By Frank Barron
The Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters is a group of friendly folks who have worked in radio and/or TV since the early days of broadcasting. The members can be technicians, office workers, et al, but mainly they were pioneers in their field. Some of them were the great producers, comedy writers and comedians who made us all laugh in those halcyon days. So it was fitting that the PPB honored some masters of comedy at their annual Thanksgiving luncheon.
Just for fun, PPB’s chairlady Jeanne DeVivier Brown thought it would be a great idea to have the comedy group known as Yarmy’s Army on the dais to share some laughs. It was an uproarious afternoon at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City, presided over by PPB’s president Sam Luvullo. Veteran comic Pat Harrington acted as the emcee and gave a little background on how Yarmy’s Army came to be. Years ago, actor Dick Yarmy (brother to Don Adams) was battling cancer, so Don’s friends decided to cheer him up by getting together on a regular basis and telling jokes. Lots of good guys joined the group and it grew into about 35 comics who continued meeting after Yarmy had passed. Then they turned their talents towards entertaining at charity events and raising funds for worthwhile causes.
Nine members of Yarmy’s Army were on hand for the PPB event to “Laugh it up,” Harrington, Eddie Carroll (doing his great Jack Benny routine), Arnie Kogen, Howard Storm, Thom Sharp, Jack Riley, Gary Owens, Jim McGeorge and Peter Marshall, described as “the boy singer” of the group. “I’m the unfunny one,” said Marshall, the long-time host of the original “Hollywood Squares.” But there was nothing funny about his voice, which was strong and belted out some great big band tunes. Marshall mentioned he will be appearing at Vitello’s on Dec. 2, and then he’ll be off to a gig at Feinstein’s in New York.
The comics offered comedy routines that were as timely today as they were years ago. And it was all good clean humor. Television could sure use these guys today. Comedy writer Kogan called Yarmy’s Army a “hip, happening group. If you have a hip, you’re happening.” Storm regaled the crowd with funny true stories of the gangster types that used to own the night clubs many of the comics played. One time a comic ducked under a table when shooting started in a gun in the club. The owner asked the comic if the gunman was firing at him. “No? Then get out there and finish your act.”
Sharpe revealed he is the only member not on Medicare, and noted that he once taught driver’s ed. “But today it’s drive-by ed.” Riley joked that his biggest screen credit was for “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” and he’s only with Yarmy’s Army “because I need a credit for this century.” Everyone enjoyed the wonderful wit of Gary Owens, the “Laugh-In” announcer who put “beautiful downtown Burbank” on the map. Owens jokingly referred to the Dodger organization as “an oxymoron.”
Wrapping up the fun-filled afternoon was Jim McGeorge, who is a Clio Award winner for the Laurel and Hardy commercials he made with Chuck McCann. McGeorge’s comedy routine was hysterical, with a lot of “senior humor” such as “The doctor said I can do anything I want—but I better do it this week.” McGeorge left the crowd with some philosophy too. He quoted his good friend John Wooden, who said “Make each day your masterpiece.” Well, the funny guys at PPB certainly did that.
The Pioneer Broadcasters also honored veteran marionette and puppet creator Bob Baker, who was induction into the PPB’s Diamond Circle. Baker still does shows at his downtown Children’s Theater, where he is currently presenting his annual holiday show.