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Hilltop House

Posted: Tue Oct 25, 2005 12:32 pm
by Lou
On the Air: Nov. 1, 1937-Aug. 12, 1938, MBS, 11:30 a.m. ET, also Nov. 1, 1937-April 22, 1938, CBS, 5:45 p.m.; April 25, 1938-April 5, 1940, CBS, 10:30 a.m.; April 8, 1940-March 28, 1941, CBS, 4:30 p.m.; May 17, 1948-Jan. 5, 1951, CBS, 3:15 p.m.; Jan. 8, 1951-July 1, 1955, CBS, 3 p.m.; Sept. 3, 1956-July 30, 1957, NBC.

Bess Johnson: Bess Johnson ... Julie Erickson: Grace Matthews, Jan Miner ... Grace Dolben: Vera Allen

Announcer: Frank Gallop

Theme Song: "Lullaby" (Brahms), played on the xylophone

Premise: In this serial, unlike most others, without the kids there wouldn't have been a plot. The strife was often predicated on the interaction of adults with children who were placed in an orphanage and on the attempts to iron out the problems that had put those youngsters there. Of course, such a theme by itself wouldn't have had staying power either; the love life of the home's superintendent, Julie Erickson, was added to give a steady diversion. There was also occasional friction between the staff and board members over how the home was run. Sometimes financial concerns threatened to shut the orphanage down. Ultimately, this was a tale of one woman's dilemma in offering herself to the emotional care of sometimes unwanted, occasionally unruly adolescents while concerned with matters of her own heart. Listeners -- most of them mothers themselves -- related to the tenderness with which this tireless servant went about her tasks. After the program left the air, it made two comebacks following long absences. An actress who played the lead was so popular with audiences that she was able to transfer to a spin-off series, using her own name for its title. That was surely the ultimate in character identification.

Posted: Fri Oct 06, 2006 8:15 am
by Weston
I don't know why Hilltop House came into my mind this morning, but it did, so I googled it and saw your post. It must have been sometime between '37 and '41 when I listened to this program while recuperating from two surgeries on a badly broken arm; I would have been between ages 6 and 10 in Brooklyn, NY. I listened to others, but this was my favorite and the only one that stayed in my mind. I hadn't remembered the content at all, and there may be no connection, but my first job out of college was for the county, working with adopted children in their adoptive homes; I loved my job.

Brahms Lullaby... this program must have been comforting to a quiet little girl who was alone most of the time while her immigrant parents worked around the clock. It's not relevant, but I also remember how intensely I loved the Honey Bunch books.

Posted: Wed Feb 21, 2007 12:39 pm
by Larry M
The statement in the original entry that "in this serial, unlike most others, without the kids there wouldn't have been a plot" reminds me of something that is often overlooked about radio soap operas. We usually hear about the similarities among programs in this genre: they portray the suffering of those in love and the misunderstandings and cross purposes that promote disharmony in the home and community, and some (not all) carry a heavy content of sickness and death, and of bad people (frequently criminals) who harbor and prosecute harmful designs on good people.

Seldom emphasized, however, are the differences among the shows that make each one unique. Every soap opera presents its own distinct world to us, one which is meant to be clearly differentiated from that of any other program. The Story of Mary Marlin, for example, is about a United States senator from Iowa whose professional and social life places her in the company of the wealthiest and most powerful people in Washington. That's a far cry from the world of Richard Dennis, a poor widowed clergyman in the town of Three Rivers who struggles to raise his five children alone in the face of poverty and misfortune (The Brighter Day).

And then there are the Nobles of Rosehaven (Backstage Wife), Mary a "little Iowa girl" and her husband Larry the "matinee idol of a million other women." Their world is heavily influenced by the Broadway stage, and most of their friends and acquaintances are actors. playwrights, producers and wealthy backers. Contrast that with the life of Ma Perkins as we see her working at the lumber yard in Rushville Center, or sitting at home talking quietly with someone in the front porch swing, or in the kitchen preparing dinner while her daughter makes the salad.

No one could confuse any of the above shows with any other, and it is indeed the orphanage and its residents that give Hilltop House its own special identity. I have the episode from the WJSV broadcast of September 21, 1939 when Bess Johnson was in charge of the institution in Glendale, and seventeen more from 1953 after Bess had departed and Julie Erickson had become one of her successors. Most of the episodes involve one or more children, and a major plot strand from 1953 deals with Julie's attempts to help an emotionally vulnerable girl who lives at the orphanage. The soap opera Hilltop House is unique because of the institution for which it is named, its juvenile residents, and the supervisor (be it Bess or Julie) "who must choose between love and the career of raising other people's children."

Re: Hilltop House

Posted: Fri Feb 06, 2009 7:20 am
by Weston
Your post on the contrasting themes of the old radio series was very interesting. I went to the WJSV website and tried to find a way to listen to the 1939 segment you mentioned, but I could only hear the Palmolive commercial, and not the program itself. Can you tell me how you came into possession of the 1939 broadcast? Thanks. It's been a year since you posted your message. Hope you get this. : )

Re: Hilltop House

Posted: Fri Feb 06, 2009 2:05 pm
by Larry M
Hi Weston. I acquired the broadcast back in the year 2001 at a Borders Books and Music store. It was in the form of a boxed set of cassettes put out by America Before TV and entitled "September 21, 1939: A Day from the Golden Age of Radio." I don't know whether it can still be obtained.

As for the Hilltop House episode, if you just want to listen to it go to On the left in the "Services" box, scroll down to "1930s," hover on it and click on "On the Air." That will bring up a screen where you can click on "A Day in Radio," and you can scroll down to "Hilltop House" on the next screen and left click on it, then click on the white triangle at the left to listen. After a few seconds of buffering, you should hear it.

If you want to download the episode, go to Type Complete Broadcast Day in the search box near the top and click on the red "Go" button. Click on the title again in the next screen that comes up, scroll down to the Individual Files section on the next screen and download Part 04. There are several soap opera episodes in that part, and Hilltop House begins about 31 minutes into it, after Pretty Kitty Kelly and The Story of Myrt and Marge.

I have just tried both of these again to make sure they work and that the sound is okay, and everything seems fine. I hope you enjoy the episode.