Page 1 of 1

Longest-running radio soap?

Posted: Sat Jul 03, 2010 9:39 am
by MaggieZB
Hello - my 88-year-old father said his cousin was the female lead in the longest-running radio soap. He's trying to remember her name -- can anyone help? (most of his family was in Illinois--perhaps it was a Chicago station) thank you!

Re: Longest-running radio soap?

Posted: Tue Aug 10, 2010 9:50 pm
by Larry M
According to Appendix A of Jim Cox's The Great Radio Soap Operas (p.301), The Romance of Helen Trent ran continuously for 26 years and 11 months, airing 7,222 episodes. Ma Perkins enjoyed a longevity of 27 years, 3 months and presented 7,065 broadcasts but "with some interruptions."

As for Chicago connections, on page 116 of the same book it is noted that Ma Perkins star Virginia Payne "never missed a performance from the drama's inception in Cincinnati, moving with it to Chicago and finally New York." Cox also notes that the serial was produced by "Frank and Anne Hummert of Chicago's Blackett-Sample-Hummert advertising agency" (p.117). The Romance of Helen Trent, we are told, was governed by Blackett-Sample-Hummert "in its early years" (p.202).

Re: Longest-running radio soap?

Posted: Wed Sep 01, 2010 8:26 am
by Larry M
It has occurred to me that we can narrow the identity of MaggieZB's father's cousin down to four people if we just make the assumption that the series he had in mind was either Ma Perkins (the longest-running radio soap based on longevity) or The Romance of Helen Trent (the longest-running based on total number of episodes aired).

If it was Ma Perkins, then the cousin had to be Virginia Payne because nobody else ever played the role of Ma. If it was The Romance of Helen Trent, Lou's initial post here on that serial notes that three actresses played Helen: Virginia Clark (1933-43), Betty Ruth Smith (1943-44), and Julie Stevens (1944-60). I glanced at John Dunning's On The Air, and he lists Clark and Stevens but not Smith, but notes that "on a few occasions, fill-ins were used in the leading role" (p.584). The Big Broadcast, by Frank Buxton and Bill Owen, lists all three and no others (p.203). Same with Ron Lackmann's The Encyclopedia of American Radio (p.236). So several prominent scholars are in agreement on this point, an important one for our purposes.

Thus the mystery cousin had to be one of the four ladies above, unless the series itself was perhaps a very long running one that has escaped the notice of researchers.

Re: Longest-running radio soap?

Posted: Mon Sep 06, 2010 6:50 pm
by piqueroi
Julie Stevens, of course, was Helen when I listened to the show, but there was a 1-day only replacement in 1958 -- Lucille Wall, who was playing on This Is Nora Drake as David's alcoholic sister Lorraine (which aired at 1pm on CBS). I suspect something had happened to prevent Ms. Stevens from getting to the studio and the Helen Trent staff simply snatched up the handiest person available who had vast radio experience. (Thank goodness they didn't shanghai Vivian Smolen, else Alistair Duncan might have been jealous!)

To anyone of my age Virginia Payne was like radio royalty so I would suspect the mystery actress would have been either Clark or Stevens. Didn't Stevens assume the role when The Romance of Helen Trent moved from Chicago to New York?

Re: Longest-running radio soap?

Posted: Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:40 pm
by Larry M
That's right about Julie Stevens, according to Jim Cox in The Great Radio Soap Operas (pp.208-09). He says that Julie had been playing the title role in the radio serial Kitty Foyle in New York. It so happened that on the very last day Kitty Foyle was aired, auditions were being held for the part of Helen right across the street. Julie gave her final performance as Kitty, ran over to CBS (getting thoroughly soaked by a pouring rain in the process), and won the part.

Cox also mentions (p.208) that the role of Helen was the only major radio part Virginia Clark ever played and that she gave it up after ten years and "moved to Puerto Rico as a recreation director."

As for Betty Ruth Smith, he writes that by the time she took the role of Helen she "had been a heroine on three other soap operas== Judy and Jane, Lone Journey and Woman in White-- and a regular on Backstage Wife" (p.208).

I tend to agree that the mystery cousin was probably either Clark or Stevens. Now if we only knew whether she ever moved to Puerto Rico. Too bad we can't put Front Page Farrell on the case.