Directed by Richard L. Bare
Written by Richard L. Bare and George O’Hanlon (uncredited)Starring George O’Hanlon, Art Gilmore
Moviegoing in the 1930s was far different than it was today. Most theaters had only a single show of a single movie.* There would be more than just the film though – a cartoon, a newsreel, previews of coming attractions** and, of course, live action short subjects. Joe McDoakes was one of the last and the best of these.
The series was a creation of Richard L. Bare, who wrote and directed the entire series. Bare was a graduate of the USC film school and taught film courses there when he came up with the idea of working with his students on a class project. Finding out-of-work actor George O’Hanlon, he produced a ten-minute short subject entitled So You Want to Give up Smoking. After the project was done, he took the completed film – as Richard L. Bare Productions – to Warner Brothers, who purchased it and asked for more.***
And thus the series was born. It followed Joe McDoakes (O’Hanlon), and average guy who would try one thing or another, only to run into strange complications. Each episode began with So You Want to…., as Joe tried such things as going on vacation, being a salesman, throwing a party, getting rich quick, or play the piano. Of course, things would go wrong is bizarre and wacky ways.
O’Hanlon made a nice McDoakes, perpetually forced into odd situations and meeting absurdist characters. Art Gilmore narrated the shorts, setting up the scene and helping with the wrap-up. Several actresses played Joe’s wife; the best known was Phyllis (“Lois Lane”) Coates. The series’s opening – with Joe coming out from behind a giant eight ball – was memorable.
The films only ran about ten minutes, but were filled with laughs.
Bare wrote and directed, with O’Hanlon helped with the writing, too. They were cheap to produce, and were the only live action comedies of that length, which allowed theater owners to throw in something short and cheap.
Because as the 1950s rolled around, the market for short subjects evaporated. Theater owners realized they could make more money with two shows a night instead of one, and started dropping all the extra material, and the studio system – which fueled the market for short subjects – died. The series ended in 1956.
Richard L. Bare moved over to TV when McDoakes ended, working on shows like Broken Arrow, 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, Cheyenne, The Twilight Zone and others, but his best-known gig was with Green Acres, where he directed every episode. You can see the similarities between that and Joe McDoakes – the same wild characters and anything for a laugh sensibility.
O’Hanlon also became a TV icon, even if his face was unfamiliar: he was the voice of George Jetson. Even Art Gilmore had a long career in TV as the narrator of quite a few shows, including Red Skelton, The Waltons, and Highway Patrol, as well as being an all-purpose actor in a couple of Jack Webb series.
*Double features existed, but usually at the cheaper houses or for Saturday children’s matinees.
**What are called “trailers” today. “Previews” makes more sense.
***He first checked with the college administration, who okayed the contract.