Jeff Kallman's excellent The Easy Ace: A Journal of Classic Radio
is a wonderful place to spend hours on end, rediscovering the Golden Age of Radio
as it's meant to be discovered and celebrated. Article after article
is filled with a wonderful new vignette about Golden Age Radio History.
---The Digital Deli Online.

[I]n his matchless on-this-day approach to chronicling “yesteryear,”
he easily aces out a less organized mind like mine,
which promptly lapsed into a more idiosyncratic mode of relating the past.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

"You Were Expecting Maybe Emperor Shapirohito?" The Way It Was, 4 March

1903---The brilliant dialect comedienne who becomes immortal as "Allen's Alley's" tartly dreamy, malaprop-prone Jewish housewife, Pansy Nussbaum, is born today in Odessa, Ukraine.

Minerva Pious will join and become a mainstay of Fred Allen's Mighty Allen Art Players in the 1930s, appearing in his news spoofs on The Salad Bowl Revue, Town Hall Tonight, Hour of Smiles, and Texaco Star Theater, as well as the sketches that usually occupied the final quarter of those hour-long shows.

In due course, however, she knits nearly all her news spoof spots into the single presence of Mrs. Nussbaum, when Allen refines the news spoofs into the continuing "Allen's Alley" segments beginning in 1942. Along with Parker Fennelly's dry New England farmer Titus Moody, Minerva Pious's Mrs. Nussbaum will stay in the Alley for its entire life.

Customarily (but not exclusively), hers will be the third door on which Allen will knock during his weekly jaunts to the Alley, behind Senator Beauregard Claghorn (announcer Kenny Delmar) and Titus Moody (it should be noted that Parker Fennelly himself hailed from New England) but ahead of Falstaff Openshaw (Alan Reed) and, later, Ajax Cassidy (Peter Donald).

Mrs. Nussbaum's trademark reply to Allen's weekly knock ("Nuuuuuuuu?"---Yiddish for "Hello") and cheery comebacks to Allen's "Ahhh, Mrs. Nussbaum"---You were expecting maybe Cecil B. Schlemeil?/You were expecting maybe Dinah Schnorra?/You were expecting maybe Emperor Shapirohito?/You were expecting maybe Weinstein Churchill?---will become as familiar to "Allen's Alley" fans as Claghorn's blustery Southern fries, Moody's dry New England fatalism, Openshaw's mock verse pomposity, and Cassidy's brougue's gallery.

More often than not, her dialogues while answering the "Allen's Alley" question of the week involve a few gags at the expense of her rarely-heard husband, Pierre. At least, he was rarely if ever heard once his wife became an "Alley" regular. (Often forgotten: the earlier "Allen's Alley" sketches featured Mr. Nussbaum, with Pious taking other roles in the sketches until she secured the Mrs.' permanent place.)

FRED ALLEN: Let's try this next door here.
SFX: (Knocking; door opens.)
FRED: Ahhhh, Mrs. Nussbaum!
PANSY: You were expecting maybe Hoagie Carbuncle?
FRED: Tell me, Mrs. M, do you have trouble sleeping?
PANSY: Who could sleep? Every night with his dreaming, mine husband Pierre is waking me up.
FRED: He dreams, huh?
PANSY: Always he's different things.
FRED: Dreams he's different things? How do you mean?
PANSY: One night, Pierre is dreaming he is the Lone Stranger.
FRED: Yeah?
PANSY: All night long, he is yelling, "Hi-ho Silver!"
FRED: "Hi-ho Silver," huh?
PANSY: Upstairs is living a Mrs. Silver.
FRED: Yeah?
PANSY: All night, she is yelling back, "Hi-ho Nussbaum!"
FRED: I see.
PANSY: One night, Pierre is dreaming he is an automobile, a roadster.
FRED: A roadster?
PANSY: In his pajamas, Pierre is sleeping with the top down.
FRED: Oh, my.
PANSY: Once, he is dreaming he is an Alka-Seltzer.
FRED: An Alka-Seltzer?
PANSY: All night, Pierre is fizzing.
FRED: No wonder you can't sleep.
PANSY: Last night, he should drop dead.

Pious's Mrs. Nussbaum will become popular enough that she receives invitations to play the character as a guest role on such other old-time radio shows as The Jack Benny Program (inviting Benny and company to her new restaurant: "We feature soft lights and hard salami") and Duffy's Tavern (on which Mrs. Nussbaum sought marital counsel from real-life radio marital counselor John J. Anthony).

Harry Tugend, who wrote for Fred, knew most of [the eventual "Allen's Alley" regulars] and that's how they got to work on the show. Minnie---Minerva Pious---was one of the people Harry Tugend knew, from acting around at parties in the Village. Minnie could do a million things . . . Nice lady. She had a physical affliction---she had a bad hip, a severe limp. She was very concerned about television; she never worked very much. But radio was fine.

---Bob Weisskopf, a writer on The Fred Allen Show, to Joshua R. Young, for The Laugh Crafters. (Beverly Hills: Past Time Publishing, 1999.)

Interestingly enough, [the four stereotypical "Allen's Alley" regulars] were never criticised as being anti-Southern, anti-Semitic, anti-New England, or anti-Irish. The warmth and good humour with which they were presented made them acceptable even to the most sensitive listeners.

---Frank Buxton and Bill Owen, The Big Broadcast 1920-1950. (New York: Avon Books, 1970.)

Allen's approach to some social issues is not made more digestible because of Allen's spicing, but as long as he keeps up the kind of fun he launched over NBC Sundays at 8:30, I'll continue to listen anyway.

---The New Republic, mid-to-late 1940s.

Her hip notwithstanding, Pious in due course will do some television work (in The Colgate Comedy Hour and The Chevrolet Television Theatre and, briefly, the soap opera The Edge of Night as a landlady), and a few small film roles---including bringing Mrs. Nussbaum to film in the Fred Allen vehicle It's In the Bag.

Radio will prove her true calling, however; in addition to her long tenure in the Allen company, she will appear in plays by Norman Corwin for Columbia Workshop, as well as the serial comedy-drama The Goldbergs, the pure soap Life Can Be Beautiful, and the barbed satire The Henry Morgan Show. But her most enduring legacy will be behind the third door in "Allen's Alley."

FRED ALLEN: Well, let's try this next door.
SFX: (knocking; door opens)
FRED: Ahhh, Mrs. Nussbaum!
PANSY: You were expecting maybe Edward Everett Horowitz?
FRED: Tell me, Mrs. M---what about this telephone anniversary?
PANSY: Thanks to the telephone, today I am Mrs. Pierre Nussbaum.
FRED: Really?
PANSY: When I am a young girl, footloose and fancy---
FRED: Yeah?
PANSY: ---mine maiden name is Pom-Pom Schwartz.
FRED: Pom-Pom Schwartz?
PANSY: Also, I'm having one sister, Caress.
FRED: (chuckles) Caress Schwartz?
PANSY: Yes. She is marrying Skizzy Mandelbaum.
FRED: Skizzy, huh?
PANSY: Skizzy is doing very well. A pickle salesman. Specialising in odd lots by appointment.
FRED: Oh. Your sister married, but you couldn't get a boyfriend, huh?
PANSY: No. I am washing mine dainties in Lox.
FRED: Uh-huh.
PANSY: Also I am brushing with Pepsodent the teeth.
FRED: That didn't help?
PANSY: I am still tormidium.
FRED: Oh. What about---what about the telephone?
PANSY: One Halloween night, I am sitting home alone, bobbing in sour cream for red feet---
FRED: Yes?
PANSY: ---the phone is ringing---
FRED: Uh-huh.
PANSY: ---I am saying, "Hello"---
FRED: Hello.
PANSY: ---a voice is saying, "Cookie, vill you marry me?"
FRED: And you?
PANSY: I am saying, "Positively!" The next day, I am a bride, and yoiks away to Niagara Falls!
FRED: And that is why you say---
PANSY: Thanks to the telephone company, today I am Mrs. Pierre Nussbaum.
FRED: But why be so grateful to the telephone company?
PANSY: Well, the night Pierre is calling and proposing---
FRED: Yeah?
PANSY: ---they are giving him a wrong number!

---From The Fred Allen Show, 23 June 1946.


1927---Ten days after the Radio Act of 1927 was signed by President Calvin Coolidge, the new Federal Radio Commission meets for the first time.

But its powers over radio broadcasting at the outset are minimal at best: the Radio Act granted the new body no official censorship power beyond considering programming when renewing radio licences, though the Act barred programming that included "obscene, indecent, or profane language."

The Act's only mention of radio networks, moreover, was its grant that the FRC should "have the authority to make special regulations applicable to stations engaged in chain broadcasting." The Act didn't grant the FRC power to make rules regulating advertising and required only that advertisers identify themselves.


1946: WHAT HAPPENED TO THE NEIGHBOURHOOD THEATER?---Clem Kadiddlehopper is a little taken aback when he can't get into the local movie house into which he sneaks regularly, on tonight's edition of The Raleigh Cigarette Program with Red Skelton. (NBC.)

Cast: Anita Ellis, Verna Felton, GeGe Pearson, Lurene Tuttle. Writers: Jack Douglas, Ben Freedman, Johnny Murray, Larry Rhine.

1950: SAVING MARJORIE FROM HER LOVER---First, sponsor Scott (Gale Gordon) dresses down the clueless band (once again); then, he wants Phil (Harris), Alice (Faye), and Remley (Elliott Lewis) to pry his daughter (Louise Erickson) from the older man she's been dating. The fun begins when, somehow, obnoxious grocery boy Julius (Walter Tetley) attracts her attention---and affection, on tonight's edition of The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show. (NBC.)

Little Alice: Jeanine Roos. Phyllis: Ann Whitfield. Willie: Robert North. Writers: Ray Singer, Dick Chevillat.


1882---Eustace Wyatt (actor: Our Gal Sunday), Bath, Somerset, U.K.
1891---Chic Johnson (comedian: Olsen and Johnson; The Rudy Vallee Show), Chicago.
1893---Dorothy Sands (actress: Betty Cameron; Mary Noble, Backstage Wife), Cambridge, Massachussetts.
1900---Sam Hearn (comedian: The Jack Benny Program), Jersey City, New Jersey.


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