Friday, December 28, 2012

The Prudential Family Hour

The Prudential Family Hour was a music and variety program that ran from 1941 to 1948 on CBS and also re-broadcast on AFRS. It starred Gladys Swarthout, a soprano from the Metropolitan Opera and the Al Goodman Orchestra. The 45 minute light classical music program aired on Sundays at 5:00 PM. It had a big budget and production was top notch for the era.

As you might imagine, the variety part of the program wasn't slapstick and redneck jokes. They aired carefully scripted sketches on the lives of composers like Beethoven and Schubert. Prudential Insurance hadn't done much in radio prior to the Family Hour. It sponsored the short-lived Jack Berch Show, and possibly a soap opera in the 1930s. I've not confirmed that yet.

You probably have never heard of Gladys Swarthout. Born in 1900, she studied at the Bush Conservatory of Music in Chicago and started out at the Chicago Civic Opera Company.  She debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in 1929. In the 1930s she began appearing in films. She guested on many radio programs including "What's My Line?," "The Railroad Hour,""Firestone Theater," "Palmolive Beauty Box Theater," "Camel Caravan", "Ford Symphony" and many others. More here.
After eight years the audience had diminished significantly. Wholesome programming like these music programs were on the wane and both FM radio and TV were on the rise. In 1948 they tried to revive the  program with a reboot as The Prudential Family Hour of Stars, mixing in appearances by Hollywood celebrities and more dramatic segments. Swarthout was not included. The new show had appearances by Humphrey Bogart, Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis and Barbara Stanwyck among others. It wasn't enough. The program was cancelled in 1949. Swarthout later retired to Italy, and died in 1969. More here.