Recollections of working on the Great Gildersleeve
By Dick Beals
It always gave you that nice warm feeling when the call came in for a Great Gildersleeve show. It was that kind of show that started with a director who was a real pro. Most actors knew that to be on time meant arriving 15 minutes early. In this case the director was there waiting for us with his motor running. The scripts were spread neatly on the large conference table in the studio, a needle sharp pencil sitting beside the script, your name on the script beside the part, or parts, you were to play. Of course most of us arrived pen and/or pencil in hand (or pocket) but on this show it was traditional to use "the director's" pencil. 6'4 Willard Waterman saunters in, talking to anyone that might be listening about "my sensational 7 iron on 16 that was a gimme bird". The lovely Shirley Mitchell is smiling and applauding him, although she knows nothing about golf, a 7 iron and especially a "gimme bid". But once those two are circling the table, script and needle-sharp pencil in hand, the chatter begins. The moment the director enters the room, it's all business, with polite greetings, scripts poised, sans paper clips. Seeing this the director quietly says . . . "ok, page one please, Music in and under for . . . Announcer . . . "
The first reading is used only to acquaint the actors with the words and phrases. The leading performers read correctly first and drop into their character somewhat. The extras, so to speak, create their characters full blast, trying ti impress the director.
The director listens intently, makes notes, occasionally gives a direction for better timing, or suggests a change in age, attitude, or "sell that joke, Ed, to give Gildersleeve a better lead-in for his tag and the music."
When the table reading is finished, the production rehearsal is next. The sound effects pros are already in place, the music is ready, the engineer has the mikes all set, the director zips into the control room, and those in the first scene are on mike, scripts and needle-sharp pencils at the ready, all eyes waiting for the directors cue. The well known regulars move into their parts with a bit more effort. Everyone else sharpens their characters, sells the laughs with more gusto and, especially the newcomers, pad their parts to impress the director.
Before air time the director reviews all of his notes, and maybe goes over a scene once or twice. If the writers are in the booth this happens more often because their jobs are on the line too. Their rule is . . . "if it aint funny, make it funny. The sponsors are paying for laughs, especially leading into their commercials".
When its show time, everyone goes full blast, the jokes are funnier than ever, the characters are powerful, sharp and suddenly, just like that, its all over.
All eyes are on the booth. The engineer slowly raises both hands to indicate that all knobs are on zero. Is it celebration time? No! The cast places their scripts and slightly dulled pencils on the table, engages in small talk going out the door, says something nice to the director in the booth and heads for the parking lot.
It's only another day, another job, another pay check. Oh well, that's show biz.
(Dick Beals was an actor who appeared regularly on many of the most popular programs on radio including Fibber McGee and Molly, Gunsmoke, Suspense, The Great Gildersleeve and many others.)