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Rhymer, Paul (28 Apr. 1905-27 Oct. 1964), radio writer, was born Paul Mills Rhymer in Fulton, Illinois. His family moved to nearby Bloomington when he was a child, and he attended local schools. He was already a confirmed writer by the time he was in Bloomington High School, where he wrote for the school yearbook, served as president of the short story club, and won the school's Merwin Cup for short-story writing. After graduating in 1922 he went to Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, where he was a member of the Black Bookmen, the Bookfellows, and other literary clubs, and in his second year he sold his first story, "Hen," to the magazine College Humor. When his father died, Rhymer left school at the end of his junior year to help support his mother, and for a few years he drifted from job to job in the Chicago area. He worked for the Chicago and Alton Railroad, drove a Yellow Cab, and sold magazines. For a time he was a reporter for the Bloomington Pantograph but lost the job, according to Time magazine, for "writing news stories about people he had not interviewed" (p. 42).

In 1929 Rhymer had the good luck of landing a job that saw him through the Great Depression and was to provide him with a wider audience than most best-selling writers of his time. Recommended by an Illinois Wesleyan classmate, he joined the continuity department of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). He brought his unique brand of drollery to his routine staff assignments of scheduling and logging shows and writing station breaks and introductions for songs and newscasts, sometimes mischievously providing incongruous lines for announcers who, in those days, seldom had the opportunity to rehearse. Chicago was a cradle of what was known as "script radio" in the late 1920s, and Rhymer soon had the opportunity to try his hand at more creative work, writing brief dramatic skits for his station. Within his first year he scripted a weekly series called Keystone Chronicles about a small-town newspaper in Pennsylvania, and later did a Saturday morning children's series featuring the local personality Smokey Rogers, an actor who promoted fire safety to school children.

The big break in Rhymer's life came in 1932 when he was assigned to create a "family show" to be auditioned for Procter & Gamble. The result was Vic and Sade, the series of fifteen-minute vignettes that made him famous. Procter & Gamble declined to sponsor the show, but it premiered on 29 June 1932 as a sustaining feature and proved so popular that Procter & Gamble decided to sponsor the show for its product Crisco on 3 November 1934 and continued its support until the show ended on 7 December 1945. In 1933 Rhymer married Mary Frances Murray, a fellow student at Illinois Wesleyan; the couple had one child. When Vic and Sade became self-supporting by acquiring a sponsor, Rhymer left the staff of NBC and continued writing the show in a freelance capacity.

The show was a blandly surreal window on small-town America, and it featured often plot-less short sketches focusing on the domestic life of Victor Gook, his wife Sade, their adopted son Rush, and their Uncle Fletcher. No other characters appeared, but the family discussed such neighbors and friends as Rishigan Fishigan of Sishigan, Michigan, Y. I. I. Y. Skeeber, the identical twins Robert and Slobbert Hink, and the garbage man Mr. Gumpox, whose horse Howard had dizzy spells. Sade held long chats with her friend Ruthie Stembottom about the big dishcloth sales at Yamelton's Department Store or lunch at the Tiny Petite Pheasant Feather Tea Shoppe. Another unheard character, the brick-mush man, offered a choice of books as premiums for those who bought enough brick-mush, a product never identified; the titles included A Brief Biography of the Father-in-Law of Tyson R. Poppell and The Romance of the Hinge. The underplayed absurdity of the Gooks's topics of conversation and their deadpan banter found an appreciative audience throughout America. The show was widely admired in the profession as well. Rhymer was almost unique among scriptwriters in being rarely edited by the studio. Vic and Sade was voted "Best-Written Program on Radio" in 1936. In 1938 Rhymer was named best radio scriptwriter of the year, and the Hearst editors' poll placed Vic and Sade first among daytime serials. The same year the Young Men's Club of Bloomington, Illinois, declared April 28 "Paul Rhymer Day." Motion Picture Daily named the show "Best Daytime Serial" in 1940, and a poll of six hundred radio editors rated it "Best Radio Serial" in 1942. Unlike most radio series that were written by teams of scriptwriters, every word of Vic and Sade came from the battered Royal typewriter of Paul Rhymer. By 1943 he was earning $35,000 a year for his scripts.

Estimated by Time in 1943 as having seven million listeners, Vic and Sade received thousands of fan letters weekly. Judges recessed court to tune in to it in chambers. Among its regular listeners was Franklin D. Roosevelt, and writers who praised Rhymer included James Thurber and poets Edgar Guest, Ogden Nash (who compared him to Mark Twain), and Edgar Lee Masters (who called the show "the funniest humor of its day"). Admirers of Rhymer included novelists Upton Sinclair, James Gould Cozzens, John O'Hara (who likened him to Sherwood Anderson and Booth Tarkington), and Ray Bradbury, who described the show's dialogue as "more brilliant . . . than anything written since by Pinter or Beckett" (Shepherd, p. vii).

Vic and Sade had a long run for such a gossamer series, with more than 3,500 episodes, and inspired a passionate following. It generated numerous fan clubs, some of which still flourished in the next century. But by the mid-1940s the burgeoning television industry had taken much of radio's audience; Procter & Gamble withdrew its sponsorship, and the show came to an end in 1944. It wasn't forgotten, however; in 1946 the Mutual Broadcasting Company tried a half-hour version, with additional actors; in July 1949 NBC-TV's Colgate Theater presented a television version, and WNBQ Chicago gave the radio show a two-month reincarnation in 1957. But the new formats lacked the fragile balance of the whimsical quarter-hour daytime series, nestled among soap operas, where it was described by Bob Brown, its announcer from 1932 to 1940, as "an island of delight in the sea of tears" (Dunning, p. 696). None of the revivals lasted long.

Rhymer continued writing radio scripts as a freelancer, providing humorous five-minute bits for comic Cliff Norton, presented on Dave Garroway's NBC-TV series Garroway at Large from 1949 to 1952 and developed into the series The Private Life of Cliff Norton, in 1952. He also wrote book reviews and occasional articles for magazines, but he did nothing substantial in radio again. As Bill Idelson, the actor who played Rush on Vic and Sade, reported, Rhymer "didn't have any feeling for doing anything else after that" (Maltin, pp. 182-83). He died unexpectedly in Chicago in 1964.

 



Bibliography

The Paul Rhymer Papers, including correspondence, radio scripts, contracts, NBC memoranda, photographs, and other material about Vic and Sade and other radio shows written by Rhymer are housed in the Mass Communications History Center, Division of Archives and Manuscripts of the State Historical Society in Madison, Wisc. The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., holds a collection of Vic and Sade scripts in its manuscript division. An account of the writer's professional life is in Mary Frances Rhymer, "Introduction" in Paul Rhymer, The Small House Half-Way Up in the Next Block: Paul Rhymer's Vic and Sade (1972). Other examinations of his life and work are "Vic and Sade," Time, (27 Dec. 1943); Jean Shepherd, "Foreword" in Paul Rhymer, Vic and Sade: The Best Radio Plays of Paul Rhymer (1976); and Arthur Frank Wertheim, Radio Humor (1979). Bill Idelson, The Vic and Sade Story (2006), contains recollections by the actor who played Rush in the series, along with photographs and extensive quotations from the scripts. Vic and Sade is discussed in all encyclopedias and histories of radio, e.g., John Dunning, On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (1998), Ron Lackmann, Same Time . . . Same Station: An A-Z Guide to Radio from Jack Benny to Howard Stern (1996), and Leonard Maltin, The Great American Broadcast: A Celebration of Radio's Golden Age (1997). An obituary is in the New York Times, 28 Oct. 1964.



Dennis Wepman




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