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  • "I'd like to be a squirrel. With all the nuts in radio, I would be very, very happy."

    Fred and Portland were married in 1928, and in the tradition of Vaudeville, he immediately wrote her into his act. Fred and PortiaPortland had formerly been a "Herd Thespian," a member of the chorus, and performing alone was a new experience. Her role was mostly as a prop to Fred's monologue, but she was a very lovely prop. Together they were able to get big time bookings in New York, all the big time theaters in the East, and toured the West coast with the Orpheum circuit, before getting a call to return to Broadway. The Broadway project was Polly, a Arthur Hammerstein project that despite several rewrites and months of work, never really came together. Allen would later recall a friend in the cast who would be cut, Archie Leach. "What Archie Leach didn't tell me was that he was going to change his make to Cary Grant." Allen would later have success on Broadway in the revue's The Little Show and Three's a Crowd. When Three's a Crowd closed in the spring of 1932 a promised job in a new show failed to materialize.

    "With no immediate plans or the theater, I began to wonder about radio," Allen would later write. Vaudeville, which had been the dominant form of entertainment throughout the country for fifty years, was dying, unable to compete with movies. Radio had been attracting a number of Broadway and Vaudeville comedians. The lifestyle afforded a successful radio act was attractive after the gypsy existence of Vaudeville, so the prevailing attitude was "It's dough- let's go!"

    Linit Bath SoapMany of the Vaudeville refugees, notably Eddie Cantor, Jack Pearl, and Ed Wynn, managed to find success by reprising their vaudeville routines in front of a studio audience. Allen felt this wasn't using the medium to its full potential, as well as designing its own obsolescence. His thought was that a complete story in each episode or series of episodes that better engaged the home listener would have more long term appeal. He planned a series of programs each centered, on a different business background; a bank, a department store, a detective agency. The characters would be employees and others endemic to the locale.

    With a concept and a cast standing by, Allen felt he had everything for a radio program except a sponsor. The Corn Products Company used radio extensively to promote their wares, and was looking for a show for their Linit Beauty Powder. An audition disk was produced to play for the busy president of the company, but the phonograph refused to play past Allen's opening lines. However it was enough to get Allen the job.

    The Linit Bath Club Review made its premiere on Sunday, Oct 23, 1932. From the beginning Allen had trouble getting along with the advertising agency that Corn Products used to supervise their radio productions. The show ran for a twenty six week season.

    After the end of The Linit Bath Club Review, "as I was busy being unemployed," Allen was called to a Madison Avenue advertising agency that was in trouble. They had imitated Allen's format for their sponsor, but the show was failing. After an attempt to save it with a new writer, the decision was made to hire Fred Allen himself to do the show. The result was The Salad Bowl Review, named for the sponsor, Hellman's Mayonnaise. Although mayonnaise and salads are normally seasonal, the show was popular enough that it hung on through the end of December.

    Continue to "Molehill Men & Townhall Tonight" >>