15 March: The hard timing of Stoopnagle & Budd

A Stoopnagle & Budd advertisement.

An advertisement for Stoopnagle & Budd’s final series as a team, The Minute Men. (Photo: NBC.)

Radio ratings began to be kept in earnest during the 1932-33 season. Among the top fourteen shows on Thursday nights that season was Stoopnagle & Budd, its 9.8 Crossley rating nowhere close to Jack Pearl and his Baron von Munchausen exercise’s evening-leading 39.4 but only two full points behind Death Valley Days and seven fractional points ahead of semi-serial dialogic comedy Easy Aces.

In fact, that 9.8 enabled Stoopnagle & Budd to finish in a dead heat for the bottom of the seasonal overall top fifty, along with Carveth Wells Exploring America, with the British-born explorer producing a kind of radio antecedent to such eventual television fare as Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

The duo would far fare better in 1934-35, when—alternating hosting duties with Will Rogers—they took their portion of Gulf Headliners into the top twenty, finishing eighteenth on the season overall with a 21.3 that landed them in fifth place on Sunday nights, also at 9:30 p.m.

Unfortunately, those would be the best ratings finishes Stoopnagle & Budd would experience in their time together. None of their reputation among the intelligentsia and their fellow performers could help, and they couldn’t keep sponsorships for much more than single seasons for the most part. Their final network radio bid as a team, The Minute Men, in 1936-37, bombed completely, and the they broke up.

They’d gotten together by accident in the first place, when Budd Hulick—an announcer in sudden need of a dead-air fill when a network feed failed at Buffalo, New York WMAK—lured the station’s continuity writer/producer/director Frederick Chase Taylor into some quick freewheeling banter . . . much the way Goodman Ace had done in Kansas City, when a failed network feed necessitated his dragging his wife, Jane, into the studio for a little freewheeling banter, leading to the invitation to create what became Easy Aces. The impromptu round was a local hit. (“The program went over,” Taylor remembered later, “in spite of everything we could do.”)

 

In a 1932 publicity shot. (Photo: CBS.)

In a 1932 publicity shot: Taylor (left), Hulick. (Photo: CBS.)

With Taylor taking the guise of Col. Lemuel Stoopnagle, Taylor and Hulick developed a style hooked around Taylor’s flair for double- and triple-talking spoonerisms and Hulick’s deftness as a wry straight man. They poked fun at the very medium that might be making them stars, parodying hit shows and deploying fake listener outrage letters. Very much ahead of their time, the Stoopnagle & Budd approach would be refined into more accessible satire in the hands of such performers as Fred Allen and Bob & Ray. But it’s only fair to say Stoopnagle & Budd got there first. Within a year of their accidental birth as a team, they were lured to New York for their bold but ill-fated network radio career.

It took a toll on both men. Taylor’s first marriage cracked up at the height of the duo’s brief popularity, and he divorced and remarried in 1936. Rumours often flew that Hulick began to resent taking the proverbial back seat to Taylor, whom Hulick freely admitted was the main writer of their act. And speculation abounded that the real reason the team finally split in 1937 was Taylor wearying over Hulick’s reputed drinking problems.

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.

Taylor forged a respectable followup career, appearing often on Allen’s and other shows and a summer replacement stint or three, still mining Col. Stoopnagle for all he was worth including in humourous published writings. By 1947, he’d land himself a hit as Bob Hawkins’s summer replacement, which led to a regular slot on singing star Vaughn Monroe’s Camel Caravan in 1947-48, a gig he held until he died unexpectedly in 1950 at 52 from heart trouble.

News and commentary legend Lowell Thomas eulogised Taylor in a 29 May 1950 broadcast:

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.

And in time humourist H. Allen Smith, a longtime fan, did his part to make sure the almost-forgotten duo, and Stoopnagle in particular, did not go unforgotten, over a decade after his death.

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.”

Budd Hulick died the same year Smith’s remembrance was republished in How to Write Without Knowing Nothing. (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1961.)

 

TUNE IN TONIGHT:
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 Taylor’s 1938 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 . . .

Lux Radio Theater: Desire (CBS, 1937)
The Great Gildersleeve: Ten Best Dressed (NBC, 1942)
Duffy’s Tavern: Archie Takes Up Gardening (NBC; AFRS rebroadcast, 1946)
The Life of Riley: Advice to the Lovelorn Column (NBC, 1947)
My Friend Irma: Buy or Sell (CBS, 1948)
Fibber McGee & Molly: Doc Gamble Day (NBC, 1949)
Philo Vance: The Million Dollar Murder (ZIV syndication, 1950)
Broadway is My Beat: The Gordon Merrick Murder Case (CBS, 1952)

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