The following is an excerpt from the radio show Maxwell House Coffee Time, which originally aired January 1, 1943. "Baby Snooks & Daddy" is written by Paul Rapp.
BABY SNOOKS: Daddy!
DADDY: Don’t bother me, Snooks! I have checks to make out! Look at these Doctor bills!
BABY SNOOKS: What are they for, daddy?
DADDY: The twins—they cost me a fortune. I’ve already made four payments—And this is the last.
BABY SNOOKS: Then do we own them?
DADDY: Yes. What’s this bill here? …Oh, yes—my lumbago.
BABY SNOOKS: Did the doctor bring that, too, daddy?
DADDY: No! You remember when I had lumbago—my back swelled up and I couldn’t move.
BABY SNOOKS: Yeah.
DADDY: Well, this bill is the fee for the doctor’s house call.
BABY SNOOKS: Do you have to pay it now?
BABY SNOOKS: Why?
DADDY: Because it’s back swell house call fee time.
BABY SNOOKS: Ohhh! Daddy.
ANNOUNCER: Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s Maxwell House Coffee time…
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the majority of people under forty years old have probably never heard of Baby Snooks or Maxwell House Coffee Time for that matter. Both are echoes from a time when a radio was the number one media source connecting the world, disseminating information and entertainment to households across America. It was also a time when shows were named after their corporate sponsor and not for the content of the program.
Baby Snooks as a character was premiered sometime in the early Thirties, when a young performer named Fanny Brice started appearing on stage with The Ziegfield Follies’ Broadway show. Snooks soon became a radio program and after a series of growing pains and format switches, became the centerpiece of Maxwell House’s variety show. The above exchange is typical of the humor of the show. Later in this episode, Snooks and Daddy discuss Daddy’s recent foray into Mad Science as he attempts to assemble a glass of milk from its component parts. It turns out green. Then Snooks kills a chicken and is punished in a scene that predates Homer Simpson strangling his son Bart by about forty-five years.
Part pun-fest, part cautionary tale about the dangers of science and meddling in God’s domain, Snooks seems a little dated. But there’s something comforting about the uncomplicated, unabashedly corny nature of the humor that makes it timeless and refreshing. There’s a palpable lack of the irony and cynicism that made up a lot of the popular comedy of recent years. This show, and the hundreds of other shows that were broadcast in the early days of radio and television, are snapshots of popular culture from a time that fewer and fewer people remember first hand. And in a society that seems to define itself by its pop culture as more and more as time goes by, this is reason enough to preserve the art that was the foundation for the way we view our world today.
Ben Ohmart has dedicated himself to preserving the memory and the history of early films, radio and television shows, and the actors that otherwise might be lost or overlooked in the closing credits. His publishing house’s Web site, www.bearmanormedia.bizland.com, is a catalogue of greats. The Bickersons and Baby Snooks & Daddy both have volumes of collected scripts, and everyone from The Great Gildersleeve to Walter Tetley has biographies.
But if most people haven’t heard of Baby Snooks, who is going to care to read a book about its author? Ben believes that there are people who care about these voices out of the past, and that the old masters still have something to offer.
“Growing up, I remember meeting a few college students then my own age who said with pride that they didn't like black and white films or had never seen a silent movie. But Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton were gag masters who have some of the funniest stuff around. [And] as long as Paul Frees haunts the Haunted Mansion [ride] in Disneyworld, readers will want to know about him,” Ben said.
After working for stints in radio, and writing everything from commercial spoofs to government videos scripts, Ben started Bear Manor Media because he loved the subject matter.
Ben, thirty-three, has loved movies since he saw Star Wars at age six, but it was cartoons, and their voice-over actors that inspired his love of old time radio.
“I never liked Tom and Jerry because they weren't full of funny voices. I consider voice actors to be top of the line, like magicians, creating an air of wonder and incredible acting with just a vocal quality.”
It’s no surprise then that so many of the books that he’s published and written deal with overlooked actors.
“I consider books on supporting actors/actresses just as important as another book on Bogart and Judy Garland. Actually, they are more important, because some of these people are incredible and shouldn't be overlooked by history.”
Ben shows no sign of slowing down; upcoming projects include a Bickersons biography, a Don Amichi—Cocoon—biography, and a biography of Daws Butler the voice of most of Hanna-Barbera's main characters including Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quickdraw McGraw and a hundred others. Butler was also a voice-over teacher who educated many talents of today including Nancy Cartwright, the voice of the constantly strangled Bart Simpson. Cartwright penned the forward for the book.
So if you find yourself nostalgic for a time when you needed a decoder ring to read Little Orphan Annie’s ads, Ben Ohmart just might have the book for you.
“I say expand your mind with radio and films [old and new],” Ben said, “There are gems there. But try to make time for a good book or two, too, eh?”