Penny Singleton starred as Penelope 'Penny' Williamson in her own 1950 radio program, 'Penelope's Progress'
NBC announced it was undertaking an audition for 'Penny' starring Penny Singleton, on March 18th 1950
General Mills' Wheaties sponsored the entire run of Penelope's Progress.
Mary Lee Robb of Great Gildersleeve fame portrayed teenager 'Deegee' Williamson in Penelope's Progress
Young Radio and Television scene-stealer Sheila James portrayed Sue Wiliamson in Penelope's Progress
The brilliant Gale Gordon appeared as Judge Bessamer Gurndle in Penelope's Progress.
Multi-talented actor Jim Backus portrayed Horace Wiggins, Penny Williamson's partner in Williamson & Wiggins Realty.
On the heels of the amazing success of "Blondie," Penny Singleton, having made the break from the radio series, attempted to break out of her role as Blondie Dagwood in both Film and Radio with a program of her own. The role of whacky, eccentric Blondie Bumstead had so associated Penny Singleton with the character that efforts to make the jump to more serious dramatic roles had proven to be a predictably uphill climb for her.
Singleton's "Blondie" films were still being re-released to popular acclaim, but she reportedly felt it was time for a showcase focusing on her own talents and an opportunity to break out of the Blondie caricature. Already 42 in 1950, roles such as ingenues or romantic leads were rapidly waning for her. But her timing as a comedic actress was still as sharp and effective as always. A natural transition for her virtually dictated either a light comedy film role or, over either Radio or Television, a situation comedy.
NBC showed the most interest in such a vehicle for Singleton and ordered an audition for a situation comedy under the project name, "Penny," during the Spring of 1950. Initially planned as a Summer replacement program in the NBC lineup, an early Summer vacation for Fibber McGee and Molly proved to be the first opportunity to launch the Singleton vehicle.
Penelope's Progress, as the series was finally named, premiered on April 30th 1950 as a brief replacement for Fibber McGee and Molly, then sponsored by Johnson Wax. But Johnson Wax expressed no interest in sponsoring Penelope's Progess. It was ultimately General Mills that agreed to sponsor the new series to promote its Wheaties cereal brand for the Summer.
Set in the fictitious 'Middleton,' a typical small town in the Midwest, the series framed Penny Singleton as Penelope 'Penny' Williamson, a Navy-widowed mother of two daughters who'd assumed the reins of her deceased husband's pre-War realty firm, Williamson & Wiggins Realty. Penny's two daughters, 8-year-old Sue (played by Sheila James) and 13-year-old 'Deegee' (played by Mary Lee Robb), provided the situational pathos and comedic situations one might of such a single-parent family of the 1950s. Further comedy relief was provided by Penny's housekeeper and cook, Margaret, portrayed by the brilliant Bea Benadaret in excellent comedic form.
From the June 20th 1950 edition of the Altoona Tribune:
The Penny Singleton Show -- Penny Singleton, longtime favorite of movie and radio fans, will star in a new program, THE PENNY SINGLETON SHOW, on NBC. Blonde and vivacious, Miss Singleton stars as Penny Williamson, a young war widow who takes over the operation of her husband's real estate business. This human comedy series tells her adventures in running a business and at the same time raising her two daughters, Deegee, age 12, and Sue, age 8, in the small American community of Middleton.
THE PENNY SINGLETON SHOW is written and directed by Robert Soderberg. Von Urbanski will score and direct the music.
Penny Singlton Biography -- To throw away a first rate career, retreat from public life at the height of success and then decide to emerge again under a new name is enough to raise several million eyebrows -- and it did.
But that's just what Penny Singleton did, or should we say Dorothy McNulty.
For it was as Dorothy McNulty, that the now famous blonde star of movies and radio, Penny Singleton, first caught the public's eye. And it was as Miss McNulty that she decided to retire after having scored tremendously in such Broadway hits as "Good News," "Follow Thru" and "Ney Nonny Nonny." All her astonished friends and admirers could understand that Dotty had decided to go to Hollywood where she would devote herself to writing poetry and fiction.
Once in Hollywood she started out doing just what she had intended to do -- write. It was here that she married Dr. Lawrence Scroggs Singleton.
A movie and radio favorite for years, Penny Singleton has always had the quality of making her audiences sit back and live right along with Miss Singleton and her companions. Starred in her new comedy series, THE PENNY SINGLETON SHOW, she is certain to continue pleasing millions of loyal Penny Singleton fans.
Penny's business partner, the "Wiggins" of 'Williamson & Wiggins,' was Horace Wiggins, played by Jim Backus. Penny Williamson's comparative success as a local realtor was the reason her firm's name was 'Williamson & Wiggins,' rather than 'Wiggins & Williamson.' The two principle partners had agreed that whomever racked up the best sales record would take first billing in the firm. This wasn't a gravely serious problem for Horace Wiggins since he remained an avid suitor for Penny Williamson's affections.
Penny's love life was further complicated by a second suitor, Judge Bessamer Grundle, portrayed by Radio and Television legend, Gale Gordon. Thus, between the predictable antics of Penny's two daughters, fending off the advances of her two suitors, and some additional comedic situations involving Margaret the housekeeper, young Penny Williamson indeed had her hands full for the entire series. And so, Penelope's Progress was traced over a period of twenty-five weeks as she leapt from situation to situation in a valiant, albeit often hapless, attempt to bring some order and sanity to both her professional and domestic roles.
Though initially debuting as a replacement for Fibber McGee and Molly, it was NBC's intention to have Penelope's Progress serve as a Summer replacement for the long running Bob Hope Show. Penelope's Progress filled in for Fibber McGee and Molly for three weeks until the new Charles Boyer vehicle, The Adventures of Marcel, could begin its Summer run in the Fibber McGee and Molly timeslot. On June 20th 1950, NBC moved Penelope's Progress a half-hour earlier in the Tuesday night NBC lineup to take the slot vacated by The Bob Hope Show for the Summer.
Penelope's Progress continued past its Summer replacement run continuing with General Mills' Wheaties as its sponsor for the Fall 1950 Season
Penelope's Progress retained sufficient interest to continue on for NBC's 1950 Fall Season. The Bob Hope Show having returned from its Summer hiatus, NBC moved Penelope's Progress into a Sunday afternoon slot of its own, where it ran for another nine weeks until leaving the air. While there was interest in moving the series to Television, a TV version of Penelope's Progress never materialized.
Penelope's Progress lacked nothing for its promise of success over radio. The writing and direction were clever and crisp. Penny Singleton was blessed with three of Radio's top talents for her ensemble: Gale Gordon, Bea Benadaret and Jim Backus. Mary Lee Robb was entirely believable as Penny's 13-year-old Deegee"--for whom the initials weren't revealed in the circualting exemplars. Sheila James, as with most of her early radio and television work was a predictable scene-stealer as Penny's precocious 8-year-old, Sue--all the more believable because she was indeed 8 to 9 years of age when she portrayed little Sue.
With its letter-perfect ensemble cast, marvelous scripts and direction, and consummate production values for the era, one can't help wonder why the series didn't continue on past its twenty-six episodes. It was popular enough for the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) to pick it up in syndication as part of its 'Penny Singleton' series of recordings. So what happened?
What happened was Television. Penelope's Progress aired during a period when America was moving in ever greater numbers to Television. Post-War situation comedies had been flooding both Radio and Televisioin airwaves throughout the later half of the 1940s. Penelope's Progress was competing with Father Knows Best, Our Miss Brooks, The Trouble with Father, The Ozzie and Harriet Show, and The Life of Riley, among several others--many of which were appearing, or had appeared, on both Radio and Television.
Penny Singleton reportedly promoted her first solo outing over Radio to highlight the struggles of single-parent families across America, most of them in that circumstance due to World War II and the Korean Conflict. It was her intent to bring attention to the millions of parents in that situation juggling their roles as single providers with the demands of typical 1950s domestic life and child-rearing.
AFRTS transcription label for the first in its EN-828 'Penny Singleton' series
|Contributor Jerry Haendiges.
Notes on Provenances:
The most helpful provenances were newspaper listings.
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