The Billboard of December 13th 1947 teases a Mickey Rooney dramatic vehicle slated for mid-February 1948
Billboard teaser of January 31st 1948 still cites a mid-February debut of Shorty Bell. The article also cites a 'Shirley Booth sitcom which would have been 'Our Miss Brooks'
Billboard article teasing an anticipated Mickey Rooney vehicle--Shorty Bell--over CBS in the mid-February time frame.
KGBS spot ad promoting Shorty Bell over CBS from April 11th 1948
Billboard cover of May 1st 1948 highlights Mickey Rooney's new Radio vehicle, Shorty Bell
Mickey Rooney discusses a Shorty Bell script with William N. Robson
Bill Robson discusses script timing with Mickey Rooney for Shorty Bell
KREN spot ad promoting Shorty Bell from May 8th 1948
Billboard article of August 14th 1948 cites the cancellation of Mickey Rooney's second lead outing over Radio, Hollywood Showcase
Mickey Rooney, in addition to his extraordinary career in Film, on the Stage, and in Television also enjoyed a long career in Radio, spanning twenty-two years between 1935 and 1957. One of the entertainmant world's most versatile and respected performers, Rooney's talents as an actor, singer, comedian, and child star--as well as a writer and producer-director--stand as one of the 20th Century's most remarkable achievements in The Arts.
While Rooney's hundreds of roles as a straight dramatic actor arguably outnumber his roles as a comedian or comedic actor, Mickery Rooney is generally most fondly remembered for his more light-hearted comedic and romantic roles. Rooney's charm clearly extended off-screen as well as on, as manifested by his eight marriages over 92 years.
Apart from Rooney's estimated 300+ guest appearances over Radio, Mickey Rooney attempted at least three Radio programs during Radio's Golden Age, as the lead in his own programs:
- 1948 Shorty Bell as Shorty Bell
- 1948 Hollywood Showcase as himself [not Hollywood Squares]
- 1952 The Hardy Family as Andy Hardy
One of Film's highest paid actors at the time, any prospect of bringing Mickey Rooney to Radio on a recurring basis, would necessarily have been an expensive undertaking--for either the network or a sponsor. CBS had apparently been in negotiations with Mickey Rooney throughout the Fall and Winter of 1947. CBS initially contemplated a January 1948 debut for Rooney's new dramatic vehicle, but delayed the premiere so as to accomodate the popular entertainer's previously slated four-week engagement at the Palladium in London.
There appears to have been an audition recording produced during December of 1947, starring Mickey Rooney as newspaper truck driver 'Shorty' Bell and written by free lancer Samuel Taylor and CBS Staff writer Milton Geiger. The audition is purported to have featured William Conrad, Joan Banks, Jeanne Bates and Parley Baer in supporting roles.
Mickey Rooney comes to Radio in CBS-sustained Shorty Bell
Apparently the network-ordered audition was deemed viable, though by the time Shorty Bell premiered on March 28th 1948, CBS and Rooney had completely restructured the feature's staff. Though ostensibly created by author Frederick Hazlett Brennan, it was free-lance magazine writer Samuel Taylor that was retained as the series' writer, along with creator Frederick Hazlett Brennan, Richard Carroll as adapter and John Dunkel as script supervisor. The new series was produced and directed by William N. Robson and the musical scoring was initially provided by Cy Feuer and his orchestra.
Mickey Rooney takes the CBS mike for Shorty Bell
Shorty Bell's supporting cast also reflected the high standards of the production with Radio, Stage and Film veteran John Hoyt as Robard, the paper's managing editor, Mickey Rooney's father Joe Yule, Sr., as Shorty Bell's 'cut-out,' staff editor Mr. Squidger, and talented west coast Radio veterans Frank Lovejoy, Florence Hallop, Parley Baer, Bert Holland, Gil Stratton, and Lou Krugman in supporting roles.
Given the above array of talent, Shorty Bell should have been an excellent production all around. Initially framed and characterized as a 'continuing novel' for Radio, after the first six 'chapters,' the series had yet to attract an interested sponsor.
Presented in 'chapters,' Chapter One for example, provided the bulk of the background and exposition for the unfolding story of Shorty Bell. 'Shorty' Bell was presented as an ex-GI with a yen for the newspaper business. Bell's father had been a pressman for the city's largest newspaper and Bell the younger, had hoped to move even further up the ladder to the rank of Staff Reporter. He'd obtained a position with the newspaper's Distribution and Delivery Divison as a delivery truck driver. But that didn't stop him from remaining alert for any breaking news story he might 'scoop' for his newspaper, and finally get his chance to be a cub reporter.
Shorty Bell's first 'chapter' went on to present the series' first 'cliff-hanger,' wherein one of Shorty's delivery pals--childhood friend, Emmet Kearn--had become implicated in the murder of one of the city's major crime figures. Chapter One ends with Shorty determined to fight for his friend's release from jail by investigating the circumstances of the mobster's death.
As the 'continuing novel' continued to unfold, it became apparent that, though achieving comparatively high Hooper Ratings, the series hadn't yet proved itself compelling enough to attract a paying sponsor. So it was that after the first six 'chapters,' Rooney, Robson, and CBS determined that a major shake-up and redirection was in order. The brief series was revamped as follows:
- The 'continuing novel' format was scrapped in favor of a situation comedy format, better playing to Mickey Rooney fans' expectations.
- A live audience ensured audible feedback for the comedic elements of the series.
- Cy Feuer was replaced by Wilbur Hatch as the series' music director.
- Writer Walter Newman was brought on to provide the situation comedy elements for the revamped series.
- Each subsequent installment was written to stand on its own.
At present only five circulating exemplars provide any means to compare and contrast the restructuring of Shorty Bell; the majority representing only the revamped series. In spite of the absence of a few more examples of the 'chapter' format of the earlier episodes, there are several marked differences between the two formats:
- The original format was presented as a serial drama.
- The later format was presented as individual situation comedies.
- The original format relied on the character development of a cast of as many as eight identifiable recurring characters.
- The later format utilized a reduced ensemble of five characters.
- The original format was recorded in a studio.
- The later format was recorded before a live audience.
- The original format employs the 'Press Grill' as Shorty's hangout
- The new format employs 'Mike's' as Shorty's hangout
- The new format jettisons Mr. Squidger, Lois Kearn, Irene the waitress, and Emmet Kearn as recurring chracters.
From the Fall 1948 issue of Radio Album:
mr. rooney takes the air
Pandemonium prevails at a Rooney rehearsal. The little guy leaps into the scene, the gags fly thick and fast--and most often funny. The stiff broom hair stands straight. As excitement mounts, it sags into trailing wisps across a forehead prematurely furrowed by 28 years of being an actor, singer, dancer, instrumentalist, composer, playwright, playboy, soldier, husband (twice), father (twice) and fierce-fighter for what he considers his rights. The fellow who writes Mickey's CBS Shorty Bell program, which started last March, is Frederick Baditt Brennan.
Their astrological charts must have brought them together in Hollywood. Both were born on a September 23--Mickey in Brooklyn, in 1920; Brennan in St. Louis, in 1901. Brennan's an ex-newspaper man, ex-writer for the Army Air Forces Radio Division, ace fictioneer--short stories, books, plays, scenarios. Mickey's recent MGM movie, Killer McCoy, is one of his scripts. Richard Carroll, Shorty's co-author, who adapts Brennan's "novel for radio" treatment to actual broadcast form, is another newspaper vet. So is William N. Robson, producer, director of the series. They're all working with material they know when they tell the story of hardfisted Shorty who drives a circulation truck for The News and yearns to be a hot-shot reporter. Ex-vaudevillian Joe Yule, Mickey's real-life father, got the job as Mr. Squidger, without an audition. His voice told Robson he had found the old·timer he needed for guardian-or-the-portals outside of managing editor Don Robard's door. Two other regulars in the cast are Emmet Kern, 16-year-old parolee, and Emmet's sister Lois, a mighty purty redhead with a witty tongue and a lofty idealism that Shorty is always trying to bring down to earth. Shorty himself is Mickey to a T--the Mickey who's always on the defensive, whose judgements are spiked with atomsplitting uranium, whose humor is mixed with vinegar. The Mick has been holding his own since the night he toddled out on the vaudeville stage, unnoticed, at fifteen months, and captured an audience with the best trick in his repertoire--a headstand. He was a trouper from the first, and from 6 to 12 he breathed life into the Fontaine Fox cartoon character Mickey McGuire, in almost fourscore movies. He changed his name from Joe Yule, Jr., to Mickey McGuire Rooney as a result. He played Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream in a Warner movie and in the Hollwood Bowl, made more than a dozen Andy Hardy pictures for MGM, starred in musicals and dramas, was 18 months overseas in the Army entertaining troops, can cry at the drop of a handkerchief, and is a quick mimic. He's record-crazy; keeps a record player and a pile of his favorites handy at the studio. The sight of a piano or a drum sets him rhythm-crazy. Mickey relaxes by substituting physical exercise for mental. Ask him what makes him work so hard, and he'll shake his head, say--"Every show must he a good one." (CBS, Sun., 9:30 P.M.)
Though initially recieving reasonably laudatory praise for the series' novel dramatic format and setting--supported by exemplary Hooper ratings--Shorty Bell repeatedly failed to attract a sponsor. But even after the series essentially turned on a dime, while attracting a somewhat larger audience, the series continued to attract little interest from sponsors. Mickey Rooney was reportedly recieving $3,000 per installment, in addition to the initially far larger cast of 'name' performers and Cy Feuer's music direction and orchestra. The budget for the subsequently revamped format, though pared down a bit with staff actors and music direction, remained an expensive sustaining production for CBS. The live audience, while arguably better than a 'laugh track,' added little to the production's overall listener experience.
Original format breakdown
Shorty Bell, recorded and broadcast at the CBS studios in Hollywood, traced the story of young Ralph J. 'Shorty' Bell [Mickey Rooney] and his efforts to rise above his position as a distribution truck driver for the 'Daily News.' Bell's backstory is that his father had worked as a pressman for the Daily News, and Shorty himself had sold the Daily News on street corners as a kid. Upon returning from World War II, Shorty obtained a position as a truck driver for the newspaper. But it had been his dream to become a reporter for one of the city's main newspapers--the Daily News or the Star-Reporter. Shorty apparently has/had an ongoing love interest in Lois Kearn, a childhood sweetheart. Lois' younger brother Emmet worked with Shorty on his delivery truck. While Shorty had been away at War, Emmet had run into trouble and had done a year in a reform school--unbeknownst to Shorty. Emmet was still on parole from reform school. Several of the scripts apparently revolved around the Press Grill, a favored eatery of the Daily News. Shorty's touchstone at the Press Grill was Irene, the grill's cashier.
Shorty had apparently cultivated several useful relationships to aid in his aspiration to be an 'Ace' reporter for the Daily News. Among them were Police Sergeant Kimball [Parley Baer] and Mr. Squidger [Joe Yule, Sr.], a Daily News editor who believed in Shorty and continued to look out for Shorty's interests. Shorty's nemeses at the Daily News were Don Robard [John Hoyt], the Managing Editor, and Mr. Willits, the paper's owner. The original format also introduced Frank Lovejoy as 'Ben,' one of the paper's star crime reporters.
The later situation comedy format
The 'new' format of Shorty Bell was reintroduced as a series of standalone situational anecdotes surrounding Shorty Bell's continuing efforts to climb the corporate ladder at the Daily News. He'd apparently been promoted from the paper's Distribution Department to the position of cub reporter. Shorty Bell had also apparently undertaken a correspondence course in Journalism, the better to hone his reporting skills. To ensure that potential laugh lines didn't fall flat on the Radio listening audience, CBS recorded and broadcast Shorty Bell before a live audience. While continuing as a 'novel for Radio,' the character continuity elements of the 'novel' were relatively non-existent in the revamped series.
While relegated to writing obits and local human interest snippets, Shorty continued to aspire to find that one 'scoop' that would help propel him through the 'paper ceiling' at the Daily News. The writing for the new format clearly suffered in the process, leaning heavily on the production member holding up the 'Laugh Now' sign for the studio audience's reactions. Robson, Rooney and his writers continued tweaking the format of the remaining installments with a mix of comedy and straight drama until the series prematurely left the air.
In one last major tweak, Mickey Rooney discarded the entire 'cub reporter' format in favor of a totally reorganized variety format series, Hollywood Showcase, with Rooney as the emcee. Hollywood Showcase, 'showcased' up and coming talent with Rooney providing the interstitial snappy patter, songs, and instrumentals.
Billboard review of Shorty Bell from April 10th 1948
|RadioGOLDINdex, Hickerson Guide.
Notes on Provenances:
The most helpful provenances were the log of the RadioGOLDINdex and newspaper listings.
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