There will be a lot written about the lasting importance of “Gilligan’s Island” and the cultural contributions of “The Brady Bunch“, those of us who celebrate Old Time Radio would like to remember Schwartz for his contributions to Radio, and especially AFRS.
Sherwood Schwartz came to southern California from New York pursuing his Masters Degree in Biology. His older brother Al was working on Bob Hope’s radio show and asked Sherwood to contribute some jokes. Hope liked the jokes and used them on the show for big laughs.”Then he asked me to join his writing staff. I was faced with a major decision — writing comedy or starving to death while I cured those diseases. I made a quick career change.”
WWII was a shock for the whole Nation. Schwartz was touring Army Camps with Bob Hope and having dinner with Generals one week then was drafted and in basic training as a buck private two weeks later. Of course he tried be assigned to his civilian specialty, but did not receive orders to the Armed Forces Radio Service until the day his unit was to ship out for Alaska. “Considering what I knew about myself as a fighting man with a rifle shooting at somebody, anything I could do at a typewriter would be better.”
AFRS in Hollywood was a bizarre place. It was home to some of Hollywood’s best creative talent, but it was supposed to be a Military organization. The Mission required some concession to “Creative Chaos”, but there were more than a few times that Military order tried to sway things.
One regular Army Captain who had been assigned to AFRS insisted that there be more military order among the Enlisted personnel, many of whom were writers and producers who had been drafted. He insisted that there be a Roll Call and Drill at 0600 every morning. Schwartz would later comment that trying to write jokes at such an early hour was “a little much”, so after roll call the writers would go out to breakfast and return to work at a reasonable hour. This upset the Captain, who ordered that the Enlisted men be at there desks immediately after roll call. When he was ignored he ordered the men to change into fatigues and go out to the Officer’s Parking Lot to pull weeds. When the senior AFRS Officer’s arrived for work they asked who was doing the writing work, only to be told that the writers were pulling weeds as punishment. The commanding officer then asked the Captain: “There are men in the Army whose specialty is pulling weeds, will you punish them by making them write jokes?”
Schwartz would write for Command Performance, GI Journal, and many other AFRS programs. After the War he was approached several times to write a program about his experiences at AFRS, Schwartz held little illusions of the over-all importance of the radio service. AFRS was not going to win the War, although it may have brought some help and laughter to those who were. “Whether we write a better or worse joke for ‘Command Performance’ or whether Bob Hope does it or some lesser known person does it, is not earth shaking.”
Schwartz’s work may or may not have won the war, but his experiences at AFRS very likely helped to shape his sense of irony. And certainly thousands of G.I.s owe him at least a small debt for the laughter he brought during hard times.
Sherwood Schwartz is honored with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6541 Hollywood Blvd. Good Night, Sherwood Schwartz.