Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Senator Fishface and Professor Figgsbottle

Elmore Vincent, played the part of “Phinus Stonewall Peabody,” on the radio program Lum &Abner. The character was Abner’s father. Lum & Abner aired on radio from 1931 to 1954. But Mr. Vincent was born in 1908... his radio resume goes back further than that.

Elmore started out working at a saw mill, then tried repeatedly to find work singing on the radio. He was hired first at KJR-AM. He yodeled and sang lumberjack songs and did the Irish tenor bit. He was 21 years old. Things went well and he began performing on the 90-minute variety show Mardi Gras. His comedy shtick was a sort-of-comedic, stream-of-consciousness word-mangling satirical speech. He had a few he'd developed in school.

KJR program director Ivan Ditmars named his new character “Senator Fishface.” When NBC bought the station in 1934, they wooed the young Vincent onto the program Carefree Carnival on KFRC-AM in San Francisco. Vincent capped off the peculiar presentation with the visual of a bad fake mustache, a crushed top hat and an ill-fitting necktie. Later in his career Vincent refused to revisit the character. Even when he was doing it he wanted to focus on his singing career and pressured NBC execs to let him have more airtime as a vocalist.

The programs sponsor at the time was a quack medicine named Crazy Water Crystals, which was promoted as a cure for more or less everything. Then the FCC stepped in and ordered the crazy quack sponsor to stop airing false advertisements. Without a sponsor the program was immediately cancelled. But Vincent was able to work with a former writer from Mardi Gras, Don Johnson and but together another program "Senator Fishface and Professor Figgsbottle."  The new program ran for two and a half years. It's orchestra leader was Norman Cloutier. The program Senator Fishface and Professor Figgsbottle was so popular, albeit briefly, that it was used in an experimental TV broadcast in 1937. More here.

Vincent appeared on the Charlie McCarthy Show, and the Al Pearce program but finally found a home on Lum &Abner in 1944. He played that role for about a year then played the character Durwood Zinkafoose, an attorney who was basically Senator Fishface in the courtroom. That repurposing of his old shtick led him to record comedic speeches for RCA Victor, under the name “Senator Bolivar Gassaway.” You might even have noticed a tinge of the old fishface in his dialog as the hermit in the TV show Little House on the Prairie.