Radio's "Princess Pet" Brown Bear Chararacter Alive, Well
In 2008, I wrote two columns about “The Adventures of Princess Pet,” an early Saturday morning children’s radio program that I listened to as a child. It aired on WJHL from 1951 to 1953. I received four responses from readers who also recalled the series.
Recently, Stephen Wright sent me a surprising note that said, “Lower the drawbridge; Pet Brown Bear is alive and well.” Wright played the role of Brown Bear on the show, which occurred when he was between the ages of 14 and 16. He was the youngest cast member.
Princess Pet was the brainchild of Jane Dalton, who became known as “the first lady of radio.” She produced the series at WSPA radio in Spartanburg, S.C. The syndicated adventure show garnered a radio distribution along the Eastern seaboard. It was taped on Wednesday nights and reproduced on long playing breakable discs, similar to 78-rpm records. The characters (and actors) on the show were Princess Pet (Roberta Snow), Pet Brown Mule (Fred Myers), Pet Brown Bear (Stephen Wright), Hagar the Witch (Jane Dalton), the Wicked Duke of the Black Forest (Ed McGrath), Alowadin the Sorcerer (Al Willis) and Vashti the Sorceress (Peg Stanton).
Stephen recalled that a young man played the studio organ for the opening and closing themes as well as background music during action scenes. A station worker added appropriate sound effects throughout the taping. The studio used what was referred to as a filter mike that gave the illusion of the dialog being deep inside a dark cave. In spite of the short quarter-hour duration of the episodes, most ended with a completed story; very few were continued to the following week. At the end of each adventure, good guys always prevailed over evil ones. Princess Pet’s faithful youthful listeners demanded it.
No studio audience was present at the taping, unlike some shows during that period of time. Everyone read previously rehearsed scripts that were written by Dalton. Wright said that his character was constantly getting lost or in trouble on the show. He had to be rescued numerous times. Radio producers, unlike those on television, were not concerned about the age or appearance of an actor as long as his or her voice was suitable for the part.
Stephen said the show had its share of slip-ups that created moments of merriment for the cast. Examples included reading a line incorrectly; getting out of sequence in the script; producing a sound effect at the wrong time; and sneezing, hiccupping, belching or similar distraction. When that happened, Jane abruptly shouted, “cut.” The tape was stopped and the scene re-recorded. Mr. Wright said they essentially had no knowledge of the sponsor and its products. He was unaware that Brown Mules and Brown Bears were frozen treats on a stick, the mule consisting of vanilla ice cream coated with chocolate and the bear being chocolate ice cream.
The show ended in 1953, a victim of emerging television. Today, recordings of “The Adventures of Princess Pet” are rare because, according to Stephen, a fire at the WSPA studio several years ago destroyed the master tapes. The now retired Manhattan resident went on to have a stellar acting career in Little Theatre, Broadway, off Broadway, national tours and numerous TV commercials.
After almost three years of wholesome fantasy on WJHL radio, the fair princess and her devoted imaginary radio gang drifted off the syndicated airways into the frozen confectionary haven known as the “Land of the Frozen Star,” where you can still magically buy a Brown Mule or a Brown Bear treat for a nickel.