Fame is fleeting.
You remember newsreels, like actually remember them? Mebbe mebbe not. Depends on age mostly.
They were really the only way to disseminate the news visually in a pre-internet and pre-TV era. TV in fact pretty much put an end to them, starting with how that medium woke up to its news possibilities at the time of the Kennedy assassination. I myself vaguely remember newsreels, and the stentorian tones of Lowell Thomas, growing up. Vanished now.
Vanished, too, are some of the people from that world, down the memory hole at the same time.
How many people know Lew Lehr nowadays? (Bonus points for Uncouthers who do–surely there are some in our small but idiosyncratic crowd who do).
Lehr was best known for humorous commentaries inserted into the harder news in the newsreels of the day. You see him pictured with a monkey because of one of his trademarked lines, which you may recall even if you do not recall Lehr: “monkeys is the cwaziest peoples!”
According to a long New Yorker profile from 1939 (excerpt and link for subscribers here), other stock phrases included “Look who’s shpoking!” and “Sometimes your eyes can’t believe your pupils.” “Dribble Puss” is another, and his humorous inserts into Movietown newsreels were known as the Dribble Puss (or Dribblepuss) Parade.
By the way, be careful Google Imaging “Dribble Puss” with safe search off.
According to the 1939 New Yorker profile, Lehr figured he had about 57,000,000 listeners; 45,000,00 movie and 12,000,000 radio fans–quite an accomplishment considering the population of the nation was a little over 130,000,000.
Yet it is kind of hard to find much on the guy nowadays. YouTube has a short video showcasing his inspired silliness–or just plain silliness if you don’t find it amusing.
His fans at the time seemed to have found it inspired. According to The New Yorker, “some of his more ardent devotees are moved to hysteria by the mere sight of his face.” It is quite a face.
An interesting accent, too. It’s exaggerated German, not the more common exaggerated Yiddish done for fun. You hear German accents still in the current day media, but it is usually mouthed by a German character, not an ostensible American. And it typically denotes bad things, and is not played for laughs (Arte Johnson a more recent exception).
To some extent the dying out of the accent in America is a function of the integration of the very large German immigrant population (as with the dying out of of the German restaurant in America). It is probably related, too, the the progressive de-Germanification and suspicion of Germans that started during World War I and continued through World War II.
Anyway, it is hard to find much about Lehr online. I finally found one video of him using monkeys line here.
It is sad that fame is fleeting, and that in another few decades not that many will even recall Uncouth Reflections.