who has a real reason to tune in. All he did was write the sensational Broadway hit which later was filmed. Martin is now trying to line up as many of the original cast as possible.
41-05-02
7
Burlesque
N
41-05-02 Wisconsin State Journal
7 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): "
Burlesque," the story of Skid, a clown.
41-05-09
8
Ceiling Zero
N
41-05-09 Wisconsin State Journal
7 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): the aviation drama, "
Ceiling Zero."
41-05-16
9
Of Mice and Men
Y
41-05-16 Wisconsin State Journal
7 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): "
Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck.
41-05-23
10
Accent On Youth
N
41-05-23 Wisconsin State Journal
7 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): "
Accent on Youth," story of playwright in love with his secretary.
41-05-30
11
The Butter and Egg Man
N
41-05-30 Northwest Arkansas Times
CBS--7:--Drama "
Butter and Egg Man."

41-05-26 Circleville Herald
"
The Butter and Egg Man," tremendously successful play by George Kaufman, will be adapted for radio by Charles Martin and heard on "Great Moments From Great Plays" Friday, at 8 p.m. The story is about a yokel from the sticks who comes to the big city and invests his money in a plaly sponsored by two shoestring artists who intend to milk his bankroll. However, he turns the tables and milks them instead...but good. Martin is now trying to line up as much of the original Broadway cast as possible. Background music will be scored by Ray Block who also conducts the 21-piece orchestra.
41-06-06
12
Whistling In the Dark
N
41-06-06 Wisconsin State Journal
7 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): Milton Berle in "
Whistling in the Dark."
41-06-13
13
Private Lives
N
41-06-13 Wisconsin State Journal
7 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): Noel Coward's "
Private Lives."

41-06-09 Circleville Herald
A hit in London, on Broadway and in pictures, "
Private Lives," the Noel Coward comedy of merry marital mix-ups, will be presented on "Great Moments From Great Plays" by Charles Martin Friday at 8 p.m. "Private Lives," which starred Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne is one of Coward's most notable efforts. It concerns two couples, with the husband of one formerly married to the wife of the other, and the complications that arise with they meet provide hilarious situations. A special score is being prepared by Ray Block, who will conduct the 21-piece background orchestra.
41-06-20
14
The Milky Way
N
41-06-20 Wisconsin State Journal
7 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): Comedian Milton Berle recreates the prize-fighting milkman in "
The Milky Way."
41-06-27
15
Counsellor At Law
N
41-06-27 Wisconsin State Journal
7:00 Great Moments--WBBM WCCO
41-07-04
16
One Sunday Afternoon
N
41-07-03 Wisconsin State Journal
7 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): "
One Sunday Afternoon," 1933 hit.
41-07-11
17
Room Service
N
41-07-11 Wisconsin State Journal
7 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): "
Room Service."
41-07-18
18
The Amazing Dr Clitterhouse
N
41-07-18 Wisconsin State Journal
7 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): "
The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse."
41-07-25
19
Death Takes A Holiday
N
41-07-25 Wisconsin State Journal
7 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): "
Death Takes a Holiday."
41-08-01
20
Blind Alley
N
41-08-01 Wisconsin State Journal
7 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): James Warwick's "
Blind Alley," a psychological drama in crimedom.
41-08-08
21
Ladies Of the Jury
N
41-08-08 Wisconsin State Journal
7 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): "
Ladies of the Jury."
41-08-15
22
Dark Victory
N
41-08-15 Wisconsin State Journal
7 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): "
Dark Victory."
41-08-22
23
The Front Page
N
41-08-22 Wisconsin State Journal
7 p.m.--Great Moments from Great Plays (WBBM): "
The Front Page."
41-08-29
--
--
[Replaced by Philip Morris Playhouse]

41-08-29 Chicago Tribune
8--WBBM--Great Moments from Great Plays

41-08-29 Wisconsin State Journal
7 p.m.--
Playhouse (WBBM): "Five Came Back," 1939 film hit.

41-08-29 New York Times
9:00-WABC--
Playhouse--Five Came Back






Great Moments From Great Plays Biographies




Alan Reed [Edward Bergman]
(Ensemble Actor)

Actor, Writer, Director, Voice-Actor
(1907-1977)

Birthplace:
New York City, New York, U.S.A.

Education:
Columbia University of New York City (Journalism)

Radiography:
1931 The Chase and Sanborn Hour
1932 George Bruce's Air Stories Of the World War
1932 Meyer The Buyer
1933 The Salad Bowl Revue
1934 The Sal Hepatica Revue
1934 The Hour Of Smiles
1935 Circus Night In Silvertown
1936 Town Hall Tonight
1936 Ripley's Believe It Or Not
1937 Palmolive Beauty Box Theater
1937 The Royal Gelatin Hour
1938 The Shadow
1938 Pulitzer Prize Plays
1938 Great Plays
1939 Campbell Playhouse
1940 The Fred Allen Show
1940 The Aldrich Family
1940 Texaco Star Theater
1940 Lux Radio Theatre
1941 The Treasury Hour
1941 We the People
1942 Columbia Workshop
1942 The Jack Benny Program
1943 Duffy's Tavern
1943 Kraft Music Hall
1943 The Elgin Compoany's Second Annual Tribute To the Armed Forces
1944 The Abbott and Costello Show
1944 The Chesterfield Music Shop
1944 The Lucky Strike Program
1945 Radio Hall Of Fame
1945 Command Performance
1945 The Eddie Cantor Show
1945 Cavalcade Of America
1945 The Elgin Christmas Day Greeting To America
1946 The Eternal Light
1946 Cresta Blanca Hollywood Players
1946 Rudy Vallee Show
1946 The Alan Young Show
1946 Tales Of Willie Piper
1946 The Jack Carson Show
1947 The Mel Blanc Show
1947 The Whistler
1947 The Bill Goodwin Show
1947 Here's To Veterans
1947 Suspense
1947 The Baby Snooks Show
1947 The Life Of Riley
1947 My Friend Irma
1947 The Man Called X
1947 The Charlie McCarthy Show
1947 The Voyage Of the Scarlet Queen
1947 Smilin' Ed McConnell's Buster Brown Gang
1947 The Jimmy Durante Show
1947 Young At Heart
1947 Ellery Queen
1948 Damon Runyon Theater
1948 Escape
1948 Operation Nightmare
1948 Hallmark Playhouse
1948 Shorty Bell, Cub Reporter
1948 The Little Immigrant
1948 Let George Do It
1948 The Adventures Of Sam Spade
1948 Life With Luigi
1948 The Eddie Cantor Pabst Blue Ribbon Show
1948 June's My Giel
1948 The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty
1948 Family Theater
1948 Favorite Story
1948 The Prudential Family Hour Of Stars
1948 The Railroad Hour
1948 Sealtest Variety Theatre
1949 Sam Pilgrim's Progress (Audition)
1949 The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show
1949 The Adventures Of Ozzie and Harriet
1949 Philip Morris Playhosue
1949 The Adventures Of Philip Marlowe
1949 Texaco Star Theater
1949 The Anacin Hollywood Star Theater
1949 This Is Your FBI
1949 Broadway Is My Beat
1950 The Adventures Of Maisie
1950 Screen Director's Playhouse
1950 The Adventures Of Christopher London
1950 The Halls Of Ivy
1950 The Amos 'n' Andy Show
1950 The Gentleman
1950 Falstaff's Fables
1950 Hedda Hopper's Hollywood
1951 The Magnificent Montague
1951 My Favorite Husband
1951 Mr and Mrs Blandings
1951 Night Beat
1951 Hollywood Star Playhouse
1951 Wild Bill Hickok
1951 Richard Diamond, Private Detective
1952 Cascade Of Stars
1953 On Stage
1953 Broadway Is My Beat
1953 Stars Over Hollywood
1953 Hallmark Hall Of Fame
1953 The Six Shooter
1953 Meet Mr McNutley
1954 The U.N. Story
1954 That's Rich
1956 Biography In Sound
1956 Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar
1956 CBS Radio Workshop
1956 Recollections At Thirty
1957 Heartbeat Theater
1964 Arch Oboler Plays

Alan Reed circa 1954
Alan Reed circa 1954

Alan Reed as Uncle Leo from Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1956)
Alan Reed as Uncle Leo from Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1956)

Alan Reed agency listing circa 1955
Alan Reed agency listing circa 1955

Alan Reed as Commissioner Fisk from The Addams Family (1965)
Alan Reed as Commissioner Fisk from The Addams Family (1965)


Alan Reed as General MacGruder in Batman (1967)

Fred Flintstone with his alter ego, Alan Reed
Fred Flintstone with his alter ego, Alan Reed

Garrulous character actor, Alan Reed was one of a handful of truly great voice talents from The Golden Age of Radio. Continually busy from his first appearance in Radio in 1931 until the very end of the era, Alan Reed is believed to have appeared in over 6,000 Radio programs during the era.

Reed also occupied that stratospheric area of Radio reserved for the "Man of a Thousand Voices," a sobriquet he shared with the likes of Frank Graham, Mel Blanc, and Paul Frees. Indeed, both Paul Frees and Mel Blanc worked quite often together in Radio and Television alike.

A native New Yorker, Alan Reed was born Edward Bergman, attended the Columbia University School of Journalism, and began to pursue a Stage career upon leaving Columbia University. Then 22, Alan Reed performed as Alan Reed for comedic Radio sketches and under Edward Bergman for more dramatic or Stage roles. Reed met his wife, the former Linette Walker, while performing on stage and the two married in 1932. The couple remained together until Reed's death in 1977. They had three sons--Alan Jr., Steve and Christopher.

Though Reed's early work on the Stage was undoubtedly more satisfying to him, Alan Reed's greatest immediate success came from Radio. Over the course of Alan Reed's Radio career he'd amassed an amazing facility for twenty-two foreign dialects. Never formally trained as a dialectician, Reed had an inhererent faculty for mimicry and imitation. The acquisition of dialects was a natural extension of that faculty.

Extraorinarily versatile, Alan Reed could be heard over virtually any genre of Radio programming throughout The Golden Age of Radio. Though comedy sketches became his signature, Reed proved equally adept at situation comedy, straight drama, dramatized Stage Plays, variety, and adventure programming.

Reed's popularity devising new bits for recurring appearances landed him the memorable and long running role as Falstaff Openshaw, poet laureate of the various Fred Allen Shows of the 1930s and early 1940s. He later spun off the Falstaff Openshaw character into his own series for Falstaff Beer, The Falstaff Show, which ran for a year over The Blue Network in 1944. Thereafter followed a series of some 39, five-minute bumpers titled "Falstaff's Fables" for ABC Radio.

What set Reed apart during his entire performing history was his amazing range of characterizations--and indeed, his natural flair for comedy. His commanding voice intrument was particularly effective in authoritarian roles such as judges, police officers or detectives, thugs, gangland bosses, and orators. But he was also quite effective in far more divergent roles, such as his many appearances on the childrens programs of the era.

Suffice to say that one is hard pressed to name a single, genuinely important Radio program that aired between 1931 and 1960 that didn't show Alan Reed in the cast at some point in time during the run. More often than not, in recurring performances. Indeed, those deepest, more authoritative registers demanded by many roles of the era could only be reached by Alan Reed himself, William Conrad, Jackson Beck, Paul Frees, and Marvin Miller--and on occasion, Raymond Burr.

That left only a handful of such unique voices to tap for such roles. Alan Reed certainly made the best of it, and deservedly so. But as Radio gave way to Television, Alan Reed struck out for an even greater career in that new medium. From the very inception of popular commercial Television, Alan Reed became a popular fixture over the medium until his death in 1977. In a Television career spanning twenty-fve years, Alan Reed appeared in over 1200 Television specials or recurring epsiodes.

The most memorable of his Television characters was none other than Fred Flintstone of The Flintstones, a cartoon take off of the wildly successful 'The Honeymooners' situation comedy starring Jackie Gleason. While the dynamics of The Honeymooners remained the same, The Flintstones was set in prehistoric times. The series was an amost immediate hit, and launched Alan Reed into a period of extraordinary demand as a voice artist for Animated features.

From the June 16, 1977 Corpus Christi Times:

Veteran actor, mimic dies 

Los Angeles Times
     LOS ANGELES -- Private memorial services were pending Wednesday for Alan Reed, veteran of more than five decades in show business and best know to contemporary audiences as the voice of the television cartoon character, Fred Flintstone.
     Reed, 69, died Tuesday at St. Vincent Medical Center following a long illness.
     A native of New York City, Reed began his acting career in his early teens on the legitimate stage, but began to augment his income as a radio actor in 1927.  A natural mimic, he had a gift for dialect interpretation of such roles as "Pasquale" in the Life With Luigi radio and television series, poet Falstaff Openshaw in the Fred Allen radio show and others.
     He had begun his stage and radio career under his own real name of Teddy Bergman, but changed to the professional name of Alan Reed in 1939.  For a quarter-century, he was one of the busiest radio actors in the country, doing about 35 radio show parts per week.
     His sense of timing made him a straight man for eddie Cantor, Jack Pearl, Bob Hope, Bert Lahr, Jimmy Durante, Al Jolson and Ed Wynn and aided him in creating the original part of "Daddy" to Fanny Brice's "Baby Snooks



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