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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Virginia Payne and "Ma Perkins" Praised in Recent SAG/AFTRA Magazine
by Jack French © 2016
(From Radio Recall, October 2016)
The summer 2016 issue of SAG/AFTRA Magazine contained an article about Virginia Payne, together with a vintage WGN 1940 photograph of her with two hopeful would-be actors at the microphone. The piece noted that Payne, as a recent college graduate, won the lead in Ma Perkins in December 1933.
She would go on to success at the microphone and leadership positions in the new and emerging union, the American Federation of Radio Artists (AFRA). Payne was a founding member of that union in 1937 and served as president of the Chicago local from 1938 to 1944.
Later when she moved to New York City, she was elected president of that local and served from 1958-1959. In 1962, Payne was honored with the George Heller Memorial Award. She would go on to serve on AFTRA's (television actors were now in the union) national board until she died of cancer on February 9, 1977, age 67.
The author of this period piece however termed Ma Perkins "history's very first soap opera" which, of course, it was not. So this gaff led to an …
Open Letter to Editor, SAG/AFTRA Magazine, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dear Pamela Greenwalt,
As a long-term member of SAG/AFTRA and a radio historian, I am always delighted to see an article about old-time radio in our official union magazine. So I was especially pleased with the glowing tribute in "Snapshot" (page 48 in current summer issue) given to Virginia Payne and her long-running serial (1933-1960), "Ma Perkins." But alas, the author, Valerie Yaros, oversteps her mark in calling that radio serial, "history's very first soap opera."
Not even close.
At least a dozen network, or syndicated, soap operas were on the air before "Ma Perkins." For starters, "Painted Dreams" and "The Life of Mary Southern" debuted in 1930. The following year four more appeared, including "The Life of Irene Castle", "Miracles of Magnolia" and "The Stolen Husband." Seven more debuted in 1932, including "Betty and Bob", "Just Plain Bill" and "Today's Children."
As a union that has represented radio actors since 1937, we should be more careful when promulgating historical "facts" in our magazine. It should not be that difficult when we have hundreds of vintage radio buffs within our ranks to use as facts-checkers.
Jack French Washington/Baltimore local.