Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Celia Mayer and Aunt Sammy


I wrote a post about Aunt Sammy back in  June of 2007. Recently I struck it lucky and was contacted by Paul Freirich, the son of a woman that played the part of Aunt Sammy on WBZA in Boston (see above.) Paul told me what he knew about her and her time in radioland and then even a bit about his own radio career. Between the emails and the 45 minutes of tape I have enough material for a few posts. I'll start with Aunt Sammy tonight and then get to Paul career later on.

Just to review...Aunt Sammy herself was a character created by the U. S. Department of Agriculture Bureau of Home Economics. It debuted in 1926 and by the early 1930s was carried on about 200 radio stations. It was a 15-minute short about cooking, and home making. The show ran until 1946. Celia Mayer was Aunt Sammy in the 1930s. More here. I have found very little information about the women who played Aunt Sammy. But fortunately some people take an interest in their family history, and a few of those even feel like sharing... 

JF: When did your mother play "Aunt Sammy" on WBZA?
PF: She never gave me exact dates but let's use a little detective work. She's at a WBZA mic and WBZA went back to Springfield and Boston get the WBZ call sign in 1931 [March of 1931] so it was before that. She worked at the Statler hotel and WBZA moved there in late 1928 or early 29 so it was after that. [More Boston radio history here]

JF:How old would she have been then?
PF:In 1930 she would have been 23 years old.

JF:How did she score that gig?
PF:She was a secretary at WBZA. For some reason she stayed through her lunch hour one day to get some work finished. The noon program on WBZA was organ music from the Pump Room at the Hotel Statler. That same day the organ broke down and they had dead air. Gordon Swann, the station PD came running into the office with one of the USDA scripts and my mother was the only one there. Swann thrust the script into her hands and said, "You're on the air". Mom was smart enough to realize that many women get nervous in front of of a mic and their voices go way up in pitch so she deliberately lowered hers. It must have worked because she was on the air for six months until they sold that time to a different sponsor who put a different program into that time slot. [More WBZ/WBZA history here]

JF:Did she do any other work in radio before or after that?
PF:No.

JF:There were different Aunt Sammys in Different regions. Did she know any of the others?
PF:She never mentioned any so I don't think so.

JF:How long do you think she stayed there?
PF: She was there for six months on the air. I don't know how long after that she stayed working there. I can tell you for a fact that she married my father in 1934. But I heard she was not there much longer after she was off the air. But a funny thing, she showed me a fan letter "You gave me your recipe for pecan pie and it's wonderful, and I haven't never been able to make it before and yours came out beautifully." But she couldn't make pecan pie. [The USDA provided all the recipes]