Generated on Jan 15, 2016
About The Show
In the spring of 1946, Peggy Lee's manager Carlos Gastel arranged for her to appear on a new CBS radio show that would be airing on Fridays at 7:30 p.m. throughout the summer. Presented below are all known details about this subject matter, beginning with the program that the prospective new show would be substituting.
From September 28, 1945 through the first half of 1946, a 30-minute-long musical feature called Borden Presents The Ginny Simms Show occupied the 7:30 p.m. Friday slot on the CBS radio network. Its star was not only a popular singer but also an up-and-coming Hollywood actress, whose connection to MGM studios was, at the time, a solid one. Her Borden-sponsored radio show actually lasted two seasons. The second ran from September 27, 1946 to June 13, 1947, and had a different time slot (9:30 p.m. Eastern). In-between seasons, Simms took a summer break from the show and readied to go into labor. (The baby's birth had a July schedule date.)
For the summer, Borden decided to sponsor a Simms-less version of the 30-minute show. Peggy Lee was hired to appear in that summer edition, suitably called The New Borden Summer Show. Manager Carlos Gastel was given to understand that her client's role would be similar to the one that Simms had had: Lee would not only sing but also host the program. Accordingly, Capitol's promotional press referred to Peggy Lee as the singing star of the new show, and as Borden's prospective replacement for the MGM singer-actress.
Similar statements were made elsewhere. On May 7, 1946, when Lee guested on the Chesterfield Supper Club show, host Perry Como commented: "[a]ll of us were sure glad to hear about you starting your own radio show for Borden's on Friday.” In an issue published four days later, Billboard made a formal announcement on the matter, though it did not specify the scope of Lee's role. Billboard did identify, on the other hand, the parties that had been involved in the negotiations, as well as the other female singers who had auditioned for the position:
"Chirper Peggy Lee has been penned to a regular assignment on the CBS Borden show starting immediately, replacing Ginny Simms. Miss Lee came up with contract in pitchfork show by Marylyn Maxwell [sic; Marilyn Maxwell], Janet Blair, Vivian Blaine, and Georgia Gibbs. Ralph Wonders, of General Artists Corporation, and Carlos Gastel, Lee's p. m., negotiated deal with Young & Rubicam. Simms' departure from series is indefinite, at least 13 weeks. However, Lee may continue on show, with Simms jumping to another sponsor."
Additional press accounts identified Don Wilson as the announcer for the upcoming show and Frank DeVol as the orchestra's conductor. Bea Benaderet, Jack Douglas, Verna Felton and Wally Maher were mentioned, too, as cast members. The magazine Capitol News further explained that comedian, pianist, singer, and radio personality Tommy Riggs would be "co-featured" along with Betty Lou. Nominally a seven-year-old girl, Betty Lou was actually a vocal impersonation by Riggs himself, for which he had gained popularity in the pre-war years. The show signified a comeback for Riggs, who was fresh out of the Navy in the spring of 1946, and for his fictional niece, who had been absent from the commercial airwaves for a long while.
Radio logs indicate that The New Borden Summer Show began on May 10, 1946 and concluded on September 13, 1946, for a total of 18 weeks. Peggy Lee did not stay for the entire duration of the program, however. "On initial show of the series," Billboard magazine belatedly reported on its June 15, 1946 issue, "Miss Lee handled introduction and lines of the program, but billing and format competition [was] said to have entered picture thereafter." The competition in question was the aforementioned Tommy Riggs, who indeed ended up presiding over the show, and receiving top billing.
After four weeks, Peggy Lee quit. The above-quoted Billboard article from June of 1946 explains that her manager Carlos Gastel "asked for out because he felt her billing and role on show after the first broadcast was not in accordance with agreement made with ... [the] agency handling the series." In the weeks that followed, the program's singing spot was re-assigned to Anita Ellis, with whom Riggs had worked back in 1942. (Riggs had hired Ellis as the girl singer of his first nationally broadcast series; they had thus enjoyed together their first taste of national exposure.)
During the weeks in which Peggy Lee remained a member of its roster, the program's official name was The New Borden Summer Show, sometimes shortened to The New Borden Show. More informally (but tellingly), the daily radio schedules of contemporary newspapers tended to list it as Tommy Riggs And Betty Lou. That name had also been borne out by Riggs' preceding radio shows.
In contrast to the few Peggy Lee-centric accounts that have been quoted above, other press releases from the period evince that Tommy Riggs was receiving precedence elsewhere. Witness, for instance, the following news capsule, titled "Tommy Riggs Returns To The Air" and published on the May 19, 1946 issue of The New York Times: "Substituting for Ginny Simms during the summer months is Tommy Riggs and his non-existent girl friend Betty Lou, who has her say through the Riggs vocal cords. Below is Peggy Lee, vocalist on the show heard at 7:30 PM on Friday over CBS."
Similarly, listeners were alerted to Riggs' return in an enthusiastic advertisement ("Look Who's Back! Tommy Rigs And Betty Lou") which ran in newspapers such as Washington's The Spokesman Review, on May 10 of 1946: "There's good news tonight! Tommy Riggs -- just out of the Navy -- is back in radio with his own show. With him, of course, is cute, delightful, irresistible Betty Lou. Listen to this brand-new, funnier-than-ever Borden Show! Nice music ... clean fun ... tune in Tommy Riggs and Betty Lou tonight and every Friday night ..." Notice that no mention is made of Lee, and the emphasis is on the "fun" rather than the music.
To judge from the combination of all such press reports, there might have not been a clear-cut, officially formulated division of responsibilities between Peggy Lee's and Tommy Riggs. Perhaps Lee and Riggs had been presented with different (or at least vague) pitches about their respective roles in the program, while the show's producers) waited for the airing of the first episode to decide which act (the comedic or the musical one) should carry the series. Riggs and his winsome girl Betty Lou must have become the clear choice(s).
It seems, however, that the pre-war appeal of the Tommy-and-Betty-Lou act was on the wane by 1946. After this summer replacement program, the act does not appear to have booked any nationally broadcast radio/TV series until 1949, when WNGM set up a new edition of Tommy Riggs And Betty Lou. Its first episode was not favorably received by a Billboard reviewer. The unimpressed reviewer ostensibly missed the hijinks of Morey Amsterdam (the man whom Riggs was replacing in the WMGM slot): "Riggs is more sedate and his personality does not project in the same manner ... Riggs had difficulty controlling the show and as a consequence it seemed at times to lag or go away from him. [Phil] Goulding, a top straight man and gag swapper, had little opportunity to show his mettle with Riggs, whose act is so sedate it offers small chance for rough-and-ready sparring." Fortunately, Riggs' skills went beyond his hosting capabilities and his Betty Lou act. He continued to have a career on local radio through the 1950s and into 1960s -- both as a music director and as a dee jay at the station where his act had been first developed, Pittburgh's WCAE. Furthermore, the erstwhile appeal of his Betty Lou impersonation eventually became memorialized with a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
As for the once-prospective hostess of The New Borden Summer Show (1946), Peggy Lee would promptly go on to host other nationally broadcast shows, first on a temporary, occasional basis (i.e., The Chesterfield Supper Club, 1946) and then on a regular schedule (1947 and ff.). To wit: Rhapsody In Rhythm, The Summer Electric Hour, The Chesterfield Supper Club,The Rexall Show, and Club 88. All five shows are discussed in detail in other pages of this discography. So is Lee's work as a regular or semi-regular member of shows starring Bing Crosby and Jimmy Durante, along with her guest appearances in other artists' shows and in various series created by Armed Forces Radio.
I have found no data specifying the numbers that Peggy Lee performed during her four weeks in The New Borden Summer Show. Strong candidates include 'baby' songs that Capitol released during the first half of that year ("Linger In My Arms A Little Longer, Baby," "Baby, You Can Count On Me," "I Can See It Your Way, Baby") as well as her more sizable Capitol hits from around the same period ("I Don't Know Enough About You," "Waiting For The Train To Come In," "I'm Glad I Waited For You").
Under the name Tommy Riggs, the show under discussion was re-aired by the American Forces Radio network, and is likely to have been preserved in AFRS archives such as the one that the Library Of Congress holds. I do not count with any specifics about that AFRS version of the program, however, nor have I listened to any of its episodes. (Even if we we were to find corroboration that the four episodes featuring Peggy Lee are among those that AFRS re-aired, there is no guarantee that Lee's singing spots were kept.)
As for CBS' original episodes of this series (i.e., The New Borden Summer Show), I have not come across evidence pointing to their preservation. Nonetheless, further research needs to be made. At the very least, the scripts could have been preserved.
The photo seen directly above was published in June of 1946. The caption reads as follows: Peg Lee moved into high gear last month when she became the singing star of the Borden's airshow, which emanates from Hollywood every Friday via CBS with Tommy Riggs (and his chicklet, Betty Lou) co-featured. Peggy replaced Ginny Simms as the Borden's star. On her new Capitol discing, Peggy chants in Spanish on the new Freddie Stewart tune, Baby You Can Count On Me."
The couple of images located near the center of this page present Tommy Riggs in the company of the fictional character that he himself voiced, Betty Lou.
At the top of the page, Peggy Lee and Tommy Riggs can be seen at either a broadcast or a rehearsal for The New Borden Summer Show. Curiously, Ginny Simms is also present, and she seems to have a copy of the script in her hands. One possible scenario or explanation for Simms' presence: perhaps she was on hand to introduce Lee and Riggs in the first episode of the summer series.