Duffy is just a pigment of Archie's imagination, and Archie was an accident. But have you met Ed Gardner?
MR. ED GARDNER was lying in bed. A sheet halfway covered his manly torso. His dark hair was tousled, and he looked sleepy. He was anything but.
There was a telephone in his right hand. With his left, somewhat awkwardly, he was eating a large plate of fried eggs and bacon, held directly under his chin by his secretary. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, her right hand occasionally putting down notes on her boss’ conversation.
It was obvious that Mr. Gardner was wide-awake and clicking on all 16. It was equally obvious that a public view of him at that particular moment would cause at least 10,000 of his radio fans to fall flat on their faces.
For Mr. Ed Gardner is, about 50' ; of his time, a radio character named "Archie” who presides over an imaginary bistro yclept “Duffy’s Tavern.” In the six years that Duffy’s Tavern has occupied a weekly half hour (currently Wednesday nights) on the networks, proprietor Duffy has never materialized except as the other end of a one-way telephone conversation with "Archie” when the boss calls up to see how things are going at the tavern. The unseen Duffy is one of the most penny-pinching employers in America, and from him "Archie” receives a mere $15 a week.
The thought of "Archie” lying in splendor in a bedroom 30 feet long and being waited on by maids and secretaries, therefore, is such as to make strong men blanch and women shriek. "Archie” has
dreamed of like lushness during his radio musings, of course, and believes he perfectly deserves it; yet thus far in his cyclonic existence it has not come his way. The real life realization of such grandeur, 1 might add, is even surprising fo "Archie’s” alter ego and creator, Mr. Gardner.
It is very difficult to tell Mr. Gardner and "Archie” apart. Even close friends of the former find themselves calling him by the latter’s name. And, when one finally does disassociate the two, it seems rather as if "Archie” had just left the room for a moment, or that Mr. G. will somehow metamorphose into him before your very eyes.
That is confusing, I know. So is the whole situation. ’
To begin with Mr. Gardner looks exactly like the public’s mental picture of "Archie.” He is a big lug of six feet one or two, with broad shoulders, long legs, strong hands, and a face which reminds one somehow of the weather-worn deserts of the Great South West. It is not a handsome face not in a town which boasts Gable and Polver and a few other of the boys—but there is humor in it, kindness, intelligence.
The eyes are brown; the hair is brown; the nose is powerful. It’s a good face. And the best thing about it is its smile. Ed Gardner smiles and suddenly the thing turns into a grin but the grin is "Archie’s.” That’s why the whole business is so baffling.
Then there is the subject of the voices. Mr. Gardner talks exactly as "Archie” does; he too came from "Lon-g’Island.” And while Mr. G. is chatting along about business or some equally
mundane concern,[all at once he is— shall we say?— taken over by "Archie.” He lets fly with a remark which might have been aimed at those other Tavern habit ués, Eddie The Waiter, or Finnegan. There you sit, convulsed.
It isn’t a Jekyll-Hyde act at all. For both individuals are very nice people, guys you would love to have around. The thing is that they live in the same body, and that they switch so much!
One good reason is that, Mr. Gardner brought "Archie” into being. He made him up out of his own past, his experience, and his humor.
“ You’re the Guy”
TT STARTED seven years ago when Ma JL Gardner was asked to produce and write a show called "This Is New York” for the Columbia Broadcasting System. The program was to take listeners wandering about t he city in the company of two characters: a gentleman and a bum. The gentleman was easily cast: Deems Taylor was
perfect. But the bum was a problem. He was to be a typical New York t ype: philosophical, amusing, ambitious, proud.
Gardner wrote some material for auditions and summoned half the character actors in New York for t ryouts. Again and again he listened to his lines in the control room, stopping t he proceedings every few minutes to try to get his own conception of the mug across. And finally one of the aspirant» remarked:
"Look ! we’re wasting our time. You’re the guy !”
He was. He has been ever since.
The show went on the air for only 16 weeks, but through it "Archie” and Mr. Gardner started for glory, which became fiijfy realized with the launching of Duffy’s .Tavern, ( lie summer of 1940.
His success has thus far brought a Bel Air home
which "Archie” says "set me back HOG’s” and a collection of magnificent jewels for his wife, and a private tennis court, and pool all thanks to a motion picture and a radio rating that makes theatre managers and sponsors beam.
Life was not always 1 iko this, and Mr. Gardner does not forget, it. It’s lucky that he doesn’t; if it weren’t for his own past, he never would have thought of "Archie” in the beginning. Still in bed, he begins t he telling of his story under protest.
"When were you born?” you ask.
Mr. Gardner sits up, clutching the linen around him. "Now that,”
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he declares irately, “I will not tell!” He’s serious. “Everyone has his own conception of ‘Archie.’ Some think he’s young, some old. If I told how old I was, a lot of people would have their imaginations jolted.”
Maybe he’s right. You look at him again; he’s probably about 40.
“All right. We’ll skip that. Just begin at the beginning.”
Once Mr. Gardner starts telling his history he enjoys it. He was born Edward Poggenburg— which probably explains why he changed his name to Gardner—in Astoria, Long Island, “Over Zorn’s Butcher Shop.”
He insists that the place of his birth was not quite social register. “Butchers weren’t as important then as they are today,” he adds. “It wasn’t as classy as it sounds.”
Ed’s father was a plasterer. His grandfather was a cabinetmaker. His grandmother was a governess. “We always had a governess in the family,” says “Archie” proudly.
Because his mother had a feeling that he was destined for bigger things than the usualrun of Long Island youth, Edward started taking piano lessons at six from a gentleman named Sladevnik who charged 50 cents a lesson. Thereby hangs one of his most cherished memories.
Mr. Sladevnik’s charges gave concerts. (It says here they were concerts anyway.) Velkert’s Hall in Astoria was the scene of the crime, and, at seven, young Edward was called upon, in velveteen pants and a stiff collar, to give out with a pianoforte masterpiece entitled “Evening Star.” The music lessons stopped soon after, but he later began to fool around with popular melodies. Thus, when he was still in high school, unbeknownst to his mother, he got a job at a saloon named Vopat’s—“playing for pig roasts on Saturday nights.”
You ask how he was good enough on the piano.
“Believe me,” replies “Archie,” “Vopat’s ain’t no Carnegie’s Hall!” Vopat’s, ladies and gentlemen, was the original Duffy’s. It was like a thousand other saloons, with sawdust on the floor, a long bar good for sliding beer glasses down, an ancient, beat-up
piano which had not been tuned for 10 years, and a group of characters to whom it was more home than home.
Ed played the pig roasts until his mother found out about it. That was the end of Vopat’s for him. But years later, when Duffy’s was booming merrily across the air every Friday night, he made a sentimental pilgrimage to his alma mater.
Vopat had sold the place. In his stead behind the bar was a young woman who might have been Miss Duffy—accent and all.
Gardner bought a beer and looked around, tears in his eyes.
At last he asked the young woman if she ever listened to Duffy’s Tavern, thinking to tell her that she actually worker! in it.
“Do I listen?” she exclaimed, vehemently, “I wouldn’t dream of it! Just let me catch that guy! He’s always making fun of Lon-g’Island. And it so happens that I’m from Green Pernt myself!”
Mr. Gardner paid for his beer and left, his secret forever undivulged.
After his mother had jerked him unceremoniously from his piano stool, young Edward went back to high school. But his heart wasn’t in it. He had proven himself in school long before, in his own fashion.
First there had been P.S. 4, a grammar school.
“I wore brass knuckles — which in that neighborhood made me a weakling.”
He also wore white collars on the desire of his mother. This made the Irish, Italians, and other kids sure he was worth a going over. So, at nine, his father, on the sly, taught him to box.
“One day,” recalls “Archie” happily, “I went right through the neighborhood!”
(He’s now teaching his two-year-old son the manly art of self-defense, but in Bel Air I’m not certain that the boy is going to need it.)
Edward was good in school, so good that he won a book for the highest mark in German one semester. He liked arithmetic (it comes in handy now with his income tax) and history and geography and a drawing class. At present he is not a bad amateur painter, though his wife has hidden his paints because he used to start at seven a.m. and not desist until darkness fell. But at the end of two years of high
school he decided that further knowledge was not for him and resigned favor of the business world.
No sane person would attempt chronicle all the jobs held by Mr. Gardner. He was a typist at $4 a week and a dispatcher of engine crews for the Pennsylvania Railway. It was when he was fired from this job that “Archie”— who is well known as the guy who calls something you put your feet on “a stuffed Cossack”— heard his first malapropism.
“Eddie,” the foreman told him off, “I don’t like your tic-tacs.”
Then Gardner became a salesman. He sold typewriters, and later managed a piano store in Scranton, Pa., where he devised hilarious and thoroughly frightful methods of milking customers of their hard-earned dough. One of his plots was to claim someone had “won” a tottering old up right in a “contest,” which could be “traded in” on an instrument priced at $750 and worth perhaps $200. They fell for it every time, he tells you, with the air of Michelangelo discussing the Sistine Chapel.
'1'hen he sold paint (pinched for speeding, he sold his jailers enough paint to do over the jail) and miniature golfcourses. Sometimes he had money; more often he didn’t. And, all told, he figures he has had 112 jobs.
“1 didn’t last long,” he explains, sweetly.
He had been married, meanwhile, to Shirley Booth, an accomplished actress who was later to create the role of Miss Duffy on her hubby’s radio show, and it was through her Ed got interested in show business. The way he got his first stage tieup was typical.
He knew that a gentleman named Crosby Gaige was solid in the theatrical field, and decided he wanted to work for him. He got in to see him by swatting up on yoga to win the confidence of the great man’s secretary, who was hipped on the subject.
“My name is Gardner,” Ed explained when he and Gaige were seated comfortably and he was puffing on one of the great man’s cigarettes. Then, looking down at his fingernails in his best “Archie” manner, “I’ve got a few dollars I’d like to put into a show and I know' you’re the man to pick one. What do you suggest?”
If he had a whole buck on him, he’d probably stolen it, but the great man pricked up his ears, became even more cordial. He loaded his caller with scripts. Relations had really been established.
Three days later Gardner told Gaige the truth. “It was the only way I I could get in to see you,” he added plaintively. And by that time they had become such pals that he got a job anyway doing publicity, of which he knew absolutely nothing.
He must have had almost 112 jobs in show business as producer of plays, as writer, as publicity man, as odd-jobman, as actor, as anything else you want to name. Some paid a salary, most didn’t. But they taught him his profession. At one juncture he went on relief and joined the Federal Theatre, putting on stock bills, which netted him a quick $30 a week and was good until his wife got the lead in “Three Men on a Horse” for $200. The WPA fired him.
“I couldn’t just sit around and be a gigolo,” Gardner says. And “Archie” adds, “I wasn’t as attractive then as I am now!”
So he went into radio with the J. Walter Thompson agency. He produced 'I’IK; Lux 'Theatre when it first went on the air. He did American versions of operas with Deems Taylor. He worked with Burns and Allen, Joe Benner, and made the Ripley and
Val lee shows into paying propositions. He still writes more of his Wednesday night stint than anyone else despite what you may have heard.
Then, at last, came This is New York and “Archie.” And Duffy’s 'Tavern, his own show, which put him into the upper brackets.
What is Mr. Gardner like when “Archie” goes out for a walk and leaves him alone? A combination of absolute screwiness and tremendous sense, strangely childlike yet intensely wise. He is more full of life, of enthusiasm than anyone I have ever known. Talking to him is like leaping around with a South American llama. First it’s painting, then a book he’s read, then the fact that he’s going to Vancouver and Lake Louise this summer for the first time, then the correct way to eat lobster, then a proud account of his tennis lesson that morning, then a quick change to wonder how Miss Duffy’s off-mike husband is doing in the hospital. When you leave him you’re winded. But he is ready for more.
When he goes into a restaurant his table is the immediate centre of a mad group whose dialogue is impossible to capture. And, unlike many comedians, he himself is as funny off stage as on.
Gardner and his first wife were divorced. He is married now to a swell, mad, rather vague blond wench named Simone Hegeman, who was born in Cannes and whose French friends mystify him completely. He calls Simone “Mommie,” and doesn’t care who hears it. And when he speaks of his two-year-old son, Ed Jr., his pride is boundless.
He can be serious and often is. About “the show.” About business. About an old friend who is down on his luck. About the fact that his program just received an award for promoting racial tolerance. Yet most of the time he is “Archie,” delighted with what has happened to him, with the fact that his penurious years have finally paid off, living in a fastpaced, intense world and loving every minute of it.
Life with Archie
The family has a house which causes me to drool quietly. Simone has furnished it, in French blue and deep wine and copper and dark wood. In it is a kitchen big enough for a workout of the New York Yankees; a bar hidden behind a full-sized wall which slides up and down; a game room complete with billiard table and special poker equipment; closets which are so big they have two doors, one for your entrance and one for your exit; a full suite for the master, done in blond wood and custom-made furniture; another for the mistress, which is a dream of mirrors and such things, and a third for the baby. Outside is a championsize tennis court, the swimming pool and enough lawn for an egg-rolling contest.
In all this splendor live Ed Gardner —and “Archie.” And they’re as happy as clams. They have breakfast in bed, dinner in a silver-filled dining room, and lunch by the side of the pool. Their old cronies and their new Hollywood friends drop in, and a phony has never set foot in the place. “Berish forbid!” they say.
They put up pictures of “Archie” done by John Decker and other luminaries, and they collect old circus posters, and they hold tennis parties and fall in the pool. And they always remember where they came from and what brought them there and how broke they were while the pinnacle was being scaled. They’re two of the nicest guys I know’, if