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.


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.)


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!




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