Lux Radio Theater: Alternative Disneyby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
What if Walt Disney had never lost the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit so Mickey Mouse was never created? What if Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Disneyland were the big foolish flops that had been predicted? What if Walt Disney had not died in 1966?
What if actor John Carradine had provided the voice for Captain Hook (and Mr. Darling) in the animated classic Peter Pan? What if actor James Mason portrayed the pirate Long John Silver in Disney's first live-action feature Treasure Island?
What if the voice of Minnie Mouse supplied the voice for Snow White? What if Theodore J. Mooney from The Lucy Show was a major character in Disney's version of Alice in Wonderland?
Actually, we do have an opportunity to glimpse a different but Disney-approved alternative version of some of the classic Disney movies. All of these, and more, actually happened, thanks to the magic of radio—and it was all approved by Walt.
"Lux Presents Hollywood" was the opening line from one of the most popular dramatic anthology series on radio that was broadcast for approximately 20 years. The Lux Radio Theater was sponsored by Lever Brothers, makers of Lux Soap. Other soap manufacturers were sponsoring radio serial dramas that were dubbed "Soap Operas."
In total, 926 episodes of the Lux Radio Theatre were made. The show was considered one of the most prestigious broadcasts during the Golden Age of Radio and there were five adaptations of Disney feature films.
The weekly show began in New York featuring one-hour versions of Broadway plays. When it moved to Hollywood in 1936, film producer and director Cecil B. DeMille took over as host and the adaptations shifted to current theatrical movies.
Hollywood stars performed one-hour versions of their biggest motion pictures live with no retakes but with roughly five days of rehearsal, more than any other radio show.
Most often the original stars appeared in the adaptations, but sometimes contract issues or scheduling difficulties resulted in other stars taking on the roles, resulting in some interesting variations.
For Casablanca, Alan Ladd played Rick and Hedy Lamarr was Ilsa. For The Maltese Falcon, Edward G. Robinson played Sam Spade and Laird Cregar did Sydney Greenstreet's role of Gutman. For Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Cary Grant took over the part played in the movie by Robert Montgomery.
However, for the most part most of the original film cast usually appeared in the shows. John Payne, Maureen O'Hara, Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn were in Miracle on 34th Street, while Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly were in Anchors Aweigh. Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur were in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.
In those days, once a local movie theater stopped showing a film, audiences could not see it again unless it was re-released by the studio, which only happened with movies that had been big hits. In those days, movie studios were churning out dozens of new films every year. With the Lux Radio Theater, fans could once again enjoy a favorite film often with the original cast even if it were trimmed to just one hour.
Movie studios licensed the radio rights for a minimal fee, but often for gratis in order to get a free advertisement for an upcoming film and to keep their contracted stars in the spotlight.
The productions were performed live in front of an audience of 1,000 people who fought aggressively for the free tickets (and a listening audience estimated at around 30 million people) and a chance to see their favorite movie stars in person. The shows featured a full orchestra and, in the case of musicals, included excerpts from the songs.
For the 1938 broadcast of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the 1940 adaptation of Pinocchio, Walt Disney did not want to destroy any illusions, so these episodes had no studio audience and used recorded applause at the beginning and end of each act, with recorded audience sounds as well when needed.
Walt always felt that the voice was only part of the overall character. The animation and the scripting were equally important in creating the character. In the case of Snow White, only four members of the original cast recreated their roles in the radio performance.
The Hollywood shows were broadcast from the Music Box Theater on Hollywood Boulevard and in 1940 moved to CBS Radio Playhouse located on North Vine Street, about a block south of Hollywood and Vine.
The shows were mostly written by George Wells from 1934-1943 and Sandy Barnett from 1944-1955. Not only did they face the challenge of trimming the story down to the core, while retaining memorable scenes or dialog, but often faced the problem of how to present a silent visual film sequence on radio.
The format was always the same. The host was introduced after the overture and he talked briefly about that Monday evening's production along with some commentary on the use of Lux soap by Hollywood's loveliest ladies.
The show was broken up into three acts, with the breaks not only featuring short commercials for Lux, but sometimes a special interview guest often promoting a film.
At the end of the show, the host would chat with the stars. At the end of Disney's Peter Pan, Kathryn Beaumont gushed over her love of Shakespeare and her desire to see John Carradine's one-man show that featured some segments from the Bard. Of course, there was another plug for Lux, as well.
The host would then promote the next week's show and announce the stars who would appear, which often elicited gasps and applause from the audience.
We owe a great deal of gratitude to the work of Connie Phillips and Arthur Pierce who in their extensive research for their wonderful book, Lux Presents Hollywood, had to among other things try to put together cast lists for the shows. The Disney Archives had no listing of who performed in the Disney shows until the outstanding research of Phillips and Pierce.
Phillips and Pierce painstakingly went through payroll and expense lists, as well as copies of scripts to determine what actor played which role.
Fortunately, many of these recordings still exist and a cursory search on the internet should provide an interested fan the opportunity to listen to the following shows and even the chance to purchase them on CD or download them.
To give you a head start, here is a link for the 1938 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs show in its entirety.
The Disney shows were run in December as a "Christmas Gift to Our Listeners
December 26, 1938: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Walt pops up briefly as the intermission guest. None of the cast members were credited by, name just as they were not credited in the film. The animated classic had been released the previous December and went on to world wide renown during 1938.
Cast: Thelma Hubbard (Snow White), James Eagles (Prince), Roy Atwell (Doc), Billy Gilbert (Sneezy), Rolfe Sedan (Happy), Jack Smart (Bashful), Moroni Olsen (Magic Mirror), Stuart Buchanan (Grumpy/Huntsman), Paula Winslowe (Queen), Gloria Gordon (Old Hag Witch), Lou Merrill (Sleepy).
Singers: Richard Davis, Myron Neely, Kenneth Rundquist, Harry Stanton, Freeman High, Dudley Kusell, Robert Stevens (the singing voice of the Prince, as well) and Enrico Ricardi.
Merrill, who voiced Sleepy, was a "utility performer," along with Frank Nelson, Eddie Marr and others who filled in a variety of odd little side voices for a show or sometimes even a major supporting role.
Davis and Louise Burnett were the whistlers for the birds and Marie Green did the voice of the Echo. Ross Forrester did additional sounds.
Atwell, Gilbert, Olsen and Buchanan were in the original film (although Pinto Colvig did Grumpy in the film, a part that Buchanan took over for this production).
Buchanan was the voice of the Huntsman in the film and this radio show. For awhile he was the official voice casting person at the Disney Studios. He also did the voice of the carnival barker in Pinocchio, the flight attendant in Saludos Amigos and, more prominently, as the voice of Goofy in the 1938 short-lived radio show The Mickey Mouse Theater of the Air.
While Thelma Hubbard (later after she married she became Thelma Boardman) never did any voices for the Snow White feature, she was no stranger to providing voices for Disney characters. She had done the speaking voice of Snow White for the 1938 Spanish dubbed version of the film. Diana Castillo did the singing voice.
From 1940 through 1942, Hubbard provided the voice for Minnie Mouse in cartoons like The Little Whirlwind, The Nifty Nineties, Mickey's Birthday Party, and Out of the Frying Pan Into the Firing Line. She also did the voice of Minnie in The Mickey Mouse Theater of the Air, as well as the voice of Snow White when the little princess appeared on that show.
She was also the voice of Donald Duck's angel in Donald's Better Self and Donald's Decision, as well as Miss Bunny (Thumper's girlfriend), Mrs. Quail and Pheasant in Bambi.
December 25, 1939: Pinocchio
The animated feature itself would not be released until February 1940, so Walt probably saw this as a great advance promotion to build interest in the film. Once again there is no live audience for this show, with recorded applause inserted at the end of each act and for DeMille as the host.
Cast: Walter Catlett (Honest John the Fox), Stuart Buchanan (Gideon the Cat and Barker No. Two at Pleasure Island), Dickie Jones (Pinocchio), Charles Judels (Stromboli and Coachman), Frankie Darro (Lampwick), Cliff Edwards (Jiminy Cricket), Christian Rub (Gepetto), Evelyn Venable (Blue Fairy), Grace Nielson (singing voice of Blue Fairy), Earl Hodgins (Barker No. 1), Florence Gill (Cuckoo and Figaro), Joe Pennario (Alexander), Clarence Straight (Donkey and Barker No. 3), Ernest Carlson, Jean Forsyth, Eric Burtis Jr., and Jackie Morrison.
Most of the original animated feature cast reprised their roles in this version. Florence Gill who was not in the original film was the voice of Clara Cluck in the theatrical shorts and in The Mickey Mouse Theater of the Air. Just as Clarence Nash often supplied incidental bird sounds for the Disney cartoons, Gill did the sound of condors, chickens, hens and roosters in some of them.
In this adaptation, Jiminy Cricket provides additional narration to describe characters and scenes to help bridge the story.
Mr. DeMille introduced the show:
"Greetings from Hollywood, ladies and gentlemen. This is a night that weaves a spell over the world—a time of reverence and rejoicing. Of family reunions and storytelling by the fire. On this enchanted night, we can all believe implicitly in stories like Pinocchio. Walt Disney transformed this old children's classic into a modern classic of the screen, giving new life to the little people.
"You met him at our microphone last year when we presented Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This year, his chair is empty. But he has sent us Pinocchio. Walt is busy getting Pinocchio ready for its national screen release through RKO in February. And besides, Mr. Disney's moving into a fine new studio in Burbank – the house that Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and Snow White built. Tonight we introduce his latest character, for the first time, in the house that Lux built.
"In the two years of work on Pinocchio, 500 artists made about two million drawings of such likable people as Pinocchio himself, Jiminy Cricket, the Blue Fairy and Old Geppetto, the woodcarver. The Blue Fairy accomplishes some very wonderful things in Pinocchio.
"And she ought to feel right at home here. Because Lux flakes, too, has quite a reputation as the doer of good deeds. They're the kind of good deeds that make life easier in your household, when Lux flakes plays the good fairy to our feminine listeners.
"I feel we can make you see the beautiful color of the Disney pictures, as we bring you the story and spirit of Pinocchio. It's the spirit of all small boys, who'd rather look for adventure than go to school.
"Now just put yourself in the place of Geppetto, the woodcarver. Suppose you had made a puppet, a little wooden boy. And then all of a sudden, the puppet began to talk and move about like a real boy. I believe you'd be ready for almost anything to happen. And that's the best frame of mind I can suggest for you now, as the Lux Radio Theater curtain goes up on Act I of Walt Disney's Pinocchio."
January 29, 1951: Treasure Island
This was the only Lux adaptation of a live-action Disney feature film. Kathryn Beaumont was the intermission guest to promote the upcoming Alice in Wonderland film to be released in July 1951, where she voiced Alice.
Cast: James Mason (Long John Silver), Bobby Driscoll (Jim Hawkins), Nigel Bruce (Squire Trehawney), Charles Davis (Narrator), Ben Wright (Dr. Livesay), Bill Johnstone (Captain), Herb Butterfield, Bill Conrad, Jay Novello, Eric Snowden, Ed Max, Norman Field, Lou Krugman, Eddie Marr and Dorothy Lloyd.
The feature film had been released in June 1950 with Robert Newton as Long John Silver. Newton, known for his chronic alcoholism, did not reprise this role that he would later re-create for the 1954 film Long John Silver and the 26 episode 1955 television series The Adventures of Long John Silver.
Mason, who would later famously portrayed Captain Nemo in Disney's 1954 film version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, took his place.
Other than Bobby Driscoll as Jim Hawkins, none of the original film cast appeared. Ben Wright who played the doctor would later voice Roger Radcliffe in One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Rama in The Jungle Book, and Grimsby in The Little Mermaid. He worked extensively in radio at the time.
Yes, Bill Conrad was the same actor who would go on to appear in television series like Cannon and Jake and the Fatman. He was a hugely popular radio performer appearing on many shows and was probably best known as Marshall Matt Dillon in radio's Gunsmoke that he would begin in 1952.
December 24, 1951: Alice in Wonderland
The animated feature had been released in July 1951. The intermission guest was Adriana Caselotti, who was the voice of Snow White in the Disney animated feature.
Cast: Ed Wynn (Mad Hatter), Kathy Beaumont (Alice), Jerry Colonna (March Hare), Sterling Holloway (Cheshire Cat), Bill Thompson (White Rabbit), Gale Gordon (Caterpillar), Verna Felton (Queen of Hearts), Joe Kearns (Doorknob), Gil Stratton Jr. (Tweedle Dee), Jack Kruschen, Doris Lloyd, Norma Varden, Jonathan Hole, Margie Liszt, Marion Richmond, Leone Ledoux, Eddie Marr, and David Light.
In a break from the previous Disney animated feature adaptations, the voice artists were credited because Walt had hoped the celebrity of some of the performers would help the box office for the film.
The new host for the Lux Radio Theater was William Keighley, who opened the broadcast with the following:
"Christmas greetings from Hollywood, ladies and gentlemen. Now that all the presents are wrapped, the Christmas tree decorated, the stuffing made for the turkey, and you're all worn out, why don't you draw up a chair, and let us tell both you and the children a story. A story you'll both enjoy, because it's the Lewis Carroll classic, made into an enchanting picture by Walt Disney, Alice in Wonderland.
"And as our stars from the original cast, we have Kathy Beaumont playing Alice, Ed Wynn as the Mad Hatter, Jerry Colonna as the March Hare, and Sterling Holloway, of course, as The Cheshire Cat.
"You know, Hollywood has always been known as a Wonderland, too. Partly because of its glamorous actresses — beautiful women who protect the wonder of their skin perfection with Lux toilet soap facials. We're proud to say that nine out of 10 screen actresses are Lux girls. Now, here's Alice in Wonderland."
Much of the original film cast reprised their roles but Gale Gordon (who had also been radio's Flash Gordon and later a foil for comedian Lucille Ball on television) took over the role of the caterpillar from Richard Haydn.
December 21, 1953: Peter Pan
The film was released February 1953. The intermission guest was once again Adriana Caselotti, the voice of Snow White in the animated feature.
Cast: Bobby Driscoll (Peter Pan), Kathryn Beaumont (Wendy), John Carradine (Captain Hook and Mr. Darling), Bill Thompson (Mr. Smee), Herb Butterfield (Narrator), Christopher Cook (John), Richard Beals (Michael), Mary Flynn (Mrs. Darling), Billy Bletcher (Indian Chief), Michael Miller (Cubby), Stuffy Singer (Foxy), Earl Keen (Nana), Shep Menken and Eddie Marr (Pirates).
Billy Bletcher was not in the original film, but he was well known as the voice of Pete in the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck shorts. Candy Candido had done the voice of the Indian Chief in the film. Dick Beals, who is best known as the voice of Speedy Alka-Selzer, took over from Tommy Luske to play Michael.
Most significantly, Hans Conreid was replaced by John Carradine who was doing a one-man stage show in Hollywood at the time. In addition, he was still active as both a performer in movies and as a guest star on popular television series.
Believe it or not, there were some other Lux Radio Theater shows with a Disney connection:
- For the 1939 adaptation of Shaw's Pygmalion, during intermission DeMille introduces announcer Melville Ruic, who says a few laudatory words about Lux. Then the Modernettes sing a version of Whistle While You Work, but with new words that point out the marvelousness of Lux flakes.
- Walt was an intermission guest on the December 20, 1937 episode to promote the upcoming Snow White release. He also appeared as an intermission guest on September 28, 1936. On the January 28, 1954 episode, Walt was presented with an award by Wade Nichols of Red Book magazine.
Disney has a rich history in Old Time Radio that has been barely explored. Hopefully, I will get around this year to telling the story of when Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy met Disney's Snow White on radio in 1938.
Until then, remember, with old time radio, it had to believed to be seen. As Mr. DeMille said at the closing of every broadcast, "This is Cecil B. DeMille saying 'Good night to you from Hollywood!'"