Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Betsy Cola Hits the Spot

Fans look back at the Golden Era of network radio with affection but columnists in the day did not. Radio was crass and witless, they told readers time and time again.

Perhaps that’s why critics loved Fred Allen. He made fun of the crassness of radio and did it in a high-brow way; critics seemed to think of radio as beneath them. Allen took music from operas and operettas (can there be anything more high-brow?) and concocted parody lyrics making fun of his target.

Allen spoofed or joked about radio commercials on many shows. One guest starred Lanny Ross who sang on radio and in movies but was not really in the category of a popular singer, such as Dick Haymes, Tony Martin or Frankie. He fit in more with the high-brow crowd.

Here’s what happened on their broadcast of December 1, 1946; I don’t believe it’s on the internet. This is from PM of December 4th. Some of the references may be lost on readers today. I’m surprised Allen didn’t employ the famous “nickel” Pepsi Cola jingle of the day for Betsy’s song; the meter is exactly the same. Perhaps Standard Brands couldn’t get permission or didn’t want to pay the money to use it. The last-mentioned song fits in one of Standard’s two products that Allen plugged.

“Irium” was an ingredient in Pepsodent tooth paste. Adler’s Elevator Shoes were advertised by a man shouting “Now you can be taller than she can!” Grossinger’s was a resort in New York’s Catskills Mountains. I admit the manly/patriotic All-Bran bit eludes me.

Fred Allen Tips the Met Off On How to Get Rich Quick

I hope Edward Johnson and the other bigshots of the Metropolitan Opera were listening to Fred Allen last Sunday. For Allen, touched by the Met's financial troubles, offered them a sure-fire way to get into the big money. Allen's advice: be like radio, get sponsors, lots of sponsors.
Allen even showed the Met how to do it in an opera written by himself and Irving Caesar, titled El Commerciale. El Commerciale put new words to music from the famous operas, and managed to get in 25 commercials in the ten minutes it took to act out.
Here, then, is how an opera might sound at he Met if the Met were run like radio:
El Commerciale is the story of Mr. Cola (played by Lanny Ross) and his five daughters. Three of the daughters are married, but Mr. Cola is trying to find husbands for the other two. He sings (to the tune of O Evening Star):
I have five daughters—two unwed,
One men adore—and one they dread.
One is a beauty, men all say,
The other one frightens men away.
I lie awake, my nerves are shattered,
Tums and Aspirin, I've tried all brands.
If only a man would pop the question,
He'd have a wife and she'd be off my hands!
Papa Cola's beautiful daughter, Betsy, enters. She sings (to the tune of Caro Nome):
Betsy Cola is my name.
I'm that celebrated dame.
You have heard of me a lot.
I'm the gal what hits the spot.
Betsy and her three married sisters worry over their ugly sister, Mirium (to the tune of the Habanera from Carmen):
Poor Mirium! Poor Mirium!
Why don't you use a little Irium!

Mirium answers:
For Irium, it's too late, chums.
My teeth are gone and I have only gums.
Along comes a suitor for the hand of Betsy, played by Allen himself. To the majestic, impassioned music of the Ride of the Valkyrie from Wagner's Die Walkure, Allen woos the fair maiden:
I just came from Barney's!
I just came from Barney's!
My suit comes from Barney's!
It's size 33!
My shoes come from Adler's!
My shoes come from Adler's!
My shoes come from Adler's!
Now I'm taller than she!
My hat is from Knox, dear.
The ring has two rocks, dear.
It's from a Cracker-Jack box, dear.
You can tell at a glance.
Slip these rings on your fingers,
I'm not one who lingers,
We're off to Grossingers,
The land of Romance!
Before Mr. Cola will let Allen marry Betsy, he questions him (to the music of the Quartet from Rigoletto):
PAPA: Have you ever tasted Kellogg's Bran?
ALLEN: No, I've not.
PAPA: And you dare to call yourself a man?
ALLEN: Yes, so what?
PAPA: Just imagine, ladies, if you can:
Here stands a man who hasn't tasted Kellogg's Bran!
ALLEN: Sad my lot,
I eat Wheaties, though.
PAPA: Then there's hope.
ALLEN: And Wheatena, too.
PAPA: He's no dope.
But you'll never know, no,
you'll never know what
Kellogg's Bran can do,
You can’t be an American,
For no American will go
without Kellogg's Bran!
Allen promises to try Kellogg's Bran, whereupon Papa Cola consents to his marriage with Betsy. What about poor unmarried Mirium? To the tune of the Sextet from Lucia, Allen tells her he sees "a ray of hope" if she will "use a cake of Lifebuoy Soap."
Then he and Betsy leave for their honeymoon (to the Soldier's Chorus from Faust):
Now on their honeymoon, he and she,
Off on a life of economee,
Their bags packed as merrily they flee
To Niagara Falls, with 48 balls of Tenderleaf Tea!
"Gad," said Allen, contemplating all the sponsors he had gotten into his little opera, “this will be bigger than the Make Believe Ballroom.”
What is the Met waiting for?

Peck’s PM was a left-leaning paper which, to no great surprise, was viewed as a hotbed of Commies and Pinkos by scare-mongers in the U.S. government. Peck was convicted of contempt of Congress in March 1957 for not revealing names of Communists to a Senate subcommittee. He was employed by the New York Times at the time and continued to be until his retirement. He was killed by a drunk driver in a head-on crash on New Year’s Day 1985.

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