Cliff Arquette in 1941.
|Born||Clifford Charles Arquette
December 27, 1905
Toledo, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||September 23, 1974
Burbank, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||stroke|
|Other names||Charley Weaver|
|Spouse(s)||Julie Harrison (April 3, 1934 - September 4, 1942)|
Early life and career
Arquette was born on December 27, 1905, in Toledo, Ohio, as the son of Winifred Ethel (née Clark) and Charles Augustus Arquette, a vaudevillian. He was of part French-Canadian descent, and his family's surname was originally "Arcouet". The eventual patriarch of the Arquette show business family, which became famous because of him, Arquette was the father of actor Lewis Arquette and the grandfather of actors Patricia, Rosanna, Alexis, Richmond, and David Arquette. In his early career, Cliff was a nightclub pianist, later joining the Henry Halstead orchestra in 1923.
In the late 1930s, Arquette invented the modern rubber theatrical prosthetic mask, flexible enough to allow changing facial expressions, and porous enough to allow air to reach the actor's skin.
Arquette had been a busy, yet not nationally known, performer in radio, theatre, and motion pictures until 1956, when he retired from show business. At one time, he was credited with performing in 13 different daily radio shows at different stations in the Chicago market, getting from one studio to the other by way of motorboats along the Chicago River through its downtown. One such radio series he performed on was The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok. Arquette and Dave Willock had their own radio show, Dave and Charley, in the early 1950s, as well as a television show by the same name that was on the air for three months. It was when Arquette performed on the shows that he created, and inaugurated his performances as, his eventual trademark character of Charley Weaver.
In 1959, Arquette accepted Jack Paar's invitation to appear on Paar's NBC Tonight Show. Arquette created "Charley Weaver, the wild old man from Mount Idy". He would bring along, and read, a letter from his "Mamma" back home. This characterization proved so popular that Arquette almost never again appeared in public as himself, but nearly always as Charley Weaver, complete with his squashed hat, little round glasses, rumpled shirt, broad tie, baggy pants, and suspenders.
Although a good number of Arquette's jokes appear 'dated' now (and, arguably, even back then), he could still often convulse Paar and the audience into helpless laughter by way of his timing and use of double entendres in describing the misadventures of his fictional family and townspeople. As Paar noted, in his foreword to Arquette's first Charley Weaver book:
"Sometimes his jokes are old, and I live in the constant fear that the audience will beat him to the punch line, but they never have. And I suspect that if they ever do, he will rewrite the ending on the spot. I would not like to say that all his jokes are old, although some have been found carved in stone. What I want to say is that in a free-for-all ad lib session, Charley Weaver has and will beat the fastest gun alive."
Arquette also appeared as Charley Weaver on the short-lived The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show on ABC from September 29 to December 29, 1962. In 1960, Arquette was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contribution to radio.
Later career and legacy
In his Charley Weaver persona, Arquette became a regular on the original version of the classic game show The Hollywood Squares, placed in an oft-visited "square," at lower left, to give him a good deal of comic opportunities. That gig did not lend itself well to the "Letters from Mamma" theme, so he shifted his standard joke setting to his presumed residency in a nursing home, which he simply referred to as "out at The Home". He was known for his delivery of one-liners on the show: Question (asked by "Square-Master" Peter Marshall):
Hey, Big Chuck, your bird has a temperature of 150 degrees. Will he live?
Weaver: Gee, I hope not. My dinner guests will be here in a couple of minutes.
(and on another occasion)
Question: In the literary world, who kept saying 'I think I can, I think I can?'
Weaver: Well, out at the home, that was Mr. Ferguson. And Mrs. Ferguson kept saying 'I wish he would! I wish he would!'"
(and on another occasion)
Question: How many balls are on a standard billiard table?
Weaver: How many guys are playing?
(and on yet another occasion)
Question: Should you train your very young children on the piano?
Weaver: No, try newspapers.
(and on another occasion)
Question According to an executive report of the Dallas Morning News, is a person ever too old to get his teeth straightened?
Weaver: Well now, that would be my second choice.
He continued his Charley Weaver characterization on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, with the same cornpone humor. One time Carson happened to mention something about Arquette's fondness for alcohol. Arquette replied with apparent seriousness:
Arquette: I don't drink any more, Johnny.
Johnny: You don't?
Arquette: "No, I don't drink any more...but I don't drink any LESS!"
One notable exception to his perennial portrayal of Charley Weaver was his characterization of Mrs. Butterworth of syrup fame. He dressed as the brand's "old lady" icon, affected an obviously falsetto voice ("Hello! Mrs. Butterworth here!") and continued to sport his moustache. A Civil War buff, in the 1950s he opened the Charley Weaver Museum of the Civil War in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The museum was housed in a building that had served as headquarters for General O. O. Howard during the Battle of Gettysburg, and remained in operation for about ten years. The site later became the Soldiers National Museum, and closed early November 2014.
Arquette spent some time in the hospital in the early 1970s, due to heart disease. He suffered a stroke in 1973 that kept him off the Hollywood Squares program for some time. Among those who occupied his square during his absence was George Gobel, whose appearances on the show became more frequent after Arquette's death, later replacing Arquette in the lower left square. Partially paralyzed by the stroke and requiring the use of a wheelchair, Arquette eventually returned to Squares looking gaunt, but with mind and comedic spirit still intact.
Arquette died following a stroke on September 23, 1974. Dave Willock, who worked with Arquette in the early 1950s and maintained a lifelong friendship with him, said Arquette was a skilled piano and trumpet player, an expert woodworker, artist and a fine student of history. Around the time of his death, Arquette reportedly planned to marry his longtime girlfriend, Miriam Call, with whom he lived in Burbank, California, and who had come back into his life during the 1960s.
[Arquette writing in character as Charley Weaver:]
- Charley Weaver's Letters From Mamma (with introduction by Jack Paar; John C. Winston Co., 1959)
- Charley Weaver's Family Album (These Are My People) (John C. Winston Co., 1960)
- Things Are Fine in Mount Idy (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960)
[Arquette wrote and performed the lyrics in character as Charley Weaver:]
- Charley Weaver sings for His People (Music direction by Charles (Puddin' Head) Dant and the Mt. Idy Symphonette, Columbia HF LP, no date)
- Let's Play Trains with Cliff Arquette (Edited by H.W. Dunn, Produced by H. Krasne, Sound Effects by Ralph Curtiss and Byron Winett, Columbia HL 9513, no date)
- "Arquette Is Honored By Civil War Unit". Gettysburg Times. 1960-10-31. Retrieved 2010-10-30.
- According to the State of California. California Death Index, 1940-1997. Center for Health Statistics, California Department of Health Services, Sacramento, California. Searchable at http://www.familytreelegends.com/records/caldeaths
- Gilbert, Matthew (1997-06-29). "ACTING OUT ON THE EDGE David Arquette is the latest to join the unconventional family business". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2010-10-30.
- Finding Your Roots, February 9, 2016, PBS
- "Actor Invents Rubber Movie Masks". Mechanix Illustrated. October 1938. Retrieved 2013-03-09.
- Old Time Radio Westerns
- "Cliff Arquette". Associated Press. Retrieved 21 August 2011.
- "Dave and Charley". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 21 August 2011.
- Charley Weaver's Letters From Mamma, pp. 5-6.
- Eakin, Marah; Teti, John; Adams, Erik (June 16, 2014). "Bonus round stars: 9 celebrities who found their greatest fame on game shows". The A.V. Club. Retrieved June 20, 2014.
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