The First Nighter Program. December 22, 1945. CBS Radio Network. "Little Town Of Bethlehem" by Anthony Wayne. Sponsored by: Campana Cosmetics.
Barbara Luddy (Mary), Olan Soule (Joseph), Herb Butterfield, Hugh Studebaker, Phillips H. Lord, and Willard Waterman.
For many over the past 40 - 60 years on television, Christmas would not be Christmas unless Rudolph returns to the island of misfit toys, Linus tells Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about, George Bailey wants to live again, and there is at least one (or 12) Hallmark presentations.
Before television, there was radio. In that great period known as the "Golden Age of Radio" (c. 1922 - 1960) Christmas wasn't Christmas without Amos telling his daughter Arbadella the meaning of the Lord's Prayer, or Lionel Barrymore's annual performance as Ebeneezer Scrooge....and the annual presentation of "Little Town of Bethlehem" by The First Nighter Program. The First Nighter (1930 - 1953) was "radio's little theater off of Time Square" and each week the listener - via sound effects, music and acting - was given the illusion of visiting a Broadway theater for a new performance.
In 1933 Anthony Wayne's script for "Little Town of Bethlehem" was first performed and was glowingly received. The play became the programs' most anticipated story and would be repeated each Christmas. This 1945 broadcast was the 9th annual presentation and notes that it is the first "peace Christmas" since 1940. The play is very good, but makes the common Biblical/dramatic error of having all the events of Christ's birth happen in one evening (the shepherds, Wise Men, Joseph's dream), but this may have been done for time. The play has an interesting element of having Herod stay in the inn that holy night, therefore the innkeeper placed Mary and Joseph in a stable because he was expecting a king to honor his household, and had no room for a Nazarene carpenter and his expecting wife! Out of reverence, the Campana sales company has one advertisement, a Merry Christmas greeting.
|Buffalo Courier-Express, Saturday, December 22, 1945. Radio news article with a picture of actress Barbara Luddy.|
Mary and Joseph were played by various actors over the program's run, perhaps most famously by actress Barbara Luddy and actors Les Tremayne and Olan Soule. Only the 1945 & 1952 performances still exist and in the 1945 version that I have posted, Luddy is heard as Mary and Olan Soule is Joseph. Both were among the best radio and voice over artists to grow out of Radio's Golden Age. Luddy was "Lady" in Disney's Lady And The Tramp, Soule was later the voice of Batman in 1970s cartoons, and the voice of Bishop Clement Clark Moore in a 1968 Christmas special.
I first heard this broadcast in an old-time radio cassette collection nearly 15 years ago and have listened to it every Christmas since. It gives me great pleasure to share this great tradition with you.
Wishing you dear reader a Very Merry Christmas and please enjoy the 9th annual presentation of "Little Town of Bethlehem".