Radio: Birthday Party

  • Share
  • Read Later

The major U.S. corporations are developing a new and expensive habit: when they feel the need for big-scale celebration, they buy up all the TV time in sight. Last year, on its 50th anniversary, the Ford Motor Co. took over NBC and CBS for a two-hour extravaganza starring Ethel Merman and Mary Martin. This week, General Foods celebrated its 25th anniversary by spending $250,000 to capture all four TV networks for a 90-minute show. Another $500,000 went into a glittering array of stars who tackled the job of re-creating the "great moments" from the musicals of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.

Cropped Head. It was a good show, mostly because of the singable Rodgers music. Mary Martin was an effortless charmer as mistress of ceremonies, actress singer, dancer and keynoter ("What is the magic, what is the source of the secret . . . that sets Rodgers and Hammerstein apart from the others?") Mary, who had just closed the Broadway run of Kind Sir, cropped her hair again to sing her best-known South Pacific songs—I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair, Some Enchanted Evening (with Ezio Pinza), and I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy. John Raitt and Jan Clayton who starred in the original Broadway show, did a love scene from Carousel. There were songs from Me and Juliet (Tony Martin and Rosemary Clooney), from The King and I (Yul Brenner and Patricia Morison), Allegro (Bill Hayes and Janice Rule), and Oklahoma! (Gordon MacRae and Florence Henderson).

Comedians were flown in from Hollywood and Florida to do two-and three-minute introductions of the different numbers. Jack Benny had an uneven skit about his troubles in buying a ticket to a Rodgers & Hammerstein hit; Edgar Bergen made only the sketchiest effort at being a ventriloquist in a pair of episodes with Charlie McCarthy and Ed Sullivan; Groucho Marx got the best laughs as a quizmaster cutting Rodgers & Hammerstein down to size.

Busy Sets. The show was conceived and executed in less that 30 days, beginning as a gleam in the eye of Young & Rubicam's Adman Dan Seymour, one-time M.C. of radio & TV's We The People. He sold it first to Oscar Hammerstein, who says: "We thought it was impossible in such a short time, but we took a flyer." Directed and produced by CBS's Ralph Levy, the continuity and casting of the musical numbers was the responsibility of Rodgers and Hammerstein ("But all those complimentary things they said about us, we didn't write").

Hammerstein, who would like to get into TV more regularly, spends most of his weekends before his set. "My wife says I'm an indiscriminate viewer. I'm interested even in TV's imperfections. I don't know why they don't simplify their backgrounds—dancers are murdered against all those busy stage sets." But TV will have to wait. Even though—for the first time in eleven years—there is no Rodgers & Hammerstein show on Broadway, both men have full schedules, will spend this summer in Hollywood working on the movie version of Oklahoma!