The First Bar Sitcom: Listening to DUFFY’S TAVERN

Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! With coverage of Cheers unfolding on Sitcom Tuesdays, there was no way I could pass up the opportunity to highlight the first bar sitcom, Duffy’s Tavern, which was broadcast on the radio from 1941 to 1951, aired on television in first-run syndication for one season from 1954 to 1955, and jumped to the big screen for a 1945 feature film. For those who may not be familiar with the show, I’ll tee it up for you. Set in a New York City watering hole, comic Ed Gardner played Archie, the bar’s goofy and scheming manager. Duffy was never seen, but his daughter Miss Duffy was around every week; she was played by a series of actresses, most notably (albeit briefly) by Gardner’s then-wife, Shirley Booth. Other regulars included Eddie the Waiter, moronic patron Clifton Finnegan, wannabe poet Crackpot O’Toole, and kooky inventor Colonel Stoopnagle. If some of these characters sound like archetypes that would later be put to use (and expanded) in Cheers, you may be interested in noting a connection. Cheers‘ director James Burrows is the son of Abe Burrows, who co-created Duffy’s Tavern, and Jimmy is the godson of Gardner himself.

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But the shows are very different. Duffy’s Tavern, particularly on the radio, was entirely driven by the visiting stars; in fact, few offerings are done without at least one special guest appearance. Thus, a lot of the show’s enjoyment is derived from the guest him/herself and the show’s ability to integrate the individual into the proceedings. But the interactions amongst the regular characters is usually pretty strong as well, and like Cheers, I believe that’s where the real magic exists, so those moments are the ones I enjoy most. In fact, if I have a complaint about this series (and full disclosure, I’ve only listened to about 50 of the radio shows), it’s that it’s so reliant on the weekly visitors. However, I’ve been told by a serious fan that the early episodes, written entirely by Parke Levy, Mac Benoff, and Burrows, constitute the sharpest and funniest episodes of the series. (Unfortunately, those first two seasons are mostly “lost” and many of the episodes that exist today are from later in the series’ run; Burrows left in 1945.)

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But, because we’ve been discussing Cheers, I was compelled to share a few enjoyable episodes of the radio series with you today. Hopefully this gives you a taste of the show’s comedy. And seeing that the information in today’s post is intended for a general audience, I highly recommend that potential fanatics seek out Martin Grams, Jr.’s Duffy’s Tavern: A History of Ed Gardner’s Radio Program. (Buy it here.) Note that the titles below are unofficial, taken from common online sources, while the numbering and air date stats come from the aforementioned book.

 

01) Episode 93: “Tallulah Bankhead Guests” (Aired: 06/01/43)

02) Episode 101: “Archie’s Life Story (with Ida Lupino)” (Aired: 10/26/43)

03) Episode 103: “Lucille Ball Guests” (Aired: 11/09/43)

04) Episode 107: “Bing Crosby May Buy Half A Interest In The Bar” (Aired: 12/07/43)

05) Episode 111: “Fred Allen Guests” (Aired: 01/04/44)

06) Episode 225: “The Raffle (with Joan Bennett)” (Aired: 12/18/46)

07) Episode 267: “Auditor Finds A Shortage (with Garry Moore)” (Aired: 01/07/48)

08) Episode 317: “Archie And Finnegan Double-Date (with Gypsy Rose Lee)” (Aired: 04/06/49) 

 

*You can read about another early bar series, The Corner Bar (1972-1973, ABC), here!

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Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in on Monday for another Irving Berlin musical!

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6 thoughts on “The First Bar Sitcom: Listening to DUFFY’S TAVERN

    • Hi, bobster427! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      How I wish that enough episodes existed to give this series complete coverage, the kind that will be afforded several months from now to THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM. And it’s a particular shame that more of the earliest installments aren’t available — that wonderful DUFFY’S TAVERN book makes the case that these constitute the show’s finest scripts! (And I’m sure Shirley Booth’s presence makes them all the better!)

  1. One of the “Duffy’s Tavern” episodes you listed (the one with Tallulah Bankhead) has “AFRS #8” in its identifying tag. What does “AFRS #8” mean?

    • Hi, Allan! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      AFRS = Armed Forces Radio Service, which broadcasts to servicemen abroad. The circulating copy of this episode is sourced from this transmission.

  2. Thanks for this! I saw an episode of the syndicated TV version a while ago and didn’t think much of it. But I listened to two of the shows you featured (the Tallulah and Lucy ones) and thought they were really funny. Abe Burrows wrote those right?

    Looking forward to more Jack Benny coming up here in a few months. Any other radio series? MY FAVORITE HUSBAND maybe? I know you talked about the TV OUR MISS BROOKS but I don’t know if the radio show is something you’re considering too. Anyway, they’re lots of fun! We listen to them on road trips sometimes.

    • Hi, Elaine. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, those two episodes were written by Burrows, Parke Levy, and Mac Benoff. Burrows left after the ’44-’45 season, so his name is on the first five of the eight offerings shared above.

      I’d love to cover the radio versions of both OUR MISS BROOKS and MY FAVORITE HUSBAND, but there are too many episodes missing of both series. (In fact, there are several years of OUR MISS BROOKS where only one episode is extant.) Fortunately, I can count on my fingers the number of installments I don’t have of THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM, beginning with the ’36-’37 season (the first year worthy of discussion), making it much more ideal for the type of full attention I aim to give. Stay tuned…

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