Wednesday, 12 November 2014

It's True! It's On The Radio!

People believe what they hear on the radio, even if it’s obviously false. Jack Benny went out of his way to tip people to prove to them he wasn’t a tightwad like he was on his show. But there was a little blurring of lines when it came to Benny because on the radio he played Jack Benny, Radio Comedian.

There was no blurring of lines when it came to soap operas. The characters were made up. Their settings were made up. Yet for some, the acting was so convincing, they believed the ridiculous idea that someone had microphones planted all around them and their friends, and that real lives were being broadcast live, accompanied by organ music, an announcer and convenient commercial breaks.

Radio soap actress Mary Jane Higby devoted a chapter in her autobiography to misguided listeners who simply and steadfastly refused to believe it was only a show. Higby was one of a number of stars who had first-hand experience with delusional fans. And it is one of Higby’s shows that columnist John Crosby referred to in his thoughts on soap addicts in one of his columns published in late 1946.

Soap Opera Addicts


NEW YORK, Dec 30.—The dim twilight of soap opera la not everyone’s world. It is a special world, it would appear, built purposely for those persons whose credulity has no apparent limits. To the sceptical listener with a ready fund of humor the agonies of soap opera offers neither escape nor amusement. For that sort of listener, of whom there are a great many, a far more rewarding study than soap opera is that of, the people who listen to the darn things, or, as someone, put it so well, the proper study of man is man.
Soap opera is not so much a taste as an addiction. Even broadcasters will admit that the soap opera fan listens not to just one but to several, sometimes five or six a day, deriving from the later ones even more comfort than from the early ones when they sink further and further into the nebulous world of fancy and farther and farther from the prosaic world of the dishes. Just how virulent this soap opera drug can become was well illustrated by a recent occurrence in New Jersey.
A Mrs. Davis of Hillsborough township, near Somerville, New Jersey, recently received a note on which was scrawled: “Steve killed Betty MacDonald. Irma has him on her farm. I hope you will come out of this with flying colors.” Mrs. Davis turned the letter over to police who traced it without difficulty to a woman in Brooklyn, from whom they wrung this remarkable confession.
The writer told police that she listened every day to a soap opera called “When a Girl Marries.” On this program recently a Betty MacDonald was killed and Harry Davis of “Somerville” was arrested. The Brooklyn letter writer went on to explain that Harry Davis was really innocent. The real murderer, she told the startled cops, was a man named Steve, Betty’s lover, who was now hiding out on Irma's farm. (Irma loved him, too.) She had written the letter to Mrs. Davis to reassure her that everything would come out all right and to assure her that her faith in Mrs. Davis and Harry remained unshaken.
That’s all there is to the story. The police presumably told the Brooklyn lady not to write any more letters and may even have advised her against taking soap opera so seriously. The reaction of the Brooklyn addict to a visitation from the cops remains unknown. Does she still listen to “When a Girl Marries"? What went through her mind when she discovered that Harry and Irma and Steve were people of fancy, not fact? Was she outraged at this betrayal of her implicit trust and, if so, has she found anything to take its place? Or, to put it more plainly, are there any other anodynes so satisfying and undemanding as soap opera for credulous ladies from Brooklyn?
The spy psychiatrists will have to take it up from there. This column is out of its depth.

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