This article originally appeared in Radiogram, January 2016.
George Frame (Francis) Brown
On March 1, 1896, Brown was born near Seattle, WA, a continent away from the rural New England hamlets that would serve as backdrops his future radio shows. His parents were pioneers in the region and his father ran a small store and supply company. As a young man Brown planned a career in architecture but got sidetracked when the United States entered World War I. He shipped out overseas and saw action in France with the American Expeditionary Forces. During his time in the service he suffered from gas attacks that caused injuries from which he would periodically suffer for years to come. After returning from Europe Brown enrolled at the University of Washington where he modified his original plans and studied theatrical architecture and stage settings.
Exposure to the stage changed Brown’s mind yet again and he started to act in small parts in local productions. After writing a one-act play that ended up getting produced, Brown decided to try and make a full-time living in the theatre. Some time spent in Washington’s stock theatre scene convinced Brown to move to New York City and the lights of Broadway. He quickly found, however, that the lights can dazzle the eyes but they don’t fill the stomach. By his own account Brown was practically starving and had to perform what janitorial work he could find just to survive.
Even when a bit of luck fell his way something was sure to blow it. At one point Brown was offered a part for a tidy $100 per week, big money for a man with barely two nickels to his name. But at the worst possible time he experienced a lung hemorrhage and had to back out of the role, just one example of the gassing Brown experienced in France returning to haunt him.
Brown’s first appearance on radio was not planned and even a bit ironic. He earned a part in a stage production, “The Manhatters,” in the fall of 1927 that also featured future radio stars Raymond Knight and William Johnstone. The play made light fun of the then-new phenomenon of radio, but portions of the production were then actually broadcast over the air.
Intrigued by the idea of radio, Brown broadcast an early morning radio monolog that he later described as a “travesty.” He delivered cooking lessons and led exercises on the broadcast dubbed Cretonna in the Home. WRNY’s station manager liked it enough to invite Brown to do some monologs over his station. Brown agreed and subsequently did some broadcasts over WABC including a program called The Music and Musings of Dr. Mu in which he talked about a variety of topics in the guise of an old Chinese philosopher.