Lifestyle: True grit in radio land, another saga by Tom Bernstein

Lifestyle: From the annals of Tom Bernstein’s career in the world of radio and other worldly activities, here is another installation of Tom’s tales of behind the scenes or how it really was.

Keep smoking

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Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates
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The cast of Gunsmoke

Life in the Script Department.

I was assigned to the night shift at Columbia Square and started the Monday after Thanksgiving, 1957. We reported at 12 noon, relieved the day crew when they went to lunch, worked with them ‘til they went home at five, and then continued on to 8pm. We provided the finished scripts for the CBS Radio Network shows, “Gunsmoke” (it originated on radio), “Have Gun, Will Travel” (TV to Radio , “Yours Truly Johnny Dollar – the man with the action packed expense account” (one of the longest running radio detective shows), “Suspense” (one the longest running radio mystery programs), “Amos ‘n Andy”, “The Jack Benny Show”, Art Linkletter’s House Party”, “The Rusty Draper Show” (a live country/western music show), and a multitude of local, KNX Radio, shows. “Our Miss Brooks”, had just been cancelled, one of the first casualties in the coming demise of Network Radio. It became a successful TV series

Being on the night shift had its perks. We got overtime, and were there when the network shows were recorded. It was exciting to sit in the empty sponsors booths above the stages, eat “dinner” and watch one of them being made. The radio cast of “Gunsmoke was: William Conrad – Marshall Dillon, Parley Baer – Chester, Howard McNear – Doc (the only radio cast member who made the TV series), Georgia Ellis. – Kitty and for “Have Gun Will Travel”: John Dehner – Paladin, Ben Wright – Hey Boy and Virginia Gregg – Miss Wong. Casts of both shows played parts on all the others. Sometimes Conrad would play the “heavy” on “Have Gun” and Dehner the same on “Gunsmoke”. There were many other supporting, actors playing on all the radio show and they did a lot of TV work as well. William Conrad became a Television star even tho he didn’t get the Matt Dillon part on TV. “Suspense” used different guest stars and the casts included most of the players from the above shows. It was all like a big ensemble. The musical, “Rusty Draper Show” was a lot of fun to watch too. They had a really cute, female singer.

Eventually, I transferred to the TV City Script Department, a whole new world. At Columbia Square, we did a lot of mimeo and copy work for other departments in the building, but at TV City, it was mostly scripts. “Playhouse 90” – a 90 minute “live” drama series, “Comedies: Red Skelton”, “Jack Benny”, Westerns: “Rawhide” and TV’s “Gunsmoke”, were just a few of the shows we worked on. I re-typed many of the same “Gunsmoke” scripts from radio, one in particular, an episode that featured a “comic feud” between Doc and Chester, I thought played better on radio that it did on TV. “Rawhide” was a real challenge. It had to be typed just so, and every script always had a lot of revisions. The good thing was, it provided a lot of overtime. Once a month you were required to work Saturday, and if you worked over time Friday night, which we did a lot, Saturday was “golden time”. Made over $100 the only week I worked it (standard pay was $65/wk). “Playhouse 90” had its moments too. The scripts were around 100 pages, and required the entire night crew (usually 8 people) to work on hand collating it in segments. The department, now gone thanks to computers, was behind the artist entrance, on the ground floor, in the middle of the building, and around 10 pm, when we worked late, the fresh air in room was gone, which made a “Playhouse 90”, or whatever we were doing, a lot of hard work. “Rawhide” provided a chance to meet Clint Eastwood. He was becoming famous as Rowdy Yates and there he was, in full costume, standing next to me at an Employees Club (I was a committee member), charity event, on the lawn of TV City. I told him what a tough time we had with the Rawhide scripts because the producer was real a pain in the ass, and he readily agreed with me. One afternoon, the building starting shaking up and down. We all thought it was an earthquake, but it turned out John Frankenheimer was directing (a notoriously demanding man) Playhouse 90, and some one must have screwed up. TV City’s, big, must see for insiders was a Red Skelton, X rated, dress rehearsal. I never got to attend one. Fortunately, I only put in 6 weeks at TV City, when I got my first big promotion to a junior executive position in the KNX Radio Promotion Department back at Columbia Square. For what I did there, see my previous column, “The (not so) Great Charger Half Time Show”.

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