Turkey is America’s number one choice for Thanksgiving dinner. And the number one choice for jokes about the poor birds needing pardons so they can survive another year. In honor of all those feathered sacrifices and all those stuffed people relaxing after a turkey dinner, here are a collection of hilarious radio and television shows featuring America’s favorite national bird.
The Great Gildersleeve – Thanksgiving B Ration Book
The Great Gildersleeve radio program was “one of broadcast history’s earliest spin-off programs”. The character of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve was originally a regular on the radio show Fibber McGee and Molly. Gildersleeve was played by Harold Peary and was originally a pompous windbag who always argued with Fibber McGee. But the Gildy character proved so popular that the Fibber McGee and Molly sponsor, Kraft Foods, decided to sponsor a new show starring Gildersleeve. The Great Gildersleeve show premiered on NBC radio on August 31, 1941 and gave Gildy an orphaned niece and nephew to raise. Also in Gildy’s household was his cook, Birdie Lee Coggins. In the first season, Birdie was portrayed as a stereotyped, not too bright black servant but the show changed writers and Birdie’s role also changed to became the real brains running the household for the always befuddled Gildersleeve. In 1950, star Harold Peary was convinced to move his show from NBC to CBS radio. He signed with CBS but his show’s sponsor, Kraft, refused and stayed at NBC. Peary could no longer legally appear on his show so Kraft and NBC replaced him with Willard Waterman. Meanwhile, Harold Peary tried to re-create his Gildersleeve success at CBS with a clone character but his new show only lasted one season. NBC was not having much luck either. When they replaced their Gildersleeve star, they also gave the show a make-over and ditched almost all of the supporting characters. Audiences thought the new Gildy was just not as loveable as the old one. Radio ratings also began to suffer when NBC tried to bring Gildersleeve to the silver screen with Willard Waterman still starring as Gildy. The radio show ended in 1957 while the television version premiered in 1955 and only lasted one season.
The Great Gildersleeve radio show’s “Thanksgiving B Ration Book” episode originally aired November 11, 1942. Gildy gets into all kinds of trouble when he applies for a B ration book. The directions are too confusing, the line of applicants is too long, and Gildy argues with his friend and neighbor Judge Hooker who turns down his application. Gildy also finds confusion when he arrives home. His nephew is struggling to memorize his lines for a Thanksgiving play while his niece tries to sew his costume. Birdie’s church is holding a turkey raffle and talks Gildy into buying tickets. Gildy is positive he is going to win a turkey so he invites neighbors and soldiers from a nearby camp over for a Thanksgiving turkey dinner. Unfortunately, Gildersleeve does not win and the whole town is sold out of turkeys so now he has no turkey for his big Thanksgiving meal. Then Birdie tells Gildy who won the turkey – his friend and nemesis Judge Hooker. Gildersleeve, as played by Harold Peary, is a great character who balances pompous with bumbling. And that giggle. Gildersleeve has an absolutely hilarious and easily recognizable giggle. Cartoon fans may recognize that famous giggle which was parodied in a couple of Looney Tunes shorts. This radio show, which runs just short of 30 minutes, also includes commercials for Kraft Food’s Parkay Margarine as well as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. The audio quality is excellent.
The Abbott and Costello Radio Program – Formal Thanksgiving Dinner
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello is one of my favorite comedy duos. They both started in vaudeville working separately. Their first team up was quite by accident in 1935 when Lou’s then partner became ill and he needed a quick replacement and got Bud. They made the team up permanent the next year and went on to do “burlesque, vaudeville, minstrel shows, and stage shows”. They got their first break in radio as regulars on the Kate Smith radio show in 1938. At first their voices were too similar and radio audiences had trouble telling them apart during their rapid fire repartee. So Lou began using a high-pitched childish voice. The following month they hit it big with the hilarious and now classic comedy routine “Who’s on First?”. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello broke into movies in 1940 and made 36 films together. In 1942, they got their own radio show. During World War II, Abbott and Costello “were among the most popular and highest-paid stars in the world”.
Bud and Lou, in this Thanksgiving radio program from November 23, 1944, argue about Thanksgiving dinner. Lou wants to have dinner at Bud’s house but social-climbing Bud is hosting a party for “the 400”. Poor little Lou does not understand and the two argue about formal dinner manners and Thanksgiving recipes. Lou, of course, gets terribly confused and appalled when he mistakenly thinks “oyster dressing” means he will have to dress a naked oyster and “get down (feathers) off a goose” means he has to ride the poor goose. When the “snotty set” finally shows up for Bud’s formal dinner party, snotty Lady Jennifer thinks her expensive pearl necklace has been stolen. The cops arrive and more confusion and hilarity ensues and Lou adds to it by playing the part of his equally clueless younger brother Sebastian. Abbott and Costello’s 30 minute radio show also includes the musical number “Java Junction” and the song “Sunny Side of the Street” as well as the original commercials for Camel Cigarettes. Bud and Lou end by celebrating Allied soldiers fighting World War II with a “salute to the Yank of the week”. Turkey does not figure large in this episode but it is still funny and the audio quality is excellent.
Tex Avery was an American animator, cartoonist, voice actor, and director who worked during the “golden age of American animation”. The list of fantastic cartoon characters he created or helped develop includes Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Droopy, Screwy Squirrel, and Porky Pig.
Jerky Turkey is a seven minute, Technicolor, theatrical short directed by Tex Avery during his time working at MGM Studios. Released on April 7, 1945, the short is set in 1620 7/8 as the Pilgrims arrive on Plymouth Rock. One rather dopey looking Pilgrim goes hunting and runs into a turkey who has no interest in being anybody’s dinner. There are many nods to the Allied war effort of World War II including the Mayflower sailing with a Navy fleet and Pilgrims lining up to get cigarette rations. There is also a bad joke about Native Americans and a “half-breed” that was censored out during the time while Jerky Turkey was running on Cartoon Network. One running gag has the Pilgrim and the turkey repeatedly running into a bear wearing a sandwich sign advertising “Eat at Joe’s”. The poor bewildered Pilgrim and turkey learn too late that they should have totally ignored that advertisement. The picture quality for all three versions available at the Internet Archive is showing the cartoon’s age. There is blurriness and some fading but audio quality is still good.
The Beverly Hillbillies Ep46 Turkey Day
The Beverly Hillbillies was a sitcom that ran for nine seasons on CBS television. Premiering in 1962, the show shot straight to the top of the Nielsen ratings and remained “among the top 20 most-watched programs for eight of its nine seasons”. The show starred Buddy Ebsen as Jed Clampett, Irene Ryan as Granny, Donna Douglas as Elly Mae, and Max Baer, Jr. as Jethro. The Clampetts were a poor mountain family who struck it rich in oil and moved into an elegant Beverly Hills mansion. I used to love The Beverly Hillbillies for the way the show made fun of both snooty modern folk as well as the much too idealized rural life. Irene Ryan was just 60 years old when she got the part of Granny. She is an absolute blast and so perfect as the spry Clampett matriarch that it is hard to believe she was the producers’ second choice. Originally they had picked Bea Benaderet to play Granny but when they saw Irene Ryan read for the role, everyone, even Bea Benaderet, agreed she was perfect for the role. Bea took the role of Pearl Bodine instead. Irene Ryan was nominated twice for Emmy Awards for the role of Granny.
“Turkey Day” was episode 46 or Season 2 Episode 10 and aired on November 27, 1963. Jed’s banker and neighbor, Mr. Drysdale, gives the Clampett’s a turkey for Thanksgiving. Elly Mae falls in love with the bird while Granny wants to cook it meanwhile Jed can not bring himself to shoot Herman the Turkey. At the Drysdale house next door, Mrs. Drysdale has set up an elaborate scene complete with hired Hollywood actors as Indians (which she treats as stereotypical “Injuns”) for a Thanksgiving photo shoot that her husband really really does not want to do. Then Elly Mae spies the “Injuns” and tells Granny. Granny immediately prepares for an “Injun attack”. The show is in black and white and runs twenty-five minutes. Picture quality is very good and audio is excellent. The “Injuns” also put the joke on stuck-up Mrs. Drysdale and even show the Clampetts they should not believe stereotypes.
Big Cat Rescue – Turkey Day for Tigers
Big Cat Rescue is a 67 acre animal sanctuary near Tampa, Florida. They are devoted to rescuing, housing, and rehabilitating exotic felines and to ending the private ownership and trade of these beautiful cats. Internet Archive has several great short films featuring the rescue’s resident cats going about their daily lives. Turkey Day for Tigers is an action-packed three minutes and thirty-three seconds of tigers as well as leopards, lions, and the white tiger Zabu all chowing down on a special meal of raw turkey. Caretakers toss the featherless turkey carcasses to the big cats who enjoying playing with and tossing around their prey before settling down to gnaw on and enjoy their Thanksgiving meal. The cats are all gorgeous and really, really enjoy their turkeys.
Of course, the best thing is that all these fun Thanksgiving shows are FREE in the Public Domain and available to download or watch online at the Internet Archive. Just click the following links and enjoy! Happy Turkey Day everyone!