Billboard article of August 26th 1950 teases the new Harold Peary Show
Harold Peary circa 1950
More popularly remembered as The Great Gildersleeve, Hal Peary had performed over Radio since 1925
Harold Peary in a 'crusading' moment at the CBS mike as 'Honest Harold' Hemp for The Harold Peary Show
Hal Peary's real-life wife of five years, Gloria Holiday, portrayed Station KHJP's PBX Operator in The Harold Peary Show
Announcer Bob LeMond, only recently Lt. Bob LeMond, had helped found the South Pacific's Mosquito Network for the AFRS
In 1951 Hal Peary seized on the recent visibility in The Harold Peary Show to launch a brief recording career for Coral Records. He'd previously recorded several chlidrens' recordings for Capitol Records
It was clear from early in Hal Peary's career that he was a home town success story. The Oakland Tribune in particular, traced Harold Peary--Portuguese-born Harold Jose Pereira de Faria--and his rapidly expanding career from the mid-1930s forward. When San Leandro, California's favorite son hitched his 1937 wagon to rising Radio stars Jim and Marian Jordan of "Fibber McGee and Molly," it was clear that young Hal Peary's talent, with his booming voice and unforgettable laugh, would propel him as far as he cared to take it.
Hence, this clearly partisan Wood Soanes send-up from the October 25th 1950 edition of the Oakland Tribune--on Peary's first real solo outing over CBS Radio, The Harold Peary Show:
'Honest Harold' Peary Note
Cheers Morning Mail Chore
By WOOD SOANES
Harold Peary was in the mail bag the other day, and, for me, that is always a treat.
One of Peary's virtues is that he can never, and has no intention of getting the sand of San Leandro out of his feet.
Most people in show business who come up the hard way, get pretty important. Not Peary!
Many years ago when he started out as a tent show actor, he used to send me weekly reports of his "successes."
"We played 'Grover's Corners' last night" he would write, "and there was tremendous applause when I outwitted the villain and saved the gal from the on-coming freight train. Of course there were only 50 people in the tent but if 50 people put their minds and their palms to it, they can achieve tremendous applause. One of these days you are going to be proud of me!"
So, the other day I received a communication from "Honest Harold"--that's the title of the character he is playing on the radio now that he is out of the "Great Gildersleeve" series. I don't imagine the letter is privileged because none of his notes ever have been. This one bore an inscription on the envelope: "Private, Personal and to be Read Aloud to All Who Will Listen."
"Dear Wood: The virus flu has had me down again and I have been trying to bake it out between shows at Palm Springs. Imagine me at Palm Springs! Anyway it worked and I have been able to make all scheduled appearances.
"Everytime I start losing weight, I get everything. My wife called this one "The Portugese plague!"
"Speaking of losing weight, I am down to 178 and look the skinny Peary after a season of tent show trouping I did in '20 earning two bills per week for 18 weeks, in Stockton and Medford . . . I've got to get over that 'paunchy look' I had as Gildersleeve. TV is just around the corner.
"Honest Harold" seems to be catching on and the press have been most kind helping us to get started. I hired a demon press agent, Henry Rogers of Rogers-Cowan and they have been getting me the sort of publicity that I have never been able to crack before--columns, the syndicated kind, and motion picture fan mags etc., and a lot of good fat newspaper stuff in the East and Middle West.
I'm really enjoying the new character and my part in forming it--but being an employer and having a 'Package Show' sounds great--but the work connected with it is no joke . . . government forms . . . libel insurance to buy . . . bookkeeping of all sorts . . . it's a seven day a week job . . . all that besides getting the script out with the writers . . . casting the actors . . . helping the musical director with his musical bridges . . . screaming at the censor . . . All in all I think I'll live.
"By the way has Mrs. Soanes finished laying the stones on your Marin Patio? . . . As ever Hal."
Not yet, dear Harold, and she could use a strong boy with a weak mind as hod-carrier. Are you in the mood?
As must be apparent, Bay Area writer Wood Soanes and San Leandro's Hal Peary had been friends for a couple of decades prior to 1950. To be a bit more accurate--and unbiased--The Harold Peary Show was still struggling after its first couple of months of national broadcasts. Hal Peary's first solo jump from the safe envelope of Fibber McGee and Molly had been the NBC spin-off of "Fibber," The Great Gildersleeve, starring Peary as the inimitable, garrulous Throckmorton Philharmonic Gildersleeve.
The Great Gildersleeve, one of Radio's earliest spin-offs, was an unqualified success by any measure. A Kraft Foods vehicle, The Great Gildersleeve was deemed successful enough to take the Hal Peary and Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve to Film, beginning with RKO's The Great Gildersleeve in 1942. Thereafter followed in rapid succession, Gildersleeve's Bad Day and Gildersleeve On Broadway in 1943 and Gildersleeve's Ghost in 1944.
Hal Peary's success in both Radio and Film thus firmly established The Great Gildersleeve continued its inexorable climb to become one of Radio's most iconic programs of the era--but it remained a Kraft-controlled vehicle throughout--until the 'poaching war' between NBC and CBS.
The post-WWII skirmishes over Radio supremacy escalated into a full-out war between NBC and CBS when CBS successfully pilfered both Jack Benny and Burns and Allen from NBC in 1949-1950--with unprecedented talent contracts for the era. NBC was forced to up the talent ante by shoring up its remaining talent with far higher pay, show budgets and perks. Hal Peary for his part, had long hoped to make the jump to Television--and return to Film as well. Having lost a great deal of weight, Peary felt that the time was never better for greener pastures. CBS offered Peary an extremely attractive seven-year contract which also stipulated that Hal Peary could produce his own projects. This was somewhat reminiscent of CBS' previous $1 Million contract it awarded to Joan Davis in the mid-1940s. Unfortunately for Hal Peary, the parallels between the two CBS contracts were all too similar.
John Crosby's syndicated review of The Harold Peary Show from the March 1st 1951 edition of the East Liverpool Review fairly well sums up the state of Hal Peary's first project under his CBS contract:
LAST SUMMER the intellectual hierarchy at the Columbia Broadcasting System announced triumphantly that they had absconded with one more N.B.C. star, namely Harold Peary who had been the Great Gildersleeve on N.B.C. since the year two. Mr. Peary, said C.B.S., had been signed to a seven-year contract and would create a new show and a new character for that network.
It must have seemed like a a bright idea at the time. Events have proved it to be an unqualified disaster both for the network and Mr. Peary. Seven years of the Harold Peary Show! I don't even think radio will last that long, much less that program.
The Harold Peary Show, (C.B.S. 9 p.m., Wednesdays), to get down to cases, is a half-hour pullulation of middle-aged adolescence. It is laid, an apt word for it, in the fictional small town of Melrose Springs where love among the middle-aged germinates like orchids along the Amazon. Even on The Great Gildersleeve, Mr. Perry had grave difficulties coping with the opposite sex. The very sight of a girl set him to giggling and, in general, behaving like a 13-year-old. But, as Gildie, at least he had a few outside interests.
AS HONEST HAROLD, in his new show, the girls occupy all his time. And, in spite of the fact that he has held hands with an awful lot of babes now, he doesn't seem to getting any better at it. He still comes apart at the seams at the sight of a pretty face. The dialogue which ensues during these erotic seizures defies description. So I'll describe it anyway.
"I'm coming over to see you, Theodora."
Or: "Pucker up, Florabelle."
"I'm tuckered. Let's go home."
These passionate utterances, you ought to be warned, are accompanied by such mewing and lowing and gurgling that you may get the idea you're in a barnyard rather than someone's parlor.
All the girls have flowery names like that -- Florabelle, Theodora, Evalina. A couple of others are named Tempest and Sunshine. All I can say is that these babes, who are constantly being overtaken by paroxysms of giggling, richly deserve those handles. They generally refer to Honest Harold, you'll be interested to know, as "teddy bear", "tootsie roll" and other forms of endearment.
Love runs rampant even among the old folks on this show. Honest Harold's mother, who belongs to the Sunny Side of Seventy Club, had a brief fling not so long ago with Zeke Rivers, another Sunny Side member. They sat around the parlor making eyes at one another and gorging themselves on peanut brittle.
NO REVIEW of the Peary show would be complete without some mention of the Peary laugh, a national phenomenon almost as awe-inspiring as Yellowstone National Park. Mr. Peary can laugh in three octaves with such intensity, flexibility and volume that in my vicinity we use the program as a moose call. C.B.S. is so proud of this curious accomplishment that it staged a national laugh contest in 177 cities.
I don't know who won it and I don't care. On The Great Gildersleeve the laughter assignment was handled exclusively by Mr. Peary. But on the new show, everyone helps out.
Honest Harold's two friends, Doc Yancey and Pete, are both equipped with fruity chuckles and, as mentioned earlier, the girls have almost incessant fits of giggling. In the rare intervals, when the cast isn't chortling, the studio audience is guffawing, sometimes happily drowning out some of that regrettable dialogue.
When Honest Harold isn't chasing girls, you're likely to discover him playing with his BB gun or his model planes. A case of arrested development all along the line, I guess.
I don't know who the Peary show is aimed at, exactly. Not me certainly. Conceivably it is meant to inform and instruct the older folks in small towns. Gosh, if the old folks haven't got anything better to do with their time than to listen to Honest Harold, they ought to buy a television and look at the Zoo Parade. They'll find the animal noises much more authentic, possibly even more intelligent.
(c) 1951, New York Tribune
We'll be the first to admit that John Crosby's Radio and Television reviews were invariably caustic--with rare few exceptions. But Crosby was also invariably fair--albeit somewhat snarky. We've read over 300 of Crosby's reviews of the era and we'd have to say that, on sum, Crosby possessed a remarkable knack for zeroing in on his subjects' weaknesses--and strengths.
In re-reading Hal Peary's letter to writer Wood Soanes, it becomes apparent that Peary's own references to the rigors of both producing and starring in his first project for CBS were somewhat prophetic. As usual, John Crosby correctly identified the real weaknesses in The Harold Peary Show--the program's writing and production.
To be fair to both Crosby and Peary, John Crosby had often rhapsodized over The Great Gildersleeve in previous reviews of the Hal Peary era of the show. One could reasonably conclude that CBS had at least hoped that The Harold Peary Show and its 'Honest Harold' character might capitalize on Peary's decade of association with his signature Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve character. There's no disputing that Peary's signature chortles translated reasonably well to the character of 'Honest Harold' Hemp.
And indeed, among Hal Peary's other accomplishments over Radio, Peary's appearance in the March 21st 1951 episode of The Harold Peary Show marked Peary's 10,000th performance over the medium:
The Billboard announced Hal Peary's 10,000th appearance over Radio
in its March 24th 1951 issue.
Hal Peary transports Summerfield to Melrose Springs--almost
Given the production independence Peary's CBS contract afforded him, CBS ordered an audition of The Harold Peary Show, produced in August 1950. The audition featured a stellar cast of West Coast Radio talent and a script written by Hal Peary himself. The audition introduced the 'Honest Harold' Hemp character, its setting in the mythical small town of Melrose Springs, and its featured inhabitants:
- KHJP Radio personality 'Honest Harold' Hemp [Hal Peary] (the imaginary Western U.S. Call sign, "KHJP" were Harold J. Peary's initials)
- Station KHJP's PBX operator, Gloria [Gloria Holiday, Hal Peary's real-life wife]
- Melrose Springs' only Veterinarian, Dr. Yancey, better known as 'Old Doc Yakyak' [Joe Kearns]
- Mr. Peabody, KHJP's Station Manager [Olan Soulé]
- Mrs. Hemp, Honest Harold's mother [Jane Morgan]
- Dr. Yancey's niece--and Honest Harold's love interest--Evalina [Cathy Lewis]
Whereas Hal Peary's most famous characterization had been as a mover and shaker in his previous communities of 'Wistful Vista' and 'Summerfield', as 'Honest Harold' Hemp of mythical Melrose Springs, Hal Peary adopted a somewhat more hapless and romantic characterization. Harold Hemp was a featured performer over Melrose Springs' only Radio station, KHJP. His daily program, "Honest Harold, The Homemaker" aired to morning audiences of domestics, predominantly female homemakers and Melrose Springs' elderly population.
Radio station KHJP, as well as Melrose Springs only newspaper--and most everything else in Melrose Springs--were owned and controlled by Mr. Carruthers, or 'Boss Carruthers,' depending on the personal views of individual Melrose Springs' inhabitants. In an effort to cater to Melrose Springs' elderly citizenry, 'Honest Harold' had fashioned 'The Sunny Side of Seventy Club,' as a component of his daily Radio broadcasts over KHJP. The eventual goal of The Sunny Side of Seventy Club was to establish a physical recreation hall or 'clubhouse' in town, in order to afford Melrose Springs' elderly a permanent place to congregate, socialize and remain active.
The irony of this undertaking was that 'Honest Harold' himself was very much a boy at heart--in just about every imaginable respect, including the area of romance. The Harold Peary Show thus traced Honest Harold's hapless radio promotions, crusades, romances, and naive shortcomings through its thirty-nine broadcast episodes.
Premiering during CBS' 1950 Fall Season roll-out, The Harold Peary Show debuted to tepid CBS fanfare on September 17th 1950--a Sunday evening timeslot--for its initial two weeks. When long-running Amos 'n' Andy returned from its Summer hiatus to reclaim its traditional Sunday evening timeslot, CBS moved The Harold Peary Show to Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. EST.
Having retained only Peary as Honest Harold, Gloria Holiday as KHJP's PBX operator, Gloria, Jane Morgan as Mrs. Hemp, and Joe Kearns as Dr. Yancey from the audition cast, The Harold Peary Show was still supported by a growing ensemble of the West Coast's finest Radio talent. Frances Robinson assumed the role of Harold's love interest, Evalina, and subsequent broadcasts featured Art Baker, Eddie Firestone, Parley Baer, Isabel Randolph, Shirley Mitchell, Cliff Arquette, Ken Christy, Wally Maher, Peter Leeds, and Bob Bailey, among many others.
Hal Peary, to his credit, knew his target audience and made every effort to deliver as much--as he legally could--of his signature Gildersleeve characterizations. Honest Harold was just as warm and likeable as Gildersleeve, but necessarily played more to Honest Harold's hapless character--both in Life and in Love. Peary's natural charm showed through, irrespective of the new character, but it also seemed immediately obvious that Peary was pointedly aware of this contractual proscription to avoid painting Harold Hemp as a clone of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve.
In one new respect at least, Peary scripted himself several opportunities to exercise his considerable singing talent throughout the new series, vis a vis his fictional KHJP Radio program, Honest Harold the Homemaker. This was one of the few new treats that Peary offered his adoring Radio fans. Peary couldn't have restrained his signature chortle no matter how confining the CBS contract. And indeed playing to that inevitable element of his comedic performances over Radio, Peary launched a promotional search in a reported 103 cities across America to find "Miss Mirthquake of 1950," a woman possessed of "America's heartiest laugh." The promotion ended upon finding a 47-year-old Knoxville, Tennessee woman, Mrs. Lena Duncan. Mrs. Duncan was transported by Knoxville station KNOX to Hollywood to appear--with her shattering laugh--in the November 22nd 1950 Thanksgiving episode of The Harold Peary Show.
From the October 19th 1950 edition of the Cedar Rapids Gazette:
Looking for New
Type of "Miss"
By Maralyn Marsh.
HOLLYWOOD (INS)Laugh, gal, laugh. The more raucous you roar, the more chances you might become "Miss Mirthquake of "Honest Harold" Peary, radio and screen cut-up who bellylaughed his way into millions of homes as the "Great Gildersleeve", is looking for the femme with the heartiest guffaw.
When he finds her, the original Laughing Boy will slap the Miss Mirthquake tag on her. This is a nationwide laugh look, with cuties chuckling into 177 CBS mikes in 177 cities.
Peary, whose gregarious giggle ripples from his toes on up, says if he can get America laughingthere just will not be any more wars. So, with keen insight, he figures that if the women start hitting the giggle trail, their spouses and sweeties will follow suit.
Hal, a charter member of "Laugh and Avoid Ulcers, Inc.," roared:
"If we can educate America to keep laughing, we are doing a lot. Believe me, in this day we have to teach most people to let themselves go and give out with an honest chuckle."
The hardest thing in the world is to take a person and tell him or her to laugh, says Hal. Therefore, the contest has been a very funny onegals step up to the mike and explode with the strangest sounds, all of which are supposed to be genuine laughs.
Strangely enough, chicks with the smallest chassis usually come up with the biggest bellows. Hal, who portrayed "Gildie" for 12 years and who just switched networks and characters to "Honest Harold", cites himself as a perfect example.
As "Gildie", he weighed 227 pounds. But he has sloughed avoirdupois 'til he hits 179 on the scales for his role as Harold, the Homemaker and swears his laugh is bigger than ever.
Only today Los Angeles and Hal picked the local "Miss Mirthquake" to compete with the other 176 finalists Nov. 1. She is plumpish, gray-haired Mrs. Dorothy Mary Martin, a two-children merry soul with a three-bell bellow.
Mrs. Martin, a mere five-feet, three-inch gal, out-laughed femmes with 200-plus frames to guffaw her way to the first lap of the laugh title.
Naturally, laughs are contagious. That is one of Hal's objectives he swears he can make the whole country rock with mirth as he coaxes varying humor howls from the ladies.
This will continue until Nov. 1 when a panel of laugh makers makes the final selection of "Miss Mirthquake" from recordings sent to Hollywood from the scattered chuckle centers.
Judges will be Hal, Jack Benny, Marie Wilson, Eve Arden, Lucille Ball and Alan Young.
So, as Peary himself advocates, forget those worries and start smiling. Then laughyou might grow rich.
And as a follow-up, this from the syndicated Erskine Johnson column of the December 21st 1950 edition of the Dixon Evening Telegraph:
ANYTHING FOR A LAUGH
There were, I can assure you, a couple of mirthless quakes as "Miss Mirthquake" passed through Hollywood.
Mrs. Lena Duncan, plump, grayhaired and 47, of Knoxville, Tenn., won the title in a contest conducted on Hal Peary's radio show to find the woman with America's most contagious laugh. Ladies in 103 cities competed, via recordings, and Lena won the inevitable trip to Hollywod with a laugh that sounds like the cackle of a ticklish hen being amplified through the San Francisco Bay fog horn.
But her reaction to Hollywood, during a week's stay, was no laughing matter. Obviously no movie fan, Lena told me:
"I went out to the MGM studio and met Red Skeleton."
But she really mowed 'em down with a report on "Cyrano":
"I didn't like the picture," she said. "I don't care for war movies."
Pretty much relying on his own popularity and his limited promotional staff, such newsy bits were about all the advertising or promotion that The Harold Peary Show received over the course of its 39-week run.