This is an online encyclopedia of personalities of Old Time Radio. It is designed for educational and entertainment purposes.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Joe Penner (1904-41)


Pintér József Színész was born November 11, 1904, in Nagybecskerek, Hungary (today located in Serbia). As a child, his family entered the United States at Ellis Island and they moved to Detroit, Michigan.

A successful vaudeville comedian, Joe made his first performance on radio thanks to Rudy Vallee. Through Rudy's help, Joe was able to have his own program on the Blue Network in 1934, sponsored by the Bakers' Union.

Now, contrary to how some accounts read, Joe Penner was a respected performer in every sense of the word. He was a hard worker who never shirked responsibility.

He is said to have been the Pee Wee Herman of his day, without any troubles with the law (or pornography).


Let's describe the man (if you were around in 1936):

Shorter than the average man, a little bit of weight, a cigar (not always lit), nice clothes (though a little flashy). He looks older than his age. He has a harsh voice but a pleasant, nonoffending personality.

Despite the sound and the looks, Joe was actually based in Los Angeles, not New York. Rudy Vallee's show was in New York but then he was able to get to Hollywood and get into motion pictures. He only did eleven features.

Listening to his radio shows seventy years hence, it is easy to dismiss him as a trite performer whose gimmicks were getting stale. However, listening to the stories which were heard, it was all very interesting. This blogger can remember one program which involved sailing to Russia. Now if anyone remembers that it was only about twenty years after the Bolshevik Revolution, it's amazing to hear.



In 1940, Joe decided to tour the country with the musical play Yokel Boy. While his company was in Philadelphia, he died of a heart attack. It was January 10, 1941. He was only 36 years old. He was survived by his wife, the former Eleanor May Vogt. They had no children.

People today often compare him to Pee Wee Herman. Personally, this blogger thinks that is unfair. While he had the voice and a similar appearance, he didn't try to run off and do something his fans wouldn't approve of (like watch pornographic movies and expose himself). True, there was that cigar. But that wasn't so stigmatic back in those days. Most everyone smoked back then, at least the men did. Including Dad and so did Grandpa, if he was still alive.

Joe Penner should not be forgotten. He was a great entertainer of his day.

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