Oak Park Arms

Radio Show: The Battle of the Century

Oak Park Arms

Those Thrilling Days of YesteryearThose Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, an all volunteer radio reenactment group, will present “The Battle of the Century” at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16, at the Oak Park Arms retirement community, 408 S. Oak Park Ave.

Two classic bookend episodes of a legendary event of the Golden Age of Radio, referred to as ‘The Battle of the Century,’ will be performed live.

Jack Benny was an American comedian, vaudevillian, radio, television and film actor and violinist. Fred Allen was a comedian with an absurdist, topically pointed radio show that made him one of the most popular humorists in the Golden Age of Radio.

What is now known as the “Benny-Allen Feud” started with a harmless joke in 1937 when Allen compared Benny with a 10-year-old virtuoso violinist. Benny’s team of writers included a comment about the quip in the next script on his show. Allen’s writers chose to respond. Thus the “Benny-Allen Feud” was born.

A few months after the initial spark, Allen was a guest on Benny’s show and their simple banter turned into some of the most brilliant comedic verbal swordplay, often off script. This back-and-forth continued for years, each comic picking apart the other, either on his own show or during guest appearances on each other’s.

In 1946 the feud reached a pinnacle as Benny’s guest appearance on Allen’s show resulted in his participation of a skit called “King for a Day.”

Both entertainers began their respective careers in 1932 and despite their longstanding on-air jabs at one another, the two were actually close friends. Before entering radio, they had been neighbors in New York while playing in different Broadway productions. Though they shared a history, they approached their work quite differently. Benny mastered comedic delivery and timing but always stuck close to his written script, while Allen often wrote his own material and was great at ad-libbing when lines were fumbled.

The performers

Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear is composed of Chicagoland actors who share a common interest – to perform old time radio programs for the community. Each actor and technician donates talent and time for free.

Group founders, Ben Dooley and Pam Turlow, husband and wife, established a connection with The Oak Park Arms in September of 2002, when Turlow’s father became a resident. They’ve been volunteering/performing at The Arms ever since.

Dooley and Turlow’s group performs only once every two months due to the considerable challenges involved in creating a show. They browse through thousands of old time radio episodes, select a favorite, listen and type out the script. Many shows are not available in print and have to be painstakingly transcribed. Then they gather sound effect, rehearse and mount the show.

Sound effects were an important part of live radio shows, and the group performs them live. They have a real door for slamming, buzzers, a sound board and shoes for footsteps, and doorbells.

The shows are very popular with residents and people from the community. Some even bring their children and grandchildren to show them what entertainment was like before television.

“Since the entire cast donates its time and energy, we can only do shows six times a year,” Dooley said, “but we strive to make sure that it’s well worth the wait.”

The Oak Park Arms is a rental retirement community which provides independent and assisted living apartments and a full schedule of activities and services. Furnished apartments are also available for a short-term stay – a weekend, a week, a month or longer.

The radio show is free and open to the public. For more information call 708-386-4040.