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Easy Aces


 
 

 

Husband-and-wife situation comedies were popular during radio's hey-day: Fibber McGee and Molly, Vic and Sade, George and Gracie, Ethel and Albert, the Bickersons, and, perhaps the wittiest of the lot, Easy Aces. Not all of these radio couples were real-life marital duos. Mr. Ace (a first name was never used on the show) and Jane most certainly were!

 Goodman Ace was born Asa Goodman in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1899. He was the son of a haberdasher; consequently, his first job was as a hat salesman. He soon switched to newspapering and became a columnist on the Kansas City Journal Post. Jane Sherwood (born Jane Epstein) saw the light of day in the same city one year later.

The two were married in Kansas City on November 16, 1924. By 1928 we know that Goodman Ace was earning his living as a movie and drama critic for the Journal-Post. According to John Dunning in his excellent book Tune In Yesterday, 1928 marked Ace's foray into local radio broadcasting. Over KMBC (the local CBS affiliate) he begain reading the Sunday comics at ten dollars per show. He soon added another feature "The Movie Man" during which he read his reviews of films for another $10. Dunning's story of what happened next reads like one of their later improbable episodes. The principals in a 15-minute show which was to follow Ace's "The Movie Man" never showed up, and he was recruited to ad-lib for the fifteen minute time period. Luckily (for him and for us!) wife Jane was standing by and joined in the impromptu discussion of their bridge game the night before and a local unsolved murder. Listener reaction was favorable, and a radio institution was born -- first on KMBC. In two years time the local program had attracted network attention, and in October 1931 "Easy Aces" began a 13-week trial period on the CBS network at 10:15 AM out of Chicago. Audience response to a write-in appeal was so overwhelming (100,000 letters) that the program remained a network feature for 15 years -- not, however, always at the same time or the same network.

In 1935 the show moved to NBC's blue network at 7:30 PM on Mondays and Wednesdays sponsored by Anacin. In 1942 the Aces went back to CBS at the same time slot on Wednesdays and Fridays, and on November 24, 1943, "Easy Aces" became a one-half-hour-per-week broadcast at 7:30 PM where it remained until January 10, 1945. The "honeymoon" with sponsor Anacin ended abruptly when a minor executive complained about a musical bridge on the show, which prompted Ace to suggest how Anacin could better package its product! Dunning notes in his account that the "broadcasts were informal, the principals sitting around an old card table with a built-in, concealed microphone. NBC built the table to Ace's specifications early in the run...(p. 176)." The show returned to the airwaves briefly in February, 1948, in the half-hour format under the title mr. ace and Jane. Apparently Goodman Ace learned to use unorthodox capitalization practices from the modern poet e .e. cummings! He had also learned how to re-package his earlier scripts in a more sophisticated format using himself as the host and commentator with live audience reaction taking the place of Marge. Unfortunately the actor who plays Jane's brother Paul in these 1948 programs has voice characteristics very similar to those of Ace himself.

The "plots" for the earlier "Easy Aces" episodes ranged from single incidents of an evening in their bungalow (Jane -- writing a letter to her mother -- can't understand why there is more than one spelling for the word "right/write/rite") to extended incidents requiring two weeks or more to play out the chain of events. Jane and Goodman Ace are the pivotal characters throughout the series. Why the watchdogs of "political correctness" or certain feminist groups haven't tried to ban the distribution of "Easy Aces" shows is-- as Jane would say -- "behind me!" Jane Ace is everything feminist extremists abhor. On the surface she is the "ditsy" housewife who ventures forth into a "man's world" with hilarious [if not disasterous) results. Her speech patterns were a Midwestern prototype for the much later Edith Bunker with a whining, infantile voice which wasn't for all tastes. This writer remembers being forbidden to listen to the show on the big Philco in the living room because the adults in the family considered Jane's voice on a par with scraping fingernails on a chalkboard. Consequently he sneaked next door whenever possible to listen with the Hubbards who were also ardent fans.

Goodman Ace (for those who haven't heard the show) sounded very much like the voice of a disgruntled Tom Bodett on the current Motel 6 radio commercials. He was the long-suffering, hard-working real estate sales executive (later an advertizing executive] who groaned "Isn't that awful!" when Jane tossed off her fractured epigrams or revealed her hairbrained schemes.

There are regulars on the show. Marge Hale (Mary Hunter) was a school-girl chum of Jane's who lives with the Aces (no one knows why!) and acts as a Greek Chorus. Marge laughs a lot, never initiates any activity except to refuse stubbornly to be a part of Jane's schemes, and generally holds herself above and apart from the festivities. You either accept her classical function as commentator who lets you know when to laugh or you find her sort of a "creep" who wouldn't last in your household for five minutes. As a child I never questioned Marge as an integral part of the show. As an adult I find her less acceptible and I'm not sure why. Perhaps the stereotype of the "spinster" no longer has a place in our society.

The "Easy Aces" have no children (nor did they in real life), but Jane's brother Johnny Sherwood (Paul Stewart) features prominently in early episodes. Johnny is a lazy, good-for-nothing who has been sponging off the Aces for years. His marriage to Alice Everett, the daughter of a wealthy tycoon, doesn't stop his billing two suits plus accessories to his brother-in-law's charge account. Jane loyally defends Johnny through thick and thin. Although her brother has been loafing for twelve years she explains that Johnny is waiting for the dollar to stabilize before he goes to work. He is convinced that taking even temporary employment might set a precedent! Johnny is one of those radio relatives you love to hate. Characters move into and out of the plot lines as needed. One of the other outrageous temporary residents was the maid Laura (Helene Dumas). Ford Bond served as the program's announcer and "scene setter" for many years, later replaced by Ken Roberts

Humor in the form of a "situation comedy" is difficult to explain, partly because what is "funny" or "delightfully sophisticated" to some listeners may prove "offensive" and "stupid" -- or even downright "incomprehensible" -- to others. If humor is the "playful overthrow of authority," then a situation comedy makes light of the mores, the prejudices, the foibles of society along with its movers and shakers People who don't find some of these social and political practices a bit frightening or awesome probably will not find their "overthrow" a happy release. For example, a man who is a bit intimidated by his mother-in-law in real life will probably find jokes about mothers-in-law hilarious. On the other hand, if you happen to be the mother-in-law, the humor will be lost to you. A psychiatrist friend once declared, "Tell me what you poke fun at, and I'll tell you what your secret fears are!"

The psychology of verbal wit may be described differently. An English professor from college days noted that "wit is the shocking discrepancy between the expected and the actual." The old joke which begins "Why does the chicken cross the road?" isn't funny if you get the answer you've heard a dozen times before: "Because it wants to get to the other side!" But it may get a laugh with the snappy comeback "That was no chicken, that was my wife!" You expected an old chestnut, but you actually got an unexpected mixture of TWO old jokes! The outlandish plots on "Easy Aces" were not what kept most fans listening, although there were many nights when Jane did not utter a single witticism. However, what people remember about "Easy Aces" was the verbal humor of Jane Ace.

 

 

Show # of Shows Cost  
Easy Aces Show CD1 141 $7.00
Easy Aces Show CD 2 139 $7.00

 


 

 

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