Award-Winning Finalist in the Humor category of the "Best Books 2010" Awards, sponsored by USA Book News
Love is where you find it..." John Bickerson
For the first time in print - finally!! - The Bickersons' Love Letters!
Never before have the infamous love letters between John and Blanche Bickerson seen the light of day. This amazing testament to the strength of marriage at last shows the true depth of feeling the squabbling couple felt for one another. And no. It wasn't always bickering!
Now you can find out how they met. Who they are. What are their backgrounds. And experience, for a change, the love shared between a couple that was obviously made for one another.
Classic Images/Laura Wagner
Ben Ohmart is also the author of the history of one of Philip Rapp’s most enduring creations, The Bickersons: A Biography of Radio’s Wittiest Program, with a foreword by Blanche herself, the late Frances Langford ($19.95, BearManor Media softcover). Debuting on radio’s Drene Time in 1946, the original skits of the squabbling married couple starred Don Ameche as John Bickerson and Frances Langford as Blanche. The skits were described by one critic as “character comedy with teeth in it,” as the two sparred as John tried in vain to get some sleep in between snores. The set-up was usually the Bickersons’ bedroom. John, tired from his long day at work, just wanted to get some sleep, but Blanche, feeling neglected, just wanted to talk—and fight. As played by Langford, known primarily as a singer, but surprising everyone with her great comic flair, the shrewish wife not only built “sheer terror” in her husband, but elicited a strange sort of desperate sympathy:
JOHN: I’m not funny, Blanche—I’m just sleepy.
BLANCHE: What about me? I haven’t slept for so long I’m a nervous wreck. My face is full of lines—I’m losing my youth. You’ll be sorry. When I’ve changed into a withered old crone, you won’t like it so well.
JOHN: Oh, I do too.
JOHN: I mean you’ll never look like a withered old crone. You haven’t changed since the day I married you. You look great.
BLANCHE: That’s not true. You’re just trying to make me feel good.
JOHN: I am not!
BLANCHE: You are too!
JOHN: I am not! I wouldn’t make you feel good if it was the last thing I ever did!
The show was simply unique for the 1940s and ‘50s. John Crosby, in his May 25, 1948 column, Radio in Review, was aware just how The Bickersons changed radio and comedy in general: “In a medium which strives so desperately to spread sweetness and light, in which every wife is an angel of tolerant understanding and every husband dumb but lovable, the bickering Bickersons are a very refreshing venture in the opposite direction.”
It was definitely comedy with an edge:
“Are you satisfied with our married life?”
“Satisfied? I’ve had more than enough.”
“Would you miss me if I ran away?”
“How much would you miss me?”
“How far you running?”
“It wouldn’t hurt you to kiss me good night, you know.”
“Well, if the house ever caught fire which would you save first? The cat, the canary, or me?”
Like the show, the author sets a breezy, light, often funny, tone as he reports on the characters and the main plot (or argument) points of the show. He utilizes his interviews, among them Phil Rapp’s sons Paul and Joel, Frances Langford, Martha Stewart (no, not that one), etc., very well. The many different incarnations of the Bickersons, starring at times Ameche, Langford, Lew Parker, Stewart, Betty Kean, Marsha Hunt, Virginia Grey, etc., are all comprehensively discussed. The most notable actors get small profile write-ups, which was most welcome in the case of the neglected Parker.
The most interesting chapter, however, was the one dealing with Rapp’s lawsuit against Jackie Gleason and his creation of the Bickersons-like Honeymooners. Ohmart’s clear understanding of this case, supplemented by court records, is outstanding writing.
Ohmart effortlessly brings it all together in an entertaining insider’s look at one of radio’s funniest shows. The truth is, most people can identify with John and Blanche as they bicker their nights away. “Still,” writes Ohmart, “somehow, the Bickersons kept together for at least 8 years, and probably a lot longer. It was a real love-hate relationship that, in moments of extreme hardship, showed that John and Blanche really loved one another, despite the snoring, the lack of money and the craziness of all those grasping friends and relatives around them.”