A Chicago Holiday Classic–The Cinnamon Bear–Performed Live

"The Cinnamon Bear" will be performed live at the Oak Park Arms in honor of its 75th anniversary as a Chicago holiday classic.

Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, an all volunteer radio reenactment group, will perform “The Cinnamon Bear,” live at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 23, at the Oak Park Arms Retirement Community, 408 S. Oak Park Ave. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the extremely popular holiday radio program broadcast on WGN radio.

WGN radio first aired The Cinnamon Bear radio show in 1938, broadcasting an episode every night between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Cinnamon Bear, stole the hearts and imaginations of listeners across the country with the adventures of young Judy and Jimmy Barton.

Twins Judy and Jimmy are searching the attic for the Silver Star that belongs atop their Christmas tree when they meet a stuffed bear with shoe-button eyes and a green scarf – Paddy O’Cinnamon — who offers to help them. The Cinnamon Bear teaches the twins how to “de-grow” so they can fit through the attic tunnel and flies them off to the weird and wonderfully enchanted world of Maybeland.

With only a month to find their star, the clock is ticking for the trio. Along the way they encounter other memorable characters such as the Crazy Quilt Dragon (who tries repeatedly to steal the star for himself), the Wintergreen Witch, Fe Fo the Giant, and Queen Melissa.

Eventually Judy, Jimmy and the Cinnamon Bear make their way to the North Pole and the adventure ends on Christmas morning with a special visit from Santa Claus himself.

The show was recorded in just a few weeks by a group of merchants as an advertising promotion and was first broadcast in 1937. Its immense and immediate appeal has sealed its legacy as a traditional holiday classic.

In 1951 WGN-TV produced and aired a TV series of “The Cinnamon Bear.” Judy, Jimmy and all the other characters were transitioned to the screen as hand puppets and the transcription disc recordings of the radio program were used as a soundtrack. The series was aired on WGN-TV until its final season in 1954. It was sponsored by Wieboldt’s Department Store.

Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear Performers

Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear is composed of Chicagoland actors who share a common interest – to perform old time radio programs for the community. Each actor and technician donates talent and time for free.

Group founders, Ben Dooley and Pam Turlow, husband and wife, established a connection with The Oak Park Arms in September of 2002, when Turlow’s father became a resident. They’ve been volunteering/performing at The Arms ever since.

Dooley and Turlow’s group performs only once every two months due to the considerable challenges involved in creating a show. They browse through thousands of old time radio episodes, select a favorite, listen and type out the script. Many shows are not available in print and have to be painstakingly transcribed. Then they gather sound effect, rehearse and mount the show.

Sound effects were an important part of live radio shows, and the group performs them live. They have a real door for slamming, buzzers, a sound board and shoes for footsteps, and doorbells.

The shows are very popular with residents and people from the community. Some even bring their children and grandchildren to show them what entertainment was like before television.

“Since the entire cast donates its time and energy, we can only do shows six times a year,” Dooley said, “but we strive to make sure that it’s well worth the wait.”

The Oak Park Arms is a rental retirement community which provides independent and assisted living apartments and a full schedule of activities and services. Furnished apartments are also available for a short-term stay – a weekend, a week, a month or longer.

The radio show is free and open to the public. For more information, call Jill Wagner at 708-386-4040.


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