Saturday, March 07, 2015

Radio Greats: Stranger in Town (The Family Theater)

Many of the great programs of the Golden Age of Radio have their distinctive characteristics, but The Family Theater is unique even among the most unique. Broadcast on the Mutual Broadcasting System, it had no commercial sponsor at all, and yet it ran for ten years and managed to pull in some of the best actors and actresses of the day. The writing is also excellent -- they do a brilliant mix of serious and funny.

It was also an explicitly religious program. While there were lots of religious programs on radio, some of which were significant -- one of them, Unshackled!, is the only Golden Age program still running -- none of them had the significance of The Family Theater, which was the religious program almost everyone would have at least known about. Part of the reason is in the name: it was a program designed for the family to gather around to hear, and it did very well at providing material for that demographic. And its influence was considerable. It was, for instance, The Family Theater that popularized the saying, "The family that prays together, stays together."

The Family Theater was the brainchild of Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., commonly known as The Rosary Priest because of his Rosary Crusades designed to promote praying the Rosary. Fr. Peyton had quite a knack for media; he is easily one of the most significant figures in mass media in the mid-twentieth century.

There are lots of excellent of episodes of The Family Theater -- they did such a wide range stories, everything from The Little Prince to serial dramas to humorous little stand-alones to historicals to Moby Dick that you can find good versions of almost any kind of story you might like. It would be hard to choose a best one. The one I've selected out for this post is the one I've heard most recently. It is a quirky little stand-alone, an idea piece; it builds slowly but cleverly to a double punchline, one serious and one joking. There's not much action, but the interaction between the main characters, Danny (played by Raymond Burr, best known for his television role as Perry Mason) and Eve (played by Virginia Gregg, one of the greatest radio actresses of all time), is charming and interesting -- you never know the next direction it will go. The host is Eleanor Powell, who had been an extremely popular actress in the 1930s.

You can listen to "Stranger in Town" at My Old Radio.

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