Suspended Animation # 213
Ironically, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s greatest success came on radio where audiences couldn’t see his dummies Charlie McCarthy or Mortimer Snerd or even Bergen occasionally moving his lips slightly to better articulate the words for them. Under various show titles and networks, Bergen, Charlie McCarthy and friends appeared on radio from May 1937 to June 1956.Bergen and McCarthy appeared in movies, books, comic strips, merchandise and later television. Bergen was even given an honorary Oscar for the creation of Charlie McCarthy. The Oscar statuette was made of wood.
Bergen was also one of Walt Disney’s best friends. Among their connections were that they were both members of the Rancheros Visitadores social riding club.
“Edgar Bergen was a very dear friend of dad’s. I’m certain that you’re aware of instances of their collaborating, like on a radio show or two,” Diane Disney Miller, Walt’s daughter, wrote to me years ago when I was asking about their connection.
“[Edgar’s actress daughter] Candice Bergen, in her biography, Knock Wood, refers to their friendship and states that my dad was her godfather. I don’t think he actually was, but I was pleased that she thought so. As a child, she loved the film Snow White and arranged for a special screening on her 21st birthday party.
“My parents were good friends with Edgar and (his wife) Frances, but I think that dad and Edgar had a special bond,” Diane told me. “Edgar had a wonderful sense of humor, was really very witty. I think that they were a really good family.”
Of course, Bergen and McCarthy had appeared in the Disney compilation film Fun and Fancy Free (1947) where they narrated the story of “Mickey and the Beanstalk” to child actress Luana Patten in live action framing segments.
In 1955, their appearance was replaced with off-camera narration by Sterling Holloway and later, in 1963, with an animated Ludwig von Drake and Herman taking their places. In 1972, ventriloquist Shari Lewis and her puppet Lamb Chop were the narrators for yet another version.
It was hoped that including the very popular Bergen and McCarthy (who were not considered a ventriloquist act but a comedy team) would help the box office of the film. While reviewers found the film a minor but entertaining effort in the overall Disney movie legacy, they praised the amusing work of Bergen and McCarthy.
Bergen and McCarthy’s partnership with Walt Disney actually began as early as 1937 with the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in a unique radio presentation.
Even before Snow White premiered at the Carthay Circle Theater on December 21st, 1937, Bergen and McCarthy met the characters from the film on their December 19th, 1937, radio show, Episode No. 33. Being friends with Walt, it is possible that Bergen and his writers may have seen a preview of the film at the Disney Studios.
The head writer for the show was Zeno Klinker and the character on the show of Effie Klinker was named after him. Bergen himself also contributed to the writing, along with others.
In 1938, Whitman Publishing released a 24-page black and white softcover book (with color covers) titled Edgar Bergen’s Charlie McCarthy Meets Walt Disney’s Snow White (no. 986) that most Disney historians, myself included, assume is an adaptation of a transcription of the radio performance.
For one thing, the text is almost all dialogue like a script with very little description. There is no indication of a writer.
There is also no indication of an artist but whoever did the art was pretty much “on model” for the Disney characters, which was not always true for other Snow White books released during the same time period. Yet, there is no Disney copyright on the material, which once again seems to indicate that it was not produced by Disney but there is a copyright for Charlie McCarthy Inc. seeming to suggest it was from the radio show.
By the way, The Screen Guild Theater radio show performed, over several years, five half-hour adaptations of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, beginning in 1944 and 1946 both narrated by Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.
It was followed by two different ones in 1948 and another (paired with a half-hour adaptation of Pinocchio) in 1950. Child actress Margaret O’Brien narrated the first show in 1948. Bergen and McCarthy narrated the second version in 1948 and the 1950 show.
In the 1937 show, Bergen tells Charlie that he has a great treat in store for him. He is going to tell the story of Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and he has invited the little men to join them.
“Say, Mr. Bergen,” whispered Charlie excitedly, “what are those little fellows? Goblets?”
“The word is goblins, Charlie,” corrected Mr. Bergen.
“That’s what I said. Gobblers!”
“No…goblins,” repeated Mr. Bergen. “And besides, they’re not goblins. They’re dwarfs. Walt Disney has brought them to life on the screen and you’re going to have the first opportunity to meet them. Aren’t the dwarfs cute?”
“Yeah,” agreed Charlie grudgingly. “They’re almost as cute as me.”
“Now, now, Charlie. That’s no way to talk about our little guests. I want you to meet the Seven Little Dwarfs: Bashful, Doc, Dopey, Sleepy, Happy, Sneezy and Grumpy.”
“What?” exclaimed Charlie. “No Groucho and Harpo?”
This is followed by banter between Charlie and some of the individual dwarfs. Then the wicked Queen enters.
“Say, I’ll have to look into this, Bergen,” said Charlie who turned to the mirror and asked, “Who is the handsomest man in the land…and why am I?”
“You are….NOT,” answered the mirror without hesitation.
“Hey, mirror, stop casting reflections,” threatened Charlie. “I think it’s trying to frame me.”
When the Queen leaves, Snow White enters and asks for Charlie’s protection.
“Believe me, that mirror spake the truth,” exclaimed Charlie. “Snow White, thou art….a knockout! Snow White…beware of the Big Apple. I mean look out for poisoned apples.”
Suddenly, an old witch stood grinning right next to them. “Apple? Apple? Did I hear anybody say apple? Wouldn’t you like to buy my bright red apple?”
“Yes, Snow White,” replied Charlie. “I’ll buy the pretty apple for you. I’ve got the money in my coat in this closet. Follow me, old lady.”
Thinking she had won and that Snow White was soon to eat the poisoned apple, the witch followed Charlie who gave her a push into the dark closet and slammed the door and locked it.
“We’re going to leave you there until we do our spring housecleaning. So just hang yourself on a hook and make yourself at home,” laughed Charlie.
The dwarfs re-enter and there is more banter before leaving again with Snow White. She turned and blew a kiss to Charlie and Mr. Bergen and those two are still arguing as to who caught it.