Friday, September 5, 2014

My Visit to Duffy's Tavern

There’s no secret about it. One of my favorite radio programs is Duffy's Tavern. Hoping to finish a book about the popular radio program, ten years in the works, I accepted an invitation to Ed Gardner Jr.’s residence. It was Eddie’s father who created the radio program, earning the nickname “Archie.”

Duffy's Tavern aired on CBS and NBC from 1940 to 1951, earning the reputation of making fun of Hollywood celebrities. From Veronica Lake, Edward G. Robinson, Ida Lupino, Peter Lorre and well… you name them and they were probably a guest on the program at one time.

Spending a few days at Ed Gardner Jr.’s house was as delightful as I could have possibly imagined. We shared a number of talks during my visit, a more informal way of getting answers to questions I might otherwise forget. Yes, we could have talked over the phone and exchanged questions and answers in the form of an interview but this was more relaxed. Eddie (he preferred to be called) remembered doing an interview for someone once and after the phone call concluded, thought of stories he wished he could have told. Here, he recalled moments of his childhood two and three days after my arrival and by the time I went back home, he was satisfied that he did not overlook anything.

Autographed photo to Ed Gardner, one of many he collected.
Through our talks I learned about the intimate side of his father. Who knew that Ed Gardner never liked John Wayne? (Yes, he was never on the radio program). Who knew that Gardner purposely collected autographs on glossy photos while he was a producer of the Good News program from 1937 to 1940? Who knew that Gardner died almost penniless? And I finally learned how that famous apron, signed by a hundred celebrities, ended up in the hands of a private collector. It seems after Ed Gardner died in 1964, his widow, Simone, kept the apron. During the 1970s or early 80s, she had Christie’s auction it off and her only percentage totaled $15,000. She should have gotten more. Eddie recalled helping his father with Duffy's Tavern scripts by reading them and scratching out the jokes that were “corny.” Eddie was there when his father died in his arms at the hospital, and how he wished he had been a better son for his father (what son doesn’t wish that after their father passes on?).

Martin Grams and Edward Gardner Jr.
Walking on the same tightrope, but from the opposite direction, Eddie was surprised to learn things about his father he did not know. And he was quick to call his uncle and tell him the news. Eddie was surprised to learn how his father was once singled out on the floor of the U.S. Senate for a joke that one U.S. Senator did not find funny when it was brought to his attention. Eddie knew very little of Shirley Booth, his father’s first wife, and enjoyed learning a little more about her and their rocky relationship. Eddie did, however, share the romantic story of how his mother and father first met. “She was sun bathing on the beach at the Hamptons, Wyborg,” Eddie recalled. “It’s been decades now so if that was not the beach, at the Hamptons, where father rented a house a block away from Wyborg, it was a very desolate and romantic setting worthy of nothing. He saw her lying there and was taken by her beauty. He was a fast and smooth talker and she went out with him. That’s how Simone Hegeman met my father and you look at that photo and you can see how she caught his attention. They got married soon after and good-bye Shirley Booth.”

Ed Gardner and wife Simone.
Eddie was the oldest of two brothers. His younger brother, Stephen, was born four years later. They spent much of their childhood in Puerto Rico, where the Gardners lived. Discovering a tax loophole, Ed Gardner sold their home in Bel Air and moved to the islands. The last three years of Duffy's Tavern was recorded in Puerto Rico and shipped to NBC in the states. When they returned, they lived in a new home in Benedict Canyon.

But most important, scanning all those scripts and photographs will help preserve what Ed Gardner did for radio, including the Duffy's Tavern series. Time was not kind to many of the photographs, suffering both water damage, mold and other factors that age glossy paper of the time. A few were rolled up in the shape of tubes so we had to unravel them carefully and are now being restored digitally. Eddie now has restored copies on CD and DVD. And my copies, off-site backups, ensure they are preserved. (And yes, I sent a copy of the same discs to another friend so they are definitely backed up.) Radio scripts received the same treatment, now in jpg and pdf format (especially for the “lost” episodes for which recordings are not known to exist).

Example of a photo that needs restoration.
We also enjoyed a couple ballgames, toured the local scenery where folks have some beautiful log and stone homes, and soaked in a local hot spring to intake the beauty of nature. A refreshing trip indeed. After spending more than ten years researching Duffy's Tavern, I can state that the additional information not only filled in 90 percent of the blank spaces I had in my manuscript, but the book will be fantastic after one more trip for research next week.

Shameless plug for my up-coming Duffy's Tavern book? Yeah. But I’d be a fool not to use my blog to promote a book and the photos and trivia offered above are certain to be fascinating to any old-time radio fan.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article Martin! I am really looking forward to the book and that is so cool you were able to have such a great experience with visiting Ed's son. Out of curiosity, throughout the course of your research, have you heard tell of any lost copies of Duffy's Tavern episodes popping up?

busterggi said...

Got your book on this coming in this week - it'll join the bunch of others of yours in my library - thanks for all the great otr writing.

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