Kraft Music Hall
The Kraft Music Hall was a popular variety program, featuring top show business entertainers, which aired on NBC radio and television from 1933 to 1971.
The Kraft Program debuted June 26, 1933 as a musical-variety program featuring orchestra leader Paul Whiteman and served to supplement print advertising and in-store displays promoting Kraft products. During its first year the show went through a series of name changes, including Kraft Musical Revue, until it finally settled on Kraft Music Hall in 1934. Paul Whiteman remained the host until December 6, 1935. Ford Bond was the announcer.
Billed as "The King of Jazz", Paul Whiteman was arguably America’s first popular music superstar. Whiteman’s foresight regarding the coming of the jazz age and his decisions to hire the best jazz musicians was a powerful boost for jazz, swing and blues. Though he was prohibited from hiring black performers, he hired arrangers and composers.
Bing Crosby took over as master of ceremonies January 2, 1936. Crosby was host until May 9, 1946. For the advertising managers at Kraft, it was imperative that advertising and entertainment be kept separate. For this reason, Kraft insisted that an announcer, not cast members, read its commercials. Additionally, Kraft commercials were single-product focused during the radio days, short and to the point in order to keep with Kraft's philosophy that quality entertainment led listeners up to the commercials, dropped them into the commercials, and took them back to the show, as evidenced by the broadcast of June 15, 1944: When Crosby and Marilyn Maxwell finish singing “Take It Easy,” Bing segues to the ad with, “Check it friends, The Charioteers (the studio chorus) will further demonstrate immediately after my colleague glibly hustles prospective purchasers.” Announcer Ken Carpenter commences a 39-second spot extolling the virtues of Kraft Dinner – “Well, I can tell you of macaroni and cheese that helps you three ways. Saves cooking time, saves shopping time, saves ration points.”
Crosby was the longest-running Kraft Music Hall host, from 1936 through 1946. His casual style and humorous easy-going banter made the show tops with the young "country club" set. The average listener was 21 during this period, compared to the average age of 11 at the movie houses. Intelligent humor and delightful guests made these years some of the greatest. On the show, Bing rubbed elbows with the likes of Spike Jones, Lucille Ball, The Andrews Sisters, Nat “King” Cole and Peggy Lee. It was during these years on the Kraft Music Hall that Bob Burns popularized his famous “bazooka” instrument (made from a pipe and a funnel), coining the term which was later used by soldiers referring to the 2.75” recoilless rifle anti-tank weapon, the bazooka.
After Crosby Kraft Music Hall went through a handful of short-lived hosts. Edward Everett Horton, Eddie Foy and Frank Morgan all hosted from 1945 through 1947. Nelson Eddy took over the summer spots in 1947 and with costar Dorothy Kirsten in 1948 and 1949. The show had a strong supporting cast: pianist-vocalist Ramona, soprano Helen Jepson, tenor Jack Fulton, pianist Roy Bargy and music critic Deems Taylor.
Al Jolson dotted the Kraft Music Hall landscape, first as an occasional guest from 1933 to 1935, then later as the star and host from 1947 to 1949, while his sarcastic pianist and sidekick Oscar Levant piped in with his dry wit. Jolson kept working until shortly before his death in 1950, with these shows as some of his last. Many of the show’s recurring jokes and funny remarks were about Jolson's education (which was, in fact, not the very best), his age and his relationships to women. When Jolson returned in October 1947, Variety printed a rave review:
- Kraft Music Hall last Thursday night bounced back into major league programming—a status it hasn't enjoyed since Bing Crosby went Philco's way—when Al Jolson, capping an amazing comeback career, took over as permanent man. And the good tidings are that it's a wham of a show, one that will give the Top 15 Hooperated boys a run for their money. If there's any doubt about Jolie entrenching himself as a vital cog in modern-day show business, last week's premier broadcast was the clincher.
- From the "April Showers" curtain-raiser to the closing nostalgic refrain cued to recollections of Luchow's 14th Street (N.Y.) restaurant as the "Stork Club of the '90s" Jolson breezed through the Kraft Music Hall stanza completely at ease, sparking the whole routine with a pacing and timing that can match the best of them... There's been no stinting on the talent layout, with Oscar Levant also a permanent fixture, along with Milenna Miller as the femme vocalist, and a guest star policy that had Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen on hand for the teeoff in a three-way Levant-Jolie-McCarthy barb-throwing parlay...
- The component parts of the show were rationed to a T, with proper balancing of the two-way Jolson-Levant banter, with the latter seguing into his pianistic pyrotechnics; Jolson's properly spaced and not-too-overdone vocalizing of "Toot, Toot, Tootsie," "All My Love" and the nostalgic "When You Were Sweet Sixteen" windup; the "Sonny Boy" comedy dueting with McCarthy that was the show's laugh standout, with even sufficient time to spare to give Lou Bring some orchestral spotlighting. Only Miss Miller apprears excess ballast for the 30-minute ride, adding nothing to the format. With such a layout, a femme vocalist would appear to be unnecessary. If there's time to spare, let Jolson go around for a No. 4 whirl on the singing chores. It's his show.
Kraft Music Hall made the move to television in 1958, replacing the dramatic anthology series Kraft Television Theatre. Milton Berle hosted during the 1958 season. Beginning with the fall 1959 season, singer Perry Como became the host, and continued until 1967 (as a monthly series from 1963 through '67). During the summer seasons, the show continued with new episodes, with a variety of guest hosts replacing Berle/Como. This rotation of guest hosts became a permanent feature when Como left the series in the winter of 1967 (with the Music Hall returning as a weekly series that fall), and continued until the series finally ended in 1971.
Every show featured a guest entertainer, among them Bob Hope, Liberace, Eddie Cantor, Groucho Marx, Jimmy Durante, George Jessel, Larry Parks, Dorothy Kirsten, Doris Day, Leo Fuld, Boris Karloff, Margaret Whiting, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Phil Silvers and Simon & Garfunkel. Each episode also often featured a familiar film actress, such as Marilyn Maxwell. During its final years, Friar's Club "Roasts" were occasionally broadcast on this series in place of the usual musically themed episodes. Later, these Roasts appeared as a separate series hosted by Dean Martin.