Sylvia Goes Home
It wasn’t just her deft balancing between ethnic realism and urban surreality that made Gertrude Berg such an old-time radio titan, albeit one acknowledged in the breach as often as not. Possibly because her signature creation arrived practically at the moment Amos ‘n’ Andy were becoming a network phenomenon and a larger-than-life one at that, Berg’s lower-keyed, subtler-witted scenarios and characters had to take just a little more time to insinuate themselves into the audience they eventually lured.
Which probably worked to Berg’s advantage when all was said and done. Never pressured to pump up a story or reduce it to the lowest or at least the lesser denominators—a pressure that came to plague the famous Hummert radio soaps, though this pressure came from the producers themselves instead of sponsors or networks—Berg could and did keep her stories footed in reality while leaving only all the room in the world for the absurdities that make life alive, even if you don’t necessarily appreciate their meaning at the time you live them.
That’s what made the otherwise oversoaped Sammy-and-Sylvia story—boy meets girl, girl manipulates boy, girl’s father can’t quite believe it, boy’s family can’t quite digest it—work the way it did for several months, though Berg would probably have been the first to admit that with any other casting but hers it would have been just another soap opera and not even close to a classic of seriocomic understatement.
By today, however, Molly (Berg) and Jake (John R. Waters) are escorting the elder Allyson (unknown) and his intended Esther (Joan Vitez) to the justice of the peace, while Esther’s sister Leah is still in the immediate aftermath of a devastating stroke. And Dr. Cater (unknown)—citing citing a rare opportunity for new beginnings for the Allyson family, while barely having convinced Sylvia (Zena Provendie) that he and she can never be a couple—talks a wistful Sylvia into going home at last, appealing to her nascent new maturity, driving her to the railroad station and escorting her onto the train personally . . .
The problem: Cater has the easy part—compared to the Goldbergs continuing to keep Leah’s stroke a secret from the about-to-be-wed elder Allysons until after they’re pronounced husband and wife.
Announcer: James Fleming. Writer/Director: Gertrude Berg.
FURTHER CHANNEL SURFING . . .
Vic & Sade: Cleaning the Attic (NBC, 1942)—Dark and stuffy, miserable hot and dusty though it might be, Sade (Bernadine Flynn) and Rush (Bill Idelson) tackle the job, anyway, once Rush forces a window open, but only because Sade gets tired of procrastinating on the long-overdue cleaning . . . unless she first tires of Rush’s distractions from friends passing by on the street below. Vic: Art Van Harvey. Writer/director: Paul Rhymer.
Bob & Ray Present the CBS Radio Network: The Great Tightrope Walker (Do You Really Need Me to Tell You? 1959)—A brief debate over the actual time of their daily surrealities is punctuated by a cleaning crew member; Biff Burns interviews a midwestern football coach; and, Senor Miguel Honduras, a tightrope walker, plans to have a go at . . . a slackrope. Only these two . . . Alleged writers: Bob Elliott, Ray Goulding.