Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Senator From the South. The South, That Is

Fred Allen can thank Alan Young for the most popular character in Allen’s Alley. Well, he can thank Alan Young’s sponsor.

Young, you see, had a situation comedy on the radio in 1945. One of the characters Young encountered on his show was a loudmouth politician named Counsellor Cartenbranch. Word is that Bristol Myers, which had Young plug Vitalis on his show, hated the Counsellor, so off he went. The astute Allen picked up the character, made a few modifications, and turned him into Senator Claghorn.

Both were played by Kenny Delmar, who doubled as Allen’s announcer. The Senator was an instant hit. Southerners loved him, despite the fact he was a caricature of them. Everyone else loved the political satire. Within a couple of years, Allen tried to wean him off the air, presumably concerned that the Claghorn fad had burned itself out. But Delmar’s new characters didn’t catch on, so the Senator appeared on the air once again.

Delmar got an awful lot of publicity in 1946; you can read some of it in this post. He was the cover story that year in the May edition of Tune In, a New York City-based radio magazine.

CLAGHORN'S THE NAME
BUT CALL HIM KENNY -- DELMAR THAT IS

By TWEED BROWN
THAT gunning whirlwind whipping in and out of Radio City isn't a refugee from the sound effects cabinet. On closer inspection it will prove to be a bushy-haired young gent out of Boston by came of Kenneth Frederick Fay Howard, attempting to keep up with his radio commitments.
This bustling Bostonian has ample reason to rush, for under the professional name of "Kenny Delmar" his actor-announcer talents are in such demand as to require would-be sponsors to queue up for considerable distances. Not only is Delmar sought for more announcing chores than he can shake a Social Security card at, but his brainchild, "Senator Claghorn" (That's a joke, son!) is currently the "hottest" thing in radio. If you don't immediately identify "the Senator" as the unreconstructed tenant of Allen's Alley—the Fred Allen program—then he is the person responsible for normally sane citizens from Wenatchee, Wash., to Puxatawny, Pa., speaking in this fashion:
"Claghorn's the name—Senator Claghorn. Ah'm from Dixie—Dixie, that is. Ah represent the South—the South, you understand, Ah don't travel any place Ah can't get to on the Southern Railroad, And Ah won't patronize—Ah say, Ah won't patronize any restaurant that serves Yankee Pot Roast!"
In addition to appearing as Claghorn on the Allen show, Kenny handles the announcing chores for that Sunday RCA broadcast, the Saturday night Hit Parade, and puts the Jack Benny show from Hollywood on the air from New York every Sunday night, which also is nice work if you can get it. His weekly earnings fluctuate between $700 and $2,000 depending on how many extra shows he handles, and the trend has the Treasury Department rubbing its hands anticipatorily.
For a young gent whose name meant nothing to radio listeners a year ago, Kenny Delmar is doing very nicely for himself. Both Hollywood and Broadway have beckoned to him. Kenny was all set to appear as a quick-change comic detective in the Orson Welles-Cole Porter musical, "Around the World," but had to withdraw because of conflicting commitments. He also has received picture offers, but to date has not figured how he can go to Hollywood and still be on hand to fulfill his contract on the Hit Parade in New York every Saturday.
Delmar, who comes of a theatrical family, is a pleasant, heavy-set young man (five feet ten inches, 185 pounds) who wears thick-lensed glasses in enormous black frames. He has an unruly strand of curly, black hair and a velvety olive skin that can be attributed to a Greek grandfather. A hasty glance gives the impression of a composite Harold Lloyd-Ed Wynn, while his soft, confidential voice belies its Boston origin. He is beginning to worry about a "corporation" that is forming around his belt-line, but friends assure him that on Claghorn it looks good. Thirty-four-year-old Kenny will never be mistaken for one of the Radio City fashion plates, and when his clothes are a little more rumpled than usual he could easily pass for one of the Columbus Circle boys.
An interview with Delmar is an experience. His sudden success amazes him. "I go around pinching myself," he confides, staring out the window at a pretty girl in an office on the other side of the building.
"What was that you said, son?" he says with a start, several moments later.
One minute he is the soft-spoken announcer who leans forward and mouths ingratiating remarks on the Allen show as: "In case you want to invite me to your birthday party, my name is Kenny Delmar."
The next he is the bombastic Senator, reared back, feet braced, fist waving: "Yessir, Ah'm goin' into business for myself. Ah've just organized Delmar Productions. Delmar, that is."
Some one sticks his head in the door and grins, "Hello, Senator Claghorn, suh, Hello, that is."
Kenny beams and waves back. "Hello, son. Don't forget—Ah say, don't forget to vote the straight ticket!"
Between interruptions Kenny explains that Delmar Productions will offer dramatic and comedy radio package shows. These come with the cast, announcer, and script wrapped up in one bundle.
Right now Kenny runs into Claghorn everywhere he goes—even while dialing in other programs. But he lives in fear that listeners will wake up some morning and collectively decide that the Senator isn't funny any more. Fred Allen thinks differently, however, and he given the Senator a long-term lease on the Alley. When Delmar unleashed the repetitious rebel over the air waves last fall, he was afraid the Senator would offend Southern listeners—particularly, those of unreconstructed fabric. To his surprise, the bulk of his fan mail originates south of the Mason & Dixon and to date he has yet to receive an unfavorable missive.
"I guess they realize the Senator is not a vicious character—just a harmless guy with a big mouth," Kenny explained.
Claghorn's fan mail outnumbers that of any other tenant on the Alley and it became necessary for him to hire assistants to handle his average of a hundred letters weekly, not to mention a lot of gifts and gadgets. Every letter is gratefully answered and then filed away. Kenny prizes his mail collection very highly and probably some day will have assembled enough Claghorniana to open a small museum.
Some writers consider the Senator the long-awaited Messiah of the Confederacy, but most of them take him less seriously. Practically all writers like to play the Claghorn game and contribute dialogue, most of it of questionable merit. Sometimes ambitious free-lancers contribute entire scripts, but these are politely turned down, as Allen will not accept free-lance material. Very few contributed gags get past the hyper-critical Allen blue pencil. One did, however, from a Southern belle who ate only eels, because that was "Lee" spelled backwards.
Although a lot of Claghorn contributions come from south of the border—Mason and Dixon, you understand—many of them are from either pseudo or homesick Southerners. A Brooklyn rebel wrote: "I understand you'd defend any felon, as long as he has confederates." Another asserted that when sailing, he sat only on the lee side of the boat. A New Jerseyite professed to like birds at only one time of year when they were headed south.
There are few days when Kenny's mail does not contain some unusual gifts. One fan sent a Southern compass—with no north on it. Another fan sent a box of Confederate violets, which Kenny enthusiastically planted on the south side of his house. A Kansas fan sent a huge yoke for oxen with the notation: "That's a yoke, son!"
The prize contribution, however, came when Kenny went to Washington to attend the annual brag dinner of the Texas Citrus Growers. They presented Kenny with a very much alive mama rattlesnake. Thinking the reptile to be harmless, he left it in his hotel room covered only by crating and a thin netting. When Kenny got no room service and his bed went unmade for three days, he became perturbed. Then he brought the snake back to New York and kept it at home while negotiating with the Bronx Zoo to take it off his hands. Finally the zoo took the snake and when a note came from the zoo keeper thanking Kenny for the very venemous species of rattler, he almost had heart failure.
Although Senator Claghorn is a newcomer to radio as far as most listeners are concerned, Kenny got the idea for the blowhard character as a result of a hitch-hike trip to California eighteen years ago. A Texas rancher gave him a ride that lasted a couple of days and made an impression on Kenny that has never worn off. The rancher spoke with a loud, booming voice and was given to repetition. As they rolled across the Texas prairies, he would turn suddenly to Kenny and shout:
"Son, I own five hundred head of cattle—five hundred, that is. I say, I own five hundred head of fine cattle."
Long after he had said good-bye to the repetitious rancher, Kenny found the Texan's words bouncing around in his brain. It was no time until he was entertaining friends with his impersonation of the rancher, who over the years came to be known as "The Senator". So the Senator, actually, is a Texan, although the Allen script would have you believe that Claghorn is too big for one state and represents the South in general.
Kenny practically grew up in a theatre and as a youngster attended the famous Professional Children's school that numbered such thespian prodigies as Milton Berle and Helen Chandler. As a boy Kenny appeared in D. W. Griffith thrillers filmed by Paramount at Astoria, L. I.
Kenny was forced to drop out of show business in his youth when a run-in with a thug left him with a broken jaw. He went into business with his step-father importing olives. But acting was in his blood and it cropped out at gatherings where he became the life of the party.
In 1935 Kenny broke into radio in New York portraying a twelve-year-old boy. For several years he played uncredited roles in radio on "The Shadow," on "Gangbusters," "March of Time," and other dramatic programs. But Kenny yearned for recognition. Three years ago he gave up his acting roles to become an announcer on the "Hit Parade." Here he was able to get his name mentioned over the air. Also he got his first chance at comedy when he was given the assignment of "warming up" the studio audience before going on the air.
Then he conceived the idea of getting on a show where he could be both announcer and actor. His chance came last summer on the Alan Young show. He announced the show and introduced the Senator as a character by name of "Counsellor Cartonbranch."
About that time, Fred Allen, who was preparing to return to the air after an absence of over a year, learned of Kenny's character through Minerva Pious who plays "Mrs. Nussbaum" on the Allen show. Allen immediately detected possibilities in the character and hired Kenny to announce the show and bring the Senator along as a tenant of Allen's alley.
Although the Senator's patented speech mannerisms originated with Kenny, it was Allen who gave him his fullblown personality as a professional Southerner. Allen also contributed the Allenesque sobriquet of "Claghorn."
Delmar's "Claghorn" is funny, but—like most radio funnymen—is funniest when mouthing the lines of his gag writer. In this case it happens to be the dean of radio gagsters, Comedian Allen himself.
Mrs. Delmar was never very fond of the Senator because she considered him much too noisy. In his day, Kenny broke several leases entertaining friends with his Claghorn impersonations. So when the Senator began paying off, Kenny bought a house on East Seventy-Fifth Street, Manhattan, and presented it to his wife—to atone for the noisy Senator. Noisy, that is.
Kenny, Jr., is quite proud of his busy father. But there is an ironic twist to it. He thinks that Daddy is the tobacco auctioneer on the "Hit Parade," which he announces. Whenever Young Kenny hears the auctioneer go into his chant, there is an immediate demonstration. "That's my Daddy! That's my Daddy!" he shouts for the benefit of all within earshot. To date, no one has been able to convince him otherwise. And the Senator leaves him cold.
Kenny feels there is no reason to get excited about Claghorn as long as neither wife nor son are impressed by the bombastic solon. But there are several millions of Claghorn-conscious radio fans who think that Kenny Delmar is a pretty terrific Southerner—from Boston, that is!

5 comments:

  1. My earliest recollection of Kenny Delmar was back in 1960 watching " King Leonardo " on television. Then later with various voices on " Tennessee Tuxedo and his Tails ", " Under Dog " and others. I would later discover his Senator Claghorn character when Dad told who Foghorn Leghorn was based on. Have enjoyed his work ever since.

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  2. Me,too..Erroll..me too and that's no joke.SC

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  3. The character Kenny did on those early 60s cartoons was The Hunter (a bloodhound-like dog) whose favorite phrase was "have nose, will hunt". The Hunter's nemesis was a character known as "The Fox".

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  4. It's interesting listening to some of the Fred Allen shows immediately post-World War II, where Alan Reed is the restrained one within Allen's Alley compared to Delmar's senator, given Reed's future as the not-so-Falstaffian Fred Flintstone.

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  5. Actually, my favorite Allen's Alley resident is Titus Moody. He cracks me up every time. Senator Claghorn is okay. He kind of wears on you after awhile, though.


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