The Orson Welles Almanac
The Orson Welles Almanac (also known as Radio Almanac and The Orson Welles Comedy Show) is a 1944 CBS Radio series directed and hosted by Orson Welles. Broadcast live on the Columbia Pacific Network, the 30-minute variety program was heard Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET January 26 – July 19, 1944. The series was sponsored by Mobilgas and Mobiloil. Many of the shows originated from U.S. military camps, where Welles and his repertory company and guests entertained the troops with a reduced version of The Mercury Wonder Show. The performances of the all-star jazz band that Welles brought together for the show were an important force in the revival of traditional New Orleans jazz in the 1940s.
Announcer: Welcome, one and all,
to the Sign of the Flying Red Horse!
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Hosted by||Orson Welles|
|Directed by||Orson Welles|
|Produced by||Harry Essman|
|Original release||January 26, 1944 – July 19, 1944|
|No. of series||1|
|No. of episodes||26|
The idea of doing such a variety show occurred to Welles after his success as substitute host of The Jack Benny Program, radio's most popular show. When Jack Benny contracted pneumonia on a performance tour of military bases, Welles hosted four consecutive programs (March 14–April 4, 1943) and was Benny's first guest when he returned to the show April 11, 1943.:368
Orson Welles's variety show was auditioned in New York December 2, 1943, with the Compton advertising agency representing Mobilgas. The cast included Welles (host) and Duke Ellington (music), with guest spots by Rita Hayworth and Jimmy Durante on an audition record. Billboard reported that plans were under way for scheduling the show.
The 30-minute program was heard Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET January 26 – July 19, 1944. The wartime variety show presented readings from classic works, drama, music, sketch comedy, magic, mindreading and personal commentary by Welles. Many of the shows originated from U.S. military camps where Welles and his repertory company and guests entertained the troops with a reduced version of The Mercury Wonder Show. The program aired on the Columbia Pacific Network, heard in California and neighboring states, but no further east than Denver.:194
"Originating in Los Angeles, the program was only aired regionally, not at all in New York," wrote Welles biographer Bret Wood. "Had it been a major network presentation, there might have been enough publicity to build a successful program, for the content and production are both of a quality far above the norm.":131
Welles had an ongoing battle with the program's sponsor, Mobil, which shortened the life of the series.:525 For example, Welles bristled at a suggestion that if Duke Ellington appeared on the show he should play the role of Welles's servant.:286
All Star Jazz GroupEdit
A passionate and knowledgeable fan of traditional New Orleans jazz, Welles was part of the social network of Hollywood's Jazz Man Record Shop, a business that opened in 1939 and was instrumental in the worldwide revival of original jazz in the 1940s.:42–54 In February 1944 Welles asked Marili Morden, proprietor of Jazz Man Records, to put together an authentic jazz band for The Orson Welles Almanac.:243[a]
Within minutes Morden assembled Mutt Carey (trumpet), Ed Garland (bass), Jimmie Noone (clarinet), Kid Ory (trombone), Bud Scott (guitar), Zutty Singleton (drums) and Buster Wilson (piano). Noone and Singleton were the only two musicians who were working regularly.:85 The Depression and the popularity of swing and big band music had forced many jazz musicians out of the business. When Morden and her first husband, Jazz Man founder David Stuart, first discovered Ory in Los Angeles in 1940, he had been retired from music for seven years. He had been sorting mail at the post office, working on his brother's chicken ranch, and gardening at his home.:122 When clarinetist Barney Bigard asked him to join his band in 1942, Ory was sweeping out the city morgue for $12 a week. "I guess, to be truthful, that there was a lot of New Orleans dixieland players working that couldn't find a job for years," Bigard recalled.:82, 87
"I'll never forget the first day the band rehearsed," recalled Nesuhi Ertegun, who became Morden's business partner and later her husband:
Welles came into the studio with his entourage and asked me to introduce him to the musicians. I took him around to everyone. But Ory was hard of hearing. He said, "What'd you say the name was?" I thought to myself, "Well, we're out of this job now." But Welles said, "Mr. Ory, I'm a great admirer of yours, I have all your records and those where you play with Louis Armstrong and the Hot Seven."
Welles became friends with each of the musicians and the band rehearsed at his home before each show. The All Star Jazz Group (which Welles often called the All Star Jazz Combination or the Mercury All Star Jazz Combination):125 first performed on The Orson Welles Almanac on March 15, 1944. Its last performance was July 12, 1944, on the penultimate show in the series. The performances on Welles's show were so popular that the band became a regular feature, launched Ory's comeback, and was an important force in reviving interest in New Orleans jazz.:85
On the morning of the fifth broadcast, April 19, 1944, Jimmie Noone suddenly died at home of a heart attack, aged 48. Welles telephoned Ory and told him of Noone's death, and asked him to write a blues that could be performed for that evening's radio program. "See if you can work one up," Welles said. "We'll call it 'Blues for Jimmie'."
In 1952 Ory reflected on writing the tune, which had become a regular feature for his band and was regarded a classic. "I got up right away and began blowing some blues on my horn. I was real sad; Jimmie was my best friend," Ory said. "I found a man to fill in for Jimmie on clarinet. Then I got the band together that afternoon and we rehearsed the tune. On the show that night Mr. Welles explained the situation over the air. I don't mind saying that when we played 'Blues for Jimmie' all the musicians in the band were crying. So was Mr. Welles, and the audience, too."
On the program that evening, Welles spoke extemporaneously for three minutes about Noone while Buster Wilson and Bud Scott played "Sweet Lorraine", Noone's theme song, in the background. As he did every time the All Star Jazz Group appeared, Welles introduced each musician by name, and that night he introduced New Orleans-born clarinetist Wade Whaley, sitting in for Noone.:370–371:9–10
Clarinetist Barney Bigard was brought in to play with the All Star Jazz Group for the remainder of the series. Bigard called Welles "a real swell fellow. He loved jazz and had a great knowledge of it. We used to go up to his house after the broadcasts and he would tell me things about my career that I had forgotten myself.":85–86
Nesuhi Ertegun founded his first record label, Crescent Records, with the express purpose of recording the All Star Jazz Group featured on The Orson Welles Almanac. Only eight discs were released on the Crescent label, all of them recorded August–November 1944 by the group Ertegun renamed Kid Ory's Creole Jazz Band.:133–134
"Viewed in perspective," Ertegun later wrote, "they are among the most significant jazz records ever made: they gave eloquent proof of the continuing vitality of New Orleans jazz at a time when such proof was needed."
"With Your Wings"Edit
Broadcast July 19, 1944, from the Coast Guard camp in Long Beach, California, the final episode of The Orson Welles Almanac ends with a five-minute reading by Welles, "a short story, especially written for me to broadcast by one of the first talents in American literature, John Steinbeck." The story, "With Your Wings", relates the homecoming of a decorated pilot, later revealed to be black, and his realization of the meaning that his achievement has for his family and community. Virtually forgotten, the story was unpublished until November 2014, after a transcript of the broadcast was found in the archives of the University of Texas at Austin by the managing editor of The Strand Magazine. "With Your Wings" was published in the quarterly magazine's holiday issue.
Welles had previously presented "With Your Wings" January 25, 1943, on his CBS radio series Ceiling Unlimited. The script and recording are included with the Orson Welles materials at the Lilly Library.
|1||January 26, 1944||Guest: Groucho Marx
Lud Gluskin and His Orchestra play "I Know That You Know"
Martha Stewart sings "Bésame Mucho"
Orson Welles reads some of Thomas Paine's thoughts on liberty
Cast: Orson Welles, Arthur Q. Bryan (Mr. Trivers, the censor), Lud Gluskin and His Orchestra, Ray Collins (commercial spokesman for Mobilgas and Mobiloil), Agnes Moorehead (Miss Grimace, the secretary):381
|2||February 2, 1944||Guest: Lionel Barrymore
Skit, "The Kiddies' Corner"
Swing music ("Speak Low") and a birthday tribute to Victor Herbert by Lud Gluskin and His Orchestra
Barrymore reads from the writings of George Washington
Cast: Orson Welles, Jack Mather (announcer), Lud Gluskin and His Orchestra, Hans Conried, Agnes Moorehead:381
|3||February 9, 1944||Guest: Ann Sothern
"Abraham Lincoln's Prairie Years," adapted from the Carl Sandburg biography:381
|4||February 16, 1944||Guest: Robert Benchley
Lecture, "The History of Eskimo Love," by Robert Benchley
Poem, "Colloquy for the States," by Archibald MacLeish:381
|5||February 23, 1944||Guest: Hedda Hopper
The King Cole Trio performs "Hit that Jive, Jack"
Welles reads from The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White
Cast: Orson Welles, Agnes Moorehead, Hans Conreid, John McIntire, John Brown, Walter Tetley, Lud Gluskin and His Orchestra:381
|6||March 1, 1944||Guest: Victor Moore
Sacre du Printemps (from Small Beer) by Ludwig Bemelmans
The King Cole Trio performs "Solid Potato Salad"
Cast: Orson Welles, Agnes Moorehead, Hans Conreid, John McIntire, John Brown, Walter Tetley, Lud Gluskin and His Orchestra:381
|7||March 8, 1944||Guest: Lucille Ball
Lud Gluskin and His Orchestra play "Bésame Mucho"
Skit, Nick and Nora Charles parody, "The Case of the Blue Bloodstain"
Ella Mae Morse sings "Shoo Shoo Baby"
Welles reads "No Man Is an Island" by John Donne
Cast: Orson Welles, Agnes Moorehead, Jack Mather, Hans Conried, Lud Gluskin and His Orchestra:381
|8||March 15, 1944||Guest: Charles Laughton
Lud Gluskin and His Orchestra play "I'll Get By"
Skit: "The Private Life of Charles Laughton"
Tent scene from William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, with Charles Laughton (Cassius) and Orson Welles (Brutus)
"High Society" performed by Kid Ory (trombone), Mutt Carey (trumpet), Jimmie Noone (clarinet), Buster Wilson (piano), Bud Scott (guitar), Ed Garland (bass) and Zutty Singleton (drums)
Cast: Orson Welles, Agnes Moorehead, John McIntire (announcer), Hans Conried, Lud Gluskin and His Orchestra:381
|9||March 22, 1944||Guest: Betty Hutton
Welles reads the poem "Ballad of Bataan" by Norman Rosten
Cast: Orson Welles, Agnes Moorehead, John McIntire, Hans Conried, Lud Gluskin and His Orchestra:381
|10||March 29, 1944||Guest: Mary Boland
Skit: Parody of Lady in the Dark
"Muskrat Ramble" performed by the All Star Jazz Group — Kid Ory (trombone), Jimmie Noone (clarinet), Mutt Carey (trumpet), Buster Wilson (piano), Bud Scott (guitar), Ed Garland (bass) and Zutty Singleton (drums)
Marking the birthday of Edmond Rostand, an adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac by Ben Hecht
Cast: Orson Welles, Hans Conreid, Lud Gluskin and His Orchestra:381
|11||April 5, 1944||Guest: Dennis Day
"That's a Plenty" performed by the All Star Jazz Group — Kid Ory (trombone), Jimmie Noone (clarinet), Mutt Carey (trumpet), Buster Wilson (piano), Bud Scott (guitar), Ed Garland (bass) and Zutty Singleton (drums)
Dennis Day sings "Bésame Mucho"
Orson Welles reads the speech, "Oh what a rogue and peasant slave," from Hamlet
|12||April 12, 1944||Guest: Monty Woolley
Skit, "The Life of Monty Wooley"
"Panama" performed by the All Star Jazz Group — Jimmie Noone (clarinet), Kid Ory (trombone), Mutt Carey (trumpet), Bud Scott (guitar), Ed Garland (bass), Buster Wilson (piano) and Zutty Singleton (drums)
Welles reads from Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians
Cast: Orson Welles, Agnes Moorehead, Hans Conreid, John Brown, Lud Gluskin and His Orchestra, John McIntire, Billy Gilbert:382
|13||April 19, 1944||Guest: George Jessel:382
As the All Star Jazz Group plays "Sweet Lorraine" in the background, Orson Welles speaks extemporaneously for three minutes about clarinetist Jimmie Noone, who died that morning at age 48
"Blues for Jimmie" performed by the All Star Jazz Group — Kid Ory (trombone), Ed Garland (bass), Zutty Singleton (drums), Wade Whaley (substitute clarinet), Buster Wilson (piano) and Bud Scott (guitar)[b]
Welles recites Psalm 23:370–371
This episode is lost
|14||April 26, 1944||Guest: Carole Landis
Orson Welles reads the scene from the last act of Macbeth:382
"Sugar Foot Stomp" performed by the New Orleans All Star Jazz Combination[c]
This episode is lost
|15||May 3, 1944||"This is The Mercury Wonder Show … and we pitched our tents tonight at the Naval Air Station at Terminal Island"
Guest: Lucille Ball
Aurora Miranda sings "No Tabuleiro da Baiana", with Welles joining her briefly in duet
Orson Welles reads the honor speech from Henry V:382
"Savoy Blues" performed by the All Star Jazz Group — Kid Ory (trombone), Mutt Carey (trumpet), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Buster Wilson (piano), Bud Scott (guitar), Ed Garland (bass) and Zutty Singleton (drums)
|16||May 10, 1944||Broadcast from the U.S. Army Air Force Redistribution Center in Santa Monica, California
Guests: Jimmy Durante, Aurora Miranda
This episode is lost
|17||May 17, 1944||Guest: Ann Sothern
Skit, "Ann Sothern for President", with Welles first as her campaign manager (duet, "Sittin' on the Fence") and, after commercial, as Orson Sothern, First Gentleman of the land in 1964
"Weary Blues" performed by the All Star Jazz Group — Mutt Carey (trumpet), Kid Ory (trombone), Barney Bigard (clarinet), Buster Wilson (piano), Bud Scott (guitar), Ed Garland (bass) and Zutty Singleton (drums)
Romeo's last scene from Romeo and Juliet, with Welles (Romeo) and Hans Conreid (Paris):383
|18||May 24, 1944||Broadcast from the Air Service Command Training Center, Fresno, California
The Mercury Wonder Show — "See the greatest magic show you've ever listened to"
Guests: Lee and Lyn Wilde, Lois Collier
"Blues in E flat" performed by the All Star Jazz Group and vocalist Helen Andrews
Orson Welles reads a famous open letter in defense of Father Damien:383
|19||May 31, 1944||"Good evening everybody, this is Orson Welles. Welcome to the Mercury Wonder Show. Tonight we've pitched our tents at the Sixth Ferrying Group, Ferrying Division, of the Air Transport Command at Long Beach, California."
Guest: Marjorie Reynolds
Skit, "What a Typical G.I. Soldier Does On Leave"
Martha Tilton sings "Take It Easy"
Spoof of the recent Suspense broadcast of Donovan's Brain
"Tiger Rag" performed by the Mercury All Star Jazz Combination
Orson Welles reads the sonnet "High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.:384
|20||June 7, 1944||Special D-Day broadcast dramatizing the lives of various Americans when they hear of the Normandy landings
Cast: Agnes Moorehead, Hans Conried, Orson Welles (host), Lud Gluskin and His Orchestra, John McIntire (announcer):384
|21||June 14, 1944||Followup to the June 7 D-Day broadcast from Texarkana includes a skit about a fish peddler who causes a war between Texas and Arkansas
Lud Gluskin and His Orchestra perform Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse"
Welles reads Stephen Vincent Benét's A Prayer for the United Nations:384
|22||June 21, 1944||Broadcast from the Wrigley Building, Chicago
Guest: Martha O'Driscoll
Ethel Waters sings "Stormy Weather"
Orson Welles reads a soliloquy from Richard II:384
|23||June 28, 1944||Broadcast from Camp Haan in Riverside, California
Guest: Lynn Bari, assisting with a Mercury Wonder Show mindreading experiment and a Mercury Fable about a canteen for WACS
Martha Tilton sings "A Good Man"
"Oh, Didn't He Ramble" performed by the Mercury All-Star Jazz Combination
Orson Welles reads from the Epistle of James:385
|24||July 5, 1944||"Tonight the Mercury Wonder Show is pitching its tent at the Los Angeles Port of Embarkation in Wilmington"
Guests: Lana Turner, Keenan Wynn
Skit, a Mercury Fable about a soldier (Orson Welles, singing "You Made Me Love You") who is granted his wish for a magical visit from an invisible Lana Turner
The Mercury All-Star Jazz Combination and Lud Gluskin and His Orchestra play jive:385
|25||July 12, 1944||"Tonight the Mercury Wonder Show is pitching its tent at Camp Cooke, near Lompoc, California"
Guest: Susan Hayward
Kay Thompson sings "Louisiana Purchase"
Skit, a WAC's furlough with her husband is disrupted by her family
Orson Welles reads from Richard II:385
"Royal Garden Blues" performed by the Mercury All Star Jazz Combination — Kid Ory (trombone), Zutty Singleton (drums), Bud Scott (guitar), Ed Garland (bass), Norman Bowden (trumpet) and Fred Washington (piano)
|26||July 19, 1944||Broadcast from Long Beach Coast Guard Camp, California
Ruth Terry sings "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby"
Skit, a Mercury Fable called "Life in the Coast Guard"
Miguelito Valdés sings "Babalú"
"With Your Wings" by John Steinbeck:385
- In 1941, Welles had employed Morden's first husband, Jazz Man Records founder David Stuart, as a consultant on the jazz segment of his ill-fated film, It's All True.
- Although this episode is lost, Welles's introduction (track 9) and the All Star Jazz Group performance of "Blues for Jimmie" (track 10) can be heard on the Upbeat CD, Kid Ory — Portrait of the Greatest Slideman Ever Born (URCD187)
- Although this episode is lost, Welles's introduction (track 11) and the All Star Jazz Group performance of "Sugar Foot Stomp" (track 12, including Bud Scott's shout, "Oh play that thing!) can be heard on the Upbeat CD, Kid Ory — Portrait of the Greatest Slideman Ever Born (URCD187)
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