Sunday 25 February 2024

Eddie Marr

Robber: Look, bud, I said “Your money or your life.”
Jack Benny: I’m thinking it over!

That may be the most famous bit of dialogue on the Jack Benny radio show, heard on March 28, 1948.

Everyone knows who spoke the punch line. Very few people will know who played the crook who threatened Benny.

It was Eddie Marr.

Marr was mostly a supporting actor, but he did get some chances to star on radio. He hosted a five-minute afternoon affair Fun and Mirth with Eddie Marr in 1945 and the nightime quiz show Win, Place or Show the following year, both on ABC. In 1950, a late-night show was built around him on KECA Channel 7 in Los Angeles. Eddie Marr’s Medicine Show was on for an hour three nights a week and involved Marr doing the carnival pitch-man routine he made famous on radio (eg. “You say you want a job? You say you want it now? Tell ya what I’m going to do....”).

In a lovely coincidence, Marr was born on Valentine’s Day, just like Jack Benny. They were six years apart (which would make Marr a permanent 33 years old, I guess). And while his World War One registration card in 1918 says he worked for the Public Service Electric Co. of Jersey City, he already had show biz experience. And, as it turned out, his routine came to him quite naturally.

Zuma Palmer of the Hollywood Citizen-News wrote a two-part profile of Marr, published June 18 and 19, 1945.

"I’ll tell you what I'm going to do” was first used on the air by Eddie Marr of the Kay Kyser show when he made a guest appearance with Bing Crosby [see note below]. This, however, was not his first employment at the expression which goes back to the days of the first Americas pitchmen and “medicine” men. When work in the theater was slow Marr was a pitchman. He learned the “business” from one at Palisades Park where he was an announcer over a public address system. Marr, who sold pen and pencil sets for 50 cents (they worked a little while), spot eradicator and graters at street corners in various places, still has his "keister” (suitcase) and “tripe" (tripod). "You never know,” he said.
Marr always took out a "reader" (license) as soon as he reached a town so there would be no police trouble and he said he is glad he never resorted to some of the tricks sometimes used by pitch-men. At one time he was with “Doc” Hilliard who sold "snake oil” and "Mexican diamonds.” A monkey was a member of this medicine show company. One day he sampled the spot eradicator and was no more. The “Doc” made good money from his “snake oil” and “Mexican diamonds because he retired and built a five-story garage in New Jersey.
“When a person stopped to listen,” Marr said, “he was half sold right them. When to stop talking was one of the important things I learned as a pitchman. You were through when people began walking out on you. Fred Allen was right when he said announcers were ‘high’ pitchmen (they sold from the back a wagon while ‘low’ sold on the sidewalk) and that radio programs were medicine shows.”
Marr receives letters from pitchmen and medicine show men all over the country .Some of the writers recall day on Canal St. in New Orleans, the Bowery in New York. If he gets around to it, Marr may write a book based on this material and his own experiences. He built a radio program on the medicine show idea but could not make a sale became of the word "medicine." Prospective sponsors shied away afraid, the public would think they were selling a curative property.
The actor met his wife, Maybelle Austen, when he was trying to sell her series of transcribed programs he had made entitled “Romance.” He and the manager of the Paulist Brothers station had a terrific argument, but she bought the series. She came to his office later and saw five coffee pots and five small electric plates on a shelf. She had no electric plate. He gave her one with the suggestion she invite him to dinner did. He went. They married. Last Summer they canned 100 quarts of vegetables, fruits and poultry.
* * *
Mrs. James Marr thought Eddie, her 14-year-old son, was at a boy friend’s home studying his lessons. He wasn’t. He was dancing professionally at Shanley's, where the Paramount Building in New York now stands. Eddie had never taken a lesson. He was drawing down $450 a week when he was hurt. He did not know a new rug had been laid. It was slippery. Eddie came out doing a half back split, fell and badly tore some ligaments. He was in bed seven months then had to use crutches.
When his sister came into his room one day, Eddie told her to look under his sweat shirts and catcher’s mitt, but not to tell his mother what he saw. Virginia lifted the articles and saw many bills Girl-like she let out a shriek and cried out, "Mama see what Eddie’s got!” Mrs. Marr came running and saw her daughter holding handsfull of bills—Eddie’s earnings about which he had said nothing. He had over $4000. His mother thought he had stolen the money and said she would call his father who was away on tour. The bills went into a bank.
Marr and his sister went as juvenile and ingĂ©nue respectively with a respectively with a repertory company headed by Kitty and Matt McHugh, parents at Frank McHugh. On their arrival in Homestead, Pa., for their appearance, Marr was told to walk a goat bearing a sign reading “The Manhattan Players." His sister, at a distance, followed up one street and down the other making remarks. Marr phoned his father he was quitting. His parent, one of the founders of the Theater Guild, told him he had to stay. Stay he did, walking that goat around towns for three weeks performances with his sister trailing making comments.
The actor's first stage entrance was made at six months—in the arms of his father in a melodrama starring Coarse Peyton, who advertised himself as "The world's worst and was, according to Marr. The actor has since played on Broadway in “Kitty’s Kisses," "Irene," “The Comic Supplement," in “Greenwich Village Follies" and in vaudeville with Mark Hellinger and Gladys Glad.
Marr went into radio in 1924. He was paid $50 whether it was a 15 minute, a 30 minute or an hour show. That was higher pay than actors received here at that time. Marr said New York talent always has been paid more money for local programs because of the size audience a station there has.
The “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do" man thinks Kay Kyser the finest person for whom he has ever worked. “He is never interrupting my act to tell a joke of his own," he explained. ”If I don't go over, it is my fault. My spot is short so people will ask for more.” Marr also is heard in “Murder Will Out,” KECA, as detective Nolan

There was more than one Eddie Marr in Hollywood (the second was much younger than Money-Or-Your-Life Marr) so it can get tricky doing research. But an ad for a local radio station in the July 11, 1945 edition of the Fresno Bee said he has arrived in California in 1937 and appeared in Ceiling Zero, Dead End and Moon Over Mulberry Street, among other films. In 1931, he produced, wrote and starred in a one-act comedy skit given by members of the St. Joseph’s Dramatic Society in Hoboken. In the last few years of the decade, he was a member of the Galvin Players in Ottawa, where he also opened a dancing school.

There was more television; he was a regular on the Hank Penny variety show on KHJ-TV in 1955.

Among his many radio roles was Rick in a serialised version of Casablanca NBC’s Star Playhouse and Front Page Fink on Jack Carson’s show in 1943, where he pulled off his “Tell ya what I’m going to do” routine about two years before joining Kay Kyser. Cartoon fans may have heard the sales patter bit in the Andy Panda short Scrappy Birthday, released in 1949. That’s Marr.

But he had an unusual sideline. Glenn Ramsey wrote about it in the Louisville Courier-Journal of December 12, 1948. You will recognise another name from the Benny show in his column.

Yes, sir, there’s something different in bow ties!
The chief difference between the new bow tie and the conventional bow is the size and the jaunty look that is given it by a crushing hand.
Regular bows are 32 to 36 inches in length and about an inch and a half wide on the wings; the new bows are 41 inches long and 3 ½ inches wife at the widest part, and they do not have the usual padding—just two pieces of cloth sewed together.
Unlike the intricate operations necessary to perfect the Windsor or the four-in-hand knot, all that is required for the new tie is that you know how to tie a conventional bow, then apply the crushing hand. Honest, that's all there is to it. The new bow comes from Hollywood.
It was dreamed up by a veteran screen and radio actor, Eddie Marr. He frequently appears on radio shows and has been heard with Jack Benny. Earlier in the year, the Associated Press sent me to Los Angeles to attend the annual convention of the National Association of Broadcasters. An old friend of mine, L. A. "Speed" Riggs, one of the tobacco auctioneers heard on the air, now has a Palomino horse ranch near Hollywood and I visited him for a day. At dinner that evening Eddie Marr and his wife were among the guests.
Eddie had a number of the ties with him and I brought back a modest personal supply. I haven't seen them on sale any place in the East, but I created a bit of a sensation by wearing them in Florida a few months later. [...] And in closing—I don’t have ties for sale and neither do I know the address for Eddie Marr.

As television work dried up (there was a final appearance with Jack Benny on Nov. 20, 1962), Marr found another career. The Citizen-News of July 24, 1967 reported he was a travel agent. Marr died in Studio City on August 25, 1987.

Here's Marr on the Feb. 10, 1946 edition of the Philco Hall of Fame on ABC. Stooges were celebrated. Besides Marr, you'll hear a routine with Mel Blanc.

Sunday 18 February 2024


There are plenty of byways in the world of animated cartoons. One of the best places to learn about them is the Cartoon Research web site.

Recently, there was a post mentioning one of those byways I hadn’t thought about for a long time. It was post about JOT.

JOT starred in a passel of syndicated cartoons I don’t have a particular interest in, but it did get a fair share of ink in the newspapers of the 1960s, secular and otherwise.

Here’s an early review from the Tulsa World of September 20, 1964. Television columnist Chuck Wheat got a look at it.

Recently in Dallas I ran across a new type of religious program for children. Or maybe it is a church-sponsored non-religious program for children. In any case its name is “Jot.”
The production company of Keitz and Herndon has turned out the first few of a 13 program order for the Southern Baptist Convention. The Baptists tried a Spanish film maker and were dissatisfied with the results so they turned to Texas and got “Jot.”
“Jot” is a brief cartoon creation.
The color productions combine cartoon central characters and some wild actual pictography of such things as swirling oil paint in water for backgrounds.
The problem was to produce a program that would give the Baptists something for their money yet keep kiddies watching. “Jot” is aimed at very little children but just like the sometimes cynical Stan Freberg and always wacky Jay Ward, “Jot” hits adults in the eye as well.
JOT IS A DOT, A WHITE DOT. Jot’s playmates become stylized little boys and girls, but Jot remains essentially a blob of white amid the bright colors of his cartoon universe.
There is a glorious little tune for Jot’s theme. It is a lilting, almost jazzy little number that permeates the program with delight.
In each show, Jot learns a lesson in conduct. The first program had Jot telling his mother a fib. He said “No ma’am.” That “no ma’am” haunts Jot, trailing him through a morass of suddenly strange surroundings that had seemed so certain and friendly.
Jot runs back to his mother to recant and feels so much better.
Those pale words don't do any justice at all to the sweet cleverness of the little adventure Jot goes through, an adventure in a world of abstract designs which had been playground equipment, with everywhere—like a tiger peeking through the vines of the jungle—that frightening fib, “No ma’am.”
The point for theologians and psychologists is that there is no point-of-view moralizing in “Jot.” The story unfolds and points the moral with its viewers making the point.
For instance, since Jot is a white blob why did I invest him with masculinity? He reminded me of my son Jack, that’s why. My wife, however, who saw it with me, saw Jot as a little girl.
THE VOICE OF JOT INCIDENtally belongs to a model in Dallas whose name I did not get but who, I am told, is a remarkably well-endowed young woman with an off-mike vocabulary that might shock the good Baptists. On mike, however, her voice is the epitome of wonderful childishness.
Each segment of “Jot” will send its hero through another adventure in learning morality. The Baptists will make “Jot” available to televisions stations free of charge, I believe, so we may get to see it here some time after Jan. 1.
This whole business of applying show business movie to matters of religion, morality and principle fascinates me. Beth Macklin, the World's youth and religion editor, is going into it in far greater detail beginning this very day.
I urge your attention.

The series wasn’t test-marketed until January, 1968. It was so successful, it received a thousand letters a day, according to a story in one newspaper in 1970. A paper in Fort Worth reported in August 1968 that the Southern Baptist Radio and Television Commission had been overwhelmed with 22 thousand letters the month before. The same paper reported in June 1970 that the series was being expanded to 100 stations and the National Association of Broadcasters had presented the Commission with a “Life Achievement Citation,” saying JOT was an “outstanding contribution to the moral and spiritual life of America.”

The Associated Press looked at the series in 1967, and how much it took out of the church collection plates.

Jot Cartoon Introduced By Baptists
FORT WORTH, Tex., Mar. 17 (AP)—He’s a dot named Jot, and the Southern Baptists are gambling that he'll touch the hearts and personalities of millions of children.
They've already plunged $200,000 into the pot. That's only a starter. Jot is the key figure in a series of animated cartoons being produced in Fort Worth by the Southern Baptists' Radio-Television Commission.
The five-minute color presentations are designed to carry nonsectarian messages, not necessarily Biblical, to children ranging in age from 5 to 10. Based on Biblical principles, they draw moral or spiritual conclusions.
The adventures of Jot being offered free to television stations and are expected to make their first appearances in the fall.
The Rev. Edward Shipman, spokesman for the commission, said finances pose the only restriction.
"We could be on 400 or 500 stations simultaneously," he said. "But we just don't have the money."
The commission estimate that the production, six years in the planning stage, will eventually cost between $100,000 and $150,000 annually. Each episode costs from $5,000 to $15,000.
Ruth Byers, director of Dallas Children's Theater, writes and produces the show, aided by a Dallas production firm.
"This is a tremendously expensive venture, but one so significant we feel we had to go ahead, no matter what the cost," said the Rev. Mr. Shipman.
Jot is a white dot which sprouts arms and legs, flies, sings, runs and jumps and performs a wide variety of animated duties, speaks with the voice of a small boy.
"Jot represents the child personality most characteristic of the greater moral and spiritual community in America," the Rev. Mr. Shipman said.
"His problems and experiences lead him to a realization of the importance of a right relationship with God, with himself and with his fellow man."
Commission members feel the need for such a series was illustrated recently in the remarks of a Los Angeles psychiatrist, who said:
“Tens of millions of children in this country are spending more time with the television set than in school—and are getting very little for this expenditure of time.”
The new approach was conceived several years ago by Dr. Paul M. Stevens, director of the Radio-Television Commission. He initiated a study that culminated with the creation of Jot.
“It was written to give children something concrete, to teach them, to give them a moral or spiritual value,” the Rev. Mr. Shipman said. “It had to be something construction in the life of a child, not just entertaining.” Scattered showings of the pilot films won favor with children and provoked interest among parents and teachers, he said.
Truett Myers, director of television, said the commission aims for “good animation,” creating cartoons that will catch and hold the youthful viewer.
Children are astute critics, he said. Once they lose interest, they react swiftly.
“They don’t even bother to turn the set off,” he said with a smile. “They just walk out of the room.”

Here’s one more JOT-ting. This is from the Scrantonian Tribune of June 16, 1969.

Kids’ Religious Show With Plenty of Bounce

FORT WORTH, Texas—A bouncing ball once helped movie audiences stay together in theater sing-alongs, and now another bouncing ball is teaching their children and grandchildren how to stay in touch with God.
“Jot" is the name of a TV creation, variously described as bouncing ball that sprouts arms and legs and as an "animated dot," which teaches moral lessons to children in 4 ½ minute cartoons.
Produced by the Southern Baptists’ Radio and Television Commission but non-sectarian in content, "Jot” has been described by "Newsweek" as the first genuinely entertaining and effective use of television for preaching moralily to pre-teen children."
The roly-poly "Jot" cheerfully bounces across the TV screen and stars in little dramas in which he comes up against moral problems similar to those faced by the 5-to-10-year-olds for whom the program is designed.
When "Jot" does something wrong—like stealing a cupcake from his mother's table or getting angry with a playmate—he changes shape and even his color turns sickly, to show the young viewers that "Jot’s” behavior is distorted and to reflect “Jot’s” suffering conscience.
The “Jot” character, created by a specialist in children's theater, Mrs. Ruth Byers, is supposed to represent "a child personality sensitive to an inner conscience," according to Paul Stevens, executive director of the Southern Baptists' Radio and Television Commission.
"Jot is also supposed to be an effort to offset the harm that some TV programs do to children," he added.
"Those of us who work in the medium," he said, "realize the tremendous pressures brought to bear on our boys and girls by television. In the midt of these pressures, words from parents about honesty, morality, fairness, and spiritual values often go unheeded.”
The “Jot” series, which began 18 months ago on seven Southern stations but which is now seen on more than 40 stations through the country and still expanding, is frequently scheduled on such programs as “Cartoon Carnival," Sunday Morning Cartoons," "Popeye, Bugs Bunny and Friends," "Romper Room" and "Captain Kangaroo.”
And though the series is designed to entertain children, “through this entertainment they are led to serious thoughts about God, themselves, and others,” according to the Southern radio-TV commission. The story lines are uncomplicated, and to the point.
In one episode, "Jot" becomes fascinated with a playmate's new toy, and when the boy absent mindedly goes off and leaves it behind in a schoolyard, "Jot" runs off to his treehouse with it. But aware that he has done something wrong, he can not enjoy the toy, especially when it emits a rhythmic sound that seems like "thou shalt not steal . . . thou shalt not steal." Suddenly ashamed, "Jot" asks God's forgiveness, returns the toy to its owner and is glad that he has done the right thing. The boy forgives him, and the two go off happily, playing with the new toy together.
In another episode, "Jot" is in a library and is impressed by a sentence which reads: “Trust in the Lord and do good." Impressed, he finds the courage to tell a bigger boy to stop marring a library book, but "Jot" suddenly finds himself accused of damaging the book and is barred from the library. He goes home, disgusted with himself for putting trust the scriptural advice. But his mother greets him and tells "Jot" the librarian has just called to say she has learned who the real culprit was and to apologize to "Jot."
"Do good,” he repeats courageously now, “and trust in the Lord!"
In an episode titled "The Birthday Party, "Jot" haughtily displays a new roller-toy before another boy in the neighborhood. As "Jot" struts with pride and confidence, his head grows larger, until he realizes the other boy is wearing ragged clothes and has no toys of his own. "Jot" is suddenly ashamed of himself, and his head deflates—until he gives the boy a toy to keep.

In late 1972, the Baptist publication Word and Way announced JOT would be getting a companion series, starring a girl character named SASH. This cartoon “was developed to reach the audience that had outgrown ‘JOT’,” Stevens said, and was aimed at young people up to 14. A pilot of some kind was sent to the stations airing JOT. Keitz and Herndon were out of the picture by then, the owners having sold their 19-year-old studio to a corporatio in 1969.

As for the aforementioned letters, one second-grader in Phoenix wrote: “JOT I like you very much. What are you JOT. Are you an egg? Are you a baseball? Are you a boy?” The Opelousas, Louisiana paper reported other letters were more poignant. One went: “JOT I don’t have any friends. I haven’t had any friends for 3 years. I hope you will be my friend JOT.”

While comparisons of JOT to Jay Ward cartoons or Stan Freberg may seem odd, it would appear JOT connected with his young viewers. And that was the intention all along.