This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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IT PAYS TO BE IGNORANT
by Derek Tague, © 2002
(From Radio Recall, April 2003)
Recently, a professorial OTR historian and elder statesman of our hobby from the Elmira, NY area cited It Pays To Be Ignorant as one of the "Ten Worst OTR Shows of All-Time." I respect his opinion especially since said professor is a good friend of mine. However, I'm at variance with his contention that this series catered its humor to the "least common denominator." And I take comfort in the fact that this show of the 1940s far out-classes today's “latest common denominator” which has no problem with the tasteless toilet humor that permeates today's top-"grossing" comedy movies.
I've always enjoyed It Pays To Be Ignorant simply because it's FUNNY. By today's P.C. standards, the rapid-fire litany of drunk jokes, fat jokes, ugly jokes, and stupid jokes may seem unnerving to the non-OTR initiate. However, there were some clever repartee and double-talk routines among the show's cast...even if most of the material was comprised of recycled burlesque gags from Howard & Shelton's touring days.
Host Tom Howard was born in County Tyrone, Ireland, on 16th June 1885. When he was 11 months old, his parents, Mr. & Mrs. Thomas Black, relocated the family to the U.S. In 1905, while working in a Philadelphia grocery store, Tom adopted the stage name "Tom Howard" -- in order to spare his mother's feelings -- and embarked on a show-biz career, at first earning $15.00 a day for a dozen vaudeville "turns" a day.
In 1910, he married the former Miss Harriet Berg. Over the years, he performed on the American and Columbia Wheels burlesque circuits; acted on Broadway in shows such as "Ziegfeld Follies," "Smiles" (a Ziegfeld production which also starred Fred and Adele Astaire, Marilyn Miller, and Eddie Foy, Jr.), "Keep Moving," "The Gang's All Here" (with future Three Stooges front-man Ted Healy), "The Greenwich Village Follies," and "Rain or Shine."
Eventually Howard formed the burlesque comedy team "Howard and Shelton" with future "ignoramus" George Shelton. This pairing eventually led to them starring as a team in approximately 55 comedy shorts (mostly for Educational Pictures). Howard & Shelton also were heard as regulars on "The Rudy Vallee Fleischmann Yeast Hour" for 87 weeks in the mid-1930s.
In later years, Tom Howard resided in Red Bank, NJ, eventually moving to the nearby town of Little Silver. He died of a heart attack at Hazard Hospital in Long Branch, NJ, at the age of 69 on 27th February 1955. He was survived by his wife Harriet; his son, radio writer Tom Howard Jr.; and his daughter Mrs. Ruth Howell Hoyt, known professionally as Ruth Howell, who wrote many gags and radio scripts for "Ignorant."
George Shelton was born on New York City's Bowery on 4th March 1884. He started his vaudeville career playing tent shows in Iowa, toured with a repertory company for 5 years ["I used ta woik in dat town!..."],enlisted in the Army and saw action in World War I, toured post-war Germany in a show called "The Sporting Duchess," returned to the U.S. for more vaudeville dates eventually replacing Bobby Clark in an act called "The Merry Wives of Windsor." Shortly thereafter, he met up with and formed a partnership with Tom Howard.
Shelton also appeared in the aforementioned Broadway show "Rain or Shine." His film career include "House on 92nd Street" and "Kiss of Death" (which featured OTR's Richard Widmark). During the radio and television runs of "Ignorant”, Shelton made his home in Hempstead, Nassau County (Long Island), NY.
George Shelton died in a freak accident at the age of 87 on 24th April 1971 at a New York City nursing home where he resided. According to his "Variety" obituary, "...he was lighting his pipe when a book of matches exploded in his hand and his bedclothes caught fire. The third-degree burns were fatal." He was survived by his wife.
Born in Kansas City, Lulu McConnell was a seasoned performer by the time she was 16. The daughter of a dentist, Lulu began acting in a K.C. stock company. This led to vaudeville where she met her future husband, fellow performer George Simpson, whom she married in 1907. Simpson & McConnell ["Me and my old man..."] treaded the boards for several years. In 1910 while playing the Alhambra Theatre, a temporary case of stage fright caused her to lose her voice; this led to her getting through a performance with a series of rasping sounds, which brought down the house, established her as a polished comedienne, and gave her trademark nails-on-chalkboard delivery.
Throughout the years, Miss McConnell performed in several Broadway shows with the likes of Nora Bayes, Lew Fields, Clifton Webb, and Willie & Eugene Howard and on the same vaudeville bills with Eddie Cantor, Lillian Russell, Anna Held, Eva Tanguay, and George Jessel. She took particular pride in "discovering" comedian Jack Oakie in the chorus of a show called "Peggy Ann," in which she co-starred.
Lulu's first radio appearance was with Gertrude Niesen and bandleader Isham Jones. Like her fellow panelists MacNaughton and Shelton, she made her home in Nassau County in the town of Floral Park. While visiting the home of a former maid in Los Angeles on 9th October 1962, Lulu McConnell collapsed and died. She was 80. She was pre-deceased by her husband Grant Simpson, who died in 1932, at the age of 48. She was no relation to Smilin’ Ed Mc Connell, whose wife’s name was Grace.
Harry MacNaughton was born into a British theatrical family which also included music hall headliners Alice Lloyd and Marie Lloyd. His father was the manager of London's Adelphi Theatre. MacNaughton served with the British Rifle Brigade during World War I ["I was in the last war, you know!..."], was captured as a POW by the Germans in 1918, and was so severely beaten, that years later, he bore scars on his face from this experience. He eventually went into theatre and emigrated to the U.S. in 1919 as part of the show "The Bitter 'Ole" which starred Charles Coburn.
In 1929, while making a film in New York at Pathe' Studios, he escaped a fire by jumping out the window. In the midst of the ensuing confusion, MacNaughton grabbed a chorus girl (who later became the star Constance Cummings) and saved her life as the fire produced fatalities. In 1935, he began a six-year stint playing "Bottle" the butler on radio's "Phil Baker Show."
MacNaughton, like Shelton, made his home in Nassau County, Long Island, first in Manhasset, and later in Amityville. He and his wife, women's golf champion, Marion Turple, loved cats, and owned 14 felines at one time. Harry died at the age of 70, on 26th February 1967. He was survived by his wife.
About the author: Derek Tague is an OTR researcher (rates are reasonable and negotiable) and would-be author. He's quite humorous, stages panels at the annual Friend of Old-Time Radio convention in his home state of New Jersey, and recently appeared as a contestant on TV's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."