For years I noticed that no one had ever tried to trace the details in the lives of the Hummerts. Last year when I spent a couple of weeks researching another book in the Hummert Collection at the American Heritage Center I stumbled on enough of their correspondence and other artifacts, plus tens of thousands of their scripts, to finally make a biography on their lives a doable venture. Having also located some members of their extended family plus offspring of individuals in their employ it seemed only natural to pursue it.
"Frank and Anne Hummert's Radio Factory: The Programs and Personalities of Broadcasting's Most Prolific Producers" will be released by McFarland & Co. later this year (2003). It contains some rare photographs, five appendices, a bibliography and index and will sell for $32.50. You may order the book now from McFarland at 1-800-253-2187. It's currently listed on the web site at www.mcfarlandpub.com, although it won't be available for a while.
Those eccentric Hummerts influenced no less than 125 separate series on radio, creating and producing most of them, including dozens that were aired simultaneously. At a given time their programs offered more than 100 new (non-repeating) chapters per week. Contrary to popular opinion, less than half (61) of those features were soap operas. Some of their offerings were just as popular in other realms (think "Manhattan Merry-Go-Round," "Waltz Time," "Jack Armstrong," "Terry and the Pirates," "Mr. Keen," "Mr. Chameleon," "Hearthstone of the Death Squad," et. al. ad infinitum). The pair devised some of the most recognizable advertising jingles ever created, some still as popular today as they were 70 years ago.
For all of their contributions to aural broadcasting, however, Frank and Anne Hummert could be characterized as perhaps the most reclusive couple in the industry. While they presided over an empire that affected the lives of hundreds of individuals and they demonstrated idiosyncrasies that were almost too unbelievable to be true, those multimillionaires--whose names were credited on most of the shows they produced--preferred to remain in the shadows, seldom subjecting themselves to interviews or personal appearances and (to my knowledge) never appearing on the air themselves. Their lifestyle was ostentatious and their minions were routinely treated with little respect. Yet they fostered methods that were widely practiced by others in radio broadcasting while literally helping to shape an industry.
Their personal lives are intriguing and read like the soap operas for which they are best recalled. This is a fascinating study long overdue and I believe anyone who explores it will be captivated by the tale of this most unusual couple just as I was while researching and writing it. Possibly no other family exerted as much influence on what we heard in the golden age at all hours of the broadcast day. They were truly unparalleled in their accomplishments.
If you need to be reminded, incidentally, some of their better known serials include "Stella Dallas," "Young Widder Brown," "The Romance of Helen Trent," "Our Gal Sunday," "Backstage Wife," "Just Plain Bill," "Lorenzo Jones," "Lora Lawton," "David Harum" and so many more we fondly recall. What a pair of innovators!
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