Index to Available Lectures:

• Golden Age of Radio
• Civil War Heroines
• The Gangster Era
• Lady Aviators

• Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys
• History of Sound Effects
• Hollywood Comes to D.C.
• The Lindbergh Kidnapping

• Games and Toys
• From Television to Radio
• The Wild West in Popular Culture
• Old Towns with New Names

GOLDEN AGE OF RADIO (1930 to 1960)

microphoneWhat was radio like before the networks were formed? How much power did the sponsors have over radio content? Why were soap operas so inexpensive? Who were the most popular comedians on the air? Is it true that radios were prized in rural American, even before they had electricity? Were most kids' adventure shows sponsored by cereal, gum, or breakfast drink? Did advertising agencies or sponsors have the most power? Were these radio programs live or recorded? How did they make all those sound effects? French, a vintage radio historian, will answer all these questions, play excerpts from programs of that bygone era, and demonstrate the use of manual sound effects.

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The medical profession, both North and South, learned a lot in their field hospitals, but not enough to keep down the overwhelming deaths from sickness…far more than cannon, rifles, or bayonets caused. Most of the nurses were male, but many women, paid or volunteer, contributed significantly. Two of them were the first female doctors in the U.S., although Clara Barton, with no medical training, certainly got more acclaim. One of those two doctors became the first (and only) woman recipient of the Medal of Honor. How and why? Dorothea Dix ran the Army nursing corps but wouldn't hire any woman who was young, attractive…or Catholic. (Yes, really.) For the "final exam", a Civil War Nurse Barbie Doll will be passed around and the audience will be invited to identify at least six historical errors about this doll.

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gangsterWas the fingerprint division of DOJ originally managed by prisoners at Leavenworth? Did Machine Gun Kelly really nick-name FBI Agents "G-Men"? What happened at the Kansas City Massacre…and the St. Valentine's Day Massacre? Dillinger, Baby-Face Nelson, Bonnie & Clyde, and the Barker gang were famous outlaws in the "Gangster Era"; how were they captured or killed? What were the radio programs about the FBI? To conclude his presentation, French will play excerpts from FBI radio shows of the Forties and Fifties.

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Everyone recalls Amelia Earhart, but what about Elizabeth Thible, Harriet Quimby, and Bessie Coleman? Thible in 1784 was in a balloon a mile high. Quimby crossed the English Channel solo in April 1912 but Titanic sinking buried news of her success. Coleman was the first African-American to earn a pilot's license in 1921 but died in an air crash in 1926. One of the first adventure novels of a girl pilot was written by Wizard of Oz author, L. Frank Baum in 1911. Popular juvenile novels of the 30's, including Girl Flyers, Ruth Darrow, and Dorothy Dixon, encouraged girls to become pilots. French will discuss all these, plus other lady aviators, including the famous WASP force of WW II.

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magnifing glassThe Hardy Boys arrived in 1927 and Nancy in 1930. Both are still going strong today. One little-known company, the Stratemeyer Syndicate, produced both of these popular series, in addition to many other children's books. This tiny firm in NJ, with less than 10 full-time employees, and a cadre of ghost writers who never came to the office, churned out dozens of full length books every month for over forty years. A woman solely ran this firm for over three decades. Who were her ghosts writers? What were they paid? Why was Nancy Drew so popular…then and now? French will bring along copies of these vintage books for the audience to examine.

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Sound effects can be traced back to Greek theatre. From these primitive efforts (sounds of rain and thunder) sound effects were greatly increased in Elizabethan theatre. Battle noise, hoof beats, cannon fire, etc. were among the realistic sound effects. Later Vaudeville called upon some of these same effects. "Silent" movies were not always silent…piano or organ music were accompanied by sounds of whatever was on the screen. Radio began when the silents were ousted by "talkies" so the sound effects people then migrated to the new venue of broadcasting. In his presentation, radio historian French will also demonstrate how many of radio's manual sound effects were created.

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movie cameraWant to know how the stars behave off-camera? Jack French, as an actor and extra, has been in many D.C. productions so he's observed the attitudes, quirks, and kindnesses of the super-stars. Can Bruce Willis or Tommy Lee Jones overrule a director? How do Meg Ryan and Rosie O'Donnell treat their cast members? Are Eddie Murphy and Tom Cruise really nice guys? How does Julia Louis-Dreyfus avoid high heels? Would a major star like Mary McDonnell accept a role in a low budget film? What happens when an actor (Ben Affleck) directs and stars in a film like Argo? French will give his observations on these stars and many more.

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After crossing the Atlantic solo in 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the most famous man in the world. He later married Anne Morrow and they lived in a mansion near Hopewell, NJ. In March 1932, their first born son was kidnapped from his bedroom and a $ 50,000 ransom was demanded. After a convoluted negotiation, the ransom was paid, but in May 1932 the decomposed body of the baby was found in a nearby woods. For two years, federal, state and local authorities struggled to identify the killer, although kidnapping was not a federal or state violation at that time. Bruno Hauptmann was finally arrested in September 1934. His 1935 trial in NJ was dubbed "The Trial of the Century." After conviction and all appeals were exhausted, he was executed in 1936. French, a retired FBI Agent, will explain all the details of this historical, complex case and answer any questions you have.

Hauptmann's License Plate
The NY license plate that cracked the Lindbergh Kidnapping Case.
(Current location: NJ State Police Museum)

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teddy bearWe know North Pole elves did not actually make, nor did they invent, all those wondrous gifts Santa left under the tree for youngsters. Virtually every game and toy had a different inventor. Some of these took years to create, while others resulted from a quick accidental discovery. All these board games, dolls, and assorted toys eventually got their own patent, even though some were derived from a years-prior version by a different inventor. In this presentation, French will tell you everything you'd want to know about the origin of: Lionel Trains, Raggedy Ann, Teddy Bear, Erector Sets, Clue, View-Master, Flexible Flyer, Barbie Dolls, Monopoly, GI Joe…those famous toys and games of the past 100 years.

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The American West of the 1870's, which saw the great cattle drives, the last of the Indian Wars, and lawlessness confronted by too few peace officers, forged a permanent panorama within our popular culture. Dime novels, wild west shows, pulp magazines, silent movies and talkies all featured "cowboys and Indians" as well as miners, U.S. Cavalry, railroads, and stage coaches. Therefore it was inevitable that radio and televison would also tap into this rich vein of adventure, danger, and courage. French discusses the many versions of the wild west in various entertainment venues, including print, film, radio, and TV.


There were over 100 radio programs that eventually became television shows, sometimes with the same cast. However only about ten TV programs were the basis for a later radio program. Popular TV shows like Have Gun, Will Travel, My Little Margie, and Hopalong Cassidy were among those who began on the small screen and later were heard over network radio, with different scripts. French explains the how and why of this unusual transition in the world of entertainment. He will play excerpts from some of these converted radio shows so you can "hear" the programs you originally "saw" on TV.


Three American towns were re-named in connection with radio programs: Truth or Consequences, NM, Pine Ridge, AR, and Gene Autry, OK. Other municipalities changed their names to honor prominent figures, attract tourism, or even obtain a railroad. A few communities, like Sleepy Hollow, NY, changed to a new name and years later reverted back to their original name. French will discuss the why, how, and when of these quirky name changes in the USA and reveal if they accomplished their objectives. A fascinating glimpse into geographic hijinks and nostalgia.

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