Want to know where more of these pet phrases from cartoons originated? This week’s Radio Round-Up reveals the origin of radio catchphrases from various programs used in animated cartoons from the Golden Age…
Stand-up comedian Billy Gray (1904-1978) was an emcee of The Band Box, a popular comedy club in Los Angeles when Lou Costello purchased the establishment, circa 1942. Besides playing “The Baby” on Eddie Cantor’s radio program, Gray appeared on The Abbott and Costello Show as a different child character, Little Matilda. On the program, Matilda would interrupt and reveal her age, as she stated: “I’m only three-and a half years old…” He also toured with Abbott and Costello in appearances at military base during World War II.
Gray took over the ownership of the Band Box, which later booked comedians such as Phil Silvers, Jackie Gleason, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, Buddy Hackett, and Don Rickles in early performances before the club closed in 1967. Here’s an excerpt of the November 18, 1943 broadcast of The Abbott and Costello Show, with the select number of Warners cartoons that referenced Matilda’s catchphrase. Unfortunately, for the video, I am unable to find a photograph of Billy Gray from the 1940s, so the comedy duo themselves are used as a substitute.
Clips used (all Warners): Russian Rhapsody (1944), Falling Hare (1943), Trap Happy Porky (1945), Wagon Heels (1945), Baby Bottleneck (1946), Baseball Bugs (1946), One Meat Brawl (1947)
The character of Henry Aldrich originated from a Broadway play by Clifford Goldsmith entitled What a Life, which debuted on April 13, 1938 and ran for 538 performances before it ended on July 8, 1939. The play was adapted into comedy sketches for Rudy Vallee’s radio program and The Kate Smith Hour before the Aldrich family material from both shows led to their own series in 1939. The Aldriches appeared in several B-movies from Paramount Pictures in the early 1940s, and a television show based on the family aired from 1949 to 1953, the year the radio program ended.
Presented here is a standard introduction of The Aldrich Family radio show, along with several clips from animated cartoons that lifted the famous opener. Kent Rogers provided the crackling adolescent tones for “Coming, Mother!” in each of the 1941 releases—you can see Rogers on-screen using the same reference in the Hal Roach “streamliner” feature All-American Co-Ed, released the same year (at 7:12).
Clips used: Farm Frolics (WB/1941), Hollywood Steps Out (WB/1941), The Barber of Seville (Lantz/1944), The Home Front (WB, Snafu/1943), Goofy Groceries (WB/1941), Book Revue (WB/1946)
As mentioned in an earlier installment of Radio Round-Up, radio actor Wally Maher played the nasally-voiced Wilbur on Tommy Riggs and Betty Lou. Tex Avery’s short-lived character Screwy Squirrel was patterned after Wilbur, from his deep sniff after a greeting and his grating cackle. Maher uttered a phrase lifted from the Tommy Riggs and Betty Lou program in at least two Screwy Squirrel entries, which also shows up in several Warners cartoons, particularly in Bob Clampett’s films: “I like him, he’s silly!”
Episodes of Tommy Riggs and Betty Lou are exceedingly rare besides the broadcast shared in the previous column mentioning the show. However, Maher appeared as Wilbur in guest appearances on The Jack Benny Program and The Burns and Allen Show, which are more commonly in circulation. (Maher occasionally appeared on Benny’s show, playing different characters in his normal voice.) Here is a guest appearance from Jack Benny’s show, which aired on October 22, 1944, along with different animated cartoons that used Wilbur’s signature line. By the time of Wilbur’s guest appearance in this broadcast, the last cartoon featuring Screwy Squirrel, Lonesome Lenny, entered its early production stages.
Clips used: Nasty Quacks (WB/1945), The Screwy Truant (MGM/1945), Falling Hare (WB/1943), Birdy and the Beast (WB/1944) Happy-Go-Nutty (MGM/1944)
Community Sing, sponsored by Gillette razor blades, was a short-lived comedy/variety series, which aired on CBS from September 6, 1936 to August 29, 1937. Milton Berle hosted the program, in an early stage of his radio career, and among its players in comedic sketches were vaudeville comic Tommy Mack (1898-1982) as Judge Hugo Straight and Bert Gordon as Mischa Moody. During its brief run, Mack’s and Gordon’s characters participated in an RKO film titled New Faces of 1937, which featured other radio personalities such as Joe Penner and Harry Einstein’s “Parkykarkus” character. The program also proved influential to Warner Bros. cartoons, with Frank Tashlin’s The Woods Are Full of Cuckoos (1937)—arguably, one of the most dated of the entire studio’s output— serving as a parody of the program.
On the program, Judge Hugo Straight would become flustered and volatile in the middle of a tirade. The receiving end of his fury would attempt to calm him down, as they said, “Now, don’t get excited,” to which Hugo would burst out in anger: “EXCITED?! Who’s excited?! I’m not excited!” This line would be used in a small number of Warner Bros. cartoons released in 1937. A year later, Mack’s character was spoofed as a gnome judge (voiced by Danny Webb) in the commercial film Boy Meets Dog (1938), produced by Walter Lantz. Like Tommy Riggs, episodes of Community Sing are scarce, so here is an excerpt from an April 21, 1937 broadcast along with the references to Tommy Mack’s outburst.
Clips used (all Warners): Porky and Gabby, Uncle Tom’s Bungalow, Porky’s Romance (all 1937).
There will be more miscellaneous catchphrases when you tune in next week!