A rendition of When Irish Eyes are Smiling plays in the background and Archie answers the phone with the show’s trademark signature, “Hello, Duffy’s Tavern, where the elite meet to eat.” The program always opened with a call from the owner of Duffy’s Tavern. Never seen, the boss would check up on his manager, Archie via phone. Although Archie never had direct supervision, Duffy knew he had to keep tabs on Archie.
Duffy’s Tavern premiered March 1, 1941 on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) network. Created by Ed Gardner (no relation to Ava Gardner), the show centered on Archie and his relationships with the local bar customers. Gardner, a veteran radio director had prior success with Ripley’s Believe it or Not! and the Rudy Vallee Hour. Ironically, Gardner professed that he never touched alcohol. Nevertheless, his imaginary bar enjoyed success for just over a decade.
By 1942, the show moved to the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) network, where it remained until the series ended on January 18, 1952. Gardner had a talent for creating offbeat characters that parodied the patrons and management of real neighborhood bars. Always coming up with some crazy scheme, Archie usually got himself into trouble in the end, but not before, he took a customer or two down the same road with him. Miss Duffy was an unusual female character, who was constantly on the prowl for a new man. The antics and babbling of Miss Duffy tried the patience of Archie and the two often engaged in humorous banter. Initially, Gardner’s true-life wife, Shirley Booth, played Miss Duffy, the owner’s daughter. Over the years, several actresses would take on the role of Miss Duffy. Another endearing character was Clifton Finnegan. Finnegan was a good-natured guy, with a questionable mental capacity.
Shortly after the move to NBC, the program was briefly renamed Duffy’s and later, Duffy’s Variety. An executive of the sponsoring Bristol-Myers company, who believed the name Duffy’s Tavern promoted alcohol consumption and carousing at bars, prompted the name change. However, this did not go over well with the listening audience and name of the program was reverted to Duffy’s Tavern.
Over the years, numerous actors and actresses appeared on the show. Boris Karloff, Bing Crosby, Marie McDonald, Shelley Winters, Fred Allen, Veronica Lake and Gene Tierney are only a few of the greats that appeared on Duffy’s Tavern. In 1945, a movie was made based upon the show and in 1954, a television series was developed. Unfortunately, the television series did not capture an audience. Some attributed this to Gardner’s lack of transition into the television medium.
Despite the unsuccessful attempt at television, the show inspired up and coming writers and directors. It also spawned a series of parodies. The most recent parody appears on the animated television show, The Simpsons, with Moe the bartender, who answers his phone with, “where the elite come to drink.” Past parodies include, Tuffy’s Tavern in the 1946, Warner Bros. cartoon Hush My Mouse and in a 1947 Popeye cartoon, which featured Stuffy’s Tavern. It is also believed that Jackie Gleason used the character Archie as a model for his character, Joe the Bartender. During the 1980’s, James Burrows co-created the Cheers series. Burrows, the son of Duffy’s Tavern co-creator/writer, Abe Burrows knew exactly how to translate Duffy’s into a successful television program. The Tavern and its lovable manager Archie continue to inspire writers today.