Is That a Barrymore Behind the Mike?

Well, it isn’t C. B. DeMille, folks. Those tuning in to the Lux Radio Theater on this day, 30 November, back in 1936, were in for a surprise. DeMille, host and nominal producer of the program, briefly addressed the audience from New York, rather than uttering his customary “Greetings from Hollywood.” For the “first time” since taking on his role, he was going to “join the Lux Radio Theater‘s legion of listeners” instead. There was just enough time for him to mention his latest picture, The Plainsman, which he was currently previewing coast to coast, and to announce his substitute:

The show you and I are about to hear has been prepared by one who is certainly on speaking terms with our microphone: Lionel Barrymore. To one so familiar, and so beloved, the mention of his name is the most glowing introduction I could give.

Barrymore was on hand to ring down the sonic curtain and narrate “Polly of the Circus,” a sentimental comedy starring Loretta Young in the role played on screen by the all too infrequently mentioned Marion Davies (whose Lux anniversary yesterday, the 1937 production of “Peg o’ My Heart” I neglected to acknowledge). Barrymore assured the audience that he did not intend to take the place of the celebrated director:

That, as you and I both know, is something no one could do. I am here, anyway, highly flattered and slightly uneasy, hoping to keep things in order until Miss DeMille, er, Mr. DeMille resumes the reins next week.

The busiest of the Barrymores in broadcasting had no reason to be coy or ill at ease. He had previously been heard on the program and, beginning in 1942, would delight listeners as star of his own dramatic radio series, The Mayor of the Town. Dr. Kildare went on the air in 1950. Subsequently, he served as host of the drama anthology Hallmark Playhouse. Now, the producers and sponsors of a live show like Lux may very well have felt uneasy to let go of their star voice for the first time. The show had to go on.

Exactly five years later, on 30 November 1941, the producers of Behind the Mike suggested an answer. On that program, dedicated to the broadcasting industry and its players, listeners once again heard Barrymore . . . but the voice was that of impersonator Arthur Boran, who also offered his best Eddie Cantor. Which makes me wonder: just how many of those famous voices on the air are mere vocal illusions?

My own voice will be heard less frequently on broadcastellan next month, as I am going to pay return visits to New York and London, from which locations I shall only occasionally file my reports. Sorry, no Barrymores.

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