The Old Time Radio Researchers Group has recently acquired, by my count, 484 episodes of the OTR soap opera Aunt Mary. It takes about eleven pages of the November, 2006 issue of "Old Radio Times" to list them all. This, I believe, is the largest number of surviving episodes thus far identified of any radio soap opera. Once the recordings have been encoded and passed through the quality control process, I expect them to be made available to the public, possibly as a free download at archive.org.
Last year I purchased forty-eight Aunt Mary episodes from ATG Enterprises (www.goldenagesounds.com) to go with the few I already had. They follow a story line which appears to have been broadcast in 1945 and early 1946. The plot features a love triangle, and involves a young woman in a failing marriage who pays an extended visit to "friends" in Los Angeles in order to conceal a dark secret from her father and others back in Wakefield.
In the wider picture, Mary Lane owns a small farm on the outskirts of Wakefield, where she raises chickens (among other things) and acts as a steadying influence on her live-in niece Peggy and hired hand Lefty Larkin, who has quite a secret of his own. We learn a lot about the farm and the daily routine of life there. A typical breakfast, for example, consists of hot coffee, fried eggs, and fresh-baked muffins right from the oven served with butter and strawberry preserves. An abundance of such details is one of the attributes which elevate Aunt Mary above the ordinary domestic daytime drama.
The city of Wakefield is a perfect model for the multitude of fictitious small towns, with names reflecting and idealizing the beauty and dominance of their natural settings, which dot the soap opera landscape. Springdale, Valleydale, Glendale, Elmwood, Walnut Grove, Three Oaks, Three Rivers, Riverfield, Wakefield, and so on forever.
As for the city itself, we are given a description in an episode aired 2/12/46 (which I obtained from SPERDVAC). A nurse has just wheeled the baby she is tending around the town square in a pram, and sits down on a bench to rest. She remarks to herself that Wakefield is "exactly how I'd expect a small town to look." She notices the brick courthouse and the main street with a corner drugstore, a hotel and The Elite Cafe. In other episodes we learn that the square also houses the Farmers Bank, the Calvert Real Estate and Loan Company, and a doctor's office. Also in the town are a movie theater (location unspecified), a train stop and the Wakefield Auto Court, which seems to be a motel but where two of the main characters are presently making their home.
This is a soap opera with a fully realized world which is both familiar and accessible. We are invited to pay a visit there every day, and almost five hundred episodes will allow for a lot of visits.
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