Most actors can only dream of steady work so it’s a little surprising to see that Dick Crenna is one who toiled non-stop for decades, both in front of, and behind, the camera and the microphone. Surprising, because Crenna wasn’t a megastar. His best-known radio role was Walter Denton on “Our Miss Brooks,” one of the best of the sitcoms, and he finally left behind his teen years on television in the late ‘50s when he appeared as Luke McCoy on “The Real McCoys” with Kathy Nolan and the wonderful Walter Brennan.
Crenna once told the Archive of American Television the worst review he ever got was by esteemed New York Herald-Tribune columnist John Crosby, who took aim at all the annoying, voice-cracking teenagers he played on radio. I’ve found the column. Actually, Crenna only played one of the characters under discussion—Oogie Pringle on “A Date With Judy,” but they’re basically the same type. “Our Miss Brooks” had only been on the air a couple of months when Crosby’s column came out on November 22, 1948, so young Mr. Denton gets a pass.
Crosby took aim at banality on radio, and there was lots of it. But he’s set up an unfair fight in this column, though I suspect he knew it and used a Mark Twain comparison for humour’s sake. Twain published books in the laconic 19th century. If words offended someone, too bad, they had to suck it up. 20th century network radio was a different world. Just like television today, the radio networks/sponsors/agencies took supreme pains not to offend anybody, including self-appointed watchdogs and malcontents. If Mark Twain had anti-social kids, that was life. If network radio even remotely featured a child with a hint of anti-social behaviour, (s)he was to be punished if (s)he was to appear at all, lest anyone complain. So it was that radio, like TV today, went to ridiculous lengths not to offend anyone (or, more correctly, during certain portions of the broadcast day. Therefore, “South Park” is okay. A fraction of a second of a nipple in a Super Bowl halftime show is a national calamity). Thus radio’s teenagers were annoying but innocuous.
Here’s what Crosby had to say.
Radio In Review
By JOHN CROSBY
What Ever Happened To The Bad Boy?
THE closest thing we have around to Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer — and it;s pretty distant — is Henry Aldrich and Homer. Which proves how boyhood has degenerated since I was a boy.
Boyhood—let’s face it squarely—has been going downhill for years, but it’s come to a pretty pass when its archetypes are Henry and Homer and Oogie Pringle and Archie Andrews.
When I was young, roughly around the 12th century, the blueprint of my deportment was drawn to scale by Huck and Tom and Penrod and the hero of “The Story of a Bad Boy”, whose name I’ve forgotten. (I missed “Peck’s Bad Boy” entirely. Different generation, I guess).
Those three provided an outline of general Cain raise that any boy could be proud of.
JUDGING FROM the radio, the lads still get into mischief (a word we wouldn’t be caught dead with) but they never get into it deliberately.
The difference is one of intent---and that’s where a boy’s character is formed, which is why I think the education of our sons is in incapable hands. When Huck and Tom ran away from home, when the Bad Boy (what was that kid’s name anyway?) blew up the village cannon, they knew what they were doing.
In both cases there were unexpected circumstances, but the sense of wrongdoing was present from the outset. They were active little fiends, destined to become captains of industry when they grew up.
FOR HOMER and Henry and Oogie and Archie I see no hope whatever of future brilliance. Week after week they get into one jam after another, always by accident, never by design.
The trouble they see is a censored, respectable, passive trouble. They’re the victims. In Huck’s day somebody else was the victim.
Modern boys—and I’m judging Oogie and company—and a bunch of namby pambies. They never try to get into trouble. They try to stay out of it. But, with the best intentions in the world, they stick their elbows through windows, they fall flat on their faces in front of their best girls.
Always they’re crossed by circumstances or the idiosyncrasies of adults. What I object to is that they’re trying so hard to be good. And they generally are foiled by their own stupidity.
WHAT SORT of example is that to hold up before a young boy? Penrod and Huck and Tom slipped once in awhile in the mires of boyhood, but they never were stupid.
They didn’t put their feet in their mouths with such monotonous regularity. Their parents worried about them. Henry and Homer and Oogie and Archie worry about their parents.
Also, the modern girl has got out of hand. There was a place in Penrod’s life and in Tom Sawyer’s life for girls, but there also was a place where girls weren’t allowed. The modern boy seems to have girls on the brain all day long.
I DUNNO. These adenoidal infants they got on the air don’t sound quite bright or quite virile.
Of course, you might argue that all these kids—Archie and Henry and Homer and Oogie—belong in the category of Tarkington’s “Seventeen” rather than in the company of Huck Finn, but they’re the nearest thing we have to Huck.
There aren’t any Huck Finns in radio, the influence probably of mothers craving respectability.
I’m against it. A couple of Huck Finns would be a lot better for the kids than Capt. Midnight, Superman or Tom Mix.
There wasn’t any real harm in Huck and Tom. They were just harum scarum.