Wireless Women, Clueless Men: Ann Sothern, Multimediated Minx

Well, this is one of those days when it is best to give the old peepers a rest. The wintry sky is of that dull hue your bleached undies acquire if you’ve been too careless again to sort your laundry. There is little comfort in the fact that the pale face staring at you in the mirror is of a similarly drab shade and that, even though the days are short, it’s too early yet for that warming glass of brandy. You realize that the word of the day over at Waking Ambrose, with whose creator you exchanged a few e-messages earlier, is “tedium,” and that your current mood fits that description so well that you refrain from adding your definition: “The abundance of life wasted on a barren imagination.”

Okay, snap out of it and perk up already. How about a generous helping of lip from someone perennially pert? Someone who’s got verve and nerve enough to be unfazed by whatever it is that daunts you. Whether you’d like to be with her or—what the heck—be her, you know just the dame. You’ve been reminded of her only last night, watching Desperate Housewives and thinking how much that series borrows from A Letter to Three Wives, a voice-over narrated film comedy starring . . . Ann Sothern (pictures above, in another artistic misfire by yours truly). Yes, it’s a little Sothern comfort you crave. So, quit whining, close your bloodshot eyes and let some sass waft your way by listening to The Adventures of Maisie.

As Maisie, Sothern was a siren whose tongue launched a thousand quips—and lashed the hopes of many an ill-suited suitor. Each episode of her syndicated radio show—an aural continuation of MGM B-movies like Maisie, Congo Maisie, Swing Shift Maisie and Undercover Maisie—begins with a wolf call, a “Hi ya, babe, say how about a . . .” from an oversexed admirer, a slap, the “Ouch” of a bruised ego, and the triumphant reply “Does that answer your question, buddy?”

Maisie knows all the answers, right and wrong. She doesn’t even let the announcer have the last word when introducing her adventures: “Yup, I’m Maisie, like the man said. Maisie Revere. I was born in Brooklyn in nineteen hundred and . . . well, I was born in Brooklyn.” That’s enough by way of introduction.

At this point, Maisie goes straight into the retelling of her latest exploits, a dramatized story from the annals of her incident-riddled and peripatetic existence. “I’m in show business. A very fascinating business to be in,” she scoffed, “because you meet so many interesting people who are also out of work.” She always found herself “out of work in the darndest places”; and whether mingling with the hoi polloi or the hoity-toity, whether finding jobs out west or in London salon modelling gowns for “one of them stuffy titled dames,” she was never quite at home but far from lost anywhere.

Long before she became American television viewers’ Private Secretary, the voice of My Mother the Car, or that desperate female who left the Lady in a Cage, wisecracking Sothern was the last word in high-polished brass. With a sultry broadcast voice that only Natalie Masters as Candy Matson could rival, she had you in her dark corner from the start, no matter how many slaps you’d receive from a former title-holder like Ringside Maisie. Give her a listen, won’t you? She just might respond to your introduction with an inviting “Likewise, I’m sure.”

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