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Phil Harris Alice Faye Show Old Time Radio Program
Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show
The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, a comedy radio program
which ran on NBC from 1948 to 1954, evolved from an earlier music
and comedy variety program, The Fitch Bandwagon. Singer-bandleader
Phil Harris and his wife, actress-singer Alice Faye, became the
earlier show's breakout stars, and the show was retooled into a
full situation comedy, with Harris and Faye playing fictionalized
versions of themselves as a working show business couple raising
two daughters in a slightly madcap home.
In 1946, they were invited to co-host The Fitch Bandwagon,
a musical variety and comedy show that had been a Sunday night fixture
on NBC since 1938, featuring such orchestras as Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy
Grier, Harry James, Freddy Martin and Jan Savitt and Harry Sosnik.
In The Big Broadcast 1920-1950 Frank Buxton and Bill Owen wrote:
"Even though many people thought that The Fitch Bandwagon was
lucky to be sandwiched in between Jack Benny at 7pm and Edgar Bergen
at 8pm on NBC, the [show] pioneered Sunday evening entertainment
programming, because prior to its appearance most broadcasters felt
that Sunday programming should be of a more religious or serious
The show was a quick success and its postion in that powerhouse NBC Sunday lineup didn't hurt. Playing themselves as radio and music star parents of two precocious young daughters (played by actresses Jeanine Roos and Ann Whitfield, instead of the Harris' own young daughters), Harris refined his character from the booze-and-broads, hipster jive talker he had been on the Benny show ("Hiya, Jackson!" was his usual hail to Benny) into a slightly vain (particularly about his wavy hair and the dimpled smile that always hinted mischief) and dunderheaded husband who usually needed rescuing by Faye as his occasionally tart but always loving wife. References to his hair and vanity became a running gag.
Harris often passed wisecracks about buddy Frank Remley's taste for the spirits, a contrast to Harris' former Benny character. The show's writers, Ray Singer and Dick Chevillat, also used Faye's experience making the ill-fated film Fallen Angel as a source of gags, to say nothing of setting up situations in which Harris was recognized (if at all) as her husband or "Mr. Alice Faye." In the closing, Foreman said, "Alice Faye appears through the courtesy of 20th Century Fox." Gerald S. Nachman (Raised on Radio) and other radio historians believed that was a conscious jibe at the studio, since Faye's contract had been torn up when she walked out rather than abide Darryl Zanuck cutting her scenes in favor of Linda Darnell.
Harris's radio character was also scripted as an occasional language and context mangler, six parts Gracie Allen and half a dozen parts Yogi Berra. ("Why, The Mikado never would have been written if Gilbert didn't have faith in Ed Sullivan!") The sardonic humor that laced the show was far beyond the gentility of that other show which featured a bandleader and his singing wife, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
"Good mirth to all from Rexall"
Rexall didn't mind the jokes that referred to the
company or brought the company briefly into a full scene. It didn't
even mind that the Scott character himself could be seen as satirizing
the company more than promoting it. This was rare in an era where
sponsors didn't always enjoy being zapped on the programs they were
paying to produce and sometimes were accused of influencing the
content of the shows they sponsored heavy-handedly.
The sponsorship switch to RCA also brought the Harrises
a family pet, a dog---named, naturally, Nipper, a la the familiar
Jack Russell Terrier (with an ear cocked to a Victrola horn, in
the famous painting "His Master's Voice") that served
as RCA's logo for many years. Sometimes, Harris would address the
dog with a backhanded allusion to the famous painting: "Sit,
boy. Listen to your master's voice."
Harris's character often as not found trouble because of buddy-guitarist Frank Remley, played by Elliot Lewis, as he had done in a lesser take on the role on the Benny show. Remley often behaved as though his sense of proportion, logic and just plain sense was left behind---essentially, the kind of character Harris had been on the Benny program. "What would you do without me, Curly?" Remley might ask Harris, who would shoot right back, "The same thing you're doing with me---be a moron!"
When Benny moved his show from NBC to CBS in 1949, rights to use references to Remley went with him. So when the new season of the Harris show began, suddenly the character "Frankie Remley" became the character "Elliott Lewis." Since the two shows ran consecutively, Benny at 5 p.m. Pacific Time, 8 p.m. Eastern, and Harris at 5:30, and since Harris was on both shows, and both were aired live, once Benny switched networks Harris had to run or hop in a waiting car and fight traffic for the two blocks from CBS's studios on Sunset Boulevard at Gower Street in Hollywood to the NBC studios at Sunset and Vine.
Child impersonator Walter Tetley played obnoxious delivery boy Julius, who had sarcastic one-liners for Harris and Remley and a crush on Faye---at least, until he married sponsor rep Scott's daughter. Tetley did a similar role as spunky nephew Leroy on another radio hit, The Great Gildersleeve. Rounding out the show's usual cast were Robert North as Faye's fictitious deadbeat, humorless but somewhat down-to-earth brother, Willy.
No episode went without two music interludes, usually an upbeat or novelty number by Harris in his friendly baritone and a ballad or soft swinger by Faye in her affectionate contralto. Occasionally, they switched musical roles, Harris taking a ballad and Faye taking a hard swinger.
Though their on-air personae were that of a stumbling husband whose wife sometimes wanted to throw up her hands every time she had to rescue him from himself, Harris and Faye's genuine love for each other was evident on the show. Harris often rewrote song lyrics to work in a reference to Faye. Their marriage, a second for both, lasted 54 years until Harris's 1995 death.
Co-writer Ray Singer told Nachman that he and his partner Dick Chevillat thought they had a "writer's paradise" working for Harris and Faye: "Phil was the kind of guy who loved living, and didn't want to be bothered with work or anything else. He left us alone. We never had to report to him. He never knew what was gonna happen. And it was left in our hands. It spoiled us for everybody else."
Harris and Faye stayed with NBC rather than succumb
to the CBS talent raids of the late 1940s that began when Benny
was lured to CBS and took a few NBC stars (including George Burns
and Gracie Allen) with him. NBC offered the couple (as well as Fred
Allen) a lucrative new deal to stay, though occasionally Harris
would allude to Benny's network switch on the Harris-Faye show.
(Typically, Harris would crack an odd joke and then say, "I
gotta give this one to Jackson! It might bring him back to NBC.")
Despite the network conflict and a grueling schedule, Harris continued
to appear on Benny's show through 1952.
When Harris and his band were invited to perform at
President Harry S. Truman's inaugural in January 1949, the Harris-Faye
writers scripted a playful show in which Harris the character steamed
over a lack of invitation to the Inaugural Ball. He wasn't exactly
thrilled to hear his wife warbling a Truman-friendly version of
"I'm Just Wild About Harry," either. But at the show's
end, Harris--who often shed his radio character to speak soberly
promoting worthy causes (such as Big Brothers of America, which
he saluted at the end of a 1950 show)--spoke humbly about how honored
he was to have received the actual invitation, inviting the show's
full cast and crew to join him for the festivities.
Harris Alice Faye Show episode list
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