Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Super Spies and Regular Guys

I don't know that single women went out by themselves in 1945. But if they did, their evening may have gone something like mine did.

It began with dinner at a lunch counter, Garnett's to be precise, because it's the kind of wholesome place even a single gal could have gone to alone, knowing it wouldn't break the bank or put her in contact with an unsavory character. The kind of place you expect to see pie stands on the counter.

There, I sat at the counter next a table with a couple on a date, probably their first. I say this because they politely and formally shared stories of their lives with each other as they ate.

Telling her about a party he went to, he bragged that there was free booze and he got a little wild. "But I don't usually drink much," he finished in a rush as if it had just occurred to him that she might not be looking for a wild one.

Me, I was just looking for a farmer's salad piled high with bacon and apples and a chance to finish reading today's Washington Post while the Avett Brothers played in the background. They'd sold out of my favorite chocolate/coconut cake at lunch, so I went without dessert, probably a good thing after my weekend of non-stop eating with my sisters.

From there I trekked to the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen for tonight's production by the On the Air Radio Players, appropriately titled "Noir-vember."

Walking into the lobby, I noticed the scene had been set with old detective film posters such as a French one for "The Maltese Falcon" and another for "This Gun for Hire" starring the sultry Veronica Lake. Inside the theater, music of the early 20th century played.

Since I've been to these radio plays before, the first thing I noticed was that the sound effects table had been moved to the back of the stage from the side, a shame since it was harder for me to watch the fun as  they walked shoes, knocked on doors and jingled keys. I'm sure they had a good reason.

Four microphones were set up for the ten actors and four for the sound effects team with the keyboardist off to our right. I was fourth row center with a terrific view of it all.

I noticed a guy setting up a camera and soon spotted the vertically superior Mark Holmberg with him, no doubt inspired to do a piece on OTARP after seeing the one in Style Weekly (penned by this blog's heroine). Or not.

When the actors came onstage, many were in '40s garb with women in hats and men in trench coats. The announcer encouraged us to laugh, cry and have a great time and the show began with the applause light coming on and the audience responding accordingly.

The first play was "The Saint: The High Fence," first aired on CBS in June 1945 and it was appropriately sponsored by Tan Man trench coats ("Trench coats for the super spy or the regular guy") with a trio of women singing the Tan Man jingle for us.

Nothing says man of mystery like a Tan Man raincoat.

Not that I don't enjoy a good mystery story, but a big part of the appeal of a 70-year old radio play is the language. When's the last time you used slug (not the slimy kind), pigeon (not the disgusting city bird) or throttle (the car part not the verb)? See what I'm saying?

Or when's the last time a man said to a woman, "You should caution your friend in her choice of haberdashery," like the Saint did to his girlfriend Pat? Oh, I don't know, never?

Speaking of the character Pat, every time the Saint mentioned kissing her, she'd rise up on tiptoe and lift one leg fetchingly behind her. Very cute.

No surprise, the Saint recovered the $27,650 worth of stolen diamonds and the announcer said, "The Saint solved another one!" No doubt because he wore a Tan Man raincoat, I might add.

You really have to experience a radio play to fully appreciate how actors with scripts in hand and sound technicians with a host of items that make noise can make you "see" things that aren't actually being shown.

After a round of applause, we went right into "The Adventures of Sam Spade: The Hot 100 Grand Caper" from 1948.

It had the distinction of being sponsored by Wildroot Cream Oil Hair Tonic (with lanolin!), the choice of men who put good grooming first. Do we still have those kind of men? I don't think they were referring to metro-sexuals in 1948.

The story was about a woman whose husband is being blackmailed so she engages Sam Spade to find out what's going on. You see, he's been going out a lot at night and that's not like him. "Only desperation could induce him to leave the house after dark!" Fortunately, I have no similar compunction.

It took some gambling on the wife's dime and sacrificing her car so he wouldn't get shot, but Sam managed to make everything better by the end.

How much better? Well, the plan to celebrate consisted of staying up late to raid the icebox.

Ah, the simple pleasures of the 1940s. Dinner at a lunch counter and a radio play of detective stories, complete with sound effects and music.

I've got the staying up late part nailed. Now if only my refrigerator was worth raiding...

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