Thorne Smith, Jr. (1892-1934) created the Cosmo Topper character in 1926
Smith's character Topper became immortalized with the 1937 M-G-M film starring Cary Grant, Constance Bennett and Roland Young
Roland Young returned as Cosmo Topper in Topper Takes A Trip (1938) for the Hal Roach Studios
Roland Young's swan song as Topper in film came with 1941's Topper Returns
Premiere spot ad for The Adventures of Topper on June 7th 1945
General Foods sponsored The Adventures of Topper featuring Post's Toasties and Maxwell House Coffee
The cast of CBS-Television's Topper which ran from 1953 to 1955. (Robert Sterling, Anne Jeffreys, Leo G. Carroll, Lee Patrick, and 'Buck' )
(James) Thorne Smith, Jr.'s entertaining 'Cosmo Topper' character was something of a departure for the young copywriter and poet. Thorne Smith, the junior, was a product of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland--quite literally, rather than figuratively. His father was Commodore James Thorne Smith, Sr., who would go on to serve as a supervisor of the Port of New York throughout much of World War I.
Smith, the junior, experienced a turbulent childhood marked by the death of his mother when he was four, being raised by a succession of extended family members and boarding schools, and suffering recurring bouts of childhood pneumonia. Thorne Smith the junior enlisted in the Navy in 1917 after graduating from Dartmouth College. Working primarily as a journalist for the Navy, Smith eventually rose to become the editor of The Broadside, a popular Navy journal.
Upon his discharge from the Navy in 1919, Smith took a position as a copywriter for an advertising firm--a profession he'd return to several times during his relatively brief career. Almost immediately beset with a bout of flu lasting several months Smith continued writing mostly poetry, his principle passion in life. Living in Greenwich Village's West End, Smith eventually met and eloped with Celia Sullivan. A year later, Commodore Smith passed away, leaving the bulk of his estate to Thorne the junior.
During Smith's remaining fourteen years he and his wife were blessed with two daughters, several bouts of indebtedness, and Smith suffered recurring bouts of illness. Smith's fantasy character Cosmo Topper ushered in a series of three 'Topper' novels between 1926 and 1934, the year of Smith's death:
- 1926 - Topper
- 1932 - Topper Takes A Trip
- 1934 - Topper Returns
All three of Smith's 'Topper' novels were made into popular films of the era:
- 1937 - "Topper" for M-G-M
- 1938 - Topper Takes A Trip for Hal Roach Studios
- 1941 - "Topper Returns" for Hal Roach Studios
1937's "Topper" caught the imagination of North America's Cary Grant fans with Grant appearing as George Kerby, one of the two ghosts that continually bedeviled banker Cosmo Topper with their shenanigans. Marion Kerby was portrayed by Constance Bennett and Roland Young starred as Cosmo Topper. A big budget M-G-M production, Topper was an immediate hit with Topper Takes A Trip following only a year later, this time for the Hal Roach Studios--sans Cary Grant. Topper's last appearance in Film came with 1941's "Topper Returns", this time sans both Constance Bennett and Cary Grant, but introducing Joan Blondell as Topper's ghostly nemesis.
The Topper franchise airs over Radio for General Foods
Topper, originally slated for General Foods' Maxwell House Coffee sponsorship went with General Foods' Post Toasties instead [from the Billboard of June 16th 1945)
Roland Young, having appeared in all three 'Topper' films was a natural choice for the role of Cosmo Topper in the Radio production. Young had also appeared as a regular cast member in The Dinah Shore Show. And indeed it was the summer hiatus of The Dinah Show Show, sponsored by General Foods, that brought The Adventures of Topper to Radio as a summer replacement for the Dinah Shore vehicle.
In an even more ironic twist, the two products that General Foods promoted throughout the Summer run of The Adventures of Topper over NBC-Radio were Post's Toasties Corn Flakes and Maxwell House Coffee. Thorne Smith, Jr.'s mother was the granddaughter of Don Jose Maxwell, the namesake of Maxwell House Coffee. And so it was that Thorne Smith's maternal great-grandfather would in a round about way end up sponsoring Thorne Smith's most memorable character over Radio twelve years after Smith's death.
The Adventures of Topper premiered over NBC on June 7th, 1945 starring Roland Young as Cosmo Topper, Hope Emerson as Topper's wife Malvina , and Paul Mann and Frances Chaney as the ghosts of George and Marion Kerby, Topper's twin nemeses. The series was originally scheduled for the thirteen weeks that The Dinah Show Show was on vacation. Directed by Kirby Hawks and written by Stanley Wolf, the Radio version of the Topper franchise capitalized on the popularity of the original Topper film starring Roland Young as Topper and Cary Grant and Constance Bennett as The Kerbys. Also appearing as recurring performers were Ed Latimer and Tony Barrett.
The Radio version of Topper was bright, cleverly written and well performed. Stanley Wolf's scripts were an equal mix of slapstick, irony, and smart dialogue. Roland Young, nearing his 60's at the time, wore the role of Cosmo Topper like a comfortable old suit. Hope Emerson brought a somewhat more stern and impatient flavor to the role of Cosmo's wife and Paul Mann and Frances Chaney were both delightful as The Kerbys.
Though initially planned for only thirteen weeks, the series was well enough received that after Dinah Shore returned to her regular Fall timeslot, 'Topper' was extended for two more episodes to cover the last two weeks of the Summer hiatus of The Burns and Allen Program, for a total of fifteen episodes of The Adventures of Topper in all. The last two programs of the series simply aired an half hour earlier.
The Topper franchise makes the jump to Television
The Adventures of Topper over Radio enjoyed a brief Summer run of fifteen episodes. While thoroughly entertaining the series wasn't picked up for NBC's Fall Season of 1945.
Enjoy 'Henrietta Sells the House' from April 9th 1954
But in 1953, CBS Television brought Topper to the small screen, running for two seasons of 39 episodes each between 1953 and 1955. The Television series starred Leo G. Carroll as Cosmo Topper, Lee Patrick as Cosmo's wife Henrietta, Anne Jeffreys as Marion Kerby, Robert Sterling as George Kerby, Kathleen Freeman as Katie, the Toppers' housemaid, and 'Buck' as the Kerbys' St. Bernard, Neil. The series was sponsored nationally by Camel Cigarettes.
|RadioGOLDINdex, Hickerson Guide.
Notes on Provenances:
The most helpful provenances were the log of the RadioGOLDINdex and newspaper listings.
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