Wireless Women, Clueless Men: Bernadine Flynn, "Small House" Keeper

ANNOUNCER: Well, sir, it is the middle of the afternoon as we enter the small house half-way up in the Welsh hills. In the conservatory we find our friend Dr. Harry Heuser in less than scholarly pursuits as he stares out of the windows to witness the birth of the first lamb of the season. He has taken a few pictures and now picks up the phone to relate the news to his pal in the old country. Listen!

Okay, you won’t get to listen. As you may have gathered from the above imitation, I was determined to keep the old-time radio comedy Vic and Sade—but especially Sade—in my ear and on my mind this afternoon when I got distracted by the opening of an outdoors birthing center just beyond the hedge.

Being an old urbanite, the opportunity of witnessing the spectacle of a lamb being born in full view is something too fascinating to pass up. I seem to be averting my eyes too often as it is, you might think, as I rarely mention the headlines of the day, be it the rise of cartoon riots or the spread of avian flu, Holocaust denier trials or Winter Olympics scandals. Indeed, I generally have such strong opinions that it is not always easy to refrain from speaking up. Ish!

The privilege of this online journal, as I see it, is not so much to go on indiscriminately about anything, but to show the restraint that is the requisite of all artistic expression. Rather than the illusion of being altogether ungoverned, art is the reality of adhering chiefly to our own rules. So, let’s go visit Mrs. Victor Gook, shall we?

As imagined by radio writer Paul Rhymer and brought to life by former stage actress Bernadine Flynn (pictured), Sade Gook was neither a desperate housewife nor a dainty one. She was her husband’s equal, and sometimes his superior. She got along well with her adopted son, Rush, but did not always find it easy to keep her cool when confronted with the antics and outrageous anecdotes of her visiting Uncle Fletcher.

Rhymer’s imaginary small house was only occupied by those four characters; and sometimes Sade was left all to herself (something she relished, rather than dreaded). Through their exchanges and their one-sided telephone chats with others, however, listeners got to hear about a lot of different folks. Indeed, these talked-about or talked-to personages are so frequently mentioned and vividly described by Sade, Vic, Rush, and Uncle Fletcher that you might sense having heard them after all.

When the men of the menage are gone, Sade Gook enjoys settling down at last to one of her telephonic exchanges with confidante Ruthie Stembottom; never heard, always there. Unlike Uncle Fletcher’s outlandish acquaintances, recalled from the past or made up for the sole purpose of yarnspinning, Mrs. Stembottom is decidedly real.

Rhymer’s writing and Flynn’s well-timed monologue make it so. Yet, by not being imaged forth through voice, she becomes, by extension, our imaginary friend. We know her because we are her genetrix, giving birth to her in our minds.

The noisy men in Sade’s life are about to leave now. Once again we are being teased with a bit of intimacy; but, as in this conclusion to one of Rhymer’s scripts, little more than Sade’s satisfaction is conveyed. Let’s listen in as she cherishes the momentary stillness—by talking, of course:

VIC and RUSH. Telephone is ringing, telephone is ringing. 

SADE. I’ll get it. 

FLETCHER. (off a ways) Good-bye. 

SADE. Good-bye, Uncle Fletcher. So long, fellas. 

VIC. (moving off) So long, kiddo. 

RUSH. (moving off) So long, Mom. 

SADE. [into the imaginary telephone receiver] Hello? (warmly) Oh, yes, lady. Why, bless your old sweet heart, you did call back. (giggles affectionately) Gee, lady, I still haven’t got anything to say. It was just such a still quiet lonesome afternoon I felt like I had to talk to somebody. Isn’t it quiet though. Person runs into quiet afternoons like this every so often. Yes. (giggles) Well . . . quietness is nice sometimes. Gollies . . . I don’t think I’ve spoken to a soul all day. No. (and then briskly) Who had an operation, Ruthie? Mis’ McFreemer? Which Mis’ McFreemer? The one on South Morris Avenue or the one on West Monroe Street?

ANNOUNCER. Which concludes another interlude . . . at the small house half-way up in the Welsh hills.

4 Replies to “Wireless Women, Clueless Men: Bernadine Flynn, "Small House" Keeper”

  1. Pretty much, Doug, although sheep didn\’t feature prominently in my dissertation. I\’m being more casual and personal here (I didn\’t use the first person singular pronoun once in Etherized) and am enjoying the serialization a journal like this allows and encourages.

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  2. Well, you know, many rather smirk at Mr. Keen than appreciate the smart things that aired back then for the keen-eared. Luckily, I was introduced to Vic and Sade listening to Max Schmid\’s \”Golden Age of Radio\” on WBAI, New York. Preparing for this entry, I laughed out loud when I heard Franklin McMahon recall some of the odd names of Rhymer\’s many off-mike characters.

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