15 March: Spudnagle, stoop, satire, and sorrow

Frederick Chase Taylor (left) and Wilbur Hulick, radio's pioneering Stoopnagle & Budd. (Photo: NBC.)

Frederick Chase Taylor (left) and Wilbur Hulick, radio’s pioneering Stoopnagle & Budd. (Photo: NBC.)

For eight years, in the 1930s, Stoopnagle & Budd entertained the American public. Then the team split up and the two men went their separate ways in radio. Stoopnagle was a thickset man with a cherubic face, a rarity among comedians of the time in that he was a college graduate, and he was frequently as funny off-mike as he was on the air. He could play but one song on the harmonium, “I Love Coffee, I Love Tea,” and that became his theme. He had an extraordinarily inventive mind and while he loved the reverse English involved in Spoonerisms, his clever way of dealing with the language sometimes approached sheer genius.

Col. Stoopnagle’s inventions, invariably described whenever hapless (and should have known better) Budd (real name: Wilbur Budd Hulick) is foolish enough to ask on the radio whether he had any new inventions to describe:

A twenty-foot pole, for not touching a guy you wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole . . . twice.

A wrist watch with a whistle on it, in case someone came up and asked, “Hey, you got a wrist watch with a whistle on it?”

An upholstered deep, for sailors to fall asleep in them.

Eyeglasses with vertical stripes on them, so bank tellers can recognise their customers when they meet them outside the cage.

A daisy with only the she-loves-me petals on it, so she always loves you.

A square bathtub for not getting rings in it.

H. Allen Smith, from “Colonel Speaknagle Stoopling,” in How to Write Without Knowing Nothing. (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1961.)

Frederick Chase Taylor (Col. Lemuel Stoopnagle) and Wilbur (Budd) Hulick have been the radio darlings of the intelligentsia in network radio’s earliest decade, but they’ve been equally unable to keep sponsorship for more than single seasons despite respectable ratings.

When ratings began to be kept in earnest in 1932-33, Stoopnagle & Budd pulled respectable ratings including a couple of Top Ten finishes in a fifteen-minute exercise on CBS. Sponsored by Pontiac Motors, they snuck into the Top Fifty for the season overall in a dead heat with Carveth Wells Exploring America, thanks to their Thursday night rating of 9.8. Two years later, alternating hosting duties with Will Rogers on another night, their Sunday night performances for Gulf Headliners yanked them into the season’s Top Twenty, with a 21.3 rating good for fifth place on Sunday nights as well.

Those would be their only such finishes. By 1937, the partners had broken up following the comparative ratings failure of their last network radio try, The Minute Men. Budd Hulick became somewhat of a success on his own hosting What’s My Name?, a Mutual game show, then a music program on the same network, Music and Manners, before he gravitated back to the local radio milieu from whence Stoopnagle & Budd emerged in the first place: they’d teamed accidentally in Buffalo, New York in 1930 when—as their station needed a dead-air fill when a network feed failed, Hulick lured Taylor into freewheeling banter and the locals loved it.

In retrospect, Stoopnagle & Budd prove years ahead of their time. They are, arguably, network radio’s first genuine satirists, Stoopnagle’s patented double-talk, spoonerisms, and language mangling balanced by Budd’s wry straight man, and the pair poking fun at the very medium that might be making them stars, with mocking skits, fake listener-outrage letters, and parodies of such hit fare as Amos ‘n’ Andy and Bing Crosby. It will take the like of Fred Allen (for whose NBC groundbreaker Town Hall Tonight they’d serve as a summer replacement in 1936) and, much later, Bob & Ray, to make Stoopnagle & Budd’s kind of satire accessible, but it’s only fair to say Stoopnagle & Budd get there first.

Taylor will make a respectable career following the Stoopnagle & Budd split-up by appearing frequently as a guest on such shows as Fred Allen’s and on Duffy’s Tavern, not to mention a couple of summer replacement stints, most notably for Burns & Allen in 1943. By 1947, Taylor—still mining Col. Stoopnagle deeply enough—proved a hit as a summer substitute for Bob Hawkins, leading to a regular slot on singer Vaughn Monroe’s Camel Caravan in 1947-48, a gig he held until his unexpected death in 1950.

Colonel Stoopnagle once advanced the brash opinion that parades, as conducted on the streets of our towns and cities, are not properly organised. Each person on the sidelines may have a particular section he wants to look at longer than the other sections . . . The section he particularly wants to see goes past him before he has a chance to take it all in and if he wants to study it further, he has to sort of trot alongside it, and stand the risk of being brought up for disorderly conduct. The Colonel proposed that all future parades be formed up a stretch of Fifth Avenue, or whatever street they ordinarily use, and that the marchers and floats and bands and horsemen and cops and everybody else in the parade stand still, so the onlookers could walk around them and take their time looking at the sections they liked best.

H. Allen Smith, ibid.

Tonight the world of fun and laughs is bidding farewell to Colonel Lemuel Q. Stoopnagle. Today, in Boston, Stoop died of an internal ailment—and radio loses a famous, genial figure . . . He was a member of –in fact, the star—of our soft ball team, The Nine Old Men. He not only played a good game, but kept both teams and spectators in a merry uproar. One of the finest men I ever knew—with a way of making everybody happy.

Lowell Thomas, eulogising Stoopnagle/Taylor, 29 May 1950.

Budd Hulick will die in 1961.


Stoopnagle & Budd: If We Supervised Radio (CBS, 1935)

You almost don’t want to know what would happen if they did supervise radio. Of course, you might go down laughing even as you don’t want to know. But you also might go down kicking and screaming when you realise this will be one of only two Stoopnagle & Budd radio shows (the other involves their summertime replacement for Fred Allen) to survive for 21st Century listening.

Additional cast: Unidentified. Announcer: Andre Baruch. Music: Mark Warnow. Writers: Unidentified.


Further Channel Surfing . . .


The Great Gildersleeve: Ten Best Dressed (NBC, 1942)—Harold Peary, Earle Ross, Walter Tetley, Lurene Tuttle, Lillian Randolph, Isabel Randolph, Arthur Q. Bryan. Gildersleeve’s voted one of Summerfield’s ten best dressed men, amusing and annoying Hooker into challenging for the title—assuming it’s legitimate in the first place. Typical ‘Sleeving.

Duffy’s Tavern: Archie Takes Up Gardening (NBC; AFRS rebroadcast, 1946)—Ed Gardner, Alan Young, Eddie Green, Charles Cantor, Sandra Gould. Archie receives a handsome potted plant as an unexpected gift, from the nurse who tended him during his recent tonsillectomy, inspiring him to start a small farm in the back of the dive. Ten green thumbs?

The Life of Riley: Advice to the Lovelorn Column (NBC, 1947)—William Bendix, Sharon Douglas, Paula Winslowe, Scotty Beckett, John Brown. Riley throws Babs’ boyfriend Simon out of the house—again, but seeks advice from a columnist when Peg declares he’s overreacting as usual. The usual revoltin’ developments.

My Friend Irma: Buy or Sell (CBS, 1948)—Marie Wilson, Cathy Lewis, John Brown, Hans Conreid. Fed up with fighting the party line, Jane and Irma decide to get a private phone, which could end up slammed in Jane’s face when Irma misinterprets Al’s plan to get them one. Don’t ask.

Fibber McGee & Molly: Doc Gamble Day (NBC, 1949)—Jim and Marian Jordan, Gale Gordon, Bill Thompson, Harlow Wilcox. The town is preparing to surprise Dr. Gamble with a day in his honour . . . instigated by, of all people, the Sap of 79 Wistful Vista himself, who’s quietly grateful for all Doc’s treatment over the years, but a surprise of his own awaits him. Stay with it.


Crime Drama

Philo Vance: The Million Dollar Murder (ZIV syndication, 1950)—Jackson Beck, George Petrie, unidentified additional cast. After years of stepping over every back he could get away with, paranoid business titan Ezra Simmons alarms his loyal secretary, who stands to inherit a million dollars from him . . . if she can survive working now in his deceptive mansion without wanting to kill him first. Fun, if you can bear with the over-soaped acting.

Broadway is My Beat: The Gordon Merrick Murder Case (CBS, 1952)—Larry Thor, Rita Johnson, Paul Richards, Herb Butterfield, Charles Calvert, Jack Kruschen, Martha Wentworth. A director trying to win back a stage actress is shot to death, and Clover is taken aback by her seeming indifference to it—before she hires a private investigator to prove her incumbent lover’s innocence. When you’re making crime drama as good as this, you can get away with stretching a few poetic metaphors too far.


Drama/Dramatic Anthology

Lux Radio Theater: Desire (CBS, 1937)—Marlene Dietrich (reprising her film role), Herbert Marshall (in Gary Cooper’s film role), Otto Krueger, Zeffie Tillbury, Cecil B. DeMille (host). Auto engineer Tom Bradley is used to smuggle jewels stolen by a sultry thief with whom he can’t help falling in love. It’s said Dietrich and Marshall absolutely insisted on doing this broadcast, enough to push back the start of shooting a new film, and it shows in their enthusiastic performances.

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