Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Old Radio Shows ~

The Bickersons, John and Blanche

They Were No Ozzie and Harriet

Don Ameche and Frances Langford ~ The Bickersons
John and Blanche, The Bickersons, were fictional radio characters played by Don Ameche and Frances Langford from 1946-1951. The snappy dialogue of the contentious couple consisted of rapid-fire, argumentative vignettes. Caricaturing a shrewish wife, the whining, discontented Blanche beset the not-very-long-suffering John with interminable complaints; thus providing a foil for his acerbic one-liners.

Included at the end of this article are samples of their repartee that, though many might label them "sexist", most objective readers ought to agree are timeless examples of comedic wit, as fresh today as they were over sixty years ago. A reader who has never experienced The Bickersons owes it to his or herself to listen to one of the many recordings that are available on YouTube and The Internet Archive.

Not married in real life, the feuding husband and wife team were created by Philip Rapp in a series of short skits that first aired as a regular feature on The Chase and Sanborn Hour, the Variety show that launched the career of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his impish dummy protégé, Charlie McCarthy.

Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy
The Bickersons skits quickly proved so popular that the consumer products behemoth Procter and Gamble contracted Ameche and Langford to host their own new show, Drene Time, to advertise one of the corporation's premiere products, Drene Shampoo. The Bickersons, in fact, were in such popular demand that the producers of this show dedicated the entire closing half to John and Blanche.

It may be worth noting that, while the Husband and Wife theme was quite popular in what has become known as "The Golden Age" of radio, the tone of The Bickersons was a radical departure from the norm.

    The Nelsons          The Andersons           The McGees 
Contemporary on-air couples Ozzie and Harriet Nelson of the aptly named Ozzie and Harriet Show, Jim and Margaret Anderson of Father Knows Best, and Fibber McGee and Molly of their own program all relied on the "situation" to showcase the humor. With few exceptions, most notably Fibber's flights of verbal fancy and puns, the story was supposed to get the laughs and dialogue was just the means to an end.

These other shows also carried another subtext and that was that the wife was always the wiser, more stabilizing influence while the husband ranged from a well meaning, but bumbling Everyman to a near imbecile requiring his spouse to return him to the straight and narrow before the final commercial break.

The Bickersons turned that completely around as this review by entertainment critic John Crosby in The New York Herald Tribune
in May, 1948 ably points out, "Blanche...is one of the monstrous shrews of all time. She makes her husband (John) take two jobs, working a total of 16 hours in order to bring in more money which she then squanders on minks and the stock market. Meanwhile, he can't afford a new pair of shoes so he goes around with his feet painted black."

Crosby goes on to point out that, "Her goal seems to be to drive her husband crazy and she succeeds very nicely. The embattled John's only weapon is the insult, something at which he is very good."

The following are from various episodes of The Bickersons ~

     B: You used to be so considerate. Since we got married you have           no sympathy at all.
     J:  That's not true, Blanche. Since we got married I've got                       everyone's sympathy.

     B: I didn't have to marry you, John. There were plenty of better             fish in the sea, you know.
     J:  Better bait, too.

     B: I saw you ogling Gloria Gooseby at dinner tonight; her and                her strapless and backless gown. How do you think I would              look in a gown that was strapless and backless?
     J:  Skinless and boneless.

     B:  I just can't believe we're practically living in poverty. Before             we got married you told me that you were well off.
     J:   I was, Blanche. I just didn't know it.

     B:  I had it out with that Gloria Gooseby. I let her know just 
           what I thought of her in no uncertain terms. Believe me, I                  was outspoken.
     J:  I don't believe that, Blanche. Nobody can out-speak you.

     B:  Wake up, John. I don't feel good. I have a shooting pain in
           the pit of my stomach. I think it was that awful dinner we                  had at the Gooseby's. I think the fish disagreed with me.
     J:  It wouldn't dare.

This final example is one of classic "misplaced emphasis:

     B: I know you don't think I am pretty anymore, John. Why don't           you go ahead and admit it? You think I look like an old witch.
     J: I don't think you look like an old witch.
     J: I don't think you look like an old witch.
     J: I don't think you look like an old witch.

You guessed it, John voiced all three.

The Bickersons

Try them, you will love them.