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Steve Frame
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Posted Image Backstage Wife (radio)

Listen to a 1940 episode of Backstage Wife

Alternate Title: Mary Noble, Backstage Wife
Sponsors: Dr. Lyons Tooth Powder; Procter & Gamble
Network: Mutual, NBC, CBS
First Broadcast: August 5, 1935
Last Broadcast: January 2, 1959
Created: Frank & Anne Hummert
Theme Song: Stay As Sweet As You Are; The Rose of Tralee

Posted Image
Anne Hummert, along with her husband, created Backstage Wife

Epigraph: Now, we present once again, Backstage Wife, the story of Mary Noble, a little Iowa girl who married one of America's most handsome actors, Larry Noble, matinée idol of a million other women -- the story of what it means to be the wife of a famous star.

Broadcast History:

Aug. 5, 1935-Mar. 27, 1936, MBS, 9:45 a.m. ET
Mar. 30-June 26, 1936, NBC Blue, 4:15 p.m.
1936-38, NBC Blue, 11:15 a.m.
1938-July 1, 1955, NBC, 4 p.m.
July 4, 1955-Jan. 2, 1959, CBS, 12:15 p.m.

Known Cast Members & Staff:

Vivian Fridell [1935-45], Claire Niesen [1945-59] (Mary Noble)
Kenneth Griffin [1935-45], James Meighan [1945-51], Guy Sorel [1951-59] (Larry Noble, Mary's Husband)
Betty Ruth Smith (Catherine Monroe)
Henrietta Tedro, Ethel Wilson (Maud Marlowe)
Frank Dane, Charles Webster, Mandel Kramer (Tom Bryson)
Helen Claire (Virginia Lansing)
Andree Wallace (Irene Lansing)
Phil Truex (Cliff Caldwell)
Anne Burr (Regina Rawlings)
Eloise Kummer (Marcia Mannering)
Ethel Owen (Lady Clara Noble)
John James (Arnold Carey)
Alan MacAteer (Pop, the stage doorman)
Wilda Hinkel (Larry Noble Jr.)
Joyce Howard (Vi Waters)
Elmira Roessler (Jennifer Davis)
Dorothy Sands (Margot)
Leo Curley (Ed Jackson)
Mercedes McCambridge (unknown role)
Bartlett Robinson (unknown role)
Bonnie Kay (unknown role)
Pierre Andre, Roger Krupp, Harry Clark, Ford Bond, Sandy Becker, Edward Allen, Bob Brown, Stuart Dawson, Court Benson & Howard Claney (announcer)

Chet Kingsburg (organist)
Frank & Anne Hummert (producers)
Blair Walliser, Les Mitchel, Fred Weihe, Joe Mansfield (directors)
Ned Calmer, Ruth Borden, Elizabeth Todd (writers)
Michael Eisenmenger (sound effects)

Deceit, jealousy, rage, avarice, amnesia…these are typical traits that hover around Mary Noble Backstage Wife, a show that centers around the life of Mary Noble. Mary Noble is a small town girl that came to the big city of New York, and married into the stage life, when she married Larry Noble, a very prominent actor, and "a matinee idol of a million other women." The series debuted August 5, 1935 on Mutual, continued on NBC and concluded January 2, 1959 on CBS. The show was created by Frank and Anne Hummert, the most prolific producers during the radio soap era.

One of the numerous success stories of the prolific serial creators Frank and Anne Hummert, Backstage Wife ultimately made the rounds of three networks. The series embodied a Hummert motif: taking a fragile but persistent heroine of humble origin, wedding her into status, prosperity or both, then delivering her into contemptible situations in which she must fend off an endless procession of demented females hell-bent on capturing her mate for themselves -- at the risk of bodily injury to her.

Mary Noble, an office clerk from the Midwest, married notoriety in Broadway matinee idol Larry Noble, "dream sweetheart of a million other women." For 23 years she fought bravely, defending her happiness against a perpetual parade of resolute damsels. And in the meantime, a melange of unbalanced men was just as committed to separating the Nobles for their own trysts with Mary. After two decades - retaining a single NBC quarter-hour for 17 consecutive seasons - that network gave Wife the boot. But because the drama sustained such a strong following, CBS extended its life an additional three years.

Mary had to compete with hussies, jezebels, and schemers that made an art form for the shenanigans. Life was really hard for Mary, even though she would not admit it. "Suffer" is not the operative word to describe Mary's marriage. She constantly was being nagged by jealousy, and her trust and love for her fickle husband was tested, virtually, everyday. Coupled with typical soap opera characters, such as "the unscrupulous Rupert Barlow," and "the calculating, devious Regina Rawlings," Mary Noble, Backstage Wife will leave you hanging off the end of your seats as you desperately try to sort out to chaos of stage life!

The sponsors included Dr. Lyons Tooth Powder and Procter & Gamble.

Each episode began with the announcer (Pierre Andre, Roger Krupp, others) explaining:

Now, we present once again, Backstage Wife, the story of Mary Noble, a little Iowa girl who married one of America's most handsome actors, Larry Noble, matinée idol of a million other women -- the story of what it means to be the wife of a famous star.

The program was parodied by Bob and Ray as their continuing satirical soap opera, Mary Backstayge, Noble Wife, serialized for such a long period of time that it became better known to many listeners than the show it lampooned.

Posted Image
Pierre Andre was the announcer for Backstage Wife in the 1930's

Description of the locale and set:

I will focus primarily here on the series Backstage Wife, the story of Mary and Larry Noble. She was a "sweet young girl from Iowa," and he was a "famous broadway star." Their "modest home" in Rosehaven, Long Island was within commuting distance by personal car, taxi or train (all of which were used at times in various episodes) of Larry's work in New York City.

It might be best to begin by placing the Nobles' home in its larger context, especially the municipal and commercial part of the village of Rosehaven, which plays a role in many of the story lines. This part of Rosehaven is within walking distance of the Nobles' house, but far enough away that the characters almost always use other forms of transportation.

Among the businesses and services offered by Rosehaven are a bank, a post office, a filling station, a diner which is "just off the main street," a hairdressing establishment, a liquor store, a garage, a place to buy groceries and a taxi service. There is also "a small restaurant" called The Laurel Inn described as being located "some miles away" from the Nobles' home. It may or may not be within the village. All of the above figure in one or more episodes of the serial.
As for the house itself, a driveway leads up to it and terminates near the front door. Upon ringing the doorbell, guests are ushered into the entrance hall where there is a table, a telephone and a message pad, and a closet (in which, among other things, Larry's house slippers are kept).

The living room contains a fireplace, a sofa, a desk and chair, and probably more than one armchair (we are told at one point that Larry has his "own armchair"). This is the setting for many scenes and a favorite place for Mary to do her needlepoint or work in her mending basket. A front window in the room looks out onto the driveway, while on the back side of it French doors open onto a flagstone terrace.

Going upstairs for a moment, we find the home's four bedrooms. One belongs to Larry and Mary, who have separate beds. The room has blinds, and its own bathroom with a shower. Reference is made to a bedside light in at least one episode.

Their young son Larry, Jr. has his own room, but the only detail I have found about it is that it contains an extra bed which could be made available to a guest. A third bedroom is simply referred to as the "guest room." During one long story line that I am aware of, it is occupied by family friend Maud Marlowe, herself an actress. Finally there is another guest bedroom, this one located under the eaves. It is so closely associated with playwright and family friend Tom Bryson that Larry once refers to it as "your room" when talking to Tom, who on another occasion calls it "my special room under the eaves" in a conversation with Mary.
The house has a dining room, one entrance to which is through the pantry. Mary uses the pantry as a place to arrange cut flowers from her garden, keeping a number of vases there. She once tells Maud, when they are in the pantry together, that to make some lilacs last another day or two she will "cut the stems and bruise the ends and put them into water." The liquor supply also seems to be located there, as we have various adults repairing to the pantry for a sociable nip now and then.

The kitchen is another frequent setting, and we learn a lot about it. Specifically mentioned are a stove, a refrigerator, a table, shelves, a bread box, an electric toaster, a coffee pot, a juicer (apparently a manual one), serving trays and a butter dish. Mary and her friend Maud spend time together there, washing the dishes in one episode and just talking while Mary beats egg whites for a lemon pie in another.

The Nobles and their visitors and guests are often to be found "out back." I mentioned that French doors open from the living room to a flagstone terrace. Larry especially enjoys sunbathing there, lounging in one or another of the deck chairs placed in that location. An awning provides shade for part of the terrace, and at one side next to Mary's flower garden are a stone bench and a low stone wall.

The garden itself is Mary's delight. Armed with her gloves and garden shears and garden basket, she can be found among her lilacs and roses and peonies and irises and petunias. Now we see her "kneeling on a pad and gently crumbling the earth around a bed of sturdy seedlings," or weeding the petunias and preparing to transplant them, or nipping buds off a peony bush. She tells Larry, "you've got to disbud peony bushes to get the best flowers." You "nip off the little buds, leaving one bud to a stalk." A hedge separates the end of the garden from the property of the next-door neighbors.

It seems evident that no one would be likely to mistake the Nobles' house for any other domicile in the realm of radio soap operas. The images of it are too abundant and the details too distinctive. In its treatment of hearth and home, Backstage Wife deserves high marks for creating a place with which its listeners must have felt very familiar and comfortable.

To listen to other episodes see: http://www.archive.org/details/backstagewifeOTRKIBM

Researched by Steve Frame, 9 September 2007

Sources: OTRCat.com; Wikipedia; Internet Archive; Radio Back When; No End to Her: Soap Opera and the Female Subject By Martha Nochimson; Mercedes Mccambridge: A Biography And Career Record By Ronald W. Lackmann; The Original Old Time Radio BBS Forum
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