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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Grace Gibson - the Cowgirl of the Outback
by John C. Abbott © 2014
(From Radio Recall, Issue Date)
During the golden age of Old Time Radio, there were a number of program producers who made large contributions via the programs they produced. Names such a Norman MacDonnell, William N. Robson, Jack Johnstone, and many others provided us with programs that entertain us even today. However, the name Grace Gibson is not among that pantheon - that is unless you live in Australia. Down-under, the name Grace Gibson is much better known. But better yet, how did this young lady from El Paso, Texas put her lasso on the land of the Outback?
Grace Isabel Gibson was born on June 17, 1905 in El Paso, Texas, where her father was a rancher. Grace went to Hollywood where she graduated from high school. After graduation she started working for the Radio Transcription Company of America (one of the earliest producers of radio transcriptions) as a secretary. Grace eventually became their leading salesperson of radio transcriptions.
In 1933, Grace was introduced to A. E. Bennett, who was the manager of radio station "2GB", located in Sydney, Australia. She was able to sell Mr. Bennett a number of radio programs, which included "Pinto Pete and his Ranch Boys", "Chandu the Magician", "The Air Adventures of Jimmy Allen" and others. Bennett was able to persuade Grace to come to Sydney for "six months" to help set up a company called American Radio Transcription Agencies (which later became Artransa Pty Ltd). This company sold American recorded radio programs throughout Australia.
Although Grace was only "on loan" for six months, she ultimately ended up staying in Australia until 1941, when she came back to the US to buy more programs. Her timing was unfortunate - she was stranded in California when World War II broke out. Fortunately she was able to go back to Radio Transcription Co. of America, where became a manger. Grace was finally able to return to Sydney in 1944, where she set up her own company, Grace Gibson Radio Productions. Her company used scripts purchased from American radio programs and, using Australian actors, she distributed them to stations all across Australia. She eventually branched out into producing locally created programs.
In addition to the early programs, Grace also produced Australian versions of two American favorites: "Gunsmoke" and "Night Beat". By the mid-fifties, Grace was able to produce up to thirty two programs each week. These programs were distributed outside of Australia to New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong and Canada.
Of the programs she produced, there are two which were "soapies"; "Doctor Paul" and "Portia Faces Life", both of which had connections to the U.S. "Doctor Paul" was originally written by the American writer Virginia Crosby, and ran for over 4,600 episodes between 1949 and 1971. "Portia Faces Life" originated in the U. S., and ran from 1941 to 1951 in the U. S., but Grace was able to air the story from 1954 to 1970 - over 3,500 episodes. In both cases, the Australian programs continued to live on well after they had disappeared from American airwaves.
By the time that Grace sold her company in 1978, Grace Gibson Productions had produced and sold nearly 40,000 quarter-hour programs. These programs included comedies such as "Chickenman", "Chuck Chunder" and "Captain Kremmen", the soap operas noted above - and many others, and their most popular radio serial of all-time "The Castlereagh Line" which ran for some 910 episodes. In recognition for her services to radio, Gibson was awarded the Order of Australia in 1987.
Grace Gibson was married to Randal Robert McDonnell Parr in 1944, and remained married to him until his death in 1985. Grace died in 1989 and was cremated.
It can truly be said that Grace was one of those people to whom the term "Amazing Grace" could certainly have been applied. She succeeded at every venture she under took, and ran a tight ship. She was regarded as being "tight-fisted", but those who worked for her maintained a high level of loyalty. Her biography on the web site for the "Australian Dictionary of Biography" notes that she maintained her Texas drawl and had a great sense of humor. As an example, when a competing production studio suffered a fire, she is reported to have said "Nothing trivial, I hope."
A number of Australian OTR programs are in circulation, including several episodes of "Night Beat" and "Gunsmoke". They are definitely different from what we are used to listening to, but well worth a listen. They exist all because of the efforts of a young girl from Texas.
Australian Dictionary of Biography (adb.anu.edu.au)
Grace Gibson Production website (gracegibson.com.au)
National Film and Sound Archive - Australia's Living Archive (nfsa.gov.au)
Information from Ian Grieve, expert on Australian OTR