When you think of executives, The Three Stooges aren’t supposed to come to mind. That’s precisely what allowed them to play against type and to their strengths in an appearance on The Camel Comedy Caravan—also known as The Ed Wynn Show, a short-lived comedy program in 1949 and 1950 that was hosted by its namesake, a former vaudevillian actor.
Even though the show lasted only one season and may appear tame by today’s standards, it was groundbreaking stuff at the time. Prominent stars of the day made their commercial TV debuts on this program, which had more than its share of hokey jokes, sight gags and skits—staple of vaudeville acts—from the nascent days of black-and-white television, when fewer than one in four American homes had a set. This show gave Lucy and Ricky their start on the small screen, as well as Hattie McDaniel from the big screen (Gone with the Wind).
The episode under review here was sponsored by Camel cigarettes, but keep in mind that this was 15 years before the surgeon general’s first warning appeared on cigarette packs and 20 years before cigarette advertising was banned on TV and radio entirely. So, when the show begins, there’s a giant curtain with Wynn’s face and a hole cut at the mouth, where cigarette smoke—or something approximating it—blows through. Subtlety had not been invented yet.
Accordingly, the rest of the show caters more obviously to the sponsor’s interests than shows of today. Product placement is shamelessly apparent, with one of the gags involving a store display that Wynn maintains he has been working on for three days—a tower of Camel cigarette cartons that looks like a predecessor for the game Jenga. The display looks like it could topple at any moment, and a stream of customers sends him up the ladder repeatedly for a pack. Wynn’s sure it will fall, but it never does. The customers include William Frawley, better known to decades of TV viewers as “Fred Mertz” of I Love Lucy, though this was at least a year before Lucy and Ricky’s more famous show’s first episode.
Even as Wynn tries to hold the show together, Larry, Moe and Curly keep finding their way to the stage, interrupting and threatening to remake the program, as network executives are wont to do. Wynn tries to get rid of them in mock disgust, to the point of trying to drop sandbags on their heads, but the Stooges keep doing what viewers came to expect from them—eye-poking, head-smacking, slapstick fun. It’s tame stuff, worthy of the Dove-approved seal for All Ages.
The Dove Take:
Journey back to the days of television’s distant past, long before they had any idea how reality shows would infest the air waves.