RAILROAD HOUR: A Musical Appreciation
- “Entertainment for all. For every member of the family – the humming, strumming,
dancing tunes of the recent musical shows.
For Mother and Dad – happy reminders of the shows
they saw ‘only yesterday.’
And also, occasionally, one of the great and
everlasting triumphs that go ‘way back before then.” This was how the Association of American Railroads described
their product known as The Railroad Hour, in their
annual publicity pamphlets.
For 45 minutes every Monday night, over the American
Broadcasting Company’s national network, the American
Railroads presented for listener enjoyment, one after another
of the world’s great musical comedies and operettas . . .
the top-rated successes whose names had been spelled-out in
the blazing lights on both sides of Broadway.
Complete with music and words, the program offered
famed headliners of the stage, screen and radio taking the
- Highly favored by Joseph McConnell, President of the
National Broadcasting Company and William T. Faricy, President
of the Association of American Railroads, The Railroad Hour
competed against such radio programs as CBS’ high-rated Suspense
and The Falcon in the same weekly time slot.
The program lasted a total of 299 broadcasts over a
span of six broadcast seasons – an accomplishment some would
consider impossible by today’s broadcasting standards should
the program be dramatized on television.
- The Railroad Hour was broadcast from the studios of the
National Broadcasting Company in Hollywood, California.
The program was heard regularly over 170 stations of
the NBC network. According
to an annual report issued by the Association of American
Railroads that it was estimated that the program was heard by
more than four million family groups.
- “Musical shows with a dramatic continuity are
enjoyed by persons of all ages, especially when the leading
roles are portrayed by outstanding artists.
All members of the family, as well as school, church
and club groups, find The Railroad Hour wholesome,
dignified and inspiring entertainment,” quoted Van
- So why is the program called the Railroad “Hour”
when it was on the air only thirty minutes?
In radio, the term “hour” was indicative of the
time of the beginning of the broadcast, rather than the number
of minutes the program was on the air.
Also odd was the fact that the program ran a mere 45
minutes instead of 30 or 60 during the opening months.
- During its half-hour on the air, The Railroad Hour
gave its listeners 25 minutes of entertainment.
About two-and-a-half minutes were given to the railroad
remaining time was required for opening and closing
announcements and station identifications.
- The Railroad Hour did not broadcast any operas, contrary to
popular belief, and reference guides.
The producers of the series presented operettas and
musicals, leaving the operas for other programs, namely The
Metropolitan Opera broadcasts.
So what is the difference between opera and operetta?
- An opera is an art form consisting of a dramatic
stage performance set to music, and which the dialogue is
sung, rather than spoken.
An operetta was a musical performance where the
conversations are “talked” and the expressive moments are
set in song.
- One question came up during a standard question and
answer session with the Association of American Railroads:
“Are recordings of The Railroad Hour broadcasts
formal answer from the Association was that copyright
restrictions did not permit the producer of The Railroad
Hour to make any recordings of the musical program.
However, recordings of many of the song hits heard were
available at music stores.
This of course, was the formal public statement.
In reality, every broadcast of The Railroad Hour was
recorded and transcribed. Numerous copies were made for both legal and historical
Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, who wrote the majority of the
scripts, actually kept a copy of almost every broadcast for
their personal collection.
These discs were later donated to the Billy Rose
Theatre Division of the New York Public Library for the
Performing Arts located at Lincoln Center in New York City.
The Library of Congress presently stores a copy of all
the discs in their archives.
Dealers and collectors specializing in recordings from
the “Golden Age of Radio” have come across similar
depositories over the years and thankfully, more than half of
the broadcasts are presently available from dealers
Miller, the announcer for The Railroad Hour, saved a
few of the scripts, which were later donated to the Thousand
Oaks Library in California.
- A limited number of free admission tickets for the
public were available for each Railroad Hour broadcast.
Tickets could be obtained by writing to the Association
of American Railroads, Transportation Building, located in
Washington, D.C., or by writing to the National Broadcasting
Company in Hollywood, California.
The Applicant was required to give the date for which
the tickets were desired and the number of persons in the
party. Because of
the demand for tickets (especially since they were free), it
was publicly advised to request them several weeks in advance
of the broadcast.
- From the 1948 annual report of the Association of
- “Beginning on October 4, 1948, the AAR produced and
presented a weekly coast-to-coast
- radio program entitled “The Railroad Hour.”
Broadcast on Monday evenings, the program has
- presented condensed versions of outstanding musical
comedies and light operas with Gordon MacRae as singing host
and master of ceremonies and featuring top-name guest
- AAR President William T. Faricy delivered a message
on the show’s premiere episode, expressing his pride and joy
for the presentations that are planned, and the hope that the
radio listeners would tune in each week for future
premiere broadcast featured Jane Powell and Dinah Shore in the
cast. In Good
News, the plot about a football hero who has to pass an
important exam so he can play in the big game, and please the
girl he loves, inspired a slew of imitations on stage and
screen. But none
could match the infectious score composed by Ray Henderson
with lyrics by Buddy Desylva and Lew Brown.
Their dance-happy songs included “The Best Things in
Life are Free” and “The Varsity Drag,” a
Charleston-style dance number that became an international
craze. The libretto was a fairly loose affair, allowing members of
the cast to offer audience pleasing vaudeville-style
specialties. The author of the radio adaptation was none other
than Ed Gardner, creator and star of the situation comedy, Duffy’s
would be his first and only contribution for The Railroad
- The second presentation, Cole Porter’s Anything
Goes, was broadcast October 11, 1948.
Victor Moore and Margaret Whiting were the guests, but
the musical itself has more of a fascinating history than the
radio presentation. It
seems the musical was a result of the Depression and after
several unsuccessful stage productions, Broadway producer
Vinton Freedley found himself bankrupt.
Pretending that he had money to spare, he signed up
William Gaxton, Victor Moore and Ethel Merman for the cast of
his ambitious endeavor, Anything Goes, and convinced
Cole Porter to write the score.
With that powerhouse line-up, Freedley was able to
raise money for this tale of mistaken identities and unlikely
romance aboard a luxury liner.
The show required ongoing revisions, with former
stenographer Merman taking down the changes in shorthand
during rehearsals and typing them up for the rest of the team.
Anything Goes was an instant success, restored
Freedley’s finances, cemented Porter’s place in the front
rank of Broadway composers, and became the most frequently
revived musical comedy of the 1930s.
- Anything Goes did not actually appear as the title until
this second draft and referred to the desperation with which
the show was put together. The rewrite retained most of the
same characters, but did away with the idea of the shipwreck.
The plot revolved around nightclub singer Reno Sweeney
(Merman), her pall Billy Crocker, Crocker's debutante-love
Hope Harcourt, Moon-Face Mooney, and Public Enemy No. 13 who
slips onto the ship to avoid the FBI. For this Railroad
Hour presentation, Victor Moore reprised his Broadway
- The broadcast of December 13, 1948 marked the first
of three renditions of Jerome Kern’s Sally, and the
first episode to be scripted by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E.
Lee. Dinah Shore
made her second appearance on The Railroad Hour (her
first was the premiere broadcast).
- The story involves Sally Green, a dishwashing drudge
who works at the Alley Inn in Greenwich Village, and dreams of
fame. She gets
invited by one of the waiters who is really the exiled duke of
Czechogovina to an elegant ball.
Sally goes in the guise of Madame Nookerova, a
celebrated ballerina. Her
true identity is discovered but she wins the affluent tenor
and ends up being signed for Ziegfeld Follies.
By the end of the decade, Sally would prove to
be among the top five moneymakers of the 1920s.
The show was designed as the musical comedy debut of
the 22-year old “Ziegfeld Follies” headliner Marilyn
Miller, who actually reprised her stage role for this radio
Errol also reprised his stage role of Connie for the radio
- One of the all-time great musicals, Holiday Inn,
combined the talents of two singing superstars, Bing Crosby
and Fred Astaire, with a score written by legendary composer
Irving Berlin. The
musical was adapted for the silver screen and featured
Crosby’s introduction of the Academy Award-winning “'White
idea for the movie about a Connecticut inn open only on
holidays came from an un-produced review on holidays by Berlin
and Moss Hart. Jerome
Cowan, George Murphy and Martha Tilton were guests for this
holiday presentation, broadcast on December 20, 1948.
- The Walter Donaldson / Gus Kahn musical, Whoopee!,
was the starring vehicle for the broadcast of January 3, 1949.
But the guest star of that week, Eddie Cantor, was a
larger headline than the musical itself.
In the story, Western sheriff Bob Wells is preparing to
marry Sally Morgan; she loves part-Indian Wanenis, whose race
is an obstacle. Sally
flees the wedding with hypochondriac Henry Williams, who
thinks he’s just giving her a ride; but she left a note
saying they’ve eloped!
Chasing them are jilted Bob, Henry’s nurse Mary
(who’s been trying to seduce him) and many others looking
after her best interests.
The Broadway musical propelled Cantor to instant
stardom, and he reprised his Broadway role for the 1930 movie
version and for this radio broadcast, Cantor’s only
appearance on The Railroad Hour.
- Jeannette MacDonald did not confine herself to
operetta, appearing in stage productions of grand opera,
including Charles Gounod’s Faust in 1943 and 1951.
MacDonald made numerous radio appearances and she was a
guest in two Railroad Hour broadcasts during January of
1949. The first
was Naughty Marietta broadcast January 17, 1949.
In this story, the setting is New Orleans around 1750.
Marietta is a high-born girl who left a convent and an
unwanted marriage in France for adventure in the New World.
The end result is her aid in capturing a notorious
Dick is there to lead his Rangers against the pirate gang.
Marietta is first attracted to Etienne Grandet, son of
the lieutenant governor.
But when he is revealed as the pirate leader, she turns
her attentions to Captain Dick.
Music triumphs over prejudice, however, when Marietta
decides Etienne is the man for her when he is able to finish
the “Dream” melody that Marietta recalls from childhood.
This broadcast featured the musical numbers of
“Naughty Marietta,” “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life,”
“Italian Street Song” and “Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!”
Jeanette MacDonald joined Nelson Eddy in the 1935 MGM
movie version, and reprised her film role as Marietta for this
- Two weeks later, for the broadcast of January 31,
1949, MacDonald starred in Bitter Sweet. Whether to marry for love or position was the subject of Noel
Coward’s first (of eight) book musicals.
The Railroad Hour rendition about the widowed
Marchioness of Shayne, a titled Englishwoman who reviews her
romantic and adventurous past in an effort to comfort her
niece, who is being forced into an undesirable marriage, was
heiress is wooed by an accomplished violinist, her musical
teacher, and only after marriage discovers his tragic
addiction to gambling, and watches him die at the hands of a
jealous aristocrat. Jeannette
MacDonald reprised her film role as Sarah Millick from the
1940 movie of the same name.
- For the week after, February 7, 1949, The Railroad
Hour presented an adaptation of Rudolf Friml’s Rose-Marie.
This popular U.S. operetta (and later the movie
versions) was partly responsible for the widely-held image of
Canada as a land solely of Mounties, mountains and snow.
Set in the Rocky Mountains, on the plains of
Saskatchewan, and in the ballroom of the Château Frontenac
hotel in Quebec City, the operetta was intended to appeal to
U.S. audiences’ taste for the exotic, becoming the
fourth-longest running musical of the 1920s and Friml’s
biggest hit. Rose-Marie
La Flamme is in love with Jim Kenyon of the Northwest Mounted
has been accused of murder and Rose-Marie stands ready to save
her lover’s life by giving herself to another.
But Kenyon is vindicated, the Mounties get their man,
and the lovers are reunited.
There were at least three film versions of this
musical. The 1936
version starred Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy as the
singing lovers (the plot underwent extensive changes compared
to the original musical), and as commercially successful as
the movie was, it is a surprise that Jeanette MacDonald, who
had appeared in two recent The Railroad Hour
broadcasts, wasn’t the star of this radio production.
- For the broadcast of February 21, 1949, The
Railroad Hour presented Lady, Be Good!, a musical
comedy about Dick and Susie Trevor, an orphaned brother and
sister, who are evicted and left on the street with a
thunderstorm fast approaching. Dick leaves Susie to try and get some help.
While Dick is gone, Susie meets a young hobo - he is
dashing and they fall in love at first sight. The hobo leaves before Dick returns with a plan - they will
both go to Josephine Vanderwater’s party tonight and there
they will be able to get some food.
Dick is in love with a girl named Shirley but feels he
cannot marry her because he does not have enough money.
Josephine thinks she loves Dick and so it is she that
has had him evicted thinking he would then ask her to marry
him because of her money.
This he does. Meanwhile,
Dick’s lawyer is in love with Josephine.
He also has a plan in which he is trying to obtain the
fortune of the late Jack Robinson, but needs his Spanish wife
to execute the plan. Watkins
persuades Susie to pretend she is the wife and they nearly
carry off the plan, until Jack Robinson turns up - it is
Susie’s hobo! After
some very confusing moments everything is sorted out and ends
happily with Susie and Jack, Dick and Shirley, Watkins and
Josephine all getting married.
- Groucho Marx was guest for Lady, Be Good!, playing
a “lawyer of easy virtue” named T. Waterson Watkins, a
character similar to many of his movie roles.
Gordon MacRae played Dick Trevor, a writer who gets in
trouble with the law. The
second song featured in this broadcast was Bert Kalmar and
Harry Ruby’s Horray for Captain Spaulding,
Groucho’s trademark entrance music (also featured memorably
in Animal Crackers (1930).
During the broadcast, Gordon MacRae and Groucho Marx
joked about their respective sponsors and shamelessly promoted
Groucho’s You Bet Your Life towards the end of the
even joked about the show jumping to another network, which,
unbeknownst to Groucho’s humor, would actually do the next
- During the drama, Groucho made a joking reference
about sending his four brothers over to keep Susie company
when she decides to stay in jail.
His impression of Beulah from the radio program and of
Lionel Barrymore’s Dr. Gillespie from the Dr. Kildare movies
is now considered a highlight of the broadcast.
- Featuring presentations of Broadway musicals meant
gaining permissions among agencies who were responsible for
licensing permissions. If
a musical was dramatized over a radio network without first
securing permission, various parties involved with The
Railroad Hour could be held responsible for legal action,
including the possibility of an infringement suit.
To simplify securing permissions, Francis Van
Hartesveldt, the producer of The Railroad Hour, made an
arrangement with Tams-Witmark, who owned both dramatic and
music rights for dozens and dozens of musicals including Girl
Crazy, Whoopee!, The New Moon, Good News,
Song of Norway, The Desert Song, The Merry
Widow, Naughty Marietta, Rio Rita, The
Student Prince, Hit the Deck, Lady, Be Good!,
Rose-Marie, Sally, and The Red Mill, all
of which had been performed during the program’s first 24
- For the broadcast of March 21, 1949, however, Francis
Van Hartesveldt reverted to Hollywood for a brief spell
regarding permissions. An
agreement was made with 20th Century Fox to
dramatize an adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State
Fair, which was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s only musical
written directly for the screen.
This would not be the first time The Railroad Hour
would turn to Hollywood, but this practice was only done a few
- The broadcast of April 25, 1949 marked the 30th
broadcast of the series, and the final episode to be broadcast
in a 45-minute time slot.
Beginning with the broadcast of May 2, 1949, the
program’s format shrunk to a 30-minute time slot, where it
would remain for the rest of the series.
A few misconceptions have been made over the years
regarding the length of these broadcasts.
One reference cited The Railroad Hour as a full
hour, and that the 45-minute recordings are “edited” from
the hour-long format. This is simply not true.
Another reference cited The Railroad Hour of
being a 45-minute program during the entire run, and that all
the 30-minute recordings are “edited.”
This is also untrue.
- For the May 2, 1949 broadcast, the first episode of
the series broadcast in the 30-minute time-slot, Jerome
Kern’s Showboat was highlighted – the first of what
would be five Railroad offerings about life on the
Mississippi River showboat, making this one the most
frequently heard musicals on the radio program. This was also
Lucille Norman’s first of 23 consecutive appearance on The
Railroad Hour. Perhaps
the most influential musical of the twentieth century, Show
Boat combined the talents of Jerome Kern and Oscar
Hammerstein II, both of whom had felt for some time that
Broadway musical theatre was suffering from a lack of depth
and needed to steer away from the fluffy musical comedies and
melodramatic operetta that it was accustomed to.
After choosing for their subject Edna Ferber’s
sprawling novel of life on the Mississippi, Kern and
Hammerstein set out to deal with issues such as unhappy
marriages and racial prejudice.
- The story, which spans almost fifty years, deals
primarily with the fortunes of an impressionable young woman
named Magnolia Hawks, her father who owns a show boat named
the Cotton Blossom, and a troubled riverboat
gambler/actor named Gaylord Ravenal.
Magnolia and Gaylord fall in love while acting on the
showboat and eventually marry and move to Chicago.
They separate, however, after Gaylord loses all of
their money gambling. The
subplot involves Magnolia’s mulatto friend, the tragic Julie
- Throughout the summer of 1949, The Railroad Hour
featured a salute to various composers and their best works,
with a behind-the-scenes story of how they created the popular
musicals they are often associated with.
The series was actually subtitled The Railroad
Summer Show. John Rarick replaced Carmen Dragon as the musical conductor
for this summer series, and would be replaced by Dragon
would then remain with the series till the very end.)
- The October 5, 1949 issue of Variety reviewed
the second season opener:
“The Railroad Hour is back on the air with its
winter season of operettas and musical comedies, to add a
lush, melodious half-hour of better-grade American music to
Monday evening’s listening.
With first-rate artists, good supporting choral and
instrumental ensemble, and top direction and production, airer
has flavor and appeal.
“Monday’s preem was the perennial favorite, ‘Show
Boat.’ Done in
dialog as well as song, the Hammerstein-Kern musical retained
all of its nostalgic charm and rich melody.
Gordon MacRae, who was sort of emcee as well as male
singing lead, acquitted himself quite creditably, with the
Met’s Dorothy Kirsten and Lucille Norman giving admirable
under direction of Norman Luboff, and orch under Carmen
Dragon, added to the smooth proceedings.”
- For the broadcast of January 2, 1950, The Railroad
Hour presented Herbert Blossom’s The Red Mill.
The setting for this musical is a village in Holland,
where two Americans with an itch to get back to New York,
foster the love affair between the burgomaster’s daughter
Gretchen and the young ship’s captain Doris Van Damm.
Gretchen’s father, who wants her to marry the Governor of
Zeeland, imprisons her in the mill.
Gretchen is released by the Americans.
Finally Doris becomes an acceptable son-in-law by
receiving an inheritance, and the universally amorous governor
weds the burgomaster’s sister.
- Gordon MacRae and guest Jack Smith played American
tourists Kid Conner and Con Kidder who meet Gretchen (played
by frequent guest Lucille Norman) just before her forced
wedding to a “fat, old government official,” in a town in
father, the Burgomeister (played by comedian Jack Kirkwood)
locks her in a red mill that is rumored to be haunted by the
ghost of a bride. For
a humorous scene, the duo disguises themselves as Sherlock
Holmes and Dr. Watson to fool Gretchen’s father, using stage
English accents to do so.
- For the broadcast of April 3, 1950, a repeat
performance of The Song of Norway was dramatized, a
musical set mostly in the foothills of the mountains of
Norway, and is a fictionalized account of the life and music
of Edvard Grieg and poet Rikvard Nordraak.
In Midsummer’s Eve 1860, the poet Rikvard Nordraak
recounts the legend of Norway.
Grieg is a humble, unknown and struggling composer
whose genius is recognized only by his close friends, Nina,
his sweetheart, and Nordraak, his great friend. Edvard and
Nina have misunderstandings, however, brought about largely by
the appearance of the glamorous and unconventional Countess,
Louisa Giovanni. Together
they devote their lives to fulfilling the dreams they had as
children. For The Railroad Hour, Irra Petina recreated her
original Broadway role as the Countess Louisa Giovanni, who
formed part of the triangle also involving Grieg and Nina.
Petina did a small bit of “Now” during the curtain
call, a musical number that is best associated with the Song
- During the 1950 holiday broadcast, William T. Faricy,
president of the Association of American Railroads made a
quick guest appearance to broadcast a special message
“Christmas is the season when men and women turn from
strife and struggle toward the blessings of peace and the
fellowship which some day will bring all men together as
friends. This is
the goal which men have sought for almost two thousand years
– which, no doubt, they will continue to seek for years yet
to come. No man,
no institution, no people alone can achieve this long sought
goal – but every man, every institution, every people can
contribute to the fulfillment of the promise of the first
Christmas – Peace on Earth, Good Will To Men.
“The heart of that seeking for peace and good will is
in the family – an institution which symbolizes the family
of mankind. So
Christmas, the festival of peace, is the great family
festival, celebrated in the homes where families gather.
“To all such gatherings who might be listening
tonight, the family of the Railroad Hour – a family
made up not only of those who produce our weekly broadcasts,
but also the railroad companies which sponsor them, the
million people who as small as stockholders own the railroads
and the million and a quarter men and women who work for them
– The Railroad Hour family says to you and your
family, ‘Thank you for joining our Christmas party tonight
– and in your own holiday season, and in the new year to
come, may you find joy, prosperity and, above all, peace!”
- This was the first of what would become an annual
tradition of musical offerings for the holiday season, with
festive and religious music, interlaced with comical tones of
festive celebration, and a personal message given personally
by Faricy. So many listeners wrote in to express their
appreciation of the Railroad Hour’s “Christmas
Party” that the producers repeated this tradition every year
- Beginning with the broadcast of July 2, 1951, The
Railroad Hour premiered a summer season of original
musicals created by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, adapted
from a variety of sources ranging from poems to biographies.
With their knowledge of literature (especially having
scripted all of the Favorite Story radio dramas),
Lawrence and Lee worked alongside Carmen Dragon to present
original musical presentations (though the music was not so
much original as Irish folk songs and American Ballads made up
a large percentage of the vocal music).
- Among the original musicals presented throughout the
summer and future presentations of The Railroad Hour
were the July 9, 1951 broadcast was entitled “Casey at the
Bat,” based on the immortal Ernest L. Thayer poem of the
same name. Such
classics as “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” “The Band
Played On” and “In the Good Old Summertime” were sung
during the drama. A few years before, on June 3, 1947, Lawrence and Lee wrote a
non-musical presentation of the same name, based on the same
poem, for ZIV’s Favorite Story.
- Other such examples . . .
- The July 23, 1951 presentation of The Railroad
Hour was entitled “Roaring Camp,” based on the Bret
Harte story of the same name.
Lawrence and Lee had written a non-musical script dated
September 3, 1946 for Favorite Story, entitled “The
Luck of Roaring Camp.”
- The August 27, 1951 presentation of The Railroad
Hour was entitled “Danny Freel,” adapted from an Irish
folk tale. Lawrence
and Lee had written a non-musical script dated March 11, 1947,
for Favorite Story, entitled “Jamie Freel.”
- The July 14, 1952 presentation of The Railroad
Hour was entitled “The Necklace,” based on the Guy de
Maupassant story of the same name.
Lawrence and Lee had written a non-musical script dated
October 7, 1947 for Favorite Story.
- The August 11, 1952 presentation of The Railroad
Hour was entitled “The Brownings.”
Lawrence and Lee had written a non-musical script based
on the same material dated February 10, 1948 for Favorite
- The June 29, 1953 presentation of The Railroad
Hour was entitled “The Man Without a Country,” based
on the Edward Everett Hale story of the same name.
Lawrence and Lee had written a non-musical script dated
May 27, 1947 for Favorite Story.
- The June 4, 1952 issue of Variety reviewed the
premiere of the new summer season:
“The Railroad Hour launched its summer format
Monday with a trifle that can be properly termed as hot
weather fare. It
was the series’ second seasonal attempt at offering original
plays with music (during the cold weather months The
Railroad Hour, which, incidentally only runs 30 minutes,
rehashes old music comedies and operettas) and it’ll
probably meet with so-so success. It’s
pleasant if not inspiring and won’t make anybody angry.
“Opening show, tagged ‘The Minstrel Boy,’
highlighted the life of Irish songwriter Tom Moore.
Script, penned by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee,
was a lightweight for song interjection.
And the Irish airs came in often enough to make the
stanza quietly appealing.
“Gordon MacRae got lost in a heavy Irish brogue in
essaying the role of Moore.
He found himself, however, in the song assignments
which were belted out with charm.
Dorothy Warenskjold, who played the part of Mrs. Moorse,
was o.k. in the thesping chore and excellent in the warbling
Kerrigan lent an authentic aural note as the yarn’s
“Such tunes as ‘The Minstrel Boy to the War is
Gone,’ ‘‘Tis The Last Rose of Summer’ and ‘Believe
Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms’ were tastefully
presented by musical director Carmen Dragon.”
- Regrettably, the final two seasons of The Railroad
Hour featured very little highlights worth mentioning
compared to the program’s first season.
Repeat performances of musicals performed previously on
the show became more common towards the end of the program’s
run. In fact, of
the 38 episodes broadcast during the program’s final season,
28 were repeats. If
it was not for the Variety reviews and varied summer
presentations, dividing the episodes by season for the episode
guide would otherwise be difficult.
The Railroad Hour was tied with Dr. Christian
as the 19th highest rated show of the 1952-53
season, making the program at this point, still one of the top
twenty programs of the year. For the 1953-54 season, The Railroad Hour was tied
with Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar in 14th
- The final broadcast of The Railroad Hour was
on June 21, 1954. The
reason for the program’s termination remains unknown, and
the Association of American Railroad’s Annual Report of 1954
sheds very little light except for a brief mention:
Railroad Hour, consisting primarily of condensations of
outstanding operettas and other musical shows, was presented
in 1954 for a 30-minute period each Monday night over the full
network of the National Broadcasting Company through June 21,
1954, when the program was discontinued.”
- During the early 1950s, the Armed Forces Radio
Service offered rebroadcasts of radio dramas for troops
stationed overseas. Many
of the Railroad Hour presentations were rebroadcast, as
part of the network’s Showtime line-up.
Most references to the Association of American
Railroads was deleted from the rebroadcasts, as sponsorship
was often disregarded as important when it came to
entertaining the troops.
Shortly after, the AFRS featured rebroadcasts of The
Railroad Hour under a new name, The Gordon MacRae Show,
using the song “I Know That You Know” from MacRae’s film
Tea for Two as the theme.
Many of these recordings circulate among collector
- * Although
a recording for every Railroad Hour broadcast does
exist in air check form (as they aired back in 1948-1954),
collectors do offer a number of recordings from the AFRS
those edited, “washed out” versions are not as enjoyable
as the original offerings.
The musical presentation is intact, but much of the
flavor of the series, including the Railroad commercials and
cast comments, make up some of the program that makes these
shows so special. The
authors of this book recommend that the readers make an
attempt to acquire and listen to the uncut recordings and
avoid the AFRS rebroadcasts if at all possible.
- Throughout their careers, Lawrence and
Lee continued to write and produce radio programs for CBS.
They co-wrote radio plays including The Unexpected
(1951), Song of Norway (1957), Shangri-La
(1960), a radio version of Inherit the Wind (1965), and
Lincoln the Unwilling Warrior (1974).
- In 1954, one of Lawrence and Lee’s original one-act
operas, Annie Laurie, was published by Harms, Inc., who
specialized in publishing music in various forms across the
country. The musical was adapted from Lawrence and Lee’s original Railroad
Hour script. For
the next two years, Harms, Inc. published two more original
musicals, Roaring Camp (1955) and Familiar Strangers
(1956), also previous Railroad Hour originals.
- Having admired the prestige received on The
Railroad Hour, announcer Marvin Miller saved a few scripts
from the series for his personal collection.
During the early-1980s, Miller donated a total of 47
linear feet of scripts and correspondence, 135 open-reel audio
tapes and eight scrapbooks covering his work in radio, film
and television to the Thousand Oaks Library in California.
Today, the Marvin E. Miller Collection is available for
viewing by any patron who chooses to personally visit the
library during open hours.
- The Thousand Oaks Library, however, is not the only
place where fans of The Railroad Hour can find access
to scripts, recordings and other materials related to the
Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the University of
Missouri – St. Louis has made their American Radio
Collection available for the public.
Donated to WHMC by the Thomas Jefferson Library at the
same University, the archive holds a number of episodes in
- The Billy Rose Theater Collection located at the
Lincoln Center of Performing Arts in the New York Public
Library holds the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee
Collection, which includes a broad sampling of the material
that the team created for radio, television, and the stage.
Included in the collection are complete holdings for The
Railroad Hour, both recordings and scripts.
These include almost the entire run of The Railroad
Hour, all off-line recordings from KFI in Los Angeles,
recording is complete on two sound discs, analog, 33 1/3 r.m.p.,
16 inch aluminum-based acetate discs.
Access to many of the original items (such as
transcription discs) is restricted at the Library.
Many of the broadcasts, thankfully, have been
transferred to sound tape reels (analog, 7 ½ i.p.s.; 7 in.)
so patrons can listen and enjoy the musicals.
- In 1967, they presented a full collection of Railroad
Hour recordings to the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of
Recorded Sound at the New York Public Library.
- The Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Collection may
or may not be complete. According
to their inventory, the collection holds a total of 532 sound
recordings – not all of them are The Railroad Hour.
While the archive does house one rehearsal recording,
the list of titles and broadcast dates remain incomplete.
As described by the library’s catalog system: “The
Railroad Hour was a half hour music and drama program
broadcast on NBC from 1948 to 1954. It featured musical
comedies and original stories complete with music. Gordon
MacRae was the host and featured star, and was assisted by
such performers as: Dorothy Kirsten, Jeanette MacDonald,
Adolphe Menjou, Risë Stevens and Margaret Whiting.
Dorothy Warenskjold and Lucille Norman often stood in
for Gordon MacRae during the summers. The announcer was Marvin
Miller. The theme song was I've Been Working on the
- Comparing the library’s inventory with the
recordings known to circulate among old-time radio collectors,
it is estimated that about six recordings remain unaccounted
for. Dismal hopes should not prevail, as it is “assumed” (but
not proven) that the Lawrence and Lee Collection does contain
a recording of every broadcast – and that the inventory
sheets are merely incomplete.
- Many of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s
scripts, manuscripts, drafts and personal papers were donated
to the Ohio State University a number of years before their
death, and though available for public viewing, are not
available for inter-library loan.
Anyone wanting to see what a script for The Railroad
Hour looks like, or a theater ticket for general
admission, can easily contact the library for operating hours.
- Lastly, the Library of Congress currently owns copies
of all of the scripts on microfilm, available for viewing by
anyone willing to register with their library system and
adhere to the strict guidelines and policies for viewing the
scripts. Still, being a musical program, the scripts are not a
feasible substitute for enjoyment of these nostalgic
truly enjoy the presentations, readers are encouraged to
purchase copies of these radio programs from respectable
dealers who have been in business for decades, and were
responsible for originating the recordings presently
- Martin Grams Jr. is the co-author of The Railroad
Hour, published and available through Bear Manor Media.
He is also the author of numerous old-time radio books
including Inner Sanctum Mysteries: Behind the Creaking Door
and The I Love A Mystery Companion.
- email me:
- Copyright © 2008 by Martin
Grams, Jr. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States Of America. No part of this
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Last Updated: 04/27/15 07:37:41 PM