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Wayne and Shuster’s comedy was a hit and, in the fall of 1941, they moved to national radio with CBC’s Buckingham Blended Rhythm Show, which made them a household word in Canada and elicited a congratulatory telegram (“top-notch radio show”) from Shuster’s famous cousin, Joe Shuster, creator of Superman, now pasted into a scrapbook preserved at the National Archives. With the continuation of the Second World War, they left university to enlist in the Canadian Army and were immediately assigned to the Army Show, which toured Canada before leaving to entertain the troops at the front in Belgium, Holland and France in 1944. The Shuster fonds includes script drafts and songs they wrote for the show.
“The (Big) Bank Robbery”, a Wayne and Shuster television sketch.1965. Photo courtesy of the CBC Still Photo Dept. Frank Shuster Fonds.
When Wayne and Shuster returned to civilian life, they returned to CBC radio with the RCA Victor Show, where they signaled their intent to remain in Canada with a skit mocking the temptation to move to the U.S.:
Wayne: “We can make a movie right in Canada. Why bother going to Hollywood?”
Shuster: “You’re right, John. Canada is the place.”
Wayne: “Sure Hollywood. What’s so good about Hollywood?
You work you slave, you kill yourself and at the end of the year, what have you got? A fortune.”
Shuster: “You’re so right.”
They were now so well-known that their show became the Wayne and Shuster Show. For the next forty odd years, Wayne and Shuster produced comedy series and specials on CBC radio and television in Canada and, in a successful move to American television, on the Ed Sullivan Show, where they appeared a record 67 times (all the time continuing to live in Canada). Clippings in the fonds reveal that the intellectual Toronto critic Robert Fulford was a fan: “After years of writing satire, they can still see things in new ways” (1957); and following their debut on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1958, the New York Times commentator Jack Gould enthusiastically greeted them as “the harbingers of literate slapstick on TV.”
Wayne and Shuster’s comedy appealed to an educated audience because it took intelligence and a certain knowledge of history and the classics for granted. Their “Rinse the Blood Off My Toga” sketch, first broadcast in 1955 and re-worked in 1958, spun the assassination of Julius Caesar into a hard-boiled detective story (”I couldn’t believe my ears Big Julie was dead”). Its wordplay presumed a knowledge of Latin:Wayne (the private eye, Flavius Maximus) asks Shuster (Brutus) to show him the corpus delicti.“The what?” asks Brutus.“Whatsamatter don’t you understand plain Latin?”, responds Flavius, “Where’s the body?”Searching for clues, Flavius goes to a bar and says “Gimme a martinus.”To the bartender’s “You mean martini?”, he snaps “If I want two, I’ll ask for them.”
Their 1958 Shakespearean baseball sketch mocked the Shakespeare craze in Stratford (Ontario) following the founding of the Stratford Festival there, and presumes an acquaintance with Hamlet and Macbeth. In their account of a Stratford baseball game, batter MacDuff gets “a hit...a very palpable hit”, says Shuster, but the hit is declared foul and Wayne protests to the umpire: “So fair a foul I have not seen....Get thee a pair of glasses. Get thee to an optometrist.”He then gets beaned by a baseball and goes mad, prompting Shuster to lament: ”Now cracks a noble head. Goodnight sweet catcher. Flights of shortstops sing thee to thy rest.”
Wayne and Shuster’s radio and television series incorporated musical variety to appeal to a broad audience. In addition to the duo’s comedy sketches, the programs featured guest performances by singers and, when the show moved to television, dancers as well. Wayne and Shuster also wrote and performed their own songs. Their lyrics and voices made the songs well suited to singing along by any audience members so-inclined. Unlike today’s often off-colour and biting comedians, Wayne and Shuster provided entertainment for listeners and viewers of all ages.
Kinescopes and videotapes included in the Shuster fonds, as well as others acquired from the CBC by the National Archives, show how various comedy routines and styles developed over time. Wayne and Shuster were not shy about recycling their ideas for newer audiences. In 1957, for example, they put their own comedic spin on the Cinderella story in a sketch called “Cinderelvis”. In 1976, they retold the story as “Cinderelton”. “The Brown Pumpernickel”, a spoof of The Scarlet Pimpernel, was redone over the years. Spoofs of television commercials made frequent appearances on their shows, demonstrating Wayne and Shuster’s willingness to poke fun at popular culture. Their first comedy LP, issued in the 1960s, had a number of favourites familiar to their television fans, including the Shakespearean baseball sketch.
At a rough count, there are 450 scripts in the Frank Shuster fonds, all written by Wayne and Shuster and many heavily annotated and revised in Shuster’s hand. These include bound radio and television scripts documenting the RCA Victor radio show 1946-1948; the Wayne and Shuster radio shows 1947-1955; the Wayne and Shuster television show sponsored by Christie Brown 1954-1956; and the CBC Wayne and Shuster shows and specials 1956-1989. There are also unbound radio and television scripts for the Javex Wife Preservers 1941-1942; Co-eds and Cut-ups 1941; Buckingham Blended Rhythm Show 1941-1942; Army Show 1942-1943; Johnny Home Show 1945-1946; Chelsea at Nine 1957-1959; Dinah Shore Show ; Ed Sullivan Show 1958-1969; Holiday Lodge 1961; Red Skelton Show 1961; Wayne and Shuster in London 1962; and many others.
Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster performing in a CBC radio broadcast of the Army Show. Ottawa, Ont. January 21, 1944. Department of National Defence Collection.
The radio scripts are especially valuable because relatively few recordings of the Wayne and Shuster radio broadcasts are known to exist. The sound recordings donated by Frank Shuster include tape copies made from discs of 12 Wayne and Shuster radio shows broadcast in 1954. In the large disc collection donated to the National Archives by the CBC, there are fewer than a dozen recordings of additional shows from the series, dated between 1947 and 1953. As for the radio programs the comedy team did for privately-run radio, no recordings are known to exist.