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IRC Chat with Harry
Thrs., Oct 15, 1998
The Net community was lucky to spend some time with Harry Bartell, one of the preeminent actors in radio and television. Mr. Bartell has in his career performed in well over 7,000 live and transcribed radio programs; and he answered questions live for those of us in the IRC chat.
IRC log started Thu Oct 15 22:01
<lois> It is our distinct pleasure and honor to have as our guest tonight, Old Time Radio Actor, Harry Bartell. Mr. Bartell has kindly consented to answer questions for his fans tonight.
<lois> In order to make this evenings event run more smoothly, the channel will be moderated. This means that your typed comments will not be seen in the channel. Please wait until you see the "-m" on your screen before typing to the channel.
<lois> There are simple guide lines we ask you to follow so as not to disrupt others:
<lois> Turn off any away messages and auto greets.
<lois> Make no nick changes.
<lois> No private messages to Mr. Bartell, nor to Lois except as below.
<lois> Hold questions and comments until prompted.
<lois> No use of colors, as they appear as Greek to those using a the Java client.
<lois> And most of all be respectful of others
<lois> If you wish to ask a question of Mr. Bartell, please type /msg Lois <your request here>. When a + shows next to your name in the list of names on the right side of the channel, you may type your question.
<lois> Anyone doing a /whois on Mr. Bartell will find the information comes back as busterc. This is being done to cut lag between answers. The answers are being pasted directly from Mr. Bartell. This allows him to begin answering the next question while you type yours.
<lois> If you are using the Java Client, highlight Lois, type message in message window. Double click on Lois to turn message window off.
<lois> We suggest you set your windows as wide as possible.
<lois> It is indeed a tremendous privilege, and with great pride, that we welcome our guest of this evening, Mr. Harry Bartell. As one of the cast of Hollywood regulars, he appeared on all the top dramatic shows such as:
<lois> Gunsmoke, Suspense, Dragnet, Adventures of Nero Wolfe, Fort Laramie, Escape, to mention but only a few.
<lois> Now, without futher ado, Mr. Harry Bartell (OTRAct)
<lois> May we please have your questions.... /msg lois
<Bartell> Lois has very kindly asked me to speak about Old Radio and very frankly, I'm a bit nervous. I have played in theaters, radio, film and live TV but never in a computer. So this is literally a first night and I want everything to be right. So... because I have a very high ranking among the World's Worst Typists, I'm taking this opportunity to write a little something in advance.
<Bartell> In speaking to groups around the country, I was startled to find out that almost no one know how a radio show came together. I don't know why I should have been startled. It was a very long time ago and none of the people there had worked in radio. At any rate, they hadn't and I was.
<Bartell> So, Hi-ho for the life of an actor. Radio was unique in that actors had a chance to audition for directors. Control of a series started out in the hands of the local stations, then to the networks, then to the advertising agencies.
<Bartell> At each stage, open auditions with the actor bringing his own material could be arranged. There were no agents involved for 95% of the performers and almost everybody worked for scale. I say "scale". There was no scale until AFRA was formed. My first jobs paid $2.50 a day. Unlimited rehearsal or performance time. That's assuming that there wasn't a large cast. If there was you got $2.00.
<Bartell> Most of the actors subscribed to call services. There were two major ones in Los Angeles: RADIO REGISTRY and R.A.T.E (Radio Artists Telephone Exchange). The latter was owned and operated by Lou Lauria, husband of Betty Lou Gerson.
<Bartell> So the director calls the exchange to find out if an actor is available. There was always a great deal of available in the lives of most actors. The exchange calls the actor, tells him (naturally OR HER), about the call, gives the name of the show, time of the call, studio location etc., then confirms with the agency or network.
<Bartell> The actor arrives, is handed a script. Most actors marked their lines. If you have never seen a radio script, the character names are in the left margin, the speeches to the right. A few people didn't touch the script. Another few made marks on every word or so, indicating emphasis or timing.
<Bartell> Most actors did mark speech cues and such things as fade-in or fade-out. There was a reading around the table, then the cast went to the microphone and most directors went to the control booth.
<Bartell> A few, like Jack Johnstone and Arch Oboler worked in the studio with head phones. The show was rehearsed with sound effects and rough-timed by an assistant director or secretary marking 15-second intervals. If there was live music it was rehearsed separately; if it was recorded it might have been used at the rehearsal on mike.
<Bartell> Then a dress rehearsal and another timing. If necessary, cuts were made. If the script was short, the actors and sound effects were told where and what to stretch. If the show was a comedy show before a live audience, it was usually two to four minutes short to allow for laugh "spread" .There was a break between dress and air time. Then on the air. Before recording was allowed, two shows: one for the East Coast and a repeat live three hours late
<Bartell> That was the formula for most 15-minute or half-hour shows. Shows like LUX and other programs in which screen stars were involved would have extra rehearsals before day of broadcast. Some comedy shows would record a day in advance of broadcast time before a live audience and throw out the weak gags.
<Bartell> So much for the workings of a show. I'm always asked two questions. One is the equivalent of "Did you know Ludwig von Frankenstein?" The other is "What was it like to work with Humphrey Gable ?"
<Bartell> Let's get to that word know. When I was active in LA, there were about 3,000 actors in AFRA. About 250 of those made a living in radio alone. That means that an actor was in more or less steady contact with that smaller number. He knew them in the studio, became very much aware of their personalities and especially their timing, and made personal assessments of their talents. He might or might not like them.
<Bartell> In my terms, he didn't really know them. If there were shows which used mainly much smaller groups of actors, shows like Gunsmoke or Dragnet, there was a chance for a much more personal relationship and deep friendships which formed, many of which have lasted over 50 years.
<Bartell> Now-"working with...". Remember that the word "star" is used very loosely. These people were performers. Some of them were amiable, others were remote, many of them were scared to death (especially if they were movie stars and couldn't depend on two days of shooting for one page of dialogue). Some had trouble reading, others had their pages pasted to cardboard so they wouldn't rattle.
<Bartell> Dick Widmark and Mac Carey came out of radio so they were very relaxed. Ray Milland looked sour about everything so it was hard to tell (actually he was a lot of fun). Humphrey Bogart was a terrific chess player. Herbert Marshall was a dear, dear man. A few, and only a few, were quite obnoxious. Warren William, Lee Bowman and Zachary Scott come to mind. But the important thing always was: Was it a good show? Did they do a good job?
<lois> Now may we have some questions for Mr. Bartell? /msg lois and say you have a question.
<lois> Marty, go ahead...type your question here!
<MartyMEM> Hi Harry. This is your #1 Memphis Fan. I recently heard the "Gregory Hood" program...
<MartyMEM> can you tell us more about it. It sound much like the format used in S. Holmes shopws
<Amazing> hi Harry..
<Bartell> It was a summer replacement for Sherlock and had the same production team. ...
<Amazing> you mentioned that in radio you at times had a 'dress' rehearsal...i know what that means in movies and tv but what does it mean in radio?
<Bartell> I found out much to my amazement that Gale Gordon had started the role. I remebered Elliot Lewis.
<OTR> Harry, How was it to work with James Stewart on THe Six Shooter?
<Bartell> Amazing. it was a compltete runthru with sound and music not only to give everybody a crack at another rehearsal.... but also to double check time. A half-hour show ran 29 minutes and 30 seconds EXACTLY or you were off the air
<geezer> Please forgive a relative newcomer, Mr. Bartell, but you mentioned "before recording was allowed" when talking about rehearsing and broadcasting a show. Am I to understand recording a show was simply not done as a standard practice, or was it against a law of some sort?
<Bartell> James Stewart presented a few problems. I never knew when he had finished a line so I just waited until nobody said anything. Actually he was fun.
<Amazing> thanks lois...
<Bartell> Geezer it wasn't against the law. The fact was that until after WWII there was no recording except electrical transcription.... That required a special studio.
<gildy> Mr. Bartell, it always amazed me that the actors could go from show to show, script to script, without many bloopers at all. How was that possible, and was there any fear of a big blunder?
<Amazing> Harry...you also mentioned you did Dragnet...was that with Jack Webb and did you ever work with Harry Morgan?
<Itsy> A silly question perhaps, you mentioned a half hour show was 29:30 exactly.. if that precise, then why not 30:00 instead?
<Bartell> Gildy, a large part of changing characters was just practice.... actors in radio obviously had to be able to read"cold" and altho the characters may not have had the depth of a log stage run, it wasn't too difficult to switch
<Bartell> Amazing, I was called for the first Dragnet but had a conflict but I did do the second broadcast... Also there was no Dragnet without Jack Webb. He was Dragnet. ... I did work with Harry Morgan but more frequesntly in TV.
<Bartell> Itsy, the extra 30 seconds was a station break on the network
<geezer> Many actors today insist they never watch themselves in anything they do. Was it a practice to avoid listening to your shows if they were rebroadcast?
<MartyMEM> Harry, I've always thought that Escape's "Incident at Owl Creek Bridge" is one of the finest programs I've heard. Can you tell us what you feel is your best or most favorite performance?
<Bartell> Geezer, sometimes it was impossible to hear the shows you did. First of all when we did two shows: one for the east coast and one for the west, you couldn't hear yourself.... This, of course, was before recordings... Sometimes, when shows were recorded before broadcast one might listen... if he remebered
<ChibiBarak> Did they do top-of-the-hour newscasts in the 30's-50's, or is that a modern radio development? How was OTR news handled?
<Bartell> Marty, you are a person after my own heart. That was one of the very first Escape shows and one which I treasure... As far as favorites go I guess I could list four or five but mys hunch is they would probably be on Escape
<lois> For newcomers: To ask a question about radio of Harry Bartell, type /msg lois and request to send a message.
<Bartell> Chibi, when networks were in flower, there was hardly ever any time for top of the hour stuff. There was a 30 second station break and back to the net
<Itsy> Were commercials scripted into the show? or were they handled separately? like a separate set of actors?
<Bartell> OTR news was nearly always a 15 or 30 minute program usually presented by one sponsor.
<OTR> Harry, What are you doing today? anything on TV/Radio?
<Bartell> Itsy, you have to distinguish between dramatized and straight commercials. Both Were written into the show but the announcers handling the straight commercials read them only at dress rehearsa;s and then on the air. If they rehearsed, they did so on their own
<MartyMEM> Harry, I know you did numerous shows with Bill Conrad. Can you tell us about some interesting insights to working with him?
<MartyMEM> Anything memorable?
<Bartell> OTR, I have had alot of fun at OTR conventions all over the country doing re-creations of stuff from 50 years ago... My only chance really to see friends from the Dark Ages.... And then this last spring I went crazy and worked in a play.. again a character role. I was too young for the part really. I'm 85 and the character was 97.
<Mac> Harry, in Leonard Maltin's OTR book he mentions that you co-wrote an episode of SUSPENSE with Parley Baer. Could you give us the title of that episode and tell us what that writing experience was like? Thanks.
<geezer> I am amazed that one sponsor would cover an entire show, and with only two or three mentions of their product. When I think of Fibber and the cast that joined in, along with the band, advertising rates must have seemed as formidable as today's SuperBowl rates. Can you give us a ballpark figure of how much it cost to produce a half hour drama?
<lois> Type /msg lois if you have a question, please!
<Bartell> Marty, Bill Conrad was a personal friend and that colored my perspectives. He was an extremely complicated man who had several different and successful careers....
<Bartell> He was at one time head of TV at Warner Brothers; he was a film and TV director. Judging Bill depended to a certain extent on which hat he was wearing... iN gUNDMOKE THAT WAS ANOTHER WORLD AND HAD TO BE JUDGED SPEARATELY
<Bartell> Pardon my caplock
<Bartell> Mac, that is one of the few errors in Leonard's book. Actually I wrote for Gunsmoke with Vic Perrin
<OTR> Harry, what do you think of all the Old time radio shows out on the net? Do you get any money from any shows that you did?
<Bartell> geezer, Fortunately, I never had to worry about what a show cost unless it directly affected my paycheck. I haven't any valid estimate but I can assure you that it would look like nothing compared to a TV show today
<gildy> Mr. Bartell, can you give me your recollection of what you were doing the night Orson Welles shocked the world with "War of the Worlds", October 30, 1938?
<Bartell> OTR, In my lifetime I did between 7,500 and 10,000 radio broadcasts. My income from them has been zilch....I don't have any idea how so much stuff got onto cassette but I guess Ill settle for having an entertainment medium survive.
<lois> Charlie, your question?
<Charlie> You mentioned a few of the directors for whom you worked. Which was your personal favorite to work for?
<Bartell> Gildy, I was working in a show at the Pasadena Playhouse and I didn't know the Martians had landed until the next day
<lois> type /msg lois if you have a question for harry. Dont be shy!
<lois> Go ahead, Mac
<Mac> Harry, I believe you did some work with Arch Oboler. He seems to have been quite a character. Can you give us your reminiscences of Oboler?
<Bartell> Charlie, Without question Norman MacDonnell. I enjoyed others too... Norman Corwin, Bill Robson. Jack Johnstone... But I had a greater sense of empathy and personal warmth with Norm Mac.
<geezer> We've heard some interesting questions and wonderful answers tonight. My thanks for sharing your time with us Mr. Bartell. I feel fortunate to live in an era when we can enjoy the "modern day" comforts, but still attempt to experience the magic of a by-gone era. Do you make it a habit of listening to any of the shows that survived?
<Bartell> Mac, my greatest reminiscence of Arch Oboler is that he was weird.
<OTR> Harry, did anything go wrong on the air live and bust you up?
<Itsy> was there friction between writers and actors like sometimes occurs today? if so, are there any particulary memorable moments?
<Bartell> Geezer, sometimes people around the country send me tapes of shows I did. And of course I listen to them, then. But Im not a collector and I am absolutely sure that you know more about what I did than I do
<Bartell> OTR how about this? Burping into a live mike I thought I had turned of... or Going so blank at the opening of a disc jockey job that I couldnt remember my own name.. Finally I just broke up.
<Bartell> Itsy, if there was friction with writers it occurred between the wriet and the director... Altho we knew most of the writers, some of them quite well, if the actor had a problem with a line it was up to the dirctor to solve it
<lois> Old-Timer, go ahead
<Old-Timer> Most OTR was before the days of payola. Did OTR radio actors / announcers ever get "gifts" from the sponsors?
<OTR> Harry, how did you get your start in radio?
<Bartell> After so long a time and so many shows, details are or can be very vague. The collector who listens to OTR regularly has the matertial fresh in front of hi.... Some listener told me I had played Sgt. Friday's partner on radio. I knew I hadn't. HHe was right.
<Bartell> OTR payola existed then Unfortunately I never got a chance to participate
<lois> Mr Bartell is going to take five right now....stay tuned in!
A short intermission...
<lois> Now, back to our regular programming.....
<gildy> For a radio actor, was it hard on family life, did a character actor have to be married to the airwaves?
<Bartell> Old-Timer I knew a guy who was announcer at KPRC in HOuston. He wanted to do drama. I was available and eager
<Bartell> <gildy> For a radio actor, was it hard on family life, did a character actor have to be married to the airwaves?
<Bartell> Gildy, it might be better to ask my wife.... Actually there were pluses and minuses. Making plans to go anywhere was always risky because there were no Sundays or holidays in radio... Just when you had planned tho go somewhere, you got a call that as a freelance actor you couldn,t turn dow..... On the other hand I had a great tradeocff. I could spend a lot of time with my kids as they were growing up.
<lois> Thank you, Harry Bartell, for graciously lending your time and thoughts to give an insight into the workings of Old Time Radio, and taking us back to the "golden years". Mr. Bartell is now part of the regular cast of the #OldRadio channel and joins us here every Thursday night.
<lois> Mr. Bartell has a few words to share with you....Harry?
<lois> In a second :))
<lois> In the meantime, eithr you get to hear me play an organ, or I can thank you all for coming tonight
<lois> Harry, do you have a few words you'd like to say?
<Bartell> I never had the remotest ide that I would ever have a computer much less be able to meet and get so much help from so many people....
<Bartell> And radio was the love of my life. It would have been very, very hard to say goodbye to it completely. Thank you all
<lois> Mr. Bartell was speaking to you live.
<lois> This program was brought to you by #OldRadio, home to OTR fans around the world.
<lois> Produced by Lois Culver .... lois
<lois> Directed by Roy Chambers .... busterc
<lois> Assistant Director Willard Skinner.... willco
<lois> Gophers were: Charlie Summers .... Charlie, Don Fehr ... Don ..and.. Lou Genco ... Old-Timer
<lois> Announcer was Lois Culver .... lois
<lois> Tune in next Thursday at 5 PM Pacific, 8 PM Eastern, for our regular OTR chat session.
<lois> This is Starlink-IRC network.
<Itsy> StarLink-IRC wishes to thank Mr. Bartell....
<Itsy> all the OTR crew
<Itsy> and especially the folks interested in old time radio
<Itsy> for a very wonderful evening on the net
<Itsy> and is proud to be the home of #OldRadio and its cast and crew.
<Itsy> Thanks again and we hope there will be more times like this to come.
<geezer> Say Goodnight Gracie. And Thanks Lois et al. What a great bunch of people :)
<lois> channel is open, boys and girls....
<Don> and for all of you interested in stats 56 wonderful OTR fans enjoyed the show this evening
IRC log ended Thu Oct 15 23:36