Radio Memories: ‘Let’s Pretend’ was a great program for kidsThis week Ralph Doty discusses CBS’s long-running children’s show “Let’s Pretend” and prolific radio “voice” Art Gilmore.
By: Ralph Doty, Budgeteer News
As a child growing up in Duluth’s West Hillside area, it was a rare Saturday that I didn’t listen to two of the best children’s shows on radio: “Let’s Pretend” and “Big Jon and Sparkie.”
I’ll write about the latter show soon, but today we will talk about “Let’s Pretend,” a program suggested by Annabelle (no last name provided), who wrote in response to my invitation to readers to suggest topics for future musings about old-time radio.
Annabelle writes: “As a young child helping with the Saturday morning house cleaning, I used to love to listen to ‘Let’s Pretend’ while I was dusting the furniture.”
“Let’s Pretend” was on CBS radio for 20 years beginning in 1934 on KDAL (610 AM) in Duluth. For all but its last year on the air, it was created, produced and directed by Nila Mack. When she died unexpectedly in 1953, her talent and influence were so huge that the program went off the air in 1954.
“Let’s Pretend” had literally lost its way.
I can’t speak for Annabelle, but perhaps I would have enjoyed the program even more as a preteen if I had known that most of the show’s actors were my age. Although many did not go on to careers in show business, a few well-known actors on “Let’s Pretend” did — including Dick Van Patten (TV’s “Eight is Enough”), now 81 years old; Ann Francis (TV’s “Forbidden Planet” and “Honey West”), now 80; and Walter Tetley (Julius on “The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show” and Leroy on “The Great Gildersleeve”), who died in 1975 at age 60.
Every Saturday, “Let’s Pretend” would feature a story, usually a fairy tale such as “Cinderella” or “Goldilocks,” or a more-obscure story with little or no violence. In other words, parents didn’t have to monitor “Let’s Pretend” each week to determine if it was suitable for kids like they do now for television shows.
For its entire run, the sole sponsor of “Let’s Pretend” was Cream of Wheat. The words to the then-familiar tune: “Cream of Wheat is so good to eat / Yes, we have it every day / We sing this song, it will make us strong / And it makes us shout ‘Hooray!’ / It’s good for growing babies and grownups too to eat / For all the family’s breakfast, you can’t beat Cream of Wheat.”
And as with all radio shows in those early days, there were two or three minutes of commercials each half hour — not 10 minutes every 30 minutes as on television today.
“Let’s Pretend” brings back lots of fond memories; it was a large part of many youngsters’ lives on weekends in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s.
Ten years ago, hardly a week went by that we didn’t learn about the death of someone associated with radio’s golden age. Nowadays, with most big radio stars already gone — Jack Benny, Eve Arden and Fibber McGee and Molly, to mention some — only a few are alive today.
We recently learned about the death of Art Gilmore, a popular “voice” on radio and TV commercials and movie previews (called, for some inexplicable reason, “trailers”). Regrettably, when most deaths of show business folks are reported, their obituaries rarely mention that many personalities who starred on television and in movies got their start on radio. (For example, the New York Times’ story about Bob Hope’s death devoted only a few sentences to his 17 years on radio.)
Gilmore’s obituary in most newspapers was no different. They barely mentioned that he was the announcer on eight different radio shows: “Amos ‘n’ Andy” (1928-60); “Dr. Christian” (1937-54); “Jonathan Trimble, Esquire” (1946); “Meet Me at Parky’s” (1945-47), “Murder and Mr. Malone” (1947-49); “Red Ryder” (1942-51); “Sears Radio Theater” (1979-81); and “Stars Over Hollywood” (1941-54).
As many successful radio stars did, Gilmore moved to television in its early days. He was the announcer or narrator on many shows: “The Red Skelton Show,” “The George Gobel Show,” “An Evening with Fred Astaire,” “Highway Patrol” and “Mackenzie’s Raiders.” He made guest appearances on such great shows as “Dragnet,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Adam-12” and “Emergency!” He also was the announcer on radio segments of the TV show “The Waltons.”
Gilmore, 98, died Sept. 25 of natural causes at his home in Irvine, Calif.
As I wrote last time in this new biweekly feature, e-mail me at email@example.com if you’d like me to comment on specific radio shows or general subjects on old-time radio.
Finally, in response to a reader inquiry as to how long this feature will continue in the Budgeteer: It depends on the response.
Doty’s “Radio Memories” can be heard at 8 p.m. every Friday on KUWS (91.3 FM).