November 21, 2012

Karloff on the Radio

The Monster steps up to the microphone in this cartoon illustration by Vernon Lind displayed large and very prominently in The Pittsburgh Press’ Radio News and Gossip section of January 15, 1939. Caption: “Boris Karloff will try to scare Eddie Cantor and his Mad Russian, Monday night, which is some undertaking even for Frankenstein...”

Artist Lind’s barrel-cheated Monster, with tiny head, big boots and dangling hands prefigures Dick Briefer’s “Merry Monster” from the 40s.

Boris Karloff enjoyed a prolific career on radio, performing drama and guesting on quiz shows and many comedy and variety programs. This appearance on Camel Cavalcade, broadcast out of Hollywood on CBS stations at 7:30 EST, January 16, 1939, came just 3 days after Son of Frankenstein’s Friday the 13th release.

Guest host Eddie Cantor, an energetic songster and comic, filled the show’s brisk 30-minutes with upbeat songs and patter with announcer Bert Parks — who slips in a couple of Camel cigarette commercials — and comic “foils" Sydney ‘Mister Guffy’ Fields and Bert ‘The Mad Russian’ Gordon. Karloff is introduced thirteen and a half minutes into the half-hour show. Unfortunately, the show is lost, but a script survives.

Ladies and Gentlemen,” Cantor announces, “You are about to hear the voice of the man whose tones chill the marrow of your bones… A man whose actions are much more frightening than even thunder and lightning… The gruesome guy who makes you jump in bed and pull the covers over your head… The Monster Man in person… Boris Karloff!

Karloff banters with Cantor, playing off his “boogie man” reputation…

KARLOFF: Come to my house tonight… At midnight I’m having a few friends-- Bela Lugosi --
CANTOR: Dracula --
KARLOFF: Peter Lorre --
CANTOR: The guy with the eyes and no body?
KARLOFF: Yes – and the Invisible Man… We’ll turn out all the lights and tell ghost stories!

Later on, when Cantor says Karloff is “really a home-loving man”, Karloff says, “I have a very lovely wife – and just of late I became father of a baby.” Karloff is referring to Sara Jane, born on his birthday, November 23.

As the show races to a finish, the cast does a quick courtroom sketch with Karloff as defendant, forced to admit murder just to stop The Mad Russian from telling any more bad jokes. Cantor plugs Son of Frankenstein a couple of times and wraps up with a pitch for the March of Dimes, a term he had coined for his favorite charity.

It’s a shame this show is lost, but another Cantor and Karloff show survives, from December 1941, and it gives a good idea of how the two men worked together, alternating as each other’s straight man and both landing some good punch lines. Listen to the Christmastime Time To Smile show as an audio file on YouTube

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