Greetings, gate! Today on Radio Round-Up, we present references to Bob Hope’s radio show in classic animated cartoons, including “Professor” Jerry Colonna…
Though he had performed on vaudeville and Broadway in the early part of his show business career, Bob Hope made a nation-wide impact when he appeared on The Fleischmann’s Yeast Hour, starring Rudy Vallee, as a “promising new comic” in 1933. In addition to his film roles and Broadway performances (in such productions as “Roberta” and “Red, Hot and Blue”), he starred in various short-lived radio programs on NBC and CBS from 1935 to 1938.
In one of his early radio appearances on Town Hall Tonight with Fred Allen (May 27, 1936), Jerry Colonna performed a comic rendition of “The Road to Mandalay” accompanied by prolonged, screeching high notes. In The Kraft Music Hall hosted by Bing Crosby, which he played trombone in the John Scott Trotter band, an opera parody was written for Colonna to perform an aria in the same manner. This routine was carried over in the Paramount musical comedy College Swing (1938), as he recited the Bing Crosby song “Please”. While he delivered comic monologues for the weekly program, Bob Hope was simultaneously performing in College Swing, where he discovered Colonna’s comedic sensibilities in person.
Pepsodent toothpaste considered ending their association with the Amos n’ Andy program in favor of a new show for the fall 1938 season. Hope was picked to star in The Pepsodent Show, which first aired on NBC in September 27th, recruiting Colonna as his sidekick. In his featured appearance on the first Pepsodent broadcast, he is introduced with an extended opening wail of the song “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life” before trading quips with Hope. Their sketch concluded with Colonna reprising his hammy rendition of “The Road to Mandalay” from Town Hall Tonight. Colonna, or “Professor” as Hope often addressed him, became a hit on the program, with his salutation “Greetings, Gate!” becoming a national catchphrase.One particular name became well known from Hope’s show, revolving around violinist Yehudi Menhuin. Although it has been stated that Menuhin appeared on the Pepsodent Show around 1939, there seems to be no evidence of the guest spot in contemporary newspapers or magazines. Many of the master recordings of the 1939-40 broadcast season are lost, which worsens the ambiguity. (Incidentally, Menuhin did appear alongside Jack Benny in a program much later, in 1947.) As it has been theorized, Hope announced Yehudi Menuhin would appear as a guest, and Colonna exclaimed, “Who’s Yehudi?” Other accounts have claimed that during a contest to name announcer Bill Goodwin’s newborn baby, Colonna suggested the name “Yehudi,” playing off from Menuhin’s notoriety. Hope’s show continued to reference the name, and the public attention led to a song written in 1940 entitled “Who’s Yehudi?”
Besides his signature catchphrases, Colonna’s vocal mannerisms and wide-ranging moustache started to be referenced in animated cartoons just as The Pepsodent Show gained recognition in its first season. The tough convict in Bars and Stripes Forever (WB/1939) sings the Johnny Mercer/Harry Warren tune “Daydreaming (All Night Long)” as he casually makes a prison escape, holding high notes in the vein of Colonna. Later, Friz Freleng directed two cartoons featuring a worm based around Colonna—mustache included: The Wacky Worm (1941) and Greetings Bait (1943), the latter film nominated for an Academy Award.
During its second season in fall 1939, The Pepsodent Show added Blanche Stewart and Elvia Allman to the cast as Brenda and Cobina, lampooning spoiled New York socialites Brenda Frazier and Cobina Wright, Jr. Elvia Allman was a veteran of roles in animated short films, coincidentally voicing a love-starved old bird vying for the iceman’s affections in Tex Avery’s I Only Have Eyes For You (1937), which predated her character on Hope’s show. Each of their conversations on the program would begin with Cobina calling to Brenda, to which her friend would reply, “What is it, Cobina?” Again, many of the 1939-40 broadcasts from The Pepsodent Show have not survived, so it is unknown if either of the two characters explicitly shouted “Look, a man!” as a small number of cartoons have depicted. In the Screen Gems cartoon Cinderella Goes to a Party (1942), the film opens with Cinderella’s two stepsisters readying themselves for the royal ball, speaking in voices patterned after Brenda and Cobina.
Around early 1941, Old Gold cigarettes changed its slogan to “Something new has been added” when it switched to the J. Walter Thompson ad agency. Advertisements stated Latakia tobacco enriched the overall quality of tobacco in this latest incarnation of the brand. This slogan became synonymous with Jerry Colonna as he often used it as a reliable capper during his verbal exchanges with Hope. In a number of animated films, characters spoke the line with Colonna-esque intonations, such as The Hep Cat (WB/1942) and Plane Daffy (WB/1944). Tex Avery also utilized the phrase, underneath a buzzing neon sign displaying the film’s title, to emphasize a contemporary take on an old-fashioned fairy tale, Red Hot Riding Hood (MGM/1943).
Bob Hope was infrequently caricatured in animated cartoons, though a couple such as the Little Lulu cartoons The Baby Sitter and A Bout with a Trout (both 1947) feature Hope and Colonna together; like Little Lulu, Hope was associated with Paramount Pictures. Based on the popularity of the Road comedies, where Hope was paired with Bing Crosby, the two appear in Kitty Caddy (1947), both voiced by Dave Barry.
Bob McKimson’s second Warners film as a director, Hollywood Canine Canteen (1946) is rife with dog versions of film and radio personalities, including a brief appearance by Hope and Colonna performing a radio sketch with wordplay undoubtedly inspired, if not directly lifted from The Pepsodent Show (“Professor, you get under my skin.” “Ahhh, no—you get under mine. More room.”)
While Colonna was imitated many times in animated shorts, Walt Disney hired the man himself as the narrator for “Casey at the Bat,” intended as a segment for the package feature Make Mine Music (1946). He narrated on another short for Disney, The Brave Engineer (1950), which recounted the ballad of Casey Jones. In perhaps one of his celebrated roles on film, Colonna provided the voice of the March Hare for Alice in Wonderland (1951). The NBC television show Ford Star Revue aired a promotional featurette “Operation Wonderland” a month before the film’s July 1951 premiere, which featured Colonna on-screen in live-action reference footage for the Mad Tea Party sequence.
By 1948, ratings had plummeted on The Pepsodent Show and Hope needed an overhaul on his NBC program. That fall, he starred in The Swan Show Starring Bob Hope, now sponsored by Swan Soap. One noteworthy change to the show was the absence of Colonna, as many of the previous cast members did not appear on the new show. However, Colonna occasionally appeared with Hope during the early 1950s, now re-titled The Bob Hope Show, including the final episode, which aired on April 21st, 1955. Even after a massive stroke in 1966, which paralyzed his left side, Hope and Colonna continued to work together on his television shows, on-camera and behind the scenes, as his co-star gave input to the scripts and musical scores. Colonna suffered a heart attack in 1977, after which he remained at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital until his death in 1986.
As always, this video should illustrate the impact of Bob Hope’s radio show, especially Jerry Colonna’s remarkable talents. As usual, this may not include every instance a certain reference or caricature depicted in animated cartoons; some were mentioned in the column but not included due to shorten the duration of the video. (Somehow, I missed a reference to the Lifebuoy soap commercial in the Famous Studios Noveltoon, Pleased to Eat You and the Lucky Strike auctioneer spiel in the Lantz cartoon Hysterical High Spots in American History…)
Colonna high-pitched wail/vocal imitation—Prehistoric Porky (WB/1940), Detouring America (WB/1939), Cinderella Goes to a Party (Screen Gems/1942), Pleased to Eat You (Famous/1950), The Wacky Worm (WB/1941)
“Greetings, Gate!”—Scalp Trouble (WB/1939), The Wise-Quacking Duck (WB/1943), What’s Cookin’ Doc? (WB/1944)
Brenda and Cobina—Goofy Groceries (WB/1941), Eatin’ on the Cuff (WB/1942), Hysterical Highspots in American History (Lantz/1941)
“Haven’t I/Isn’t it?”/more vocal imitations—The Duckators (WB/1942), Mother Goose on the Loose (Lantz/1942), Who Killed Who (MGM/1943, voiced by Kent Rogers), The Unruly Hare (WB/1945), Daffy Doodles (WB/1946)
References to “Yehudi”—Farm Frolics (WB/1941), Hollywood Steps Out (WB/1941), Crazy Cruise (WB/1942)
“Something new has been added!”—The Hep Cat (WB/1942), Plane Daffy (WB/1944), Booby Traps (WB/Snafu, 1943), with the ending scene from Greetings Bait (WB/1943)
(Thanks to Keith Scott and Eric Costello for their help.)