Saturday, December 18, 2010
Jonathan Thomas and His Christmas on the Moon
The Man in the Moon (#1)
Six-year-old Jonathan Thomas is asleep in his bed when, suddenly, a moonbeam shines through his window. Sliding down the moonbeam come two odd little elves, which wake up Jonathan's teddy bear Guz and send the bear scampering after them –- all the way to the moon!
Friday, November 25, 1938
The Court of Old King Cole (#2)
Court is in session, presided over by Old King Cole -- and the case is one of kidnapping! It seems that the Squeebobblems have kidnapped Santa Claus and, unless he is rescued, there will be no Christmas this year!
Saturday, November 26, 1938
Gorgonzola the Horse (#3)
Sentenced by Old King Cole to rescue Santa Claus from the nasty Squeebobblems, Jonathan begins his journey, accompanied by the Man in the Moon and riding a dancing and talking "horse of another color" named Gorgonzola -- whose voice bears a not-unintentional resemblance to that of Schnozzola himself, Jimmy Durante. (Little Bo Peep makes a cameo appearance as well - with the voice of Katherine Hepburn!)
Monday, November 28, 1938
The Valley of the Three Dwarfs (#4)
Closely watched by the evil witch of Rumplestitch, with the aid of her magic mirror, our intrepid band comes upon the Valley of the Three Dwarfs, guarded by Sneezle, Wheezle, and Beelzebub. To cross, they must sing a song -- and sing they do, until the witch herself shows up to take Jonathan Thomas prisoner!
Tuesday, November 29, 1938
The Magic Word (#5)
The evil witch of Rumplestitch insists that Jonathan Thomas be turned over to her, but Jonathan hides with the aid of an invisible hat. After her departure, the Three Dwarfs express they appreciation by giving Jonathan and his friends a magic word to help them on their way -- a word that will come in very handy when they try to cross the deep and dangerous Merry-Go-Round River.
Wednesday, November 30, 1938
The Fairy Queen (#6)
In order to cross the Merry-Go-Round River, our travelers say the magic word and get a surprise: Teenya, the Fairy Queen, arrives to give them both encouragement and a magic talisman in the form of a golden acorn. They'll need it, too, as they soon must prepare to enter the Forest of Nightmares!
Thursday, December 1, 1938
The Dragon with the Thirteen Tails (#7)
While traveling through the Forest of Nightmares, Jonathan and his friends hear the ferocious roar of a dragon in the distance and, taking the Fairy Queen's advice, decide to seek out a pepper tree in order to turn the dragon's fire into sneezes.
Friday, December 2, 1938
Whiskery Bill (#8)
In the Forest of Nightmares, our travelers meet Whiskery Bill, a squirrel with attitude, who wants nothing more than to eat the golden acorn which the Fairy Queen gave them to guard against the witch of Rumplestitch.
Saturday, December 3, 1938
Asleep for a Million Trillion Years (#9)
Poor Jonathan Thomas! He's fallen off Gorgonzola the Horse and the Forest of Nightmares has put him soundly to sleep for maybe a million trillion years! Luckily, the Fairy Queen knows an antidote...but can Whiskery Bill find it in time to awaken Jonathan and save Christmas?
Monday, December 5, 1938
The Slumber Cave (#10)
While he's asleep, the evil witch of Rumplestitch comes to Jonathan in his dreams. Taking a view of her magical brew, he sees all of his friends seeking the antidote for his slumber: a red, red rose. But it's December; where is anyone to find such a bloom in the middle of winter?
Tuesday, December 6, 1938
Whiskery Bill Meets Sir Algy (#11)
Good news! Whiskery Bill has found a rose bush both willing and able to grow a rose to awaken Jonathan Thomas. But there's a problem: the bush has lost of all its color, so Bill must go to the Keeper of the Rainbow to ask for some red rubies from the Rainbow Bridge. Along the way, he meets a walrus with the unlikely name of Sir Algernon Q. Whipplesnapple -- Sir Algy, for short.
Wednesday, December 7, 1938
The Rainbow Bridge (#12)
Whiskery Bill and Sir Algy have made it to the Rainbow Bridge, but the miserly Keeper of the Rainbow refuses to give Bill the red rubies he needs. Luckily, Sir Algy has an idea.
Thursday, December 8, 1938
Growing a Red, Red Rose (#13)
Having secured the rubies from the Rainbow Bridge, Whiskery Bill and Sir Algy head back to the bramble bush so that she may grow a red, red rose. But the evil witch sees their success in her magic mirror and schemes to stop them before they can get back to awaken Jonathan Thomas.
Friday, December 9, 1938
Crossing the Ice-Covered River (#14)
The witch has thawed the ice-covered river which Whiskery Bill and Sir Algy must cross to get back to Jonathan...and Bill can't swim! Will the wicked witch prevent them from waking up poor Jonathan Thomas?
Saturday, December 10, 1938
The Lion King (#15)
Having awakened Jonathan with the scent of the red, red rose, our intrepid band can now resume their journey to rescue Santa Claus. But before they can travel very far, they encounter a silly pair known as Tiddle and LeWink, who warn them against waking the Lion King of the forest.
Monday, December 12, 1938
A Box of Roars (#16)
O'Gygraff, the newly-named Lion King, treats our travelers to dinner and gives them a valuable weapon is their fight against the witch: a box containing four of his most terrible roars, which frighten her no end. It's lucky they have them, too, for while on their journey, the roars help them save the life of His Majesty, the King of Any Old Thing.
Tuesday, December 13, 1938
The Wall of Doors (#17)
In gratitude, the elfin King of Any Old Thing gives Jonathan and the Man in the Moon a special golden key, which will open the correct door in the next hazard they will soon confront: the Wall of Doors.
Wednesday, December 14, 1938
Looking Glass Land (#18)
Entering the Wall of Doors, Jonathan, the Man in the Moon, and Gorgonzola encounter many strange things: echoing voices that mock their words, a giant toad with a cold in his nose, and three heralds (Me, Myself, and I) who tell them that Jonathan's teddy bear Guz has been taken prisoner!
Thursday, December 15, 1938
Good Queen Alice (#19)
Jonathan and his friends find themselves in Looking Glass Land, a bizarre and wacky place populated by the Mad Hatter, the Jabberwocky bird who flies backward, and ruled by Good Queen Alice -- who has a plan to help them rescue Santa Claus.
Friday, December 16, 1938
King Squeebeeble (#20)
In the Land of Squeebobble, mean King Squeebeeble is holding Santa Claus prisoner in order to stop Christmas from coming this year. Meantime, Queen Alice shares her rescue plan with Jonathan.
Saturday, December 17, 1938
Growing Large and Small (#21)
Queen Alice gives Jonathan a magic whistle which, when blown once, will allow him to grow...and grow...and grow -- the very thing to scare the Squeebobbles when he arrives to rescue Santa Claus. Meantime, the witch and her magic mirror have another scheme in mind.
Monday, December 19, 1938
Kermit the Hermit (#22)
The witch has disguised herself as a shade tree, under which she hopes Jonathan and his friends will rest and be cast under her spell. Luckily, a hermit named Kermit (or is it a Kermit named Hermit?) has observed the witch and arrives in time to warn our travelers before it's too late.
Tuesday, December 20, 1938
The Pea Soup Fog (#23)
No sooner have our friends escaped the witch than they find themselves confronted by another danger: the Pea Soup Fog, which is hiding an old foe known as the Dragon with the Thirteen Tails! But wait: there's a building up ahead that promises safety. If only Jonathan, the Man in the Moon, and Gorgonzola can outrun the dragon and get there in time...
Wednesday, December 21, 1938
A Reward for the Capture of Jonathan (#24)
Having given the dragon a tummy ache thanks to a large serving of rich plum pudding, Jonathan and his friends resume their journey to Squeebobble Land. Meanwhile, the evil witch of Rumplestitch informs King Squeebeeble of Jonathan's impending arrival and the King responds by sounding the alarm, calling out the guards, and declaring a reward for the capture of our brave band of rescuers...dead or alive!
Thursday, December 22, 1938
Prisoners of King Squeebeeble (#25)
Locked away and held prisoner by King Squeebeeble, Jonathan Thomas and the Man in the Moon despair of ever escaping in time to rescue Santa Claus. But wait: that magic whistle which Queen Alice gave to Jonathan isn't just good for making him grow taller...it's also good for making him grow smaller, too!
Friday, December 23, 1938
Santa is Rescued (#26)
Jonathan Thomas has kept his promise and rescued Santa Claus! But before Santa takes off in his sleigh to bring Christmas cheer to all the children of the world, he holds a party for Jonathan to celebrate his heroism -- and invites all of the new friends who have helped him along the way. It looks like this will be a merry Christmas after all!
Saturday, December 24, 1938
It's bedtime, and six-year-old Jonathan Thomas and his teddy bear Guz are ready for a story before going to sleep. But before the story can begin, a moonbeam shines through Jonathan's window and, much to his surprise, two little elves slide down it into his bedroom. Before Jonathan can stop him, Guz takes off after the elves and scampers up the moonbeam chasing them. Jonathan follows and soon finds himself involved in an exciting adventure to save Santa Claus, who has been kidnapped and held prisoner in the Land of Squeebobble. Accompanied by the Man in the Moon and a horse named Gorgonzola, and traveling to strange and exotic places like the Merry-Go-Round River, the Rainbow Bridge, the Wall Of Doors, and Looking Glass Land, Jonathan meets and befriends a wildly imaginative group of characters in an adventure straight out of Lewis Carroll by way of many of the best-loved fairy and folk tales of all time. Can Jonathan rescue Santa Claus in time to save Christmas...or will he be defeated by the evil witch of Rumplestitch?
* * *
In the late summer of 1937, radio stations were surprised to receive a 12" audition recording in a sleeve bearing the words "Merry Christmas!" in red festive lettering across the top. It was common enough for a station manager to receive promotional records in the mail, but seldom did a Christmas recording arrive when the thermometer was still hovering in the seventies. For most, this unexpected recording was their introduction to a broadcasting phenomenon that would become a part of their holiday programming for years to come -- and give a profitable boost to the holiday sales of their retail advertisers, too.
"The Cinnamon Bear," a 26-part children's serial produced by the Transcription Company of America, provided the perfect link between radio station and retailer: a daily, self-contained special feature that could be broadcast at the same time every weekday - usually just after children had arrived home from school - and be sponsored by a single merchant who would use the series and its colorful characters in their advertising layouts and displays. The shows were designed to be played on the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, gradually building in dramatic intensity until they culminated on Christmas Eve in, of course, a happy ending.
Creatively produced and featuring a small army of experienced radio performers, "The Cinnamon Bear" proved to be an instant favorite of both children tuning in for their daily musical adventure and the department stores that linked the Cinnamon Bear to their Christmas promotions. Timing played a big part in the success of the series - 1937 was the first year when it seemed as though America would finally overcome its decade-long economic depression - but clever promotional materials including coloring books, sheet music, and pre-designed graphics made it easy for department stores to leap on the economic bandwagon created by Paddy O'Cinnamon and his friends. It wasn't long before the yearly rebroadcasts of "The Cinnamon Bear" became, in many cities, as much a local holiday tradition as the Santa Claus parade and the church nativity pageant; in fact, over time, some stores would even choose to send their stand-in Santa packing -- replacing him with a person in an overstuffed Cinnamon Bear costume.
Inevitably, the ultra-successful "Cinnamon Bear" would spawn imitations -- and it was less than a year later that a rival syndication company would come out with another series designed for the financial benefit both radio stations and retailers alike. Autumn 1938 found station managers receiving word of another 26-part children's serial titled "Jonathan Thomas and his Christmas on the Moon." Though not quite as elaborately produced as the Bear, this new holiday series had much to recommend it: a unique premise mixing elements of fairy tales, folk tales, and well-known literary classics, a collection of characters and situations that rivaled those that accompanied Paddy O'Cinnamon's adventures, merchandising and promotional opportunities that were the equal of the Bear...and, most important of all, a competitive program that could air on a rival station at or near the same time as the Bear was being heard. Since "The Cinnamon Bear" had been so successful the previous year, most of the larger retailers had snapped up exclusive rights to sponsor it year after year in their respective broadcast markets, leaving smaller stores or those which had simply not foreseen the selling power of the Bear in need of something with which to complete.
Economically, 1938 was an even bigger year for Christmas retail sales than 1937 had been -- and "Jonathan Thomas and his Christmas on the Moon" played a significant part in boosting those sales. Because it was new and unknown (and also because quite a few kid listeners already knew from the previous year how "The Cinnamon Bear" series turned out), "Jonathan Thomas" often beat "The Cinnamon Bear" in numbers of listeners and, as expected, these young listeners influenced their gift-buying parents to shop at the stores that sponsored it. Whereas Paddy and his friends set out to find a silver star and encounter strange and unique lands and people along the way, six-year-old Jonathan Thomas goes him one better: his quest is to rescue a kidnapped Santa Claus and save Christmas itself. Now that's competition!
"CB" and his rival "JT" went head to head in radio markets both large and small for the next few years. "The Cinnamon Bear," being first and usually being sponsored by larger stores, tended to dominate the radio market and has become a much-beloved part of the Christmas memories of many a radio enthusiast -- but "Jonathan Thomas" does have his fans, what with its scripts written in rhyme (mostly) and its characters and situations echoing elements of "Snow White and Rose Red," "The Wizard of Oz," and Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." Heard today, both of the series have much to recommend them: fascinating characters, excellent voice work from a large cast of performers, dramatic cliff-hanging adventures, and the imaginative use of radio's ability to create detailed pictures in your mind. In terms of sheer production values, "The Cinnamon Bear" still comes out on top -- but I bet that, after playing the creative and cartoon-like "Jonathan Thomas" for your children or grandchildren this year, it too may well become an anticipated part of your yearly holiday traditions.
Holiday serials like "The Cinnamon Bear," "Jonathan Thomas and his Christmas on the Moon," and "Jump Jump and the Ice Queen" were all designed to be played once each weekday between Thanksgiving and Christmas, culminating with that happy ending on Christmas Eve. Thus, the opening section of each episode offers a synopsis of what has come before, designed to keep young listeners up to date on where the characters are in their adventure. Radio Archives recommends sticking to this schedule for home listening as well. Pick a time each day to play the first episode in the series, then play the next episode at the same time the next day, and so on; this will give children the best listening experience possible and keep them excited about what's going to happen next. (By the way, none of these holiday serials contain advertising, so parents and grandparents need not worry about younger family members begging for toys that are no longer available for sale!)