LET'S PRETEND AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF RADIO (paperback)
Let's Pretend actually went under a different title and slight variations of formats before settling down to the now-familiar children's program heard today through surviving recordings. On October 27, 1928, a Saturday morning children's program offering whimsical tales of fantasy and fairy tales premiered under the title of Aunt Jymmie and Her Tots in Tottyville. Very little is known about this program except for the format. The hostess of the series (Aunt Jymmie) would introduce each week's drama to the juvenile audience, which would be enacted by a cast of young children known as "the tots." The young "tots" would then travel to Tottyville, a make-believe world of king and queens, princesses, witches and magic spells. This series lasted for eighteen broadcasts from October 27, 1928 to February 23, 1929, originating from the WABC studio in New York City, the flagship station for CBS.
Aunt Jymmie was replaced by a second children's radio program known as The Children's Club Hour with Howard Merrill. Merrill functioned as both the host and the scriptwriter. Later, during the 1940s, Merrill would write scripts for The Gay Nineties Revue, Secret Missions, and detective series such as Sherlock Holmes, Leonidas Witherall and the Abbott Mysteries. Just as the title suggests, The Children's Club Hour also featured fairy tales enacted by juvenile cast members, but why the word "hour"; is in the program’s title is not all too clear - the program was only on the air for a thirty-minute time slot.
After seventeen broadcasts of The Children's Club Hour, the time slot was handed over to Estelle Levy and Patricia Ryan who created a third Saturday morning children's program, this one titled The Adventures of Helen and Mary. Third time was the charm. The Adventures of Helen and Mary has been documented in encyclopedias such as John Dunning's On the Air as the forerunner of Let's Pretend, and this statement is correct but it should be known that Aunt Jymmie and the Children's Club Hour programs were not previous incarnations of Let's Pretend. The producers, directors, cast and staff of those two previous were totally different programs. The only similarity was the fact that they both offered renditions of fairy tales for young radio listeners.
The Children's Club Hour began on March 2, 1929. The exact date of the final broadcast of The Children's Club Hour is June 22, 1929. The first broadcast of The Adventures of Helen and Mary was June 29, 1929. The Adventures of Helen and Mary was very successful and was heard for a total of 229 broadcasts.
Interesting trivia: For a very brief time during December 1930 and January 1931, the name of the program changed from The Adventures of Helen and Mary to Land O' Make Believe. There is no evidence explaining why the program changed its title for the few brief weeks and back again and it's not clear how many broadcasts went by the name Land O' Make Believe. After 229 broadcasts, Nila Mack, who by then was heavily involved with the program, took over the reins and changed the title from The Adventures of Helen and Mary to Let's Pretend. (Anyone slightly confused can recall the example of how Counterspy and David Harding, Counterspy are the same program, it's just that the title changed over the years.)
"The best book about radio I've read since Mary Jane Higby's Tune in Tomorrow. You have made the whole golden age of radio come alive."
- Ron Lackmann, author
"A fond addition to the libraries of those who fondly remember the show. Delves into every aspect of the program. Anderson's vivid descriptions provide an almost vicarious feeling of 'being there.'"
- Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
"A definitive source of information on the program."
- Mike Henry, Broadcast Pioneers Library, University of Maryland
"It is a record of a priceless piece of Americana."
- Patricia C. Willis, Curator of American Literature, Yale University
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Arthur Anderson has been an actor since the age of 12 - first in radio, then on stage, in films and in commercials. His best-known voice-over character is Lucky the Leprechaun for General Mills' Lucky Charms, which he originated in 1963. That lasted for 29 years. A more recent voice-over was Eustace the farmer in the Cartoon Network's Courage the Cowardly Dog, as nasty as the leprechaun was nice.
He started in radio in 1935, and for 18 years worked for Nila Mack on the CBS Network in Let's Pretend, the nation's favorite children's program. He played wicked giants, old men and talking horses. For 9 of those years it was sponsored by Cream of Wheat.
Arthur's first two Broadway plays were Julius Caesar and Shoemakers' Holiday for Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre. He then worked for Mr. Welles on radio in The Mercury Theatre on the Air. His many stage credits also include two national touring companies, and summer and winter stock.
Arthur began doing nationwide television shows from New York in the 1950s, his most recent including several roles on Law and Order. His screen credits include appearances in Midnight Cowboy, Green Card and Woody Allen's Zelig.
Unusual among actors, Arthur has always made his living by performing. The only exceptions have been writing his book on Let's Present, and his foreword for the Radio Spirits recording, The Best of Old-Time Radio Starring Orson Welles.