Philip Rapp: Begetter of “The Bickersons”

Here’s a fine how-do-you-do.I was about to do a squib on radio/tv/film scribe Philip Rapp (1907-1996), whose birthday it is, but here I find that my publisher at Bear Manor Media Ben Ohmart has edited a published version of Rapp’s memoir!

Why do we care about this guy at all? Classic comedy and vaudeville!

Rapp’s parents were Austrian; he was born in England and came to America as a teenager. He started out in vaudeville as a novelty dancer, then became a joke and gag writer for other comedians in the 1920s. This led to work writing for Eddie Cantor and Fanny Brice on radio in the mid ’30s. Rapp was instrumental in helping Brice create Baby Snooks. He also wrote some dialogue for Cantor’s 1936 film Strike Me Pink, followed by New Faces of 1937 and Start Cheering (1938) with Jimmy Durante. He was also one of the writers on the Danny Kaye films Wonder Man (1945), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) and The Inspector General (1949).

Rapp’s biggest claim to fame came from creating the hit radio sitcom The Bickersons (1946-1951) starring Don Ameche and Frances Langford. This is one of my favorite radio comedy shows in the world, just as it was with audiences back in the day. Based on his own relationship with his wife Mary (who’d also been a vaudeville dancer), it’s a riotously caustic portrait of a constantly feuding couple, and clearly the model for everything from The Honeymooners to Married…with Children. (I would also not be shocked to learn that the name of Oscar’s ex-wife on the sitcom version of The Odd Couple, was an homage to this show). The Bickersons is surprisingly contemporary-sounding, sometimes jaw-dropping. “You said that?!” It’s way ahead of its time, and must have been refreshing to listen to in the squeaky-clean, sunnily “cheerful” era when it debuted.

Following The Bickersons, Rapp naturally went into TV, writing for the sitcom adaptation of Topper (1954-55), as well as the Wally Cox vehicle The Adventures of Hiram Holliday (1956-59). He contributed to the screenplay of Eddie Buzzell’s Ain’t Mishavin’ (1955). Perhaps most notoriously, he wrote the 1959 pilot for the ill-fated Marx Brothers sitcom The Deputy Seraph. His last credit was a 1965 episode of My Favorite Martian. 

If you’re dying to read The Gripes of Rapp, as I am, get your copy here.