Ethel Merman 'open end' interview discovered

September 15, 2015
Benjamin E. Bates

During recent processing of the Paul F. Roth American Dance Band Collection, staff at the Archive of Recorded Sound uncovered a rare recording featuring the American actress and singer, Ethel Merman.

At the height of her career, Merman was approached by Pete Martin of the Saturday Evening Post to participate in a series of interviews to be published in weekly installments under the title 'That's the kind of dame I am'.  To encourage local radio stations to promote the celebrity exclusive, the Curtis Circulation Company, the parent publishing company, prepared an'open-end' interview record of Merman's speaking voice to be distributed to radio outlets across the country.

'Open-end' recordings are specifically engineered to simulate interviews using a combination of timed pauses, the interviewee's voice, and an accompanying script.  With all three elements working together, a local DJ, using the prepared script with timings could simulate an interview with Ethel Merman without her direct participation.  Imagine being a listener in that era and tuning in to the local radio station to hear a popular artist doing an interview with the listener's favorite DJ.  One might almost believe that the artist took the time to come to the local area to visit. 

From the artists' and the marketers' perspectives, the 'open-end' interview disc served as a means of providing the maximum exposure available in an era when radio was still a dominant medium.  Famous artists such as Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and others were continually promoted using 'open-end' discs well into the 1960s.  Today, these artifacts are very rare.  Discs and scripts were often tied to a specific, marketing promotion.  Once that time had lapsed, the items could be easily discarded having no further use. 

In the case of the Merman recording, however, we have an intact example, with the disc, script, an a letter from her publicist, Mike Conner of Decca Records promoting her Post exclusive.  The script alone provides the much needed context for what can be discovered on the recorded responses.  In the image of the script below, these lines show Merman's personality unfolding for the listener and at the same are carefully crafted in order to be played in any region of the country.

 

For further inquires about this item, or any other materials, please visit the Archive of Recorded Sound website.