Who Walked In? The Story of the Four Fools
© 2007 by Walter D. Reimer
With its foundation, Rain Island had inherited a rich tradition of theater, particularly comedy. In the religions of the native tribes that originally inhabited the Rain Coast, the Trickster was held in some reverence, and few major ceremonies began without some humor. The flow of immigrants from both east and west brought with them their own comedic traditions, and it was in this atmosphere that the Four Fools began their career.
Charles “Chuck” Miner, a wolf who is regarded by many people as the founder of the Four Fools, was born in Seathl in 1908. He was the second son and youngest child of a family of modest means whose father worked for the Governing Syndicate. Miner attended public school until he was eighteen, and entered the Polytechnic College where he majored in religious studies with an eye to becoming a priest. He was a junior in 1929 when he met Dexter Mayhew.
Mayhew, a fox, was born in 1909 and was raised by his father and an aunt (his mother having died in childbirth). At an early age he began working odd jobs to help support himself and his elders, and was putting himself through college by working in a shipping office. He also had a musical streak, and would sing and dance in a music hall located just off campus.
Miner and Mayhew became good friends and would often perform together, billing themselves as either ‘Miner and Mayhew’ or ‘Double M.’ Miner could play a guitar, and the two would sing and tell jokes for the audience. Their act continued until Miner’s senior year of college when the music hall abruptly closed due to the worsening economic crisis.
The fox and the wolf continued to perform in both college theatricals and at various saloons around Seathl until both graduated in 1930. They were performing one night at a saloon when their jokes were heckled by a marten named Robert “Bobby” Donaldson.
Donaldson had been born into a mining family in 1910. As a child he would be seen dancing to music he heard on the radio or among the families in the neighborhood, so his father would take him with him to bars so he could perform and help raise extra money. As he grew up, Donaldson would act professionally, becoming a full member of the Artist’s Syndicate in 1928. Of all the troupe members, he was the first one to start an actual career in theater, first as a chorus dancer and then treading the boards as a comic actor.
The three struck up a conversation after the show in which Donaldson heckled them, and decided to try a group act. Billing themselves as ‘The Old Comrades,’ they would sing, dance and tell jokes that ranged from observational humor about the foibles of life in the city to sometimes violent attacks on local officials or the Rain Island government. After one such performance in late 1932 they were approached by Alan Bryant Wilson.
Wilson, a badger, was born in late 1910, making him the youngest of the group. The only son of a soap factory owner, he was attending college when he saw the trio act. Impressed, he offered himself as a potential member of the troupe. Despite some initial pessimism on the part of Mayhew, Bryant (he dropped his last name to avoid disturbing his mother, who felt that such things as acting in saloons were inappropriate) became part of the act and quickly showed his worth by writing jokes and playing ‘straight man’ to some of the others’ jibes.
In 1932 Miner realized that there might be a broader outlet for the group’s humor and talents in the medium of radio, which was beginning to come into its own in the country. Contacts with the Radiocast Collective, however, did not meet with success, and the group continued to perform at music halls and saloons. With help from Donaldson’s membership in the Artist’s Syndicate, they were soon able to play larger venues and found an appreciative audience.
The act reached a milestone in mid-1935 when, in a fit of anger over a dispute with Mayhew (the two had discovered they were seeing the same woman), Donaldson struck the fox while they were on stage. The crowd, thinking it was part of the act, loved it. Realizing that an element of physical violence had some comedic value, the quartet included this in their act.
Injuries were carefully avoided by choreographing each move in rehearsal, although mistakes did happen (Bryant spent time in the hospital after a mistimed fall broke his left leg). Despite these mishaps, the troupe (who billed themselves now as the "Four Fools", after an epithet shouted at them by a heckler) continued to perform, becoming something of a success in the Seathl area.
The Radiocast Collective had been considering the inclusion of an “adult” programming block for Station ZYPR and the rest of the Rain Island network, and after several acts had been tried someone recalled the overture made by the Fools. When they were contacted, the troupe were performing on one of the islands north of the capital. After some negotiations regarding pay and other terms of their contract, they agreed to eight shows.
The cast’s ‘biographies’ were altered slightly to fit the idea that the shows were to be stand-alone stories. Chuck (Miner) was cast as a morose, vegetarian wolf afflicted with flatulence; Alan (Bryant) was the ‘ladies’ man,’ with a huge string of amorous conquests; Bobby (Donaldson) was usually seen assaulting the other members of the cast or drinking heavily, and Dexter (Mayhew) was seen as a intellectually shallow and very bad at establishing relationships with women. In this Mayhew was somewhat miscast, as he was married (Jennifer Crandall) and had twin sons at the time.
The show debuted on March 11, 1937, with subsequent episodes every two weeks. It was well-received by its target audience, who liked the fast pace and the racy humor. The RIRC’s Standards Office kept an eye on things to make sure that the troupe didn’t go too far; in fact, the one hard-and-fast rule they had was a limit on the profanity and sexual comments were not allowed to be too graphic. Anything else was fair game, as illustrated by the number of times the Fools made fun of the radio station and their sponsors.
Even with a full crew of writers, however, the Fools were faced with the fact that their humor, mainly physical, did not translate well into an audio-only medium. For all four of them, it was a relief when their contract expired, leaving them free to recapture their old audiences.
After returning to their former line of work, another avenue beckoned when Dexter suggested that they try their paw at films. The Communications Syndicate had recently built a studio and was trying to assemble actors willing to see their work on the big screen. The Fools signed a contract to make film adaptations of their radio shows, to include musical and dance numbers.
Only five films were produced (1937-38, Petrel Studios) and were immediately banned from import into the United States. The all-powerful Hays Office stated that the films would only be allowed in after they were extensively edited, prompting Miner to say in an interview with the Seathl Clarion, “If the Americans feel that way about humor, they can wallow in their own mediocrity.” Privately, he admitted that if the films had been edited in the manner demanded by the Hays Office, each film would have ended up a half-hour long (from roughly 75 minutes each).
For the standards of the time, the Fools made a fair living from their various projects, at their height making RI$ 1800 a year each. They made careful investments that guaranteed a steady income for themselves and for their growing families.
After their movie careers the Fools went back to exclusively live shows until 1940, when the act broke up by mutual consent. There was no friction at the root of the breakup, merely the fact that the four had wives and children, and wanted to explore private careers and develop their own material again.
To Radioplay Transcripts, including examples of radio shows by the Four Fools.