Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Henry Morgan Vs The Radio

Henry Morgan had something in common with Fred Allen besides being New York-based radio entertainers who didn’t have a lot of respect for most radio programming. They were both unable to take their radio shows and put them on television. As a result, their TV careers took them to Goodson-Todman panel shows. Fred Allen finished his career on “What’s My Line?” while Morgan warmed a seat for years on “I’ve Got a Secret.” They were both shadows of their former satiric selves.

Morgan’s show on ABC benefited from Morgan’s natural dourness/cynicism, good writing (though some routines went a little long for my liking) the presence of Arnold Stang and some really clever musical work by Bernie Green.

National Enterprise Association writer Dick Kleiner decided to profile five “funnymen” in his New York-based column over successive weeks in early 1950. Oddly, Allen wasn’t among them, perhaps because he was without a regular show at that point. We’ll bring you all five columns but we’ll start with Morgan. This feature appeared in newspapers on February 12th.

Henry Morgan Takes a Poke at Us All
NEW YORK—(NEA)—The most surprising thing about Henry Morgan is that he isn't the least bit surprising. He looks like he sounds. And, in fact, he talks like he sounds, too.
And he lives in the sort of place you'd expect him to live—neat and sophisticated, but with just enough touches of Morganiana to keep it from looking like a psychiatrist's waiting room.
He has a huge knick-knack shelf, with graceful vases and handsome statuettes. Right in the middle are two feet, done in white stone, without corns. There is also, for no apparent reason, a toy trolley car.
Everything in the room is modern. Except the radio, naturally. Morgan's radio is a beat-up old thing that looks like it hadn't been turned on since John's Other Wife wore pigtails.
“Oh, I listen to it occasionally,” says Morgan. “Elections, war declarations, stuff like that.”
ON THE RADIO, Morgan is always “standing on his favorite corner, in front of the cigar store.” But, of course, he does manage to tear himself away from the corner occasionally. He likes night-clubbing, reading, night-clubbing, good music and night-clubbing.
He also likes to poke fun at the world through his program. His particular target—a target that seems to be itching to be poked—is the radio industry. Every week, Morgan winds up and pokes.
Like his lampoon of the quiz shows. His rebuttal is Dr. I. J., the Mental Fox, who jingles his silver dollars and never loses one. Here's a sample:
MORGAN: Sixteen silver dollars to this lady if she can answer this question correctly. I will give you a list of words. You are to tell me which one does not belong. "Elk, moose, lion, Herman!
WOMAN: (Quick) Herman!
MORGAN: Oh, I'm sorry. . . . But if you inquire you will find that Herman does belong to the Elks, the Moose and the Lions.
* * *
ANOTHER TYPICAL Morganish attack on our super-heterodyne culture is his "Albert Morgan, the Question Man," which usually goes something like this:
Q—What is the best way to serve shrimps?
A—Oh your knees.
He also takes fiendish delight in ribbing the soap operas, the sports commentators, the "trouble clinics," the children's programs and many more of radio's tried-and-Morgan-thinks-found-wanting institutions.
His birth, described in his fashion, took place in New York in 1915 where he was born of mixed parentage—a man and a woman. Which makes him a New Yorker, 36, and a human.
When he held his first rattle like a microphone, his parents decided he should go into radio. That's stretching it a bit, but Morgan actually has worked toward a radio career all his life. Right after high school, he talked his way into a job as page in a New York radio station.
From there, in remarkably quick leaps and bounds, came announcing jobs in New York, Philadelphia, Duluth and Boston. In each one of them, Morgan wangled a chance to do a small program—usually in the middle of the night. Even so, he lost most of those chances by insulting the sponsors with grim determination. Listeners loved it, but somehow the sponsors didn't take too kindly to the idea.
* * *
BUT, WHILE the various spots didn't help the Morgan exchecquer, they did help the Morgan talent for dialect. He'd practice on the air, until today he's probably the top dialectician in radio. His "Googie Morgan," the British announcer, "Henrich von Morgan," the German scientist, are two of his greatest creations.
All the dialect material is written by Morgan himself. For the other routines, he has a staff of two and a half writers.
"I'm the only comedian with a half-writer," Morgan explains, more or less. "He's an assistant to one of my other writers. At least, this writer tells me he has an assistant. I've never seen him, though, but I have to pay him. Very interesting situation, I think."
Morgan is now giving serious thought to television, but has not yet come up with a formula which he thinks will click on TV. About a year ago, he did make a stab at it, and "did five shows a week, for one show."
He found the grind too hard, and went back to regular AM broadcasting. But TV set owners have a rosy future ahead, for some day Morgan will move his cigar store into a camera's range.

Next week: the radio guy who went to Broadway


  1. Yes, Henry DID have a short-lived comedy/variety TV show in mid-1948: "ON THE CORNER", which appeared on ABC (and originating from Philadelphia), but was seen in New York on DuMont's WABD [Channel 5] because ABC's own TV station [WJZ] hadn't signed on yet. The show was supposed to last 13 weeks, but sponsor Admiral Corporation decided they'd had enough of Henry and his sarcasm {especially during their commercials}, and canned him after five weeks.

  2. Henry did headline another brief TV series in early 1951- "HENRY MORGAN'S GREAT TALENT HUNT" on NBC (for Campbell Soup Company), a satire on the kind of talent show Ted Mack was famous for....only HIS contestants had "weird" talents. This format soon gave way to the kind of show he'd done on radio {"THE HENRY MORGAN SHOW"}.....and he managed to alienate yet ANOTHER sponsor, and they cancelled him after 26 weeks that June {"THE ALDRICH FAMILY" replaced him in the fall}.

  3. Hi, Barry. John Crosby's review of Morgan's version of the Gong Show is somewhere on the blog.
    The NYT listed "On the Corner" at 6:30 p.m. beginning on April 18, 1948. It was gone after the May 16th show. I was hoping to find a column talking about it, but no luck so far. It was still pre-Uncle Miltie so there wasn't a lot of in depth TV programming news.