There’s no reason anyone under the age of, say, 90 could or should know the name of Al Pearce (1898-1961) though he was popular enough in his own lifetime, nationally, for as long as a quarter of a century. He’s simply one of those whose splash left no ripples, outside of a miniscule fraternity of old time radio and classic comedy fans.
Originally from San Jose, California, Pearce got his break in show business as a member of the San Francisco Real Estate Glee Club (he was a real estate salesman) in 1928. Though an amateur entertainer at the age of 30, he was a gifted comedian, singer, and banjo player. He scored such a hit in his radio debut that he was given his own show The Happy Go Lucky Hour a.k.a Al Pearce and His Gang on local station KFRC. (It’s less unlikely than it sounds, when you recall how early this was in the history of radio. CBS was founded that same year, and NBC was only two years old). Pearce’s popularity led to his show going national at both networks, and he was constantly on the air through 1947. The two most famous members of his “gang” were Billy House, Morey Amsterdam, and his wife, comedienne/chanteuse Mabel Todd.
Pearce’s radio success did lead to a modest screen career. He had a cameo as himself in Republic’s all-star film The Hit Parade (1937) with Frances Langford and Phil Regan. In 1943 he actually got to star in his own film, again at Republic, called Here Comes Elmer. (Elmer Blurt was a popular character he played on his radio show, a nervous, reluctant door-to-door salesman, whose catchphrase was “Nobody home, I hope!”). His supporting cast included Frank Albertson, Gloria Stuart, Wally Vernon, and Dale Evans (soon to be wife and partner of Roy Rogers). Pearce and Evans co-starred in Republic’s 1945 Hitchhike to Happiness. In One Exciting Week (1946) he was supported by comedy greats Pinky Lee and Shemp Howard. The Main Street Kid (1948) was his last picture. Pearce also took a brief lunge at television, with the CBS variety program The Al Pierce Show in 1952. Audiences were chilly toward it however, and the heavy demands of live television were not for Pearce, though he did give it one last stab with a single program in 1954. He passed away seven later.
For more on variety entertainment, including radio and tv variety, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy see Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.
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