NBC wanted to present something special for Miss West, so the powers that be turned to one of their most promising young writers, Arch Oboler. “That script came about this way,” Oboler recalled on television’s The Merv Griffin Show on August 2, 1973. “NBC called upon me one day in Westwood . . . they were in trouble on the Edgar Bergen show. I knew they always were in trouble on that show, but they were in particular because John Erskin had written a book called Adam and Eve. Miss West didn’t like it, Charlie didn’t like it, Edgar . . . didn’t matter [jokingly laughs], and Don Ameche was playing the lead. So they asked me, would I write this ten-minute sketch? Well, I wasn’t interested in writing for Miss West. Finally, they waved enough money at me, and my good resolves went down the drain, but I made one condition: I said I would write about Adam and Eve only if I could take it out of the book – which I collaborated with years before – that is the Bible [jokingly]. The show was to be rehearsed on Saturday, going on the air on Sunday. This was Thursday, so I stayed up all night with my dear wife, who I married because she knew how to take things down, and I wrote this sketch. It was taken right out of Genesis.”
It was eleven days before Christmas. Eight o’clock Sunday night. The Chase and Sanborn Hour began broadcasting from Hollywood as usual. The master of ceremonies, Don Ameche, introduced Nelson Eddy who opened with “On the Road to Mandalay” followed by “Beneath the Southern Moon” (the latter from Naughty Marietta). Next, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy joked with Nelson Eddy for a few minutes, asking among other questions how much Eddy made as a singer. Eddy avoided a definite answer by turning the tide; he asked Charlie how much he made and Charlie replied that he won’t reveal his salary “because Bergen keeps all of my allowances.” (Just as a footnote here, Time reported in 1943 that Eddy was the highest paid singer in the United States.)
Dorothy Lamour sang a song followed by a Chase and Sanborn commercial. Announcer Wendell Niles introduced Don Ameche and Mae West in “Adam and Eve.” And then the calamity began.
“Now one thing the powers-that-be forgot,” recalled Oboler, “that in those days, unlike today, there were three things that an actress could not do. One was to have a child out of wedlock. Two, she could not swear, and three, she could not wear glasses. It was thought terrible for an actress to wear glasses. Well, Miss West, having all the usual good sense of all of us, didn’t wear her glasses during the rehearsals so she, being very nearsighted never saw my script. She bluffed her way through. It wasn’t until air time that she walked on stage waving these glasses, put them on . . . and for the first time saw the script. The result was disaster. What she did to ‘Adam and Eve’ the Arabs had never done so miserably.”
Dorothy Lamour recounted in her 1981 autobiography, My Side of the Road, “One week our special guest was Mae West, who was to play Eve to Don Ameche’s Adam, in a takeoff on the Bible story. Church groups were outraged and the mail came pouring in. I can’t even remember what she said that was so terrible, but I’m sure it was mild by today’s standards.”
What Mae West said wasn’t so bad as how she said it. Telling the serpent that “I feel like doin’ a big apple” was one comment ad-libbed, but when the serpent got stuck between the picket fences in an attempt to fetch the forbidden fruit, West exclaimed with the emotion of a woman going through an orgasm, “They’re – They’re! Now you’re through!”
Edgar Bergen was shocked. “We had to have a star each week,” he recalled, “and she seemed a logical choice. She was a sex star. We were fully aware of that. ‘Adam and Eve’ as you probably know, had been performed before without any untoward incidents. Possibly our program being on Sunday and having a little fun with the Bible was dangerous. We always had two rehearsals; one on Saturday evening, after which we rewrite and tighten, and then we would do a Sunday afternoon read-through. At that read-through, Mae read her lines straight. It was obvious she knew what she was doing – how to lay out line – but she didn’t give things that Mae West twist until the broadcast. I’ve always said that we had far more permissive material on a previous show.”
When one listens to a copy of the recording of this program, one can hear Don Ameche hesitate and even try to improvise to West’s lines. (Ameche even repeated the same line twice, the second with a slight hesitation!) But even when Mae West went up against the wooden dummy later in the program, exchanges such as “So good-time Charlie’s going to play hard-to-get” and “You’re all wood and a yard long” didn’t help matters any.
Variety reported that Mae West has attracted the largest crowd at the NBC studio than any Hollywood star ever had, and after the broadcast a complicated if not over-demanding public outcry pervaded the airwaves. NBC’s president issued a public statement the day after the broadcast, explaining that such an incident was meant to entertain, not injure or insult those who felt the skit was “profane.” NBC also stated that it would take any and all responsibility for any financial damages resulting from the broadcast. From a business perspective, this was a shrewd move on the part of NBC. Since the remarks of West were not aimed toward anyone particular, it could be said for certain that no radio listener could have possibly been financially injured as a result of what they heard – and with NBC publicly taking responsibility for the program that aired over their network, the good faith extended toward the listening public would be more apt to forgive and forget.
But apparently damages were made. “Well, we were sued for plagiarism,” recalled Oboler. “I don’t mean God called down – no this was from another part of heaven called Texas. A woman had written a story about Adam and Eve and she sued the network, NBC, for plagiarism. And Arch Oboler was the culprit. Since there were only two copies in existence, one that she had in her trunk, and the other one at the Library of Congress, it would have been necessary for me in those days to have gotten on a train and break into the Library of Congress. [Since I couldn’t] I was sued. And at the time the suit came up, it was one of those ordinary nuisances where they want to be paid off by the network in order not to go to trial. But this time the network put its back up stiffly and the trial went on. The trial was set in New York, and so I had to appear before what would be easily an officer of the Federal Court. When I got there on Wall Street, and sat down in a courtroom, the man looked just like Lewis Stone – and acted like him. He was very antsy and he didn’t like any part of this newfangled thing called radio, and above all, he didn’t like the whole thing discussing Mae West.”
“His first question,” continued Oboler, “was ‘Mr. Oboler, where were you on February twenty-second – blah, blah, blah.’ And as long as I live, I’ll remember my answer because I was under oath. I said, ‘In the bedroom’ because, you see, Miss West does all of her business in her bedroom. She pays her bills in her bedroom, and she rehearses in her bedroom. So the judge’s next question – he looked at me very suspiciously as if I were the Henry Kissinger of my time – and he said, “Exactly, Mr. Oboler, what were you doing – and remember you’re under oath – what were you doing with Miss West?’ And his face turned bright red and he said, ‘I withdraw the question.’ And that was the end of that.”
Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper was in attendance during the broadcast, as one of the audience members, and she wrote in her column that she had “never seen anyone as embarrassed as Don Ameche. And I understand when they first showed him the sketch he absolutely refused to do it. They assured him Mae would play it straight and not indulge in any of her Westian nuances and if he refused to go on they would keep him off the air. Me was wearing a black evening gown, a long silver-fox cape, orchids and lilies of the valley, black eyelashes, the longest I’ve ever seen. She wore a pair of lorgnettes on a diamond-studded chain around her neck, but like a man who wears both suspenders and a belt. And she had a pair of glasses which she wore while broadcasting.”
According to the January 24, 1938 issue of Time magazine: “Last month Mae West brought down a deluge of criticism from all over the U.S. by a sexy burlesque of the story of Adam and Eve. Among the 1,000-odd letters of criticism that showered on [the] National Broadcasting Company was one from [the] F.C.C. asking for a transcript of the program. Last week NBC President Lenox R. Lohr got another letter from [the] F.C.C., signed by Chairman Frank McNinch.” Taking time out from such radio supervising jobs as dividing up the ether, allotting slices of it to broadcasting stations and licensing operators, Mr. McNinch sounded off on Mae West.
“The admittedly objectionable character of these features is, in our opinion,” remarked McNinch, “attributable to the lack of a proper conception of the high standards required for a broadcast program intended for reception in the homes, schools, automobiles, religious, social and economic institutions, as well as clubs, hotels, trains and other places, reaching in the aggregate a much larger number of people daily than any other means of communication and carrying its message to men, women and children of all ages.”
The president of the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency apologized to Lenox R. Lohr, the President of NBC, and after citing eight year of programming as evidence of this goal, the president admitted to the mistake and ensured the public at large that the same mistake would not be made again. To this end, six days after the broadcast, the general manager of the NBC station group banned any mention of Mae West’s name and of the incident on the network. In effect, Mae West was gone, never to grace the airwaves again.
33. (12/19/37) In a more dignified manner from last week’s incident, the cast of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs performed a recreation.
34. (12/26/37) Mary Pickford is guest in a drama entitled “A Kiss for Cinderella.”
35. (1/2/38) Margo is the guest actress.
36. (1/9/38) Margaret Sullivan
37. (1/16/38) Lupe Velez
38. (1/23/38) Alice Brady
39. (1/30/38) Boris Karloff performs “The Evil Eye,” an adaptation of Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.
40. (2/6/38) Marlene Dietrich performs a skit entitled “I Love an Actress.”
41. (2/13/38) Barbara Stanwyck performs a skit entitled “The Straw.”
42. (2/20/38) Gladys Swarthout is guest.
43. (2/27/38) Rosalind Russell
44. (3/6/38) Actors Adolph Menjou and Vera Teasdale are guests. Both are real-life husband and wife. Menjou is appearing on the program for publicity purposes. Both Bergen and Menjou appeared in Universal’s latest picture, Letter of Introduction. Incidentally, Teasdale was Menjou’s real-life wife.
45. (3/13/38) Olivia deHavilland
46. (3/20/38) Carole Lombard
47. (3/27/38) Olivia deHavilland returns
48. (4/3/38) Joan Bennett
49. (4/10/38) Madeline Carroll
50. (4/17/38) Bette Davis
51. (4/24/38) Tommy Kelly
52. (5/1/38) Edward Arnold
53. (5/8/38) Gladys George
54. (5/15/38) May Robson is guest.
55. (5/22/38) May Robson returns.
56. (5/29/38) Barbara Stanwyck
57. (6/5/38) W.C. Fields is guest.
58. (6/12/38) William Powell
59. (6/19/38) Claudette Colbert
60. (6/26/38) Carole Lombard
61. (7/3/38) Miriam Hopkins
Charlie McCarthy, though made of wood, was worth a fortune by mid-1938. He had a stand-in, used for cinema work and for some publicity stills; a wardrobe that included a supply of monocles, two full dress suits, a supply of starchy linen, ten hats size 3½, including several toppers and two berets; a Sherlock Holmes outfit, jockey silks, a cowboy suit, a French Foreign Legion uniform, a gypsy costume (“It’s the Gypsy in me”). he wore baby-size shows, spent $1,000 a year for wardrobe and laundry, was insured for $10,000 against kidnapping, loss or demolition.
In 1938, at 33rd and Broadway in New York City, Charlie McCarthy fans could visit the fifth floor of the Gimbels Department Store and for $9.98, fans could purchase their own Charlie McCarthy and a book on ventriloquism. To give you an idea of how much Edgar Bergen was making off his creation, both he and Charlie collected $100,000 a year from the sale of dolls, gadgets, silverware and other copies of cocky Charlie. The March 20, 1939 issue of Time magazine reported that Edgar Bergen had recently made his last will and testament. In it he remembered Charlie, leaving $10,000 to the National Society of Ventriloquists so that Charlie might be kept in repair and used to encourage the perpetuation of the art.
Trivia: Ventriloquism was never a radio art. It still isn’t. But thoroughly part of radio art was Bergen’s clever deliveries with guests on his radio program, for which is alma mater, Northwestern University, in 1937 awarded Charlie the honorary degree of Master of Innuendo and Snappy comeback.
62. (7/10/38) Basil Rathbone is the guest. Edward Arnold is the master of ceremonies. Don Ameche leaves for an eight-week vacation.
63. (7/17/38) Ida Lupino is guest.
64. (7/24/38) Spencer Tracy performs a drama entitled “Five Star Final.”
65. (7/31/38) Fay Bainter in a scene from Dodsworth. Margaret MacRae is guest singer.
66. (8/7/38) John Barrymore and Loretta Lee are guests. Nelson Eddy returns as lead tenor, replacing John Carter who was singer on the last few broadcasts.
67. (8/14/38) Ella Logan, Richard Cromwell and Kathleen Lockhart are guests. Beulah Bondi was originally scheduled as a guest but for reasons unknown, she did not appear.
68. (8/21/38) Virginia Bruce is guest.
69. (8/28/38) Ralph Bellamy and Edward Arnold perform A Well Remembered Voice by James Barrie.
70. (9/4/38) Olivia deHavilland stars in a scene from When the Sun Rises. Don Ameche returns from his eight-week vacation.
71. (9/11/38) Warner Bros. Studios loans Errol Flynn to the program for publicity purposes.
72. (9/18/38) Cowboy singer Gene Autry is guest. Olympic Branda is also guest.
73. (9/25/38) Actress Constance Bennett is guest. This is the final episode to feature the Stroud Twins.
74. (10/2/38) Alice Faye is guest. Judy, Annie and Zeke are guest comedians, who replace the Stroud Twins and remain as regulars till the end of the year.
75. (10/9/38) Actress Loretta Young is guest of the week.
76. (10/16/38) Sonja Henie
77. (10/23/38) no details or guests known
78. (10/30/38) Madeline Carroll is guest. This same evening Orson Welles panicked America on CBS.
79. (11/6/38) Jean Arthur
80. (11/13/38) Anna May Wong pays a visit to the program.
81. (11/20/38) Anna May Wong returns to the program.
82. (11/27/38) Henry Fonda is guest.
83. (12/4/38) Carole Lombard
84. (12/11/38) William Powell
85. (12/18/38) Mischa Auer and Madeline Carroll
86. (12/25/38) Christmas broadcast, special events and holiday skits are performed.
87. (1/1/39) Jackie Cooper and Maxie Rosenbloom
88. (1/8/39) Maxie Rosenbloom made a splash last week with listeners so he returns again.
89. (1/15/39) Rosalind Russell
90. (1/22/39) Actress Claudette Colbert and actor Sterling Holloway are guests.
91. (1/29/39) Maureen O’Sullivan is guest. This is the last episode to feature Nelson Eddy as a regular tenor.
92. (2/5/39) Sterling Holloway returns and Barbara Stanwyck is guest. Donald Dickson replaces Nelson Eddy as the lead singer until August of 1939.
93. (2/12/39) Sterling Holloway for a third time in four weeks!
94. (2/19/39) The great Marlene Dietrich is guest.
95. (2/26/39) Billy Gilbert and Akim Tamiroff are guests.
96. (3/5/39) Virginia Bruce is guest.
97. (3/12/39) Helen Hayes and Beatrice Fairfax are guests. Comedian Richard Haydn becomes a regular about this time, appearing in almost every episode for the next few months.
The episode of March 12, 1939 was broadcast from Manhattan’s Radio City – the first time the program had originated from anywhere but Hollywood since the program’s premiere. When the plan to do this was announces to the press, 60,000 Charlie McCarthy fans besieged NBC and the agency producing the show for admission to Radio City’s 1,318-seat Studio 8-H. A crowd of 5,000 was at the station when the Chase and Sanborn troupe arrived, but Charlie was nowhere to be seen. Photographers grouped Master of Ceremonies Don Ameche, darkling Sarongstress Dorothy Lamour and Baritone Donald Dickson for a picture. As they were sighting the group, a press agent brought another man over, a middling, fair, baldish chap with delicate , expressive lips. For one photographer up front, this man crowded the picture, blocked the view of the lissome Lamour. “Hey,” he growled, “get that lug out of there.” Little did the photographer know that the lug was Edgar Bergen.
98. (3/19/39) Maurice Evans
99. (3/26/39) Madeline Carroll, Jean Travers and Edward Everett Horton are guests.
100. (4/2/39) Jackie Oakie
101. (4/9/39) Ogden Nash and Claudette Colbert
102. (4/16/39) Ginger Rogers
103. (4/23/39) Loretta Young
104. (4/30/39) Edward Everett Horton
105. (5/7/39) Virginia Bruce and Roy Atwell are guests.
106. (5/14/39) Edward Arnold
107. (5/21/39) Rosalind Russell
108. (5/28/39) Billy Gilbert and George Brent
109. (6/4/39) Guests are Annabella and Billy Gilbert.
110. (6/11/39) Loretta Young returns again.
111. (6/18/39) Pianist Alec Templeton performs a few renditions.
112. (6/25/39) Ginger Rogers
113. (7/2/39) Jackie Cooper and Alan Mowbray
114. (7/9/39) Stuart Irwin and boxer Tony Galento
115. (7/16/39) Andrea Leeds and Charles Irwin
116. (7/23/39) Ida Lupino and Barbara Jo Allen
117. (7/30/39) Kay Francis and Luis Alberni
118. (8/6/39) Josephine Hutchinson and Mischa Auer
119. (8/13/39) Barbara Jo Allen returns as guest. Nelson Eddy returns as lead tenor, replacing Donald Dickson.
120. (8/20/39) Charles Irwin and Joan Bennett
121. (8/27/39) Miriam Hopkins and Alan Mowbray
122. (9/3/39) Wendy Barrie and Vera Vague are guests. Broadcast originates from Honolulu, Hawaii.
123. (9/10/39) Mischa Auer and Madeline Carroll
124. (9/17/39) Fred MacMurray and Helen Broderick
125. (9/24/39) Anita Louise and David Niven
126. (10/1/39) Constance Bennett and Edward Everett Horton
127. (10/8/39) Charles Laughton and Barbara Jo Allen
128. (10/15/39) Merle Oberon and Vera Vague
129. (10/22/39) Olivia deHavilland
130. (10/29/39) Clark Gable and Barbara Jo Allen
131. (11/5/39) Cliff Nazarro and Jackie Cooper. This is the final episode to feature Dorothy Lamour as the weekly singer. She had been a regular since the program began in 1937.
132. (11/12/39) Jean Arthur is guest. Rudy Vallee is master of ceremonies for this broadcast, and will remain emcee for the next four broadcasts while Don Ameche is on vacation.
133. (11/19/39) George Raft and Alan Mowbray
134. (11/26/39) Loretta Young
135. (12/3/39) Maureen O’Hara and Arthur Treacher
136. (12/10/39) Lansing Hatfield is guest baritone.
137. (12/17/39) Geraldine Fitzgerald is guest. Don Ameche returns.
138. (12/24/39) Gloria Dean
139. (12/31/39) Mischa Auer and Madeline Carroll
By December of 1939, it was estimated that The Chase and Sanborn Hour traditionally had the ear of perhaps a third of the nation, the largest radio audience in the United States. But Charlie appeared only twice (a total of about 15 minutes) during the hour: the rest was usually orchestra music, songs by Dorothy Lamour and Donald Dickson, effervescences by guest stars and a master of ceremonies. Between Charlie’s turn at the mike, the interest in his vast audience wavered. According to a poll, the sponsors shockingly discovered that many tuned in on other programs, others mixed drinks, woolgather and miss commercials until Charlie returned. So it was decided by the sponsor, Standard Brands, that something had to be done. They ordered their Chase and Sanborn show tailored more accurately to Charlie’s measure. Beginning January 7, 1940, after the contracts of Lamour and Ameche expired, the program would be cut to a half-hour, leaving mainly Charlie and guest-star stooges, leaving little or no opportunity for tuners to duck out for a drink between halves.
Beginning with episode 140, the title of the series was changed, obviously, from The Chase and Sanborn Hour to The Chase and Sanborn Program. Now broadcast from 8 to 8:30 p.m., EST over NBC. Wendell Niles, who was the regular announcer for the series, had to take leave for a brief time in 1940. Ben Alexander took his place while Niles was away.
140. (1/7/40) no guest known
141. (1/14/40) Charles Laughton
142. (1/21/40) Vera Vague and Priscilla Lane
143. (1/28/40) Lansing Hatfield is guest baritone and Una Merkel jokes with Charlie.
144. (2/4/40) Judge Leroy Dawson and Barbara Jo Allen
145. (2/11/40) Gloria Jean and Walter Catlett
146. (2/18/40) Clark Gable
147. (2/25/40) Walter Catlett returns
148. (3/3/40) Arthur Treacher
149. (3/10/40) Carole Lombard
150. (3/17/40) Singer Doc Rockwell and baseball player Lou Gehrig are guests.
151. (3/24/40) Vera Vague
152. (3/31/40) Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe
153. (4/7/40) Deanna Durbin
154. (4/14/40) Chinese actor Willie Fung is guest.
155. (4/21/40) Charles Laughton and Donald Dickson
156. (4/28/40) Man-Mountain Dean, professional wrestler
157. (5/5/40) Robert Benchley and June Duprez
158. (5/12/40) no guest known
159. (5/19/40) Jeanette MacDonald
160. (5/26/40) Ted Rankin, airplane pilot
161. (6/2/40) Singer Josephine Sitzar is guest.
162. (6/9/40) James Cagney
163. (6/16/40) Anna Neagle
164. (6/23/40) Robert Benchley
165. (6/30/40) Vera Vague and Charles Laughton
July and August of 1940 marked the first time since the program’s premiere that the Charlie McCarthy show would go off the air for a summer break. The series never missed a single Sunday until the summer of 1940. The summer replacement was a mystery series entitled The Bishop and the Gargoyle (see John Dunning’s On the Air encyclopedia for info about that program), an unusual crime-fighting series starring Richard Gordon.
Broadcast Sunday evenings from 8 to 8:30 p.m., EST on NBC.
Baritone Donald Dickson signed on as the weekly singer from September 1, 1940 to February 2, 1941.
Richard Haydn was the weekly singer from February 9, 1941 to March 30, 1941.
Deanna Durbin was originally scheduled to star as the weekly singer for this 1940-41 season, but a week before the premiere of September 1940, she backed down.
166. (9/1/40) Irvin S. Cobb
167. (9/8/40) no guest known
168. (9/15/40) Jose Iturbi, pianist
169. (9/22/40) no guest known
170. (9/29/40) Virginia Bruce
171. (10/6/40) Charles Laughton
172. (10/13/40) Billie Burke
173. (10/20/40) Errol Flynn
174. (10/27/40) Frank Morgan
175. (11/3/40) Laurence Olivier