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Happy Birthday, Victor Moore!

In the 1945 Warner Bros. cartoon Ain’t That Ducky, Daffy Duck encounters a most unusual hunter: a sportsman who looks and sounds like veteran comic actor Victor Moore.  As you can probably guess, there is a simple explanation for this—the hunter is Victor Moore, born Victor Frederick Moore in Hammonton, New Jersey on this date in 1876.  Friz Freleng, the director of Ducky, approached Victor about appearing in the Daffy short and when the comedian said yes, had a caricature of Moore prepared to show him how he’d look in the proposed cartoon.  “I love it,” Victor enthused, “if you’d just put more hair on my head.”  Moore lent his own voice to the animated project…and refused to charge Warner’s a cent.

Ain’t That Ducky was just a small entry in the logbook that comprised Victor Moore’s lengthy stage and screen career, which purportedly got underway with a small non-speaking role in an 1893 Boston Theatre production of Babes in the Woods.  Moore made his Broadway debut in Rosemary (1896) and achieved major fame and acclaim as “Kid Burns” in George M. Cohan’s Forty-five Minutes from Broadway in 1906. (Victor would reprise his role in Cohan’s sequel, The Talk of New York, the following year.)  In addition to hits like The Happiest Night of His Life (1911), Victor was a major success on the vaudeville stage.

The story goes that after undergoing an appendectomy in Los Angeles in 1915, Victor Moore decided to try his luck in motion pictures.  Assisting Victor in this goal was screenwriter Beatrice DeMille (a co-founder of Paramount Pictures), whose son Cecil directed the comedian in two short features, Chimmie Fadden and Chimmie Fadden Out West (both 1915).  After a series of five-reelers for the studio, Moore appeared in one-reel shorts like The Wrong Mr. Fox (1917) as part of Paramount’s “Klever Komedies” franchise until 1918, when he elected to return to the stage. Except for the occasional foray into the flickers like 1926’s The Man Who Found Himself, Victor concentrated on productions like Oh, Kay! (1926), Hold Everything! (1928), and Heads Up (1929).

1931 was a particularly memorable year in Victor Moore’s storied career amongst the footlights.  As “Vice President Alexander Throttlebottom” in George and Ira Gershwin’s satirical musical Of Thee I Sing, Victor scored one of his biggest Broadway successes.  Sing was also the first of a long string of productions to feature William Gaxton (as “President John P. Wintergreen”) as Moore’s comedic partner; the two men would reprise their roles in the Gershwins’ less-successful sequel, Let ‘Em Eat Cake! (1933).  Victor and William would continue their double act antics in Anything Goes (1934), Leave it to Me! (1938), Louisiana Purchase (1940), Keep ‘Em Laughing (1942), Hollywood Pinafore (1945), and Nellie Bly (1946).  The duo became so well-identified that they co-starred with Mae West in the 1943 motion picture comedy The Heat’s On and for two seasons (1942-44) were semi-regulars on Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy’s Chase & Sanborn radio program.

What Victor Moore and William Gaxton were to the stage—Moore and Helen Broderick were to motion pictures.  Successfully teamed in Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ 1936 musical Swing Time, the couple would grace five additional features for R-K-O, notably We’re on the Jury (1937) and a movie reviewed here on the blog, Radio City Revels (1938).  These film appearances would lead to their own starring NBC/CBS radio program, Twin Stars of Mirth and Laughter, in January of 1937.  Victor’s radio resume at this time also included guest shots on Rudy Vallee’s Fleischmann Yeast Hour and The Camel Caravan.  Moore’s finest hour onscreen would also be released around this time: Make Way for Tomorrow (1937), a Leo McCarey-directed heartbreaker about an elderly couple (Moore, Beulah Bondi) let down by their kids when they need them the most.

Though William Gaxton would reprise his stage role of “Jim Taylor” alongside Victor Moore’s “Senator Oliver P. Loganberry” in a February 22, 1943 dramatization of Louisiana Purchase on radio’s The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre, Gaxton forfeited that part to Bob Hope when Purchase got the silver screen treatment in 1941.  Victor and Bob would be part of the all-star cast of Star Spangled Rhythm the following year.  Among the big movies to feature Moore in the 1940’s: Riding High (1943), True to Life (1943), It’s in the Bag! (1945; star Fred Allen introduces him as “Grandma’s glamour boy”), Ziegfeld Follies (1946; “Pay the two dollars!”), It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947), On Our Merry Way (1948), and A Kiss in the Dark (1949).

Victor Moore was quite busy on radio; he guested on such favorites as Amos ‘n’ Andy, G.I. Journal, The Harold Lloyd Comedy Theatre, Lincoln Highway, The Lux Radio Theatre, Paul Whiteman Presents, Radio Almanac, The Radio Hall of Fame, The Raleigh Room, The Texaco Star Theatre (with Fred Allen), Theatre of Romance, and The Victory Theatre.  After a series of guest appearances on The Jimmy Durante Show during the 1947-48 season (including a three-week period while ”the Schnozzola” recovered from surgery), Moore became a regular, described as “the Lothario of the lumbago set.”  Rounding out Victor’s radio resume: Command Performance, Family Theatre, Hallmark Playhouse, The Kraft Music Hall (with Al Jolson), The Martin and Lewis Show, Philco Radio Time (with Bing Crosby), The Railroad Hour, and The Sealtest Variety Theatre.

Victor Moore returned to the Broadway stage in the 1950s in productions like On Borrowed Time (1953) and Carousel (1957) while making time for live television on shows frontend by Milton Berle and Ed Wynn.  Victor also had two of his funniest film showcases during this decade. In We’re Not Married! (1952), he’s the Justice of the Peace whose boo-boo puts the six story vignettes in motion, and he’s a delight as a plumber in his cinematic swan song, The Seven Year Itch (1955).  Moore left this world for a better one in 1962 at the age of 86.

Despite Victor Moore’s popularity with Jimmy Durante’s audiences, Jimmy Durante Show director-producer Phil Cohan never felt Moore belonged on the program.  We’re going to let you be the jury by inviting you to check out the birthday boy on our CD collection The Jimmy Durante Show.  You’ll also find Victor and his confederate William Gaxton on our Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy set Homefront Charlie, available in our digital downloads store!

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