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Elmore was still determined to make his mark in
radio as a singer instead of a comedian, so he sent
word back to NBC that he would join
Carefree
Carnival
as Fishface ONLY if he would also be
guaranteed four singing spots a week on other
network shows – for $60 a week. NBC wanted
Fishface so badly that they agreed to this, but had
to drop another young singer to make room for
Elmore. (That singer turned out to be Harold Peary,
who subsequently moved to Chicago, hooked up
with the
Fibber McGee and Molly show, created the
character of the Great Gildersleeve, and
presumably laughed all the way to the bank.)
With national exposure, Senator Fishface really
caught on about this time, with his speeches in
which he got his words so tangled that it was
difficult to tell what he was trying to say in the first
place. (He also made most of these hilarious errors
while bellowing at the top of his voice – this is the
reason why he no longer includes Fishface’s
material in his personal appearances today, Elmore
explains.) A typical speech might go something like
this:
"My fellow chizzlers… er, citizens… my hat is in the
ring, and I’ll appreciate anything you throw into it.
Oh, but before I say anything, I wanna tell ya
something. I wanna say that my opponents are
trying to make an issue of my proposal on the
street cleaning department. That’s what I call dirty
politics. When I’m mayor of New York, I’ll give the
people of New York a new water works… yes sir,
vote for Fishface, friends, and I’LL GIVE YA THE
WORKS! I sure hope the best man doesn’t win,
‘cause if he does I’m licked before we start!"
Carefree Carnival was quite a show, with a large
cast that included not only Elmore Vincent as
Senator Fishface, but also musical director
Meredith Willson and a young comedienne named
Irene Ryan (later Granny on
The Beverly Hillbillies).
The sponsor was a product of questionable merit,
Crazy Water Crystals, which was promoted as a
cure for everything from hangnails to dropsy until
the FCC stepped in and said WHOA, and, without a
sponsor, the whole show was canceled!
Elmore, along with his wife and little daughter, hit
the trail for New York, with the intention of
auditioning as a singer on the Rudy Vallee
program, only to find that Vallee had just filled the
opening with Arkansas singer and comedian Bob
Burns. After starving in New York for a few months,
Elmore teamed up with a writer from the
Mardi Gras
days, Don Johnson (no, not the one from
Miami
Vice
), and NBC put the team on as a sustaining
series,
Senator Fishface and Professor Figgsbottle,
which ran until the network dropped all of its
sustaining series two and a half years later. Around
this same time, RCA renovated a studio in Radio
City into an early television studio, and Elmore took
part in an experimental broadcast in which Senator
Fishface addressed bogus world leaders. The year
being 1937, this definitely qualifies Elmore as a
true television pioneer!
Returning to the West Coast, Elmore spent some
time touring with a harmonica revue, then a few
more months as a headline attraction at vaudeville
houses, but found very few bookings for Senator
Fishface on the radio. He made a few appearances
on the Charlie McCarthy Show, as well as the Al
Pearce program, and discovered an ability to play
old men on several dramatic series, but still the
early 1940s were lean years for our friend; when
the war came along, he found work as a painter in
one of the large shipyards.
At this point, Lum and Abner come into the story. It
seems that Tuffy Goff had been classified 1-A by
his draft board, and there was the possibility that
the show might have to continue without Abner for
a while. To counter this possible problem, Chet,
Tuffy and Roz Rogers created the character of
Abner’s crusty old father, Phinus Peabody, who
constantly reminded everyone that “Abner’s a
good boy.” Many actors auditioned for the role, but
it was Elmore Vincent (in his “old man” character
rather than the voice he used as Fishface) who got
the part. Actually, he was two years younger than
his “son,” Tuffy, a fact not given out publicly at the
time.
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