That Sarong Way to Do It, Ms. Lamour; or, When Sound Leaves a Bad Taste in Your Eyes

Well, it was time to close the first broadcastellan poll. The question I asked was: “If you had to give up one of your five senses, which one would it be?” Here are the results (25 votes): Sight (12% / 3 votes); Hearing (12% / 3 votes); Touch (4% / 1 vote); Smell (40% / 10 votes); and Taste (16% / 4 votes). Since I always insist on the opportunity to question a question, rather than accepting it outright, I added the (to me) facetious “So what, I’ve got a sixth sense,” a way out taken four times (16% / 4 votes). As I said before, I chose to give up my sense of vision; but last night, when it came to choosing an anniversary to go on about, I was reminded of the havoc the sound of a voice can wreak on a vision of beauty. Dorothy Lamour’s, for instance.

On this day, 28 October, in 1948, Ms. Lamour was heard as host and star of the Sealtest Variety Theater, chatting with Jack Carson, singing a few chirpy tunes, and camping it up with Boris Karloff in a pre-Halloween sketch. Only a few days earlier, Karloff had been given a chance to prove his versatility to the American radio audience by playing the lead in an NBC University Theatre adaptation of H. G. Wells’s comic novel The History of Mr. Polly. Now he found himself reduced once more to parodying his monster image, even though his avuncular voice was not the least bit intimidating. Nor, for that matter, did the famous lady in the sarong sound to me anything like her screen image.

Coming across as an efficiently cheerful salesperson or a routine-hardened night club performer putting on a pair of comfortable shoes while waiting in line to cash her paycheck, Lamour did not get her timbre into temptress mode and, aside from a few charming if not always genuine laughs, made few efforts to enhance a clunky script littered with more or less appalling gags. Her voice sure took the G out of Glamour that night.

The “sarong formula” (mocked above in a 1942 Movie-Radio Guide cartoon by Jimmy Caborn), did not work on the air. Some screen sirens or Hollywood hunks are decidedly less rousing when forced to rely solely on their vocal chords to make us swoon or convince us to buy whatever product the radio show in which they starred was peddling.

Such a smelly chestnut of a radio show should overwhelm the sense of nostalgia lingering in anyone’s nostrils, I thought, and aired my listening disappointment in a new poll. Say, when would you rather be, if not today?

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