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Guest Star - Pgm 12

August 19th, 2010

Finally this week, a hard to find early entry in the long running, star-studded Treasury Department public service series, "Guest Star". Program 12 in the series features Bob Hope and Bing Crosby along with host Kenny Delmar and Denes Agay and the Savings Bond Orchestra and Chorus.  Agay and the Orchestra kick off the show with "After You've Gone".  In the Hope and Crosby segment, the guys crack jokes about each other and savings bonds while Hope plugs his new movie, "My Favorite Brunette".  The side is dated April 10, 1947 in the matrix, so I'm assuming that's the date the master for the show was recorded.

transcription label

Episodes of "Guest Star" and programs featuring Hope or Crosby aren't unusual, but there's one thing about this show that makes it distinctive - it's an early (and likely the most atrocious) example I've run into of a canned laugh track.  If you listen closely, it's obvious that Hope and Crosby segment was recorded separately and some unseen engineer has layered in laughs and often inappropriate audience reaction to Hope and Crosby's banter.

I posted about the show's laugh track to the OTR mailing list.  Scholar Michael Biel sent in a helpful response, conjecturing the laugh track might be the work of Jack Mullin.  Mullin, of course, worked with Crosby to record his network radio show on a German tape machine and tape stock that Mullen brought back from Europe after the War.  Mullin says he saved snippets of laughs and audience reaction to "sweeten" Bing's show, "creating" the laugh track.

But I'm not sure this is Mullin's handiwork.  The show dates from April 1947 and Biel, in an earlier mailing list message archived on this site, noted that Bing's show on ABC was recorded and edited on laquers at this time - it was only mastered on tape starting October 7, 1947.  According to Wikipedia's article on Mullin, Bing saw a demonstration of the tape machines for the first time in June 1947, a couple of months after this "Guest Star" episode was mastered.

So, what do you think?  Is this an early attempt by Jack Mullin to show off what could be done with tape?  Or is it some anonymous radio engineer with some lacquers of laughs and audience twitters on a couple of turntables?  Perhaps if Bing heard this bad laugh track on the final version of this "Guest Star" episode, it might have made him even more excited about the possibilities of Mullin's tape recorder when he saw it a couple of months later.

The use of prerecorded laughs in radio isn't as well documented, but this show seems like an early and very primitive attempt at giving an impression of a "live" audience - I still wonder if it might be the earliest surviving example.   Certainly, some Armed Forces Radio programs had applause inserted, particularly when they were covering an edited commercial segment or were making a transition in the sides of the show.  But I'm hard pressed to think of an example where audience reaction for a whole segment is being simulated.  It's certainly worth more research on this show and other resources by someone to see how early use of canned laughs developed on radio before it became such an annoying presence on television sitcoms.

The program was transferred from an original vinyl Treasury Department transcription, matrix number ND7-MM-5430-1C.

Thanks to blog listener George Brandon for donating this intriguing disc to my collection!

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