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Ceiling Unlimited (1942-1944)

Ceiling Unlimited


aka America - Ceiling Unlimited (1943 - 1944)


Sponsored by Lockheed Aircraft and Vega

Cast: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Ronald Colman, Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, Basil Rathbone, Edward G. Robinson, Ray Collins, Agnes Moorehead, Everett Sloane, Burgess Meredith

Ceiling Unlimited was the brainchild of Orson Welles to celebrate the American aviation industry and their efforts to help the Allies win WWII, focusing on the heroic exploits of aviators, planes and the people who built them.  Ceiling Unlimited was sponsored by airplane manufacturer Lockheed-Vega who, unlike other sponsors, put very little advertising on the program.  The press reported later that Lockheed-Vega had only one customer, the Allied governments, and therefore did not need to advertise on a radio program.

That's not to say that Lockheed-Vega didn't take an interest in the program - they certainly did.  Lockheed-Vega created a research department in Washington D.C. to scour the files of the U.S. War Department for story ideas for the program.  At the same time, Orson Welles was diving head first into the workings of the American aviation industry.  Orson spent time at the Lockheed-Vega factory in California, touring the facility, talking with workers, and eating lunches with executives to better understand the planes and the men and women who built them.

Welles was under a contract for thirteen episodes, which may have been renewed for more if it wasn't for the actions of a new advertising executive.  The executive, observing Welles dynamic and boisterous directorial style, asked Welles' business partner Jackson Leighter, "Mr. Leighter, how do you handle this man Welles?”  Although the executive had asked the question at almost a whisper amongst the flurry of activity before the program, Welles heard the question and stopped in his tracks.  The entire studio became deathly silent and Welles turned to the executive and boomed, "Young Man, you handle horses!”  With that Welles went to his office to gather his coat and hat and left.

Ceiling Unlimited continued with a series of hosts for the next 26 episodes, including James Hilton, Joseph Cotten, Robert Young, and Edward G. Robinson.  During this time Ceiling Unlimited retained its original format.

In August 1943 the program changed formats and names, becoming America - Ceiling Unlimited.   America - Ceiling Unlimited was more of a musical variety show, and was expanded to 30 minutes from Ceiling Unlimited's original 15 minutes.  There were still stories from the war, but now they were not exclusively about aviation.   America - Ceiling Unlimited was hosted by Welles' friend, Joseph Cotten.  Cotten later commented that after the first broadcast he was summoned to the control booth for a phone call.  On the other end of the receiver was none other than Groucho Marx, who congratulated Cotten and said that he enjoyed the program.  Marx added that he had also been completely sold by the commercial and asked, "Just where can I buy a P-38?", referring to the Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter plane featured in the program.

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