Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tony's Scrap Book

I bought a book at a thrift shop because of a mysterious radio program it referred to. Who is Tony Wons? where was his show? And what was it about? the Internet in it's many-spendored glory answered most of these questions.Szczepau Anton Wons was born in Menasha, near Kenosha Wisconsin in 1891. His parents were Polish immigrants. His birth certificate has never been found so it's possible that his name was antone, or even "Anthony" as he later adopted. Szczepau was American ized to Stephen, and he used it as his middle name if at all. More here.

He married a miss Ruby Hillin in 1918 in Chicago and took a job as an auto worker. The transition is arcane. But as he told the story in 1935 he walked right into the WLS studios and asked for airtime... reading Shakespeare of all things. When exactly that was, I do not know, but it went over well with the boss and he became an announcer.
I know that he read poetry on the Camel Quarter Hour. In 1931 there was a minor scandal in with the American Newspaper Publishers' Association (ANPA) regarding radio program listings. They decided that listing the programs sponsor, even in the program name, was free advertising. Listings changed slightly. Starting in August of that year, The Camel Quarter Hour was listed brandless as "Morton Downey, tenor; orchestra; talk, "Anthony" Wons" More here. He's also described as a "vocalist" in some listings and thus also sang for the Camel orchestra at least some of the time.

He performed on other programs The House beside the road, the Hall Printing show, The Wayside Cottage, these were radio dramas. Not serials as became more popular later, but radio plays. They were syndicated on CBS. He read plays and poetry and somehow, somewhere at least this came to the attention of Hallmark greetings cards. In 1938 they sponsored a program that led in to the early 1940s Tony's Scrap Book. It was popular enough that a book based on the program stayed in print thru 1944. that's the book I found that day. The program featured Tony Wons chatting with listeners, sharing sentiments from Hallmark cards, and ending the program with: "Look on the back for the identifying mark a Hallmark card."

Wons became popular in a way that's impossible now. Poetry, radio, and poetry on the radio are all less popular than they were in the last century. Part of what made it happen was copyright law. At the time there was much debate over what proper performance and mechanical royalties were, or how to legislate and apply them (like today.) But live poetry performances required no royalties be paid to the authors. It eased his passage to fame. More here.

The program was hosted by Tony Wons. He chatted with listeners, shared the contents of the brand-appropriate greeting cards and of course shared poetry. In the 1950s Hallmark began sponsoring very wholesome and very boring television programs.

It's also interesting to note that Poet Elanor Yorke wrote several pages about her experiences with Mr. Wons in her 1945 autobiography 'My Weapon is Love"