Homebound bingeing during radio’s golden age

As our days of confinement extend into weeks, I’ve been remembering when those of us of a certain age, (i.e., old,) were confined to home and bed for what seemed like an eternity as we recovered from measles, chicken pox, whooping cough and other childhood diseases.

We were kind of young for books of any length and television was only talked about but we were pioneer bingers, making full use of the theater of the mind called radio.   

Due to our age and illnesses, most of the bingeing was in the daytime and consisted mainly of eavesdropping on our mothers’ soap operas until the after school hours when programs aimed at our demographic, like Little Orphan Annie, Tom Mix and Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy, came on. The soaps wouldn’t be considered wholesome entertainment for the young but we probably didn’t understand too much of what was going on.

Our bingeing throughout the day came in 15-minute installments, minus “commercial messages” selling mostly soap products from Procter and Gamble, Lever Brothers and Colgate-Palmolive. The late afternoon kids’ shows were sponsored by stuff aimed at us, Ovaltine for Little Orphan Annie and Wheaties for Jack Armstrong.

Virtually all of the soaps, every episode, every day, dealt with a woman who coped. How she did it was summarized in the program’s introduction, with the musical accompaniment of the soap’s theme song on an organ or piano.  

I don’t remember the plots of these shows but the intros made a lasting impression, just like the intro to my favorite kids’ show, “From out of the pass come the thundering hoofs of the great horse, Silver, the Lone Ranger rides again, Hi-Yo, Silver.”

But this is a reminiscence about those who coped until 3 or so in the afternoon. They ranged from the newlywed “Our Gal Sunday,” which was “the story of an orphan girl named Sunday from a small mining town in the West” who had to cope with life among the royals as the spouse of “one of England’s most handsome lords, Lord Henry Brinthrope,” to the older, mother of the bride, “Stella Dallas,” the “true-to-life story of mother love and sacrifice.” Poor Stella had to cope with the sad fact that her daughter Laurel had married  “into wealth and society and, realizing the differences in their tastes and worlds, (Stella) went out of Laurel’s life.” 

Then there was Mary Noble, who had to cope with a lot of competitors in “Backstage Wife,” the story of a “little Iowa girl who married one of America’s most handsome actors, Larry Noble, the matinee idol of a million other women.” The brilliant satirists, Bob and Ray, parodied the show as Mary Backstage, noble wife.  

I heard most of these shows often enough from my various sickbeds to vaguely remember these introductions seven decades later — Stella’s “mother love and sacrifice,” Sunday’s being from “a small mining town in the West” and Mary Noble’s marriage to a matinee idol, whatever that was. And my memory checked out when I Googled the shows.

But the intro I recall nearly word for word came for “The Romance of Helen Trent,” probably because of what poor Helen, a woman of 35, went through each afternoon.  

Helen was a career girl, as they were called then, who, when “life mocks her, breaks her hopes, dashes her against the rocks of despair, fights back bravely, successfully to prove what many women long to prove, that because a woman is 35 or more, romance in life need not be over, that romance can begin at 35 and even beyond.”

I was especially taken with the image of Helen on the rocks, as I imagined waves carrying a rather wet Helen smack into a bunch of jagged “rocks of despair,” the worst kind.

Helen was constantly being pursued by one cad or another for every one of the 27 years the show was on CBS, from 1933-60, which meant she was discovering that romance in life need not be over from the age of 35 all the way to 62 or “even beyond.” 

Then, she presumably retired on a nice pension and Social Security and settled down with Gil Whitney, a persistent gentleman admirer for all 27 years, who could never convince Helen she should stop proving a woman can find happiness after 35 without him.  But that was life in the soaps.


Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at rahles1@outlook.com

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