Monday, October 13, 2014

Radio Greats: Columbus Day Play (Life with Luigi)

Life with Luigi ran on the radio from late 1948 to early 1953. It also was transferred to television, but failed there -- the first attempt failed due to a dispute with sponsors (it was getting relatively high ratings, but General Foods claimed it was subversive because it poked fun of the complications of corporate bureaucracies), and the second attempt failed to keep fans. During its run, however, it was one of the more popular radio sitcoms.

It generally manages to be quite funny despite the fact that it is extremely formulaic. It specializes in running gags (radio comedy often did, but Life with Luigi has tons and tons of them), the same jokes over and over in different situations. Part of its success is the acting, which makes the characters very likable; the actors were some of the best comic actors in radio. And making the audience like the characters is the secret to running gags. If you like them, you would be disappointed if Pasquale didn't try to turn Luigi's problem of the day into an attempt to force Luigi to marry Pasquale's daughter Rosa, and you equally want Luigi somehow to manage to avoid it by the end.

The series is about the life of Italian immigrant Luigi Basco (played by an Irish-American actor, J. Carrol Naish, one of the most widely recognized actors of his day) as Luigi attempts to navigate American society. The frame for every episode is Luigi writing his mother in Italy and enthusiastically telling her about America. He attends night classes with a number of other immigrants, is constantly getting entangled with his fellow Italian immigrant, Pasquale, and in each episode finds his faith in the American way of life reaffirmed -- although sometimes during the episode it is shaken for a while.

In "Columbus Day Play", Luigi is, as one might expect, put in charge of the Columbus Day play, which he is very proud to do, being Italian himself. But things never go quite right with Luigi, and he ends up having to improvise when he loses the script....

You can listen to "Columbus Day Play" online thanks to Old Time Radio Comedy Time. It is also available as episode 56 at My Old Radio.

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