This past semester I've been teaching American humor to a group of 11th and 12th graders who have been brought up on Steve Martin, Bill Cosby, George Carlin and Richard Pryor. Sure, they've seen Bob Hope and Edgar Bergen and they remember Jack Benny and Groucho Marx. But Jack Carson? Judy Canova? Joe Penner? Fred Allen? Wasn't he the coach of the Red Sox?
Well, being a OTR freak,I had to set these kids straight on just who the best comedians of the 20th century were!
I played a Jack Benny show, a Jack Carson show, a Judy Canova show, a Fibber McGee and Molly and an Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy show.
Here's what they had to say about these folks:
Cindy Brown, senior: "I really liked Edgar Bergen's Mortimer Snerd. I liked the line when he was at the carnival and he looked in a mirror in the funhouse and he thought he looked better than in real life."
Botsy Ross (no kiddin'), junior: I think Edgar Bergen was so successful because he gave the dummies personalities of their own. And it really sounded like there were two people talking instead of one. Charlie, Mortimer and Effie are real people. Effie was vivacious in that she loved men and everything to do with them."
Joyce Nutt, junior: Charlie gets hurt easily; he acts like a child, but he is lovable. He has a personality that makes you feel for him. I guess you could call Effie a 'dirty old lady.' She believes every man should be married whether he likes it or not."
Jim Nichols, senior: "Mortimer is not playing with a full deck! And Charlie -- people try to be nice to him, but he'd turn around and tell them to get lost. And for how old Effie is, she has a lot of spunk. I I also liked Fibber McGee and Molly because of the way they worked together as a team; they would crack each other up all the time."
Ted Williams (another no kiddin'), junior: Mortimer is a dumb dummy, but he's so dumb you have to laugh at him."
Dannette Hyer, junior: "Charlie is funny, but also brash. He says things that most people wouldn't say to others, but he thinks nothing of it."
You might have noted something among these comments -- most of them had to do with Edgar Bergen and his characters. Most of the class felt, of all the comedy shows I played for them, Charlie, Mortimer, and Effie were the best.
Probably Bergen's comedy did appeal to the teenagers of the '30s, '40s,and the '50s more than the others used in my classes. Maybe someone reading this may have access to a poll taken during the Golden Age that would either refute or agree with this assumption.
Anyway, Charlie, Mortimer and Effie will live forever as long as those of us in OTR can let others hear them once again.
Hy Daley in Illustrated Press, April 1980