Monday, June 25, 2007

It Pays to Be Ignorant

On this day in 1942 America heard the first broadcast of "It Pays to Be Ignorant," a radio comedy show which maintained its popularity during a nine-year run on three networks for such sponsors as Philip Morris, Chrysler and DeSoto. The show was a spoof on the authoritative, academic discourse evident on such intellectual panel series as Quiz Kids and Information Please. The beginning of the show parodied "Doctor I.Q.". With announcers Ken Roberts and Dick Stark, the show aired on Mutual from June 25, 1942, to February 28, 1944, then on CBS from February 25, 1944, to September 27, 1950, and finally on NBC from July 4, 1951, to September 26, 1951.

Harry McNaughtonThe satirical series featured "a board of experts who are dumber than you are and can prove it." Tom Howard was the quizmaster who asked questions of dim-bulb panelists Harry McNaughton, Lulu McConnell and George Shelton. The Irish-born Howard (1885-1955) and Shelton (1885-1972) had previously worked together as a team in vaudeville and comedy film shorts, while McConnell (1882-1962) and British comic McNaughton (1896-1967) had both appeared in many Broadway musical comedies and revues between 1920 and the late 1930s.

Howard's questions often had the answer obvious in the query ("What town in Massachusetts had the Boston Tea Party?") or were common knowledge:

"Can you tell me the man's name children look for on Christmas Eve?"
"How long does it take a ship to make a five-day journey?"
"What animal does a blacksmith make horse shoes for?"
"For what meal do we wear a dinner jacket?"
"What is the habitat of the Bengal tiger?"
Some questions were just plain stupid:

"Do married men live longer than single men?" ("No, it only seems longer.")
"On what side do you milk a cow?" ("The outside.")
Even so, the panelists would inevitably get the answer wrong, providing outrageously funny answers instead, followed by an even more uproarious rationale for their answer. The show had a number of running gags which became catch phrases with listeners such as McNaughton's "Now we're back to Miss McConnell again" and Shelton's "I used to woik in that town."

The original radio cast brought the show to television in 1949-51, first on CBS and then on NBC. In the 1973-1974 syndicated TV version, host Joe Flynn queried panelists Jo Anne Worley, Billy Baxter and Match Game-regular Charles Nelson Reilly.
It Pays to Be Ignorant panelists ponder question, "What season of the year do you get Spring fever?" (l-r) Tom Howard, Harry McNaughton, Lulu McConnell, George Shelton.

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