“Negro Actor Plays White Role on ‘D.A.'”

Such a turn of events elicited this piece in a July 19, 1944, issue of Variety magazine. Of course, white performers had been portraying African Americans since the birth of broadcasting but this was quite the anomaly. Maurice Ellis, a gifted actor, is profiled in my book on black radio performers. Mr. District Attorney was a very popular radio program from 1939 – 1952. Notice that the “regular” role is de facto for a white person. And here’s a link to an article about the man who may be the actual first black forest ranger.

Black Forest ranger 07-19-1944

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The Radio Career of Carlton Moss, pt. 6

In 1934, before Meetin’ House hit the airwaves, Moss penned what may have been the first and only African-American radio mystery. Details, as with so many of his other works, are sparse. It aired on WMCA, September 15, 1934, as part of an Americana program. Rose McClendon, Frank Wilson, and Richard Huey, all familiar names from prior Moss productions, were the featured cast. Regular musical talent the Southernaires did not participate, however; instead music was provided by Alson Burleight’s choir. A Baltimore Afro-American critic indicated a lukewarm reception: “Some say ‘twas good in spots, still others say that the ‘spots’ were few and far between. Twas middlin, but promising in several respects.”

Other one-time assignments during 1934 and 1935 include a sketch for NBC that presented a look at the history of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority as well as his first commissioned work for the YMCA. For this October 1935, broadcast Moss wrote “Negro Achievement,” a half-hour presentation hosted by James S. Watson, New York City’s first African American judge. This YMCA Founder’s Day broadcast “depict[ed] the high spot in the lives of five outstanding Negroes.” Frank Wilson, a familiar voice from earlier Moss work, appeared in the show.

Three years later Moss was again called on to recognize the YMCA. He penned a dramatized tribute celebrating the fiftieth anniversary “of YMCA’s serving the colored youth . . . The play will depict the growth and present needs of the Y’s work with colored youths.” This tribute was broadcast over WOR (New York) and the Mutual Broadcasting System on November 6, 1938. Entitled “Into the Light,” the production featured Rex Ingraham and, once again, Frank Wilson.

Sources connect Moss to at least two other radio efforts during his years in New York, neither of which are corroborated elsewhere. Estelle Edmerson, in her review of African Americans in radio, relates that Moss told her of radio work he did for WMCA in New York. Unfortunately he did not provide any details of this work other than the material was dramatic in nature and featured “a concentration of Negro performers and materials on the Negro.” Unlike his earlier work, white performers were also used. Is it possible Moss was referring to his dramatic works featured on WEAF and WJZ? It wouldn’t be the only error Moss made in recalling his radio days with Edmerson. He also related to her that be began in radio in 1931 when in fact it was early 1930.

One final radio credit comes from media historian William Barlow, who makes mention of The Negro Hour and credits its production to Moss sometime in 1928. It’s unlikely this refers to the All Negro Hour (aired from Chicago) as there’s no evidence Moss visited that city for professional radio work. Possibly it refers to the Courier Hour or WABC’s Negro Achievement Hour but it does not appear that either series was still on the air in by 1930 when his first confirmed radio works were written. No mention of a Moss connection to any of the three pioneering shows discussed above in 1928 or at any other time has been discovered in the African-American press of the time, casting doubts on Barlow’s claim.

By 1943 Moss had relocated to Los Angeles. Though his career turned to film, he had a handful of radio ventures left ahead of him. In 1944 he penned two war-related stories. The first was “The Negro Soldier from Bunker Hill to Guadalcanal,” a patriotic drama for CBS which aired in February. This was followed in March by a dramatization of black soldier Private Marsh who was a Silver Star recipient for rescuing twelve men behind enemy lines. The following year, 1945, he hosted a fifteen-minute show dubbed Carlton Moss Reports that brought “listeners news not usually heard elsewhere – adequate and objective coverage on all minority activities.” Sponsored by sportswear apparel maker Louis Tabak, Carlton Moss Reports initially aired Sunday afternoons at 1:30, beginning September 29, 1945 on KFWB. It ran for at least one year. After this final community-oriented series, it seems that Moss finally put radio behind him and focused entirely on film. He spent the latter half of his life making films and teaching at two universities, Fisk University and University of California-Irvine.

Until more primary documents concerning Moss’ radio work turn up, modern scholars can only infer the political and philosophical approaches represented in these radio works. A meager two firsthand accounts left by Moss concerning radio have so far been uncovered. The earliest is his comments on the theme of Folks From Dixie, discussed above. The second, and perhaps more encompassing, was recorded by Edmerson. In response to her questioning, Moss gave three reasons for getting out of radio. First, he was “disheartened by the ridiculous manner in which radio presented the Negro.” Second, his programs never found sponsorship, which he attributed to prejudice against African Americans. Third, he wanted his work to be more than just amusement: “All art does something. My concentration has been to do material to inspire Negro people. There is much of it in the realm of entertainment. Probably in the last ten years, I could have made myself some money in radio but I can’t kid myself into thinking radio is just entertainment. All American radio takes it [sic] cue from the official government. We are automatically under a jim crow set-up.”

Meetin’ House Broadcast Log

This is an initial broadcast log of Carlton Moss’ Meetin’ House based on newspaper schedules. It may be the most accurate log we can compile until NBC documentation is unearthed providing all the official broadcast dates and times.

Meetin’ House

Tuesday 10:30 – 11:00 WJZ

4/9/35

Friday 10:00 – 10:30

5/24/35

5/31/35

6/7/35

6/21/35

6/28/35

7/19/35

7/26/35

8/2/35

8/9/35

Friday 10:30 – 11:00

8/16/35

8/23/35

Friday 10:00 – 10:30

9/6/35

9/20/35

9/27/35

10/4/35

10/18/35

Tuesday 3:15 – 3:45

12/3/35

12/10/35

12/17/35

12/31/35

1/7/36

1/14/36

1/21/36

2/4/36

2/11/36

2/18/36

2/25/36

Tuesday 5:00 – 5:30

3/10/36

Tuesday 4:45 – 5:00

3/24/36

Tuesday 5:00 – 5:30

4/7/36

4/14/36

4/21/36

4/28/36

5/12/36

5/19/36

5/26/36

6/2/36

6/9/36

6/16/36

Tuesday 9:30 – 10:00

8/25/36

 

Wednesday 11:30 – 12:00 pm WEAF

3/3/37

3/10/37

3/17/37

3/24/37

3/31/37

The Radio Career of Carlton Moss, pt. 5

Carlton Moss’ final radio series and the second with dramatic content was Meetin’ House, a half hour program that premiered December 24, 1934, at 11 pm on WJZ. New York Times radio schedules indicate Meetin’ House aired for over a year and a half, finally leaving the airwaves on August 25, 1936, after a run comparable in length to Careless Love. Like his debut series, Meetin’ House was the victim of numerous schedule changes, ranging in time from mid-afternoon to late night and on various days of the week. Several months into the run of Meetin’ House, Carlton Moss married Annie L. Savage on July 19, 1935. Perhaps this change in his personal circumstances affected the stability of the young program, leading to the erratic broadcasting times. Schedules further indicate lapses of sometimes multiple weeks between episodes.

While August 25, 1936, appears to be the final regular episode, one minor newspaper, the Poughkeepsie Eagle-News, lists a five-week run of the series in May 1937, over WEAF. Whether these broadcasts used new scripts, re-aired old scripts, or were transcription re-runs cannot be ascertained from the available records. This is the only clue so far to hint that at least some of Moss’ work was recorded, thus preserving the unlikely possibility that samples of his radio work could be discovered in the future.

Performers on this third production included veterans Frank Wilson, Georgia Burke, Laura Bowman, Eva Taylor and the Southernaires along with Isabelle Washington Powell. Some reviews from the New York Amsterdam News, provide our only glimpse into the show’s premise. Like Moss’ prior works the story was centered in the South, this time featuring weekly installments of the adventures of a circuit preacher to the NBC network. It also followed the example of Folks From Dixie and featured at least one recurring character as opposed to using an anthology format similar to his debut effort, Careless Love. Roi Ottley’s reviews were ambiguous at best, hostile at worst. Across two of his “Hectic Harlem” columns he claimed Moss “deserve[d] … sustained and sincere applause for his outstanding work in the field of radio drama” and that he was “the outstanding author of radio script of the race [sic].” Not long after, however, he goes on to blast Meetin’ House as “dull and uninteresting entertainment” with a weak lead character (the preacher). That the series was dramatic in nature is confirmed by at least two other sources which describe Meetin’ House as a drama.

These three series (Careless Love, Folks From Dixie, and Meetin’ House), aired between 1930 and 1936, represent the bulk of Carlton Moss’ literary radio work, but it is far from the entirety of his aural writing. More non-dramatic series and dramatic one-shots can be attributed to his pen.

The first was his project with WEVD in early 1930, mentioned above. In early 1932, as Careless Love approached the end of its run, Moss seemed to have been involved in another ongoing series entitled Slow River, which also featured several players from Careless Love. One source indicates Slow River was broadcast over WABC on Mondays at 5:45 as of January 7, 1932. A review of New York Times radio schedules from this time period, however, indicates that time slot was held by Lone Wolf Tribe, a children’s show. The series does show up in radio logs by March on WJZ at 4:15. Sparse descriptions in the Times simply say “Negro Quartet and Eva Taylor.” A bit more illuminating is a brief write-up in the Pittsburgh Courier: “The ‘Slow River’ feature, heard weekly, starring Eva Taylor, Carlton Moss, Wilson and Georgia Burke, as well as the Southernaires quartet and the Levee Band became a permanent hour on the radio.” In early 1932 this would have been a second weekly writing assignment on top of Careless Love, a task not uncommon in radio annals. Further evidence against giving Moss writing credit for the program is a newspaper note that states “’Slow River’ . . . includes descriptive southern ballads and plantation songs.” No mention is made of dramatic or comedic sketches which characterize Moss’ other work. One contrary piece of information comes from the Baltimore Afro-American which does, however, give Moss writing credit for Slow River. Perhaps he was involved with writing banter in between the featured musical numbers. Even so this would not be considered dramatic work in the vein of the three series above. Nevertheless, these scattered references seem to confirm that Moss had a role with this fourth ongoing production

Later in 1932 Moss hosted a weekly series sponsored by the University Scholarship Foundation, of which he served as the chairman of the foundation’s executive committee. This hour long program was broadcast over local New York station WEVD from eight to nine in the evening. This series may have been billed The Negro Forum Hour based on an early 1933 newspaper announcement of a Moss radio effort. It may have also been called Community Forum, a series credited to Moss by another source. If these sources all refer to the same series, the focus was, in part, on New York celebrities. This is at least the second on-air assignment Moss had with WEVD, assuming this forum differed from the Intercollegiate program aired in early 1930. One source states as of January, 1932, Moss was the director of programs for the station, a post he held for an undetermined length of time.

Folks From Dixie Broadcast Log

This is an initial broadcast log of Carlton Moss’ Folks From Dixie based on newspaper schedules. It may be the most accurate log we can compile until NBC documentation is unearthed providing all the official broadcast dates and times.

Folks From Dixie

Sunday 1:30 – 2:00 WEAF

5/7/33

5/14/33

5/21/33

5/28/33

6/4/33

6/11/33

6/18/33

6/25/33

7/2/33

7/9/33

7/16/33

7/23/33

7/30/33

8/6/33

The Radio Career of Carlton Moss, pt. 4

The Chicago Defender was perhaps unduly ebullient in praising Careless Love, claiming the show was “becoming as popular in Harlem as Amos ‘n’ Andy.” The Baltimore Afro-American also referenced Careless Love in relation to Amos ‘n’ Andy, declaring that NBC deserved recognition for putting the program on the air when so much radio content “simply burlesque[d]” blacks. Unfortunately for Moss, Careless Love was apparently not as popular nationwide as in Harlem. It was frequently moved around the broadcast schedule, playing on different days of the week at various times. Broadcast logs even indicate the program’s length varied between fifteen and thirty minutes. Further, as of May 29, 1931 the series was switched from WEAF to WJZ (also out of New York), which was a part of NBC’s Blue network. While any African-American project of this sort would have struggled to find a comfortable audience in that era, the constant broadcast shuffling could only have damaged efforts to solidify that audience.

To the program’s credit, when NBC Blue attempted to cancel Careless Love in March 1932, audience reaction was such that broadcasts were resumed for another two months. Ultimately, its following was not enough to save the program and Careless Love left the air on May 15, 1932, one-and-a-half years after it debuted.

An eighteen-month network run for a writer new to radio – even in this early era – should be considered a success. Just as admirable as the length of its broadcast run was the geographical diversity of stations airing Careless Love. Via its slot on the NBC schedule, the series reached listeners coast-to-coast, from Seattle to San Francisco and from Houston to Boston. In addition to these large urban centers with more significant African-American populations, the series was picked up in much smaller and whiter markets such as Council Bluffs, IA, Portland, ME, and Covington, KY.

Aiding Moss in presenting these stories of African-American life every week was a company of all-black actors and actresses, many of whom had notable theater credentials. Among them were Georgia Burke, Edna Thomas, singer Eva Taylor, Frank Wilson (who featured in the original stage run of “Porgy and Bess”), Wayland Rudd, Richey Huey, Ernest Whitman, Inez Clough, Georgette Harvey, and Clarence Williams. Several of these same performers would later be cast in Moss’ subsequent radio efforts. The Southernaires, a black gospel quartet formed in New York City in December 1930, would eventually provide incidental music for Careless Love. The Southernaires were an all-black quartet comprised of William Edmonds, Jay Toney, Lowell Peters, and Homer Smith, who provided music for much of Moss’ other radio work as well. Of this group only the Southernaires could truly be considered to have become radio stars in any sense of the term, remaining on radio for two decades with their own Sunday morning show.

Moss’ sophomore effort for NBC was entitled Folks From Dixie and it debuted May 7, 1933, again on WEAF. The show replaced Moonshine and Honeysuckle, a “dramatic series of the Kentucky mountains” which had run for nearly two years. At least one critic who was initially skeptical of the programming change said “it’ll have a tough job” replacing Moonshine and Honeysuckle. He later admitted after hearing the premier of Folks From Dixie that the show was “a worthy successor to the Moonshine and Honeysuckle skit.”

Roi Ottley of the New York Amsterdam News summarized the premise of the series on one of his columns, providing more insight to the story lines of this program than of any of Moss’ other works. Set in Abbeville, GA, then in Oklahoma, stories revolved around Aunt Jenny Jackson (Georgia Burke) who inherits $50,000 from a deceased relative. Episodes revolved around Aunt Jenny’s management of the fortune, balancing her wishes with the needs of her nephew, Ozzie (Moss), and Ozzie’s beau, Amber. The wealthy villain, Jasper, provided further anguish for Jenny. Of Moss’ radio efforts detailed here, Folks From Dixie appears to be a bit of an outlier with its more humorous content.

This series did not catch the public’s imagination. Folks From Dixie ran weekly beginning May 7, 1933, only until August 6, 1933, a mere fourteen weeks. An early Sunday afternoon time slot (1:30 – 2:00) likely did not help. Interestingly, despite a significantly shorter run, it appears that Folks From Dixie achieved wider network distribution than the longer running Careless Love. Records indicate it aired on at least 50 stations, four to five times as many as Careless Love at points in its run. Similarly, the stations were even more diverse, encompassing the continental U.S.; Seattle to San Diego, New Orleans to Miami, Detroit to Fargo, ND, and all points in between. Significantly, it aired outside the U.S. on at least two stations, CFCF in Montreal and CKGW in Toronto.

A rare interview concerning this series provides modern scholars with a glimpse of the politics with which Moss dealt during his radio career. In response to a letter-writer’s request that Moss create a serious series in the nature of the Jewish serial The Goldbergs, Moss indicated he was very interested in such a program. However, NBC at the time wanted a comedy series, thus he was compelled to give Folks from Dixie a comic theme. While Moss does not complain outright in the short response, it is clear that the show’s humorous tone was not his preference. Ottley was less than impressed with the results. Couldn’t he have been “persuaded to write something more adult?” Ottley wondered. Perhaps this lack of enthusiasm by the writer and lack of support by the critics led to the program’s short duration.

Careless Love Broadcast Log

This is an initial broadcast log of Carlton Moss’ Careless Love based on newspaper schedules. It may be the most accurate log we can compile until NBC documentation is unearthed providing all the official broadcast dates and times.

Careless Love

Saturday 8:30 – 9:00 WEAF

11/15/30

Saturday 8:00 – 8:30

11/22/30

11/29/30

12/06/30

12/13/30

12/20/30

Friday 9:30 – 10:00

12/26/30

1/2/31

Friday 9:45 – 10:00

1/9/31

1/16/31

1/23/31

1/30/31

Monday 7:30 – 8:00

2/2/31

2/9/31

2/16/31

2/23/31

Monday 7:30 – 7:45

3/2/31

3/9/31

3/23/31

4/13/31

Monday 7:45 – 8:00

4/20/31

4/27/31

Monday 7:30 – 8:00

5/4/31

Friday 9:30 – 9:45

5/15/31

Friday 8:45 – 9:00 WJZ

5/29/31

Friday 8:30 – 8:45

7/10/31

7/17/31

Friday 11:30 – 12:00

7/24/31

7/31/31

Saturday 9:00 – 9:30

8/29/31

9/5/31

Saturday 9:15 – 9:30

9/12/31

9/19/31

9/26/31

10/03/31

Saturday 9:00 – 9:30

10/10/31

10/24/31

10/31/31

Sunday 2:15 – 2:30

11/8/31

11/15/31

11/22/31

11/29/31

12/6/31

12/13/31

12/20/31

12/27/31

1/3/32

1/10/32

1/17/32

1/24/32

1/31/32

2/21/32

Sunday 12:30 – 12:45

2/28/32

3/13/32

3/20/32

3/27/32

4/3/332

4/10/32

4/17/32

Sunday 12:00 – 12:30

4/24/32

5/1/32

Sunday 12:15 – 12:30

5/8/32

Sunday 12:00 – 12:30

5/15/32

The Radio Career of Carlton Moss, pt. 3

How Moss came to be granted a radio writing assignment is unknown; in fact, all behind-the-scenes information about this radio series is a mystery. Possibly he received the opportunity at such a prominent station so it could direct some programming at the city’s sizable African-American population. Perhaps he’d made connections at the larger station while working at WEVD. Whatever the reason, the weekly Careless Love premiered at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 15, 1930, over WEAF. In doing so the series must be seen as the first African-American dramatic material written for radio. Despite being overlooked by all other accounts of black radio history, Careless Love should also be considered the first non-musical African-American feature (though it featured musical interludes) and the first such black feature to be aired over a network.

Accounts of Careless Love’s content are rare and brief, giving radio historians only the vaguest sense of its content. The show’s announcer opened each episode with the following: “[They are] stories of Negro life in the South – stories of yesterday and today – simple stories that throb with heart-beat and emotion – the character and feeling of Negro people, written by a Negro pen.”

The earliest account of the series comes from the New York Amsterdam News, just a few weeks after its debut. While the paper did not, apparently, regularly comment on radio features, it felt the need to mention Careless Love due to its “high quality of the acting and singing.” In 1931, after nearly a year of being on the air, the Chicago Defender described it thus, quoting the aforementioned opening and also giving a brief storyline:

“These are stories of Race life in the South, stories of yesterday and today, simple stories that throb with heart-beat and emotion – the character and feeling of the Colored people – written by a young Race boy, Carlton Moss.

Saturday night’s sketch was called “Big Eddy’s Partner.” The history of a young Colored boy who came from an upcountry farm to the docks of New Orleans.”

The only Careless Love installment for which any expanded story synopsis has been discovered was called “Susie’s Solitaire” and was described in depth in the Pittsburgh Courier:

“The Careless Love group which entertains each Sunday over the national network presented a very interesting sketch as part of a series of colored folk stories called “Susie’s Solitaire.” Bringing to the air a little sentimental domestic scene illustrating Negro characteristics. It is well done and those who are devotees of Negro folk tales should make it a point to hook in on future broadcasts, for they will enjoy those stories.

In this one a colored girl, Susie Jackson, has returned to her home in a little town from Nashville, where she works in a hotel. It is Sunday morning and she must go to church with Simon her former sweetheart. But Susie wants them to know that she wishes no further part of Simon because she’s now “the sharpest girl in Nashville” and has won the $200 diamond ring affection of “Jelly Roll” Williams, “not a gambler but a professional sporting man.” And why should she bother about Simon? Tut, tut and tish. She engaged to Simon? No such thing. She’s the “hot baby” of “Mr. Jelly Roll Williams.” So, they go to church without her.

Then comes “Mr. Jelly Roll Williams,” all dust-covered and worried looking. He gave her that ring? Crazy gal: Ha, ha! What a laugh, give him that ring. He smacks her and gets it and she winds up in the arms of Simon with no more Nashville for her.

The little sketch was played with great realism and earnestness and anybody listening to it could easily imagine they were hooked in on the real thing. Good dialogue was delivered with genuine Negro feeling and emphasis.”

Since scripts have yet to be uncovered, the only information now available concerning the content of Moss’ radio work is write-ups in the black press. Folk-lore and legends were popular sources of stories, including “Stack-o-Lee,” “John Henry,” “Hard Trials,” “Corn Cob Roll,” “The Ghost Wrestlers,” “The Fall of the Conjure,” “The Ways of Satin,” and “Aaron’s Conjure Scare.” What the Baltimore Afro-American dubbed “Good … plays of character” included “Big Eddy’s Partner,” “Easter Parade,” and “A Son of the Soil.” Comedic entries included “Callie’s Santa Clause,” “A Good Woman,” and “Luke’s Courtship.” Other stories included “Hard Trials” and “Tinsel Preferred” for which the Baltimore Afro-American provided a short summary: “[The episode] is a sympathetic story of a girl who quit a road show to return to her laboring husband. When she finds that her husband has had his leg amputated, she goes back to the bright lights.”