One of the most prolific comedy writers and actresses of radio and early television died the other day. I'd never heard of her until I read an obituary. My loss.
Peg Lynch is remembered most for "Ethel and Albert," a humorous husband-and-wife sit-com series, the first of its kind, that ran on radio, on all three television networks and then back on radio for many, many years. She also played Ethel in more than 11,000 scripts that she wrote between the late 1930s and the 1970s.
Here's one example, "The Toothache," that appeared on the Kate Smith television program in 1952. It's just over 10 minutes and nicely crafted.
According to her daughter's spirited biography (which can be found in full at peglynch.com), Lynch was resourceful and clever from the get-go.
Her start in radio got underway at age fourteen, after a schoolfriend’s father,
like countless businessmen across the country wanting to get in on this new thing
called “radio” but not knowing the first thing about running a radio station, opened
a radio station. Young Margaret persuaded him to hire her and that he needed
things called “sponsors”. How she knew this, or knew how to do this, I don’t know,
but about two seconds later she had secured for him his first one, Bisguard Bauer,
a local shoe store, having wooed them with a slogan of her own devising: “Don’t
Spend Your Life Two Feet Away From Happiness!”.
Years later, after college and much radio work, Lynch signed on as a copywriter for another radio station:
Mama, in addition, wrote two hundred and fifty commercial spots per week, a daily
half hour woman’s show, a weekly half hour theatre show, a weekly farm news
program, plus three ten minute plays and two five minute sketches per week.
It was here that she first developed the Ethel and Albert characters that made her famous. The scripts involved a husband and wife in common situations rendered with a light touch. It's interesting that she was able to do this with no real background; her father died of the Spanish flu when she was two years old, her mother never remarried and Lynch was a single woman. (She later embarked on a long, happy marriage of her own; her husband died in 2014.)
One columnist/blogger said this of her in an homage that also can be found at peglynch.com
Peg Lynch is simply this: one of the greatest humorists of the 20th century. The
fact that she worked in dialogue makes people think it’s not Thurber or Perelman,
but let those guys write 750 self-contained but intimately connected scenes, and
we can talk. The fact that she never strived for a ha-ha line, one of those things
set on fire and rolled out on a cart with a sign that said JOKE, makes one think
that “humorist” is an inexact description, but her speciality was the humorous
situation, one that arises naturally from the characters.
We all remember Ozzie and Harriet and Lucy and Ricky, but Harriet and Lucy didn't write their own material as well as play those parts. Pretty remarkable.
If you have a little time, here's a half-hour Ethel and Albert program with a better picture than the toothache vignette. It is nicely paced and includes Albert's Aunt Eva, who is played by Margaret Hamilton, best known as the wicked witch in "The Wizard of Oz".