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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Maybe the start of a series of broadcasting a

Here's the first broadcast of Duffy's Tavern on CBS, from 7-29-1940. I have quite a few of the available if anyone is interested, I'd be happy to start putting them up on a regular basis. Feedback?

"Hullo, Duffy's Tavern, where the elite meet to eat, Archie the manager speaking, Duffy ain't here---oh, hullo, Duffy . . . " It may have been the most familiar stock opening line in the history of old-time radio comedy.

The famous radio dive was one of those old-time radio birds that was at once a popular hit and a show onto which some of the biggest, or at least the most prestigious entertainers (including but not limited to Fred Allen and a few of his "Allen's Alley" demimonde, Clifton Fadiman, Lucille Ball, Dinah Shore, Rudy Vallee, Monty Woolley, Oscar Levant, Robert Benchley, Peter Lorre, Ida Lupino, Artie Shaw, Arthur Treacher, Hedda Hopper, Boris Karloff, Jinx Falkenburg, James Garfield, and Adolph Menjou) clamoured to appear. "Duffy's Tavern" enjoyed the rare position of being a major hit with listeners and critics alike.

Introduced as a "CBS Forecast" entry in the spring of 1941 ("Forecast" itself was a series designed to audition potential new CBS programs---it yielded two radio immortals, "Duffy's Tavern" and "Suspense"), then done once again in the same series that summer, "Duffy's Tavern" was the brainchild of Ed Gardner, a seasoned radio director and writer who got the idea after struggling to find a lead actor to handle a Lower East Side-like character in "This is New York" when he realised---doing a run-through to demonstrate what he had in mind---that he was the character . . . and, more important, the character informed the one that would make Gardner's radio immortality.

Archie was a malapropping barkeep ("He's got no talent of his own," Archie might say of highbrow music critic Deems Taylor, "he just talks over the other guys in the Philharmonica") who never met a get-rich-quick scheme he couldn't ignore or a lovely lady he could seduce, all while assorted and sundry demimonde who might have made him resemble a sage often got the better of him, usually without trying. Though he tended to try to fight it off, almost invariably a certain affecting vulnerability would expose itself in the end, though never lapsing into mawkishness or cliche. Gardner's Archie, in his way, was probably the most human comedy character to be born in the final powerful decade of old-time radio.

Gardner also pulled off the rare feat of forging an unheard character, Duffy himself, so completely that critics marveled at such a strong personality being established in spite of his weekly absence and listeners, as historian John Dunning cited "Tune In" saying, "can almost hear his voice when he calls in."

Gardner and his original co-writer, eventual Broadway legend Abe Burrows, mounted the show with its impeccable cast---Eddie Green as Eddie, Charles Cantor as Finnegan, and Shirley Booth (then Gardner's wife) as the original Miss Duffy, succeeded first by Florence Halop andeventually by Sandra Gould---for just over a decade. They did it live in New York until 1949 (Gardner habitually performed in a squashed porkpie hat and barkeep's apron behind a makeshift bar; the apron eventually became famous for all the guest star autographs he collected on the garment), when Gardner moved production to Puerto Rico---at that time, the continental U.S. remained under the heavy tax structures in place since World War II, and Puerto Rico offered generous tax relief to enterprises relocating there.

The show is the obvious forebear of such tavern-based television hits as Jackie Glearon's once-famous "Joe the Bartender" routines (Frank Fontaine's Crazy Guggenheim character was an obvious remake of "Duffy's" logic-and-learning challeged Finnegan, and the unseen "Mr. Dunahy" to whom Joe spoke to open the routines was an obvious nod to the always-unheard Duffy), "Archie Bunker's Place" and "Cheers," the latter of which has a family tie to the original---"Cheers" co-creator James Burrows is the son of "Duffy's" original co-head writer Abe Burrows. Other writers on the show included Larry Marks, Lew Meltzer, Dick Martin (eventually to make his mark on television's "Laugh-In"), Manny Sachs, Bob Schiller, and future "M*A*S*H" co-mastermind Larry Gelbart.

Ed Gardner died in 1963. "Duffy's Tavern" never has.

DT 1940-07-29 #000 Forecast Audition (aka 1940-07-09 aka 1940-04-11 aka 1943-03-09 aka 1944-12-01 aka Pickled Pigs Feet aka Irish Tenor): Featuring Mel Allen (announcer), Gertrude Neissen, Col. Stoopnagle (F. Chase Taylor), Larry Adler, John Kirby's Orch., and Ed Gardner as Archie.

1 - (07-29-40) - “Duffy Loves an Irish Tenor"
This was the pilot episode of Duffy's Tavern, aired as part of another show called "Forecast" in order to introduce it to audiences. In this premier edition, Archie answers the phone saying, "Hello, Duffy's Tavern, Where the elite meet to eat, Special today is pig's pickled feet. Archie the manager speakin', Duffy ain't here. Oh, hello, Duffy..." Except for the "pig's feet" part, this would become the opening line of every episode, as Duffy the owner would call in each week to find out what was going on down at his bar. In this case, in addition to the house band Archie has singer Gertrude Niesen on tap to entertain customers. Gertrude gives it to Duffy over the phone after he harshly criticizes her singing. Then Colonel Stoopnagle stops by to show off some of his unique inventions, including a very unusual "sawed-on" shotgun. When Archie mentions his order from Duffy to find an Irish tenor, the Colonel demonstrates his abilities as a singer, much to the chagrin of all present. Larry Adler plays a beautiful rendition of "Danny Boy" on his harmonica, which inspires Duffy to buy a round of drinks for the whole joint. While enjoying their beers, Archie tells the story of Two-Top Gruskin, the double-headed baseball player. Then Duffy calls back to say Larry Adler's tune wasn't good enough. Finally, after all else has failed to satisfy Duffy, Officer Clancy pops in and sings "When Irish Eyes are Smilin'" in a perfect Irish tenor voice, which pleases all. This tune became the show's opening theme song henceforth.


  1. Big fan here! I'd love to hear more!

  2. Hi, Barberella. You asked for reactions about the OTR's of Duffy's Tavern. Well, I think theire wonderfull. Altough sometimes my Dutch ears don't catch the clou. But that is a good occasion to keep up my skill. No, seriously, it's fantastic, emagining Larry Adler playing his harmonica, sitting by a campfire, you even can hear the cracle of the fire. Or am I mistaken ? (LOL) Greetings Adrian.

  3. Well, I do believe I will be putting some more of the series up soon! Thanks.

  4. Recently "discovered" your great blog. It's awesome!
    Saw where you promised some Jackie Wlison ballads. Please deliver on you promise soon, please.
    Thanks, you're amazing.

  5. Thanks. Glad you like it. I will hopefully get some time to post some more Jackie. I've been having some medical issues, and am away a bit, but hopefully I'll have some time, soon.