“Walking Encyclopedia” is the term that had become associated with Clifton Fadiman’s board of experts. A literary editor of The New Yorker magazine, Fadiman queried three of the country’s best-informed people” Franklin P. Adams, better known as F.P.A., noted author and columnist whose “Conning Tower” was a feature of the New York Post; John Kieran, Sports Editor of The New York Times, but whose interests were widespread judging by the steady stream of knowledge, which poured from him like tap water; and Oscar Levant, who shined at the questions devoted to music, but was an authority on other subjects as well as being an outstanding composer, arranger and director.
Dan Golenpaul was the genius behind the program’s success, an idea man who shared a wealth of knowledge with radio listeners. When he first conceived the idea of the Information, Please radio program, he was very down on his luck. He hunted up the wittiest, most literate men he could find for his “experts” and quizzer — a revolutionary notion for radio. At that time, none of the four he found were known outside the small circle of New York’s Literati. But three years after the program premiered, Fadiman, Adams, Kieran and Levant were regarded in trade columns as the smartest people in the country, and Golenpaul was the proud owner of several cars, two homes and all the impedimenta of a radio magnate.
At its peak, Information, Please had an estimated audience of fifteen million listeners a week. In the opening scene of the 1941 movie, Woman of the Year, Spencer Tracy, playing the role of Sam, sat in a bar listening to Information, Please over the radio. Just a year earlier, RKO began releasing a series of movie shorts based on the popular radio program and movie audiences were treated to a visual performance of what they generally heard over the airwaves. Their favorite experts were answering questions about topics ranging from elements on the periodic chart to the moons of Saturn.
Among the most amusing factor of the radio program were the guest celebrities. Sinclair Lewis, Boris Karloff, Clare Booth Luce, Cornelia Otis Skinner, Gracie Allen, Harpo Marx, Sally Benson, Mary Boland, Fred Allen, Groucho Marx, Stephen Vincent Benet, Adolphe Menjou, Ruth Hussey, Alexander Woolcott, Roland Young, Leslie Howard, Madeline Carroll, Ned Sparks and many others appeared before the microphone. Gracie Allen did superb improv. Harpo just honked his horn. Lillian Gish proved to be very well educated while Monty Woolley did so bad he never wanted to return again. Alfred Hitchcock impressed people with his knowledge of true murder crimes in newspapers dated twenty years prior.
Rex Stout, famed mystery writer and creator of the fictional detective, Nero Wolfe, appeared on one program amid a fanfare that touted his latest book, Too Many Cooks. On the same program, Stout, an amateur chef, was asked to name the savory dish that would result from a given list of ingredients. Stout fumbled and gave up. The recipe, Fadiman told the author, had been culled from Stout’s own book! On the broadcast of January 2, 1940, when asked who the author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm was, none of the panelists knew the answer. Gloria Stuart, the celebrity guest, admitted her own embarrassment on the air for not knowing. Fadiman pointed out that she actually played the role of Gwen Warren in the 1938 movie of the same name!
But the radio industry smelled “commercialism” with Golenpaul’s intellectual program, and one legal battle after another branded Golenpaul a public hero for attempting to keep the program “honest.” After the American Tobacco Company began an annoying Lucky Strike commercial, Golenpaul fought the sponsor… the start of his troubles. After winning the dispute, which was very public in trade columns, Golenpaul lost his sponsor and ultimately the network. He made the transition to another network but was regarded as a trouble maker to the giants in the broadcasting industry. Eventually Golenpaul’s multiple lawsuits and threats to create bad publicity for both the networks and the sponsors ultimately led to the demise of Information, Please. He was not welcome on any of the four major networks.
This book tells the true story behind Information, Please, through the eyes and ears of those who participated in the program, and through extensive research (not to mention having listened to over 200 surviving recordings of the series). From the Information, Please card game, the Information, Please Almanac, the lawsuits, the short run television program, the film shorts, a reprint of the contracts between Golenpaul and the network, celebrity letters received by the stumpers, panelist contracts, a complete episode guide and much more can be found within the 245 pages.
“I didn’t forget, strangely enough, to take along my new copy of Martin Grams, Jr.’s latest book, Information, Please, which I received in the mail yesterday. A nice, quick and easy read, and it measures up to the usual Grams standards, of course.”
— Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.,Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
“This time around, Martin Grams, Jr., lets us in on the creation and structure of one of radio’s most popular and satisfying quiz programs, but one in which the listener was the quizmaster rather than the other way around. Information, Please is another in the seemingly endless forays into the details of OTR programming for which Grams has become justifiably famous. Here we learn why the program was even considered for airing in the first place. After all, who wants to listen to a bunch of egoists blow off about how smart they are, especially to we, the listeners, who might get irritated just listening to them. But the producer of Information, Please, Dan Golenpaul, had an idea that the listener could get his kicks, and maybe a dollar or two besides, by knocking the big guys down a peg or two. Thus was born the idea of questions sent in by the listeners and for any question that stumped the experts, the successful submitter might profit by $5.00 or more, plus receive a sample of the sponsor’s product. Remember that this was during the depressing years and no sum of money could be considered too small not to claim.
“This book provides the details we expect from a Grams’ offering and he doesn’t let us down. Not only do we learn about the sponsors, who took a chance with the program, but we also find out about the aborted television production of Information, Please in the early 1950s, the Information, Please game, and a mini-biography on each of the major panelists that made the program so much fun. Grams makes it clear that the chemistry between the program’s moderator, Clifton Fadiman, and the usual panelists: John Kieran, Franklin P. Adams and Oscar Levant, was what made the show a success. Learned, yet funny and very quick with a quip, these four made an unrehearsed show sound like it had been written by a gaggle of comedy writers.
“Of course, a Grams’ book would not be complete without a detailed and complete broadcast log and we are not disappointed with this offering. The log includes the date of airing of each broadcast, the regular panelists foreach show and the guest panelist for the evening. We get a peek into who was considered a bust as a panelist, who really didn’t want to go head-to-head with the brain trust and who wanted to return on a more-or-less regular basis.”
— Charles R. Sexton, RRL on the Air, March 2004 is