THE EDGAR BERGEN AND CHARLIE McCARTHY SHOW:
AN EPISODE GUIDE AND BRIEF HISTORY
by Martin Grams, Jr.
On his way home from school one day, the young lad named Edgar Bergen tested a newly-found gift by hailing another boy, who exclaimed, "Who was that calling me, anyhow?" Bergen was aware of his talent, and continued to practice his vocal tricks. He progressed so well that his mother was forever answering the door in response to pleas of old men who begged to be let in, only to discover that it was Bergen himself. When once a man stalked Bergen’s mother, it was his vocal talent through the other side of the door that scared her admirer away. Before long, Edgar’s interests had extended to slight of hand paraphernalia, and spent much of his small savings on magic tricks. One of his purchases was a twenty-five cent book on ventriloquism, with which he set about developing his talent for "voice diffusion."
Young Bergen went on to high school, attending the Lane Technical and Lakeview Schools. It was there that Charlie McCarthy was born. The inspiration for the impish dummy was a tough Irish newsboy, and the head was carved in white pine by a carpenter named Theodore Mack, who followed young Bergen’s specifications. In gratitude, Bergen added a Celtic suffix to the carpenter’s name – and Charlie McCarthy was christened. While Charlie’s head cost about thirty-five dollars, Bergen himself made the body. The newly whittled brash youth was an immediate success, delighting Bergen’s classmates and teachers. The dummy, incidentally, once helped his master pass an important history course by completely charming the teacher.
With the eclipse of vaudeville, in the early thirties Bergen polished his routine for nightclubs. He was very successful with an act he called "The Operation," in which he played the doctor. Charlie was the patient and a nurse was in attendance. (Edgar Bergen reprised this act in the beginning of RKO Studio’s 1941 movie Look Who’s Laughing.) This act was based on reality: Bergen had recently undergone an operation – he had argued with the doctors and experienced the usual qualms of a patient – all of which he transformed into a satirical comedy. But Bergen’s chance of fame came one night in 1936, on the invitation of Elsa Maxwell. He performed at a party where one of the guests, Noel Coward, congratulated Bergen on his fine dialogue. A week later, on December 16, Bergen made his first radio appearance on Rudy Vallee’s The Royal Gelatin Hour, for which he received the sum of one hundred and fifty dollars. That may not seem much by today’s standards, but in 1936 that was more than a month’s worth of wages. Five months later, in May of 1937, Chase and Sanborn began sponsoring The Chase and Sanborn Hour, starring Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.
The Chase and Sanborn Hour
Broadcast from 8 to 9 p.m., EST over NBC
Master of Ceremonies: Don Ameche
Music: Werner Janseen conducts the music for the first seven broadcasts.
Music: Robert Armbruster will lead the orchestra beginning with episode eight till the early 1940s.
Regulars: Dorothy Lamour is a regular. W.C. Fields as comedian for the first eighteen broadcasts.
Throughout 1937 – 1940, Nelson Eddy was replaced by various tenors such as John Carter and Donald Dickson, in increments a few months while Eddy continuously went to Hollywood for the filming of movies at M-G-M. All of Eddy’s vacations are noted in the log.
Like Rudy Vallee’s program, The Chase and Sanborn Hour was constantly presenting new acts, comedians and singers, hoping some of the rising stars would become national celebrities soon after their appearances.
Perhaps no other broadcast of the Charlie McCarthy show is more popular than the December 12, 1937 broadcast starring Mae West. West rarely appeared on radio and when she did the sole purpose was to promote one of her films. West had appeared on such programs as The Shell Chateau with Al Jolson in 1936 and Louella Parsons’ blackmailing program Hollywood Hotel on April 26, 1935, with featured guest Paul Cavanaugh in an adaptation of the movie Goin’ to Town. (On February 21, 1934, the famed Mae West Jewel Robbery was dramatized on Calling All Cars over CBS, without West participating in the drama.) When the producers of The Chase and Sanborn Hour offered the sex goddess the opportunity to appear on the program – then currently the highest-rated program of the year – she accepted if only to promote her latest film, Everyday is a Holiday. West often wrote her own scripts and even produced her own movies, so she did have a financial interest among her radio appearances.
NBC wanted to present something special for Miss West, so the powers that be turned to one of their most promising young writers, Arch Oboler. "That script came about this way," Oboler recalled on television’s The Merv Griffin Show on August 2, 1973. "NBC called upon me one day in Westwood . . . they were in trouble on the Edgar Bergen show. I knew they always were in trouble on that show, but they were in particular because John Erskin had written a book called Adam and Eve. Miss West didn’t like it, Charlie didn’t like it, Edgar . . . didn’t matter [jokingly laughs], and Don Ameche was playing the lead. So they asked me, would I write this ten-minute sketch? Well, I wasn’t interested in writing for Miss West. Finally, they waved enough money at me, and my good resolves went down the drain, but I made one condition: I said I would write about Adam and Eve only if I could take it out of the book – which I collaborated with years before – that is the Bible [jokingly]. The show was to be rehearsed on Saturday, going on the air on Sunday. This was Thursday, so I stayed up all night with my dear wife, who I married because she knew how to take things down, and I wrote this sketch. It was taken right out of Genesis."
It was eleven days before Christmas. Eight o’clock Sunday night. The Chase and Sanborn Hour began broadcasting from Hollywood as usual. The master of ceremonies, Don Ameche, introduced Nelson Eddy who opened with "On the Road to Mandalay" followed by "Beneath the Southern Moon" (the latter from Naughty Marietta). Next, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy joked with Nelson Eddy for a few minutes, asking among other questions how much Eddy made as a singer. Eddy avoided a definite answer by turning the tide; he asked Charlie how much he made and Charlie replied that he won’t reveal his salary "because Bergen keeps all of my allowances." (Just as a footnote here, Time reported in 1943 that Eddy was the highest paid singer in the United States.)
Dorothy Lamour sang a song followed by a Chase and Sanborn commercial. Announcer Wendell Niles introduced Don Ameche and Mae West in "Adam and Eve." And then the calamity began.
"Now one thing the powers-that-be forgot," recalled Oboler, "that in those days, unlike today, there were three things that an actress could not do. One was to have a child out of wedlock. Two, she could not swear, and three, she could not wear glasses. It was thought terrible for an actress to wear glasses. Well, Miss West, having all the usual good sense of all of us, didn’t wear her glasses during the rehearsals so she, being very nearsighted never saw my script. She bluffed her way through. It wasn’t until air time that she walked on stage waving these glasses, put them on . . . and for the first time saw the script. The result was disaster. What she did to ‘Adam and Eve’ the Arabs had never done so miserably."
Dorothy Lamour recounted in her 1981 autobiography, My Side of the Road, "One week our special guest was Mae West, who was to play Eve to Don Ameche’s Adam, in a takeoff on the Bible story. Church groups were outraged and the mail came pouring in. I can’t even remember what she said that was so terrible, but I’m sure it was mild by today’s standards."
What Mae West said wasn’t so bad as how she said it. Telling the serpent that "I feel like doin’ a big apple" was one comment ad-libbed, but when the serpent got stuck between the picket fences in an attempt to fetch the forbidden fruit, West exclaimed with the emotion of a woman going through an orgasm, "They’re – They’re! Now you’re through!"
Edgar Bergen was shocked. "We had to have a star each week," he recalled, "and she seemed a logical choice. She was a sex star. We were fully aware of that. ‘Adam and Eve’ as you probably know, had been performed before without any untoward incidents. Possibly our program being on Sunday and having a little fun with the Bible was dangerous. We always had two rehearsals; one on Saturday evening, after which we rewrite and tighten, and then we would do a Sunday afternoon read-through. At that read-through, Mae read her lines straight. It was obvious she knew what she was doing – how to lay out line – but she didn’t give things that Mae West twist until the broadcast. I’ve always said that we had far more permissive material on a previous show."
When one listens to a copy of the recording of this program, one can hear Don Ameche hesitate and even try to improvise to West’s lines. (Ameche even repeated the same line twice, the second with a slight hesitation!) But even when Mae West went up against the wooden dummy later in the program, exchanges such as "So good-time Charlie’s going to play hard-to-get" and "You’re all wood and a yard long" didn’t help matters any.
Variety reported that Mae West has attracted the largest crowd at the NBC studio than any Hollywood star ever had, and after the broadcast a complicated if not over-demanding public outcry pervaded the airwaves. NBC’s president issued a public statement the day after the broadcast, explaining that such an incident was meant to entertain, not injure or insult those who felt the skit was "profane." NBC also stated that it would take any and all responsibility for any financial damages resulting from the broadcast. From a business perspective, this was a shrewd move on the part of NBC. Since the remarks of West were not aimed toward anyone particular, it could be said for certain that no radio listener could have possibly been financially injured as a result of what they heard – and with NBC publicly taking responsibility for the program that aired over their network, the good faith extended toward the listening public would be more apt to forgive and forget.
But apparently damages were made. "Well, we were sued for plagiarism," recalled Oboler. "I don’t mean God called down – no this was from another part of heaven called Texas. A woman had written a story about Adam and Eve and she sued the network, NBC, for plagiarism. And Arch Oboler was the culprit. Since there were only two copies in existence, one that she had in her trunk, and the other one at the Library of Congress, it would have been necessary for me in those days to have gotten on a train and break into the Library of Congress. [Since I couldn’t] I was sued. And at the time the suit came up, it was one of those ordinary nuisances where they want to be paid off by the network in order not to go to trial. But this time the network put its back up stiffly and the trial went on. The trial was set in New York, and so I had to appear before what would be easily an officer of the Federal Court. When I got there on Wall Street, and sat down in a courtroom, the man looked just like Lewis Stone – and acted like him. He was very antsy and he didn’t like any part of this newfangled thing called radio, and above all, he didn’t like the whole thing discussing Mae West."
"His first question," continued Oboler, "was ‘Mr. Oboler, where were you on February twenty-second – blah, blah, blah.’ And as long as I live, I’ll remember my answer because I was under oath. I said, ‘In the bedroom’ because, you see, Miss West does all of her business in her bedroom. She pays her bills in her bedroom, and she rehearses in her bedroom. So the judge’s next question – he looked at me very suspiciously as if I were the Henry Kissinger of my time – and he said, "Exactly, Mr. Oboler, what were you doing – and remember you’re under oath – what were you doing with Miss West?’ And his face turned bright red and he said, ‘I withdraw the question.’ And that was the end of that."
Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper was in attendance during the broadcast, as one of the audience members, and she wrote in her column that she had "never seen anyone as embarrassed as Don Ameche. And I understand when they first showed him the sketch he absolutely refused to do it. They assured him Mae would play it straight and not indulge in any of her Westian nuances and if he refused to go on they would keep him off the air. Me was wearing a black evening gown, a long silver-fox cape, orchids and lilies of the valley, black eyelashes, the longest I’ve ever seen. She wore a pair of lorgnettes on a diamond-studded chain around her neck, but like a man who wears both suspenders and a belt. And she had a pair of glasses which she wore while broadcasting."
According to the January 24, 1938 issue of Time magazine: "Last month Mae West brought down a deluge of criticism from all over the U.S. by a sexy burlesque of the story of Adam and Eve. Among the 1,000-odd letters of criticism that showered on [the] National Broadcasting Company was one from [the] F.C.C. asking for a transcript of the program. Last week NBC President Lenox R. Lohr got another letter from [the] F.C.C., signed by Chairman Frank McNinch." Taking time out from such radio supervising jobs as dividing up the ether, allotting slices of it to broadcasting stations and licensing operators, Mr. McNinch sounded off on Mae West.
"The admittedly objectionable character of these features is, in our opinion," remarked McNinch, "attributable to the lack of a proper conception of the high standards required for a broadcast program intended for reception in the homes, schools, automobiles, religious, social and economic institutions, as well as clubs, hotels, trains and other places, reaching in the aggregate a much larger number of people daily than any other means of communication and carrying its message to men, women and children of all ages."
The president of the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency apologized to Lenox R. Lohr, the President of NBC, and after citing eight year of programming as evidence of this goal, the president admitted to the mistake and ensured the public at large that the same mistake would not be made again. To this end, six days after the broadcast, the general manager of the NBC station group banned any mention of Mae West’s name and of the incident on the network. In effect, Mae West was gone, never to grace the airwaves again.
Charlie McCarthy, though made of wood, was worth a fortune by mid-1938. He had a stand-in, used for cinema work and for some publicity stills; a wardrobe that included a supply of monocles, two full dress suits, a supply of starchy linen, ten hats size 3½, including several toppers and two berets; a Sherlock Holmes outfit, jockey silks, a cowboy suit, a French Foreign Legion uniform, a gypsy costume ("It’s the Gypsy in me"). he wore baby-size shows, spent $1,000 a year for wardrobe and laundry, was insured for $10,000 against kidnapping, loss or demolition.
In 1938, at 33rd and Broadway in New York City, Charlie McCarthy fans could visit the fifth floor of the Gimbels Department Store and for $9.98, fans could purchase their own Charlie McCarthy and a book on ventriloquism. To give you an idea of how much Edgar Bergen was making off his creation, both he and Charlie collected $100,000 a year from the sale of dolls, gadgets, silverware and other copies of cocky Charlie. The March 20, 1939 issue of Time magazine reported that Edgar Bergen had recently made his last will and testament. In it he remembered Charlie, leaving $10,000 to the National Society of Ventriloquists so that Charlie might be kept in repair and used to encourage the perpetuation of the art.
Trivia: Ventriloquism was never a radio art. It still isn’t. But thoroughly part of radio art was Bergen’s clever deliveries with guests on his radio program, for which is alma mater, Northwestern University, in 1937 awarded Charlie the honorary degree of Master of Innuendo and Snappy comeback.
The episode of March 12, 1939 was broadcast from Manhattan’s Radio City – the first time the program had originated from anywhere but Hollywood since the program’s premiere. When the plan to do this was announces to the press, 60,000 Charlie McCarthy fans besieged NBC and the agency producing the show for admission to Radio City’s 1,318-seat Studio 8-H. A crowd of 5,000 was at the station when the Chase and Sanborn troupe arrived, but Charlie was nowhere to be seen. Photographers grouped Master of Ceremonies Don Ameche, darkling Sarongstress Dorothy Lamour and Baritone Donald Dickson for a picture. As they were sighting the group, a press agent brought another man over, a middling, fair, baldish chap with delicate , expressive lips. For one photographer up front, this man crowded the picture, blocked the view of the lissome Lamour. "Hey," he growled, "get that lug out of there." Little did the photographer know that the lug was Edgar Bergen.
By December of 1939, it was estimated that The Chase and Sanborn Hour traditionally had the ear of perhaps a third of the nation, the largest radio audience in the United States. But Charlie appeared only twice (a total of about 15 minutes) during the hour: the rest was usually orchestra music, songs by Dorothy Lamour and Donald Dickson, effervescences by guest stars and a master of ceremonies. Between Charlie’s turn at the mike, the interest in his vast audience wavered. According to a poll, the sponsors shockingly discovered that many tuned in on other programs, others mixed drinks, woolgather and miss commercials until Charlie returned. So it was decided by the sponsor, Standard Brands, that something had to be done. They ordered their Chase and Sanborn show tailored more accurately to Charlie’s measure. Beginning January 7, 1940, after the contracts of Lamour and Ameche expired, the program would be cut to a half-hour, leaving mainly Charlie and guest-star stooges, leaving little or no opportunity for tuners to duck out for a drink between halves.
Beginning with episode 140, the title of the series was changed, obviously, from The Chase and Sanborn Hour to The Chase and Sanborn Program. Now broadcast from 8 to 8:30 p.m., EST over NBC. Wendell Niles, who was the regular announcer for the series, had to take leave for a brief time in 1940. Ben Alexander took his place while Niles was away.
July and August of 1940 marked the first time since the program’s premiere that the Charlie McCarthy show would go off the air for a summer break. The series never missed a single Sunday until the summer of 1940. The summer replacement was a mystery series entitled The Bishop and the Gargoyle (see John Dunning’s On the Air encyclopedia for info about that program), an unusual crime-fighting series starring Richard Gordon.
Broadcast Sunday evenings from 8 to 8:30 p.m., EST on NBC.
Baritone Donald Dickson signed on as the weekly singer from September 1, 1940 to February 2, 1941.
Richard Haydn was the weekly singer from February 9, 1941 to March 30, 1941.
Deanna Durbin was originally scheduled to star as the weekly singer for this 1940-41 season, but a week before the premiere of September 1940, she backed down.
After the broadcast of June 29, 1941, Chase and Sanborn continued to sponsor the same time slot, but a different program while the Charlie McCarthy show went off the air for the summer. What’s My Line? Was a radio quiz program that identified well-known people. It was last heard in September 1940 when Oxydol dropped sponsorship. Chase and Sanborn decided to revive the program as a short-run summer replacement for the Charlie McCarthy presentations. Arlene Francis and John Reed King were regulars. After nine weeks on the air, the wooden dummy returned to the air.
The new 1941 – 42 season now featured Ray Noble and his Orchestra supplying the music for the program. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello signed on as regular comedians performing short skits each week.
Buddy Twiss became the announcer.
Broadcast on Sunday evening from 8 to 8:30 p.m., EST on NBC.
During the nine weeks The Chase and Sanborn Program was off for the summer, the sponsors continued to sponsor the same time slot with a different (and patriotic) program, Star-Spangled Vaudville, starring Walter O’Keefe. When Bergen and McCarthy returned in the fall of 1942, Don Ameche had signed on to become emcee like the olden days. Bill Thompson became a regular during the last four months of the 1942 – 43 season.
Ray Noble and his Orchestra supplying the music for the program.
Broadcast on Sunday evening from 8 to 8:30 p.m., EST on NBC.
Summer replacement for Charlie McCarthy’s time slot was the thirteen-week musical variety series Paul Whiteman Presents. Chase and Sanborn was the sponsor for that program. Dinah Shore was the lead singer and Victor Moore and William Gaxton were regulars. (Note Moore and Gaxton were both guests on the May 9 broadcast four weeks before the premiere of Paul Whiteman Presents!
According to a press release dated August 29, 1943, The Chase and Sanborn Program would return September 5 with Victor Moore and William Gaxton as new regulars for the show for the first seven weeks. Beginning October 24, 1943, Bert Lahr and Lena Horne were featured regulars, replacing Gaxton and Moore. Lena Horne and Bert Lahr were regulars till the end of the year – their final appearance was December 26, 1943.
Chase and Sanborn continued to sponsor the same 8 to 8:30 p.m. time slot, a twelve-week program entitled The Gracie Fields Show, starring (who else?) Gracie Fields. This musical variety took off where her last series left, The Gracie Fields Victory Show sponsored by Pall Mall Cigarettes. Lou Bring and his Orchestra supplied the music.
When The Chase and Sanborn Program returned in September, Bill Goodwin signed as a temporary announcer for the first three or four episodes, then replaced by Bill Forman who would stay till the end of the season. The King Sisters supplied vocal music from September to mid-October, when Joan Merrill replaced the singers as the new lead singer. Like many comedic programs during WWII, many of these broadcasts originated at bases and stations across the country to entertain troops and boost listener morale.
Trivia: Rita Hayworth was originally scheduled for the broadcast of April 15, 1945. Due to the death of President Roosevelt, the program was pre-empted (along with other regularly-scheduled programs that same evening) so Hayworth agreed to appear the week after on April 22.
The summer replacement for the Charlie McCarthy time-slot was The Frances Langford Show, a twelve-week musical variety series. Langford was the star, and guests included Hollywood actors and comedians including Groucho Marx. Chase and Sanborn sponsored.
According to a press release dated September 2, 1945:
"When Fred Allen returns to the air in October, he is not expected to take Jack Benny to task quite so often. The new objects of his barbed witticisms will be Charlie McCarthy, it is said. The change might be explained by the fact that Mr. Allen’s new sponsor also presents McCarthy."
That’s right, Chase and Sanborn was sponsoring two programs, Charlie McCarthy and Fred Allen during the 1945-46 season. On the broadcast of October 7, 1945 (8 to 8:30 p.m., EST), Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy was not featured during the last few moments, as they had to rush to another studio to appear as guest on The Fred Allen Show broadcast from 8:30 to 9 p.m., EST. Fred Allen’s program premiered on October 7. Edgar Bergen was also guest on Fred Allen’s program on October 28.
Ben Grauer, who had recently left the Information Please program as pitchman for Heinz products, signed on as temporary announcer for the first few weeks, replaced by Johnny Martin. In December of 1945, Ken Carpenter took over the announcing duties. Ray Noble and his Orchestra was still supplying the music. Believe-it-or-not, Keenan Wynn was a regularly featured guest for the first four episodes of this season!
Summer replacement for the Charlie McCarthy show is Alec Templeton Time, a musical variety series starring pianist Alec Templeton. Again sponsored by Chase and Sanborn, this program lasted thirteen broadcasts.
For the new season of The Chase and Sanborn Program, Pat Patrick and Anita Gordon signed on as regulars. Ray Noble and his Orchestra was still supplying the music. Ken Carpenter is still announcer. The broadcast of January 19, 1947 was a special homecoming broadcast with Bergen’s friends from the premiere season.
Summer replacement for Charlie McCarthy was Alec Templeton Time (yes, the same series broadcast last summer). This short-run summer series lasted a total of fourteen weeks.
For the 1947-48 season, Pat Patrick and Anita Gordon remained regulars and Ray Noble and his Orchestra was still supplying the music. Ken Carpenter was the announcer with Nelson Case substituting for Carpenter at times. Eddie Mayehoff signed on as a regular comedian. This marked the first season that co-op sponsorship began for the Charlie McCarthy show. Royal Puddings and Chase and Sanborn were both sponsors of The Charlie McCarthy Show.
Trivia: During the broadcast of September 21, 1947, Disney and the troop performed a short skit entitled "Jack and the Beanstalk." This was merely for publicity purposes. RKO Pictures and Walt Disney released Fun and Fancy Free, a movie featuring Edgar Bergen hosting two classic animated shorts, the first being an animated version of "Jack and the Beanstalk."
By this time, Edgar Bergen and his wooden pal Charlie McCarthy were at the top of their game. According to recent radio polls, their weekly radio program was still in the top ten. But the movie offers slowed, and ratings – although still high – was slipping little by little as the seasons pass. The gossip of television crept through the back stage and it was certain a ventriloquist would be more successful seen on television – but could the radio audience handle watching Bergen on television? They pictured the wooden dummy with a life of its own, and even movies like Look Who’s Laughing (1941) didn’t have Charlie McCarthy always in the same scenes as Edgar Bergen.
W.C. FIELDS: Is it true your father was a gate-leg table?
McCARTHY: If it is, your father was under it.
Chase and Sanborn was still sponsoring both the Charlie McCarthy and Fred Allen programs. But even with the assistance of Royal Puddings, the coffee makers would eventually have to drop one of the programs because of the expenses. Edgar Bergen received the notice in the fall of 1948. His contract would keep him employed till the end of the year. But after Christmas of 1948, Bergen would need a new sponsor. This made the budget shrink for weekly guests, and Hollywood stars were paying Fred Allen visit more often then Charlie McCarthy.
For the remainder of the 1948 season, Don Ameche and Marsha Hunt starred in short comedy skits entitled "The Bickersons," written by Phil Rapp. This comedy series would later become a classic among radio listeners and a short-lived radio and television series of their own. Gale Gordon was hired as a supporting performer for these short skits and routines. Ken Carpenter was still the announcer. Ray Noble and his Orchestra was still supplying the music. Writers for Bergen’s material included Norman Paul, Zeno Clinker and Sy Rose.
After five hundred broadcasts, the Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy program went off the air. Edgar Bergen began touring the stages of vaudeville to pass the time. In the summer of 1949, Edgar Bergen wrote this small editorial for the New York Times:
After thirteen years of life on the half shell in Hollywood, I have made a trip where I wasn’t a tourist. The only depots that have known my luggage – and the luggage of most of my colleagues – for the last decade have been a couple of European capitols, New York and Palm Springs. I have just rediscovered America – an actor’s America, not a vacationist’s. For five weeks I’ve been back in my element, vaudeville: Buffalo, Hartford, Boston, Minneapolis, Detroit, Vancouver. A beautiful theatrical world of backstage, split weeks, singers, electricians, acrobats, property men, stagehands and jugglers.
So many people are working in vaudeville today that I looked for three weeks to book enough acts for an hour bill and didn’t have them until the night before we opened in Buffalo and money was no object! It all felt like a college play, enthusiastic, ambitious, somewhat extemporaneous with a few fine, old-fashioned professional hallmarks like the card game, which had been played persistently backstage since, I imagine, sometime shortly before Genesis. The actors hunch about their draw (it’s all canasta now, no more pinochle) and then with the agility of a pickpocket they drop their hands at the sound of a music cue, transform their expressions to match their costumes, glide onto the stage, have their say, and resume their play at the gaming tables without a flick of the eyelash.
The pace is faster than it was thirteen years ago. Maybe it is the war or the movies or because this generation was bred on radio comedy, but I found out that they want bombastic stuff with a lot of drive. They have little time for whimsy. It varies, of course, from town to town. The Hartford audience was sharper on some things than the Buffalo audience. Political jokes go, depending upon how the community votes. A Negro audience will pick up subtle comedy quicker than anyone else.
My friend Charlie McCarthy is, of course, much more of a celebrity than he was thirteen years ago. I found out something about Charlie’s friends this time. Charlie and I worked out a new act for the tour. It was based on the cherry tree episode in the life of George Washington. We both got lovely velvet costumes and powdered wigs. I thought Charlie looked fine as the father of our country. But something happened. They wanted to see McCarthy: striped pants, monocle, derby and Bergen’s bald head. If that had happened in radio, the reaction would have been slow, diffused and debatable. I wouldn’t learn anything from an audience sitting in a broadcasting studio in Hollywood because those people all are in my business.
You find out your mistakes from an audience that pays admission. When you look these people in the eye you know what is wrong and what is right with the act. If it’s good you can keep it in. If it’s bad you can get rid of it before the next show. In radio and television you can’t be sure of anything. And whatever is uttered over the air is irrevocable.
I am just as well pleased as we made a mistake with the George Washington act. It showed me I’m not immune from theatrical error. Now I’m on my toes. I took this tour to find out from the audience what they want. If I had strolled through with only the polite applause, such as rings in one’s ears after years in the free halls of entertainment of Hollywood, my trip would have been enjoyable but not enlightening. Nobody seems to know yet how television is going to affect the radio, movies, love, housekeeping or the church, but it has definitely revived vaudeville. I wish there be a guardian over vaudeville this time to protect the same people from killing it who killed it before – and several of them are back at the scene of the crime.
I would like to see a vaudeville world of three-a-day. Five-a-day is too many. Managers who are trying to profit at that rate will gorge themselves right out of business. You can’t put entertainment on a production line basis. Some people have asked me if I was back in vaudeville to get ready for television. As a matter of fact I went back to vaudeville to get ready for radio. After a sabbatical from radio for nearly a year, I needed to work with Charlie again. Ventriloquism is not like riding a bicycle. I have to keep practicing or Charlie would sit tounge-tied, silently staring at me with the chill eye of a department store dummy.
In October of 1949, the Coca-Cola Company signed a lucrative contract, allowing for a larger budget (thus the addition of weekly guest stars) with the option to renew every few months. Coca-Cola would end up sponsoring the program for three seasons! Not known as The Charlie McCarthy Show, the program returned to its ever-familiar time-slot of Sunday evenings, from 8 to 8:30 p.m., EST.
The Coca-Cola Company continued to sponsor the same time slot while the Charlie McCarthy program went off the air for the summer. The Pause that Refreshes starred Percy Faith and his Orchestra, a musical variety series previously heard over NBC from 1934 to 1935 and over CBS from 1947 to 1949. This would be the last revival for the program, heard over a period of eighteen weeks, last heard on October 1, 1950. Replaced by four network specials for the month of October, then Charlie McCarthy returned.
Summer replacement was again sponsored by the Coca-Cola Company. Coke Time starred Mario Lanza and features weekly musical regulars Giselle MacKenzie and the Ray Sinatra Orchestra. The program lasted seventeen weeks. With the success of this program, Coca-Cola insisted that the majority of the guests featured on the Charlie McCarthy program be musicians and singers, not Hollywood actors.
The Frank Fontaine Show was the summer replacement for The Charlie McCarthy Show. Lud Gluskin and his Orchestra supplied the music. The premiere broadcast featured Helen O’Connell as guest. When Charlie McCarthy returned to the airwaves in the fall, Coca-Cola was no longer the sponsor. Hudnut took over sponsorship and Hollywood actors began making weekly guest appearances again.
Beginning October 1953, the Charlie McCarthy show was heard over CBS from 9:30 to 10 p.m., EST. This marked the first time since the program’s premiere since 1937 that the program was not broadcast beginning at 8 p.m. Multiple sponsors such as Philip Morris and CBS-Television spots were heard during the broadcasts. Sam Pearce is now the producer and would remain producer till July of 1956. Bill Baldwin is the announcer.
Note: There was no broadcast on May 2, 1954.
The summer replacement for the Charlie McCarthy show is The Freddy Martin Show. When Edgar Bergen returned in the fall of 1954, the program was retitled The Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show. This season became very "American" (probably the McCarthy hearings had something to do with it) in which men of important stature became the weekly guests. Kraft Foods began sponsoring the program, still being broadcast over CBS on Sunday evenings, now at an hour-long time slot of 9 to 10 p.m., EST.
In what was to be Bergen’s final season on the air, The New Edgar Bergen Hour underwent a few changes. Guests included people from all walks of life – authors, musicians, poets, scientists, even astronomers. The series was now heard from 7:05 to 8 p.m., EST under multiple sponsorships such as Philip Morris, Zenith Hearing Aids, CBS-TV, Aunt Wick’s Drink Mixes, Super Anahist and Viceroy. Writers included Zeno Clinker, Sy Rose and Hilda Black. Regulars during the final season included Jack Kirkwood, Carole Richards and Gary Crosby. The Mellomen sang songs in many broadcasts. Ray Noble and his Orchestra, who supplied the music for the program for the last decade, still waved the baton. Bud Hiestand was the announcer.
On May 5, 1959, Edgar Bergen attempted a comeback. On that date he recorded an audition for a fifteen-minute, five-a-week series in which Bergen and his wooden pals told humorous little fairy tales. For the audition, two stories were dramatized, "Charlie’s Frogs" and "Mortimer’s Soup." This pilot, however, never went further than the audition recordings.
On November 15, 1964, Chase and Sanborn sponsored an hour-long radio special celebrating the 100th anniversary of Chase and Sanborn Coffee. Many guests appeared in the special, few exclusive and many others recordings of previous broadcasts. Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy were among the many guests including Fred Allen, Mae West, Rudy Vallee, Vera Teasdale, Jimmy Wallington, Jimmy Durante, Clark Gable, Eddie Cantor, Adolph Menjou, Nelson Eddy, Alec Templeton and W.C. Fields.
On November 14, 1965, Chase and Sanborn reprised their anniversary special for a 101st anniversary. Many guests included Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Bert Lahr, Beatrice Lillie, Fred Allen, George Jessel, Bing Crosby, Milton Berle, Oscar Levant, Shirley Booth, Jack Benny and Tallulah Bankhead.
BERGEN’s OTHER RADIO APPEARANCES
The Royal Gelatin Hour (3/4/37) "Bill of Divorcement" with Walter Abel and Judith Anderson. Edgar
Bergen and Charlie McCarthy performed a short seven-minute skit.
The Royal Gelatin Hour (October 8, 1937)
Jack Benny’s Tenth Anniversary Testimonial (5/9/41) This isn’t really a radio broadcast, but rather a
circulating recording in honor of Jack’s tenth year on radio. Guests include Jim and Marion Jordon, Burns and Allen, Niles Trammell, Bob Hope and Jimmy Walter (Mayor of NYC).
Fibber McGee and Molly (11/11/41) with guest Martha Tilton.
The Hollywood March of Dimes on the Air (1/24/42) birthday salute to FDR, with an all-star cast that
included Claudette Colbert, Humphrey Bogart, Marlene Dietrich, Elliott Lewis, Deanna Durbin, Bob Hope, Dennis Day, James Cagney, Tyrone Power, Kay Kyster, Maureen O’Sullivan and others. Charlie McCarthy jokes about his new book, "Ventriloquism: It’s Cure and Prevention."
Command Performance (12/24/42) Christmas broadcast with an all-star cast including Spike Jones,
Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Dinah Shore, Elmer Davis, Red Skelton, Ginny Simms, Kay Kyser, Ethel Waters, Charles Laughton, and the Andrews Sisters.
What’s New? (9/25/43) with Lena Horne and Marguerite Chapman.
The Lady Esther Screen Guild Players (4/24/44) "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" with Jane Powell
and Billy Gilbert. This was partly for publicity purposes because Powell co-starred with Bergen in the recent United Artists release Song of the Open Road.
Double Feature (8/13/44) with Jackie Gleason and Andy Russell. Edgar appears without his wooden pals
in this radio broadcast, a salute to the state of New York. One interesting tid-bit: Edgar describes his plan to introduce a "bachelor girl" dummy in the up-coming fall season, describing the as yet, un-named Effie Clinker!
A Tribute to President Roosevelt (4/15/45) with an all-star cast just two days after Roosevelt’s death.
Includes Harold Peary, Charles Laughton, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, Will Hays, Deanna Durbin, James Cagney, Kay Kyser, Ginny Simms, Ed Gardner, Robert Young, Eddie Cantor, John Charles Davis, Bette Davis, Dick Powell, Ronald Colman, Ingrid Bergman and many others.
The Fred Allen Show (10/7/45) First show of the season, Charlie quits Bergen and teams up with Fred to
audition for their own radio show.
The Fred Allen Show (10/28/45) Charlie takes Fred to court for slander.
Command Performance (May of 1946) Includes the King Sisters, Bob Hope, Frances Langford, Donald
Crisp, Mel Blanc, Kay Kyser, Jerry Colonna, Linda Darnell, Fred MacMurray and others. Bergen tells Charlie the story of Dickens’ "Oliver Twist," with a twist.
To the Rear March (5/14/46) an AFRS broadcast featuring various recordings and excerpts from Amos n’
Andy and The Charlie McCarthy Show.
The Lucky Strike Program (10/13/46) stars Jack Benny and Mary Livingstone. Bergen introduces Charlie
to the cast and Benny tries to sell the Sportsmen Quartet to Edgar for his program.
Command Performance (December of 1946) Edgar quested along with Jerry Colonna, Dinah Shore, Harry
Moore, Jimmy Durante, Ginny Simms, President Truman, Don Wilson and Bob Hope.
The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater (12/23/46) "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" repeat
performance from two years before.
The Kraft Music Hall (10/2/47) stars Al Jolson and Oscar Levant.
Hail and Farewell (11/23/47) As radio station KPO in San Francisco changed it’s name to KNBC, many
stars of the past and present showed up to attend a special broadcast. Included Fred Allen,
Charles K. Field, Harold Peary and Earl Warren.
All-Star Western Theater (12/27/47) with Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage. Mortimer Snerd
also makes an appearance.
Symphonies Under the Stars (8/5/48) Armed Forces Radio Service Hollywood Bowl release, with Gene
Autry, Danny Kaye, Frances Langford and Red Skelton.
The Philco Radio Time (11/3/48) stars Bing Crosby, who chats with Charlie (without the help of Bergen).
Command Performance (12/25/48) Edgar tries to get Charlie to recite "Twas the Night Before Christmas."
The Jack Benny Program (9/25/49) stars Jack Benny with Amos n’ Andy and Red Skelton.
This is Your Life (3/1/50) [part one] with Ralph Edwards.
This is Your Life (3/8/50) [part two] with Ralph Edwards.
The Screen Guild Theater (12/28/50) "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" repeat performance.
A Salute to Bing Crosby (1/9/51) with Louis Armstrong, Mary Martin, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald,
Bob Hope, Dorothy Kirsten, William S. Paley and many others.
Richard Diamond, Private Detective (5/11/51) Mr. and Mrs. Bergen were guests on this episode. Bergen
was a close friend of Dick Powell, and appeared out of character for this broadcast.
Special All-Star Review (recorded in 1952) American Cancer Society Syndication with Joan Caulfield,
Dennis Day, and Ralph Edwards.
So They Say (5/4/56) This was a review of the news of the week. Barry Goldwater is featured.
Biography in Sound (5/15/56) Features clips from early Charlie McCarthy broadcasts.
Recollections at Thirty (7/8/56) Features clips from early Charlie McCarthy broadcasts.
Clips feature Don Ameche, Mary Boland and W.C. Fields.
Recollections at Thirty (11/14/56) Features clips from early Charlie McCarthy broadcasts.
Clips feature Judy Garland, Jean Sablon, Rudy Vallee and Wallace Berry. This recording also
features Bergen’s very first radio appearance on Rudy Vallee’s program from 1936.
Recollections at Thirty (12/12/56) Features clips from early Charlie McCarthy broadcasts.
Clips feature Rudy Vallee, John Barrymore, Carmen Miranda and Jack Pearl.
A Christmas Spectacular (12/25/56) with an all-star cast.
Radio Color Round-Up (5/4/58) with Ralph Bellamy, Judy Holliday, Andy Griffith and Herb Shriner.
The Year it Began (recorded in 1962) American Cancer Society Syndication featuring excerpts from early
radio programs including the Charlie McCarthy Show.
The Big Broadcast of 1965 (11/25/65) Interviews and excerpts from Jack Benny, Lum and Abner, George
Burns and Gracie Allen, and the Charlie McCarthy Show.
NBC’s Fortieth Anniversary Program (11/13/66) Bergen and McCarthy narrates.
A Salute to Bob Hope (May of 1968) To celebrate Bob Hope’s 65th birthday, Bergen was guest among
others including Frank Sinatra, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Jimmy Durante and Jerry Colonna.
Don Ameche and Edgar Bergen Interview (1969) Local station WRC in Washington had the opportunity
to interview Ameche and Bergen, and replayed excerpts from old shows with Mae West and
The Golden Days of Christmas (12/24/69) This is an Armed Forces Radio Service presentation broadcast
over the Armed Forces Network in Europe with Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante and Don Ameche.
KFI Fiftieth Anniversary Program (4/16/72) A twelve-hour broadcast with many hours of shows and
excerpts from old shows, and many live appearances by many performers. Includes Jack Haley, Jim Jordan, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Groucho Marx, and Lowell Thomas.
The Hollywood Radio Theatre (10/22/73 to 10/26/73) Five-part drama entitled "The Heirhunters." This
was the premiere broadcast of the series, hosted by Rod Serling. Features Daws Butler, June Foray and Sidney Miller.
UNDATED BROADCASTS BERGEN APPEARED ON
G.I. Journal (episode #61) with Hildegarde, Roy Rogers and Frank Sinatra.
G.I. Journal (episode #103) with Mel Blanc, Rita Hayworth and Mel Torme.
Mail Call (episode #56) with Cass Daley, Roy Rogers and Kay Thompson.
Mail Call (episode #85) with Ellen Drew, Susanna Foster and Nancy Walker.
Mail Call (episode #130) with Ingrid Bergman and Marion Hutton.
Mail Call (episode #328) with Tallulah Bankhead, Frances Gifford, Ray Noble and Ginny Simms.
To the Rear March (episode #38) with Fred Allen and Victor Borge.
To the Rear March (episode #55) with Jack Carson, Alan Reed and Arthur Treacher.
To the Rear March (episode #73) with Barbara Jo Allen, Jerry Colonna, Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra.
Command Performance (episode #188) with Joan Davis and Margaret Whiting.
Bergen and McCarthy were also featured in Guardian Maintenance commercials through June of 1960 to September of 1960 on many CBS radio programs such as Suspense and Have Gun-Will Travel.
BERGEN’S TELEVISION APPEARANCES
Edgar Bergen was the host of a comedy quiz program entitled Do You Trust Your Wife? From January 3, 1956 to March 26, 1956. Featured on this series along with Mr. Bergen were his assorted wooden pals, Charlie McCarthy, Mortimer Snerd, and Effie Klinker. When the program was moved to a daytime time slot, the program changed its title to Who Do You Trust? With the exception of various guest spots on other television programs, Bergen was primarily a radio performer. He did appear in quite a number of programs produced by his good friend Dick Powell.
The Kraft Television Theater (7/8/54) "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court"
Shower of Stars (10/28/54) "Lend an Ear" William Lundigan hosted this anthology program.
The Jack Benny Program (3/22/59)
Five Fingers (10/10/59) "Dossier" Bergen guest on this show, the second broadcast of the series. David
Hedison starred as Victor Sebastian in this spy drama based rather loosely on a successful 1952 film of the same name directed by Joseph L. Mankiewiez.
The Dupont Show with June Allyson (1/25/60) "Moment of Fear" This dramatic anthology series was
hosted (and occasionally starred) by June Allyson. Allyson was the real-life wife of Dick Powell.
Amos Burke: Who Killed Julie Greer? (NBC, 9/26/61) This was the pilot film for Burke’s Law, which was
later broadcast from 1963 to 1965. The audition pilot was also the premiere of the successful television series, The Dick Powell Show. Edgar Bergen played the role of Dr. Coombs. Jack Carson, Mickey Rooney, Ronald Reagan, Dean Jones and Ralph Bellamy were also guests. Bergen would return for a few episodes of both television series.
The Dick Powell Theatre (1/9/62) "A Time to Die"
Bachelor Father (3/27/62) "A Visit to the Bergens"
The Dick Powell Theatre (9/25/62) "Special Assignment"
Burke’s Law (1/17/64) "Who Killed Victor Burrows?"
The Greatest Show on Earth (4/21/64) "There Are No Problems, Only Opportunities" This episode
centered around the problems of a ventriloquist working at the Barnum and Bailey Circus.
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (9/28/64) Bergen was guest along side Lloyd Bochner. Bergen appeared
courtesy of David Hedison, both of whom were good friends.
Burke’s Law (10/28/64)
The Hanged Man (11/18/64)
Burke’s Law (2/3/65)
The Littlest Hobo (5/8/65)
Those Happy Days (6/24/70) Featured Alan Copeland, Bob Elliott, Ray Goulding and Helen O’Connell.
The Homecoming (12/19/71)
Playhouse New York: The Forties (5/12/72) "The Great Radio Comedians" features interviews with Jim
Jordan, Kenny Delmar, Jack Benny, George Burns and Bing Crosby.
The Merv Griffin Show (8/2/73) also featured Mel Blanc and Arch Oboler.
Tomorrow (3/2/76) Edgar Bergen related how his career started on radio and performed a few routines.
The Good Old Days of Radio (8/2/76) with an all-star cast, hosted by Steve Allen.
Tomorrow (10/26/76) featured Jim Backus, Frank Nelson and Gale Gordon.
You Bet Your Life (syndicated date of 11/1/74) The guest contestants were Candice Bergen and Melinda
Marx, both of whom sang along with their fathers while George Fenneman asked the questions.
JUST A FEW OF BERGEN’S TV PILOTS THAT NEVER MADE IT
The Charlie McCarthy Show (CBS, 11/23/50) This thirty-minute pilot was an adaptation of Bergen’s radio series that spotlighted the antics of his dummies: Charlie McCarthy (attired in tuxedo, top hat and monocle), the buck-toothed country bumpkin Mortimer Snerd, and a new character Podine Puffington, a tall, stately blonde from the south. Guests included Bill Baldwin, Diana Lynn and Pat Patrick. Ray Noble and his Orchestra supplied the music. Bergen’s regular radio script writers, Norman Paul, Artie Phillips and Zeno Clinker co-wrote the script. Alan Dinehart directed, Jerry Fairbanks and Ralph Levy produced.
Frances Langford Presents (NBC, 3/15/59) Performances of top-name celebrities was the idea behind this unsold half-hour series. Two, 30-minute pilot films were produced in 1958 but they never aired. So the programs were reedited into an hour program and broadcast as a special on the above date. Langford hosted. Performers included Edgar Bergen, Bob Hope, Jerry Colonna, Tony Romano and George Sanders. Zeno Clinker co-wrote the scripts.
My Sister Hank (CBS, 3/31/72) Comedy about Henrietta Bennett, a young tomboy who prefers to be called Hank. Her parents, Eunice and Willis, don’t quite understand her, but accept her and are trying to change her. Jodie Foster stars as Hank Bennett. Edgar Bergen was Grandpa Bennett. Produced and directed by Norman Tokar.
BERGEN’S MOVIE ROLES
When I first compiled this log years ago, I included a lengthy list of Bergen’s movie appearances from The Goldwyn Follies (1938) to The Muppet Movie (1979). The purpose was merely to reveal to old-time radio fans the range of Bergen’s talents, not just his radio program but on-screen acting as well. Since this episode guide is being reprinted on this web-site for old-time radio fans, for the sake of brevity I am not going to list all of Bergen’s movie appearances. Anyone wishing for further interest in Bergen’s movie credits I suggest they check out the Internet Movie Database at www.imdb.com.
Bergen’s career on the screen was successful with and without Charlie McCarthy. He usually appeared on the screen with Charlie, the first being Sam Goldwyn’s The Goldwyn Follies in 1938, released through United Artists. The film was a disaster in many aspects for Goldwyn, but one critic mentioned, "any picture that introduces Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen can’t be all bad."
Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy both became the starring vehicles for a handful of great comedies including Charlie McCarthy, Detective (1939), and two RKO films featuring The Great Gildersleeve and Fibber McGee and Molly, Look Who’s Laughing (1941) and Here We Go Again (1942). Any radio listener who has enjoyed the verbal battles between W.C. Fields and Charlie McCarthy will simply love the 1939 picture You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man. Sadly, that film has been overlooked and under-rated by film critics, but any radio fan who has ever seen the picture will admit it’s worth the price of any admission.
Edgar Bergen helped tremendously with the war cause, including appearing in Stage Door Canteen in 1943. Both Bergen and Charlie performed a cute routine, but this 132 minute movie has been edited in length a number of times over the years. Please beware of the shorter prints else you’ll buy the movie and probably never see Edgar or Charlie.
Martin Grams, Jr. is the author of numerous books about old-time radio including Inner Sanctum Mysteries: Behind the Creaking Door, The Have Gun-Will Travel Companion, Information Please and The Sound of Detection: Ellery Queen’s Adventures in Radio. This episode guide was first compiled by Mr. Grams in the late 1990s and shortly thereafter, was presented in three consecutive issues of SPERDVAC’s Radiogram in late 1999. It was not until the appearance of this episode guide that any such broadcast log existed for The Charlie McCarthy Show except for what was listed in collector catalogs for existing recordings. This episode guide appears on this web-site courtesy of the author.