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Laughing through Latin on Tuesdays in ’48

It was 1948, and Tuesday nights aired the greatest comedy shows on radio or anywhere else. Ever. Well, that’s my opinion.

Our family even ignored our brand-new Dumont television set in order to listen to that wonderful lineup of comedy.

My eighth-grade Latin that I took at East Junior High School was a mixture of pleasure and pain. The pleasure part was being tutored by an optometrist friend of my dad’s who was an expert in Latin. He helped me through my Latin lessons. As a result I did quite well in the subject, much to the surprise of my Latin teacher, Miss Ziegler.

My Tuesday nights were the pain part because I had to memorize a Latin vocabulary in order to pass the inevitable quiz the next day in Latin class.

In order to make that painful time more palatable, I cleared the kitchen table for my books and papers and turned on the radio to WTAM to listen to (while I studied) a string of comedy shows beginning with 9 p.m.’s “A Date with Judy”; 9:30’s “Fibber McGee and Molly”; 10’s “The Pepsodent Show, starring Bob Hope”; and Red Skelton’s 10:30 p.m. “The Raleigh Cigarette Program.”

Remember “903 Rod and 903 Red”? Red was speaking to announcer Rod O’Connor. I had no idea what that code phrase meant until I Googled it recently. It’s simply the post office box number in Louisville, Ky., where smokers sent in to redeem their Raleigh cigarette coupons.

If I wasn’t yet done with my vocabulary work when Red Skelton’s program ended at 11 p.m., I listened to “The Incomparable Hildegarde” on the same station. Dad was a real fan of Hildegarde, and he listened to her with such fawning intensity as she sang “Darling, Je Vous Aime Beaucoup” that it really angered my mother.

I thought Hildegarde was nice, but all she meant to me was that it was time to wrap up my studies and brush my teeth.

One thing that stood out to me about that triumvirate of comedians was the fact that each of them entertained and built morale for the Armed Forces. Jim Jordan (Fibber McGee) was drafted for service during World War I, where he became part of a military touring group in France. Bob Hope, as you must know, served as an entertainer in the USO (United Service Organizations) and had “The Pepsodent Show” broadcasting at military bases across the country during World War II. Red Skelton entertained troops while he was in the U.S. Army in Special Services. He performed as many as 12 shows per day before our troops in the U.S. and in Europe.

Our family were great fans of those comedians, and we wound up going to the Robins or Harris-Warren movie theaters in downtown Warren to see movies starring our favorite comedians.

Jim Jordan and his wife, Marian, were in “Here We Go Again” (1942) and “Heavenly Days” (1944). I wanted, especially, to see Fibber’s closet that he was going to clean up “one of these days.”

Of course, we all wanted to see Hope and Crosby in all of their “Road” movies.

Red Skelton was in several movies, most famously (I think) in the musical comedy “Bathing Beauty’ with Esther Williams.

So, what are we doing nowadays on Tuesday nights? Look through the Tribune Chronicle’s TV Trib. Maybe you’ll find something that’ll make you laugh. Maybe.

Veni, vidi, vici!

Mumford, of Warren, can be reached at don mumford@aol.com.

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