The Life and Times of Colonel Stoopnagle: Part 3, Going It Alone

In 1937, the unthinkable happened;  Taylor and Hulick parted company.  Neither man ever publicly discussed the reasons, although it could be reasoned that Hulick grew weary of always playing ‘second banana’ to Taylor.  There are also stories of Hulick having a drinking problem that Taylor grew tired of.  At any rate, Stoopnagle and Budd, as a team, was no more.  It was not, however, to be the end of Colonel Stoopnagle.  Taylor, so strongly identified with the character, continued performing under that name. 

            "Col. Stoopnagle is making the first of a series of scheduled lone appearances on the [Rudy] Vallee program calculated eventually to build him up along the route taken by Bob Burns, Charlie McCarthy and Joe Penner.  The colonel's backers and advisers hope to make Stoopnagle a staple character rather than the many-voice mimic he has been in the past..."[1]

            Further broadening his exposure, Taylor starred in an industrial film for the Chrysler Corporation in the summer of 1937 entitled Second Guessers, Inc., the purpose of which was to help train dealers.

             In January of 1938, Stoopnagle and Italian news announcer Lisa Sergio were crowned that year’s ‘King and Queen of Winter’ by Lowell Thomas at Lake Placid, New York.  Thomas also invited the comedian to speak at the Humorists Day Luncheon at the Advertising Club of New York. 

            Taylor made his first full-fledged solo attempt in 1938 on the Bromo Seltzer Show, heard over the Yankee network.  That summer, Taylor once more took charge of hosting Fred Allen’s program, Town Hall Tonight.  The reviews were quite generous:

 “Leave it to Col. Stoopnagle to rescue a dying duck and make it suitable for the king's taste.  The jovial Norwalk funster has certainly done right by WEAF's Wednesday night "Town Hall Tonight" program since taking charge of the hour for his vacationing friend Fred Allen.  When it started out as another audience-participation-in-games affair, listeners yawned because they were fed up with quizzes and what not.  But when the Colonel came along as guest-star and turned the show into a madhouse, listeners were aroused from their slumbers and began thinking summer shows can be good if they have the right material....

If the Colonel keeps up this pace until the Allen return, Fred should find a tremendous following for "Town Hall Tonight" when he takes charge again October 5...”[2]

            Taylor, without Budd, was having to modify his comedy routines to accommodate his solo status.  One of his strongest talents, and the one for which he should be best remembered for, is the ingenious wordplay he indulged in.  Not satisfied with puns, he started restructuring the English language so that it made sense and yet sounded like another language entirely.  Here are some examples of this, from a New York Telegram article from November 17, 1939:

            “A straw is stuff that you drink a soda through two of them.

            A clock is something they have in an office so you can tell how late you wish you weren't in the morning, what time you go to lunch before and come back after, and how long before you can start stopping work and begin to end the day's work by stalling along until.

            The Pacific Ocean is what the United States is between the Atlantic and.

            Afternoon is what if you were out late last night, you'd better hurry or you won't be up until.

            A fortnight is a thing that, in an English play, somebody hasn't seen Lord Plushbottom in a, practically.

            Gasoline is stuff that if you don't use good in your car it won't run as well as if.

            The dickens are things that, in a new car, for the first 500 miles you shouldn't drive like the.

            New Jersey is what Gov. Moore is Gov. Moore of.”

            Some of this was completely lost on the average radio audience, while others demanded more.  Often he’d treat his audiences to a fairy tale or fable told in spoonerism, a favorite routine he’d return to over and over for the rest of his career.  Perhaps one of the reasons for Taylor’s lack of a long-term radio program was that his humor was so unique.  In an interview given in 1939, he explains it like this:

"Whimsy is what I want to do more than anything else, but I have to sort of sneak it in -- it's not commercial.  Generally, the sponsors prefer jokes because they hit more people.  Whimsy may miss a lot of folks but those it strikes are highly amused and remember it.  People still write me about bits of whimsy they heard on my program years ago."

            Film studio Astor Productions obviously saw marketability in Taylor’s humor, giving him a series of 12 short films to write and star in during 1938.  Titled The Cavalcade of Stuff, most of these shorts were filmed in Norwalk, Connecticut, where he was living.  The shorts, shown in theatres between the feature films, received some good notices:

 “The Cavalcade of Stuff/Number 1

Astor Productions 10 minutes

Packed with wholesome, solid laughs, this short is the first of a brand new series, well conceived and calculated to spread mirth among even the most serious of pix fans.  Basically, it employs satire as its principal weapon, delineating common human-interest attributes in a most uncommon way.  Blazing new trails in humor, this initial subject is the stuff audiences will invariably like, and the series, featuring Colonel Stoopnagle, will, assuming that subsequently produced reels keep to the standard of the inaugural one, gain rapid popularity.  Colonel Stoopnagle is highly amusing via both action and voice.  The several sequences were all swell gags, -- that of the telephone booth; the kid singer; the senator; and particularly the rousing household hint footage.  It's a "natural" for all pix theaters and all strata of fans.

 “Number 2

This is the second of the Colonel Stoopnagle series of a total of 12 to be released by Astor Productions during 1938-39.  Its content is highly humorous, with the clownish Colonel giving a riotous "spiel" on camera secrets.  This is followed by a grand sequence titled "Do you get proper exercise?"; an episode dealing with an operatic star; "Polo Made Simple"; and a finale of the Colonel on a roller coaster.  Footage is both funny and clever, and its only disappointing side is that it is not at least twice as long.  Laughs come in rapid order from first to last.”[3]

            In 1939 Taylor was given the chore of hosting a game show called Quixie Doodle.  The program, originally called Bob Hawk’s Quixie Doodle, featured two teams of contestants, the Submitters and the Answerers, who competed in a ten-question game.  For each correct response the Answerers were awarded ten dollars.  For each incorrect answer the Submitters received ten dollars.  Taylor’s announcer for the thirty-minute program was Alan Reed, who would be better known later on as the voice of ‘Fred Flintstone.’  Taylor, hosting as ‘Colonel Stoopnagle,’ of course, tailored the program to fit his style.  The contestants became ‘batters,’ and the questions became a straight-man for his quips.  For example:

Stoopnagle: If you bought apples at two cents each and sold them for a nickel, how would you still lose money?

Answer:  If I had a hole in my pants pocket.

            Quixie Doodle proved to be one of Taylor’s great successes, lasting a couple of years.  Meanwhile, on CBS, Budd Hulick was starring in Meet Mr. Meek, a thirty-minute family comedy in which he played the bumbling head of a household.  He was later replaced by Forrest Lewis.  In 1941, Hulick was later heard on two game shows himself, one of which was Quizzer’s Baseball on CBS (the host was Harry Von Zell).

            Also in 1941, Taylor opened ‘Colonel Stoopnagle’s Gateway Bowling Center’ near his home in Norwalk, Connecticut.  The grand opening was a gala affair which featured celebrity friends of the entertainer, including Keenan Wynn, Ed Gardner (star of Duffy’s Tavern), and professional bowlers Joe Falcaro and Nick Tronsky.  Two-thousand people attended the opening.

            Throughout the 40’s, Taylor’s main radio activity was confined to doing summer replacement programs.  It seemed as though the very thing that had propelled him to the top -- his unique brand of whimsical humor -- was no longer in demand during the harsh years of World War II.  The anarchistic humor so appealing to depression-era audiences (and also performed by the likes of the Marx Brothers, the 3 Stooges and in any number of Hollywood’s so-called ‘screwball comedies’) had been replaced by a more comfortable, nostalgic brand.  Not until the ‘Golden Era’ of television in the 1950’s would Stoopnagle’s style of humor experience true revival.  But it would be too late for him.  Still, Warner Brothers animation director Bob Clampett opened his 1943 Bugs Bunny cartoon, Russian Rhapsody with an caricature of Hitler addressing his nation with the words "Stoopnagle Hamburger mit der Frankfurter und der Sauuuuuerbraten!" (Interestingly, in the 1990 ‘Tiny Toon Adventures’ cartoon Never Too Late to Loon, Plucky Duck, as an Einstein type, spouted the exact same phrase!) In 1943, while Lowell Thomas was on vacation in South America, Taylor substituted for his friend on his news program. 

“Wonder how many listeners recognized the voice of F. Chase Taylor who pinched-hit for the vacationing Lowell Thomas on WJZ last night.  In case you didn’t, Mr. Taylor was the portly South Norwalk gentleman otherwise known as ‘Colonel Stoopnagle,’ and he did a right smart job as a news commentator.”[4]

            Following his lengthy stint on the Quixie Doodles program, Taylor was ready to star once more in a straight comedy/variety show again.  In the summer of 1943 he starred in Meet the Colonel, in which his popular character ran a bowling alley with the help of costars Eddie Green (also of Duffy’s Tavern), Jeri Sullivan and others.  “The puns get pretty desperate sometimes,”  said a New York Times review of 1 August 1943, “and he is not above lifting a joke without a trace of shame; and, because he is more clown than wit, you suspect occasionally that he is trying to overwhelm you with sheer volume and noise.  But when he is in form he is very funny indeed, even without the inventions for which he became justly famous in the Stoopnagle and Budd days...”

            The following year, in 1944, Taylor published a book under the Stoopnagle pen name.  You Wouldn’t Know Me From Adam (New York: Whittlesey House) was a collection of short humorous pieces, with illustrations by Taylor, along with some of his inventions and a ‘Fictionary’ of nonsense words.  Reviews were largely favorable, although a few complained that Taylor’s humor was better heard than read.  One particulary generous review must have really pleased the author:

“It’s too bad that no one ever called the late James Joyce’s attention to Colonel Stoopnagle.  For I’ll bet anything that the great Irish writer would back up my opinion that this radio comedian and writer is a Great Man.

“Which means, of course, that the Colonel slays me.  And that in his fine stream of consciousness chatter and in his playing around with word origination, his only peer is James Joyce -- or have you forgotten that word which stands for the noise of thunder on page 1 of Finnegan’s Wake?  (An admirer of Joyce, I mean this seriously.)...”[5]

            Fred Allen, who wrote the foreward for Taylor’s book, opened his program of 16 April 1944 with a lengthy plug for it.  The book became a best-seller and can be found easily in used bookstores and libraries even today. Later that same year, Taylor made his television debut, as quizmaster for a show broadcast from Schenectady, New York.

            Taylor was also selling ideas to various cartoonists during this time.  Many of the cartoons appeared in Colliers and other popular magazines of the day.  The first cartoon idea drawn by Taylor himself that saw publication was in the Saturday Evening Post of June 1945:

 

 

            Another book, Father Goosenagle (New York: Crown Publishers), was published in 1945.  This book, a collection of whimsical poems, with illustrations by Lawrence Lariar, was a combination of Ogden Nash and Dr. Suess.

            Taylor’s third book, My Tale is Twisted (New York: M. S. Mill Co., Inc.), was published in 1946.  This book was a collection of his popular ‘spoonerized’ fables and fairy tales, including “Paul Revide’s Rear” and “Prinderella and the Since.”  What a nightmare that book must have been for the proofreaders!

            Talk began to circulate that there would be a revival of the Stoopnagle and Budd program, without Budd Hulick.  By this time, his former partner had been off the air for a year, and Taylor reported that: “Last I heard, a few months ago a friend saw him getting off a yacht in Miami.”  Sad indeed.[6]

            In the meantime, Taylor was back on the air in a new program simply called The Colonel.  The new program, which costarred John Gibson as ‘Quackenbush,’ Louis Sorin as ‘Erasmus Bumbledorfer,’ Mary Wickes and black actress Amanda Randolph, was a summer replacement for Report to the Nation, and was favorably reviewed in Variety:

“CBS after much experimentation with Col. Stoopnagle, following the chism of the team he formerly comprised with Budd Hulick, has finally evolved upon a format for this funster which should, in due time, place him back on the top rungs of the radio comedy ladder. 

“The web has not stinted with the budget nor with the talent in molding a new airline life for this veteran.  He has been given some topflight material, situations and support by writers Dave Schwartz and Peter Barry, and producer Herb Polesie, one of the better ether pilots.  As a result, Col. Stoopnagle is a folksy guy giving advice and taking a little himself -- sound programming audience-wise and, ere long, commercially as well.

“Theme of this new show, heard at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday nights, is ‘How To Be Happy, Though People...”[7]

            Things began to happen for Taylor once again, and it almost seemed as though Colonel Stoopnagle was about to enter into a ‘renaissance’ of sorts.  He was a frequent guest star (and contributor) on the popular Duffy’s Tavern program, as well as several other shows (including Fred Allen’s show).  Other comedians began doing Stoopnagle-style routines.

“I was too far ahead of time with my stuff...In a way, the comedy of Henry Morgan and Milton Berle is similar to what I did fifteen to twenty years ago...My satires emphasized the light and whimsical side, however.  Then there were the inventions and mixed up dialogue...The sponsors liked the stuff, at least until their branch managers throughout the country started writing in wanting to know what it was all about.  Before long I would be working for someone else.  It’s tough being a pioneer.  There are some nibbles from sponsors and if the public continues to show signs of wanting more of the whimsy, I’ll be ready to go.  I like to do it.”[8]

            But after his summer as star of The Colonel, Taylor was hosting a serious discussion program called Up to Youth. Though not a comedy, Up to Youth was a project very close to Taylor’s heart.  The program, carried by the Mutual network and sponsored by "a nationally-known youth magazine meant a 49-week contract for Taylor.  The program involved a nationwide tour, with participants chosen from schools in the cities enroute.  Taylor traveled constantly to meet with and lead the panel discussions.

“We have nothing to fear.  The country is in good hands when the young folks today take over.  Today is an age of frankness.  Frankness is a mark of decent parents and decent kids.  This is a lot more wholesome than the taboos of 30 years ago.”[9]

            In 1947, Taylor returned to the infant medium of television to host Look Magazine’s Photo-Quiz over the General Electric station WRGB.  The better assignment, however, was his becoming a featured performer on the Vaughn Monroe radio program, as the comedy relief for the popular singer.  That same year, his fourth and final book, My Back To the Soil or, Farewell to Farms (Howell, Soskin Publishers) was published.  This book was a collection of humorous essays about how the average person can go about taking up farming.

            Another of Taylor’s early television programs even cost one man his job.  According to Charles Polacheck, one of those early professionals in a tentative industry, during the war, most television operations at the CBS network were held in abeyance, the resources going instead to radar and shortwave.  But after the war, Polacheck relates, the shortwave division was phased out, with many of those concerned transferring to the network’s television efforts.  There were very few sets in those early days of this odd medium, but CBS had invested heavily in a primitive color television system.  NBC, who was also attempting to capture the industry standard, eventually prevailed, due to the fact that CBS’s system, which involved a mechanical color wheel, was incompatible with existing black and white receivers.  Discouraged and financially wounded, CBS cut back on its television operation.  Polacheck was spared.

            For about a year, Polacheck recounts, he was busy directing outdoor and remote sporting events and the like.  But it wasn’t long before CBS decided that television was indeed going to catch on, and the network began planning popular programming.  The network had its experimental television production studio and offices located in a large, unused section of Grand Central Station in 1948.  One of the first programs to reach serious production stage was a children’s show to feature actor/dancer Buddy Ebsen telling stories to kids on his front porch, an elaborate, costly set.  The program was to be broadcast for 15 minutes at five p.m., Monday through Friday.  Charles Polacheck remembers that an executive with the network had a "better idea," that the program should be broadcast for an hour on Saturdays.  Ebsen, who suddenly realized that his 75 minutes of airtime per week was being reduced to an hour, balked and abandoned the project.  This left CBS with a very expensive piece of scenery, Polacheck says, and nothing to do with it. But even after trying another concept with comedy duo Mason and Dixon, the network wouldn’t give up on its expensive porch set.

            CBS executive Jerry Danzig approached Charles Polacheck with the offer to direct a program to feature the porch and Colonel Stoopnagle.  Polacheck was negative from the start, advising Danzig: "Don’t drag in a show by the short hairs to save a piece of scenery."  But Danzig would not be discouraged.  He assured Polacheck that if the show was a failure, that he’d make sure the director didn’t take the blame.

            The program, to be titled Colonel Stoopnagle’s Stoop, would feature F. Chase Taylor using the same type of material he was then currently using in his newspaper columns, "cobbled together" into a script.  Polacheck was still dubious, thinking it an "awful idea."  And the biggest blow of all was that CBS was refusing to allow the program to be performed before a studio audience.  Still, Polacheck got along well with his star, finding Taylor to be pleasant to work with.

            A ‘demo’ was planned, whereby the program would be performed and ‘piped into’ the front office for network executives to see.  Polacheck "went through the motions" of directing the Colonel’s program, and when it was over slid the script into his back pocket and walked directly from the control room into the executive office...where he found the network’s big-wigs "still aching from laughter.  They thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen."  Polacheck began to wonder if he’d misjudged the whole thing.

            That following Monday night, Polacheck and Stoopnagle went through the program once again.  Only this time, it was broadcast to the public.  The new station manager was present that night, and for several days was very cool toward the director.  One day, he summoned Polacheck into his office.  Taking Danzig with him to make good on his promise of job protection, Polacheck was astounded to hear the station manager tell him that he was fired.  Turning to Danzig, Polacheck was further dismayed to hear the man admit: "There’s nothing I can do."

            "It was the least funny comedy show I’ve ever seen,"  Polocheck remembers of Colonel Stoopnagle’s Stoop, 50 years later.  He insists that Stoopnagle’s humor had been best generated by his interplay with Budd, years before.  The director, incidentally, moved over to the Dumont Network where he became the first producer/director of the groundbreaking science fiction show Captain Video.  He eventually ended up at NBC where he was associated with, among other projects, the venerable soap opera The Edge of Night.

            By 1949, Taylor was writing as well as performing.  In March, he MC’d for Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts Review at Chicago’s Oriental Theatre.  His reviews were excellent, and Godfrey gave Taylor a wallet with the inscription ‘To Colonel Stoopnagle From Arthur Godfrey.’  CBS executive J. L. Volkenburg wrote in a letter to Godfrey, dated March 8, that his wife had seen the show and “thought that Col. Stoopnagle was an excellent Emcee.” Helen Bower, Chicago show biz writer wrote, in an undated review:  

"The trick introduction flashes Godfrey himself on screen giving the pitch for his talent display and crusade.  Then the celluloid Godfrey and Stoopnagle in person have a spot of dialog.  The screen isn't all that answers back to the colonel.  He reads letters that give him back-talk, commits Spoonerisms (a kind of back-talk) and puns outrageously.  Example: referring to two girls, "You can't have your Kay and Edith, too!"

            Indeed, with television about to become a force to be reckoned with, one can but wonder what role Taylor may have played in its so-called ‘golden years.’  Certainly, with the lunacy of Your Show of Shows on the horizon, it’s easy to imagine Stoopnagle’s presence on the tube.

            In May of 1950, Taylor was admitted to Boston’s New England Baptist Hospital with heart problems.  On May 29, at the age of 52, he died.  On his news broadcast of May 29, Taylor’s friend, Lowell Thomas, opened the program with a kind remembrance:

“Tonight the world of fun and laughs is bidding farewell to Colonel Lemuel Q. Stoopnagle.  Today, in Boston, Stoop died of an internal ailment -- and radio loses a famous, genial figure...He was a member of -- in fact the star -- [of] our soft ball team, The Nine Old Men.  He not only played a good game, but kept both teams and spectators in a merry uproar.  One of the finest men I ever knew -- with a way of making everybody happy.  One of those rare, gay spirits...”

            And the Hartford Courant ran the following tribute, which sums up Taylor’s life very nicely:

 

“Colonel Lemuel Q. Stoopnagle is dead.  And so, at fifty-two, is Frederick Chase Taylor, the former business man and broker who created radio’s well-known nonsense-peddler.  Like Charlie McCarthy, Colonel Stoopnagle promptly eclipsed his creator, and began to live a mad life of his own. 

“On and off for 20 years the Stoopnagle personality produced confusion, surprise, and sometimes sheer delight as it cavorted over the airwaves...

“Yet, if Colonel Stoopnagle dealt in nonsense as a commodity, he offered his appreciative public more than that.  His humor was never contrived at anyone else’s expense, and in its wild fits and starts it was always unmistakably his own.  He was more than a comedian, as the term has come to be used in our age of assembly-line humor.  He was a satirist.  He derived great amusement, which he passed on to others, from the foibles of mankind.

“...The mad inventor was not the man of the century.  He didn’t even have a major influence on his times.  But he did find an inexhaustible source of humor in the commonplace, and he made countless listeners laugh without anyone’s being hurt by it.  That in itself is a worthy epitaph.”

            Taylor’s funeral was held on May 31 in Norwalk.  His body was cremated and the ashes buried.  But like a ghost, Colonel Stoopnagle kept returning, inspiring the likes of comedians as diverse as Bob and Ray and the 1960’s group Firesign Theatre.  In the 1960’s the old Stoopnagle and Budd shows were played again on radio stations catering to a society looking for nostalgia.  The Colonel’s spoonerisms were performed on programs like TV’s Hee Haw, and can even be found today on various web sites.  He will continue to live on, most assuredly, due to the fact that whimsy is never really out of fashion.  As society, technology and the general state of the world continues to evolve -- often at a faster pace than most people can comfortably handle -- the need for a good laugh pervades.  The screwball comedies of the 1930’s are being rediscovered by new generations, with comics and films once nearly forgotten showing up on cable television movie channels after decades of sitting on the shelves.  Perhaps one day Cavalcade of Stuff and The Inventors will show up on video.  Until then, a few of Colonel Stoopnagle’s radio programs can be purchased on cassette tape, and in the remainder of this volume some of his best writing is presented, much of it for the first time in this generation.


[1] Reed, Rod.  Buffalo Evening News, 1938.

[2] Clark, Rocky.  “Stoopnagle Saves ‘Town Hall,’  Will Ape ‘Hobby Lobby’ This Wednesday.”  The Bridgeport Post, 8 August, 1938.

[3] The Film Daily, 6 September 1938.

[4] Clark, Rocky.  “Radio.”  Source unknown, 3 July 1943.

[5] Zwart, Elizabeth Clarkson.  “Col. Stoopnagle Persuades Reviewer That He Is a Great Man. XXXX Sunday Register, date unknown.

[6] Hulick reportedly ended up back on Buffalo radio.

[7] ‘Sten.’  Variety, date unknown.

[8] “The Whimsy He Introduced On Air Is Catching On Again.”  New York Times, 1947.

[9] Himle, Norman.  “Stoopnagle Grilled Here.”  St Paul Pioneer Press, 19 March 1947.

 

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Page created November 13, 2006.  Copyright 1998-2005 by Richard D. Squires.