Monday, March 30, 2015

From Gangbusters to Seth Parker's Hymnal

It's one of my more peculiar radio books. Seth Parker was not  a clergyman. He was a character played by Phillips Haynes Lord a man who was once a high school principal. (More on that momentarily.) He was best known for the Gang Busters radio program that was broadcast for over two decades. But for a time he also impersonated his own grandfather and creating the character Seth Parker, a folksy clergyman focused on old time religion and music. As Seth Parker, Lord ended up on NBC. Didn't Lenny Bruce get arrested for that?

His work in the Gangbusters began later, starting in 1935. The program ran into 1957, it was huge. He got to do Gangbusters movies in 1942 and a TV show in 1952. They spun off a series of DC comic books based on the radio serial. Seth was a superstar. Yes, he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The show was an early cop drama, complete with sound effects, fast action and true crime stories directly from J. Edgar Hoover. No really, Hoover actually supplied them with source material from FBI files to encourage them to lionize the FBI.

But back to the grandfatherly thing. Lord was born in 1902, so he was
about 27 when he began impersonating a senior citizen in 1929. He had been a high school principal in Plainville, CT for 2 years before growing bored and running off to New York to try his hand at script writing. He sold some scripts for "Seth Parker's Singing School". It took off and the character "Seth Parker", a clergyman and rual philosopher based on his real-life grandfather, Hosea Phillips, had to become real... or at least real enough for radio.

Thought recorded on a sound stage in New York, he purported that the show originated in the Jonesport, Maine area. NBC ran the show six days a week under the name Sunday Evening at Seth Parker's. He published Seth Parker's Hymnal in 1930, his Album that same year, then Seth Parker and His Jonesport Folks in 1932 then a Scrap Book of "backwoods philosophy" in 1935. Lord wrote the show and played the title role until it was discontinued in 1939. Notice the overlap with Gangbusters. There was also a period when he was a cop by day and a preacher by night... at least on radio.