What It's Like to Be in One Man's Family

Photo of Page Gilman as Jack Barbour in One Man's Family
One Man's Family cast member Page Gilman

The radio show One Man's Family seems as old as Methuselah, as time-honored as radio, itself, customary as a Sunday night supper. The show has been coming over the ether weekly for 11 years. Eight of those venerable mileposts have had the same sponsor, who still has seven years to go.

The program was first produced by NBC on the west coast as a sustaining in 1932. Two years later it went nationwide, has long since become a radio legend, earned its author half a million dollars -- added steadily to the fortunes of its cast.

In the history of "The Family" there have been four deaths, one divorce, 50 characters introduced -- 12 permanent Sunday night visitors. Out of the half a hundred who have played various parts, most of the original cast still remain through the perpetual saga: Some of them began as script schoolchildren and were written into adulthood, others who started as juveniles are now playing romantic leads. When a member of the cast is drafted, dies, or gets married, so it is written into the script and even though he returns no more, his memory is kept alive through references. Becoming a part of One Man's Family is almost a practical guarantee of a lifetime job, and pleasant security.

The mystery of its appeal is still a mystery. Its theme is nothing more complicated than the daily happenings of an average American home. Its institutional family attempts to intercept certain phases of ordinary happenings, philosophies, weaves in wars, floods and calamities to give it a timeliness, but it always remains the closely knit story of a family of 12. There is little or no conflict. On some shows, nothing actually happens. The characters merely sit around and talk. They aren't witty; they don't tear at your emotions, you are rarely perturbed -- they are certainly never profound. Paul, favorite and beloved character to millions of people, often engages in some quiet talk that is inspiring, but even these choice bits of inspiration are something that you know, already.

The most probable secret of the success of the whole thing is its seeming sincerity. The cast has been playing the parts for so long that they are almost as real to them as their everyday life. When they enter the studio on Sunday night there is a spirit of "going home" quite prevalent, they call each other by their script names and discuss things that happened in last week's show as if it were really part and parcel of their life.

When Page Gilman, who has played Jack, the youngest son, since the show went on the air, was drafted into the Army it affected the whole cast. Quiet, gray, velvet-voiced Mother Barbour called the cast together at rehearsal and said: "The war has come to our household." They were as sad as if Page were son and brother.

Each of them felt a new responsibility toward the war effort. Mother Barbour took up knitting to send him a sweater; Claudia, the script sister, went out and joined the motor corp division of AWVS; radio sister Hazel became a Hollywood canteen hosess. All of which impetus sprang from a radio brother going to the front. At another time the script called for Hazel to have a baby. The event was given a terrific build-up, week after week -- when the script baby finally arrived, it had all seemed so wonderful that Hazel had herself a real baby.

From Tune In, June 1943

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