Bright Star

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By Bob Stepno

The 1952-53 series “Bright Star” was subtitled “The Irene Dunne, Fred MacMurray Show” after its two Hollywood star leads. In a role-reversal of “His Girl Friday” and other sob-sister tales, the 30-minute episodes featured Dunne as editor and publisher of the Hillsdale Morning Star, with MacMurray as her star reporter and sometime suitor.

While billed as a “gay new exciting comedy-adventure,” there was little adventurous in the portrayal of journalists or adult relationships in this romantic-comedy series. Dunne was “lovely, attractive, headstrong Susan” who had inherited the paper from her father. MacMurray was George, a sometimes competent, often-fumbling reporter, who remained oblivious to his boss’s romantic interest in him despite almost weekly dinner invitations.

Both actors were well-known Hollywood stars — Dunne had been nominated for five Academy Awards in her 20 years on the screen and was called the “First Lady of Hollywood.” Both had appeared in numerous radio “anthology” series. Dunne starred in two radio adaptations of “Cimarron” and three of “Penny Serenade,” both replaying her original starring roles, while MacMurray did Lux radio versions of “His Girl Friday” and “Front Page Woman.” (While they may not have played opposite each other on radio before this, just before the launch of “Bright Star,” they starred together in the romantic comedy film, “Never a Dull Moment,” one of her last movies before retiring from the screen.)

An Irene Dunne fan in Germany has created an online anthology of articles and pictures of the actress, including a Bright Star page and one about Dunne’s work in 1950s radio, including a Hollywood News article on Bright Star. The article by Gene Handsaker noted that “Bright Star” was the first regular series for either Dunne or MacMurray.

In a passage about the nervous actors that is almost a pun on his name, Handsaker writes, “Irene led me hold her hand a minute to see how nervous transcribing just one half-hour adventure had made her. The hand was icy. Fred´s nervousness shows up more in fluffs. He stumbled repeatedly over the line, “just that right spot behind the ear.” (He´s telling in the script, how he has just slugged a lion into unconsciousness.)”

For more research on the radio series, see DigitalDeliToo’s Bright Star page.

The episodes below are MP3 files from Old Time Radio Researchers Group Bright Star episodes at the Internet Archive. For collectors, the site provides a separate page for downloading a more complete collection.

Among the available programs, “The Oil Swindle,” “Susan Runs for Mayor,” “George and the Informer,” and the “Homemaker Page Editor” episodes are a sample of the series’ portrayal of journalists and ethical questions they face, along with its version of 1950s attitudes toward women in business and in marriage.

My blog posts: Reporter assaulted, editor insensitive, but makes him dinner

Episodes at Internet Archive:

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