First heard on radio in 1938, Bob Hope had one of radio’s most popular comedy shows. The wisecracking, the fast one-line put-downs (usually of himself), the deadpan, dry style delivers with absolute precision were Bob’s trademarks. His Pepsodent-sponsored comedy show on NBC radio garnered millions of weekly listeners. Each Summer Hope and his gang took Summer vacation and NBC had its hands full. As a result, they would try to find a suitable replacement for 13-weeks.
In 1949, NBC turned their eye toward Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis as Hope’s Summer replacement. Dean and Jerry were popular nightclub performers with sold-out crowds everywhere they play. In conclusion, NBC offered them Bob Hope’s vacated timeslot and commits to one of the biggest build-ups ever given to a pair of newcomers to radio comedy. Dean and Jerry didn’t disappoint and proved that they could dish out their distinctive brand of zanyism over the airwaves in a big way.
Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin Were a Dynamic Duo
The Martin & Lewis Show was more than just Martin’s golden voice and Lewis’ “kidding-on-the-square.” The network insisted on a weekly celebrity guest which includes Lucille Ball, Henry Fonda, Bing Crosby, and even Bob Hope himself.
The weekly budget was a pricey $10,000. After a short while, the series attracts a sponsor. Therefore, executives at NBC pat themselves on the back for establishing a hit show. As a result, that also became a financial success. With that kind of budget, NBC could afford Norman Lear, the comedy genius later responsible for All in the Family and Sanford and Son, as writer.
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The success led to this dynamic duo to appear as monthly hosts for NBC’s Colgate Comedy Hour. However, NBC used the television program to cross-promote the radio program. It would even recycle some of the radio sketches for the television counterpart.
Film producer Hal Wallis jumps on the Martin & Lewis bandwagon signing the boys to a multi-picture film contract. Their film comedies were box office gold catapulting them to mega-stardom. With meteoritic success on radio, TV, and films, Martin & Lewis proved they are masters of all three commercial media.
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Carl Amari is the producer/host of the nationally-syndicated nostalgia radio series “Hollywood 360” and the curator of the Classic Radio Club at www.classicradioclub.com. This article has a sponsorship with Classic Radio Club.