Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Baby Snooks Show

The Baby Snooks Show was an American radio program starring comedian and Ziegfeld Follies alumna Fanny Brice as a mischievous young girl who was 40 years younger than the actress who played her when she first went on the air. The series began on CBS September 17, 1944, airing on Sunday evenings at 6:30pm as Post Toasties Time (for sponsor General Foods). The title soon changed to The Baby Snooks Show, and the series was sometimes called Baby Snooks and Daddy.

 In 1904, George McManus began his comic strip, The Newlyweds, about a couple and their child, Baby Snookums. Brice began doing her Baby Snooks character in vaudeville, as she recalled many years later: "I first did Snooks in 1912 when I was in vaudeville. At the time there was a juvenile actress named Baby Peggy and she was very popular. Her hair was all curled and bleached and she was always in pink or blue. She looked like a strawberry ice cream soda. When I started to do Baby Snooks, I really was a baby, because when I think about Baby Snooks it's really the way I was when I was a kid. On stage, I made Snooks a caricature of Baby Peggy."

 Early on, Brice's character was sometimes called "Babykins." By 1934 she was wearing her baby costume while appearing on Broadway in the Follies show. On February 29, 1936, Brice was scheduled to appear on the Ziegfeld Follies of the Air, written and directed by Philip Rapp in 1935-37. Rapp and his writing partner David Freedman searched the closest bookcase, opened a public domain collection of sketches by Robert Jones Burdette, Chimes From a Jester’s Bells (1897) and adapted a humorous piece about a kid and his uncle, changing the boy to a girl named Snooks. Rapp continued to write the radio sketches when Brice played Snooks on the Good News Show the following year. In 1940, she became a regular character on Maxwell House Coffee Time, sharing the spotlight with actor Frank Morgan, who sometimes did a crossover into the Snooks sketches. Danny Thomas as Jerry Dingle, 1945.

In 1944, the character was given her own show, and during the 1940s, it became one of the nation's favorite radio situation comedies, with a variety of sponsors (Post Cereals, Sanka, Spic-n-Span, Jell-O) being touted by a half-dozen announcers—John Conte, Tobe Reed, Harlow Willcox, Dick Joy, Don Wilson and Ken Wilson.

Hanley Stafford was best known for his portrayal of Snooks' long-suffering, often-cranky father, Lancelot “Daddy” Higgins, a role played earlier by Alan Reed on the 1936 Follies broadcasts. Lalive Brownell was Vera “Mommy” Higgins, also portrayed by Lois Corbet (mid-1940s) and Arlene Harris (after 1945). Beginning in 1945, child impersonator Leone Ledoux was first heard as Snook’s younger brother Robespierre, and Snooks returned full circle to the comics when comic book illustrator Graham Ingels and his wife Gertrude named their son Robespierre (born 1946) after listening to Ledoux's child voice.

 In 1945, when illness caused Brice to miss several episodes, her absence was incorporated into the show as a plot device in which top stars (including Robert Benchley, Sydney Greenstreet, Kay Kyser and Peter Lorre) took part in a prolonged search for Snooks. In the fall of 1946, the show moved to Friday nights at 8pm, continuing on CBS until May 28, 1948. On November 9, 1949, the series moved to NBC where it was heard Tuesdays at 8:30pm. Sponsored by Tums, The Baby Snooks Show continued on NBC until May 22, 1951. Two days later, Fanny Brice had a cerebral hemorrhage, and the show ended with her death at age 59.

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