"Bar Month" at OnMilwaukee.com is back for another round! The whole month of February, we're serving up intoxicatingly fun bars and club articles -- including guides, bartender profiles, drink recipes and even a little Brew City bar history. Cheers!
Today marks the 64th anniversary of Groucho Marx's live broadcast of his "Pabst Blue Ribbon Town" radio program from Milwaukee.
Marx came to Milwaukee on Feb. 5, 1944, to broadcast his show from the old Milwaukee Auditorium. His special guest in that episode was actress Gene Tierney.
In 2004, Small Business Times conducted research to provide context for several historical photographs found at the former Pabst Brewing Co. headquarters in Downtown Milwaukee.
Selfishly, solving the mystery of the story behind the photographs and tracking down a recording of that Milwaukee broadcast was one of the coolest moments of my journalism career.
Jim and Karen Haertel, the original investors in the Pabst Brewery site redevelopment site, found the photographs in 2004 amid the rubble that was left behind when the owners of Pabst fled Milwaukee in the middle of the night.
The old photographs included images of Marx, actor Danny Kaye and others as they entertained Frederick Pabst Jr., former chairman of the board of the Milwaukee brewing company. In one of the photos, Marx is seen without his trademark fake bushy mustache and eyebrows.
But what was Marx doing at the Pabst brewery?
Several weeks of research later, I discovered that the radio episode, which aired for the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) and was broadcast locally on WISN-AM, was devoted to Pabst's 100th anniversary.
The validation came from East Coast old-time radio aficionado Wayne Boenig, who also provided a copy of the original radio broadcast to SBT.
The dialogue of the old radio show is classic Groucho schtick:
Co-star Fay McKenzie says to the host, "Oh Groucho, look, there's Lake Michigan! My, it's choppy today. See all the whitecaps."
In his trademark sarcastic tone, Groucho replies, "Yes, isn't it wonderful? You get near the place where they make Pabst beer, and even the lake has a head on it."
The Milwaukee crowd erupts in laughter and applause.
Announcer Durward Kirby then interrupts the skit to promote Pabst and its 100-year anniversary, in a pitch that seems eerily ironic today, given the brewer's demise a half-century later.
"We don't want to get too serious at our 100th anniversary celebration here at Milwaukee. It'll be a long, long time before our next 100-year party. But there's one thing we do think we ought to say. For a full century, our company has grown and prospered because we've always brewed and sold quality beers. Beers that were honestly made. Beers that were honestly sold. Premium beers that have made fast and loyal friends all over the world," Kirby tells the audience.
"Today you enjoy beer that all our 100 years of brewing skills can produce. Pabst Blue Ribbon, a delicious blend of 33 fine brews with a smooth, satisfying flavor that only full-flavor blending can achieve. And now, as we enter our second hundred years, we want to reaffirm our pledge and our promise, that whenever you buy Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, wherever you buy it, it will continue to be the finest beer we know how to make. Rich and smooth and mellow. A master blend of fine ingredients and a century of skill. A beer to order with confidence and served with pride. That is Pabst Blue Ribbon."
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes in Milwaukee and is past president of the Milwaukee Press Club. BizTimes provides news and operational insight for the owners and managers of privately held companies throughout southeastern Wisconsin.
Steve has won several journalism awards as a reporter, a columnist and an editor. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
When he is not pursuing the news, Steve enjoys spending time with his wife, Kristi, and their two sons, Justin and James. Steve can be reached at email@example.com.