Thursday, August 6, 2009

Don't forget Red, George, ZaSu, Gunther, Dayton, Crazy & Pinky

By Steve Crum

Not so fast, NBC and the Nielsen survey. Last night’s TV’S 50 FUNNIEST PHRASES left out some prime, and prime time, classics. Sure there were memorable phrases uttered by the likes of Bea Arthur’s Maude [“God’ll get you for that one”], Henry Winkler’s Fonzie [“Sit on it!”] and Redd Foxx’s Fred Sanford [“I’m comin’, Elizabeth!”]. And sure, last night’s program was just Part 1, with the second half airing next week.

I should wait another week, but I can’t. Judging from last night’s list, few of the programs represented go as far back in TV history as THE JACK BENNY SHOW [1950-65]. While it is great Benny is among the chosen with his “Now cut that out!,” his inclusion is a bit of a fudge. Years before his TV stardom, his radio program was among the top 10. Catchphrases like “Well!” and “Now cut that out!” were spoken way back then.

My memory bank, which needs bail-out, includes a deposit box jammed with comic catchphrases. [No withdrawal jokes, please.] A couple of them might be included in the Top 50; I doubt the rest will. Here are my choices. Can you match them up with the photos above?
THE RED BUTTONS SHOW [1952-55]: Red created a national sensation when he repeatedly uttered the immortal, “Strange things are happening.” Another Buttons catchphrase was “Ho-Ho!” [He’d say this as he cupped one ear, and hopped around the stage.] The two sayings were so popular that Buttons’ best selling single record included Strange Things Are Happening on one side, and The Ho-Ho Song on the other.

THE GEORGE GOBEL SHOW [1954-60]: “Lonesome George” Gobel made tales about his “mean ol’ wife Alice” even funnier when he punctuated them with phrases like “Well, I’ll be a dirty bird” and “We don’t hardly get those no more.” The dirty bird line is still spoken by many of the 50+ bracket today.
For a clip of his 1954 show, follow this link:

THE PINKY LEE SHOW aka THOSE TWO [1950-57]: There were two great, but silly, lines: “Yoo-Hoo, it’s me, my name is Pinky Lee” [his theme song] and “Game time, Pinky, game time!” The latter was yelled at him by one of his cast members as he squeezed and slapped Pinky’s cheeks. This was hilarious to me, an eight year-old.

THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW [1956-61]: Allen’s stock company of talented comedians is legendary. Among them, great catchphrases were born:
DON KNOTTS, always portraying a nervous guy, had his line. Each week, Allen would invariably ask him, “Are you nervous?”, to which Knotts would quickly reply, “Noop!” 
DAYTON ALLEN, later famous as the voice of Deputy Dawg, would answer a Steve Allen question with an upraised index finger and the surreal, “Why not?!” By the way, he and Steve were not related. •Enjoy this bit which does not include his catchphrase, but it is typical Dayton Allen:
TOM POSTON'S schtick was to answer Steve Allen’s Man on the Street interview the same way week after week, year after year. The audience loved it, anticipated it. The simple bit was Steve asking Poston’s character his name. Then Poston would not know the answer, looking bewildered. Call it an anti-phrase, but it is catchy.
LOUIS NYE, before his stint on The Beverly Hillbillies as Banker Drysdale's spoiled son, played Gordon Hathaway on the Allen program. Gordon's wispy and hip delivery was punctuated by "Hi-Ho, Steverino!"

CHARLEY WEAVER aka CLIFF ARQUETTE was best known as guest comedian on THE JACK PAAR SHOW, THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW, and THE HOLLYWOOD SQUARES. Besides reading his fictional letter from his mother, which he preceded with “I got a letter from Mama!," his most famous saying was always directed to his audience: “These are my people!”

THE JIMMY DURANTE SHOW [1954-57] introduced perhaps [see Red Skelton below] the most touching catchphrase from any comedy show. At the close of each program, the curtains opened to a bare, unlit stage as Durante would put on his coat [his hat was always on]. Large light circles from six spotlights led from stage center to the distance, and Durante would walk to each, turn, and tip his hat to the audience. Before taking the weekly finale, he would say sincerely, slightly tilting his head up, “Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.” It was later learned he was referring to his late, first wife. •Here is that memorable closing:

THE RED SKELTON SHOW [1951-71] certainly had its throat catching phrase which Skelton said at the close of each show: “Goodbye for now, and may God bless.”

JACKIE GLEASON’S AMERICAN SCENE MAGAZINE [1962-66] featured catchphrases Gleason had introduced in his early TV days of the 1950s, “How sweet it is!” and “And away we go!” among them. A regular comic on his show, CRAZY GUGGENHEIM, portrayed by FRANK FONTAINE, brought down the house each week during the Joe the Bartender sketch. Each time Joe (Gleason) would call Crazy from the back room, Crazy would enter with that goofy face, hat pulled down tight, and say, “Hiya Joe, Hiya Mr. Dunahee-hee-hee!” His delivery, which included a half-witted laugh, was everything.

THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS [1959-63] introduced MAYNARD G. KREBS, the beatnik played by BOB DENVER, and his expected response to anyone offering his a job: “Work!” He said it with shocked expression. •Follow this link to some Maynard and Dobie:

MR. ED [1961-65] gave us the only memorable catchphrase uttered by a horse, the Mr. Ed of the title: “Wilbur!” Wilbur was his owner, played by Alan Young. Ed’s voice was ALLAN "ROCKY" LANE'S, a top B-western cowboy star.

THE GALE STORM SHOW [1956-60] had its own famous catchphrase...sort of. This is a bit of a fudge like the Jack Benny inclusion. Co-star ZASU PITTS, who played Gale Storm’s sidekick Nugey Nugent, would utter, “Well, forevermore,” during most episodes, when faced with a dilemma. Pitts actually used this phrase as far back as the early 1930s when she co-starred with Thelma Todd in Hal Roach 2-reel comedies. •For a very rare clip of ZaSu, selling Corn Flakes with Superman no less, follow this link:

CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU? [1961-63] seems like a spin-off from THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW. Nat Hiken created both series, and when Silvers’ Sgt. Bilko show ended, he brought many cast members to the streets of New York, playing funny cops. Even though their names were different and they were dressed for new occupations, some of the catchphrases stayed. JOE E. ROSS’ Officer Gunther Toody, for example, would say, “Oooo, Oooo,” whenever he was excited. His Sgt. Ritzik did the same thing on the Silvers program. It was a catchphrase that stuck with Ross until his death. But Toody did say an originally-written-for-Car-54-Where-Are-You? line at least once per episode, directed at his partner, Officer Francis Muldoon [Fred Gwynne]: “Francis! Francis!” Imagine this with “Ooo, Ooo!” bookending it.
Tune in to next week’s second half of the TV’S 50 FUNNIEST PHRASES [Wed., Aug. 12, 7-8 p.m. Central Time] to see if any or all my choices make the cut.

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