This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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There is Only One Ethel Arbuckle
by Don Ramlow © 2014
(From Radio Recall, August, 2014)
Story: Man's Barber returns to Italy. On the surface, one has to ask what would make the story above interesting. The answer for most is nothing. However, when a story is seen through the eyes of talented writer and actress Peg Lynch, one knows that they are in for a comedy ride. Peg's ability to see the humor in normal everyday activities sets her apart from many other comedy writers.
Peg Lynch was born on November 25, 1916, in Lincoln, Nebraska and eventually moved to Minnesota with her mother. Peg graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1937 with a degree in English and obtained her first radio writing and acting job at radio station KATE in Albert Lea, Minnesota. It was here that Peg began developing the characters of Ethel and Albert. In 1944 Peg moved New York to begin writing scripts for network radio. However, this changed when Peg was offered the opportunity to bring Ethel and Albert to national radio. Peg did not initially plan on playing Ethel, but a lack of actresses capable of playing the character as she envisioned resulted in her taking on the role not only of writer but also actor. Her first radio husband was Richard Widmark. However, he only portrayed the character for six months. Albert was then recast and Alan Bunce took on the role, playing the character into the 1960s. Alan was a well respected stage and radio actor and people listening to the radio or watching the couple on TV enjoyed the natural rapport between the two actors.
Ethel and Albert was broadcast on radio from 1944 through 1950, appearing on ABC, CBS and NBC. Ethel and Albert then moved to the new medium of television in 1952, first appearing as a short sketch on the Kate Smith Hour before becoming a regular program for NBC in 1953. It eventually moved to CBS and then ABC. The last regular program was in July of 1956.
Ethel and Albert were not through with television, however. In 1960, Peg Lynch and Alan Bunch appeared in a series of commercials for Chemical of New York Bank. Then in 1961, A. T. & T. had Peg and Alan appear in a seventeen minute film about their telephone number changing to an all digit number. The skit, entitled Mr. Digit and the Battle of Bubbling Brook featured their characters Ethel and Albert finding out why their telephone number had to change. The skit is in color, showcasing Peg and Alan in their prime. An additional treat is that the film's cartoon character is voiced by Howard McNear. Imagine; Doc Adams meets Ethel Arbuckle. The commercials and skits may be found on YouTube, as of this writing. An interesting side note is that in 1958 a TV version of the show appeared in Sweden under the name Greta och Albert and in 1981 a British TV program entitled Chintz, was produced based on Ethel and Albert. The show was adapted by the British actress Dilys Laye with Peg credited as the writer.
Throughout all of this Peg was busy with her family. In 1948 she married Odd Knut Ronning, a third cousin of hers that had moved to the United States in 1946, and they eventually had a daughter Elise Astrid Ronning. Odd passed away on July 2 of this year at age 96. Odd and Peg were married for almost 66 years.
Ethel and Albert (though not mentioned by name) returned to the audio airwaves in 1957 in the program The Couple Next Door, lasting until November 1960. The show then appeared on NBC's Monitor in 1963 as a series of 5 minute sketches featuring Peg and Alan in the leading roles. That was the last time that Alan Bunce appeared on a regular series with Peg Lynch. However, Peg's stories continued to appear on radio. In 1973, she wrote a series of Ethel and Albert episodes for National Public Radio's Earplay program and then in 1975, a new series of plays entitled The Little Things In Life, appeared on the radio airwaves featuring Robert (Bob) Dryden as the husband. This was the last regular series of radio shows.
Ethel did not disappear, however. Peg has delighted her many fans over the years with appearances at old-time radio conventions throughout the country, performing just two years ago at the Cincinnati Nostalgia and Old-Time Radio convention. It is always fun to see Peg perform, especially with the many different actors portraying Albert. Some of her convention husbands have included Parley Baer, Bob Dryden, Bob Hastings, Ron Lackmann and others. People ask me who was the best Albert at the conventions and I decline to answer, since part of the fun in seeing Peg perform is watching the different approaches that the actors take to the character of Albert. I will say this; I once asked my friend Parley Baer who was the best actress he had ever worked with, and without a moment's hesitation he said Peg Lynch. He said he considered her one of the most talented people he had ever known. I couldn't agree more.
Material for this article was derived from multiple sources, including Radio Mirror and its many iterations, the Internet Movie Data Base, the Odd Ronning Obituary and the University of Oregon Guide to the Peg Lynch papers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Don Ramlow obtained his BA and MA from Western Michigan University. He has directed over 300 OTR re-creations. Among the performers he has directed are Kim Hunter, William Windom, Parley Baer, and Peg Lynch. He co-founded "All-Ears" Theatre and lectures on OTR throughout the Kalamazoo region.