Broadcasting to Millions

By the mid-1920s, the rising popularity of radio was cutting into movie theater attendance. While some film producers could only complain about it, the Warner Brothers acquired their own radio station, KFWB Los Angeles, and erected twin broadcasting towers to give it a powerful signal. Among other things, Warner film stars were expected to appear to build up public interest in their films. Young stars with limited stage experience were terrified to be performing “live” with millions of people listening. But veterans of the stage such as George Arliss who had performed “live” their entire careers were not intimidated by broadcasting.

Mr. A broadcasts his opposition to movie censorship in Medford, Massachusetts on April 3, 1922. Newspapers stated that this broadcast was heard “as far west as Wisconsin and as far south as the Carolinas.” That’s Maude Howell listening in on the headphones:
Arliss said, “The influences of the films were better for the young than the average methods of learning; that the conscience of boy or girl is a far better judge of right or wrong in the movies than the application of the censorship rod.”

George Arliss was President of the Episcopal Actors Guild of America from 1921 to 1938. Here he broadcasts a fundraising appeal on behalf of the unfinished Cathedral of St. John the Divine, over station WJZ in New York:

Station KWK in St. Louis, MO, was part of a national syndicated network on June 23, 1931, to broadcast another defense of Hollywood by Mr. A. The subject this time was the bad behavior of certain actors and actresses – some things never change:

Fellow Warners star John Barrymore said he “didn’t think much of this radio thing” when he first participated in a broadcast in 1928 over station KFI in Los Angeles:

By 1941, the Great Profile derived most of his income from radio, here with his brother Lionel on the right:

Warner colleague Al Jolson’s ebullient personality transmitted well and he starred in his own weekly show from 1932 on. Here he is rehearsing for an April 1935 Shell Chateau broadcast where his guests were Amelia Earhart and Babe Ruth:

Radio permitted another of Mr. A’s Warners colleagues, Edward G. Robinson, to tackle something he couldn’t do in movies – Shakespeare. Here he rehearses his role of Petruchio for an August 2, 1937 broadcast of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW:
Mr. Robinson was such a hit that by the Fall 1937 he began starring in his own weekly series, a newspaper drama, THE BIG TOWN, for the next six years.

At the age of 70, Mr. A made his dramatic broadcast debut on the Lux Radio Theater, hosted by Cecil B. DeMille, on January 17, 1938 in DISRAELI. He returned on March 21, 1938, in THE MAN WHO PLAYED GOD, and again on January 23, 1939, in CARDINAL RICHELIEU:
It was conservatively estimated that 30 million people heard each of Mr. A’s Lux broadcasts.

Greta Garbo was the only major film star never to perform on radio. Even Rin-Tin-Tin had his own weekly show in 1931:

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I hate to be so badly OT on a first post, but I saw that in August, TCM will be showing The Working Man as part of their Summer Under The Stars Bette Davis day.

    Second, as I was reading my Complete New Yorker, I came across an item about Mr. A in a 1927 nightclub column, listing him as a guest at (of all places) Texas Guinan’s nightclub. If anyone thought Mr. A a stuffy thesp, that tidbit should go aways to dispel that idea.

    • Thanks for the TCM heads up. As August, nears we’ll be issuing an Arliss Alert for THE WORKING MAN.


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