DUFFY'S TAVERN: A History of Ed Gardner's Radio Program
As the genially sarcastic, ever-hopeful Archie, Ed Gardner was a product of New York’s lower East Side along Third Avenue and was noted for his stupendous misuse of the English language. He would sling words and phrases around with blissful disregard for grammar and he showed a definite knack for handling malapropisms. His weakness tended towards gullibility in succumbing to any money making schemes… and beautiful women… especially rich ones. In real life, Ed Gardner was a brilliant and shrewd businessman. His insistence to add comedy to an hour-long infomercial helped save M-G-M studios from a financial disaster. Gardner quickly established himself as a successful producer for a variety of radio programs spotlighting Rudy Vallee and Robert L. Ripley. He often trusted his instincts and learned all about radio programming from experience, working his way up the ladder of success. What little he didn’t know about the craft he made up for in shrewd business deals. Towards the end of eleven successful years of Duffy’s Tavern, Ed Gardner proved himself so valuable that NBC signed a contract to retain his services knowing well enough in advance that they would take a loss of more than $100,000.
On Duffy’s Tavern, Archie defined the cynical second-generation Irishman at the outer fringe of New York’s social order. The program quickly developed a following that crossed social, economic and geographical boundaries. According to popularity polls, Duffy’s Tavern ranked with Fred Allen’s program as the goofiest slapstick comedies on the air. Archie was the pivot of the establishment but he was not alone. Always on hand were the absent proprietor’s gabby, man-hungry daughter, known simply as Miss Duffy, who spoke in pure Brooklynese, and the waiter, Eddie, a shrewd black menial who obeyed with “Yazzuh” but always got the better of his boss in their verbal exchanges. Habitués included Clifton Finnegan, a moron with occasional flashes of brilliance whose every line began with “Duhhh,” and radio veteran Colonel Stoopnagle, the orotund inventor of such useful devices as the 10-foot pole, “for guys who wouldn’t touch with one,” and the gun with two barrels, one to shoot ducks with and the other, which didn’t work, to not shoot other hunters.
Today, anyone looking back on Duffy’s Tavern realizes that Ed Gardner insulted most of Hollywood through professional ribbing approved in advance and typed into script form. This was perhaps the show’s greatest asset and the reason why cinephiles today often seek out episodes. From Oscar winners to the bobbysoxer idols, many celebrities loved accepting and delivering one-liners as a change of pace. Others demanded changes in the script. When Rudy Vallee was introduced as a radio star of the old silent days, Archie told Duffy, “… he is sort of a prehistory Perry Como. Remember the time you bought a crystal set and thought there was something wrong with it? Well, Vallee was the guy.” When Mickey Rooney made an appearance on the show, Archie described the Hollywood star to Duffy on the phone. “Yeah, that’s the guy. Short, freckles, blond hair, pug nose… sort of a Van Johnson at half mast. Yeah, a little bit of a guy. In fact, they tell me when two grasshoppers meet, one says to the other, ‘I haven’t seen you since you was knee-high to Mickey Rooney.’ His size is a bit of a problem, too… especially in Hollywood… You know, he’s too short to be a lover and too tall to be a producer.”
Archie defined Lauren Bacall as “the dame with a husky, throaty voice, like Tallulah Bankhead on a clear day. She inspired the ‘Lauren’ in ‘laurengitis’.” Of Arthur Treacher, Archie remarked: “Some guys go around looking as though they smelled something bad but Treacher looks like he found it.” Of Frank Sinatra: “There’s a thin line between singing and crooning, and that thin line is known as Sinatra. He makes the bobby-soxers swoon because his voice sounds better when the listener is unconscious. How can they dare say every week that this guy is so round, so firm and so fully packed?” When Archie told actress Gertrude Lawrence that he was her new Noel Coward, she replied: “You’re half right.” Archie dubbed singer Hildegarde as “the rich man’s Cass Daley,” and Marlene Dietrich as “the baritone Margaret Truman.” “Actually,” said Archie, “I’m very fond of Marlene. With them legs, she’s made more successful crossings than the Matson Line. They’ve earned her a couple of million bucks and you’ve gotta admit that’s pretty good pin money.”
Some stars, however, put one over on Archie. When the barkeep asked Dinah Shore how long she had been away from Duffy’s Tavern, she answered: “Two years, eleven months, three weeks, two days, seven hours and twenty-two minutes.” When he chided her for counting, she quipped, “I always count my blessings.” Humphrey Bogart, making his only appearance at the tavern, remarked: “I’ve experienced many killings in my movie career, but this is the first time I’ve watched a guy bump off a language.”
Soon after Duffy’s Tavern premiered over the radio in 1941, Hollywood celebrities flocked to the microphone for a guest appearance and accepted the insults in good nature. Critics raved about the genius of the program. Convicts at San Quentin voted it their favorite radio program. Duffy’s Tavern was so popular it helped spawn a hit song, “Leave Us Face It,” an attempted newspaper comic strip, a number of premiums (from books to sheet music), a 1945 motion-picture, a short-lived television program (following three attempted pilots) and a U.S.O. Tour.
After a decade of research, this book (over 500 pages) will finally be published. It documents the entire history of the program, radio and television, including the lawsuits, Ed Gardner’s personal life, contract negotiations, script reprints for episodes not known to exist in recorded form and much more! Over 150 never-before-published photographs are included. Fully indexed.