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Old-time radio, 17 April: You know who's on first . . .

Swinging for the fences with the classic routine they were said to have been required to perform once a year on NBC . . .

Abbott & Costello’s NBC contract reputedly requires the pair to perform “Who’s on First” at least once a season. With Joe DiMaggio missing early season time due to an injury, tonight comes a perfect way to hook the requirement . . . and, concurrently, produce a routine that damn near rivals “Who’s on First” for comic virtuosity, even if it won’t be “Feller Pitching” that eventually plays on a loop at baseball’s Hall of Fame.

It comes in the middle of another solid season for Abbott & Costello at the mike; the duo will finish the season as Thursday night’s number four show—behind Maxwell House Coffee Time with Burns & Allen (15.2), Eddie Cantor (14.4), and Suspense (13.5)—even if their 13.3 Hooper rating is a mere .3 points above the Thursday night average and 1.9 points below the overall season’s average. That’s still enough to bring Abbott & Costello home in the top 25 overall, tied with The Inner Sanctum and nudging The Aldrich Family just out of it.

And it’ll prove to be enough to give them their final top ten night and top 25 overall radio season.

R.J. Reynolds, who’ve been sponsoring Abbott & Costello for Camel cigarettes for five seasons, will drop the pair and ABC will pick them up hungrily, hoping a Wednesday night sandwich between Vox Pop and Groucho Marx’s new quiz-and-quip outing You Bet Your Life will prove succulent enough. ABC will even offer Abbott & Costello as a co-op: half the show’s advertising minutes to be sold nationally and half locally.

It won’t work.

Even though Abbott & Costello bring the same cast and format to ABC, the show will bomb—the pair will finish 1947-48 in a free fall . . . all the way to 105th place on the season and, needless to say, nowhere near the top ten on Wednesday night. It’ll prove the end of their radio lives.


The Abbott & Costello Show: The Baseball Player (NBC, 1947)

That would be Lou (Costello), who gets the unlikely telegram that he’s been asked to fill in for Joe DiMaggio with the New York Yankees . . . which provides a very convenient excuse for Abbott & Costello to perform, yet again, the routine which will remain their signature long after both men have gone uneasily to their rewards.

The part that everyone is likely to forget from tonight’s performance is that Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller provides a hook around which Abbott & Costello deliver a routine nearly as classic as “Who’s on First” . . . even if their radio contract doesn’t call for performing “Feller Pitching” at least once a season.

This is not to distract you from the pleasure of Abbott & Costello having their typical madcap mangle at Feller’s expense. But, much like “Who’s on First,” it’s just as much fun to read from the script while you listen.

Of course the idea of Lou Costello being asked to stand in for the injured Yankee Clipper is as preposterous as Feller’s once-infamous observation that nobody in the Negro Leagues was good enough to play major league baseball. Of course, Feller will be compelled to dine on crow under glass, when his Cleveland Indians break the American League’s colour barrier in 1948 and win a World Series with outfielder Larry Doby and pitching legend Satchel Paige, and when Feller himself will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962—on the same day as Jackie Robinson.

Don’t let all that stop you from enjoying:

Abbott: Now, you’ve got to get ready for the opening game.
Costello: Yes, I think we’re gonna play the Cleveland Indians.
Abbott: Cleveland Indians, eh?
Costello: Uh-huh.
Abbott: Feller pitching?
Costello: Certainly there’s a feller pitching. Who do you think they’d use, a girl?
Abbott: I know they don’t use a girl. I said, “Feller pitching?”
Costello: What feller?
Abbott: Feller with the Cleveland Indians.
Costello: Look, Abbott, there’s nine guys on the Cleveland Indians team. Now which feller are you talking about?
Abbott: Feller that’s pitching. There is only one Feller with Cleveland.
Costello: You mean nine Yankees are gonna play against one feller?
Abbott: That’s right.
Costello: You mean there’s no fellers in the outfield?

Abbott: No.
Costello: And there’s no fellers in the infield?
Abbott: No, Cleveland only has one Feller.
Costello: Well, this feller must be pretty good if they don’t need any other players for themselves.
Abbott: Look, all the players’ll be out there helping him.
Costello: You just said there was only one feller on the team.
Abbott: That’s right.
Costello: Then where did all them other fellers come from?
Abbott: Aw, you idiot, when I say there’s only one Feller on the team, I mean there is only one Feller that pitches.
Costello: Well, Abbott, when the manager of the team wants this pitcher, what does he call him?
Abbott: Feller.
Costello: You mean he just hollers, “Hey, feller!” And this guy knows that they mean him?
Abbott: That’s right.
Costello: Ho-hooo!
Abbott: His name is Feller. Feller. Bob Feller. And when I say there is only one Feller on the team that pitches, that’s it. And the feller that pitches is Feller. There’s the other fellers on the team, but there’s only one Feller.
Costello: Boy are you mixed up! You mean the feller that pitches is Feller? And there’s other fellers on the team but they’re not Fellers?
Abbott: Now you’ve grasped it.
Costello: Yes, I grasp it but it keeps slippin’ out of my hands!
Abbott: Let’s forget it. Let’s go into this sporting goods store and get your baseball equipment. I want you to look right for the opening game.

You may actually find yourself forgetting that tonight’s performance of “Who’s on First” may be the absolute best performance of the routine Abbott & Costello ever delivered.

Cast: Marilyn Maxwell, Michael Roy, Iris Adrian, Martha Wentworth, Sidney Fields. Announcer: Michael Roy. Music: Skinnay Ennis Orchestra, Marilyn Maxwell. Writers: Pat Costello, possibly Hal Finberg, possibly Parke Levy.

Further Channel Surfing . . .


The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny: At the Circus (NBC, 1938)—Jack Benny, Mary Livingstone, Don Wilson, Kenny Baker, Phil Harris, Andy Devine. The cast suggest Benny think about bumping off Fred Allen, but Benny treats them (you’re not seeing things) to a night at the circus—where his customary scheming might make them think twice about lion around. Of course.

Easy Aces: Betty Leaves Carl Over the Baby’s Name (CBS, 1941)—Goodman and Jane Ace, Mary Hunter, Ethel Blume, Alfred Ryder. New mother Betty says “Sheila”; new father Carl, apparently, says “Susan”; and, doting great-aunt Jane, as usual, says a mouthful, after allowing Betty to stay with the Aces, until the whole megillah about the Neffs’ newborn daughter—causing yet another row between the combustibly loving young couple—blows over. Aces high.

mr. ace and JANE: Quiz Show (CBS, 1948)—Goodman and Jane Ace, Ken Roberts, Leon Janney, Robert Q. Lewis, Betty Rubin, Michael Abbott. With a little intercession from Ace, neighbour Ken lands a gig announcing a new quiz hit called The Sky’s the Limit, but he accidentally leaves an evening’s script behind for Jane and shifty brother Paul to see—and scheme. A prescient classic, considering what would happen to quiz shows on television a decade later.

The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show: Dinner for Teacher (NBC, 1949)—Phil Harris, Alice Faye, Elliott Lewis, Anne Whitfield, Jeanine Roos, Elvia Allman, Robert North, Walter Tetley. More accurately, principal: the children’s principal, whom Alice invites for Easter dinner, making her very nervous about randy Remley making hash of the evening . . . until everyone gets a taste of the principal’s haughty manner and her badly browbeaten husband. Nobody else could get away with this stuff.

Our Miss Brooks: Pseudo Magazine Articles (CBS; Rebroadcast: AFRTS, 1955)—Eve Arden, Gale Gordon, Jane Morgan, Gloria McMillan, Robert Rockwell, Richard Crenna. Connie faces a double dilemna—writing a magazine article flouts Conklin’s anti-moonlighting strictures, but writing it as the fictitious mother of one of the Quiz Kids invites verification from an editor before she can be paid. Toward the end of its life even this comic jewel could get more than a little absurd in the not-so-flattering way, but you’ll stay with it, anyway.

Crime Drama

Box 13: Sealed Instructions (Mutual, 1949)—Alan Ladd, Sylvia Picker, Alan Reed, Luis Van Rooten, John Beal. A proposition promising ten thousand dollars “if you’ll go through with it” brings Holliday to an uneasy correspondent, a sealed envelope, a trip to the Philippines to retrieve an unnamed valuable, a phony Manila police lieutenant who might have killed to keep him from retrieving it for him, a troubling revelation about his original correspondent, and half a mysterious map. You may get the feeling that if you can follow that you’re a better man than the wryly intrepid Holliday.

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