Wednesday, 17 September 2014

How to Be Charley Weaver

As a pre-teen watching “Hollywood Squares,” I knew all the regulars except one. Paul Lynde guest starred on sitcoms. Rose Marie was on the “Dick Van Dyke Show.” Wally Cox was the voice of Underdog. And Charley Weaver was...well, who was Charley Weaver?

11-year-old me had no idea that Charley Weaver wasn’t even Charley Weaver. He was always in character and never introduced by his real name that I recall. It was years later I found that Charley Weaver was the last in a long line of old men characters invented by Cliff Arquette which included Ben Willet on “Point Sublime” and Captain Billy on “Glamour Manor” on radio. Charley parked himself on Jack Paar’s late-night couch about 1959 and started raking in fame and cash.

Charley, er, Cliff, was profiled in a column syndicated by the National Enterprise Association on August 13, 1959. Interestingly, Arquette talked of retiring in three years, ie. 1962. Of course, that never happened, as “Hollywood Squares” came along in 1966 and Arquette appeared on the show until his health prohibited it (he died in 1974).

Charley Weaver Builds An Empire

New York (NEA)—In his time, Cliff Arquette has had his ups and downs. But the way things are going, it looks like all ups from here on. He’s in the happy position of having turned down offers to do eight Broadway plays, a handful of movies, some TV situation comedies, a flock of special MC jobs and any number of supermarket openings. He’s said no to everything, for the simple reason that he doesn’t need the work.
“I’ve had some lean years and some good years,” he said. “I had it made a few times, then blew it, mostly on bad investments, But I’ve got a good business manager now. And he keeps telling me, ‘For God’s sake, don’t take any more work, you’ll ruin us.’”
It wasn’t always thus. Arquette, in his pre-Charley Weaver days, started out as a cartoonist. When he was 16 or 17, he “kept bugging” NEA Service, in Cleveland, for a job until the artists themselves hired him to run out for coffee. After a few months of that, they let him do a cartoon panel.
“I got an office,” he says, “which was a broom closet with the brooms still in it. And I did a panel of dot drawings—the kind the kids connect and draw an animal. I wanted to sign it but they wouldn't let me, so I got mad.”
With his cartooning days behind him, he went into show business. Even in those early days, he specialized in acting old men. “I like old men,” he says. “And I was too shy to be myself. At parties, nobody paid attention to me as myself, so I started telling jokes as an old man. It worked. Pretty soon, I was thrown out of the parties.”
Through the years, he’s been on hundreds of radio shows, mostly as an old man. So, when TV started raising its coaxial head, he was ready. “I decided I needed a character I could grow into,” he says. “So I began working up this old man. I’d spend hours at the Old Men’s Home in Sautelle, Calif. In those days, there were Spanish-American veterans there, and I’d sit around and talk to those cats.
And he discovered the things that make Charley Weaver so well liked, without ever offending anybody. He noticed that most old men never study how they put on their ties—“they just tie it and where it is, that’s where it stays”—or their hats—“as long as it keeps the sun off their heads, it’s O.K.”
He decided not to use any makeup for Charley Weaver. First, he’s allergic to makeup and, second, his own ruddy complexion photographs well. He began making his own wigs—that’s one of his many sidelines—but quit when he hit it big on The Jack Paar Show and suddenly needed five wigs at once.
“They cost $350 apiece,” he says, sadly.
Charley’s clothes cost more than Cliff’s—$250 a suit, mostly because there are few tailors who can turn out the proper Weaver baggy pants. “I tried growing my own mustache,” he says, “but it ruined my love life.”
His first appearance on the Paar show was over the protests of his agent, who figured it wouldn’t do him much good. It didn’t do the agency much good—Arquette dropped him. Actually, Cliff had been retired, but came back out of restlessness. Nowadays, he’s his own agent—“I learned how to say no, and that’s all you need to be an agent.”
He still has retirement on his mind, figuring he’ll have had it in three more years. Consequently, all his present contracts expire in three years. That’s even true of the contract for his upcoming (probably in December) TV show, which he won’t discuss but which, according to rumor, will be a modernized, Weaverized version of “Hobby Lobby.”
Before that, though, he’s planning to drag out some more members of the Weaver family on the Paar show. Already, Charley’s mother has appeared, and Cliff has plans to introduce grandfather—complete with long white beard.
Arquette is now 53, a round-faced, white-haired, blue-eyed pixie with a great love of life and a fondness for both fun and money. He’s found both in Gettysburg, Pa., where he has a museum full of his collection of Civil War uniforms. Gettysburg, of course, is President Eisenhower’s adopted-home and Arquette noticed that, when Ike was there, he came out of church promptly at 10:20 a.m. on Sundays. So Arquette carefully timed his own trip to the church and delights in pulling up, amid squealing crowds, at 10:19.
“And when the President comes out,” he says, “there’s nobody around. One of these days, he’ll say, “Who’s that little fat fellow?”
As for money, Arquette, between his TV, book, records, museum and other enterprises, will never have to worry again. “I call it,” he says, “‘The Charley Weaver Empire’.”
Arquette’s career on the air probably goes back longer than anyone thinks. In 1933, he, Ken Browne and Red Corcoran were “The Three California Nuts” (originally “The Three Public Enemies”), broadcasting a 15-minute Sunday night show on the NBC Red network for Williams Shaving Cream. Weekly Variety of March 7th bluntly opined “The trio’s unfunny.” I doubt many said that about Charley Weaver.


  1. IIRC, Arquette kept working almost up until he died, as some episodes of "The Hollywood Square" with him appearing showed up after his death (at a time where the daytime episodes had a 4-6 week lag period between taping and airing).

  2. They actually made a "Charley Weaver, Bartender" battery-operated toy.

  3. Could be, J.L. I just remember he was gone for a time, came back, disappeared again and then I read he had died.