Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dig that antique jive

(Bob Hope and Jane Russell appear on Command Performance - the Armed Forces Radio Show in CBS Studio in Hollywood - in 1944.)

Admittedly, most people squander their Internet hours with the latest pop ephemera, i.e. Elvis' swinging romance with Ann-Marget or how Nancy Sinatra is burning up Vegas with those boots made for walking. But there are those chosen few who like to use technology to explore the social nuances of history. For example, there is an Aladdin's cave full of old-time radio broadcasts that can be streamed deliciously gratis. One of the most interesting bits available for those fascinated with World War II propaganda are the shows created by the Armed Forces Radio Service stations. These were a series of shows created exclusively to goose the morale of the troops. They included "G.I. Jive," "Yarns for Yanks" and, most famously, "Command Performance." It was considered every entertainer's proud duty to volunteer to appear on this last program. Perhaps the only star missing was the famously reclusive Greta Garbo. The idea was for soldiers to send in requests, such as Jack Benny's skinflint arias, Ginger Rogers' warbling and icons like Katharine Hepburn spoofing themselves. The program aimed to bring to the trenches the missed sounds of home: a frying steak; a Wisconsin cow moo; or Bob Hope trying to make time with female cab drivers. All you have to do to unearth this overpowering time capsule is to go to and stream away the decades in 125 episodes. So don the old zoot suits and join Hope and Crosby on the road to Iwo Jima.

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