Thursday, February 26, 2015

Victory Belles

I read a short blurb, a sales pitch really, that claimed that Victory Belles was the first all female radio program in America.  It could certainly be true. It's a very small category in radio history and it's not one that's gotten adequate coverage anywhere. I have one fantastic resource on the topic, but In it's effort to be canonical the Encyclopedia of Women in Radio 1920-1960 by Leora and Luther Sies contains no narrative on the topic.

Victory Belles was a comedy, dancing and musical variety show on KNX-AM in Los Angles. It was hosted by Lurene Tuttle, but had a number of other recognizable names on the team.The Radio Gold Index lists only two known recorded episodes [SOURCE]  Both are 30 minutes long, one from December 1942 and one in May 1943. This would indicate that even as a weekly program that dozens of episodes were lost. the best account we have of their activities is actually first hand from Peggy Gilbert who performed on the program and did a USO tour with the group. Her biography, Peggy Gilbert & Her All-Girl Band by Jeannie Gayle Pool, covers much of that time period.

But what were Victory Belles?  The USO recruited and screened young ladies to socialize and sometimes work at the USO. In June of 1942, Life Magazine profiled the practice making it look more like a sock hop  and less like a blind date. But the ladies were also typists, waitresses on the bases. The program just re-used the jargon. You can actually hear one episode online here. Peggy Gilbert wasn't the only star in the troupe. From those two episodes we have a few names we know appear. I list them below with a short radio bio.

Lurene Tuttle - A vaudeville actress that made the leap to radio whose career was long enough to lead into TV and film. She portrayed most of the females voices on the  The Adventures of Sam Spade program. She also appeared on The Great Gildersleeve, Blondie, Brent House, The Cass Daley Show, Duffy's Tavern, Glamour Manor, Maisie, the Red Skelton Show, Suspense, Doctor Christian, Lux Radio Theater. Note.. she later appears on the Dukes of Hazard TV program

Mabel Todd - Probably the same Mabel Todd from the The Komedy Kingdom. Was doign films as early as 1936, seems to have left performing behind by 1946.

Martha Mears - She appears in over 30 films and more than a dozen radio programs including: The Colgate House Party, The Old Gold Program, The General Foods Show, Bob Ripley, Joe Penner, Phillip Morris, Radio Rodeo, and the Dr. Pepper 10-2-4 Ranch program

The Music Maids - a revolving troupe that appeared mostly in films including  Hoosier Holiday (1943), Girl Crazy (1943) and Hit Parade of 1943. Notice the tight grouping.  At different times the line up included Denny Wilson, Jeanne Darrell, Alice Ludes, Patt Hyatt, Virginia Erwin, Alice Sizer, Bobbie Canvin, Dottie Messmer.It's hard to say which were on the team when they appeared on Victory Belles.

The Taylor Maids - Another trio with a changing line up. They appeared in a few films as well:  Cowboy Canteen (1944), Artistry in Rhythm (1944) and So's Your Uncle (1943). A Newspaper ad from 1954 lists their names as Beverly, Patti, and  Shirley. It's probably the same trio.

Bea Turpin and her Eight Jills Of Jive - Somewhat obscure. As a group they have no appearances other than on Victory Belles. Bea Turpin appeared in at least one pre-1920 black & white film. In Peggy Gilbert's book the name is given as "Bee Turpin." She reports that Bee played piano. This can be corroborated by radio listings for KFAC-AM in 1934 and 1935 in Sacramento.

Wilhelmina Gould - Even more obscure. SPERDVAC lists her name only on the Victory Belles Episode. Corroborated by Peggy Gilbert, but without detail.
Beverly of "Reveille With Beverly" - Beverly "Ruby" Ross was the start of the 1943 film Reveille With Beverly. It was a flick about a 5:30 AM radio show with swing music, dedicated to the local servicemen. Sound familiar? It was based on a real "Reveille with Beverly" radio show hosted by the very real Jean Ruth Hay. More here.

Ona Munson - Ona is listed as a producer on the program. Just two years later Ona Munson had her own eponymous 15 minute show, the Ona Munson Show, a.k.a. Open House also on CBS. She had appeared in the movie Gone With the Wind in 1939 and was surely the most famous of all the names attached to Victory Belles. Her only other big radio gig was on the program Big Town, which ran from 1937 to 1952. Ona joined the program in 1940 and stayed through to the end.