Duffy's Tavern was an American radio situation comedy that ran for a decade on several networks (CBS, 1941-42; NBC-Blue Network, 1942-44; and NBC, 1944-51), concluding with the December 28, 1951, broadcast.
The program often featured celebrity guest stars but always hooked them around the misadventures, get-rich-quick schemes and romantic missteps of the title establishment's malaprop-prone, metaphor-mixing manager, Archie, portrayed by Ed Gardner, the writer/actor who co-created the series. Gardner had performed the character of Archie, talking about Duffy's Tavern, as early as November 9, 1939, when he appeared on NBC's Good News of 1940.
In the early 1940s, Gardner worked as a director, writer, and producer for radio programs. In 1941, he created a character for This Is New York, a program that he was producing. The character, which Gardner played, became Archie of Duffy's Tavern.
In the familiar opening, "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," performed either solo on an old-sounding piano or by a larger orchestra, is interrupted by the ring of a telephone and Gardner's New Yorkese accent as he answers, "Hello, Duffy's Tavern, where the elite meet to eat. Archie the manager speakin'. Duffy ain't here—oh, hello, Duffy."
Owner Duffy was never heard nor seen, either on the radio program or in the 1945 film adaptation or the short-lived 1954 TV series. Archie constantly bantered with Duffy's man-crazy daughter, Miss Duffy, played by several actresses, beginning with Gardner's real-life first wife, Shirley Booth, followed by Florence Halop and, later, by actress Hazel Shermet, and especially with Clifton Finnegan (Charlie Cantor, later Sid Raymond), a likeable soul with several screws loose and a knack for falling for every other salesman's scam. Eddie the Waiter was played by Eddie Green; the pianist Fats Pichon took over the role after Green's death in 1950. Hoping to take advantage of the income-tax-free status of Puerto Rico for future projects, Gardner moved the radio show there in 1949.
The series featured many high-profile guest stars, including Fred Allen, Vincent Price, Mel Allen, Lucille Ball, Joan Bennett, Nigel Bruce, Billie Burke, Bing Crosby, Gracie Fields, Susan Hayward, Bob Hope, Lena Horne, Boris Karloff, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Peter Lorre, Tony Martin, Marie McDonald, Gene Tierney, Arthur Treacher and Shelley Winters. As the series progressed, Archie slipped in and out of a variety of quixotic, self-imploding plotlines--from writing an opera to faking a fortune to marry an heiress. Such situations mattered less than did the clever depiction of earthbound-but-dreaming New York life and its individualistic, often bizarre characters.
Duffy's Tavern was Gardner's creation, and he oversaw its writing intently enough, drawing also on his earlier experience as a successful radio director. His directing credits included stints for George Burns and Gracie Allen, Ripley's Believe It or Not, and The Rudy Vallee Hour. Gardner also brought aboard several keen writing talents, including theatric humorist Abe Burrows (the show's co-creator and head writer for its first five years), future M*A*S*H writer Larry Gelbart, and Dick Martin, who later was the co-host of television's groundbreaking Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.
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Early in the show's life, however, its name, Duffy's Tavern, was changed—first to Duffy's and then, for four episodes, to Duffy's Variety. A staffer for Bristol-Myers—whose Ipana toothpaste was the show's early sponsor—persuaded the company's publicity director to demand the name change because the original title promoted "the hobby of drinking" too much for certain sensibilities. Bristol-Myers eventually admitted the staffer had little to go on other than a handful of protesting letters, and—to the delight of fans who never stopped using the original name anyway—the original title was restored permanently. The name change was often subverted by the Armed Forces Radio Network. When the AFRN rebroadcast those episodes for U.S. servicemen during World War II, the announcer referred to Duffy's Tavern.
Burrows and Matt Brooks collaborated on the screenplay for the 1945 film, Ed Gardner's Duffy's Tavern, in which Archie (with regulars Eddie and Finnegan) was surrounded by a throng of Paramount Pictures stars playing themselves, including Robert Benchley, William Bendix, Eddie Bracken, Bing Crosby, Cass Daley, Brian Donlevy, Paulette Goddard, Betty Hutton, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake and Dorothy Lamour. The film's plot involves a war-displaced record manufacturer whose staff--those not sent off to war--drown their sorrows at Duffy's on credit, while the company owner tries to find ways around the price controls and war attrition that threaten to put him out of business. The movie was a box office disappointment.
The 1954 syndicated TV series, co-produced by Hal Roach, Jr., lacked leading name guest stars.
As a result of the radio program's popularity, dozens of bars and inns across the country adopted the name, such as Duffy's Tavern in Holmes Beach, Florida.
Duffy's Tavern has inspired references in popular culture formats: