Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy birthday, Daddy Higgins!

Radio veteran Hanley Stafford was born on this date one hundred and eleven years ago—his real name was Alfred John Austin, but his more familiar moniker came from his birthplace…Hanley, Staffordshire in the United Kingdom. He’s largely forgotten today save for old-time radio fans, who continue to enjoy listening to him display his impeccable talent and range of dialects on such series as The Last of the Mohicans, Tarzan of the Apes, The Cinnamon Bear and The Shadow of Fu Manchu.

But Stafford’s radio legacy no doubt remains that of his portrayal of Lancelot “Daddy” Higgins, the long-suffering father of radio’s most notorious female brat, Baby Snooks (played by Fanny Brice). When Brice first started performing the Snooks character on CBS’ The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air in 1936, Alan Reed—The Man Who Would Be Fred Flintstone—played her constantly annoyed papa, but Brice thought Stafford would make a better foil, and she was 100% right in her instincts. “He was perfect,” Fanny would recall years later, “we didn’t need to hear anyone else.” (Reed eventually wound up with a consolation prize, playing the part of Mr. Weemish—Daddy’s boss—on many of the half-hour Snooks shows in the mid 40s.) Stafford’s proficiency at stack-blowing was outmatched only by his fellow radio thespian Gale Gordon, and Hanley would work alongside Brice in their showcases on Good News, Maxwell House Coffee Time and, finally, The Baby Snooks Show. In addition to his Snooks duties, Stafford also played the role of tyrannical boss J.C. Dithers on the radio adaptation of the comic strip Blondie—and made an indelible impression on those listeners with his constant threat: “Bumstead! I’ll run your little pinky through the pencil sharpener!

Stafford’s radio work kept him pretty busy, so his movie resume is a little thin—but he did manage to land plum parts in films like Swing It, Soldier (1941), A Girl in Every Port (1952), Just This Once (1952), Here Come the Marines (1952), Francis Covers the Big Town (1952) and The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953). He also made the rounds on the small screen, guest-starring on such series as The Millionaire, Maverick, Sugarfoot, Cheyenne and 77 Sunset Strip. But those of us familiar with his radio work know that we only have to hear two words: “Whyyyyy Daddy?” and hilarity is sure to follow. In fact (and here’s where I do a little shameless self-promotion), Radio Spirits has a wonderful CD collection of classic Brice-Stafford moments with liner notes written by your ‘umble narrator. Buying one would make a great birthday gift—so happy birthday, Mr. Stafford!

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1 comment:

Toby O'B said...

I'll have to look for him in some of those old TV shows you mentioned. Your salute was the first I ever heard of him, so thanks for the introduction......