by Tim DeForest
Everyone loves babies. Unless you’ve been roped into a babysitting job that interferes with a big date. Then, obviously, the thing to do is initiate a zany scheme that is supposed to rope someone else into taking over as sitter.
Many OTR comedies used the theme of babysitting to generate comedic chaos. This isn’t surprising—babies can be agents of chaos in real life. Stick one in a comedy and all sorts of shenanigans are bound to ensue.
For instance, A Date with Judy brought us “Baby Trouble” (July 7, 1942). Judy Foster has been taking care of a hypothetical baby in a Domestic Science class, so she’s now confident that she’s ready for the real thing and takes a job as a sitter. Her brother Randolph then suggests entering the little guy in a Beautiful Baby contest to win a $25 prize. It’s too bad her Domestic Science class didn’t include a lesson in bringing the correct baby home after the contest.
In the Archie Andrews episode “Archie the Babysitter” (May 27, 1951), Archie is invited to a formal dance by Veronica, so he needs money to rent a tux. He takes a babysitting job. That by itself isn’t a bad idea. Leaving Jughead to watch the baby while he runs out to get the tux is, on the other hand, a really bad idea.
On a side note, Bob Hastings, who played Archie, gets to demonstrate in this episode that he has a really nice singing voice. Which actually fits the character, since in later years, Archie would later be portrayed as the lead singer in his unimaginatively named band “The Archies.”
Another side note: Hastings got to play other characters with comic book origins in later years. In the 1960s, he voiced Superboy in a Saturday morning cartoon series. In the 1990s, he was the voice of Commissioner Gordon on Batman: The Animated Series.
One last side note: Why Archie didn’t dump Veronica years ago and just stick with Betty is completely beyond me.
“Babysitting” is the October 21, 1948 episode of The Aldrich Family. Henry Aldrich has a big date, but his parents have obligated him to babysit for a family friend. Henry’s efforts to find a replacement sitter so he can go on the date requires some fast wheeling-and-dealing, which in turn leads to a series of misunderstandings and growing chaos.
Teenagers, though, aren’t the only ones who have baby-troubles.
In the Our Miss Brooks episode “Babysitting for Three” (November 11, 1948), Connie Brooks checks up on a student who has been absent from class. She learns that the student has been watching his three younger brothers—including a baby—while his mother is in the hospital and his father is out-of-town. Connie is soon roped into helping. She’s a bit frazzled at first (“The breakfast is crying and I’ve got three children cooking on the stove.”), but manages to keep control of the situation at first. But when her students get the idea that the kids are hers and she must be secretly married to biology teacher Mr. Boynton, everything goes downhill fast.
Few actresses other than Eve Arden could deliver the line “Go to your room or I’ll kill you” to an obnoxious child in a perfect deadpan tone that makes it truly funny rather than mean-spirited.
“Babysitting for Kay Kyser” is the February 12, 1948 episode of Burns and Allen. Here, bandleader Kay Kyser is exhausted from helping care for his newborn baby, so Gracie offers the services of George to watch the kid one evening. It’s only after she makes this promise that she learns George doesn’t like kids. Her reluctance to tell George exactly how he’s helping out leads George to think that he’s being offered an opportunity to sing on Kay’s radio show. The ensuing conversation between George and Kay is comedy gold.
The characters we meet on The Damon Runyon Theater are often on the wrong side of the law, but “Butch Minds the Baby” (February 27, 1948) shows us that at least one of Runyon’s characters wants to be a good father to his newborn son. Butch might be a safecracker, but by golly he loves his kid.
So when he has a big job to pull on the same night that he has to watch his son, what can be done? Obviously, he should take the baby along with him on the job. What could possibly go wrong?
Not all baby-centric episodes involve babysitting. In the world of Old-Time Radio, babies being abandoned on doorsteps was a surprisingly common occurrence.
This happened at Duffy’s Tavern on the February 2, 1947 episode of that show. The Tavern’s grouchy manager, Archie, doesn’t like kids. He doesn’t like ‘em at all. So when the abandoned baby shows up, he’s initially annoyed that he’s stuck with the job of watching the little brat.
But will caring for the baby melt his heart? Will his growing fondness for the baby make him a competent caregiver? The answers are “Yes” to the first question and a resounding “No” to the second question.
Two popular OTR comedies built the baby-left-on-the-doorstep theme in multi-part story arcs.
In the Sept. 8, 1942 episode of The Great Gildersleeve, a baby girl was left in Gildy’s car. This led to a series of interconnecting episodes about the baby that ran through December 22. While the show’s sponsor, Kraft, ran a Name the Baby contest, Gildy and his family grew quite fond of the little one. But adopting her means Gildy needs a wife, which at one point leads to him being engaged to two women at the same time.
“Knitting Baby Booties” is the September 24, 1948 episode of My Favorite Husband, starring Lucille Ball as Liz Cugat, the role that evolved into the character of Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy.
In this episode, we discover that sometimes you don’t need an actual baby around for babies to still generate chaos. When Liz starts knitting a pair of baby booties for a friend, several people jump to the conclusion that Liz is expecting. Her husband George, who normally objects to spending too much money, is soon emptying his wallet to buy toys for his non-existent son.
So there you have it. In the universe of Old-Time Radio, babies are cute and loveable; funny; the source of unending chaos and confusion; and the inspiration for a myriad variety of zany schemes.
Just like in real life.
For these episodes and more babysitting, see also the compilation:
Tim DeForest has been geeking out on various elements of early 20th Century pop culture for most of his life. He is the author of several books on old-time radio, comic strips and pulp fiction. His first book—Storytelling in the Pulps, Comics and Radio: How Technology Changed Popular Fiction in America--was published in 2004. Radio by the Book: Adaptations of Fiction and Literature on the Airwaves, was published in 2008. Tim also maintains a blog about comics, radio and pulp fiction.
Tim has also written magazine articles on military history and the American West. He regularly teaches several Bible studies and has served as a short-term missionary in Haiti and south Sudan.