Bradford Browne: Cellar Knight, Nit Wit, and More, Pt. 3

Originally published in the Old Radio Times, 2017

Yet another show for which Browne was responsible was Ward’s Tip Top Club, a variety show with Cookie’s Orchestra. During the summer of 1931 Bert Lown and his Biltmore Orchestra co-starred on the show and provided the musical accompaniment.

Browne’s Nit Wit Hour left the air early in 1931 to provide airtime for a sponsored program but was then brought back that summer. The show disappeared for good when Browne departed WABC at the end of 1931 to go to work for NBC. In December of that year he succeeded Ray Perkins as the master of ceremonies of WJZ’s Three Bakers with Billy Artzt’s orchestra, under the sponsorship of the Continental Baking Co. Another of Browne’s NBC responsibilities was hosting The Colgate House Party in 1934 that featured the singing of Donald Novis. He continued to partner with Llewelyn on the air in a 1933 series sponsored by the Household Finance Corporation, 1934’s The Tastyeast Program over WEAF, and an unidentified show sponsored by General Baking in 1935.

By 1938 Browne had mostly moved away from performing on the air and was working primarily behind the scenes as a studio director for N. W. Ayer & Son, one of the premier advertising companies of the time. Among the shows he worked on for the company were Al Pearce & His Gang in the late 1930s. In 1938 Browne was transferred by the company to its Hollywood office and he would spend his remaining years in California. One of his West Coast responsibilities was producing The Ford Summer Hour in 1940.

During the 1940s Bradford (now just as often referenced as Brad) Browne moved between several jobs, primarily in producer or director roles. Browne went to work for J. Walter Thompson Co. in 1941 where he replaced Tony Stanford as producer of The Gene Autry Melody Ranch on CBS. Two years later in 1943 he moved on to Ruthrauff & Ryan where he produced NBC’s weekly Gilmore Furlough Fun, an early Spike Jones series. Browne was also charged with producing the thrice-weekly Red Ryder, a responsibility he held until the late 1940s. In 1947 Browne replaced Paul Franklin as director of The Zane Grey Show over the Don Lee-Mutual network.

Browne’s radio career appears to have wound down with the end of the 1940s; he has sparse radio credits after that time and not much is known after this period. The family would gain a small amount of fame half a century later when his son, Harry Browne (perhaps named after his brother, the Harry Browne of 1930’s Showboat fame), ran for President of the United States in 1996 and 2000 on the Libertarian Party ticket. Few artifacts of Browne’s entertainment seem to have survived, just a 1930 book about The Nit Wit Hour and some sheet music, the result of writing and publishing hundreds of songs over his lifetime.

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Bradford Browne: Cellar Knight, Nit Wit, and More, Pt. 2

Originally published in the Old Radio Times, 2017

In the case of Browne and Llewelyn, however, there was a good deal of legitimate talent. A man working for Newark’s WGCP overheard the duo and persuaded them to appear on his station, possibly as early as 1925. Browne spent much of his free time hanging around the studios and one day a station announcer failed to appear at his scheduled time so Browne stepped in to cover the duty. Ownership was impressed and Browne was quickly hired to handle some announcing responsibilities, and within a short time he also found himself director of the station’s continuity.

In 1926 Bradford Browne wrote what is believed to be his first broadcast feature, a series called Cellar Knights. It featured him and Llewelyn as Ham and George, two black janitors in a New York City apartment. Within a year or two New York’s WABC, then a part of Alfred Grebe’s Atlantic Broadcasting Company, contacted Bradford and he left for a job at the larger station. He took his Cellar Knights program with him and when WABC became an affiliate of the new Columbia Broadcasting System in 1928, the network began airing the series over its web. A Milwaukee theater bill from this era indicates the two were also performing professionally at least on occasion on the dwindling vaudeville circuit.

Within a short time Browne found himself involved with a number of WABC productions including Cellar Knights, Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (about the life of a hobo), The Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe (a musical production), The Gossipers (about laborers on New York’s Lower East Side), SS Pumpernickel, Aunt Jemima, Then and Now, and The Nit Wit Hour. The latter show brought no small bit of acclaim to Browne and the series ended up running for nearly three years, from early 1929 to late 1931. The kernel of the program was created by Georgia Backus but it was Browne who fleshed out the details and brought it to the airwaves. Browne was so particular about broadcasting comedy that he later claimed to have written six 30-minute scripts before he felt comfortable with the material he wanted aired on the show’s debut. “They don’t care,” Browne explained, “who you are or what you might give them later in the program. It’s what you’re giving them every instant that counts and you either give them a thrill or a laugh a minute or you lose two or three million listeners.”

Browne wasn’t confined to just entertainment programs, however. At Herbert Hoover’s 1929 inauguration Browne was one of the reporters assigned to cover the ceremony for the entire CBS chain. He was regularly called on by the station to report local news stories.

From 1929 to 1931 while both employed by WABC, Browne and Llewelyn were paired up for a number of regular broadcasts. The pair engaged in songs and patter on Three Little Sachs, accompanied by Emery Deutsch and The Meridians. Sponsored by a salad dressing producer, the duo starred on Premier Salad Dressers with their so-called “synchronized conversation.” He and Llewellyn teamed up yet again for a three-times weekly program sponsored by La Palina during which they told jokes and sang as the Senator (Browne) and the Major (Llewellyn). Various musicians provided the music including Freddie Rich and his orchestra and tenors Larry Murphy and Ben Alley. This may have been an early incarnation of their Colonel and the Major routine that would be remembered for many years to come.