Radio Round-Up is back, and today we bring you Baby Snooks and Daddy!
Born in New York’s Lower East Side in 1891, Fanny Brice began her show business career as a teenager in amateur nights. She performed in a Yiddish accent, reflective of her Jewish immigrant parents. Brice moved on to burlesque where noted impresario Florenz Ziegfeld heard her sing in a talent contest. In 1910, he recruited her for his Ziegfeld Follies, where she appeared in as a regular headliner throughout the 1910s and 1920s. In 1933, Brice transitioned to radio in her guest appearance on the Fleischmann Yeast Hour, which starred popular crooner Rudy Vallee. Brice’s style of humor proved problematic for NBC. The network’s Continuity Acceptance Department sent numerous memos and script alterations concerning her style of humor, which included suggestive double-entendres. In turn, Brice chose to implement her comedic sensibilities over the airwaves in the persona of a precocious four-year-old girl.Fanny Brice claimed in an interview that she first performed as such a character onstage in 1912, based on her own personality as a child. In reality, famed theater showman/lyricist Billy Rose, during the Broadway production of Sweet and Low, developed the notion that Brice should play as “Babykins.” Evidently, whenever something displeased her, she would talk in a child’s voice. She soon performed in the Broadway production of The Ziegfeld Follies of 1934, dressed in a baby costume, and became christened as “Baby Snooks”. Brice went into radio with the Baby Snooks character on The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air in February 1936, opposite Alan Reed as her father. She moved to the West Coast in 1937 and brought “Baby Snooks” to the Maxwell House Good News Show in a series of sketches on the NBC Red network. This time, Hanley Stafford performed the role of her long-suffering “Daddy,” which he continued to portray throughout Snooks’ career in radio.
In 1940, the NBC program’s title changed to Maxwell House Coffee Time, while the precocious little Snooks continued to irritate her father and outmaneuver different authority figures in a seemingly innocent fashion. One of Snooks’ trademarks was her inquisitive nature, incessantly asking “Why?” to her father during many of their interactions, which often led to frustration or at worse, a loud outburst. Another trademark was Snooks’ loud wailing whenever she is not given what she wants or is the recipient of a spanking.
Snooks became a radio favorite in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and references to the father-daughter relationship from the weekly broadcasts soon appeared. With the debut of Walter Lantz’s new character in Life Begins with Andy Panda (1939), he gave the little panda a baby voice similar to Snooks. In the film, Poppa Panda (voiced by Danny Webb) takes his son on a nature walk, where the dialogue is largely a take-off on the interactions between Snooks and Daddy. Andy continued to speak in a Snooks-esque voice in his next two cartoons Andy Panda Goes Fishing and 100 Pygmies and Andy Panda (both released 1940).As for Warner Bros., Malibu Beach Party (1940) features a caricature of Fanny Brice in her “Baby Snooks” persona, with character actor Ned Sparks as a replacement for “Daddy”. Robinson Crusoe Jr. (1941), with Porky Pig, uses the Snooks radio program as a small throwaway gag, mixing another cultural reference—the father rat’s response to his daughter’s question is a direct reference to a quote from Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take it With You (1938), uttered by Mischa Auer.
Later, around early 1944, director Chuck Jones’ main writer Tedd Pierce worked on a story built entirely around the Snooks-Daddy relationship, entitled Quentin Quail—a rather provocative title based on Californian slang law about minors (“San Quentin quail”). Pierce voiced the father quail, with Sara Berner playing “Toots”. Berner recorded her dialogue track for the cartoon in March 1944, and in a later session the following May, before the film’s March 1946 release.
After four seasons of Maxwell House Coffee Time, Brice moved to CBS in September 1944, where Snooks appeared on weekly broadcasts of Toasties Time, sponsored by General Foods. The show’s title was changed to The Baby Snooks Show the following year, with Sanka Coffee as its sponsor. The program switched its sponsorship to Jello until 1948, when Brice took a hiatus for a year and a half. Baby Snooks returned to NBC in November 1949, sponsored by Tums, which Brice remained until her death from a cerebral hemorrhage on May 29, 1951. During the show’s broadcast on that date, Hanley Stafford delivered a touching eulogy: “We have lost a very real, a very warm, a very wonderful woman.”
Here’s a video showcasing references to the Baby Snooks program in animated cartoons. There is not too many, but as usual, please excuse any discrepancies.
Clips included: Mother Goose in Swingtime (Mintz/1939), Quentin Quail (WB/1946), Life Begins with Andy Panda (Lantz/1939), Robinson Crusoe Jr. (WB/1941), Malibu Beach Party (WB/1940).
(Special thanks to Keith Scott and Eric Costello for their help with this post)
AN UPDATE: For those who would like to know about my progress on working with Thunderbean: in the past month, I have finished clean-up on Bulloney (1933) with Flip the Frog, and two Noveltoons—Cilly Goose (1944) and The Bored Cuckoo (1948).
There’s one more film in the batch — a stop-motion animated short — before I send everything back to Steve Stanchfield for another. I have also set up a Patreon page, which will contain exclusive research articles and sneak previews of current restorations if you are willing to contribute. More information about other projects can be read on the page, as well. Tune back in for more Radio Round-Up!