On a ‘Wing’ and a prayer

For 64 years Love on the Wing, a “romantic fantasy” radio show written by Verne Jay ’25 and his wife Helen, sat collecting dust. For 64 years the play by the writer who made his mark on radio and television programs such as The Shadow and Gunsmoke was lost to the ether.

But now, thanks to the twin modern miracles of podcasting and National Public Radio, the long-lost work of a man described ohso- accurately by his daughter as the BMOC (Big Man on Campus) at Cornell can be heard online.

Jay was every bit the man-about-Cornell during the Roaring Twenties. His list of extracurricular activities alone would have been enough to make a flapper’s knees buckle in a completely non-Charleston-related manner. Throw in some serious Hollywood-grade looks, his election as class president, and a penchant for theatrical stunts, and Jay had the world at his feet.

Starting in Jay’s sophomore year, he was chosen as Pep Club Leader, a position he used not only to hold pep rallies in King Chapel, but to spot them with theatrical “stunts.” He would send football players onstage skipping, dancing, and drinking tea from dainty cups, or would orchestrate an argument between two students speaking in Swedish, who would then inexplicably burst into song and dance while they were arguing.

Besides the five plays he starred in over his four years at Cornell, and the touring he did with the Tull Players from Cornell on the Redpath-Vawter Chautauqua Circuit during the summers (plus his Speech Arts Club presidency, editorship of the Royal Purple, and so on), he wrote a play in his senior year that won a national prize sponsored by the Huntington Repertory Theatre of Boston. Jay’s play, S. S. Incorporated, was then produced in little theatres up and down the East Coast.

In the early 1930s, Jay met Helen Goldstein while the two were acting in a play in Boston. Goldstein, a short, Jewish kindergarten teacher from Boston, entranced Jay, a 6-foot-2-inch Methodist writer from the Midwest. They were married in 1934 and had one child, Linda.

For much of the 1940s, the Jays lived and worked in New York, freelancing for radio programs including The Shadow, Mr. and Mrs. North, and Grand Central Station.

It was during this period that the pair wrote “Love on the Wing,” a story about two homing pigeons from Iowa named Hank and Jen, whose fidelity inspired the country during World War II.

Come 1947, Jay found himself on staff at WLW Radio-TV, the NBC affiliate in Cincinnati. There, in a chance encounter right out of, well, The Twilight Zone, Jay met Rod Serling, another WLW writer who later became writer and host of the spooky science-fiction series. Together they wrote the mystery A Walk in the Night, which aired on television in 1954.

During the 1950s Jay moved into television. He had mostly retired by 1960, but occasionally wrote for such shows as Colgate Theatre and The Doctor. He authored a Gunsmoke episode in 1966.

Verne Jay died in 1980. Helen passed away in 1986.

In 2007 Jay’s daughter Linda Jay Geldens, who has followed in her parents’ footsteps as a writer/ editor, found Love on the Wing in her files. Realizing it had never been produced, Geldens set out to have it made. Eventually, a public radio station in Tulsa, Okla., teamed with students from the University of Tulsa drama department to produce the over six-decade-old play, complete with an original musical score, and sound effects. Now, the show can be heard at personal.utulsa. edu/~frank-christel/lotw/ Welcome.html

In his memoirs, Jay wrote page after page about his Cornell experiences and stunts, and concluded: “My days at Cornell were some of the happiest of my life.”

For a man with such a full life, there’s no higher compliment.