Thursday, December 12, 2013

Professor Schnitzel Live On Air!

Some coincidences in radioland are just utterly baffling.  There have been two different men who played a character named "Professor Schnitzel" on the radio at different times and places. Both milked a faux Dutch-German accent and behaved like a rural yokel. They have no connection whatsoever and their careers were separated by about 2,800 miles and two decades. There is no reason to think that either was ever aware of the other. One played the character in the late 1920s, on the west coast. The other in the mid-1950s through early 60s in central Pennsylvania. (One could argue that Larry the Cable guy does his own updated version today.)

The first man to portray the character on air was Clarence Coleman. He was a realtor in San Francisco before the great depression.  He created the character "Professor Herman Schnitzel" in 1927 for a bit on the program "Blue Monday Jamboree" which aired  on KFRC-AM. You can see a group photo from the program here.  The program debuted on January 10th 1927 as a 15 minute short and continued to run weekly. It popularity was such that by February it was 2 hours long. They were scrambling for content to fill the time. 

By June of 1930, the program was syndicated across the entire Don Lee Network, and by the end of the year, it was syndicated nationally on CBS. It's emcee was Harrison Holliway. But Clarence Coleman never worked the character into a regular on the Blue Monday Jamboree. Around 1929 he performed the same character on KYA-AM and even the ABC Western Network. More here

The second Professor Schnitzel was played by Theodore L. Rickenbach. He was a Pennsylvania native and grew up in Reading, PA. He did mostly live comedy and is best known for a series of five 45-rpm comedy discs that were recorded for Butch Records from 1961 to 1968. He also did an LP in 1964 that recycles some of that material. You can see his discography here.

Rickenbach started a radio career in 1932 with the program "Schnitz and Earl." Earl was Earl Shappel on WEEU-AM.  In 1950 he changed co-hosts, needing a classic straight-man and the program became "Professor Schnitzel and Al," with co-host Allen Lane on WHUM-AM Radio. They worked 6 days a week, Monday through Saturday starting at 6:00 AM. He died in July of 1969 in his hotel room. More here and here.