The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show
January 12, 2002
Walter Tetley was truly at his ZENITH………..and in his heyday, between his work in The Great Gildersleeve and The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show. Doubtless there is even more radio work that he did (in the 40s and the 50s) that we do not know about. As a radio entertainer he ECLIPSED, by far, all the other work that he did………..not just his cartoon work but even his movies (in which he played a physical, on-camera actor).
After listening to roughly 55 episodes from The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show (thanks to the generosity of one of our readers from the Walter Tetley Web Page) and about 180 episodes of The Great Gildersleeve, it is now even more crystal clear to me what one of our other readers was trying to tell me, many months ago: Peabody’s Improbable History only scratched the surface of Walter’s work as a performer. I have taken great strides to understand Walter Tetley better through all these radio episodes provided to us by our friends. In doing so, I find him to be much less the “great enigma” that he always was for me.
To borrow an expression from Joan Rivers (in one of her own autobiographies), Walter was WHITE HOT at this time!! Of course, to keep this all in perspective, he was WHITE HOT as far as supporting actor roles or character actor roles go. Even when he played teenage grocery boy Julius Abruzzio in The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show, he appeared to be relatively limited with what he could do with his voice; thus explaining in part why he rarely played the title or starring role.
Though Julius Abruzzio seemed much more mature and savvy; much more like a man, he still had a very high-pitched voice. From what I have read, Julius was probably about 17 or 18 years old (at least 16, because he did drive a truck). I have not met very many 16 to 18-year-old men with a voice as high as Tetley’s Abruzzio. Julius sounded very similar to Leroy Forrester from The Great Gildersleeve. There were a few differences however (and not just the fact that Julius was more mature). Tetley’s Abruzzio character often spoke with a heavy Brooklyn accent. Walter did a very good job with that; the accent was very entertaining. I was not too surprised about that, however; there were a few times when his Leroy character slipped up, and let out a mild New York Jewish accent. Since Walter Tetley was born in New York City, it was probably second nature for him to speak like a Brooklynite.
There seemed to be some variations in Walter’s rendition of Julius. Sometimes he laid this dialect on, really thick and heavy. Other times he delivered his lines with only a subtle hint of Brooklyn. Sometimes he spoke in everyday speech patterns; much like an Everyman. Other times he appeared to take on the character of a young “hood” or gang member from Westside Story. When he would utter sentences such as “me truck” or “me’s arms” instead of “my truck” and “my arms”, I wondered if the producers of The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show were going for a more “rough around the edges” image for Julius (it must have been a breath of fresh air for him to portray someone who was a little less puerile and innocent for a change). In another episode, in keeping with this same brand of nearly broken English, he threatened Phil Harris and his best friend Frankie Remly with the question:
“You want I should call the cops?!?……..”
Julius was also allowed so much more to vent his anger, even rage, that was bottled up inside him (unlike Little Leroy). There were times when Julius screamed out his wrath, in a voice that was nearly manic!! Of course most of this rage came out when he was the target of Phil Harris and Frankie’s cruel and ghastly maneuvers! Most of the time, the schemes that Phil and Frankie cooked up were not meant as practical jokes. Usually the two of them were in a very bad scrape and needed a way out………….and Julius became their “meal ticket”, or “fat pigeon”, if you will.
On rare occasions he willingly agreed to help them out. More than half the time they had to con him, so that he unwittingly was roped into becoming a spoke in their “greasy wheel!” Even when he did agree to help these two conniving villains, it usually was only because they “had him over a barrel” (they either threatened him with blackmail, or they had something that he really needed or wanted). Julius often found himself sucked into their funnel of chaos, right after he uttered the words:
“Hey anybody home?………..I got groceries here!!………..”
Julius’ timing was uncanny!! He always just happened to show up with groceries, at a moment that was perfect for him to play right into Phil and Frankie’s hands! If I didn’t know any better, I would have sworn that Phil and Frankie were vultures, laying in ambush for Julius, just when they needed him. Many times Julius knew right away that his goose was cooked, when one of these fellows would say to him abruptly:
“I don’t wanna!…………….”, he would usually say. Almost invariably, however, he would play right into their hands.
If all of this sounds too terrible to be funny, relax………..the tone of these episodes really was quite conducive to laughter! More often than not it was tit for tat, as Julius usually had the opportunity to get even in one way or another. With that being said, hopefully you will not be too chagrined to read a few examples of some of the more diabolical webs that Phil and Frankie weaved (with Julius as their little fly). Now for a few examples of what the teenage Abruzzio had to endure:
The Walled-in Bed:
On one occasion Phil undertook the hair-brained experiment of trying to prove to Frankie, that someone could get caught in a walled-in bed and not suffocate (though why he wanted to prove this is a mystery to me!). Once again, Julius Abruzzio just happened to show up, right when they were arguing over this. Abruzzio vehemently protested that he would have no part of this experiment. He said:
“You couldn’t get me into that bed unless you gave me $1,000,000!!”
“Well here’s $2.00 as a down payment!”, Frankie Remly said; “You’ll get the rest after you suffocate!!”
Though Harris and Remly finally gave up on any cooperation from Abruzzio, they ironically got their wish anyway, BY ACCIDENT!! They asked Julius if he would pull a lever which would fold the bed back up into the wall. The teenager saw no harm in that. Unfortunately for him, he just happened to get caught up in the bed when it swung back into the wall!! While he was screaming in muffled cries to be let out of the wall, Remly was saying:
“Well, let’s just wait and see how many minutes he can actually stay there without breathing!!”
The New Drug:
The sponsor for The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show was Rexall Drugs. Phil decided to try to invent a new drug for the show’s sponsor and of course Frankie, being his best friend, got involved. The two buddies were afraid to try the first taste of this drug. Once again, you could set the sundial to their luck!!……….Julius was there, right when they needed him. They grabbed a hold of him, right after they asked him if he would help them test their drug, and he shouted:
“Hey!!……….Get your clammy meat hooks off me!!”
“Oh, c’mon, Julius!”, Frankie Remly said to him; “What’s the worst thing that could happen to you?”
“I could drop dead!!!”, Abruzzio said.
“Yeah, but besides that??……….”, Remly countered.
Then they tried to pour the drug down his throat anyway, but they missed! A huge explosion erupted! When the smoke cleared, only Harris and Remly were in sight! For a few moments they thought they had killed Abruzzio………but then, he came out of his hiding place (he had ducked under a cot in the garage, where they were doing this experiment). He screamed at them:
“Wait’ll I tell my old man that you tried to make an active volcano out of me!!”
In this episode, Phil and Alice Faye were trying to play matchmaker for Frankie. They wanted to set the eternal bachelor, Frankie, up with a woman, so he would possibly “get hitched” and have less time on his hands to bother them. It just so happened that the lady in question was Julius’ aunt. To keep Julius from interfering, since they knew that he hated them, they picked him up and stuffed him in a big mailbox (the larger U.S. Mail variety, of course). They did not worry at all about ever getting him out of that box. He got out himself and was fit to be tied! He smashed through one of the Harrises’ living room windows right while his aunt was in their house, and Frankie was trying to woo her. He screamed at them:
“Wait’ll my old man hears about this!!!…………You want I should call the cops?!?………….I’ll tell you how I got out of that mailbox!!……..No stamps!!!………”
On one show, Phil Harris was slated to appear in court over a physical altercation that he got involved in at a supermarket. Frankie Remly was also to be charged in this same suit. Julius was on the witness list. He was also expected to answer some questions about Phil and Frankie’s character. Harris and Remly went to Julius’ supermarket, and tried to reason with him, hoping that he would not say anything detrimental. When Julius refused them, these two buddies actually seriously entertained the thought of murdering him!!………….at least for a few fleeting moments they pondered over that possibility. Phil and Frankie discussed among themselves about maybe sneaking up behind Julius, binding him, and then throwing him into the meat freezer! Unfortunately Julius heard all that, and he screamed at them:
“Just wait til the “D.A. hears from me now!!!!……….”
Abruzzio himself “had his own day in court” (figuratively speaking) when he made Harris and Remly pay dearly for their deviant maltreatment of him.
Probably one of the funniest episodes had to do with the circus:
Phil and Frankie somehow lost their tickets to get into the circus. Their family and friends were already seated inside and watching the show. They knew that Julius was helping the circus out that day (he was cleaning the lions’ cage while these lions were under the big top). They tried to convince Abruzzio to sneak them on in without their tickets. Why Harris and Remly ever agreed to Julius’ plan is probably a mystery to most people!!
Julius just happened to have access to a big lion’s suit………..He talked Phil and Frankie into reluctantly getting into that suit! He next talked them into going through a trap door, which they thought was a secret passage to the circus. Well, it was!……….but they had no idea that that trap door led to a live circus show, that was going on right then!!………..They unwittingly became part of the main attraction, with a bunch of hungry lions as their co-stars!! The lion suit was apparently so very good that it fooled everybody: the circus ring leader, the spectators, and even the lions!! So poor Phil and Frankie were forced to hobnob with these fierce, roaring lions! Somehow they got out alive!!…………Abruzzio was no more concerned about that than Remly and Harris had been of getting him out of that mailbox………..or getting him out of that walled-in bed while he was still breathing!………….or whether or not he survived their homemade concoction of a new drug!…………
Though I meant to say that Abruzzio had his day in court, figuratively, he also had his day in court literally, as well………..twice!!…………….as odd as it may sound, the town where Harris, Remly, and Abruzzio lived had one day a year which was designated as Boy’s Week. A teenage boy could serve as a law enforcer (or a law enforcer’s assistant, so to speak):
Mayor for a Day:
Julius had the honor of being selected as mayor for a day during Boy’s Week. Phil Harris had gotten a traffic ticket, and he tried to settle it at the mayor’s office that very day, because he was planning to leave on a five-day vacation. Of course, Phil was incredulous when he saw that he had to have a hearing with the teenage Abruzzio for this! For the “junior mayor” it was now PAYBACK TIME!!! He slammed down his gavel again and again, screaming: “$50.00!!” for this offense or “$50.00!!” for that offense! He even levied Phil $50.00 for disturbing the peace (when Phil broke out into song in his office—-musical numbers were always a part of this comedy show)!!
He then revoked Phil’s driver’s license! Then, when Phil thought that Frankie could drive for his vacation (Frankie was going on that same vacation, and he was in the mayor’s office at the time), Julius revoked his license too!! Then this teenage mayor really “pushed the envelope” when he actually seriously tried to revoke Phil’s marriage license (Julius was always in love with Phil’s wife, Alice Faye)!!…………..and then he tried to revoke his birth certificate!! Phil cracked that, with a stroke of his pen, Julius wiped out a record that he had ever been born!!
Doubtless Julius must have had some “meaty” credentials………Four years after he was mayor for a day (in 1949), he was then appointed co-Judge, in a court case against Harris and Remly (in 1953) in yet another Boy’s Week. Phil and Frankie were in trouble for trying to dig a tunnel underneath a street (don’t ask!!…….Just call it sheer stupidity on their part!). Of course, just as Leroy never aged on The Great Gildersleeve, Julius never aged on the Harris and Faye show. He was still only a junior or senior in high school in this later episode.
For the second time Phil and Frankie were extremely taken aback when they saw that Julius was an authority figure when they were in trouble (Frankie, by the way, was no longer being called Frankie at this point in the series. Like Phil and Alice Faye, he was now being called by his real name: Elliott Lewis).
Julius levied fine after fine after fine against Phil and “Elliott” as they tried to defend themselves in court: “$20.00 for speaking out of turn!!”………….”$20.00 for saying ‘ I object!’ !!” he would scream! The court clerk was completely supportive of Julius.
“That will be $40.00!” the clerk would call out (and we would hear the sound of a cash register ringing)!
Judge Julius really tried to push the envelope when he saw that none of his fines were challenged or overturned………..he even tried to recommend the death penalty for Phil and Elliott/Frankie!! At that point, the senior judge finally stepped in and told Julius that there were limits on the penalty that could be assessed for merely digging a tunnel under a street!
In the same vein as our previous comments on The Great Gildersleeve, we will also make some “general remarks” about this show. You’ve all heard the old adage:
“There’s someone for everyone” or “For every pot, there’s a lid”.
These proverbs are applicable far beyond the playing fields of Love and War. I would also say:
“There’s someone for every radio show” or “For every radio show, there’s a fan”.
These statements are very appropriate for our discussion. Though The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show is not one of my favorite shows (especially when compared to The Great Gildersleeve), we have had quite a few readers on our website who have written to tell us how much they love this show. We also had quite a few readers who told us how much they love Walter Tetley as Julius Abruzzio. Several of our readers have commented on how Tetley really steals the show………..or about how he has reduced them to “tears of laughter”!
Aside from all that, I have seen the value in listening to some of these shows, merely for the deeper understanding that I have developed, vis à vis how minor a role Walter’s cartoon Sherman voice was. Though Gildersleeve was a little more fun for me to listen to, I am glad that it was not the only body of his radio work that I have listened to. Our very kind friend who sent me the Harris and Faye episodes has helped me tremendously in grasping a much more comprehensive knowledge, of Walter’s career.
In all candor, even though he had a substantially smaller role on his Harris and Faye series (than he did on The Great Gildersleeve), I really believe that Tetley had one of the very best parts on the entire show!! I truly enjoyed, listening to him, more than I enjoyed listening to Phil and Alice (or any of the other “leads” on the show). After Tetley, my next favorite actor from the show, would be Gale Gordon. He played Mr. Scott, Phil Harris’ boss. I had no idea the first few episodes that Mr. Scott was THE GALE GORDON……….the same Gordon with whom I had become familiar from The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy. I was extremely surprised to learn later on that it was this same man who played that cantankerous and grouchy boss, Mr. Moony, who always screamed at Lucille Ball: “Mrs. Carmichael!!!” (For the record he also played a recurring character, on The Great Gildersleeve. He played one of Gildy’s neighbors, Mr. Bullard).
Probably my favorite episode with Gale Gordon’s Mr. Scott was when he reluctantly had Phil and Frankie at one of his big parties (the fact that Phil was married to Alice Faye, whom Scott as his wife adored, had a lot to do with why these two clowns were at his party). Phil and Frankie stepped away from the party for a very short time to put some lawn chairs by Mr. Scott’s pool. It seemed like a simple enough request.
Leave it to Phil and Frankie however, to complicate a very simple task!
To make a long story short, they fooled with Mr. Scott’s brand new Cadillac, and caused it to quickly roll backwards and straight into his swimming pool! If that wasn’t enough, then they tried to tow his Cadillac out of the pool by using his other car (his Lincoln)! Phil felt that his own car was too small to tow a Cadillac. So he took a chain from his own vehicle and hooked that up to the rear axle of Mr. Scott’s Lincoln. He and Frankie then assumed they were “home free.” All they had to do was connect the chain to the front of Scott’s “swimming Cadillac” and their nightmare would be over (never mind the fact that the Cadillac was probably ruined after being flooded; they weren’t even thinking of that detail then!!). Unfortunately, things just went from bad to worse……They pulled off the whole rear end of Scott’s Lincoln!!
I listened to this episode twice. The second time was after I knew that Mr. Scott was played by Gale Gordon. When Mr. Scott came outside and screamed first about his Lincoln, and second about his waterlogged Cadillac, I could really recognize the old Mr. Moony then. It sounded just like him, screaming at Lucy (I wasn’t really listening for it, the first time around).
The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show began around the fall or winter of 1946 and it ran well into 1954. This is surely a testament to how good the show was, since it lasted that long into the era of TV. By 1954, of course, “Uncle Miltie Berle” had already been around for roughly six years in his own TV series. Milton Berle has always been credited as the guy who helped sell a ton of TV sets.
One interesting fact that I learned on Phil Harris as I read about the show: for those of us who are baby boomers, we will surely remember the Walt Disney movie, The Jungle Book. Harris played the voice of animated Baloo, the Bear. If that wasn’t the top role in that cartoon, it was at least # 2. Who could ever forget that song, that he sang?:
“Look for the……….Bear Necessities, the simple Bear Necessities………Forget about your worries and your strife! I mean the………Bear Necessities of Mother Nature’s recipes that bring the Bear Necessities of life!”
Or also from that same song the lines:
“The bees are buzzing in the trees to make some honey just for me!………..When you look under the rocks and plants, and take a glance………..at the fancy ants, and maybe……..try a few!!………..”
Now for some of the differences between the Harris and Faye series and the Gildersleeve series (and an explanation, in at least some instances, why I liked the Gildersleeve series better). Unlike Harold Peary, who played a fictional character in Gildersleeve, Phil and Alice Faye played themselves. They also played themselves doing the exact same profession: the stars of their own radio show. Of course there was some fiction thrown into this reality. Phil Harris played a version of himself, which was hopefully far removed from the real Phil Harris.
Like Gildersleeve, Phil Harris was conceited and arrogant. He did not come off quite as lovable however (for me anyway), because the things that he was conceited about had to do with matters that I cannot relate to very well: his life as a bandleader, a singer, and an actor. In short, he was stuck on himself as a celebrity. With Gildy, however, you couldn’t help but love him, “warts and all,” because he was a simple family man. He was also very good with his nephew/son, Leroy. Gildersleeve had a very big heart, as imperfect as he was. In addition, he also had very strong convictions about what was best for his community. He was practically a pillar of Summerfield (his town), and he got involved in trying to improve this town on many an occasion. He also had quite a few very devoted friends who accepted him, despite the wind bag that he was. The ladies in his life also seemed to really dote on him with fierce loyalty, as dysfunctional as he could sometimes be. The fictional Phil Harris had a much, much more inflated ego, since he was famous.
The relationship of Phil Harris and his best friend, Frankie/Elliott, was also quite different from the relationship of Gildersleeve with his best friend (and simultaneous arch enemy) Judge Horace Hooker. Gildersleeve and Hooker were portrayed as much more intelligent. Both were college men and, of course, the judge was an elected official as well as an attorney. Gildersleeve, as the town’s Water Commissioner, was also an elected official.
Phil Harris and Frankie/Elliott often came across very similar to Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton from The Honeymooners (with Phil being like Ralph and Frankie/Elliott being like Norton). Though Phil was often quite stupid, he was nowhere near as stupid as Frankie. He would even defend Frankie before his family:
“Frankie is NOT stupid!!!………….”
As much as he defended him, Frankie even began to wear down poor Phil, at times!
Phil and Gildersleeve were both hot heads, but Phil was a little bit more of a brute than Gildy. At least Gildy had a little more class than Phil when he blew up at someone. Phil Harris seemed more ready than Gildy to get into a fist fight with someone who angered him. The fact that he often spoke with very poor grammar also contributed to making him seem like more of a brute. But giving Phil credit where credit is due, he was smarter than Gildy, in one way. When Gildy’s ego was bruised, and the angry blood rushed to his head, he “let it all out,” even if a policeman was the object of his wrath!! Harris would never get into a policeman’s face the way that Gildy was known to.
Alice Faye had a much smaller role than her husband, even though she got top billing with him. Elliott Lewis, as Frankie/Elliott, had a much meatier role. There were several episodes when Alice Faye seemed to be an afterthought. There were even some shows when Tetley’s Julius (though a bit part in the show) was a bigger role than hers. Even as a singer (and you would think that she would top her husband there), she still competed with Harris. Her husband seemed to sing just as many numbers as she. In addition, at the end of each show, when the two stars would make some closing remarks to the audience and say good night, Phil did 90% of the talking. Alice would get the last word, but, all that word would be, was:
“Yes, good night everybody!”
Alice Faye, playing herself, was most likely much less of a caricature than her husband. She always played a very classy and charming woman (though never snooty). Her character was always warm and likable. Above all, she was portrayed as a great mother figure (she came close, for me anyway, to rivaling Doris Day, who was well known for playing “Mother of the Year” types).
Alice Faye was not a doormat, however. As charming and ladylike as she could be, she could lash out at her husband, when he deserved it, with an acerbic and stinging wit………….And sometimes she lashed out with no wit at all…………but with pure, unadulterated rage!
You see……….sometimes even poor Alice got the same dosage of bitter medicine from Phil and Frankie that Julius did. Of course, with Alice it was always much more an accident that she got victimized than it was with Julius. Being the level-headed, stable, smart woman that she was, this made it all the more hilarious when she “took a beating” in one of Phil and Frankie’s schemes that backfired.
In one episode, originally aired on January 15, 1950, poor Alice Faye fell prey to Phil and Frankie’s inept ability to repair a power blower. She had already suffered quite a few terrible mishaps that show, due to the incompetence of Phil and Frankie to repair things in her home. The last thing that they tried to repair (the power blower) left her with the wind knocked out of her, and panting heavily. She had walked into the path of the blower’s wind tunnel, and found herself airborne! The sound of that blower was just like a raging tornado!! When they finally turned it off, Miss Faye screamed with the ferocity of a lion:
“Phil Harris I declare WAR on you!!!………….JUST WAIT’LL I GET MY HANDS ON YOU!!!”
From 1945-1962 Alice Faye made no movies. Part of the reason why she and her spouse did the radio show was so that they could have more time for their family life. When she finally did get another role in the early 60s, she was quite sorry that she had ever returned to the silver screen. She said that it was a terrible shame what had happened to movies since her last film.
On August 11, 1995, Alice Faye lost her husband, Phil, of 54 years. He died of heart failure at the age of 91. Miss Faye joined him, nearly three years later. She died of stomach cancer, at the age of 83. Denny Jackson wrote of her in a mini biography on her IMDb filmography:
“She rose from the mean streets of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen to become the most famous singing actress in the world.”
Alice Faye: A Life Beyond the Silver Screen
by Jane Lenz Elder
Fans of vintage radio and movies need no introduction to the sweet demeanor, sultry glances, and velvety voice of Alice Faye. Her haunting rendition of “You’ll Never Know” has never been surpassed by any other singer. Her films, such as Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Tin Pan Alley, and The Gang’s All Here, remain perennial favorites on classic movie channels and at video rental outlets. Her radio show, with her husband Phil Harris, and her frequent guest appearances on the Jack Benny Show, live on in the cassette collections popular with radio devotees.
Now for the first time, fans of the fabulous Faye can enjoy a full-scale biography of the beloved star. Four years in the making, Alice Faye: A Life Beyond the Silver Screen, is being published by the University of Mississippi Press (available in October) as part of its Hollywood Legends series. Film historian Jane Lenz Elder conducted interviews with Alice’s friends and family, consulted leading oral history collections, and dug through archives in California, New York, and Linton, Indiana (home to the Phil Harris-Alice Faye Collection), to create the most compelling, comprehensive, and accurate depiction of Faye’s life yet published.
Beginning life in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York, Alice Faye went from an adolescent chorus girl in the 1920s to one of Hollywood’s top box office draws of the 1930s and 1940s. Populating her life were such luminaries as Don Ameche, Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, Betty Grable, Jack Haley, Phil Harris, John Payne, Tyrone Power, Tony Martin, Shirley Temple, Rudy Vallée, and the ruthless studio mogul, Darryl F. Zanuck. Alice met success in the early days of broadcast radio and in Hollywood’s golden age. She also endured setbacks, scandals and, above all, the challenges of the big studio system. She faced life squarely with humor and determination, and eventually emerged as one of Hollywood’s most graceful survivors.
Alice Faye: A Life Beyond the Silver Screen by Jane Lenz Elder is a must read for any Faye fan.
6×9 inches, 256 pages 25 black & white illustrations filmography, bibliography, index ISBN 1-57806-210-1
Call 1-800-737-7788 to order toll-free