Charlie McCarthy Comedy Old Time Radio

Ventriloquism in Old Time Radio: Who’s the Dummy?

Ventriloquism is an old and respected form of stagecraft, closely related to stage magic. And like magic, which depends on simple misdirection, ventriloquism is a skill that can be learned. One of the great vaudeville ventriloquists, The Great Lester, was also known as a great teacher of ventriloquism. In fact, it was probably one of The Great Lester’s pamphlets that Edgar Bergen used to begin learning the art.
Like stage magic, ventriloquism, or more precisely, the disbelief in ventriloquism, is a popular plot device for mystery and thriller writers. The device goes something like this: there is no way the ventriloquist can be as talented as he appears, so instead of a wooden dummy he must have the assistance of a midget or dwarf. This device is one that probably wouldn’t work in live action movies or TV. It would just be too hard for a midget to make a convincing ventriloquist’s dummy. So this is another example of the power of radio drama in an audience’s suspension of disbelief.
There are quite a few ways the plot device can be used. In both The Cisco Kid and Blackstone the Magician the ventriloquist and the dummy/midget work together to create alibi’s for robbery and even murder. Wyllis Cooper‘s Quiet, Please uses the plot device for a con-game which leads to murder in “Three Thousand Words”. Suspense treats us to a diabolical midget/dummy as they introduce actor DeForest Kelly (Star Trek’s “Dr McCoy”) in “Flesh Peddler”.
As dark as these stories are, they really are only a reflection of the real fun of ventriloquism on the radio. Comic ventriloquism depends on the wit of the ventriloquist as much as his skill at speaking without moving his lips.
The standard for radio ventriloquist acts is Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Bergen wasn’t always a technically great ventriloquist (Charlie McCarthy would often chide him about moving his lips). But it was Bergen’s humor and interaction with his dummies that made him successful. There were listeners who would see the act live for the first time who would be surprised to find out that Charlie McCarthy was actually a puppet.
As a dummy, Charlie could get away with saying things that a real actor never could. He could, and did go toe to toe with the likes of W.C. Fields and Groucho Marx, and would flirt shamelessly with the pretty girls and movie goddesses who would be guests on the program.

Charlie: May I have a kiss good-bye?
Pretty Girl: Well, I can’t see any harm in that!
Charlie: Oh, I wish you could. A harmless kiss doesn’t sound very thrilling!
(Bonus: Try to say “Bottle of Beer” without moving your lips. If you get anything except “Gottle of Gear”, you may be the next great ventriloquist star!)
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Charlie McCarthy Comedy Edward Bergen Great Gildersleeve Mae West Old Time Radio

Ba-da-boom, It’s Mae West!

Before the sexual revolution of the 1960s, there was Mae West. The entertaining, sometimes mischievous, always provocative and controversial Broadway performer and film star began her career in vaudeville. Born Mary Jane West in Brooklyn, New York on August 17, 1893, West made her professional debut in 1907 at the age of fourteen. In 1911, she landed a role in a Broadway play and by 1918; she was the cover girl for the Evârybody Shimmies Now sheet music.

Shortly after her Broadway success, West began to write and direct her own plays. Her sexually charged and sexually themed plays captivated audiences. In 1927, she was arrested for the production of her play entitled, Sex. Community leaders were outraged by her sexual openness and the content of the play. She was charged with corrupting morals and sentenced to 10 days in jail. However, she never allowed the jail sentence to interfere with or silence her views on sexuality.

Mae West later found success in films, where she appeared alongside such notable actors as Cary Grant, W.C. Fields, George Raft and Jimmy Stewart.

Mae West‘s playful sexual attitude hit the old time radio airwaves in a 1937 Chase and Sanborn Hour broadcast. She participated in a skit with Edgar Bergen and in another that featured Don Ameche. Unfortunately, her use of sexual innuendo led to a national uproar. Religious groups, political organizations and individual listeners accused the Chase and Sanborn Coffee company of promoting obscenity. Mae West was held responsible and banned from radio.

Twelve years passed, before West returned to the air in a 1950 broadcast of The Chesterfield Supper Club. Throughout her life, Mae West continued to write, act and promote sexual openness. West was well known for numerous much younger suitors and her vocal support of gay rights. Mae West died on November 22, 1980 at the age of 87.

Comedy Fibber McGee and Molly Gale Gordon July 4 Old Time Radio Patriotic Propaganda

Patriotic Radio, How Fibber Won the War

The wave of American Patriotism during the Second World War is a phenomenon that may seem foreign to modern audiences. But this genuine feeling of involvement in the War was nearly universal.

A good example of this is the popular program, Fibber McGee And Molly. Fibber and Molly were characters created by Jim and Marian Jordan, a couple who were in Vaudeville before coming to the radio. The success of their show was due not only to their terrific comedic showmanship, but the work of their very talented writer, Don Quinn. The program revolved around Fibber, a ?professional busy-body?, his loving and long suffering wife, and Fibber’s interactions with their neighbors. Quinn was a genius at working the sponsor’s message into comedy of the program, and thus guaranteed the program a long and successful run (1935-1959).

The first broadcast after the attack on Pearl Harbor (Dec 9, 1941) opens with a letter from the sponsor (S.C. Johnson Wax) expressing solidarity with the Nation in a time of crisis, and a promise that the show would continue in the name of National Morale.

Writer Quinn was incredibly successful at incorporating messages from the Office of War Information into the program. Even before Pearl Harbor the characters took time to collect games and books for the entertainment of soldiers at the local Army camp. Scrap drives were featured, along with subtle messages about the importance of rationing. The show had enough success spreading this home-front propaganda that they were given an ?exclusive? opportunity to plug recruitment for the Merchant Marine. The day following the broadcast was the busiest recruiting day experienced by the Merchant Marine Service.

The War touched the company on a personal level, just as it had for so many in the country. Gale Gordon, who played Mayor LaTrivia, was drafted near the end of 1943. although the character was usually left befuddled after his exchanges with Fibber, on his last show before leaving for the Coast Guard (when Gordon was drafted, naturally LaTrivia was as well) he managed to get in the last word:
“Well for heaven’s sake, McGee, stop your griping. You’re lucky you’ve got a car at all. Well, excuse me, McGee, but when I get over to Africa or Australia or wherever they send me, I’ll be thinking of you, McGee, and all you’re suffering… Goodbye, Mrs. McGee. I’ll see you when this is over…. And McGee, when you drive, if you get up to thirty-five miles an hour, think of somebody who didn’t get a lifeboat. Goodbye. [Exit LaTrivia under loud applause.]

We are very proud to include Fibber McGee and Molly in our collection of examples of Patriotic Radio Programs.

Comedy Detective Radio Dragnet Father Knows Best Old Time Radio

Old Time Radio Father’s Day Shows

Mom gets all the credit.

Maybe that’s fair; she had the really tough part for the first nine months of the project. It seems like Dad is there mostly for the fun parts. Learning to ride a bike, going to your first ball game, teaching you how to make “fart noises” with your arm-pit…

The emotional ties that go along with fatherhood are just different from those to Mom. Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, WA, is credited with the idea of the Father’s Day Holiday. She got the idea while listening to a sermon on Mother’s Day, for which neck-tie manufacturers are eternally grateful. But if Father’s get the second holiday, they at least get to make a bit more fun out of it. Mother’s Day is a day for flowers and breakfast in bed. Father’s Day is an excuse to get some really good steaks for the summer’s first serious grilling session. After all, Father Knows Best!

If you don’t believe us, just ask Robert Young. Probably everyone wishes they had a Dad as understanding as Jim Anderson in Father Knows Best. Here again we have a wise and ever patient mother along with a son bordering on the wise-acre phase and two daughters who have Dad wrapped around their little fingers. It is traditional in radio and television sit-coms for the kids to be cleverer than Dad. This convention isn’t as abused in Father Knows Best as it is in other programs, but Jim Anderson does get fed a plate of humility on a few occasions. In the episode featured in our Father’s Day Special he returns to a house full of the ordinary emergencies, but they are unimportant in comparison to how good his golf game is going. And how good it will be when he gets into the championship round. Hopefully his pride won’t get the best of him, which it might. Who knows what could happen when he hurts his back the night before the semi-finals.

Not all Father’s can be as ideal as the ones we find in the radio sit-coms. And it should be no surprise that Sgt Joe Friday runs across some of the worst. We know that Friday will have no sympathy for someone who is breaking the law, but he seems to come close on this one; after all, the guy is just trying to get a present for his daughter. Friday almost breaks, until the guy complains- how could they declare me an unfit parent. Joe Friday oozes with irony when he points out that the crooks actions had just proved the declaration correct.

We hope you get a good tie this year. While you are waiting for the charcoal to get hot, turn on the radio and enjoy some of our favorite Father’s Day selections.

Comedy Old Time Radio Western

Western Spoofs

Why did the Chicken cross the Road? Because the Family across the Street is listening to Old Time Western Radio Programs?

Judging by the Laughter, it is more likely that they are listening to one of the many Western Spoofs played by some of Radio’s Greatest Comedians!

The West is a place where it doesn’t pay to take yourself too seriously. Cowboy’s laughing at themselves is a staple of the Western Musical Variety Shows like Melody Ranch, 10-2-4 Ranch, and The Hollywood Barndance. But when a professional comedian gets in touch with his “Western Side” it is best to hide the women and chickens!

Jack Benny made several episodes around his Western alter-ego, “Buck Benny.” Red Skelton made an interesting if off-beat Cowboy, but who could be a more off-beat Cowboy than New England sour-puss Fred Allen. And as for Edgar Bergen– wasn’t one of Charlie McCarthy’s uncles a cactus after all?

Comedy Debut Episode

70 Years ago today, The Great Gildersleeve Audition Episode was recorded…

The Great Gildersleeve old time radio show was centered on Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve. Gildersleeve (the Great Man himself) came from the Wistful Vista of Fibber McGee and Molly. The Great Gildersleeve receives a lot of notice for being the first successful “Spin-off” program, where a character from one show leaves and a new program is built around them.  When he got his own show it enjoyed almost as much success as its parent program, although it was really a much different type of program.

Here is the debut The Great Gildersleeve episode which was recorded 70 years ago today, starring Harold Peary in his own series:

Amos and Andy Comedy Detective Radio Dr Christian Dragnet Jack Webb Mother's Day Old Time Radio

Happy Mothers Day, Even to Mother in Law

“Never depend on the glory of the Morning or the Smiles of your Mother In Law.”

-Japanese proverb

In the world of Old Time Radio,  Amos ‘n’ Andy Kingfish’s Mother in law comes to stay with him when Sapphire goes to Chicago, “That’s like trading Dracula for Frankenstein!”

Mother in Law ShamingYou have to wonder if it counts as returning from a pleasure trip when you come home after taking your Mother in Law to the airport…

Mother in Laws may not be the villain in your favorite Soap Opera, but they are not always a wife’s, or a wife-to-be’s. Just ask Dr. Christian’s young friend Wilma; how many times will her wedding be postponed by Howard’s mother getting sick? Maybe the Vaseline Hair Tonic will make life better in River Bend.

Behind every successful man is a proud wife. and behind her is a surprised Mother in Law!

George sure knows that feeling on The Burns and Allen Show. Gracie’s mother just isn’t pleased because George is so far from being handy. If only he could show her that he can fix things she would go back to San Francisco. If only faucet wouldn’t run when the doorbell is rung.

One man sadly told how he hadn’t talked to his mother in law for eight months. He didn’t want to interrupt her.

When Sgt Joe Friday has to investigate the “Mother in Law Murder” on Dragnet is it any wonder that the Daughter in law is the primary suspect- who could blame her?


Comedy Garry Moore Jimmy Durante Old Time Radio

Jimmy Durante and Garry Moore premiered on radio after Lou Costello’s heart attack, 3-25-1943

Today in 1943, Jimmy Durante and Garry Moore premiered on network radio. The pair replaced the popular Abbott and Costello following Lou Costello’s heart attack. Durante and Moore stayed on the air for four years.

Enjoy this broadcast of “Garry’s 30th Birthday”:
Garry’s 30th Birthday

Atomic Radio Comedy Duffy's Tavern Fibber McGee and Molly Old Time Radio

What Good is an Atom if you can’t Laugh at It?

There is a story told around the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Eastern Washington State. Hanford was the site were much of the plutonium used in America’s Cold War Arsenal, the Fat Man bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, and the first nuclear device tested at the Trinity, New Mexico. After the end of the Second World War, when some of the information about the Manhattan Project became public, a local Benton County Farmer casually drove up to the gate of the Hanford Reservation. The confused Guard walked up to the dirty pickup truck. The farmer asked the young man if they had any extra plutonium lying around. He had cleared some oak trees, and he could use some help to blow up the stumps!

The character that Bob Hope played in the NBC documentary series The Quick and the Dead was an Everyman who was trying to understand the wonders and dangers of the dawning Atomic Age. Producer Fred Friendly had his work cut out to make such a complicated subject understandable.

For the average American, the only things that they could be sure of about Atomic Power was that it was:

  1. Very Expensive
  2. Full of Complicated Secrets
  3. Somehow it had the potential to wipe out all life on the planet, it was in the hands of our enemy as well as our own.

Archie the Bartender at Duffy’s Tavern, in the episode broadcast on Dec 21, 1951, wants to do his part. His good, if disreputable, friend comes to him with a proposition. It is well known that the Atom has been split, but here in the friend’s box are the two halves of that Atom!

Fibber McGee and Molly does their part as well. In the Friday night broadcast, Aug 13, 1954, Fibber spies a Geiger Counter in the store window. After Molly realizes that it isn’t really for counting Geigers, the clerk explains that the Counter is used to locate Uranium Ore, which the Government will pay a big bonus for if any is found, in addition to what the ore is worth. The dollar signs immediately begin to stack up in Fibber’s head, as a plot is hatched to find his fortune in the desert near Moab Utah.

Enjoy this episode from 1954 and laugh with Fibber as the antic ensue when he buys a Geiger counter:

Comedy Jane Russell Obituary Old Time Radio

Hollywood sex symbol dies: Jane Russell remembered in radio…

Primarily known as a Movie Actress and singer, Jane Russell made several appearances on Old Time Radio. She had been a favored pin-up girl with GI’s, but unlike contemporaries like Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe, Ms. Russell‘s personal life remained unstained by scandal.

Russell signed a seven year movie contract with Howard Hughes in 1940. The Hughes publicity machine went into full operation and made her a star before her first picture was completed. Her hourglass figure was well suited to photos featuring low-cut costumes and swimsuits, making her a pin-up favorite. In her first film, The Outlaw, Hughes made every effort to show off her figure. He went as far as having a specialized underwire bra made for her, but she later claimed to have not worn it. Completed in 1941, The Outlaw was held from release until 1943 because of trouble with the censors.

In 1948 she made The Paleface with Bob Hope. She would make several radio appearances with Hope on Command Performance and other USO related projects. Bob Hope once introduced her as “the Two and Only Jane Russell.”

Russell appeared opposite Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953. Although the film is considered Monroe’s iconic performance, critics took special notice of Russell’s down-to-earth, sharp-witted performance.

Jane Russell would become a well known spokesperson for the Playtex 18-Hour Bra. She remained active through her later years. Ms Russell passed away on Feb 28, 2011, of a respiratory related illness. She was 89 years old.

Jane Russell’s Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is at 6850 Hollywood Blvd.