Sunday, 6 July 2014

We Want Free Stuff Because

One of radio’s most popular contests of 1948 was the mystery of The Walking Man, solved by a dear widow in Chicago. We talked about her in this post. The Walking Man, in case you don’t know, was Jack Benny.

It’s a little hard to criticise a contest that raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity, but dour syndicated columnist John Crosby found a way. Actually, he seems more disappointed with people who want something for nought, judging by his closing paragraph.

This column appeared in newspapers beginning March 3, 1948.

Seeing Radio In Review

'Murder Is Naughty Because...'
THE word written most often in this country by more different people during the last winter, a word which, in fact, has occupied the attention of an incredible proportion of our population, is the simple word "because."
All over the country butchers, merchants, beggarmen, thieves, their brows furrowed with concentration, have inscribed painfully at the head of a fresh sheet of paper such words as: "Peace is nice because. . ." or "Murder is naughty because. . ."
These rather sweepingly innocent statements are then followed by 25 words or less which round out the thought, nail it down so that there is no possibility of error.
They are then mailed in with the top of a Wheaties box or 10 cents or sometimes nothing but a hopeful and address to any one of a dozen masters of ceremonies in radio to join millions of other letters all starting "Murder is naughty because. . ." and all of 25 words or less.
Out of this mass of rhetoric of 25 words or less comes a winner or several winners who may easily become rich overnight. The millions of nonwinners turn on the radio, sigh when the winners are announced, and start again: "Mothers are wonderful because . . ."
Radio contests didn’t originate in the winter of 1947-48 but they very definitely came to their fullest flower this winter and may be expected to recede a little simply because all the clichés of language have been exhausted.
The “because” contest is by no means the only one on the air but it is far and away the most popular. I don’t know who originated the 25-word limit or what that number would be considered most suitable for what I refer to as the “because-and-effecters” but it is employed without exception in all this type of contests.
Easily the most famous of the current “because” sentences is: “We should all support the American Heart Association because . . .” which now has been written by more than 1,100,000 persons, all hopeful of winning Ralph Edwards “Walking Man” contest on “Truth or Consequences.”
Rules of the contest—this information is supplied for including in my time capsule since everyone in America knows them—are that contestants must finish that line (25 words or less), send a contribution to the association in care of Edwards, and then wait hopefully at home on Saturday nights for the telephone to ring so he or she may make his guess as to the identity of the Walking Man.
The contest is now in its 10th week and, just to set the record straight, the famous people whose names have been guessed and who are definitely not the walking man are President Truman, Louis B. Mayer, J. Edgar Hoover, James E. West, Ed Crump, Herbert Marshall, Henry J. Kaiser, Richard Dix, Col. Edward J. Baker, Bing Crosby, Walter Huston, Eddie Canter and Winston Churchill.
The Walking Man—this is for the time capsule, too—is the successor to Mr. Hush, Mrs. Hush and Miss Hush, in each of which contests listeners had to write: "We should all support the March of Dimes because . . ." Each of these contests proved to be more profitable for the winner and the March of Dimes than its predecessor.
Winner of the Mr. Hush (Jack Dempsey) contest got loot valued at $13,500; winner of Mrs. Hush (Clara Bow) got $18,000, and the Miss Hush (Martha Graham) winner, a Texas housewife, cleaned up $21,500.
About all that can be said for the correct guesser of the Walking Man is that he will earn more than any of them and part of the largesse will include a Cadillac and a diamond wrist watch.
At this writing, the contest already has brought in $900,000 for the American Heart Association, a very nice haul though not so large as the $1,500,000 Edwards has persuaded people to donate to the March of Dimes by virtue of his Hush and other contests.
Edwards is the only individual in America to raise that much for the March of Dimes and clearly a man to be reckon with in future plans of any charity organization.
The two organizations have much to thank Edwards for but he has also given them some food for sober reflection.
Avarice for Cadillacs, mink coats and airplanes has been more than a little responsible for this open-handed generosity and, the way things are going, future contributors to great causes may ask first: "What's the first prize?"
Edwards is one of the great prize givers of our time but has staged contests without prizes and the difference in the response is significant. Last December, he asked listeners to name what they would like to present the world for Christmas—the winner in this case being the gift named by the most people.
In contrast to the 2,000,000 letters brought in by his Miss Hush and Walking Man contests, this one brought in 76,000, which is peanuts by radio standards. The prize-winning gift was peace. Runners-up, in order, were: Understanding, faith, love and—a poor fifth—God.

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