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August 25: The Jewish Will Rogers

August 25, 2014
228“Meyer the Buyer,” a radio show based on Harry Hershfield’s cartoon character, Abie the Agent, premiered on this date in 1932, starring Alan Reed, Sr. (Herbert Theodore Bergman), who would later supply the voice for Fred Flintstone. The show lasted only sixteen weeks, while Hershfield’s strip ran from 1914 to 1940. Hershfield’s career as a cartoonist began in 1899 at age 14 with a comic strip about a dog, “Homeless Hector,” for the Chicago Daily News. “Abie the Agent,” his best-known strip, dealt with urban Jewish life, with many Yiddish-flavored gags. Hershfield entered radio in 1940 and earned the nickname, “the Jewish Will Rogers,” with “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One” and “Can You Top This?” among other shows. He also hosted the first demonstration of home television, broadcast in New York on August 20, 1930, a half-hour show screened in a store in the Hotel Ansonia, in the Hearst building, and in a home at 98 Riverside Drive, with a signal that traveled about six miles. “New York is a city where everyone mutinies but no one deserts.” —Harry Hershfield