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By Mary Frances Rhymer
By Mary Frances Rhymer
One wonders how many people today would respond to a few bars of “Chanson bohemienne” and the announcer’s voice, “Well sir, as we enter the small house half-way up in the next block, Sade looks up from her ironing as the back door opens. Let’s listen.” Probably many would experience a touch of remembrance because at one time millions of Americans were among the eaves-droppers on the family of three, Vic, Sade, and their young son Rush. Sade’s Uncle Fletcher, in time, would move to the small Midwest town and would be a frequent caller at the house. The consummate skills of actress Bernardine Flynn as Sade, actors Arthur Van Harvey and Billy Idelson as Vic and Rush, and Clarence Hartzell as Uncle Fletcher created for the listener the illusion that he had entered the small house with the announcer. The actors read without theatrical overtones. The author, cast, and the directors had produced from practice a perfect naturalness. Fan mail, through the years, repeatedly stated, “Vic and Sade must be a real family.” (Only in a real family would the wife keep her hat downstairs in one of the two cupboards of the sideboard or store old family photographs in the window seat.)
Paul Rhymer was the creator and author of the comedy series VIC and SADE. William Ramsey, for 30 years in charge of radio programs for the Proctor and Gamble company, wrote that the ratings of the writer Paul Rhymer, and of Sandra Michael, author of the notable series AGAINST THE STORM, illustrated his contention that radio listeners instinctively and invariable chose the better programs. (Daytime radio, in the heyday of the soap opera, offered a wide range of woe…blackmail, marital infidelity, amnesia, illegitimate babies and so on, Mr. Ramsey wrote. These were often plotted by one writer, or a team of writers, and farmed out for dialogue to still other writers. Such daytime serials, often termed “cliff-hangers,” were tasteless and objectionable: parents’ groups and women’s clubs wrote letters of complaints to the companies which sponsored these shows.) Mr. Ramsey went on to site Paul Rhymer, with few others, as one who had never turned in a line which he had not personally written. May I add here a credit for Mr. Ramsey’s side of the ledger: the VIC AND SADE client, in the person of Mr. Ramsey for Proctor and Gamble, never attempted to steer Paul or pressure him to change a line. The author had established his reliability: he was left alone.
Thus, it was in the setting of morbid daytime serials that the simple light, sometimes zany and sometimes poignant VIC AND SADE was applauded. Each episode was complete. Each day, five days a week, Paul would roll a blank sheet of paper into his typewriter. Each show would have a beginning, a middle, and an ending. To meet a deadline each weekday with a small and complete playlet was a burdensome assignment which was approached in the most business-like fashion. Paul went directly to his typewriter early in the morning, if the idea had come along. If not, our son and I would keep out of sight and out of hearing. No questions, no nonsense, and no telephoning except behind closed doors. Only when our author had shut himself in his workroom and the typing had started was the tension off. Another day in the life of the Rhymers had gone into gear.
Several hours later that workroom door would burst open and Paul would sprint to the other end of the apartment to shave, shower, and race to the Merchandise Mart. There he would turn in the script he had just written, to be retyped and mimeographed (hectographed, probably), and dash to the studio for the rehearsal and broadcast of that day’s show. And, unless the client were in town, that was the end of Paul’s business day. He would then be off, with friends or family, to the races, to the farm, or to pick Parke up at nursery school for an outing. Any kind of action that involved driving his car was relaxing for him, and he had it well established with friends and family that to “talk shop” was poor manners. He was going to forget his daily deadline for VIC AND SADE until he faced it next morning.
Often people would ask Paul in kindness, how he was able to turn out a daily show by himself. He always found the query irritating and answered that he was a writer and so it was his business to write. They probably had their own business which they tended every day? Only once did he seem to admit that all those years of writing against a deadline had been exhausting. It was when he said to me, “Do you know that I have written more words than Dickens?” (The VIC AND SADE shows total more than 3500 scripts)
By 1938 Paul and his show were winning critics’ polls and earning citations in the field of daytime radio. Indeed, newspapers and radio publications were carrying glowing notices. Paul was so genuinely pleased when The Young Men’s Club of Bloomington held a Rhymer Day Rally for native son Paul and filled the Consistory Hall for an evening banquet. There was a substantial column and a half in Time with a picture of Paul sitting among his trophies. Time described the show as one in which nothing much ever happened although it had 7,000,000 listeners and was drawing thousands of fan letters a week. The interviewer quoted Paul as being unable to account for the success of the show, giving credit to the actors of whom he said, “They could read from the telephone directory and sound entertaining.”
Many years later, after the demise of the VIC AND SADE show, John O’Hara wrote that he would like to see “those wonderfully indigenous radio characters, VIC AND SADE and their family and friends, revived in a musical play.” He likened the characterizations to Tarkington’s Period stories and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. “And don’t think there wouldn’t be a message in it. The message is ‘That’s how it was.’” That pleased Paul…the assessment, “That’s how it was.” It annoyed him for his characters to be considered “quaint.” And though he was honored by Hendrik Willem Van Loon’s opinion of VIC AND SADE material as “great folk writing,” he dismissed the term “folk” as meaningless when applied to writing, art or music. He, and I, as Midwesterners, suspected that the term “folk” was a patronizing way of saying “that’s how it was.” Whether the story, art, or music presented was genuine would be Paul’s criterion of its quality. He had an unerring eye for falseness whether in a person or in a theatrical piece.
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