Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The Honest Morning Show, By Fred and Tallulah

Fred Allen’s radio show is known mostly for his jaunt down Allen’s Alley, a vehicle for satiric commentary on items in the news. The Alley appeared in the first half of the show. The second half always contained some kind of sketch or parody. Some, to be honest, are really painful. Others are incredibly creative.

Two of his best may have been parodies of the musical “Oklahoma” and the morning wake-up radio shows (based in New York) starring married couples. In both cases, he re-worked the ideas and presented them again, using a lot of the same material in the second go-around.

The radio parody was—get ready for this one, folks—right up Allen’s alley. (Wait for laughs). Allen wasn’t enthralled with much of his own industry, and that included the phoney cheerfulness of the husband-wife shows where every sentence was a lead-in to an advertiser. What a perfect target to rip apart. And who better to help than Tallulah Bankhead, who wasn’t exactly known for being quiet and reserved.

New York Herald Tribune radio writer John Crosby loved Allen’s observations, and mentioned him many times in his column. The Mr.-and-Mrs. parody was the first time Crosby reviewed Allen, and it found print on May 10, 1946.

Incidentally, the third person who took part in the sketch, not mentioned in Crosby’s column, was Minerva Pious as the little girl. You can hear the version edited for the Armed Forces Radio Service below (Allen’s Alley is butchered because it was either too topical or political for the AFRS).

Radio in Review

Breakfast With Freddie and Tallulah
Last Sunday, Fred Allen, who has eyes like venetian blinds and a tongue like an adder, teamed up with Miss Tallulah Bankhead, a scorpion in her own right, in a parody on the “husband and wife” breakfast programs so coruscating that, according to “Variety,” it has brought loud complaints from the husband and wife performers. These programs have been parodied before, but never with the explosive violence that radio’s greatest wit applied to them. So cutting was Mr. Allen’s satire that many of the injured parties have requested permission of N.B.C. to hear a transcription of the program, under the theory they couldn’t have heard aright the first time.
To give you a specimen of Mr. Allen’s sharp mind and also as a commentary on the breakfast programs themselves, I present below a condensed version of the Allen-Bankhead parody which seems destined to become something of a radio classic. Take it away, Freddie and Talullah!
FRED: Ahhhh! What coffee! What aromatic fragrance! It must be. . . .
TALLULAH: You’re right, lovey! It’s McKeester’s Vita-Fresh Coffee. The coffee with that locked-up goodness for everybody—grind or drip . . . Peach fuzz, you’ve spilled some on your vest.
FRED: Goody. Now I can try some of that Little Panther Spot Remover. No rubbing.
TALLULAH: And, imagine, a big two-ounce bottle for only 35 cents.
FRED: Or, if you are a messy eater, you can get the handy, economical forty gallon vat. . . . Your hair is breath-taking. That sheen! That brilliance! What did you do it it?
TALLULAH: I just did what so many society women are doing these days. I went to Madame Yvonne’s Hair-Do Heaven at 424 Madison Avenue—in the loft.
FRED: It’s divine, fluffy bunny.
TALLULAH: Madame Yvonne uses a sensational hair-dressing. It contains that new mystery ingredient—chicken fat.
FRED: I hear it’s on sale at all the cut-rate cigar stores. (Jasha, the canary, twitters.)
TALLULAH: Ah, little Jasha is so happy, so carefree. And why shouldn’t he be happy.
FRED: Yes, he knows that the newspaper on the bottom of his bird cage is New York’s leading daily, “The Morning Record”—thirty-two columnists, eighteen pages of comics, and all the news no other newspaper sees fit to print.
TALLULAH: Excuse me, apple honey. I have a letter here from Mrs. T.S. Button, of Molehill, Idaho. Mrs. Button had a splitting headache for forty years until she heard about Pepso-Bepto on our program.
FRED: Only Pepso is guaranteed to fizz twice. Once before you drink it and once after.
TALLULAH: Here’s another interesting letter—from a kleptomaniac. She writes. . . .
CHILD’S VOICE: Good morning, mumsy and daddy.
FRED: Why, it’s out little three-year-old daughter, Amber.
TALLULAH: Isn’t she cute? Amber, I love the way your tooth is shining this morning.
AMBER: Yes, I brushed it with Dr. Pratt’s Homogenized Toothpaste.
FRED: Ha. Ha. Ha.
TALLULAH: What are you laughing at, love duck?
FRED: I just thought how witty Oscar Levant was last night when he poured that bottle of catsup over Jim Farley’s head.
TALLULAH: And wasn’t Mr. Farley a good sport? He just say there grinning and smacking his lips.
FRED: You, too, will smack your lips if you taste Klotnick’s concentrated catsup—the only catsup that bears “The Hobo News” seal of approval.
After a bit more of this cheerful patter Fred and Tallulah decided to put a little realism into their early-morning conversation. On one of their grouchy mornings the program sounds like this:
TALLULAH: Hey, Knucklehead, get out of that bed! We’ve got a program to do.
FRED: Six o’clock in the morning. Who’s up to listen to us—a couple of garbage collections and some burglars?
TALLULAH: If you want to go back to hustling gardenias in front of Childs, go right ahead. (Jasha twitters.)
FRED: Shut up! I thought I told you to give that canary some of Dr. Groober’s Bird Seed.
TALLULAH: I did. Now Jasha is the only canary in the country with an ulcer. . . . What’s in the mail today, chowderhead?
FRED: A summons. Some one took that Pepso-Bepto and dropped dead. Where do you find these sponsors—at a police line-up?
AMBER: Good morning, mummy and daddy! (Allen slaps her and she howls.)
FRED: Sneaking up on your parents with that one tooth like an old elk. Little Amber!
TALLULAH: I told you we should have finished reading the book before we named her.
I’m afraid our time is up, as they say on the air. There was lots more of it and it was all hilarious. It was also perhaps a little too unkind to the husbands and wives who slave away at these programs morning after morning for only $2,500 a week. Some time soon, I shall discuss the breakfast programs in milder tones.


  1. One of my favorite sketches from Allen's show. He and Bankhead repeated it a few years later on THE BIG SHOW, an overblown 90-minute radio variety show she hosted in the early 1950s. I can take about any of Allen's sketches short of One Long Pan, the Charlie Chan parody he did for years (and years). Aside from being offensive, every one of those Long Pan sketches was the same damn thing. Same construction, same jokes, and minor variations on the same jokes.

  2. After reading Fred Allen's missives to and from Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters," my introduction to Fred's humor was this sketch as presented on a generic "Golden Age of Comedy" LP. Quite startling, to say the least.

  3. There were quite a few husband-and-wife morning shows on NYC radio then, such as Tex McCrary & Jinx Falkenburg, and Dorothy Kilgallen & Dick Kollmar - a genre ripe for parody. Decades later, Lee Kalcheim would celebrate that era in his play "Breakfast with Les & Bess."

    1. The canary routine in this was lifted right from Dorothy and Dick.

  4. Written by Nat Hiken. A variation of the Sketch appeared in WE'RE NOT MARRIED, Fred Allen doing it with Ginger Rogers this time.