Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wednesday Night at the Radio!

One of the last of the old-time radio writers has died. AP:
Irving Brecher, who wrote vaudeville one-liners for Milton Berle and scripted Marx Brothers movies, the TV and radio hit "The Life of Riley" and the Oscar-nominated musical "Meet Me in St. Louis," has died. He was 94. . . .

Brecher was a teenager in New York when he got his first comedy writing credits as columnists Walter Winchell and Ed Sullivan named him when they used jokes he sent them on postcards.

At 19, he and a friend began a comedy-writing service for entertainers, promising jokes so bad even notorious gag-stealer Milton Berle wouldn't use them.

Berle was their first customer, then took Brecher along when he moved into radio and the movies and went to Hollywood, where Brecher got a contract with Mervyn LeRoy, head of production at MGM.

He was an uncredited script doctor on "The Wizard of Oz" and wrote screenplays for the Marx Brothers movies "At the Circus" and "Go West."

"If I were any drier, I'd be drowning," Groucho Marx says while caught in the rain in 1939's "At the Circus," which was filled with puns and other wordplay.

In another scene, Marx exclaims: "I bet your father spent the first year of your life throwing rocks at the stork."

He and Fred F. Finklehoffe were nominated for an Academy Award for the screenplay of the 1944 Judy Garland picture "Meet Me in St. Louis."

Brecher created the long-running radio series "The Life of Riley," about a common man whose missteps cause endless trouble.

Chester Riley, voiced by William Bendix, frequently used the tag line "What a revoltin' development this is!"

Another character, undertaker Digger O'Dell (obviously based on Boris Karloff), had the once famous tagline: "I'll be shoveling along now." Brecher was a union man to the end:
He made a video in 2007 during the writers' strike, urging the union not to settle, The New York Times noted.

"Since 1938, when I joined what was then the Radio Writers Guild, I have been waiting for the writers to get a fair deal; I'm still waiting," he said in the video. "As Chester A. Riley would have said: 'What a revoltin' development this is.' But he only said it because I wrote it." . . .

Brecher created, wrote, directed or produced several other movies, including the 1941 feature "Shadow of the Thin Man" and 1963's "Bye Bye Birdie."
Nobody's perfect. Anyway, as far as I know the only real old-time radio writer left, believe it or not, is Herman Wouk, who, like Brecher, sent jokes to comedians as a teenager (and wrote for Fred Allen for several years in the late 30s and early 40s.)

Never was a big fan of "Life of Riley," but it's okay. Here's a wartime Thanksgiving episode: "Turkey Hunt" (19 November 1944). Good war-bond plea at the end.

And one more: "Bread Shortage" (13 April 1946).

Update: Don't know how I always screw these things up. Here's "Bread Shortage." The one just above is "Riley Finds a Fur Coat" (6 April 1946)

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