Audio ClassicsÒ Archive

THE RAILROAD HOUR: A Musical Appreciation
by Martin Grams, Jr.
“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 leading roles.
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 Hartesveldt.
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 message.  The 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 available?”  The 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 purposes.  Jerome 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 nationwide.  Marvin 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 American Railroads:
“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 stars.” 
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 presentations.  The 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 Tavern.  This would be his first and only contribution for The Railroad Hour.
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 role.
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 broadcast.  Leon Errol also reprised his stage role of Connie for the radio drama. 
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 Christmas.”  The 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 pirate.  Captain 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 radio broadcast.
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 magnificent.  The 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 Police.  Kenyon 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 program.  Groucho even joked about the show jumping to another network, which, unbeknownst to Groucho’s humor, would actually do the next season.
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 broadcasts.
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 times.
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 La Verne.
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 afterwards.  (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 support.  Chorus 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 Holland.  Her 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 of Norway.
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 personally:
            “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 after.
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 Story.
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 department.  J.M. Kerrigan lent an authentic aural note as the yarn’s narrator.
            “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 place!
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:
 “The 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 catalogs.*
*  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 rebroadcasts.  Regrettably, 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 program.  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 their archives.
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, California.  Each 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 Railroad.
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 broadcasts.  To 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 available.
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 publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.


Audio Classics® LLC Archive
Copyright © 1997-2012 Terry Salomonson
Home Page: 
Last Updated: 04/27/15 07:37:41 PM