Wednesday 21 June 2023

Lux Presents...

Radio fans loved mistakes.

Every verbal screw-up by Don Wilson or Mary Livingstone on the Jack Benny radio show brought howls from the studio audience. People loved them so much, a fellow named Kermit Schafer cut a number of albums featuring on-air mistakes, though some were re-creations.

Even dramatic shows had their share, though I doubt the studio audience guffawed through them. Certainly not during the broadcast of a venerable programme like Lux Radio Theatre. It debuted on the NBC Blue network on Sunday afternoon, October 14, 1934, and moved to CBS on July 29, 1935. It made a far more important move in June 1936, when the show packed up and headed from New York to Hollywood to attract the major film stars. It helped when Cecil B. DeMille was hired at $2,000 a week to host the series. Radio historian John Dunning related in his book how movie companies stood idle while its stars rehearsed for Lux, getting up to $5,000 an episode and—what the studios wanted—huge, free publicity for their coming attractions.

DeMille and his successors were figureheads. The real work was handled by others, who also bore the headaches, especially when things went wrong. Here’s a wire story from 1953 to give you some examples. It also leaves you an idea of the timidity of network radio, even compared to the heavily-censored movie industry.

Fluffs and Muffs Turn Producer's Hair Gray
United Press Hollywood Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD, Sept. 12 – The oldest radio dramatic program, The Lux Theater, begins its 20th year Monday and considering its narrow squeaks the record is a victory, its producer sighed.
Nineteen years ago, John Boles and Miriam Hopkins launched the series with “Seventh Heaven.” Since then more than 800 one-hour versions of popular movies have been broadcast, starring every big movie luminary except Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo.
“But we've had some catastrophic events,” producer Cornwall Jackson said with a shake of his head.
“BURT LANCASTER forgot to change his watch to daylight savings [sic] time and arrived 12 minutes after the program started. A bit player named Ira Glosser [sic] read Burt’s role— cold— and then Lancaster took over the part. I was listening at home and couldn’t tell the difference.
“Ira,” he added, became Jeff Chandler.
Van Johnson showed up a minute before broadcasting time, causing Jackson to consider switching to the shoe business. The scare was surpassed, however, when a star dropped her false teeth in the middle of a speech but popped them back in her mouth without missing a beat.
HELEN HAYES did “Peg O' My Heart” without one rehearsal after Margaret Sullavan became ill. On another program, Edward Arnold was blissfully ignorant of introducing “Rasil Bathbone.”
Not counting wayward actors, Jackson’s biggest headache is finding movies suitable for broadcast. Most are "too adult” for a family radio show, he said.
The show has become such an institution that some fans think producer Cecil B. DeMille still is master-of-ceremonies. He quit in 1945 rather than pay a $1 union fee. He was succeeded by William Keighley and later Irving Cummings.
LORETTA YOUNG and Fred MacMurray hold the record with 25 Lux appearances; Olivia de Havilland celebrated her 20th Monday with “My Cousin Rachel.”
Two years ago, Lux Theater made its TV debut with original plays—“Can you imagine the movie studios giving us their scripts for TV?” mourns Jackson. Thursday, Maureen O’Sullivan and Ronald Reagan opened the Lux TV season from Hollywood. Lux was thus the first big television show to switch from New York to Hollywood, giving CBS something to do in their huge black-and-white television city.
“So far on the television show nobody’s even fluffed their lines,” said Jackson.

By this period, network radio was withering away from a lack of cash, which was being moved by ad agencies into television, where the audiences were going. Lux was one of the last big sponsors which finally gave in. The Radio Theatre was moved to NBC for the 1954-55 season, with Lux dropping the show after the broadcast of June 7, 1955.

There was still some life in radio, and there was still some life in the dramatic showcase. The network continued to air the show sustaining as NBC Radio Theatre until January 4, 1960 when it, My True Story, the weekday version of Monitor and It’s Network Time were lopped off the schedule. The last-named was a short-lived, two-hour afternoon variety show hosted by, of all people, $150,000-a-year newsman Frank Blair. It was a far cry from a programme that, year in and year out, opened with the regal phrase “Lux presents Hollywood.”


  1. Great behind the scenes stories of a classic radio show. Flubs and all. I remember when Broderick Crawford hosted " Saturday Night Live ", in his monologue, he talked about over sleeping, showing up late, and being fired from an NBC Radio show in the late 1930s.. Crawford told the audience, after 40 years, it is nice that NBC is giving him another chance. Got a pretty good laugh and applause. Years ago, I heard Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert in the Lux Radio Theatre presentation of " The Egg and I ".

  2. If the article is referring to Cornwell Jackson, Jackson was married to actress Gail Patrick at the time. She was responsible for bringing "Perry Mason" to television a few years later and served as the show's executive producer.

    Corny (sans Patrick) later produced a misbegotten 1973 revival starring Monte Markham in the title role.

  3. Per Kermit Schafer, Joseph Cotton supposedly delivered the following billboard for the following week's Lux Radio Theater at the close of a broadcast:

    "Tune in next week when your Lux Radio Theater presents that smash hit comedy The Major and the Minor, starring Lynn Fontaine and Hollywood's newest acting sensation, that sparking young actor--" [delivered incredulously here] "Sonny Tufts(?!)"