This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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ASK THE EXPERT...
Our expert in this issue is the well-known OTR researcher and historian, Elizabeth McLeod.
(From Radio Recall, February 2003)
QUESTION: I seem to remember that the radio actress who played "Myrt" on Myrt and Marge was almost killed in a car accident while her daughter, who played "Marge", died while giving birth on Valentine's Day 1941. Is that accurate?
ANSWER: This is correct -- although the date was actually early the following morning -- but from all indications the death was directly related to complications from childbirth. The following obituary appeared in the March 1-7 1941 issue of "Movie-Radio Guide:"
"Mrs. Peter Fick, who played Marge in the radio team of Myrt and Marge died February 15th in Englewood Hospital, Englewood NJ, after giving birth to a son. The twenty-eight year old actress did her February 14th broadcast as usual, leaving for the hospital immediately after going off the air. The child was born at 12:42 the next morning and Marge died just eighteen minutes later. The baby is well.
"The death breaks up a mother-daughter team which has been broadcasting continuously since November 1931. The mother, Mrs. Myrtle Vail Damerel (who plays Myrt in the serial), has announced she will continue the program, as she believes that is the way her daughter would have wanted it.
"Marge [born Donna Damerel] was born in Chicago July 8, 1912, the daughter of vaudeville artists. After attending Chicago public schools until she was fifteen years old she left to join a musical-comedy chorus. Later she joined her mother and father in a vaudeville sketch. When vaudeville engagements became scarce the family moved to a farm outside Chicago where the father died a few years later.
"The mother, pressed for financial assistance, conceived the idea of the Myrt and Marge radio program based upon the lives of struggling vaudeville artists, sponsored by a Chicago chewing gum company.
"Marge is survived by two other sons, Charles Griffiths and William J. Kretsinger, by two previous marriages, her mother, and her husband, Mr. Fick, Olympic swimming star to whom she was married on January 13, 1940. Funeral services were held at 8 pm, February 17, in Manhattan."
Death in childbirth was all too common up through the 1930s. As of 1937, the US ratio was around 600 to 800 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births, compared to 10 to 100,000 today. Massive blood loss and post-natal infections (which women spoke about in horrified whispers as "child bed fever") were the most common factors leading to maternal deaths, and the wartime development of reliable antibiotics and blood-transfusion techniques were the major factors in bringing this ratio down.
As far as the car-accident story goes, Myrtle Vail was severely injured in a car wreck in 1933, and was laid up in the hospital for several weeks. An agency writer took over the scripting during this period, and the character of Myrt was temporarily written out of the show by the device of having her kidnapped by gangsters -- allowing the action to focus on Marge's search for her sister until Myrt was sufficiently recovered to return to the program. It may be that over the years, this account has gotten garbled up with the story of Marge's real-life death.