Recently we've run a few entries on an oft-overlooked element of classic Hollywood history -- how network radio's growth to the West Coast affected Carole Lombard and others in the industry. Today, we'll examine it further, focusing on what is arguably the most pivotal of Hollywood radio programs, "Lux Radio Theater."
"Lux" wasn't the first Hollywood-based network radio series with a coast-to-coast hookup, but from its Los Angeles debut on June 1, 1936, it clearly was the most influential. A look at the show's Hooper ratings (that era's equivalent of the Nielsens) makes that obvious:
*Season based in New York
No ratings were recorded for 1943-44, but for the next seven seasons, through 1950-51, "Lux" had at least a 21 rating from Hooper and then Nielsen (which took over in 1949-50). Simply put, it was a ratings colossus, dominating its Monday night time slot and tying with NBC's "Bob Hope Show" for the most seasonal number-one finishes between 1932 and 1953; each did it five times.
The Aug. 1, 1936 issue of Radio Guide had a feature on this remade program, giving readers an idea of what made "Lux" work:
Note that Carole was said to be on the schedule for a future "Lux" broadcast, but didn't actually appear on the program until May 9, 1938, in "My Man Godfrey." Might she have planned to perform, but then backed out? (Three adaptations of Lombard films with other stars in her role aired before "Godfrey" -- "Hands Across The Table" on May 3, 1937 with Claudette Colbert; "Up Pops The Devil" on Oct. 18, 1937 with Madge Evans; and "Brief Moment" on Feb. 14, 1938 with Ginger Rogers.)
Frank Woodruff is quoted several times in the Radio Guide piece. While he never received on-air credit in the same manner as "producer" Cecil B. DeMille, he directed "Lux" from the start of its Hollywood run and was the program's unsung hero. In fact, he was the subject of a fascinating feature in the July 1937 issue of Radio Mirror, as it explained what he had to do to adapt film actors -- many of whom were untrained or unknowledgeable where broadcasting was concerned -- to this new medium. (Woodruff directed "Lux" from 1936 to 1939, including two episodes starring Lombard -- the aforementioned "Godfrey" and an adaptation of "That Certain Woman" on Oct. 31, 1938, where Carole played a role Bette Davis had originated on screen.)
Someone in the layout department properly earned their keep by concluding the jump above an ad on how Lux helps the durability of stockings.
The above two articles are from the radio press, but filmland fan magazines weren't ignoring the new neighbor, either. The August 1937 issue of Hollywood ran a piece on how the movie capital was becoming one for radio, too:
Lombard made that issue, too...
...and on the back of her page was the first of a two-page spread on the shocking death of the beloved Jean Harlow, where she purportedly told a man not long before her passing that she had found true love in William Powell, but that death would cheat her of ultimately gaining complete romantic satisfaction.
On the surface, this reads like so much studio-manufactured malarkey (and MGM, Harlow's home studio, made malarkey an art form), but perhaps she recalled the scarlet fever she contracted in her youth, noted the illnesses she had faced earlier in the year, and subconsciously put two and two together. Whatever, it's a touching piece, whether or not you fully believe it.