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.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Baby Snooks' Real Daddy: The Way It Wasn't, 2 February

1911---The babe was born Everett Freeman today, and he will become a respected, prolific, and successful writer and producer in old-time radio, film, and television, after launching his career as a teenager writing for The Saturday Evening Post.

But the question before the house, however, will be precisely how much input will Freeman (whose radio credits will also include the Eddie Cantor edition of The Chase and Sanborn Hour) prove to have had in forging a stage character in Fanny Brice's Follies repertoire into old-time radio's most memorably obnoxious brat.

We will have the New York Times to thank for raising the question in the first place, writing of his death from kidney failure in 1991, includes: "At age 18, in his native New York, Mr. Freeman was, his daughter said, the youngest regular contributor to the Saturday Evening Post. Later, in radio, he created the character Baby Snooks for Fanny Brice . . . "

Will the Times perhaps mistake "refine" or "adapt" for "create"? Several sources, including the charming e-newsletter Scoop, will trace what historian Gerald Nachman will call radio's original mean widdle kid to the George McManus comic strip, The Newlyweds, born in 1904, featuring a couple who raise an impish daughter known as Snookums. Eight years after the strip's birth, Fanny Brice will start including an impish little girl in her vaudeville performances, in sketches written by playwright Moss Hart---an imp with a parallel origin tied to a very early child star.

At the time there was a juvenile actress named Baby Peggy and she was very popular. Her hair was all curled and bleached and she was always in pink or blue. She looked like a strawberry ice cream soda. When I started to do Baby Snooks, I really was a baby, because when I think about Baby Snooks it's really the way I was when I was a kid. On stage, I made Snooks a caricature of Baby Peggy.

---Fanny Brice, interviewed not long before her unexpected death in 1951.

By the 1930s, Brice---whose imp character was also known as Babykins---begins to wear the pre-schoolgirl costume she has developed in vaudeville during spots in the Ziegfeld Follies Broadway shows, and she will be one of the Follies performers due to appear on radio in Ziegfeld Follies of the Air in 1936. The show's head writer and director, Philip Rapp (much later the brains behind The Bickersons), will join his writing partner David Freedman in refining a sketch by Robert Jones Burdette (from Chimes From a Jester's Bells) about a mischievious boy and his uncle, switching the boy to a girl and naming the girl Snooks.

Brice will find a radio niche independent of her stage work and move to Good News in the late 1930s, taking Rapp and Freedman with her to write Snooks routines and sketches, and continuing with the team when she moves to Maxwell House Coffee Time in 1940. By the time Snooks proves popular enough to hand her own show, in 1944, Rapp and Freedman will be joined formally by Everett Freeman, Bill Danch (numerous radio shows; later a writer for such cartoons as The Alvin Show and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids), Sid Dorfman (radio: Duffy's Tavern, The Eddie Cantor Show, The Jack Paar Show, The Sealtest Village Store; television: M*A*S*H, Alice, Three's Company), Jess Oppenheimer (the future producer/writer for Lucille Ball in radio and television), and Arthur Stander (radio: Amos 'n' Andy, Life with Luigi, The Jack Paar Show, The Sad Sack; television: I Married Joan, The Andy Griffith Show, others).

Brice, of course, will become an even bigger radio hit once The Baby Snooks Show launches under Freeman's production, with Hanley Stafford as Lancelot (Daddy) Higgins for the show's entire life. That Freeman will produce the show successfully enough will remain unquestioned; the show lives on air until Brice's death five days after suffering a brain hemorrhage, just months after she and Stafford make an unforgettable guest appearance, in character, on the Tallulah Bankhead-hosted The Big Show. That he "created" the character through which Brice will leave her most enduring entertainment imprint (Barbra Streisand's biographical but heavily fictionalised film portrayals notwithstanding, Snooks, under whichever name Brice will present her, may have been the only constant in her life) should not.

I've been playing to audiences for thirty years. Thirty years of hoofing, singing and clowning and I make a hit as a four year old kid. And the audience didn't even see me.

---Brice, who will try and fail to bring Snooks to television*.

But Freeman will give Brice---who preferred to have her scripts printed thrice their normal sizes rather than don glasses and spoil the Snooks image, even in rehearsals---one of her more memorable elegaic recollections recollections, an indication of just how professional the troubled singer/dancer/comedienne genuinely was.

While she was on the air, she was Baby Snooks. And after the show, for an hour after the show, she was still Baby Snooks. The Snooks voice disappeared, of course, but the Snooks temperament, thinking, actions, were all there.

---Everett Freeman, on The Raleigh Cigarette Program.

I can't do a show until it's on the air, kid. Don't worry.

---Brice to Freeman, who fretted because she never delivered a credible rehearsal performance.

Freeman will, however, become a prolific and respected film writer and producer, with credits merely beginning with The Glass Bottom Boat, You Can't Cheat an Honest Man, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (for which he adapted a screenplay from the classic Thurber story).

He will also have the major hand in fashioning one of infant-to-toddling television's more memorable derivatives of the Great Gildersleeve array: a suave, single attorney (John Forsythe) becoming the unexpected guardian of his orphaned niece (Noreen Corcoran), in a show that will become the only one in television history to be carried on all three original major networks in different seasons during its five year life---Bachelor Father.


1890: HE FIRST PLAYS IN PEORIA . . . --- . . . and, his first known punch line is the mighty cry at the doctor's slap: Charles Correll, the co-creator/co-writer/co-star of old-time radio titan Amos 'n' Andy, is born.

He will work as a labourer and a silent movie house pianist as a young adult, before he's sent to North Carolina to stage a local lodge hall show. That's where he will meet Freeman Gosden, with whom he becomes fast enough friends that the two men become roommates as well as collaborators.

They will stage amateur acts for six years and become song-and-dance men otherwise (Correll at the piano, Gosden with a ukulele), before landing a weekly late-night slot on a small Chicago-area radio station. The Chicago Tribune will hear them and bring them to the larger station they happen to own, WGN . . . where the two white partners develop a character comedy about two black small business partners that becomes Sam 'n' Henry in 1925.

For a pair who think of radio as nothing more than a step toward the vaudeville bigtime, Correll and Gosden will make a local hit out of Sam 'n' Henry. They will learn the hard way, two years later, that they can't take it with them---the name, anyway---when they ask the Trib to let them record and syndicate the show to a thirty-five station chain. They move to WMAQ as Jim 'n' Charley and, later, Tom 'n' Harry, before finally settling for the name under which they will become a national phenomenon.

When a New York newspaper and a Chicago advertising executive (William Benton) notice the show, the ad exec will decide they're just what the dentist ordered for launching Pepsodent toothpaste. His superior, Albert Lasker, convinces NBC likewise---and Amos 'n' Andy go network 29 August 1929, with Correll and Gosden earning princely salaries ($50,000 a year).

Charlie Correll was more down-to-earth and blue-collar (than his partner Freeman Gosden)---he'd been a bricklayer---and much easier to talk to.

---Hal Kanter, a writer on the later, weekly half hour variety-comedy version of the show.

We weren't kidding race. We were kidding people---human nature---things that happened to anybody and everybody. Our characters depicted cross-sections of life. Everybody knew a wheeler-dealer like the Kingfish, living off his wits; or a blustering Andy, who never learned from experience. I knew a lot of people like that---they were relatives of mine.

---Charles Correll, in 1972, recalling debates over whether two white men playing two black men was or wasn't racially demeaning.

1946: "ANIMAL, MINERAL, OR VEGETABLE?"---Already a parlour game-cum-weary dismissal of the excessively or annoyingly inquisitive who didn't get it the first time ("I'm not in the mood for twenty questions from you!"), Twenty Questions---adapted for old-time radio by well-rated New York (WOR) newscaster Fred Van Deventer and hosted by sportscaster Bill Slater---premieres on Mutual.

Listeners will send panelists subjects to be guessed within the space of twenty questions---after they were told whether it was "animal, mineral, or vegetable," a phrase that went almost immediately into the lexicon---with Winston Churchill's stogie thought to be the most popularly-submitted subject, and listeners stumping the panel winning lifetime subscriptions to Pageant magazine.

The show's panelists will include Van Deventer and his wife Florence Binard, who'd been playing the game at home long before adapting it to radio; their children, Bobby (who went by Bobby McGuire on the air) and Nancy; and, Herb Polesie. The mystery voice chores---giving the answer to the home audience---will be handled by Jack Irish, Bruce Elliott, and Frank Waldecker, the latter also serving as the show's announcer.

Ronson Lighters sponsors the show through 1951, when Wildroot Cream Oil takes the show.

The cast will remain in place for the most part until Slater is succeeded in 1953 by Jay Jackson, who stays with it until its 1954 finish. Bobby Van Deventer's high school graduation and enrollment in Duke University compelled him to ask a friend, Johnny McPhee, to take his place, McPhee attending Princeton and thus available for the show. McPhee's own graduation compelled his succession by Dick Harrison, who stayed until Van Demeter (McGuire) returned at age 22 and stayed until the end of the show's life.

Twenty Questions will also have a television life from 1949-1955.

Jay Jackson will become a familiar if obscure memory for television fans, however, when he plays fictitious quiz show host Herb Norris in one of the most memorable of the "Original 39" episodes of The Honeymooners---when nervous Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason), the man who "brives a dus," goes for broke to win "The $99,000 Answer."


MY FRIEND IRMA: THE RED HEAD (CBS, 1948)---She's the new girl in the office of Jane's (Cathy Lewis) boss and would-be love (Leif Erickson), and she has Jane seeing enough red and green to ponder quitting. Irma: Marie Wilson. Al: John Brown. Mrs. O'Reilly: Gloria Gordon. Professor Kropotkin: Hans Conreid. Writer: Parke Levy.

QUIET, PLEASE: THE PATHETIC FALLACY (MUTUAL, 1948)---A scientist (Ernest Chappell, who also narrates) may assure the press a huge computer doesn't really think in spite of its vast electronic brain, but the computer (voice: Vicki Vola) develops other ideas. Alice: Charita Bauer. Sandy: Michael Fitzmaurice. Writer: Wyllis Cooper.

:DR. KILDARE: A STRANGE ALLERGY (SYNDICATED, 1951)---A series of allergies that begin on Monday, end on Friday, have weird timing, and bear obscure enough roots, compels Kildare (Lew Ayers) to consider suggesting his wealthy, influential patient look elsewhere for relief---risking the displeasure of a slightly awestruck board and Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore). Additional cast: Virginia Gregg, Ted Osborne, Georgia Ellis, Wilms Herbert, Margie List. Announcer: Dick Joy. Writer: Paul Franklin.

BOB & RAY PRESENT THE CBS RADIO NETWORK: AUDIENCE QUESTIONS (YOUR GUESS IS AS GOOD AS OURS, 1960)---Approached and answered in their customary style of quiet absurdity. Writers, and we use the term only somewhat loosely: Bob Elliott, Ray Goulding.


1888---Frank Lloyd (director: Screen Guild Theater), Glasgow, Scotland.
1893---Len Doyle (actor: Mr. District Attorney), Toledo, Ohio.
1898---William Costello (actor: Betty Boop Fables), Rhode Island.
1899---Benny Rubin (actor/comedian: The Jack Benny Program, Benny Rubin's Whirligig Revue), Boston.
1901---Jascha Heifetz (violin virtuoso: The Bell Telephone Hour), Vilnius, Lithuania.
1912---Stefan Schnabel (actor: Joyce Jordan, Girl Intern/Joyce Jordan, M.D.), Berlin.
1915---Frank Telford (producer: This Is Our Enemy), unknown.
1923---Bonita Granville (actress: Continental Celebrity Club, Stars Over Hollywood), Chicago; Haleloke Kahuaolapus (singer: Arthur Godfrey Time), Hilo, Hawaii.

*---Brice's sole known television appearance took place on CBS's Popsicle Parade of Stars in 1950. Viewers simply could not reconcile the fiftysomething performer to the six-year-old girl's outfit she wore in character . . . even though Brice had done Baby Snooks on live radio, in front of studio audiences, in similar costume---a throwback to her vaudeville and burlesque years---for two decades.


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