Hello Retro Bloggers!
I am back with new updates after a break to re-charge the batteries!
Today we journey back to some nostalgic radio and television from our soap opera past. Irna Phillips, the queen of soaps from their invention in the 1930’s on radio until her death in the early 1970’s, was really the mother of all soaps. Her talented hand went into countless soaps and today Guiding Light and As The World Turns remain as part of her creative legacy. Many of the other soaps left on the air today owe homage to her in that their creators were mentored by Irna early in their fledgling soap writing and creating careers. All hail Irna!
One of her many creations during her heyday was the 1948 radio soap, The Brighter Day. All soaps on radio were broadcast live and lasted only 15 minutes Monday thru Friday. Like many Irna creations it had a solid set of family values and a good dose of religion…the main character was a minister. The original first radio episode was all about starting a new ministry at a small church. It is so hard for us to imagine a 15 minute radio soap with this type of content today in our sex drenched world of television. Irna took great pride in giving the audience soul inspiration as well as the usual soapy situations that we all know so well. As a matter of fact, Irna’s soap opera situations are still being used today. Her realistic courtroom trials and heated love triangles were legendary!
The Brighter Day had many features that make it seem so quaint to us today.
Besides the Revered Dennis as a main character played for most of the run by a fatherly Blair Davies, we had Aunt Emily. Mona Bruns played this spinster character who ran the Dennis household for most of the TV run and she became a television icon of her day. Her lace collars and homespun advice are what most people recall about this show, if they recall it all.
I am sad to say that I have no actual memories of this show since it departed our airways in 1962 and I did not enter the world until 1965. So, why be so keen on this show? It’s simple…For TV and soap nostalgia buffs like me, it is a legend and gives warm fuzzy feelings. I also located and read Mona Bruns’ 1973 autobiography called, By Emily Possessed, and found her and the wonderful memories of her time with the show completely charming.
I was also thrilled to have been given a copy of a kinescope(film of a monitor showing a live on-air broadcast-poorish quality and normally used for west coast broadcast at a later time-slot) of a 1960 episode, one which Irna Phillips wrote and it was….a brilliant 15 minute courtroom scene.
So, what happened to The Brighter Day? Why did it end its run?
Where do I start?
Well…the show had a healthy radio run but was late in the world of radio soaps. Radio soaps were well on their way by 1948 and Brighter Day had to fight to gain a place. But as we all know, TV was looming large and that was where networks needed to establish this format of sudsy daytime drama. It was not easy.
Radio soaps in general did NOT make the shift to TV successfully.
Most early TV soaps were not catching on and left the air quickly. Radio soaps were hanging-on for dear life by the early 50’s, some had vanished already.
Search For Tomorrow came to CBS in the fall of 1951 and marked the first big hit for the new TV soaps. Soaps were live and only 15 short minutes!
Ahhh! BUT…Search was not Irna’s! Irna wanted to break into TV soapland, she had been so popular in radio…what could she do? Her biggest hit on radio was The Guiding Light and she encouraged Proctor and Gamble to take the plunge with it and begin simultaneous TV and radio broadcasts in 1952. It was risky and failures of this type were popping up all over, but it paid off…Big Time!
The Guiding Light took off like a rocket and the door was open!
The field was ripe now and many soaps were tried in the early 1950’s, most still flopped within a year of starting but in 1954 Irna took her sweet little show, Brighter Day and did the simultaneous route that she adopted with Guiding Light…fingers crossed it would take. So a 15minute TV version began in 1954 and was shot live Monday thru Friday in NYC and sponsored by Proctor and Gamble.
(Note: The radio and TV overlap lasted until 1956, by then radio was dying and the soaps that lived there were on life support or being executed quickly and with little regard for the audience feelings. By 1960 they were all gone!)
Irna crafted the show as head writer for most of the early days and then let others take on the project. The Irna scripts were by far the best according to most and when Irna moved her talents on to creating and writing her mega soap, As The World Turns in 1956 which would be produced in a new 30 minute format...the little humble show began to suffer.
So, Brighter Day ambled along in the new TV medium and was not as cultivated as it could or should have been. Irna was called in around 1960 to try to revive the show but by then Proctor and Gamble was pulling out and dropping the show as its sponsor and owner. Now dear old CBS took over in 1960 and took the ownership from P&G. It is well known among TV soap buffs that once P&G or another big sponsor drops a show and the network takes it over…bad news!
The Brighter Day suffered this fate. And it was in search of a way to be popular in this fast growing world of TV soaps. The 15 minute formula was getting stale, As The World Turns and Edge of Night proved that 30 minutes was viable and profitable!
Networks became very keen on this 30 minute format and needed to expand or cancel the older soaps to make way for new. By the 1960’s soaps were debuting constantly and NBC and ABC were now attempting to find the success that CBS seemed to own in the daytime world.
Mona Bruns said her in book that the show had many writers, some good, some not and the show also had some major changes. The show changed its setting mid-way in the TV run…not a good idea and then suffered the kiss of death!
Once CBS took over the show and did not know how to handle it, they had the brilliant idea of moving its entire production from NYC to sunny Television City in California 1961. No successful daytime drama originated from California as of yet and it had the makings of disaster from the beginning.
When CBS made this decision, the New York based show had several lead actors pull out…no way did they want to make the trek to the West Coast. Also the show would be taped from Television City and no longer live, most daytime soaps were still live even in the new 30 minute format. Taped soaps were not successful as of yet, ahhh another cowbell of disaster!
So the show moved and began its final year in TV City. Mona and Blair were the only characters the now very small loyal audience even knew. So many familiar faces gone to be replaced with new and even the new sets added to the muddled sensation regular viewers began to feel.
Mona got fan letters from loyal viewers bemoaning the changes and being very grateful she remained intact…but…more changes were coming!
In 1962 CBS needed space! Secret Storm was doing well in the ratings and was still only 15 minutes. CBS was getting fed up with 15 minute soaps and wanted to expand all they had. Secret Storm was broadcast at 4:15 EST and Brighter Day at 4:00.
CBS needed to expand its more successful Secret Storm and it did well in the late afternoon slot….hmmm…what to do?
CBS announced that Secret Storm and Brighter Day, two very popular shows…(WHAT? Now who is telling a fib?) would be expanded to 30 minutes each.
Secret Storm would be broadcast 4 to 4:30 EST and Brighter Day…would be moved to…11:30 to 11:55 EST! No soap prior to 12 noon EST had ever lived to tell of it!
Now…the bright sparks out there may recall Love Of Life having this slot in the later 1960’s thru to 1979…but it was never that highly rated in this position and was much more popular at 12:00 EST where it was from its premier in 1951 until the late 1960’s.
So now the writers, who were already lost, had to fill another 15 minutes of air time!
It came as no great shock when CBS, only shortly after the new expanded format began, decided to call it quits and end the show.
The morning time slot proved fatal and many local stations were not even showing it, the morning movie craze at local stations was big and so viewers could not watch it!
Plus, if you have been known as a late afternoon show…what the hell are you doing on air before lunch?
The loyal, small audience mourned its passing and felt like a friend had left their midst. But many, like Mona Bruns, knew the “friend” was left back in NYC. The new format, video taping and fancy sets could not make up for the lost cast members and poor scripting of the last few years.
The Brighter Day faded into TV legend in September of 1962. Many critics watch the few “found” episodes and say…BORING…What a lot of preaching. Too much table chit-chat….too much coffee pouring and cooking.
Well…I say…Wait!…This show paved the way for what we have today in the world of soaps and gave many actors like Hal Holbrook and Patty Duke a leg up on the ladder of an acting career.
Irna Phillips did not wow us with fast paced tales of sex and adventure, no…her stories took time and yes…they had sex and lust and murder, too…but a message was woven in as well!
If only Irna had kept writing Brighter Day faithfully, well….who knows…it might have lived a long healthy life on TV.
Mona Bruns would never live down being Aunt Emily and she never regretted being known only for this part. Mona did much in the way of theatre and TV but nothing would change the public…You are Aunt Emily…and that was cool with her!
By the way, she lived to be very old…100…what else would we expect from Aunt Emily!
Enjoy these bits of trivia of Brighter Day. Some of the time zones presented are not EST, so be aware! Also you too can watch a classic 1955 episode of this show at:
For your information I present this as well:
Radio NBC: 1948-1956
TV CBS: January 4, 1954-September 28, 1962
Mike Barton ... Chris Hamiliton (1960-1961)
Mary Linn Beller ... Babby Dennis (1954-1959) (original television cast)
Walter Brooke ... Donald Harrick (1956-1958)
Mona Bruns ... Aunt Emily Potter (1954-1962) (original television cast)
Brook Byron ... Althea Dennis (1954-1955) (original television cast)
Forrest Compton ... Grayling Dennis #3 (1961-1962)
Blair Davies ... Rev. Richard Dennis #2 (1954-1962)
June Dayton ... Patsy Dennis #2 (1961-1962)
Peter Donat ... Steven Markley (1958)
Patty Duke ... Ellen Williams Dennis #1 (1958-1959)
Bennye Gatteys ... Judith Potter (1962)
Diane Gentner ... Sandra Talbot Dennis #1 (1956)
Ernest Graves ... Eliot Clark #2 (1960)
Dean Harens ... Dr. Charles Fuller (1960-1961)
Jayne Heller ... Althea Dennis (1956)
Hal Holbrook ... Grayling Dennis #1 (1954-1959)
Gloria Hoye ... Sandra Talbot Dennis #2 (1957-1959)
Rex Ingram ... Unknown (1962)
Paul Langton ... Walter Dennis (1962)
Geoffrey Lumb ... Mitchell Dru (1962)
Nancy Malone ... Babby Dennis (1959-1960)
Lori March ... Lenore Bradley (1956-1958)
Anne Meacham ... Althea Dennis (1960-1961)
Lois Nettleton ... Patsy Dennis (1954-1957)(original television cast)
James Noble ... Grayling Dennis #2 (1959-1960)
Maggie O'Neill ... Althea Dennis (1960)
Don Penny ... Toby Ballard (1962)
Nicholas Pryor ... (1958)
Nancy Rennick ... Sandra Talbot Dennis #4 (1961-1962)
Benny Rubin ... Mort Barrows (1962)
Lanna Saunders ... Ellen Dennis Williams #2 (1960-1961)
Joseph Sirola ... Peter Nino (1959-1960)
Lilia Skala ... Mrs. Dunbar (1955)
Charles Taylor ... Bud Clark (1959)
Larry Ward ... Dr. Randy Hamiliton (1954-1957)
Larry Weber ... Eliot Clark #1 (1959)
Mary K. Wells ... Sandra Talbot Dennis #3 (1960-1961)
Murial Williams ... Lydia Canfield (1956-58)