By John Hertz: During 1937-1956 a radio program called “The Answer Man” was broadcast over the Mutual Broadcasting System. People sent in some 2,500 questions a day, a million questions a year. The program’s offices were across the street from the New York Public Library, which helped a staff of forty manage the questions. The office kept thousands of reference books and a 20,000-card index.
From the start the Answer Man was Albert Mitchell (1893-1954), although others were Answer Men for particular markets. He went to Paris and U.S. agencies dealing with the Marshall Plan a few years before his death; the program went to re-broadcasts. It ran fifteen minutes, twice a day, in a simple format.
Announcer. Trommer’s White Label, the premium beer that is two ways light, presents Albert Mitchell’s program, The Answer Man. And here he is, the Answer Man.
Mitchell. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Now if you’ll read the first question.
Announcer. Certainly. A West Orange, New Jersey, man asks, “Does the British Who’s Who still list Hitler’s telephone number?”
Mitchell. Yes, it does.
Even people whose questions were not used got a written answer.
This was satirized by the great Ernie Kovacs (1919-1962; his name, incidentally, is Hungarian for smith) as Mr. Question Man, whom people supposedly sent answers, to which he gave – comically fitting – questions.
Steve Allen (1921-2000) did likewise. A version by Johnny Carson (1925-2005) was called “Carnac the Magnificent”, who perceived answers with mystic powers.
In 1964 Merv Griffin (1925-2007) dropped the comedy for the television game-show Jeopardy! That’s not my exclamation mark, it’s in the title.
Some high-school friends and I came up with this ear-joke – I have to give it to you in writing, where it won’t work.
Announcer. The answer is, “It’s good enough for me.” And what is the question, Mr. Question Man?
QM: What was the patriotic cry of loyal Russians from 1585 to 1605?
We knew how to pronounce the name of the regent, then Tsar, usually given in Roman letters as Boris Godunov. Ha ha ha ha ha ha –
Well, so did the great Jay Ward (1920-1989), whose widow I met once at the Dudley Do-Right Emporium while I was looking for a cel of Crusader Rabbit and Ragland T. “Rags” the Tiger to give a rabbi whose initials were A.G.S. and kept signing notes “RAGS”.
Ward after inventing Crusader Rabbit – Ward was Jewish, incidentally, as am I; we have a possibly unfair historical bias against crusaders – grew even more famous with Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Bullwinkle the Moose. The main bad guy in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends – who once cut out the r after the F – was Boris Badenov.
And that’s my contribution under the title above.