Discovering Ford and Hines

It seems madness to me that I only recently heard of the team of Phil Ford (1919-2005) and Mimi Hines (b. 1933).

This duo was bursting at the seams with talent, mixing elements of Burns and Allen, Nichols and May, Martin and Lewis, Steve and Eydie, Blossom Seeley and Benny Fields, and Phil HarrisAlice Faye. Ford, who’d played clarinet in big bands since he was 12, wrote the routines and was the straight man. In 1952 he teamed with Canadian performer Hines, then only 19. The pair were married two years later. Hines was a real find, a kind of cross between Barbra Streisand and Jerry Lewis (for real), but as gorgeous as Elaine May. She wasn’t a Dumb Dora like Gracie Allen, so much as nutty, crazy, and very high energy, and she could sing. Meanwhile, Ford’s sketches were much more imaginative, eclectic, and wide-ranging than the usual male-female crosstalk routines. They were much more like Nichols and May in that respect, though not as smart and satirical. (Although some vaudeville vestiges remained, some not so fortunate. In their best remembered sketch, Hines played an Asian girl in coke-bottle glasses, a racial caricature not unlike Mickey Rooney’s in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The sketch ended with the immortal words “Rotsa ruck”.)

Ford and Hines came along too late for vaudeville. They started out in nightclubs, and got lots of spots on television talk and variety programs including The Tonight Show under both Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, as well as the shows of Ed Sullivan, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop, et al. 1965 was their biggest year. They starred in the film Saturday Night in Apple Valley with Cliff Arquette (!), and went in as replacements for Streisand (Fanny Brice) and Sydney Chaplin (Nicky Arnstein) in the original Broadway production of Funny Girl. You can see many clips of the team in their heyday on Youtube.

In 1972, the act and the marriage broke up, although the pair remained amicable and reunited onstage many times over the decades. For the most part they both continued working separately in touring and regional productions of Broadway musicals, and played nightclubs in Las Vegas and other resorts. Ford passed in 2005; Hines is still with us!

To find out more about the history of variety entertainment, including TV variety, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.