Well, I neither know nor care whether it is still considered a gaffe in some circles, but this was the kind of post-Labor Day that makes me want to wear white, or less. Mind you, I was just lounging in our garden, a rare enough treat this year. I am not among those who look toward fall as a fresh and colorful season, marked and marred by decay as it is. In New York City, my former home, September and October come as a relief from the stifling heat, a cooling down for which there is generally no need here in temperate and meteorologically temperamental Wales. Pop culturally speaking, to be sure, autumn is a time of renewal. In the US, at least, there is the fall lineup to look forward to as the end of an arid stretch in which fillers and (starting in the late 1940s) repeats convinced folks of the pleasures to be had outdoors.
No doubt, the producers of the Peabody Award-winning Lux Radio Theater were trying to stress this sense of a vernal rebirth when it opened its tenth season on this day, 4 September, back in 1944. Here is how host Cecil B. DeMille welcomed back the audience to what then was, statistically speaking, the greatest dramatic show on radio:
Greetings from Hollywood, ladies and gentlemen. At every opening night in the theater, for a thousand years, there’s been a breathless feeling of expectancy, a sense of new adventure. And tonight, as the light to on again in our Lux Radio Theater, there’s the added thrill of knowing that the lights are going on all over the world. With the liberation of France, the torch of Freedom burns again in Europe, and tonight we have a play that expresses something of the bond between song-loving America and music-loving Paris. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s screen hit Maytime, with Sigmund Romberg’s unforgettable music, and for our stars, those all-American favorites, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.
Leave it to the spokesperson of Lever Brothers (last spotted here with the Lord of toilet soaps) and the continuity writers in their employ, to link historical events of such magnitude as D-Day, the establishment of a French provisional government and its relocation from Algiers to Paris a few days prior to the broadcast with an escapist trifle like Maytime (1937), which, as Connie Billips and Arthur Pierce pointed out in Lux Presents Hollywood, bears little musical resemblance to Romberg’s original operetta, begot in the dark days of the Europe of 1917, before the US entered the first World War.
Commercial interests were anxious to reclaim the airwaves, after a period of restraint that we living in the 21st century have not witnessed since the attack on the World Trade Center back in September 2001. During his curtain call with co-star MacDonald (whose 1930 effort The Lottery Bride was released on DVD today), the aforementioned Mr. Eddy was further making “light” of the situation in the European war theater by plugging his new radio program. By expressing that “the lights were going on again all over the world,” Nelson remarked as he dutifully read from his script, DeMille had put him “on the spot.” After all, his sponsors were “160 leading electric light and power companies.” Houselights, please!