Wednesday 4 November 2020

On Fred Allen and TV Cartoons

Kenny Delmar went from working with Orson Welles to working with Fred Allen. It wasn’t a direct route, but how many people got to regularly share a microphone with two men of that brilliant calibre?

Delmar was an actor who, for better or worse, was forever connected with a catchphrase—“That’s a joke, son!” as Allen re-worked a character created by Delmar into a noisy, enthusiastic Dixiecrat. Even the Dixiecrats Delmar was parodying liked Senator Claghorn.

No, Delmar didn’t voice Warners Bros.’ animated rooster Foghorn Leghorn, but he did provide voices for, to be honest, some really TV third-rate cartoons.

(This is the part of the post where I post a link to Keith Scott’s research stating the facts behind Delmar’s Senator and Foggy).

In this syndicated column from April 29, 1961, Delmar talked about his cartoons, his work with Allen and his presence on Welles’ most famous radio broadcast (Delmar provided an FDR-cadenced voice on a character inspired by the president).

Kenny Delmar was 73 when he died in 1984.

Fred Allen Was Tops

Pat Weaver, the man responsible for the concept of the television spectacular (rechristened "special" by his ex-network NBC), was also largely responsible for the success of the late Fred Allen.
Back during Allen's radio heyday, Weaver, an ad agency executive at the time, insisted there was only one way to handle Allen—"Leave him alone!" With practically no interference from any non-creative buttinsky, Allen was a giant in the field of comedy.
Kenny Delmar, the Senator Claghorn of the old, "Allen's Alley" sequences was in a reminiscent mood the other day and, naturally, could find no subject more fascinating than Fred Allen.

"I've worked with exciting people all my life," he said, "but there will never be another Fred Allen. I remember when I joined him. I was working with Alan Young, and Fred hired me. Would you believe it, the sponsor wasn't even aware that I was part of Fred's company until he heard me on the show? Can you imagine anyone in television having that much confidence in a performer.
"I don't know why Fred didn't make it in television." he mused. "He was a success in the theater, he did well in movies and his radio career was without parallel. I have a feeling he might have done well, giving his kind of commentary on the news. Maybe the big problem with Fred was that you couldn't watch his mind functioning. He wasn't a clown, he was a wit—and there just doesn't seem to be room for wit on television.
"I think a lot of Fred's old material would go well on television," Kenny continued. "His 'One Long Pan' episodes and his courtroom sequences would still be hilarious. His Christmas show was a classic. And one show I'll never forget is one he did with Orson Welles playing a timid little boy. The Allen's Alley concept certainly worked on television. Steve Allen used the idea for his 'Man On The Street' routines.
"Steve Allen's characters weren't nearly as diversified as Fred's, though. We had a good group: Parker Fennelly as Titus Moody, Minerva Pius [sic] as Mrs. Nussbaum, Alan Reed as Falstaff Openshaw and myself as Senator Claghorn. That was my character, but Fred named him. When Alan Reed went to Hollywood, Peter Donald took his place as Ajax Cassidy."
Now TV Regular
Today, Kenny's in television on a regular basis, but he might just as well have stayed in radio. He's a voice on a highly successful "King Leonardo and His Short Subjects" Saturday morning cartoon series on NBC, on which he plays "The Hunter," "Flanagan the cop" and the narrator. It's sort of intriguing to note that Kenny's producer is a southerner named Treadwell Covington who professes to be a long-time fan of the garrulous southern Senator Claghorn.
The Claghorn character is one which Kenny continues to hold on to no matter what else he does and it is currently the basis for a series of one-minute spots which he and his son have worked up under the title "The Senator Looks at . . . " And again in the role of Claghorn, Kenny has a sales movie designed for sales banquets and conventions in which the Senator is the salesman of the year.
With his career spanning several decades and encompassing all entertainment media. I asked Kenny if he could recall his most frustrating experience and his single outstanding show.
"Many years ago," he recalled, "when I was working for CBS radio on an around-the-clock basis, I had to send out for my meals. The service was so bad that in self-defense I opened my own restaurant near CBS. I figured if nothing else could, that should guarantee me good service. Well, the restaurant became so successful that the service got worse than the other restaurant's.
"And if you ask for the single outstanding show of my career," he added, "I'd have to say it was the famous Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre 'War of the Worlds' show, after which we had much of American believing that earth was being invaded by Mars. That created more of a furor than any other program in radio history. For weeks after the show they were trying to find some law under which they could prosecute us as criminals," he said.
Needless to say, Kenny Delmar was not prosecuted as a criminal and remained "clean" long enough so that today, on The Hunter sequence of King Leonardo, he plays a private-eye bloodhound.

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