And for almost 20 years, The Cavalcade of America rivaled second behind the equally long-running Hollywood prestige program, The Lux Radio Theater. Stars of Hollywood and Broadway such as Raymond Massey, Orson Welles, Bette Davis, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Burgess Meredith were offered top-notch acting performances. Carl Sandburg, Arch Oboler and Arthur Miller contributed to the program.
Among the program’s highlights was “The Green Pastures” with Juano Hernandez, a Christmas offering for 1940. For the broadcast of October 20, 1941, Edward Arnold, Jane Darwell and Walter Huston starred in “All That Money Can Buy” from Stephen Vincent Benet’s The Devil and Daniel Webster. Henry Fonda reprised his screen role from Drums Along the Mohawk. Errol Flynn reprised his screen role for They Died With Their Boots On three days before the movie premiered in theatres. Fredric March starred in the lead for The Adventures of Mark Twain. Kay Armen and Ray Block lent their talents during the war for a patriotic musical presentation titled “Sing A War Song.”
While most radio directors and actors had to contend with the fear of their programs being “pulled” from the air for any number of reasons, especially losing the sponsor, The Cavalcade of America did not have to contend with such worries. Cavalcade was a “DuPont program” as most performers referred to at the time. DuPont had no intention of dropping sponsorship, and it was this very reason why the program never had a brief broadcast run on the air.
When DuPont chemists were toiling over their Bunsen burners and squinting into the reports to bring into the world new materials such as nylon and lucite, the public thought of DuPont as a gunpowder manufacturing gargantuan, making goods of destruction and profiting from world wars. Then some smart advertising agency executive sold the 26 men on DuPont’s executive committee the idea of advertising on radio the constructive things DuPont was making for society. “Better things for better living through chemistry” was the motif behind the advertising plan and it was soon heard as DuPont’s slogan on the weekly program.
Radio was still an infant in 1935 when the program premiered. During the program’s early years, Cavalcade was subjected to a series of different formats. The first was producer Arthur Pryor’s conception of two, 13-minute plays bridged with a DuPont promotional advertisement in between. Each episode dealt with a fundamental achievement that America could be proud of. For the broadcast of December 18, 1935, titled “Defiance of Nature,” two docudramas about the Erie Canal and the Holland Tunnel were offered. For the broadcast of March 25, 1936, “Conservation” was the subject with a brief drama about Johnny Appleseed and another about a modern story of a forest fire and firefighters combating the elements to preserve our forests. This early format stopped after the first 39 broadcasts.
The second format began with episode 40. Musical programs were a common staple on the radio so Pryor tried his hand at a weekly musical offering. From July 15, 1936 to September 23, 1936, Cavalcade offered a short-run summer series subtitled “The Development of Band Music in America,” followed by a number of other musical offerings such as “The Orchestra of Today and How it Grew” and “Music of the Movies.
The third format began on the evening of September 30, 1936 and became a staple for the rest of the series. One half-hour biographical drama centering on individuals both famous and obscure who helped in the advancement of progress here in the United States. A biography of Charles Goodyear, the showmanship of P.T. Barnum, and the person responsible for introducing seeing-eye dogs were among the earliest presentations.
Beginning with episode 90, broadcast July 7, 1937, the name of the program changed to The Cavalcade of Music and like the previous summer presented musical offerings for the radio listeners. This time each episode centered on a famous American composer with his music bridged between dramatic scenes. The works of Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and Victor Herbert were among the highlights.
Beginning with episode 102, broadcast September 29, 1937, the series picked up where it left off—offering a half-hour biographical sketch about an American who pioneered or advanced the means by which we live today. And reverted back to The Cavalcade of America name. And it was this format that remained throughout the rest of the program’s run. By 1939, the program had gained enough prestige to attract the attention of Hollywood actors who were performing on stage in New York. Since the series was presented from the East Coast, Cavalcade producers Larry Harding and Homer Fickett sought out actors from stage and screen who were willing to play the leads—and DuPont advanced the salaries. By 1940, actors such as Orson Welles, Burgess Meredith and Raymond Massey were making return visits and by 1941 all of Hollywood was jumping on board.
DuPont spared no expense. Nearly 1000 man-hours each week and eleven-and-a-half hours of rehearsal time were spent in the preparation of each half-hour production. Newspapers with a circulation of 17,500,000 carried advertisements of the program. Close to 715,000 pieces of mail were sent out weekly to stockholders, business leaders, educators, customers, and anyone else who might have an interest in the program. Variety reported in February of 1944 that the budget for Cavalcade moved from $5000 to $7000 per show exactly one year before to $11,500.
When each episode was broadcast “live” over the air from 1935 to 1953, DuPont went to the added expense of recording each of the broadcasts to transcription disc format. By the time the series picked up prestige and stars of stage and screen began making a weekly appearance, DuPont made it a tradition to cut a transcription disc for each of the lead actors and present the stars with a disc of their own.
Photos were taken (many exist today with the stars proudly holding their disc while facing the photographer) and DuPont themselves retained a disc for each and every broadcast. These discs were housed in Wilmington and shortly after the series concluded they were transported to the Hagley Library where they remain today in storage for preservation.
During the early 1980s, a private collector dealing with old-time radio contacted the archive at Hagley and asked for the opportunity to transfer the recordings to a more stable medium so patrons visiting the archive could listen to the radio broadcasts without the necessity of removing the transcription discs from the shelves.
Regrettably, a visit to the same archive in 1999 revealed a fright for any radio historian: only 500 episodes of the 780 broadcasts remained. According to an employee at Hagley, not all of the discs and/or recordings were returned. A checklist was made and more than 200 recordings were not amidst the collection. Paperwork dated 1967 verified that all 780 discs were in the archive, sparking a mystery regarding the whereabouts of the missing episodes and who or what was responsible for the disappearance?
Before we begin the elusive search for the “lost” episodes, a few statistics are in order:
(1) For anyone keeping count, there was “officially” a total of 780 radio broadcasts and 197 television broadcasts. All of the television episodes are known to exist on both 35mm and 16mm formats and since this article focuses on the radio programs we can focus on the radio program.
(2) Episode #408 titled “Jane Addams of Hull House” scheduled for November 6, 1944 was never broadcast. The same drama was performed years previous on the Cavalcade series but the time slot was sold to the National Independent Committee for Roosevelt and Truman. The election speeches, the Republican/Democratic special, also pre-empted other radio programs that evening. DuPont, however, continued numbering the scripts consecutively so the broadcast of November 13 was listed as episode #409.
I have to repeat: episode #408 was never broadcast.
While many reference guides claim 781 episodes were broadcast, 780 was the exact figure. Sadly, some collectors have taken the May 21, 1940 broadcast of the same name and assigned it the 1944 broadcast date. The 1940 version featured Helen Hayes in the title role. The 1944 version would have starred Loretta Young. Therefore, unless someone miraculously comes up with a version starring Loretta Young, the 1944 recording is considered a “holy grail” and should be dismissed. It was never broadcast and should not be counted as an episode of Cavalcade.
|Orson Welles on Cavalcade.|
Today, more than ever, collectors of old-time radio broadcasts and fans of Hollywood motion pictures have been discovering The Cavalcade of America. While broadcasts of The Lux Radio Theatre have been making their way as extras on studio commercial DVDs, The Cavalcade of America has begun sharing the same success. Scholars and fans alike are discovering how polished the audio dramatizations can be, and everyone can thank DuPont for their efforts of keeping the series alive. Without DuPont footing the bill for the electrical transcriptions we would not have as many radio broadcasts to listen to today.
The most frequent question that arises is this: If so many episodes exist today why are there still a handful missing? The answer is varied depending on which “lost” recording we are referring to.
During the 20s and 30s radio broadcasts were generally broadcast live. Very few producers took to the expense of recording or transcribing the programs on disc. No one suspected there would be a commercial value over the span of decades and so after the initial live broadcast, the scripts were dismissed and the attention of the cast, producer and script writer centered on next week’s production. According to statistics that appear in print, radio broadcasts of the 20s and 30s indicate that the ratio of lost recordings may be anywhere from 80 to 90 percent if not more.
The reasons for this dreadful statistic are numerous, but one of the most important is the unstable nature of preservation. Even when the studios shelved transcription discs in storage, it would be years later that decision-makers chose to throw the discs away to make room for new offices. Collectors throughout the 1970s and 1980s still recall fishing through dumpers in alleys for the discs, taking them home and cleaning the dust off.
Junking old transcription discs was a standard operating procedure and a perfectly reasonable business decision—if there existed a duplicate recording kept in good condition. But when the duplicate transcription is also lost, there is nothing to return to, and the recording is gone forever.
To be fair to the studios of the past, few people believed there was any lasting worth to radio recordings except for their historical value. News briefs of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Hindenburg disaster and the War of the Worlds panic broadcast were given second thoughts before the decision to throw them away was discarded. To studio heads that center their efforts on the latest programs telecast on television, radio drama was a disposable art form, enjoyed years previous, forgotten the next, in much the same way we think of a newspaper or, perhaps, a magazine. Audiences didn’t notice that these frivolous entertainments also contained a record of the times in which they were made, capturing people, places, styles, and attitudes in a truer, more vivid way than could any history book.
Saving a single recording of an endangered program is obviously important, but saving or restoring the original disc or creating a new duplicate recording from which new copies could be struck is even more vital. The condition of those transcriptions—if they exist at all—depends in large part on how popular the program was. A transcription disc for an un-circulated episode of The Shadow from 1944, for example, would generate larger interest than an episode of remote ballroom music from New York’s Waldorf Astoria from the same year.
The practice of transferring radio broadcasts from transcription discs is not as simple as playing an LP record. Use the wrong needle and you damage the disc. The raw audio has to be recorded digitally. Then software (often expensive) is used to remove some of the hiss and pops that are in the soundtrack. True preservationists insist on saving the audio on a 44.1 mhz linear .wav file (comparable to CD audio) and avoid the MP3 format. The .wav file is used to strike a restoration copy and stored in its original form so if future programs designed and offered later can improve the quality from today’s restoration techniques, the raw version can be consulted without the need of again removing the fragile discs off the shelf. The MP3 format compresses the audio file and while suitable for listeners and collections, it is often compared to a six-hour recording on a VHS video as opposed to a re-mastered commercial film on DVD.
THE LOST EPISODES
The list featured in the 1999 issue of Radiogram featured a total of 22 episodes that were not known to exist in circulation. Seventeen were not in available recorded form (hence the word “lost”) and five episodes were known to exist but remained un-circulated at Hagley. A request was placed with Hagley to have a copy of those five episodes struck but given their prior relationship with the collector who failed to return all of the recordings, the offer was declined.
Neal Ellis, host of Radio Once More heard weekly on www.RadioOnceMore.com spent the past year working with a number of archives along the East Coast to preserve what remains of The Cavalcade of America. His efforts are not in vain. Thanks to the cooperation of library archives and private collectors, Neal has begun a restoration process from original masters to ensure superb sound quality and the most complete collection anywhere.
Thanks to his efforts, four of the five episodes that existed but were formerly not available in circulation are now available: “Éluthère Irénée DuPont” (May 29, 1939), “The Lady and the Flag” (June 15, 1942), “My Wayward Patient” (April 2, 1945), “Man of Great Importance” (September 16, 1952). The only episode known to exist but still withheld from circulation is “Accent on Youth,“ broadcast March 2, 1942. With luck, that episode will become available shortly.
As for the former 17 “lost” episodes, three have become available thanks to Neal’s efforts and are now on CD and MP3 format. They are: “The Development of Band Music in America: The Concert Band Comes Into Its Own” (August 12, 1936), “The Development of Band Music in America: Introducing the Instruments” (August 19, 1936), “Modern American Orchestral Music” (September 9, 1936).
What now remains are 14 “lost” episodes with details provided below.
Lost Episode #1: “The Story of Rubber.” Broadcast November 18, 1936. Announcer Frank Singiser. Commercial Announcer Craig Stevens. Written for Cavalcade by Lawrence Hammond. Produced by Arthur Pryor and directed by Kenneth Webb. Music composed by Donald Voorhees conducting his Orchestra.
Plot: This episode documents Charles Goodyear who, in 1832, began experimenting with a crude form of rubber called India Rubber in an attempt to find a way to make the substance useful for manufacturing.
Lost Episode #2: “The Cavalcade of Music.” Broadcast August 11, 1937. Soprano Francia White. Announcer Frank Singiser. Script first written July 22, 1937 and revised on August 10, 1937. Produced and directed by Kenneth Webb. Music composed by Donald Voorhees conducting his Orchestra.
Plot: Subtitled “Jerome Kern’s Music,” this was part six of a 12-part summer series dramatizing the history of American musicians and their compositions. Some of the songs featured were “Old Man River,” “Till the Clouds Roll By,” “Good Morning Dearie,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” and “Can I Forget You.”
Lost Episode #3: “The Pathfinder.” Broadcast January 26, 1938. Announcer Frank Singiser. Commercial Announcer Dwight Weist. Written for Cavalcade by John Driscoll. Script first written on August 31, 1937 and revisions were made on January 3, 11 and 25, 1938. Produced by Arthur Pryor and directed by Kenneth Webb. Music composed by Donald Voorhees conducting his Orchestra. The opening overture was “My Little Gray Home in the West.”
Plot: The drama for this episode was about John C. Fremont, geologist, botanist and topographer, who combined the technical knowledge with his daring as a pioneer in the western wilderness.
Lost Episode #4: “Dear Brutus.” Broadcast March 16, 1942. Cast: Fredric March (Dearth), Karl Swenson (Matey), John McIntire (Mr. Coade), Jeanette Nolan (Mrs. Coade), Charita Bauer (Margaret), and Betty Garde (Alice). Narrator Kenny Delmar. Announcer Clayton Collyer. Produced and directed by Homer Fickett. Music composed by Donald Voorhees conducting his Orchestra.
Plot: Next to Peter Pan, Dear Brutus is the most beloved of all the plays written by Sir James Matthew Barrie. The radio script was adapted for Cavalcade by Robert Tallman (who wrote for The Whistler and Suspense). For trivia buffs, real-life husband and wife John McIntire and Jeanette Nolan played a married couple in this episode.
Lost Episode #5: “The Silent Heart.” Broadcast on March 30, 1942. Cast: Ingrid Bergman (Jenny Lind), Karl Swenson (Joseph), Bill Johnstone (Otto), Betty Garde (Anna), Ed Jerome (Webster), Ted Jewett (the voice), John McIntire (P.T.) and Edgar Vincent (the sailor). Announcer Kenny Delmar. Based on unpublished research by Carl Carmer; written for Cavalcade by Norman Rosten. The production credits are the same as the above episode.
Plot: This episode featured the Ken Christie singers. Elizabeth Mulliner sang Bergman’s role of Jenny Lind, singing the 1813 song “Last Rose of Summer.” Best remembered as the Swedish nightingale, this episode told the story of Jenny Lind and her debut at the Old Castle Garden on the Battery in New York.
Lost Episode #6: “This Side of Hades.” Broadcast on April 27, 1942. Cast: Loretta Young (Molly Pitcher), Ed Jerome (Irvine), Betty Garde (Beulah), Bill Johnstone (the sentry), Paul Stewart (Smith), Bill Pringle (the Captain), Ted Jewett (the Colonel), John McIntire (George Washington) and Jeanette Nolan (Mrs. Irvine). Announcer Clayton Collyer. Based on research by Carl Carmer; written for Cavalcade by Robert Tallman. Produced and directed by Homer Fickett. Music by Donald Voorhees conducting his orchestra.
Plot: True story of Molly Pitcher, who ran back and forth from the front lines to a distant well with her pitcher of water during the American Civil War. Then one day her husband fell exhausted by his cannon, and Molly came to the rescue.
Lost Episode #7: “Clara Barton.” Broadcast on June 1, 1942. Cast: Madeleine Carroll (Clara Barton), Bill Pringle (Senator Z.), Everett Sloane (Jim), John McIntire (Wilson), Jeanette Nolan (Ann), Paul Stewart (Hay), Ed Jerome (Senator Y) and Ted Jewett (the orderly). Announcer Kenny Delmar. Production credits same as the above episode.
Plot: Clara Barton not only founded the American Red Cross but also spent four years after the Civil War directing an extensive search for missing soldiers.
Lost Episode #8: “Man of Iron.” Broadcast on July 13, 1942. Cast: Dean Jagger (Lt. Worden), Bill Johnstone (Greene), Ian Martin (the attache), Paul Stewart (the helmsman), Arnold Moss (Fox), Arlene Francis (Olivia), Ed Jerome (Abe Lincoln) and Karl Swenson (Stanton). Announcer Clayton Collyer. Written for Cavalcade by Robert L. Richards and Robert Tallman. Produced and directed by Homer Fickett. Music by Donald Voorhees conducting his Orchestra.
Plot: John Ericsson came forward to build, in the incredibly short period of one hundred days, a vessel that would destroy the new menace called the Merrimac. His “cheesebox on a raft” introduced a basic new principle of naval warfare to the world.
Lost Episode #9: “Theodore Roosevelt, Man of Action.” Broadcast on August 17, 1942. Cast: Edward Arnold (Roosevelt). Written for Cavalcade by Robert L. Richards and Robert Tallman. Production credits are the same as the above episode.
Plot: This presents the life of Roosevelt, the man who charged up San Juan Hill, won the vice- presidency in the election of 1900, and became president a year later when McKinley died at the hand of an assassin. The original title of this script was “The Big Stick,” referring to the old proverb, “walk softly and carry a big stick.” By the time the final draft of this script came into being the title was changed to the above. One small historical mistake occurred during this drama. McKinley was assassinated by three bullets (provided by sound man Al Scott). When listeners heard this, they began writing to DuPont, commenting that McKinley was assassinated by two bullets, not three. And the listeners were correct!
Lost Episode #10: “The Road to Victory.” Broadcast December 7, 1942. Narrator Carl Sandburg. Announcer Clayton Collyer. Based on numerous works by Sandburg, and adapted for Cavalcade by Norman Rosten. Produced and directed by Homer Fickett. Music composed by Ardon Cornwell and conducted by Donald Voorhees.
Plot: A vocal number is sung by the Delta Rhythm Boys. This episode was a one-year anniversary of Pearl Harbor with Sandburg describing his meetings with Americans from all walks of life, and paused to celebrate the road builders and those traveling along that road. Radio actors often played more than one role in the same drama, a common practice for creating the illusion of a crowd, or filling in for simple one-line remarks such as a conductor calling “All Aboard,” or a passerby saying “hello.” To note, this episode featured the largest cast of characters than any other Cavalcade broadcast. Seventy-three characters were featured and all of the roles were played by a little more than a dozen actors!
Lost Episode #11: “Sing a War Song.” Broadcast on May 29, 1944. Stars Kay Armen in a musical war-time presentation. Narrator Deems Taylor. Announcer Roland Winters. Commercial Announcer Ted Pearson. Written for Cavalcade by Peter Lyon. Produced and directed by Jack Zoller. Music for this program was under the direction of Donald Voorhees and his orchestra of twenty-eight men, Ray Block and a chorus of twenty-four voices and the Golden Gate Quartet. Donald Bryan directed the musical scores. Songs featured were “Elmer’s Tune,” “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” “Rosie the Riveter,” “Don’t Forget to Say No, Baby,” “This is the Army, Mr. Jones,” “One More Mile to Go,” “One Little Wac,” “Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet,” and “When the Yanks Go Marching In.”
Lost Episode #12: “Pink Lace.” Broadcast on February 28, 1949. Cast: Janet Blair (Pauline Cushman) and Staats Cotsworth (McNairy). Announcer Ted Pearson. Commercial Announcer Bill Hamilton. Written for Cavalcade by Virginia Radcliffe. Produced and directed by Jack Zoller. Music composed by Ardon Cornwell and conducted by Donald Bryan.
Plot: During the War between the States, actress Pauline Cushman openly declared herself for the South thereby enabling her to move around gathering information as a female spy. This episode actually has two titles. The official script title was “Pink Lace,” but beforehand it was titled “The Girl in the Pink Lace.” At the beginning of the broadcast Ted Pearson announced the drama as “The Girl in the Pink Lace,” even though the official script title says otherwise. Madeline Carroll was originally slated to play the role of Pauline Cushman, but for reasons unknown she was unable to attend. Janet Blair became her replacement.
Lost Episode #13: “Letter From Europe.” Broadcast on March 21, 1949. Cast: Charles Boyer (Albert Gallatin), Barbara Weeks (Hannah), Ethel Owen (Mrs. Harwood), Scott Tennyson (Janney), House Jameson (Thomas Jefferson), Robert Dryden (voice one), Alan Hewitt (the chairman); Arnold Moss (John Adams) and Joseph Bell (the Massachusetts man). Written for Cavalcade by Russell Hughes. Production credits are the same as above.
Plot: In 1798, when war with France seemed inevitable, a small group of men marshaled themselves against it. Among them was the European-born Albert Gallatin. He won his fight and later became Secretary of the Treasury under President Jefferson.
Lost Episode #14: “Never Marry a Ranger.” Broadcast on May 9, 1950. Cast: Martha Scott (Roberta McConnell), Donnie Harris (Scott), Nelson Case (Mr. McConnell), Joseph Bell (the boss), Robin Morgan (Cissie), George Petrie (the volunteer), Cameron Andrews (Old Pete), Joe Latham (Oley), Rica Martens (the woman), Clifford Tatum, Jr. (the baby cry) and Carl Eastman (the radio voice). Announcer Ted Pearson. Commercial Announcer Bill Hamilton. Written for Cavalcade by Virginia Radcliffe as adapted from the book of the same title by Roberta McConnell as originally published by Prentice-Hall in 1950. Produced by Roger Pryor and Directed by Jack Zoller. Music composed by Roger Pryor and conducted by Donald Voorhees.
Plot: Story of the Forest Ranger station on Callina Crib in the Utah mountains and how Roberta, the wife of a Forest Ranger, has to contend with her husband’s job and the life that accompanied it. When a forest fire broke out one day, it was Roberta who saved the day and then realized the importance of her husband’s job.
Compare your collection with the list above. If you believe you have any of these lost recordings, please drop a note so it can be verified. Because the MP3 market is flooded with supposed “lost” episodes (pre-existing recordings re-assigned titles and broadcast dates), a copy of the lost episode would need to be verified. I purchased half a dozen MP3s during the past two years claiming to have at least one “lost” episode and not one of them were legit in their claims. Should you wish to forward a copy of the recording to Neal Ellis for verification, his web-site is www.oldtimeradioonmp3.com. Further details about The Cavalcade of America can be found in the 480-page book, The History of the Cavalcade of America (Morris Publishing, 1998).