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WILLIAM O’HALLAREN lives in Granada Hills, California, and is a neivswriter for the American Broadcasting Company in Hollywood, This is his first appearance in the Atlantic.

by WILLIAM O’HALLAREN

THERE were about four hundred people in the studio for the Red Growlo Show. The sponsor believes all these people are members of some sinister group, and that everything they did followed a cunning master plan.

If that is so, they are certainly an evasive bunch and they went to astounding lengths to conceal their unity. Most of the tickets to last night’s show had been sent to people out of town who had written for them. Of course some group could have agents scattered all over the country, and order them to converge on New York at a given time. But the puzzler is that most of these writeins named other shows as their choice, and they were sent Growlo tickets only in lieu of nothing. Remaining tickets were given away at the network box office.

Of course everyone is familiar with the Growlo program. It combines the best features of comedy and quiz with plenty of sales punch. It has sold millions of bottles of Froth.

The show depends on good, warm response from the audience, and Red aims to win that right at the start by opening with a sensational bit of comedy. For his entrance last night Red and his writers had worked out a hilarious routine in which he staggers on in his ex-President Truman get-up, only he’s acting a little tipsy. The bit had been cleared by the agency and the sponsor, who thought it terrific. Well, the big moment came, the curtains parted, Red made his entrance, but — incredible as it seems — the entire audience failed to get it. Four hundred people just sat on their hands like bumpkins. It proved again how foolish it is to overestimate an audience.

Red didn‘t let it throw him. He saw he was facing a cold house, and action was needed right away. So he hopped off the stage and down the left aisle, with the cameras following him, even though it wasn’t in the script. About the middle of the aisle he spotted the right kind of old lady and crashed into the row, grabbed her purse, and started pulling out the contents, making humorous comments loud enough for the overhead mike.

But last night, instead of playing along, the old lady hit him. Red was a little bit off balance anyway and staggered back. The man next to her, who later claimed to be her husband, grabbed Red by the belt and pitched him into the aisle. Luckily the director had sense enough to go into a commercial then and was able to stretch it out long enough for Red to get back to the stage and into the script.

(They’ve got the bloodhounds on this woman and the man with her, but so far haven’t turned up anything constructive. Their story of living in New Rochelle for the last forty years seems to check. After the show they both refused to explain their strange behavior, and instead of apologizing to Red, the man threatened to start a fresh altercation. Mood of the people around them also seemed unsportsmanlike, so Red and his staff decided there was no use getting involved any deeper in unseemly argument .)

As for the “Name Your Mate” foul-up later in the same show, the sponsor insists the ten thousand dollars must come out of Red’s pocket, seeing that Red made the bet. When the time came for that part of the show, Red motioned to a couple in the first row to join him. The execu-

tives in the control booth knew right away that Red had pulled the couple from the wrong end of the row, but it was too late to tell him. The staff had a girdle manufacturer and his wife sitting at the other end, all ready for a fine, giggly bit, but as it turned out, they never got on.

The man Red called on stage was a thin, meek-looking fellow, the woman large and commanding. Idea, of course, is that the man is blindfolded, and Red gives him a description of three women — two models and the wife. Red has a funny way of picking out a few flaws in the wife that the husband probably never noticed, and of describing one of the models in the way the husband probably visualizes the wife, with the result that the guy strikes out and everybody has a lot of fun.

Last night the little fellow got Red on edge by failing to go along wit h the preliminary banter. Rod thought he was talking to the girdle manufacturer, as planned, which accounted for those questions about how business was holding up, and did he expect any new sags; and something good like that is killed when they get some contestant who answers by quoting from the IF wall Street Journal. That explains why Red was a little too sharp when, after explaining the “Name Your Mate” rules, he asked, “Think you have any chance of winning?”

The little fellow snapped, “I will bet you ten thousand dollars I win,” which was an outrageous thing to say on the air and in front of all those people, who immediately began to hoot at Red and shout encouragement to the squirt. Red is always a good sport, and when the noise from the audience became so loud the show couldn’t go on, he agreed to the bet. (The lawyers have assured the agency such a bet is completely illegal, so there’s no

way Red can stick them or the sponsor for any part, of it.)

So Red went into the routine with a description of the crunchy blonde dish on the left, and the little man said, “That’s my wife.” Red whooped for joy, said, “Sorry, Buster,” and took the blindfold off the little fellow, who then went over to the blonde, kissed her, and they held hands while those four hundred other troublemakeis gave a touchdown roar.

(The little man’s story that he had merely dropped in on the show to keep an eye on his wife hasn’t been broken yet, and neither has the story of the heavy woman next to him that she was there because her brother-inlaw was in charge of putting the electric lights in the Froth sign.)

Red tried to argue a little bit in a friendly way, but w hen the audience became downright threatening, he wrote out a check right there in front of everybody. When Red called this morning, his manager was able to talk him out of stopping payment, in view of the certain adverse publicity. The statement by the little man in the morning papers that he intends to contribute the entire sum to the public library is regarded by Red and all his staff as purely inflammatory.

That was about all of the show, except, for the final commercial, in which the audience is allowed to join in singing the Froth song. When that moment came and the cameras turned on them, there wasn’t a note sung. Instead the entire four hundred stood up and began to surge toward the aisles.

Happily, fears that they were going to move to the stage and attack the performers were uncalled for. Instead they headed quietly for the exits. And while that certainly made a funny-looking commercial, there wasn’t a soul backstage who wasn’t relieved to see them go.