Listen to Penner on the Vallee Show
On July 13, 1933, Joe Penner guested on Rudy Vallee’s popular variety program for Fleichmann’s Yeast. It was his
first major national gig, and within three months of this guest spot (and five others which followed in quick succession),
he found himself with his own program (The Baker’s Broadcast) for the same ad agency (J. Walter Thompson).
This is what Vallee (who proved to be quite the prognosticator) said that night by way of introduction:
“One of the mysteries of show business, to me at least, is the comparative obscurity of Joe Penner. Somehow
he has never had the big break. But I’m sure [he will soon rank] along with the Cantors, the Wynns and the Pearls. I
think Joe is a really great comedian, and I’m sure you will soon agree with me. We welcome Joe Penner.”
Vallee was correct on two counts. Penner was yet to break “big” nationally, but he’d spent more than ten
years honing his stage presence, slowly developing into a first-rate stage performer who’d tasted some success. By 1933,
he’d played the Palace (the goal of every Vaudeville act), had been featured in two Broadway productions (including
East Wind by Hammerstein and Romberg), and appeared in several two-reel comedy shorts for Warner Bros. Vitaphone.
And, later that same year, he joined Cantor, Wynn and Pearl as one of the top comedians in the nation.
Truth be told, Penner considered himself a visual comedian — a pantomimist who relied heavily on bits of business with
his ever-present cigar and the hat perched precariously on the back of his head — and thought his act was all wrong
for radio (another Vallee discovery, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, would disprove this same theory a few years later). The tastes
of the American public were as unpredictable then as now, so we can only imagine his surprise when the biggest success of
his career came via the airwaves.
But no matter the reasons, when Penner strode to the microphone that July evening, his final, meteoric ride was just around