Standard Oil (N.J.)
Sponsors Unusual Format
"The service stations and dealers,
selling `Standard' Gasoline, Colonial Gasoline, and Esso,
are now known as the Esso stations."
Lincoln, Me. (DG)---
On Monday, November 28, 1932, FIVE STAR THEATER made its debut on NBC's Blue Network under the sponsorship of Colonial Oil Company and Standard Oil (New Jersey). It was heard every weeknight at 7:30 PM--- but with a different program each night. The format had a balance of comedy, music, and drama. On Tuesday night, Josef Bonime's Orchestra was on the air with singer John Charles Thomas. Wednesday night featured THE ESSO THEATER, a dramatic anthology program. On Thursday night, an opera program was aired featuring the Aborn Opera Company. To close the week out on Friday night, the famous Chinese detective CHARLIE CHAN was heard.. The highlight of this format was to be BEAGLE, SHYSTER, & BEAGLE, heard on Monday night. It was a comedy program starring Groucho and Chico Marx. Groucho played Waldorf T. Beagle, a somewhat shady attorney, and Chico was Emanuel Ravelli, his assistant (Chico also appeared as Emanuel Ravelli in the movie Animal Crackers). Of course, each program informed the listeners of the sponsor, Esso Gasoline, Essolube Motor Oil, and Atlas Tires. The listeners also learned that all Colonial and `Standard' stations were to be renamed Esso, in tribute to the popular gasoline.
The idea of this format was sound, but it was destined to failure. The problem was the program that was to highlight the entire format, BEAGLE, SHYSTER, & BEAGLE. Of course, Groucho and Chico were part of the four Marx Brothers of movie fame. In order to get them to speak over the airwaves, only Groucho and Chico were selected. Since Harpo didn't speak in the movies, he was completely ineffective for radio, and Zeppo was the straight man of the group.
From its initial broadcast, the program was in trouble. A man named Beagle, who was a real attorney, threatened to sue the program for using his name. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the program's main character went through a name change. On the program's 4th broadcast (December 19, 1932), the radio listeners tuned in to FLYWHEEL, SHYSTER, & FLYWHEEL. It was still the same comedy program as before, except Groucho's character was now known as Waldorf T. Flywheel. How the name change was explained on the program came from Flywheel's secretary who was talking on the phone. She said Flywheel was divorced from his wife--- and he was now using his maiden name. The name change smoothed the ruffled feathers of the real Beagle, but the program didn't satisfy Variety, the entertainment newspaper. There was an article complaining of the loose talk of adultery among the characters on the program. The article also stated the program really wasn't suited for young children.
FLYWHEEL, SHYSTER, & FLYWHEEL aired its season ending broadcast on Monday, May 22, 1933. It was also the final broadcast of the series. Although it achieved a respectful 22.1 Co-Operative Analysis of Broadcasting (C.A.B.) Rating (good for 12th place among the most popular nighttime programs of the 1932-1933 season), it wasn't good enough for Esso. The problem here was with its petroleum archrival, Texaco, who sponsored THE FIRE CHIEF PROGRAM starring Ed Wynn as "The Fire Chief." Like the Marx Brothers program, Wynn's program was also in its first season. To the embarrassment of Esso, THE FIRE CHIEF PROGRAM doubled the C.A.B. Rating of FLYWHEEL, SHYSTER, & FLYWHEEL and was the 3rd most popular program of the 1932-1933 season.
With the demise of the Marx Brothers program, it was also the end of the entire FIVE STAR THEATER format on NBC(Blue). Groucho and Chico returned to the movies, and it was back to the drawing board for Esso.