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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Let's Pretend


Let's Pretend, created and directed by Nila Mack (1891-1953), was a long-run CBS radio series for children.

It had several different early formats and titles. Aunt Jymmie and Her Tots in Tottyville began October 27, 1928. Aunt Jymmie was the host of this Saturday morning children's program's whimsical tales of fantasy and fairy tales. She introduced each week's tale which was enacted by a cast of young children, "the tots." The young "tots" traveled to Tottyville, a make-believe world of king and queens, princesses, witches and magic spells. Originating from the WABC studio in New York City, the flagship station for CBS, this series lasted for 18 broadcasts until February 23, 1929 when it was replaced by the 30-minute The Children's Club Hour with Howard Merrill, who was the host and the scriptwriter. During the 1940s, Merrill scripted for The Gay Nineties Revue, Secret Missions and detective series such as Sherlock Holmes, Leonidas Witherall and the Abbott Mysteries. The Children's Club Hour, which offered fairy tales performed by juvenile cast members, began March 2, 1929 and continued until June 22, 1929.

After 17 broadcasts of The Children's Club Hour, the time slot was given to Estelle Levy and Patricia Ryan who created another children's program, The Adventures of Helen and Mary, scripted by Yolanda Langworthy. Broadcast on CBS Saturdays at noon and other late morning timeslots, this series began June 29, 1929.

Between December 1930 and January 1931, the title briefly changed from The Adventures of Helen and Mary to Land O' Make Believe. With Estelle Levy and Patricia Ryan in the title roles, the fairy tale program continued until March 17, 1934. After 229 broadcasts, Nila Mack took over as director and changed the title to Let's Pretend, "radio's outstanding children's theater."

Mack's Peabody Award-winning Let's Pretend began March 24, 1934, running for two decades before the final show on October 23, 1954. Adaptations included such classics and fairy tales as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Arabian Nights, Beauty and the Beast and Rumpelstiltskin.

The show always began with a characteristic tune, sometimes with lyrics, from its long time sponsor Cream of Wheat. George Bryan and Jackson Wheeler were the announcers. Jean Hight became the program's director after Nila Mack's death in 1953.

A history of the show, Let's Pretend And The Golden Age Of Radio (BearManor Media 2004), was written by veteran actor Arthur Anderson, who did character roles on Let's Pretend at age 13 and was on the show almost every week (with time out for military service) until the program's demise. Anderson appeared in Orson Welles' New York production of Julius Caesar and was then in Welles' Mercury Theatre on the Air. He was most recently the voice of nasty farmer Eustace in the TV cartoon series Courage, the Cowardly Dog. For 29 years he was the original voice of the Lucky Charms (cereal) Leprechaun.

The series received numerous awards, including two Peabody Awards, a Women’s National Radio Committee Award and five Radio Daily Awards.

In 1970 Telegeneral adapted these stories on vinyl records.


  1. I loved these stories as a child. I played my son a recent audio of King Thrushbeard, but it was simplified and flat compared to the Let's Pretend version. Glad to find this series again.

  2. This radio series was almost better than every child's plea to Mom "Read me a story." Living in Milwaukee from age 2 (in 1934) onward, I was right next to our tall radio every Saturday morning listening to the latest re-enactment of the cherished childhood stories that had either been read to me or I would later read on my own. It was like today's TV, only better, because it helped me develop and cultivate my imagination as I dressed the characters and placed them in their inferred environment in my mind. It encouraged my own writing skills that later earned me a good living.



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References: Old Time Radio Researchers Group, Wikipedia, Frank Passage & Others OTR Logs, Archive.org, Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio by John Dunning, Australian Old Time Radio Group

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