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The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show

The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, was a comedy radio program which ran on NBC from 1948 to 1954 starring real life couple Alice Faye and Phil Harris. Harris had previously become known to radio audiences as the band-leader-turned-cast-member of the same name on The Jack Benny Program while Faye had been a frequent guest on programs such as Rudy Vallée's variety shows. After becoming the breakout stars of the music and comedy variety program The Fitch Bandwagon, 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 madcap home.

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Fitchphil1.jpg
Alice Faye and Phil Harris in 1947 NBC promotional art by Sam Berman
Running time 30 minutes
Country of origin United States
Language(s) English
Home station NBC
Starring Phil Harris
Alice Faye
Elliott Lewis
Announcer Bill Foreman
Created by Al Lewis
Written by Ray Singer and Dick Chevillat
Directed by Paul Phillips
Produced by Paul Phillips
Original release October 3, 1948 – June 18, 1954
No. of series 6
No. of episodes 297

Contents

CastEdit

  • Phil Harris - A fictionalized version of himself as the co-star of a fictionalized version of the show.
  • Alice Faye - A fictionalized version of herself as the co-star of a fictionalized version of the show.
  • Elliott Lewis - Left-handed guitar player Frank Remley. The character was renamed Elliott Lewis in 1949 when The Jack Benny Program, which owned the rights to the Elliott Lewis character, moved from NBC to CBS.
  • Jeanine Roos - Phyllis, Alice and Phil's older daughter.
  • Anne Whitfield - 'Baby' Alice, Alice and Phil's younger daughter.
  • Walter Tetley - Julius Abruzzio, the grocery boy.
  • Robert North (in later later seasons, John Hubbard) - Willy Faye, Alice's humorless younger brother.
  • Gale Gordon - Mr. Scott, president of the Rexall Company (the show's sponsor) and therefore Phil's boss.
  • Alan Reed - Various guest roles.
  • Frank Nelson - Various guest roles.

HistoryEdit

 
Harris and Faye in 1950
Alice Faye: "Oh, Phil, are you ready?"
Phil Harris: "Darn, you made me swallow a bobby pin!"

Since 1936 Harris had been a comedic mainstay and musical director for The Jack Benny Program; Faye had been a frequent guest on programs such as Rudy Vallée's. Their marriage provoked a 1941 episode of the Benny show.

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 nature." [1]

The growing popularity of the Harris-Faye family sketches turned the program into their own comic vehicle by 1947. When announcer Bill Foreman hailed, "Good health to all... from Rexall!" on October 3, 1948, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show launched its independent life under Rexall's sponsorship with a debut storyline about the fictitious day the couple signed their sponsorship deal.

The show was a quick success, making the most of its position in the powerhouse NBC Sunday lineup. Playing themselves as radio and music star parents of two precocious young daughters (played by actresses Jeanine Roos and Ann Whitfield, instead of the Harrises' own young daughters), Harris refined his character from the booze-and-broads, hipster jive talker he had been on the Benny show into a vain buffoon but loyal husband who usually needed rescuing by Faye, 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 continuation of 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 meta-gags, writing her as a rich, in-demand starlet. In what is seen by historians as an ironic jab at her former studio, announcer Bill Foreman closed each program with "Alice Faye appears through the courtesy of 20th Century Fox." In truth, Faye's contract had been torn up when she walked out rather than abide Darryl Zanuck cutting her scenes in favor of Linda Darnell. [2]

Harris's radio character was also scripted as an occasional language and context mangler, six parts Gracie Allen[citation needed] and half a dozen parts Yogi Berra[citation needed]. ("Why, The Mikado never would have been written if Gilbert didn't have faith in Ed Sullivan!") The sardonic humor and debaucherous nightlife references that laced the show went beyond the gentility of another show which featured a bandleader and his singing wife, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

SponsorshipEdit

Legendary character actor Gale Gordon appeared frequently as Mr. Scott, the slightly pompous and withering fictitious representative of actual sponsor Rexall. Each show was bookended by a serious Rexall commercial, narrated by a sonorous, sober-sounding "Rexall Family Druggist", played by veteran film supporting actor Griff Barnett. One running gag involved Scott's affected disdain for Harris, seeing his continued employment as an unfortunate necessity in order to keep Alice Faye on the show. Another involved Harris's continuous misidentification of the Rexall brand (naming the company's trademark colors as pink and purple, rather than their familiar blue and orange, for example)—when he remembered them at all.

Rexall sponsored The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show through 1950 when they moved to rival CBS' The Amos 'n' Andy Show. After a short period, RCA Victor picked up the show through the end of 1954, at which point Gale Gordon's Mr. Scott shifted from to representing the new sponsor with the same satirical edge.

The sponsorship switch to RCA also brought the Harrises a family pet: Nipper, the 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. Harris would sometimes address the dog with an allusion to the painting: "Sit, boy. Listen to your master's voice."

Supporting CharactersEdit

Harris's character was often led into trouble by his buddy, guitarist, Remley. Frank Remley was the real name of a musician from the Jack Benny Show band, who was often mentioned on that program on jokes alluding to heavy drinking. The character was expanded on The Phill Harris-Alice Faye to be Harris' affable, dumb, womanizing partner-in-crime. "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 The Jack Benny Program moved from NBC to CBS in 1949, rights to the Remley character went with him. However, it wasn't until the fall of 1952 that Harris show character "Frankie Remley" became the character "Elliott Lewis". The change was explained in the October 5th episode, "Hotel Harris".

Child impersonator Walter Tetley played obnoxious delivery boy Julius, who had sarcastic one-liners for Harris and Remley and a crush on Faye whom he often called his soul mate. 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, practical brother Willy. John Hubbard appeared as Willy during the final season. The couple's two daughters, 'Baby' Alice and Phyllis, were played on radio by Jeanine Roos and Anne Whitfield.

Few episodes 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. Walter Scharf was the program's musical director.

Harris and FayeEdit

Though their on-air personae were that of a bumbling husband and exasperated wife, Harris and Faye's genuine love for each other was evident both on and off the air. Harris often rewrote song lyrics to reference Faye and 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.

While several radio programs were being transferred to television during the show's lifetime, one episode ("The Television Test") comically exaggerated how terribly the audience would receive Phil on the small screen:

Producer 1 – "Do you think it's wise to let the public see what Harris looks like?"
Producer 2 – "Oh, he doesn't look that bad."

Harris and Faye were not averse to appearing on radio outside their comic personae. At the height of their radio show's popularity, the couple made a memorable appearance on the CBS mystery hit, Suspense, in a 1951 episode called "Death on My Hands". This performance was something of a family affair: Elliott Lewis was also the main director of Suspense during this period. The title alluded to an accidental shooting local people assumed to be murder. Harris played a touring bandleader playing a high school dance and accosted back at his hotel by an autograph-seeking girl. As she reached for a photo in an open suitcase, the suitcase fell to the floor, and a pistol inside discharged, shooting her to death and provoking a local lynch mob. Before the dance, he had bumped into Faye as his former band singer; after the dance, she sought to help him convince the town of the truth.

Harris and Faye also did the occasional stage tour during their radio years, including a tour with Jack Benny in the early 1950s. Nachman and other old-time radio chroniclers have noted the couple shied from television mostly because the pace and complexities of working the new medium would have been too time consuming; radio allowed them, in effect, to work part-time while raising their children full-time.

Truman InaugurationEdit

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 show in which Harris the character steamed over a lack of invitation to the Inaugural Ball. His character 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.

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Buxton, Frank; Owen, Bill (1997). The Big Broadcast 1920–1950. New York: Avon.
  2. ^ Nachman, Gerald S. (1998). Raised on Radio. New York: Pantheon Books.

SourcesEdit

  • Jack Benny and Joan Benny, Sunday Nights at Seven: The Jack Benny Story. (New York: Warner Books, 1990.)
  • John Dunning, On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).
  • John Dunning, Tune in Yesterday: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio 1925–1976. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1976.)
  • Leonard Maltin, The Great American Broadcast: A Celebration of Radio's Golden Age (New York: Dutton/Penguin, 1997).
  • Gerald S. Nachman, Raised on Radio. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998.)
  • Arthur Frank Wertheim, Radio Comedy. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979).

External linksEdit