Saturday, March 31, 2012

Vic and Sade - Remembered by Barbara Schwarz

"Well, sir, it's late afternoon as we enter the small house half-way up in the next block now, and here in the living room we find all our friends assembled."

The memory of Vic and Sade has never left me though it has been many years since the above phrase was last heard in its original 15- minute format on September 29, 1944. The memory of this program led me to organize a group called Friends of Vic and Sade way back in 1972. Our goal continues to be the finding and sharing of as many existing copies of this program with each other. It has been a wonderful journey.

Paul Rhymer introduced a unique form of humor to radio writing that became to be admired and extolled by fellow humorists such as Ogden Nash and Edgar lee masters as being the best writing of all-time of great American humor. Ray Bradbury has said of Vic and Sade: "Middle-class America was dramatized lovingly and forever by Paul Rhymer." Stan Freberg, Steve Allen, Richard Schickel, Henry Morgan, Studs Terkel and many others have declared themselves as long fans of the program. It was long known as a radio program devotedly listened to by radio personnel throughout the networks.

Paul Rhymer came to the job with keen observational skills of the human condition based on his childhood experiences, education in high school in Bloomington, attending Illinois Wesleyan University and learning from a wide variety of jobs. He wrote articles and stories as he matured, so he he looked forward to taking a job in the NBC community department in 1929. NBC decided to broadcast a program Mr. Rhymer had developed, Vic and Sade. The sketches were based on his experiences related to ordinary people and incidents of every day life. Mr. Rhymer used his sense of humor to give these sketches a unique flavor that few listeners would ever forget once heard.

The first sustaining broadcast was on June 29, 1932 on KYW (NBC, Chicago) at 8:30am. Management did not really know if anyone was listening that early in the morning. After a month on the air, the audience was asked if anyone was enjoying this early hour program. NBC received 5,000.00 replies of support. The program had two short term sponsors before Proctor and Gamble became the permanent sponsor on November 5, 1934. This program survived many broadcast time changes over the years.

NBC was fortunate to choose Bernadine Flynn to play Sade. Miss Flynn came with a fine background in theater while attending the University of Wisconsin, gaining experience in New York theater, and returning to Chicago to become a seasoned radio performer. She interpreted the role of Sade as a devoted wife and mother, who had a sharp tongue at times, but always supportive of her family and friends. We knew Sade sewed some of her clothes and belonged to the Thimble Club. We knew Sade's best friend, Ruthie Stembottom, who went to wash rag sales with Sade down at Yamilton's department store. Sade made it very plain how she disliked Miz' Applerot, who had a snooty attitude toward many of the members. Sade loved a bit of gossip but was never cruel. Who can forget that the beef punkles never wore down on time and the many boring letters from sister Bess that Sade insisted on reading about how Walter's kneecap had let up on twinges and daughter Eunice was learning the piano.

Art Van Carney assumed the role of Vic as the chief accountant of the Consolidated Kitchenware Company, plant No. 14 and being the Exalted Big Dipper of the Sacred Stars of the Milky Way lodge with relish. Mr. Van Harvey was able to fill his role to perfection because of a background filled with experiences from sales positions in various forms as well as being an actor in vaudeville. Vic could be vain and pompous at times but always was a devoted and supportive family man who could see the humor in situations sooner than Sade at times.

Within about ten broadcasts, Mr. Rhymer realized he needed another family member to expand the story line. This was depression time and some families needed help to care for a child or two when the father was out of a job. Sade convinced Vic to take in a son of one of her very good friends for a time. Thus the speaking role of Rush was introduced t the broadcast on July 15, 1932.

Bill Idelson had experience in playing roles in children's theater, in radio as Skeezix on WGN, and a regular role on KYW's Checkerboard Fairy Tales. He admits that he was somewhat reluctant to take another radio role when told of another audition opportunity at NBC; however, he realized within a very short time of playing Rush that this was a special program and very glad he was chosen.

With Rush joining the family Mr. Rhymer was able to enliven and demonstrate Vic's great affection for Rush by often addressing him with such wonderful names as Mr. Hoolsch, ink eraser, stove poker, pocket watch, coal oil, oyster cracker, etc. The list is endless. Rush's friends were legion: Blue-Tooth Johnson, Smelley Clark, Nicer Scott, Rooster and Rotten Davis, and Leroy Snow to name a few. They attended school together, played ball at Tatman's vacant lot, watched the fat men play handball at the YMCA, and went to the movies to see Gloria Golden and Frank Fuddleman in their latest adventures.

Vic would regal us with his always serious regard for the Lodge and its members and rituals. Vic belonged to the All-Star Marching Team along with Homer U. McDancy, H.k. Fleeber, Y.Y. Flirch, Robert and Slobert Hink, O.X. Bellyman, I. Edson Box, J.J.J.J Stunbolt, Harry Fie, Hermie Wermie, and E. Tyson Stooger. Thye never marched together. Who can forget the founder R.J. Klonk? Vic was always trying to convince Sade that he needed another item that was listed in the lodge catalog. Vic's friends, such as Rishigan Fishigan from Sishigan, Michigan, who lived in the penthouse at the Bright Kentucky Motel, can never be forgotten. Hank Gutstop was the Little Dipper of the Lodge and was a thorn in Sade's side for borrowing money from Vic and never paying it back. Vic made us aware of his co-workers at Plant # 14 including his boss, Mr. Buller. Lolita di Renzi was in the box department. She played the tropical guitar and tried to teach Vic to play the Caribbean dream flute. Sade disliked her, of course.

In August of 1940 Mr. Van Harvey had a heart attack and could not perform. To fill the need of a third speaking part, Mr. Rhymer brought in Sade's Uncle Fletcher, who had been referred to via letters for quite awhile. Clarence Hartzell auditioned and was immediately hired, He came with solid radio experience earned in Cincinnati and Chicago radio. Uncle Fletcher was a delightfully eccentric character who had "selective hearing" in all situations. Uncle Fletcher was a relative who could make you love him or irritate you with his affinity to the special friends in his world. Mr. Rhymer used Uncle Fletcher to express his quirky sense of humor. Fans took to Uncle Fletcher, and family life took on an added dimension. Vic returned to the show by September.

I doubt anyone could forget Uncle Fletcher and so many of his friends. B.B. Baugh invented and sold Stingyberry Jam that wriggled and writhed in the jars. He also invented Hyena grease, the best and smelliest shoe polish, so he claimed. Roy Dejectedly wanted to go into partnership with Fletcher to buy the Little Tiny Petite Pheasant Feather Tea Shoppe. Fletcher fraternized with Ernie Fatler, ticket agent at the interurban train station, and the list goes on.

In 1942 Mr. Rhymer had to adjust the family story line because Bill Idelson left to serve in the Naval Air Corps. By June 1943 David Whitehouse, 13 years old, took the part of Russell, the orphaned nephew of Vic's boss, Mr. Buller. No scripts exist to explain Rush's departure. The character id Russell just stepped into Rush's shoes.

The last broadcast of the original 15-minute format aired on September 29, 1944. There was a little or no warning of the cancellation. There were several more revivals of Vic and Sade. 1945: August- September, CBS ran a 15 minute version of Vic and Sade. This version contained speaking parts for everyone in the scripts using talented Chicago radio players. 1946: Mutual ran a June - September half hour version again with speaking parts done by Chicago actors. 1947: There is minimal evidence of a possible television effort on ABC in December. 1949: In July Vic and Sade appeared on three Monday night television performances on Colgate Theater on a trial basis. Only Miss Flynn was used. 1957: NBC ran eight 15-minute broadcasts on television in black and white with Miss Flynn and Mr. Van Harvey. Rush was played by Eddie Gillian.
Paul Rhymer created a full picture of their friends and neighbors because of his talented writing. He gave us such succinct characterizations of these relatives, friends and neighbors that we knew them without ever hearing their voices. Also due to his writing skills we knew the town and environs as though we lived there, and in many ways we did.

(The author, Barbara Schwarz, is a delightful and friendly fan of old time radio and will be attending the REPS Old Time Radio convention this coming June 2012. She would love to meet and chat with other fans of Vic and Sade.)

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