Just Plain Bill

Hosted by Jim Cox, author of The Great Radio Soap Operas (31 Classic Daytime Dramas, 1930-1960)

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Just Plain Bill

Postby Lou » Tue Oct 25, 2005 12:26 pm

On the Air: Sept. 19, 1932-June 16, 1933, CBS, 6:45 p.m. ET; June 19, 1933-1935, CBS, 7:15 p.m. Nighttime performances were discontinued in 1935. The daytime version was added Oct. 16, 1933, CBS; 1935-June 12, 1936, CBS, 11:45 a.m.; Sept. 14, 1936-March 15, 1940, NBC, 10:30 a.m.; March 25, 1940-July 31, 1942, NBC Blue, 3:45 p.m.; Sept. 14, 1942-June 29, 1951, NBC, 5:30 p.m.; July 2, 1951-March 25, 1954, NBC, 5 p.m.; Sept. 26, 1954-July 1, 1955, NBC, 5 p.m.; July 4, 1955-Sept. 30, 1955, 3:45 p.m.

Bill Davidson: Arthur Hughes ... Nancy Davidson Donovan: Ruth Russell (1932-51), Toni Darnay (1951-55) ... Kerry Donovan: James Meighan ... Wiki Donovan: Sarah Fussell, Madeleine Pierce ... Elmer Eeps: Joe Latham

Announcer: Andre Baruch, John Cornell, Fielden Farrington, Ed Herlihy, Roger Krupp

Theme Songs: "Darling Nellie Gray" (early opening and bridges); "Polly Wolly Doodle" (closing, also later opening)

Epigraph: "Now, to the many friends who wait for him ... we present Just Plain Bill, barber of Hartville, the story of a man who might be living right next door to you -- the real-life story of people just like people we all know."

Premise: The "haircutter of Hartville" just didn't cut it. The "barber of Hartville" seemed more fitting. Nor was the first name given to this series, "Bill the Barber," satisfying to the future Mrs. E. Frank Hummert. Anne S. Ashenhurst, one of the serial's creators, replaced the title with "Just Plain Bill." So why would homemakers be inspired by the story of a small-town barber anyway? Because Bill Davidson, a good-natured, soft-spoken, homespun country philosopher, sensitive to the needs of friends and relatives, offered level-headed advice to help them straighten out their tangled lives. Listeners identified with people like themselves, just as the serial's familiar epigraph espoused. Here was a man among them who was all-wise and all-heart. He gave reassurance that even when the clouds are darkest, there is a silver lining if one searches diligently for it. The dilemmas he solved frequently focused on his little family: his daughter, Nancy; her lawyer-husband, Kerry Donovan; and Bill's grandson, Wiki. Leaving fiction behind, however, the most significant thing about this show was the distinction it held in the annals of radio soap opera. Debuting in 1932, "Just Plain Bill" was easily the first serial to make a lasting impression on far-flung audiences. It continued doing so for 23 years -- initially as a nightime feature and soon as a daytime quarter-hour. Against this classic series many of its followers came to be measured, with some lacking the quality that made it an enormous favorite.

Memorable line: "You have to stand up to evil and fight it. You have to be ready for it when it strikes, and never give in to it. If you do them things, ... you can never be whipped by evil men." (Even though Bill's English was sometimes atrocious, he got his point across.)

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Postby piqueroi » Wed Jan 04, 2006 3:51 pm

The epigraph, real life folk just like you and me, seems hilarious in retgrospect when you consider that the announcer immediately begins a narrative such as: Bill, recovering from having eaten the poisoned apple, sent to him by someone who fears he has discovered the identity of Eilene's murderer, is now talking to the sheriff from his hospital bed ....
Of course it was the heightened drama and emotions that drew my childish attention to the denizens of Hartville ... a small folksy town which seemed to consist of simple, good people with very evil, sophisticated city people plotting against them.
The last major story thread featured an attractive woman who apparently had fallen for Bill. Nancy instructively distrusted her father's admirer, which sort of tickled Bill who had proposed to the woman. He did not suspect she was working for an international gang of crooks who knew there was a vast mother lode of uranium under Bill's barber shop and the woman had been hired to lure Bill into marriage so he could be killed and she would own his property. Nancy's protests were so heavy that when she started to investigate the woman's past the head of the gang changed plans, killing the woman and framing Nancy for the murder. (Nancy's fingerprints were on the gun because a power failure had been arranged and in the dark ... don't choke, this really happened ... she had been handed the revolver briefly as the killer told her it was a flashlight.) During Nancy's trial the gang had rigged explosives under the courthouse to be used if Bill and Kerry discovered the truth. I do not remember the exact resolution ... perhaps one of the members of this forum will ... because I missed the last couple of months of the show. Anyway, the Hummerts really knew how to give a child an interesting peek into "grown-up life".

Hal Evans
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Postby Hal Evans » Fri Mar 17, 2006 6:36 pm

Am heartily enjoying this room! :) In some book on OTR, the author noted that the engineers called the show, "Just Plain Bull." :) I would think the cast would break up over the scripts. Has there ever been such a break-up on the air? I grew up in a town in South Dakota, during the great days of radio. In my mind's eyes and ears, I could see characters like JBP in my town.

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