Sunday, September 23, 2012

Review: Chase and Sanborn/Edgar Bergen - Charlie McCarthy

When I was growing up, my brother used to talk about Charlie McCarthy.  For the longest time, I had no idea who Charlie McCarthy was.

When I found old-time radio in 1975, I found out quickly.  Although I don't really remember if I knew that Bergen was a ventriloquist.  My brother wasn't around to ask.  I may have asked my parents - but at any rate, sometime after 1975, I found out that Charlie was a dummy.

Skip ahead a half of a lifetime and here I am listening to all of the surviving broadcasts.  The shows themselves are something that I simply cannot like; there is too much music and too much slapstick and vaudevillian-type humor that reminds one of a bad Abbott and Costello Show.

However, when Bergen and his dummies are isolated, apart from the periphery of the rest of the show (which can include lots of "awful" singing and coffee commercials) you find a treasure.

Bergen, by all accounts, wasn't a very good ventriloquist.  His lips moved and his talent in this area was far behind others.  But his material was good and he was on the radio, where you couldn't see his lips moving.

Bergen didn't just have Charlie McCarthy - who was very much a Bugs Bunny/Walter Tetley-type  character (sans the Brooklyn accent) - Charlie was like a smart-aleck kid who could get away with almost anything.  He really wasn't that funny but he provided laughs now and then.

Charlie and to a lesser-extent, Bergen, became super famous almost overnight.  For a good part of the latter 1930's, Bergen's dummies were as popular (or more-so) than any other star on radio.  He made films too.

One of these guys is Mortimer Snerd
So, Charlie sent Bergen to the top.  But Charlie wasn't the funniest dummy.  Bergen's funnier routines weren't with Charlie at all but with with Mortimer Snerd.  Mortimer was a dumb, country, farmer-type.  An Elmer Fudd, if you will, only much more stupid.  And much funnier.

It's Snerd that really stands out when you listen to the sketches as a whole.

Another dummy, Effie Clinker, is Bergen's female persona.  I do not find the character funny in the least.  I don't think Bergen ever really felt that comfortable with Effie as he uses her very sparingly on the radio shows.

When broken down into dummy sketches, you will find a quick-paced barrel of fun.  While the various Bergen radio shows drag (many of them last as long as an hour) 90% of the sketches last less than 7 minutes.  And I'd guess that 75% of those actually last less than 5 minutes.

Other than Bergen and his dummies, the one standout would be Don Ameche.  Ameche comes and goes throughout the series.  When he is in the sketches with the dummies (in my recollection, always with Charlie) he plays an Italian named Gazzolla.  The Gazzolla character can be quite amusing at times when paired with McCarthy.

Yes, we are talking about a very juvenile/vaudevillian-type show; I understand that kind of humor isn't everyone's cup of coffee tea.  But I think it's worth your while to do me a favor... I have literally broken the shows down, commercial free and in high-quality and improved sound.  I'm not quite finished, as I have anywhere from 75 to 100 more sketches to go.  But even now, you can find almost 350 sketches at  I suggest you go there and at least take a listen to the work I have done and download at your leisure.

The rest of the sketches should be up sometime before the end of year.


  1. Your explanation above is exactly why I like your removal of the embeded routines and provided them to us.

  2. If you listen to 5-10 in a row, you'll be wow, this is actually funny. When their routines were crammed in there with that other stuff, it was so hard to get through all of that.

    I had been wanting to remove the dummies from this for a long time. Finally just decided to do it.

  3. I have always ranked Charlie & Co as one of my favorite shows. I find both Charlie & Mortimer funny and Effie not at all. Back in 1975, all the OTR collectors I knew only had reel to reel which I didn't have. I did get some cassettes, but it was mostly Suspense and The Shadow.


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