The Romance Of Helen Trent – July 27, 1959 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Like any social/cultural movement, when it finally arrives at the mainstream it comes with a goodly degree of baggage brought on by the very same mainstream subjecting it to vast amounts of ridicule via stereotypes. Goes back to The Lost Generation of post-World War 1, the Era of Wonderful Nonsense of the 1920s, The Swing Era, the Era of Be-Bop and The Beat Generation of the 1950s. Every generation suffers the slings and arrows of the previous generations who just “don’t get what these kids are up to”. And has always been the case, these cultural/social movements have been looked on at the time with a modicum of horror accompanied by stories of youth run amok – deranged, lawless thrill-seeking kids from broken homes and misguided upbringings, young aimless adults bent on ripping up the genteel fabric of society; the penultimate tragedy of a son or daughter bringing one of these maladroits home with them.
The Beat Generation had probably gotten some of the worst press at the time because they represented the antithesis of the American Dream; one that was second only to the Hippy and Counterculture movements later in the 1960s, which owed their foundation to the ethos of The Beats and a universal rejection of conspicuous consumption and living in a world free of social barriers first hatched by the likes of Ginsburg, Kerouac and Ferlinghetti.
The Romance Of Helen Trent was, by the 1950s, the antithesis of the Beat Generation. One of the longest running daytime soap operas on radio (from 1933 until 1960 when it was unceremoniously dumped from the airwaves forever), it represented American values, American successes and American tragedies all on an operatic scale. A program that would never see the light of day in 2021 – it existed in the universe of stereotypes and the realm of impossible social expectations all surmounted with a certain chaste conviction because after all, Helen Trent never got older than 35 and never married once in the 27 years it was on the air.
So of course, running a storyline in mid-1959 having to do with The Beat Generation and the depraved cravings of a pile of misogynists whose only role in life was “kicks and art” and where Women were a combination muse and bank account was perfect for this last bastion of Radio Drama in America. Ironically, the show and the sentiment were not long for this earth as The Romance Of Helen Trent was promptly cancelled, after some 7,220 episodes. Time and values marched on.
But to get an idea of what Daytime radio dramas sounded like, during the waning days of Network Radio and how an attempt was made to weave in contemporary social issues for the mainstream consumer, here is the July 27th episode of The Romance Of Helen Trent, as it was aired at 11:30 in the morning on the West Coast in 1959.