Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy were partners beginning when Bergen was in high school. While Bergen enjoyed performing with his dummy partner, he considered a career in medicine, going as far as enrolling in Northwestern University as a pre-med student. He paid for college by performing with Charlie all around Chicago. Eventually, Bergen decided that show business was his future and he quit school.
He moved on to vaudeville traveling all over the world ending up in New York City and the famous Rainbow Room. From the act at the Rainbow Room, Bergen and Charlie were booked on Rudy Vallee's radio show where he was a hit. Vallee booked the duo for 13 weeks. Bergen and Charlie were so popular they earned their own show, The Chase and Sanborn Hour. They were on the radio continuously from 1937 to 1956.
The Chase and Sanborn Hour featured Don Ameche, Nelson Eddy, Dorothy Lamour and W. C. Fields. (Fields appeared on the show for the first 18 shows.) One of the foundations of Bergen's show was bringing on new performers and launching careers just like Vallee helped launch Bergen's radio career.
Eddy was the show's singer though there were many fill-in singers as Eddy had a very active film career at the time. Don Ameche was the master of ceremonies and filled the role of the male lead when needed. Dorothy Lamour was not a full-time member of the cast but appeared very often.
Then there was W. C. Fields. Fields and Charlie had a running feud trading insults with one another making some of the funniest moments on radio. Allegedly, Charlie and Fields often threw the script out, ad libbing liberally. For example:
W.C. Fields: "Well, Charlie McCarthy, the woodpecker's pinup boy!"
Charlie: "Well, if it isn't W.C. Fields, the man who keeps Seagram's in business!"
One of the most memorable and controversial broadcasts of the time involved Bergen's show with a guest appearance by Mae West. West was famous among her peers for not appearing on radio unless she was promoting one of her movies. This time she wanted to promote Everyday is a Holiday so she accepted a guest starring role on The Chase and Sanborn Hour in December 1937.
People knew all about Mae West. She could take the most innocent of lines and, with pauses and inflections, turn it into something almost sexual. On that night's broadcast, West, Ameche and Charlie were to perform a skit about Adam, Eve, and the Serpent in the Garden of Eden. The censor's passed the script and West rehearsed it straight during rehearsals the day before. When the time came for the skit, it was full on Mae West. She even threw off Ameche during the broadcast. To make matters a bit worse, the show was broadcast on Sunday evenings.
The next day, there were many calls and people were very upset. There was even a call from the Federal Communications Commission. Newspapers wrote editorials about the show and the people called for boycotts of the show and Chase and Sanborn. As a result, Mae West was banned from radio.
There were many great performers appearing with Bergen and Charlie including Charlie's siblings, Mortimer Snerd and Effie Klinker. They are in the company of performers like Ida Lupino, Ginger Rogers, Clark Gable, Boris Karloff, Barbara Stanley and so many more. Bergen's wife, Frances, and his daughter, Candice, also appeared on the show from time to time.
During and after the radio show Bergen and Charlie made several movies and Bergen appeared in movies by himself. When television became bigger, the team made numerous television appearances and toured the world performing in front of live audiences.
Bergen was a prolific and professional performer who brought lots laughs and pleasure to people in their homes through his alter egos. You can find Bergen, Charlie, Moritmer, Effie and all of their guest stars at Old Time Radio. Listen and laugh your head off.