Comedy variety show (1936 - 1955)
hard to believe that a boy born in Chicago to Swedish immigrant
parents who grew up on a dairy farm Edgar Bergen would, after fifteen
years of vaudeville and nightclubs, become
an overnight sensation on the radio as a ventriloquist. More amazing still, Charlie McCarthy was supposed to be
a boy, yet he wore a tuxedo complete with top hat and monocle,
and seemed to be from England. At least, that's the way
it seemed. The whole thing was really wacky, but it worked.
Why? Because any one who knows Bergen and McCarthy knew
they were really funny, sometimes a little bit ribald, but
always two lines away from another joke. Oh, Charlie was
insulting, too. While Charlie McCarthy was making his irrepressible
wisecracks, Edgar Bergen seemed as surprised and amused
as anyone else.
Cast of radio's Chase and Sanborn Hour,
from left to right: comedienne Judy Canova,
dummy Charlie McCarthy,
ventriloquist Edgar Bergen
Annie (Canova's sister).
On top: Zeke (Canova's brother).
After a season's intro on the The Rudy Vallee Hour,
Bergen and McCarthy were allowed to share the spotlight
with Don Ameche and Dorothy Lamour
on the Chase and Sandborn Radio
Hour in 1937. Right off, W.C. Fields got into the
act, trading insults with Charlie so fast and furious that
the audience was in stitches, and the idea of a "feud"
made national headlines. The show grew to be a major hit
on radio, staying in the top five for a decade. Many famous stars made guest appearances on the show - Fred Allen, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra, Tallullah, Gary Cooper, Fats Waller, Gordon MacRae, Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Rosemary Clooney, Basil Rathbone, Orson Welles, and more! In December
of 1937, another superstar of the time, Mae West, did a
sketch that was so "racy" that it sent the nation
into an eruption of protest. Sadly, Miss West was effectively
blackballed for over a decade due to that "Adam and
Eve" sketch, written by Arch Oboler, the same veteran
of radio whose introduction to Lights
was so skillfully sinister.
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Ray Noble was the show's bandleader, and made the show
seem even more classy and English, since Ray was very truly
a Brit. Many guest stars appeared to sing and sling the
patter along with Edgar and Charlie. But the variety aspect
on the show was secondary to the Bergen & McCarthy themselves,
and the other delightful Edgar Bergen characters - Mortimer
Snerd, the rather dopey hayseed, and the almost forgotten
Effie Klinker, an even odder character that was simply Bergan's
hand with a kerchief on it.The last of the Chase and Sandborn sponsored shows was
in 1948, eleven long years after they had signed on with
Edgar Bergen. Oddly, Bergen only appeared in a few films.
But he did do numerous TV appearances in the 1950s. For years,
he had remained a major radio star with an act that seemed
doomed to fail on radio
Edgar Bergen was a master of witty repartee, and radio audiences
were ready to enjoy his exuberant characters deliver it
on the radio week after week for over two decades. That's
For more variety shows from major American comedy entertainers,
see Jack Benny, Bing
Crosby, Burns and Allen,
and Red Skelton, as
well as the shows of Phil
Harris and Alice Faye.
See also: Paul Winchell & Jerry Mahoney Show, Educating Archie, Ventriloquists Collection, and the article, Ventriloquists in Old Time Radio.