Lynch with Alan Bunce as Ethel and Albert, 1954.
|Born||Margaret Frances Lynch
November 25, 1916
Margaret Frances “Peg” Lynch, born November 25, 1916, in Lincoln, Nebraska, is the creator of the radio and television sitcom Ethel and Albert. She was one of the first women to star in, own, and write, singlehandedly, her own comedy series. In total, Lynch wrote nearly 11,000 scripts for radio and television.
Lynch's father died of the Spanish flu when she was two years old, after which she and her mother moved back to Kasson, Minnesota, fifteen miles west of Rochester, where her mother resumed her job as an orthopedic nurse at the Mayo Clinic. Lynch’s start in radio began at age fifteen when, working part-time as a receptionist at the Mayo Clinic, she agreed to help out at KROC in Rochester, a radio station belonging to a classmate’s father, by writing copy and interviewing celebrities who were in town (usually to visit the Clinic) including Lou Gehrig, Jeanette MacDonald, Knute Rockne and Ernest Hemingway.
Lynch graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1937, majoring in English with an emphasis on writing and dramatics and shortly thereafter landed a job at station KATE in Albert Lea, Minnesota, about forty miles southwest of Rochester. She earned $65 per month, in theory as a copywriter, but she also wrote commercials, a daily half-hour woman’s show, a weekly half-hour theatre show, a weekly farm news program, and three ten-minute plays and two five-minute sketches per week. It was at KATE that Lynch first introduced the husband and wife characters of Ethel and Albert, born as a three-minute “filler” sketch in her woman’s show. She soon discovered that a husband-wife format could be adopted to sell a variety of products. Lynch played Ethel and a station announcer played Albert.
After four months at KATE, Lynch moved down to WCHV in Charlottesville, Virginia, and then on to WTBO in Cumberland, Maryland, continuing to develop Ethel and Albert as she went, and expanding it at WTBO into a five-times-per-week, 15-minute evening feature. Willis Conover played Albert. In February 1944, with $500 in her pocket, Lynch moved to New York City. Within a month she received an offer from NBC radio to air her show. Lynch refused the offer, however, on the grounds that Ethel and Albert was the only thing she owned and didn’t want to part with it. Shortly thereafter NBC sold the Blue Network (later to become ABC Television network) to Edward John Noble, who owned the Life Savers candy company. Noble was looking for a daytime comedy show that was not a soap opera and had a storyline that would wrap-up each day. Ethel and Albert fit the bill and within the month, on April 17, 1944, was reborn as a five-day-a-week, 15-minute show on national radio. Lynch was asked to play Ethel, she refused, actresses were auditioned, none found suitable, and Lynch was signed to play the role. Richard Widmark played Albert for six months until he was replaced by Alan Bunce. Bunce co-starred with Lynch for the next twenty years not only in Ethel and Albert, but also as their radio counterparts in The Couple Next Door. The partnership lasted until Bunce’s death in 1965. Ethel and Albert continued as a fifteen-minute show until 1949 when it was expanded to a half hour. The show moved into commercial television in 1950 as a ten-minute segment on The Kate Smith Hour and in April of 1953 became a half-hour program on the NBC network. The show was well received by both the public and the critics. Margaret Hamilton was a regular on the show, playing Albert's aunt. Kay Gardella of the New York Daily News wrote that Ethel and Albert was “generally regarded as the top domestic comedy on TV. The warm, realistic characterizations and situations of this stanza reflect the personality of its creator. Peg is completely down to earth and so are her scripts”. Jack Gould of the New York Times gave credit to the show and its creator-writer when he wrote, “The author of Ethel and Albert, of course, is Miss Lynch herself. She has lost none of her uncanny knack for catching the small situation in married life and developing it into a gem of quiet humor. The charm of Ethel and Albert is that they could be man and wife off the screen.”
NBC cancelled Ethel and Albert in December 1954. It’s sponsor was the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson and, according to Lynch, it was cancelled because the sponsor’s wife decided Lynch reminded her of her husband’s first wife and didn’t “want to look at that face every week”. The show found new life when it was picked up by CBS as a 1955 summer replacement for the Spring Byington vehicle December Bride and was so popular that Lynch was offered her own half-hour primetime slot (sponsored by Maxwell House), much to the annoyance of General Foods, who sponsored December Bride. Ethel and Albert gained a devoted following across America and in the fall of 1955 the show again switched networks, this time to ABC, sponsored by Ralston Purina. It remained there until May 1956. Lynch owned the rights to her show and so was not limited to a single network. Ethel and Albert aired for the final time on television on May 25, 1956. However, the show continued on CBS radio starting in 1957 with the title changed to The Couple Next Door. Lynch and Bunce continued in the title roles and Lynch remained as the show’s sole writer. The Couple Next Door had a three-year run in a 15-minute five-day-a week format, ending in 1960. Ethel and Albert enjoyed revivals in 1963-64 on Monitor NBC Radio with Bunce as Albert and on National Public Radio’s Earplay in 1973. In 1975-76 Lynch wrote and starred in The Little Things in Life for Radio Playhouse with Bob Dryden in the role of Albert. Six episodes of Ethel and Albert were adapted by Granada Television in Manchester, England, in 1979 titled Chintz and starring a British cast.
Peg Lynch married Odd Knut Ronning, a Norwegian pulp and paper engineer in 1948 in New York City on August 12, 1948. The couple have a daughter, Astrid Ronning King, also a writer, married to composer Denis King, and one grandchild, Alexander, a musician. Lynch lives in Becket, Massachusetts, and continues to write. She would like to revisit the characters of Ethel and Albert as a couple in their 90s.
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