Minerva Pious: You Were Expecting Maybe…?

Minerva Pious (1903-1979), insomuch as she is remembered at all, is known almost exclusively for playing Mrs. Nussbaum in the “Allen’s Alley” segments on Fred Allen’s radio show. Her character was a hilarious blend of Yiddish dialect and malaprop, a sort of mix of Gertrude Berg (the Yiddish half) and Jane Ace (the malaprop half) and then turned it up to a broader heat, with Allen’s brilliant writing to make it more absurd than the work of those other two fine comediennes. The weekly gag was that Allen would encounter her and say “Mrs. Nussbaum!” and she would reply sarcastically, “You were expecting maybe [mangled celebrity name]?” E.g., “You were expecting maybe Joan Crawfish?” (I just made that one up to prove that I can write fro Fred Allen’s show the minute it gets revived.)

Pious was born in Tsarist Russia and immigrated to the U.S. at age two. Raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut, she participated in amateur theatricals, worked as a stenographer, and then as a writer. According to her NY Times obituary she substituted for Fanny Brice in the 1926 edition of the Ziegfeld Follies when the latter fell ill. She started working on Allen’s radio show in 1933 playing a wide variety of characters on the strength of her facility with accents: in addition to Jewish, she did Italian, German, French, Scotch, whatever was required. She remained with Allen until his show went off the air in 1949. Besides the Fred Allen Show she also worked on The Jack Benny Program, Duffy’s Tavern, The Goldbergs, The Alan Young Show, and shows hosted by Kate Smith, Ed Wynn, and Bob Hope.

Due to a hip condition she did very little screen work, but you can see her in Fred Allen’s movie It’s In the Bag (1945), and on such TV shows as The Colgate Comedy Hour (1950). In the sixties she appeared in two Broadway plays, Dear Me The Sky is Falling (1963) with Gertrude Berg, and Saul Bellow’s The Last Analysis (1964). Her last credit was a 1976 episode of Happy Days; producer Garry Marshall had a soft spot for comedy old-timers.