Man & Moppet
The rogue most beloved in the U. S. is a precocious, conceited, impertinent, fast-cracking ventriloquist’s dummy named Charlie McCarthy. On Sunday nights from eight till nine EST, when the U. S. radio audience reaches its peak for the week, almost a third of the nation tunes in on the Chase and Sanborn Hour to hear Charlie make rude and clever remarks to important people.
<McCARTHY & BERGEN A wood-carving barkeep was important>
Last week the Chase and Sanborn troupe broadcast from Manhattan’s Radio City—the first time the program had originated from anywhere but Hollywood in nearly two years on the air. When the plan to do this was announced to the press, 60,000 Charlie McCarthy fans besieged NBC and the agency producing the show for admission to Radio City’s I,3I8-seat Studio 8-H. A crowd of 5,000 was at the station when the troupe arrived, but Charlie was nowhere to be seen. Photographers grouped Master of Ceremonies Don Ameche, darkling Sarongstress Dorothy Lamour and Baritone Donald Dickson for a picture. As they were sighting the group, a pressagent brought another man over, a middling, fair, baldish chap with delicate, expressive lips. For one photographer up front, this man crowded the picture, blocked the view of the lissome Lamour. “Hey,” he growled, “get that lug out of there.”
That lug was Edgar Bergen, who 20 years ago, at 16, sketched Charlie’s features after those of a ragamuffin Chicago newsboy, paid $35 to have them whittled in wood by a wood-carving barkeep named Mack, and since then has made a tidy fortune speaking his nimble mind through Charlie’s lip. Bergen himself is professionally shy, so that the fresh guy, Charlie, seems a distinct personality.
All there is to Charlie is that original placed body inside which is a trigger with which Bergen makes the little fellow leer, bow, grimace. He has a stand-in, used in cinema work and for some publicity stills; a wardrobe that includes a supply of monocles, two full dress suits, a supply of starchy linen, ten hats size 3 ½, including several toppers, two berets; a Sherlock Holmes outfits, jockey silks, a cowboy suit, a French Foreign Legion uniform, a gypsy costume (“It’s the Gypsy in me”). He wear baby-size shoes, spends $1,000 a year for wardrobe and laundry, is insured for $ 10,000 against kidnapping, loss or demolition.
The great W. C. Fields, whom Charlie (Bergen) consistently outgagged, whether Fields stuck to the script or not during their five and a half months together on the program, really wanted to demolish Charlie (not Bergen). There was a genuine, jealous glint in the old fellow’s eye when he once threatened: “I’ll carve you into a Venetian blind.” “Oh Mr. Fields,” mince Charlie, “you make me shudder.”
Charlie got in Shirley Temple’s curls once, too. “McCarthy,” said Bergen, “I want you to meet the sweetest little girl on the screen.” Charlie looked down archly from his perch on Bergen’s knee. “Not Jane Withers!” he chuckled.
Ventriloquism was never a radio art. It still isn’t. But thoroughly part of radio art is Bergen’s clever line, for which his alma mater, Northwestern University, in 1937 awarded Charlie the honorary degree of Master of Innuendo and Snappy Comeback. An assistance also is the fact that Charlie’s person, due to his vast press, is almost as well known to radio listeners as his sage, snide, bored voice. Charlie and Bergen collect $100,000 a year from the sale of dolls, gadgets, silverware and other copies of cocky Charlie.