Time capsule

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The photographs of Groucho Marx and Danny Kaye recently discovered at the Pabst Brewery Co. headquarters in Milwaukee were taken during tours to the city to broadcast a weekly national radio show.

The photographs were found amid the rubble inside the former brewery offices by Karen and Jim Haertel, who are redeveloping the historic Milwaukee site.

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One of the photographs features former Pabst chairman of the board Frederick Pabst Jr. slicing a multi-layered cake, with icing that declares, "Pabst Centennial, 1844-1944."

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Marx hosted a live broadcast of the "Pabst Blue Ribbon Town" radio program on Feb. 5, 1944, according to J. David Goldin, an old-time radio archivist and the creator of the www.radiogoldindex.com research project.

Goldin, a resident of Newtown, Conn., collects, catalogs and documents old radio programs.

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"’Pabst Blue Ribbon Town’ was a regular radio series. It was a variety show. It was a very popular show," Goldin told Small Business Times.

The Feb. 5, 1944, episode, which aired for the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) from the Milwaukee Auditorium, was devoted to Pabst’s 100th anniversary, according to research by Wayne Boenig, contributor to www.marx-brothers.org/listening/radio.htm, an Internet site devoted to the careers of the Marx Brothers.

The 30-minute show featured Marx and a cast of guests, including Gene Tierney, Fay McKenzie, Leo Gorcey, Ken Niles, Robert Armbruster and his Blue Ribbon Blenders.

In his description of the episode, Goldin said, "The program originates from the Milwaukee Auditorium. The cast visits the Milwaukee of 100 years ago. G. Boone Marx is ‘the roughest, toughest, hombre in town.’ Groucho sings, ‘Don’t Forget There’s A War Going On.’"

Boenig’s written account for the Milwaukee episode states, "Gene Tierney joins Groucho and company in the first of two celebrations of Pabst Blue Ribbon’s 100th anniversary, showing us what life was like in Milwaukee in 1844."

The second celebration for Pabst’s 100th anniversary was actually broadcast one week later from Peoria, Ill., where Pabst had opened another brewery.

In describing the Marx Brothers’ radio careers, Boenig wrote: "During the mid-1930’s, radio began to displace movies as the most popular entertainment medium. After all, it was free, it didn’t require going out and a much broader array of show formats was available, most of which did not require the time commitment of the audience that movies required. This boom in popularity saw a scramble to secure available talent for radio shows, and big-name Hollywood movie personalities were a prime target."

The CBS broadcasts of "Pabst Blue Ribbon Town" aired locally on WISN-AM, according to former Wisconsin Gov. Lee Dreyfus, whose father, Woods Dreyfus, worked at the station from 1927 to 1946 as a producer and station manager.

Dreyfus recalls his father recounting his work with Groucho when the comedian came to Milwaukee.

"By the way, Groucho Marx drove my father nuts. My father was of that breed of that era in radio, where everything had to be timed out exactly, to the second, and Groucho would ad lib," said Dreyfus, who grew up in Milwaukee and now resides in Waukesha.

Although Groucho often strayed from the script, he still nearly always managed to end skits at precisely the right time, Dreyfus said.

"My father thought he was absolutely the quickest, brightest talent he ever met," Dreyfus said.

The fact that such famous performers came to the Pabst offices was a testament to the company’s national presence, according to John Eastberg, historian at The Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee.

"It shows the national pull and prestige Pabst had. They were huge, national advertisers, where everybody recognized the name of the product," Eastberg said.

Kaye was the host of The Danny Kaye Show, which was sponsored by Pabst, in 1945-46.

"It was a variety format. It was comedy. Danny Kaye would sing two songs and then do a skit with the guest star," Goldin said.

"It was not unusual for celebrities to travel to do promotions for their sponsors," said John Gurda, a Milwaukee historian and author of "The Making of Milwaukee."

At the former Pabst brewery, the Haertels also found a photograph of entertainer Donald O’Connor, most famous for co-starring in "Singing in the Rain." In the photo, O’Connor is standing at the entrance of the ladies room in the Pabst headquarters, with his reflection being repeated through a series of mirrors.

Another photo depicts performer Jimmy Durante bellying up to the bar at the Pabst complex with, as per usual, a very animated look on his face.

The Haertels aren’t certain of the contexts of the O’Connor or Durante photos.

Marx, Kaye, O’Connor and Durante all have passed away.

Pabst eventually moved its radio sponsorships out of the variety show format and became the title sponsor of the "Pabst Blue Ribbon Bouts" in 1950.

"Pabst was mostly comedy shows until they switched to boxing. I guess the demographics were more appealing to them, because the people who followed boxing were men," Goldin said.

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