Standard Oil (N.J.)
Sponsors Unusual Format
"The service stations and dealers,
selling `Standard' Gasoline, Colonial Gasoline, and Esso,
are now known as the Esso stations."
Lincoln, Me. (DG)---
On Monday, November 28, 1932, FIVE STAR THEATER made its
debut on NBC's Blue Network under the sponsorship of Colonial
Oil Company and Standard Oil (New Jersey).
It was heard every weeknight at 7:30 PM--- but with a different program
each night. The format had a balance of comedy, music, and drama.
On Tuesday night, Josef Bonime's Orchestra was on the air with singer John
Charles Thomas. Wednesday night featured THE ESSO THEATER, a
dramatic anthology program. On Thursday night, an opera program was aired featuring the Aborn Opera Company.
To close the week out on Friday night, the famous Chinese detective CHARLIE CHAN
was heard.. The highlight of this format was to
be BEAGLE, SHYSTER, & BEAGLE, heard on Monday night. It
was a comedy program starring Groucho and Chico Marx. Groucho played
Waldorf T. Beagle, a somewhat shady attorney, and Chico was Emanuel
Ravelli, his assistant (Chico also appeared as Emanuel Ravelli in the
movie Animal Crackers). Of course, each program informed the
listeners of the sponsor, Esso Gasoline, Essolube
Motor Oil, and Atlas Tires. The listeners also
learned that all Colonial and `Standard'
stations were to be renamed Esso, in tribute to the popular
The idea of this format was sound, but it was destined to failure. The
problem was the program that was to highlight the entire format, BEAGLE,
SHYSTER, & BEAGLE. Of course, Groucho and Chico were part of
the four Marx Brothers of movie fame. In order to get them to speak over
the airwaves, only Groucho and Chico were selected. Since Harpo didn't
speak in the movies, he was completely ineffective for radio, and Zeppo
was the straight man of the group.
From its initial broadcast, the program was in trouble. A man named
Beagle, who was a real attorney, threatened to sue the program for using
his name. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the program's main
character went through a name change. On the program's 4th broadcast
(December 19, 1932), the radio listeners tuned in to FLYWHEEL,
SHYSTER, & FLYWHEEL. It was still the same comedy program as
before, except Groucho's character was now known as Waldorf T. Flywheel. How the name change was explained on the program came from Flywheel's
secretary who was talking on the phone. She said Flywheel was divorced
from his wife--- and he was now using his maiden
name. The name change smoothed the ruffled feathers of the real
Beagle, but the program didn't satisfy Variety, the
entertainment newspaper. There was an article complaining of the loose
talk of adultery among the characters on the program. The article also
stated the program really wasn't suited for young children.
FLYWHEEL, SHYSTER, & FLYWHEEL aired its season ending
broadcast on Monday, May 22, 1933. It was also the final broadcast of
the series. Although it achieved a respectful 22.1 Co-Operative
Analysis of Broadcasting (C.A.B.) Rating
(good for 12th place among the most popular nighttime programs of the
1932-1933 season), it wasn't good enough for Esso. The
problem here was with its petroleum archrival, Texaco, who
sponsored THE FIRE CHIEF PROGRAM starring Ed Wynn as "The
Fire Chief." Like the Marx Brothers program, Wynn's program
was also in its first season. To the embarrassment of Esso,
THE FIRE CHIEF PROGRAM doubled the C.A.B. Rating
FLYWHEEL, SHYSTER, & FLYWHEEL and was the 3rd most
popular program of the 1932-1933 season.
With the demise of the Marx Brothers program, it was
also the end of the entire FIVE STAR THEATER format on NBC(Blue).
Groucho and Chico returned to the movies, and it was back to the
drawing board for Esso.