Prank phone calls have been a staple of comedy for many years, ever since little boys started calling their local store and asking, “Do you have Prince Albert in a can?“.
Steve Allen is famous for his prank calls on his tv show (listen to some of them here and here). Remember Allen and Johnny Carson prank calling Jack Paar? Radio comedians, the Jerky Boys were famous for their prank phone call act in the 90s, even getting a movie deal out of it.
Well, Ray Bourbon was in on a round of prank phone calls that took Hollywood by storm in the 1940s.
Ray was friends with another nightclub performer, Bill Barclay who would call up celebrities around Hollywood pretending to be “Mrs. Tom Maynard”. Bill’s calls became something of a fad in Tinseltown for awhile, with his victims giving him the phone numbers of other celebrities to prank them.
Ray arranged for Barclay to record a couple of his prank calls on his own record label (New Bourbon 100-A and 100-B). Ray, uncredited on the label, plays the prank call “victim” on both sides. Here’s an excerpt of “Mrs. Tom Maynard’s Dogs”, New Bourbon 100-B.
Ray tell about the prank calls in his autobiography in the chapter on his friend Lupe Vélez. (Note that on the labels of the record, Bill is credited as “Bill Barclay”; Ray refers to him as “O. B. Barkely” in his autobiography.)
I had never seen anyone so mad as Lupe was. Some woman had called her on the phone and said that her two tiny dogs were down in her yard tearing up her flowerbeds. I asked her who the woman was and she said it was some old woman named Mrs. Maynard – a Mrs. Tom Maynard. Then, it dawned on me – it was a gag.
The “Mrs. Tom Maynard” gag was done by an entertainer named O. B. Barkely, a very good friend of mine. He was working at the club and was a good singer. He had a trick voice that sounded exactly like an old woman from Arkansas – the accent and everything were all just perfect. Naturally, O.B., as everyone called him, was from Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
All the stars phone numbers are unlisted. Some of the stars friends had each other’s numbers and they’d call O.B. and give him the number and tell him who the star was. Then he’d call and give them hell.
It was funny – if you weren’t the one that was receiving the call. I explained it all to Lupe. When she realized it was a gag, she shrieked. Then her mind started to work on how she was going to get even with him. She made me swear I wouldn’t tell O.B. until she got even. I gave her O.B.’s address and she told me what she was going to do. It funny just to think about it.
I said nothing to O.B. at the club. About three nights later, O.B. came in to work and he was just worn out. Seems like for the past two days there had been an endless string of Mexican Gypsies knocking on his door wanting to tell his fortune for two days, all night long, every hour or so. Some of them had said that he had called them to come over as a favor at that hour of the night and tell his fortune.
This went on for almost two weeks. Lupe had hired every Mexican woman on Olvera Street and paid them well to keep it up just to get even with O.B. for the Mrs. Maynard phone call.
I called Lupe and told her how beat O.B. was and she came over to the club. Thy both had some good laughs. Then, they joined forces. Lupe had a lot of people that she wanted O.B. to make the Mrs. Maynard call to at the most awful hours of the night. I’ve never seen anyone enjoy anything as much as those two did at getting people out of bed at all hours of the night – even Hedda Hopper.
Hedda Hopper – God lover her. I’ll always be thankful that I knew her as well as I did. I’d known Hedda long before she came to Hollywood. I knew her when she was in New York City in the theatre and she was great then. I knew her when she was married to De Wolf Hopper.
Hedda had the vocabulary of a drunken longshoreman and used it. There was a dirty or offensive or obscene work in the English language that Hedda didn’t know and use. When she was mad at someone and started to tell them off, she would use the most polite, perfect and clean language until you thought she was through. Then, she would utterly castrate them with the waterfront verbiage. I’ve heard Hedda tell some of the biggest off, including Louis B. Meyer. What could they say back? She had a syndicated worldwide Hollywood column. But, there was nothing in the world she wouldn’t do for a friend. – ask Raymond Burr.
I was in the middle of Hollywood at noon and I decided to go say hello to Hedda since her office was in the same block that I was in.
We talked for a few minutes then she asked me, “Do you know an old bastard named Mrs. Tom Maynard?”
“No, I don’t,” I replied trying to keep a straight face. “Why?”
“This old blabber-mouthed son of a bitch has called me at every hour of the night trying to get me to help her get her daughter in pictures. If her daughter looks anything like she described her to me, the bitch could double for a scarecrow.”
“Is it for real, or is it a gag?” I asked, still keeping a straight face.
“I don’t know. The old bitch sounds real enough,” she said. “But, if I find out it is a gag, I’m going to de-nut some bastard with a dull knife.”
I didn’t stay too much longer. I had to get out of there or explode.
When I reached the street, I went to the nearest phone and called Lupe – how she loved it. Then, I called O.B.
How they broke it to Hedda, I never found out. But, Hedda joined them and gave them the phone numbers of every director, producer and star they didn’t already have.
This thing was the absolute rage for a while and I don’t know how long it really did go on.
I did some digging on Bill Barclay, but can’t find out much about him, except that he worked in nightclubs in the 1940s. I wonder what happened with his career after he became all the rage with insiders in Hollywood.