The Pepsodent Show with Bob Hope: Guest—Chico Marx (NBC, 1938)
Fabled for his Tyrolean hat, dark curly wig, and ersatz Italian stage and film persona, Chico Marx had as much trouble as brother Groucho in making and keeping a radio toehold. Their best early shot at it (the impeccable Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel, which was as much a laboratory for testing routines for future films, Duck Soup in particular, as it was a bid to secure the brothers a radio niche) lasted only a single season. Groucho, of course, would find his eventual niche as the freewheeling, improvisational host of You Bet Your Life, Chico would have to settle for guest shots. The problem was that finding a radio toehold was nothing compared to the problems that found him away from the studio or the set.
Chico Marx had a gambling habit that once prompted him to reply, when asked how much money he’d lost playing cards, the horses, the greyhounds, and assorted other sports betting, “Find out how much money Harpo’s got. That’s how much I’ve lost.” When Gabriel Kaplan surrendered the Sweathogs for a tribute to his idol Groucho (in an early 1980s HBO presentation, Gabe Kaplan as Groucho, featuring ex-Sweathog Robert Heyges as Chico), he referenced Chico Marx’s gambling several times, including this tale from an allusion to Chico’s friendships with a few, shall we say, men of respect: It’s true, Chico knew all those guys. The day Bugsy Siegel got shot they found Chico’s check in his wallet. Good thing they shot Bugsy—the next day, Chico’s check would have bounced and Bugsy would have shot Chico.
Kaplan wasn’t just shining his audience, either: when Siegel did get whacked, the gendarmes did question Chico, indeed, about the nature of their relationship after finding a check from Chico among Siegel’s personal effects.
The non-performing Marx brother, Gummo, a longtime talent agent, once said Chico’s favourite people were fellow gamblers in and out of show business, when they weren’t, shall we say, women who were only too free with their charms. (Chico was as notorious a womaniser as he was a gambler; his nickname came about because he was a chicken chaser in an era when chicken chasing merely meant a taste for the ladies.) His womanising merely cost him a marriage; his gambling cost him a comfortable retirement after the Marx Brothers managed to get back to the top of the Hollywood beanhill.
Stories abound about Chico’s gambling desperation driving him, in the 1940s, back to the same tiny halls and clubs where his career had started three decades previous. In fact, the only reason Groucho and Harpo came out of film retirement to make A Night in Casablanca (which is a better film than it’s often remembered for being, and which the fourth Marx Brother, Zeppo, had swung for them in the first place having long since left acting to become a talent agent like Gummo) was to help Chico discharge the bankruptcy for which he’d filed a few years previous.
As things turned out, the rest of the Marx family finally took control of Chico’s income and put him on an allowance, keeping him there until he died of complications from arteriosclerosis in 1961, at 74. The irony, among several—Chico had actually been the Marx Brothers’ business manager earlier in their career; indeed, his personal friendship with the ill-fated MGM producer Irving Thalberg opened the door for the Marx Brothers’ spectacular screen comeback (A Night at the Opera) in 1935.
Kaplan playing Groucho eulogised him thus: “He had a helluva lot more fun out of life than I did.” Fun, of course, being somewhat relative, if you’ll pardon the expression.
Tonight: Bob Hope celebrates a lull in election returns (“There’ve been so many campaign speeches on the radio that last night I turned on my radio and it handed me a cigar”), and Chico Marx (fresh from having made the Marx Brothers’ Room Service) joins the joke machine and starts with a little mad fun by way of the fabled “Tootsie Frootsie Ice Cream” routine. It’s worth the visit just for that alone, though you won’t be disappointed when Chico tries to hustle Rose Bowl tickets to Bob, either.
Additional cast: Jerry Colonna. Announcer: Bill Goodwin. Music: Skinnay Ennis Orchestra, Six Hits and a Miss. Writers: Possibly Mel Shavelson, Milt Josefsberg, Norman Panama.
FURTHER CHANNEL SURFING . . .
The Great Gildersleeve: A Quiet Evening at Home (NBC, 1942)—Good luck with that, as chez Gildersleeve is bedeviled by the water commissioner (Harold Peary) plowing through the bills he’s put off seeing since the beginning of the month and thinking more evenings at home might mean more money saved—if slightly less sanity. The understatement makes it work. Marjorie: Lurene Tuttle. Birdie: Lillian Randolph. Hooker: Earle Ross. Peavey: Richard LeGrand. Bessie: Pauline Drake. Leroy: Walter Tetley. Leila: Shirley Mitchell. Announcer: Ken Carpenter. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra. Director: Cecil Underwood. Writer: John Whedon.
Information, Please: Half a Quartet (NBC, 1943)—Half of the U.S. Senate’s legendary “B2H2” quartet—who earn the nickname when they sponsor a bill (also given the same nickname) pressing for American participation in what would become the United Nations, in due course, gets a chance to sit on the spot with a legendary old-time radio brain panel today. Sens. J. Lister Hill (D-Alabama) and Joseph H. Ball (R-Minnesota) join regular panelists John F. Keiran (sportswriter,The New York Times, credited with coining “grand slam” as a tennis term) and Franklin P. Adams (retired longtime newspaper columnist, whose doggerel about B2H2—Sens. Harold Burton [D-Ohio] and Carl Hatch [D-New Mexico] completed the quartet—is read on the air). Who says politics can’t be mad fun? Moderator: Clifton Fadiman. Announcer: Ben Grauer.
The Green Hornet: The Hornet Drops a Hint (ABC, 1945)—Freshly freed from prison, a suave, usually cunning gangster, has an intriguing proposition to ponder that might help him get even with the Hornet (Bob Hall), who helped imprison him in the first place. Typical of the series. Kato: Rolland Parker. Lenore Case: Lee Allman. Axford: Gil Shea. Additional cast: Unknown. Director: Charles Livingstone. Writer: Fran Striker.
Suspense: The Bet (CBS, 1945)—It’s Lee J. Cobb’s show as an artist haunted by a woman, a statue of the goddess of destruction, Sheba, and a two-year, $50,000 challenge to his diligence in Trinidad a year earlier. Cobb makes the journey worth it. Additional cast: Unknown. The Man in Black: Joseph Kearns. Announcer: Truman Bradley. Music: Bernard Herrmann. Director: William Spier. Writers: James Nelson, Donald S. Ryeson.
Our Miss Brooks: The Workhorse (CBS, 1948)—Overloaded with work preparing the mid-term exams is nothing for Connie (Eve Arden), compared to being overloaded with suggestions for hobbies. Cheerfully typical entry and that’s a good thing. Mrs. Davis: Jane Morgan. Walter: Richard Crenna. Conklin: Gale Gordon. Boynton: Jeff Chandler. Harriet: Gloria McMillan. Announcer: Bob LaMond. Music: Wilbur Hatch. Writer/director: Al Lewis.
Escape: Plunder of the Sun (CBS, 1949)—A Chilean antique dealer (Harry Bartell) and his nurse (Lucille Meredith) ask an American (Paul Frees) to smuggle a Peruvian artifact back to that country after it was first smuggled out, without telling him just what the package is, but when the dealer dies on their sea voyage to Peru it prompts opening of the package, fear of another American tourist (Gerald Mohr) and an even shadier Peruvian antiquer, and a possible Incan treasure that may figure as the linchpin to the entire crisis. It’s not as complicated as you fear. Based on the novel by David Dodge. Additional cast: Charlie Lung, Tony Barrett. Announcer: Frank Goss. Music: Del Castillo. Director: William N. Robson. Writer: John Dunkel.
Fibber McGee & Molly: Cuckoo Clock (NBC, 1949)—The world’s worst fix-it man (Jim Jordan) absolutely insists on fixing Teeny’s (Marian Jordan, who also plays Molly) cuckoo clock despite her insistence that everything he’s fixed for her before has ended up just about the way things end up at 79 Wistful Vista. Yep, they’re still very much at the top of their game. La Trivia: Gale Gordon. The Old-Timer: Bill Thompson. Bessie: Cliff Arquette. Announcer: Harlow Wilcox. Music: Billy Mills Orchestra, the King’s Men. Writers: Don Quinn, Phil Leslie.
Historical note: The broadcast begins with NBC News anchor James Fleming announcing the New York Times and the New York Herald-Tribune calling incumbent William O’Dwyer re-elected as New York City’s 100th mayor, after succeeding Fiorello H. La Guardia in 1946.
The problem will prove to be that O’Dwyer will not even get close to finishing his second term—he will be forced to resign well enough short of a year after his re-election in the wake of a police corruption scandal.
The same report says both newspapers call it slim lead for incumbent Boston mayor James Curley—whose first election to political office (as a Boston alderman) came while he was in prison for fraud (involving his taking exams for two postal aspirants in his district)a—over the opponent who would ultimately defeat him.
That opponent, John Hynes—who had been Curley’s city clerk, and was acting mayor when Curley went to prison a second time for mail fraud during the incumbent term—was so steamed when Curley was released from prison and announced, “I have accomplished more in one day than has been done in the five months of my absence”—that he challenged and would defeat Curley later tonight, ending Curley’s long political career at last.
Dragnet: The Big Hit-and-Run Killer (NBC, 1951)—An unknown young woman is found strangled to death after a brutal beating in a seedy downtown hotel room and with no apparent lead to her identity or her killer, sending Friday (Jack Webb) and Romero (Barton Yarborough) on a hunt that leads them on a fruitless pursuit until clues to her truly troubled life begin to reveal just how senseless her death was. Classically laconic and effective, though it takes a little while before it grips you for keeps. Boarding House Mistress: Possibly Georgia Ellis. Additional cast: Unknown. Announcer: Hal Gibney, George Fenneman. Music: Walter Schumann. Director: Bill Rousseau. Writer: James E. Moser.
The Marriage: Ben’s Shady Client (NBC, 1953)—Ben’s (Hume Cronyn) law firm may not be too colourful, but neither are they immune to the occasionally dubious client—even if he means big business for the firm—that makes a man stare vacantly during dinner. Underrated light comedy of manners, at times approaching highbrow, but an intriguing vehicle for a pair of stage legends. Liz: Jessica Tandy. Emily: Denise Alexander. Barney: Larry King. Jake: Ed Begley. Additional cast: Ed Lattimer, Ann Thomas. Director: Edward King. Writer: Ernest Kinoy.
The Six Shooter: The Return of Stacy Gault (NBC, 1953) —Locals are alarmed because outlaw Stacy Gault is rumoured coming to town, and Ponset (Stewart) is alarmed when they want to string up a loner who just so happens to hit town at the hysteria’s beginning. Those who lament the James Stewart vehicle lasting as short as it did may well point to this episode among evidence that it deserved to last longer. Additional cast: Eleanor Audley, Parley Baer, Forrest Lewis, Barney Phillips. Announcer: Hal Gibney. Music: Basil Adam. Director: Jack Johnstone. Writer: Frank Burt.