Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Radio Schizo

The year was 1939, and radio was hot, hot, hot! It burned up years of Vaudeville material in a matter of weeks, forcing the industry to look for more stable situations - continuing comedies and soap operas, larded with variety show antics. And for a small number of specialists, it was an especially hectic time - because they were often required to be in two or three different studios at the same time, or nearly so.
Case in point: Andy McCorkle, who had invented a bagpipe-based sound effects machine, which he called the Whatsit. Actually, there were two Whatsits: the Grand Whatsit, which could produce the sound of a collapsing elephant, force 3 hurricane, Army mess hall, gushing oil well or inflating Zeppelin, while the Wee Whatsit made the sound of a snoring aardvark, a baby hiccough, galoshes or Cream Of Wheat (that last one paid most of the bills). Andy had special cases built for the Whatsits which fit exactly on the jump seats of the old Checker cabs, God bless 'em. And they were put to good use as he sped around town from job to job during radio prime time.
Another case: Elly Polonya, "The Goo Goo Girl," who could play any baby voice part from 5 down to preemie convincingly. Elly always carried a bottle of kraut juice with her to help constrict her larynx before a job. Her baby impressions of world political figures could always be counted on to stop a show dead.
And Paul Cotton, a negro performer, popped up on several shows with his distinctive catch phrase "Not Mee!!," in a high, whispery, resigned, and pleading voice which could not be imitated. On a good night you could hear him say it on five different shows across the dial!
Not to mention Luisa Verdejo, born Louise Greenberg, whose act consisted of spectacular singing in swing triple-time Spanish double-talk! Doctoral students at Julliard are still studying old V-Disks of her act in amazement. Her nickname was "The Singing Castanet(te)."
It just so happened that one night, all four of these troupers showed up together in two different skits in two different shows!
Show number 1: at 7:30PM, "A Date with Dolores [ed.: Franco, now forgotten],", where Luisa had a secondary role as Dolores' dotty cousin Clara. In this episode, Dolores is babysitting for Baby Maria (Elly P.) when Clara comes in singing an insane lullaby "Cuando Las Cucarachas No Pueden Salir" - which has the perverse effect of attracting a small army of dance crazy roaches (The Wee Whatsit). The women stand on chairs screaming for help, and Henry, the super (Paul C.) pops in and says, "Not Meeee!" Baby Maria eats the roaches and all is well!
An hour later, the four were working together again in "Harmony Hall," with Eddie Doucet as Jud, the dim-witted but good-natured head of the Fraternal Order of the Celestial Harmonies, whose frog-like speaking voice masked a surprising ability to croon. In this episode, Jud mischievously takes his nephew, Percy (Elly P.) out to the burlycue show to keep him from becoming a "nancy boy." Luisa, playing the star of the show, explains that her specialty will be a sinuous dance ending with a dive into a giant bowl of flan (The Grand Whatsit). After her spectacular dive, she starts to drown in the sweet Spanish custard. The call for help goes out ("Not Mee!" says Henry, the stage manager (Paul C.)), but Percy saves the day by eating the flan.

1 comment:

Lionel Houde said...

Thank you for putting this great historical piece together. I have maybe 1/100th of your creative output but your videos, apps, and art are all inspirations.