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  #1  
Old 07-31-2003, 11:09 AM
Topologist Topologist is offline
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Origin of "I'm only three and a half years old"?

Most of the catchphrases in the old loony tunes cartoons originated elsewhere, in popular radio shows, etc. This one has been driving me crazy for a while: I can't find any information on the net. So, where did the phrase "I'm only three and a half years old", used in several Bugs Bunny cartoons in particular, come from?
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  #2  
Old 07-31-2003, 11:43 AM
Labdad Labdad is offline
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Maybe Fanny Brice's "Baby Snooks" character?
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  #3  
Old 07-31-2003, 11:58 AM
racinchikki racinchikki is offline
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http://members.aol.com/EOCostello/i.html
Quote:
I'm only three and half years old

Line associated with Lou Costello and used quite a bit in WB cartoons in situations just after some act of child-like mischief. Examples include: one of the Hubie/Bertie mice in Trap Happy Porky (Jones, 1945) after skillfully robbing a rat trap; a tiny gremlin shattering airplane instruments with a hammer in Russian Rhapsody (Clampett, 1944), Grover Groundhog, just after Porky discovers Grover has been feeding him lines in One Meat Brawl (McKimson, 1947), one of the ancient batters for the Tea Totallers in Baseball Bugs (Freleng, 1946), who says he is only 93 1/2 years old, and a bawling hippo in Baby Bottleneck (Clampett, 1946) who says that he is only 3 1/2 seconds old.
I was unable to find any other information about it, or what it has to do with Lou Costello.
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  #4  
Old 07-31-2003, 03:25 PM
slipster slipster is offline
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Actually, it has to do with Little Audrey.

Obviously played by an adult actress, she was a recurrent character on the Abbott & Costello radio program, and this was her familiar catch phrase, often used as a walk-on line.

Thus:

Abbott: Costello, that's not funny!

Audrey: Well, I thought it was amusing, but I'm only three and a half years old.

Abbott: "Why, it's Little Audrey!!!

(Thunderous applause from the studio audience).

IIRC, the character was generally depicted as being just a couple of notches above Costello in mental acuity.
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  #5  
Old 08-13-2017, 02:24 AM
NubgummerySnr NubgummerySnr is offline
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Sorry, this didn't originate on Abbott and Costello's TV series.

16 years later and I've just come across this thread.

With regards to the phrase originating with the Abbott and Costello show, this is simply incorrect. Abbott and Costello filmed their show for TV from 1952 onwards. As mentioned before in this thread already, Bob Clampett's 1944 Merry Melodies cartoon Russian Rhapsody features a small gremlin smashing at the instrument panel of a plane with a mallet before uttering the exact same line, as can be seen here. so unless there's been some time travel involved, the gremlin couldn't have possibly heard the line from watching Abbott and Costello on TV when it was 8 years prior to the TV shows actually existing.
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  #6  
Old 08-15-2017, 08:43 AM
Peter Morris Peter Morris is offline
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Slipster said it comes from their radio show, which started in 1942.
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  #7  
Old 08-15-2017, 08:56 AM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is online now
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As I pointed out in a thread several months backj, "Little Audrey" was the name of a character in a series of actually pretty sadistic and mostly dirty jokes in the early 20th Century:

Quote:
Little Audrey had a long career in folklore as the butt of a series of mostly dirty jokes, some going as far back as the First World War.

In folklore and juvenile humor[edit]

According to B.A. Botkin's A Treasury of American Folktales:


Little Audrey is a folk-lore character about whom thousands of nonsensical short tales during the past five or six years — have been told. Sometimes Little Audrey parades as Little Emma or Little Gertrude, but she usually is recognizable by a catch phrase 'she just laughed and laughed'. The amusing incident is typically a catastrophe.[3]

Pierre Berton, in The Dionne Years: A Thirties Melodrama (1978), offers this example of a Little Audrey joke as was in fashion around the time of the Dionne Quintuplets birth in 1934:


Little Audrey's mother asks her to buy some groceries at the Safeway, and she laughed and laughed because she knew there was no safe way.

One of the most famous goes like this:


One day, Li'l Audrey was playing with matches. Her mother told her she'd better stop before someone got hurt. But Li'l Audrey was awfully hard headed and kept playing with matches, and eventually she burned their house down.

"Oh, Li'l Audrey, you are sure gonna catch it when your father comes home!" said her mother.

But Li'l Audrey just laughed and laughed, because she knew her father had come home early to take a nap.

As nasty as some of these jokes were, they were extremely popular, and it became inevitable that someone would appropriate the name of the character.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Audrey

I stumbled across this in looking up old humor, and was startled because my first acquaintance with "Little Audrey" was with the Famous Studios cartoon character (which they started advancing as a substitute for Little Lulu. They had to pay roylaties to use Lulu, but not on Audrey). It seemed believable, but kinda nasty, that the idiot subject of salacious humor would be cleaned up and used as a kiddie cartoon character.

I had no idea that she'd been used previously as a character in a radio show starring a couple of vaudevillians. But it makes an even more plausible transition. a lot of vaudeville humor was kinda blue and came in by way of burlesque. Even a lot of Abbott and Costello's material was essentially cleaned-up burlesque material. I could see them naming a sweet character "Little Audrey", and I could see some Fleischer Studio/Famous Studio animator or gag man in turn re-using it as a cartoon character's name.


And as for Warner Brothers cartoons directly lifting a gag from radio, they did that all the time. "Foghorn Leghorn" himself, and his whole "southern bluster" act, is a direct ripoff of Kenny Delmar's "Senator Claghorn" on The Fred Allen Show. They basically stole his act.

Last edited by CalMeacham; 08-15-2017 at 09:00 AM..
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  #8  
Old 08-15-2017, 10:08 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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Christopher Miller has a section on Little Audrey in his American Cornball, an encyclopedic look at oddball things that once tickled funny bones in American popular culture. He does seem to take his examples from Botkin, though, so I'm not sure he has much to add. I just wanted to recommend the book, which is new yet obscure. As an encyclopedia, read it in bits and pieces.
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  #9  
Old 08-15-2017, 10:19 AM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Since this is about a cartoon catchphrase, let's move it to Cafe Society, which didn't exist when this thread was started in 2003.

Colibri
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  #10  
Old 08-15-2017, 11:45 AM
Son of a Rich Son of a Rich is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
Christopher Miller has a section on Little Audrey in his American Cornball, an encyclopedic look at oddball things that once tickled funny bones in American popular culture. He does seem to take his examples from Botkin, though, so I'm not sure he has much to add. I just wanted to recommend the book, which is new yet obscure. As an encyclopedia, read it in bits and pieces.
Abebooks has a lot of hardcovers for less than $4 including shipping. I just bought one.
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  #11  
Old 08-15-2017, 12:37 PM
cochrane cochrane is offline
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I wonder if Little Audrey was the inspiration behind Lily Tomlin's "Edith Ann" character?

"My name is Edith Ann, and I'm only five and a half years old."
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  #12  
Old 08-15-2017, 02:26 PM
Jeff Lichtman Jeff Lichtman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cochrane View Post
I wonder if Little Audrey was the inspiration behind Lily Tomlin's "Edith Ann" character?

"My name is Edith Ann, and I'm only five and a half years old."
Originally on Laugh-In she said she was five years old, not five and a half.

I doubt that Little Audrey inspired Edith Ann. The styles of humor are very different.
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  #13  
Old 08-15-2017, 02:28 PM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
Christopher Miller has a section on Little Audrey in his American Cornball, an encyclopedic look at oddball things that once tickled funny bones in American popular culture. He does seem to take his examples from Botkin, though, so I'm not sure he has much to add. I just wanted to recommend the book, which is new yet obscure. As an encyclopedia, read it in bits and pieces.
I bought a copy of this a couple of months ago. I found a hard cover copy on sale, which is better because it has a lot of the illustrations in color.

It's a hoot. I think I wasted a week on that book.
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  #14  
Old 08-15-2017, 04:39 PM
kunilou kunilou is offline
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When I opened this thread I thought it was going to be about Munro, an animated short about a child mistakenly drafted into the Army, despite his continued protests that "I'm only four."
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  #15  
Old 08-15-2017, 04:58 PM
Civil Guy Civil Guy is offline
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Another Little Audrey joke, which I somehow remember having seen in my mom's high school yearbook - mid 1930s, maybe:

"Little Audrey saw a mail-order catalog listing for a bed that was 7' by 7', but she just laughed and laughed because she knew that was a lot of bunk."

Silly and formulaic, sure, but I wouldn't have called it particularly nasty.
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  #16  
Old 08-15-2017, 06:02 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Civil Guy View Post
Another Little Audrey joke, which I somehow remember having seen in my mom's high school yearbook - mid 1930s, maybe:

"Little Audrey saw a mail-order catalog listing for a bed that was 7' by 7', but she just laughed and laughed because she knew that was a lot of bunk."

Silly and formulaic, sure, but I wouldn't have called it particularly nasty.
Nobody would have allowed anything nasty in a yearbook. Not in the 1930s and not in my 1960s. I'll bet very few if any yearbooks would allow most Little Audrey jokes in today's 2010s.
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  #17  
Old 08-15-2017, 06:14 PM
NubgummerySnr NubgummerySnr is offline
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Sorry folks,
My mistake. I didn't read the thing properly. Yes, it makes sense if it comes from the radio show as that originated before the Looney Tunes version. Here in Australia we only had the TV show when I were a lad so I was unaware of the radio version. We might have had it on the airwaves, but completely before my time.
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  #18  
Old 08-15-2017, 07:35 PM
Kolak of Twilo Kolak of Twilo is offline
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The listing on Tv Tropes for the WB cartoon Russian Rhapsody says

Quote:
The gremlin who says: "I'm only three and a half years old!" is a reference to the character Martha (played by Billy Gray) on Abbott and Costello's radio show.
Costello was known for saying "I'm a baaaaaaaad boy."
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  #19  
Old 08-16-2017, 07:52 AM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kolak of Twilo View Post
The listing on Tv Tropes for the WB cartoon Russian Rhapsody says

The gremlin who says: "I'm only three and a half years old!" is a reference to the character Martha (played by Billy Gray) on Abbott and Costello's radio show.

Costello was known for saying "I'm a baaaaaaaad boy."
This stands in disagreement with slipster's post above:

Quote:
Actually, it has to do with Little Audrey.

Obviously played by an adult actress, she was a recurrent character on the Abbott & Costello radio program, and this was her familiar catch phrase, often used as a walk-on line.

Thus:

Abbott: Costello, that's not funny!

Audrey: Well, I thought it was amusing, but I'm only three and a half years old.

Abbott: "Why, it's Little Audrey!!!

(Thunderous applause from the studio audience).

IIRC, the character was generally depicted as being just a couple of notches above Costello in mental acuity.
So, which is the real situation?

1.) Slipster's memory has slipped, and the character wasn't named "Little Audrey"

2.) TV Tropes is wrong, and the character wasn't name "Martha"

3.) They're both right -- the show used two differently-named characters with the same catchphrase

4.) They're both wrong. The character's name was _______

5.) Everybody's wrong. The catchphrase didn't come from Abbott and Costello's show, but from ______.


I never heard any of A&C's radio shows, so I don't know. A quick search of the internet doesn't find anything associating either Little Audrey or Martha with the show.

Billy Gray was born in 1938. He really WOULD have been three and a half years old during the A&C show's run, but his Wikipedia page gives him no credit for it (although he did appear -- with his mom -- in the A&C film Abbott and Costello meet the Killer, years later).(He was the boy in the original Day the Earth Stood Still) He's still around, btw.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Gray_(actor)

Last edited by CalMeacham; 08-16-2017 at 07:52 AM..
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  #20  
Old 08-16-2017, 07:54 AM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is online now
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Okay, it was apparently a different Biily Gray:

Quote:
Gray acted on the Abbott and Costello radio show in 1942-43. He played a girl named Matilda, whose catchphrase was "I'm only three-and-a-half years old."[4] He also appeared on stage with Abbott and Costello in their appearances at military bases during World War Two.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Gray_(comedian)

This assertion, unlike the others, comes with a citation:

(4) Variety, January 12th, 1943, pg. 7.



Okay -- another possibility. Was it really Matilda, not Little Audrey or Martha, who said the phrase?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Last edited by CalMeacham; 08-16-2017 at 07:55 AM..
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  #21  
Old 08-16-2017, 07:59 AM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is online now
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Okay, here's proof -- an Abbott and Costello radio show script with "gray" written in playing Matilda, saying the infamous line "I'M ONLY THREE AND A HALF YEARS OLD!" on Page 9:

http://www.otrr.org/FILES/Scripts_pd...o_43-03-04.pdf
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  #22  
Old 08-16-2017, 08:45 AM
Mahaloth Mahaloth is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NubgummerySnr View Post
16 years later and I've just come across this thread.
:setup:

Dude, it's not been 16 years yet. What is your excuse for not being able to do math?

:waits:
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  #23  
Old 08-16-2017, 10:27 AM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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Mahaloth, while I see what you're trying to do there, it could easily be mistaken as being hostile. I'm sure you didn't intend that.
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Old 08-16-2017, 07:47 PM
furryman furryman is offline
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I'm almost positive that the phrase originated with Fanny Brice. Fanny Brice played a character named Baby Snooks. The radio show of the same name began in 1933. In addition to the 3 1/2 year old line she also invented "I've been a bad little girl."
Of course Milton Berle always claimed that all the best comedy material was stolen from burlesque and vaudeville.

Last edited by furryman; 08-16-2017 at 07:48 PM..
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  #25  
Old 08-16-2017, 09:36 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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The Baby Snooks show didn't air until 1944. Brice first did the character on radio in 1936, and continued it on a bewildering succession of shows before 1942, true, but there's no indication she ever gave three-and-a-half as the character's age. Since we have a definite cite for the use of the phrase on Abbott and Costello in 1943 you need more than a bare assertion at this point.

As for the level of jokes in burlesque, read Arnold Auerbach's memoir Funny Men Don't Laugh. For his apprenticeship in David Freedman's radio comedy factory he researched old jokes and got a burlesque comedian to tell him every story he knew. Most of them were unusably awful and that was in the early 1930s.
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