The Happiness Boys was a popular radio program of the early 1920s. It featured the vocal duo of tenor Billy Jones and bass/baritone Ernie Hare, who sang novelty songs.
Jones and Hare were already established as soloists on phonograph records. One of Jones’s better solos was “Mary Lou,” while Hare scored with the Yuletide novelty “Santa Claus Hides in the Phonograph.” In 1920 recording executive Gus Haenschen had them sing an accompaniment on a Brunswick recording. They went on to do numerous recordings for Brunswick Records, Edison, and other companies. Similarities between the two singers were often noted: same height, same weight, birthdays a few days apart. Fred Rabinstein, who worked with Edison, recalled:
- They had amused themselves by singing opera in a burlesque fashion, as they [later] did in their 1922 record of “Operatic Syncopation”…They seemed to have everything in common except that Jones was a bachelor (he took a wife after his mother’s death) and Hare was married, with a little girl named Marilyn, who was to serve for a short time as Jones’s singing partner after her father’s death in 1939… both had mothers whose maiden names were Roberts; both were five feet and seven inches tall; both had voices of operatic calibre that perfectly complemented each other, and both had had operatic experience.
They began on radio October 18, 1921 on WJZ (Newark, New Jersey), where they were sponsored by the chain of Happiness Candy stores. Listeners mailed in their comments about the singers on cards supplied to retailers by Happiness Candy.
Beginning August 22, 1923, the Happiness Boys broadcast on New York’s WEAF, moving to NBC from a run from 1926 to 1929. The duo sang popular tunes, mostly light fare and comic songs, and they engaged in humorous repartee between numbers. Their theme song was “How Do You Do” (1924). However, only the words to this song were new at that time. The melody had been used for a variety of other songs in the past and is still used in the camp favorite “If You’re Happy and You Know It (Clap Your Hands)”.
Dave Kaplan was usually the team’s pianist on records. Fannie Heinline, regarded as the best American female banjoist at the turn of the century, made guest appearances on The Happiness Boys as banjoist and vocalist.
By 1928, Jones and Hare were the highest paid singers in radio, earning $1,250 a week. They also made highly successful personal appearances in the United States and Europe. (They mention the European tour fondly in their recording of “We Don’t Like It, Not Much.”)
Jones and Hare specialized in comic songs that commented on trends and popular culture. When the song “Collegiate” swept the country and prompted a host of similar tunes, Jones and Hare countered with “We Ain’t Never Been to College.” Gracious living and social propriety were skewered in Jones and Hare’s “Etiquette Blues.” America’s fascination with radio triggered the pungent parody “Twisting the Dials,” probably the very first comedy sketch of its kind: Billy and Ernie simulate tuning a radio and getting snatches of random radio programs (Ernie’s stentorian recitation of “Gunga Din” interrupted by Billy singing a fast Hawaiian song, Billy saccharinely introducing children’s storyteller “Daddy Scarem” [Ernie] who turns out to be pretty grim, an incomprehensible boxing match, etc., punctuated by frequent time-outs for station identifications and time signals).
One of their most pointed satires, recorded with a full orchestra, was “We Can’t Sleep in the Movies Anymore.” Jones and Hare demonstrate how talking pictures have changed a restful evening in a theater into a noisy onslaught of “sneezes, squawks, and squeals.” The lyrics also note that the actors’ voices seldom matched their silent screen images:
HARE: The sheik is from the ghetto. I thought he came from Spain.
JONES: His voice is high falsetto! And he sounds like he’s in pain!
Jones and Hare kidded the “talkies”, but were featured in A Movietone Divertissement (MGM, 1928) and Rambling ‘Round Radio Row #4 (Warner Brothers/Vitaphone, 1932), both sound short subjects.
Radio’s “Happiness Boys” changed their identities and allegiance whenever they changed sponsors. For Taystee Bread, for example, Jones and Hare became “The Taystee Loafers,” and for Interwoven Socks they became “The Interwoven Pair.” Regardless of their affiliation, they continued with their songs and jokes through the 1930s.
The partnership ended with Ernie Hare’s death on March 9, 1939. Hare’s 16-year-old daughter, Marilyn Hare, joined Jones at the microphone, allowing the act to continue as “Jones and Hare” for about a year, until she left to pursue a movie career in Hollywood.
Billy Jones and Ernie Hare’s music was recently reissued on the Living Era CD (AJA 5628), How Do You Do?, which brings together two dozen of their more popular hits, including “Barney Google” (lyrics by Billy Rose), “Does the Spearmint Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?” (1924, revived in 1959 by Lonnie Donegan), “I’ve Never Seen a Straight Banana”, “Etiquette Blues”, “I Miss My Swiss (My Swiss Miss Misses Me),” “Twisting the Dials”, “The Village Blacksmith Owns the Village Now”, “Yes! We Have No Bananas” (Billy Jones solo), and “She’s the Sweetheart of Six Other Guys” (parody of “Sweetheart of Sigma Chi”).