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Joe McDoakes is the protagonist of a series of 63 black and white live action comedy one-reel short subjects released between 1942 and 1956. The Joe McDoakes shorts are also known as the Behind the Eight Ball series (for the large eight ball Joe appeared behind in the opening credits) or the So You Want... series (as most of the films were titled). The character's name comes from "Joe Doakes," which was then a popular American slang term for the average man.
The entire series was produced and directed by Richard Bare (d/b/a Richard L. Bare Productions) and distributed by Warner Bros. under their Vitaphone brand. George O'Hanlon, who would later provide the voice of George Jetson, starred as Joe McDoakes. These one-reel shorts were co-written by Bare and O'Hanlon, although Bare usually received sole screen credit as writer. Art Gilmore, through 1948, served as the narrator of Joe's humorous efforts to accomplish the activity that was the focus of the short. Gordon Hollingshead, who won five Academy Awards for producing other short subjects for Warner Bros., was also credited as a producer on the series until his death in 1952, although his role on this series was primarily as liaison between the studio and the director.
The series began with So You Want to Give Up Smoking, made as a project by Bare to teach his students at the University of Southern California the fundamentals of making a movie. It was picked up by Warner Bros. for $2500 and became the first of a series of short subjects. Only one more short was produced before World War II caused the series to be suspended, but production resumed in 1945 with So You Think You're Allergic.
These first three shorts were filmed silent, with narration added in post-production, in the manner of the popular Pete Smith shorts, made at MGM from 1931 to 1955. They also resembled the Smith shorts in that they addressed actual, everyday problems (giving up smoking, caring for the eyes, coping with allergies) in an instructional but humorous way.
In 1946 the series began using live sound recording, and the addition of dialogue gave the films a new dimension. Now the action was being played strictly for laughs, with many familiar character actors adding to the fun. Fritz Feld, Ralph Sanford, Philip Van Zandt, Fred Kelsey, and Leo White made frequent appearances; semi-regulars were Clifton Young and later Del Moore as Joe's loudmouthed pal Homer, Rodney Bell as dumb-bell "helper" Marvin, and Ted Stanhope as an all-purpose authority figure (desk clerk, salesman, businessman, etc.). Many of the shorts are domestic comedies, with "the original hard-luck kid" McDoakes insisting on carrying a project through, with often disastrous consequences. So You Want to Build a Model Railroad has Joe so engrossed in the hobby that it overruns his entire apartment; So You Want to Be a Cowboy has Joe going to a movie, and creating a disturbance when he envisions himself as a cowboy hero; So You're Going on a Vacation has Joe struggling with a camping outfit.
Warner contract player Jane Harker co-starred as Joe's wife, Alice, in eight comedies, beginning with So You Want to Play the Horses in 1946 and ending with So You Want to Build a House in 1948. Phyllis Coates would start her screen career by taking up the role of Alice later that year in So You Want to Be in Politics. Coates had married producer/director Bare that same year. The working relationship between Coates and Bare would survive their divorce. Coates gave up the role to play Lois Lane in the first season of Adventures of Superman. Former singing star Jane Frazee took up the role beginning in 1954 with So You Want to Be Your Own Boss, but Coates returned to the role in 1956, and played the part in the final installment So Your Wife Wants to Work. Harker, Coates, and Frazee each displayed a fine sense of comedy as Joe's long-suffering mate. While the Alice character would appear in most of the shorts, the actress playing her would not be billed, and unless the story required Joe to be married, not only would Alice not appear, but Joe could even be a bachelor again, as there was no continuity between installments.
Star O'Hanlon and director Bare shared the same crazy sense of humor, which ran all through the series. So You Want to Be a Detective kids the daylights out of the detective mystery Lady in the Lake; the action is in the first person, with the camera representing Art Gilmore (taking a more active role in the story than usual), who is presumably tagging along with Joe. In So You Want to Be in Pictures, McDoakes is listening to a record that is providing an acting lesson, and when the telephone rings the record tells him to answer it. Later in that same short, McDoakes is hired to serve as a stunt double at a movie studio. The job turns out to be a George O'Hanlon comedy (the clapboard identifies it as So You Want to Hold Your Wife), and Joe takes a pie in the face from Jane Harker! So You Want to Know Your Relatives turns into a wicked satire of This Is Your Life, with Joe as the reluctant recipient. Joe occasionally punctuates the end of a scene by looking straight into the camera to speak to (or commiserate with) the movie audience.
The series hit its stride in the late 1940s, gaining three consecutive Academy Award nominations in the category of Short Subjects, one-reel for So You Want to Be in Pictures, So You Want to Be on the Radio, and So You Think You're Not Guilty. for 1947, 1948, and 1949. For most of the series's run, the McDoakes shorts were the only live-action comedies offered in the 10-minute length, making them handy for theater owners to include in their programs. The series ran until 1956, when the demise of the studio system brought an end to the production of short subjects by Warner Bros. and the other Hollywood studios.
Cast and crew
Note: Appearance credits for non-billed actors may be incomplete or incorrect due to inaccurate sources.
Billed cast and crew
- George O'Hanlon - Joe McDoakes
- Art Gilmore - Narrator (1942–48)
- Richard Bare - Director/Producer
- Gordon Hollingshead - Producer
Character actors with 10 or more appearances
Guest cast notable for other roles
- Arthur Q. Bryan, the voice of Elmer Fudd, appeared on screen in So You Want a Model Railroad and filled in for Art Gilmore as the narrator in So You Want to Be a Policeman.
- George Chandler and Ronald Reagan, both of whom would later be President of the Screen Actors Guild (SA), appeared in the same short, So You Want to Be in Pictures.
- Iron Eyes Cody offered a "scalp" treatment to Joe in So You Want to Keep Your Hair.
- The screen duo of Doris Day and Gordon MacRae has a cameo in So You Want a Television Set.
- Charlie Hall, who served as the foil in many Laurel and Hardy shorts, had his last screen appearance in So You Want to Play the Piano.
- Lyle Talbot, a founding member of SAG, was in So You Want to Be Your Own Boss.
- Frank Nelson, frequent guest star on The Jack Benny Program and I Love Lucy, appeared in So You're Going to Have an Operation.
|Title||Approximate production date ||Release date||Notes including key co-stars with George O'Hanlon |
|So You Want to Give Up Smoking||early 1942||November 14, 1942||Art Gilmore (narrator)|
|So You Think You Need Glasses||early 1942||December 26, 1942||Art Gilmore (narrator)|
|So You Think You're Allergic||June 1945||December 1, 1945||Art Gilmore (narrator), Barbara Billingsley (cameo)|
|So You Want to Play the Horses||June 1946||October 5, 1946||Art Gilmore (narrator), Jane Harker, Richard Erdman, Leo White, Clifton Young, Fred Kelsey|
|So You Want to Keep Your Hair||April 1946||December 7, 1946||Art Gilmore (narrator), Leo White, Fred Kelsey, Iron Eyes Cody, Buster Brodie|
|So You Think You're a Nervous Wreck||September 1946||December 28, 1946||Art Gilmore (narrator), Clifton Young, Fred Kelsey, Howard M. Mitchell, Ted Stanhope|
|So You're Going to Be a Father||December 1946||May 10, 1947||Art Gilmore (narrator), Jane Harker, Fred Kelsey, [Leo White]], Emmett Vogan|
|So You Want to Be in Pictures||December 1946||June 7, 1947||Art Gilmore (narrator), George Chandler, Clyde Cook, Ralph Sanford, Jack Carson, Ronald Reagan, Wayne Morris, Janice Paige & others. Nominee for Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.|
|So You're Going on a Vacation||December 1946||July 5, 1947||Art Gilmore (narrator), Jane Harker, Ted Stanhope, Leonard Bremen, Clifton Young|
|So You Want to Be a Salesman||February 1947||September 13, 1947||Art Gilmore (narrator), Jane Harker, Leonard Bremen, Ted Stanhope, Rose Plumer, Lottie Williams|
|So You Want to Hold Your Wife||June 1947||November 22, 1947||Art Gilmore (narrator), Jane Harker, Ted Stanhope|
|So You Want an Apartment||July 1947||January 3, 1948||Art Gilmore (narrator), Jane Harker, Ted Stanhope, Clifton Young, Fred Kelsey|
|So You Want to Be a Gambler||August 1947||February 14, 1948||Art Gilmore (narrator), Clifton Young, Douglas Fowley, Leo White & others|
|So You Want to Build a House||June 1947||May 15, 1948||Art Gilmore (narrator), Jane Harker, Clifton Young, Fred Kelsey, Ralph Peters, Donald Kerr, Ralph Littlefield|
|So You Want to Be a Detective||September 1947||June 26, 1948||Art Gilmore (narrator), Lila Leeds, Clifton Young, George Magrill, Donald Kerr, Kit Guard|
|So You Want to Be in Politics||July 1948||October 2, 1948||Phyllis Coates, Clifton Young, Fred Kelsey|
|So You Want to Be on the Radio||July 1948||November 6, 1948||Phyllis Coates, Clifton Young, Fred Kelsey, Ted Stanhope, Leo White, Jack Lomas & others. Nominee for Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.|
|So You Want to Be a Baby-Sitter||March 1948||January 8, 1949||Art Gilmore (narrator), Phyllis Coates, Clifton Young, Billy Gray|
|So You Want to Be Popular||December 1948||March 12, 1949||Art Gilmore (narrator), Phyllis Coates, Clifton Young, Creighton Hale, Ted Stanhope, Leo White|
|So You Want to Be a Muscle Man||March 1949||July 2, 1949||Phyllis Coates, Clarence Ross|
|So You're Having In-Law Trouble||April-May 1949||August 27, 1949||Phyllis Coates, Clifton Young, Willard Waterman|
|So You Want to Get Rich Quick||August 1949||October 28, 1949||Phyllis Coates, Fred Clark, Joe Turkel|
|So You Want to Be an Actor||August 1949||December 3, 1949||Art Gilmore (narrator), Fred Clark, Fred Kelsey, Frank Nelson, Ralph Sanford, Clifton Young, Ted Stanhope, Dorothy Vaughan|
|So You Think You're Not Guilty||October 1949||December 21, 1949 (preview)||Phyllis Coates, Ralph Sanford, Ted Stanhope, Fred Kelsey, Willard Waterman & others. Nominee for Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.|
|So You Want to Throw a Party||October 1949||February 4, 1950||Phyllis Coates, Billy Curtis, Willard Waterman, Ted Stanhope, Fred Kelsey, Jack Lomas, Edward Gargan|
|So You Want to Hold Your Husband||May 1950||July 1, 1950||Phyllis Coates, Ted Stanhope, Fred Kelsey, Monte Blue, Art Gilmore|
|So You Want to Move||May 1950||August 19, 1950||Phyllis Coates, Rodney Bell, Ralph Sanford, Charles Sullivan|
|So You Want a Raise||July 1950||September 23, 1950||Phyllis Coates, Willard Waterman, Margie Liszt, Edward Gargan, Fred Kelsey|
|So You're Going to Have an Operation||July 1950||December 2, 1950||Fritz Feld, Ted Stanhope, Frank Nelson|
|So You Want to Be a Handyman||July 1950||January 3, 1951||Rodney Bell|
|So You Want to Be a Cowboy||November 1950||April 14, 1951||Phyllis Coates, Ted Stanhope, Eddie Gribbon & others|
|So You Want to Be a Paperhanger||December 1950||June 2, 1951||Phyllis Coates, Rodney Bell, Arthur Q. Bryan, Anne O’Neal|
|So You Want to Buy a Used Car||December 1950||July 28, 1951||Phyllis Coates, Fred Kelsey|
|So You Want to Be a Bachelor||June 1951||September 22, 1951||Phyllis Coates, Ted Stanhope, Chester Clute, Jack Rice, Fred Kelsey|
|So You Want to Be a Plumber||July 1951||November 10, 1951||Phyllis Coates, Rodney Bell|
|So You Want to Get It Wholesale||July 1951||January 12, 1952||Phyllis Coates, Rodney Bell, Frank Nelson, Ted Stanhope, Charles Sullivan, Jack Mower, Georg Penbroke|
|So You Want to Enjoy Life||January 1952||March 29, 1952||Del Moore, Fritz Feld|
|So You're Going to a Convention||January 1952||June 7, 1952||Phyllis Coates, Connie Cezan|
|So You Never Tell a Lie||January 1952||August 2, 1952||Phyllis Coates, Rodney Bell, Emory Parnell, Jack Mower, Anne O’Neal|
|So You're Going to the Dentist||July 1952||September 20, 1952||Rodney Bell, Frank Nelson|
|So You Want to Wear the Pants||July 1952||November 8, 1952||Phyllis Coates, Fritz Feld|
|So You Want to Be a Musician||August 1952||December 14, 1952||Maurice Cass, Philip Van Zandt, Fred Kelsey, Chester Conklin, Paul Maxey, Fritz Feld|
|So You Want to Learn to Dance||December 1952||March 28, 1953||Emory Parnell, Jack Mower Creighton Hale, Jesslyn Fax|
|So You Want a Television Set||December 1952||May 23, 1953||Phyllis Coates, Rodney Bell, Philip Van Zandt, Fred Kelsey, Doris Day, Gordon MacRae|
|So You Love Your Dog||December 1952||August 1, 1953||Phyllis Coates|
|So You Think You Can't Sleep||August 1953||October 31, 1953||Phyllis Coates, Ted Stanhope, Fred Kelsey|
|So You Want to Be an Heir||August 1953||December 19, 1953||Phyllis Coates, Philip Van Zandt|
|So You're Having Neighbor Trouble||November 1953||December 26, 1953||Phyllis Coates, Rodney Bell, Arthur Q. Bryan|
|So You Want to Be Your Own Boss||December 1953||March 13, 1954||Jane Frazee, Rodney Bell, Phil Arnold, Fred Kelsey, Lyle Talbot|
|So You Want to Go to a Nightclub||December 1953||May 1, 1954||Jane Frazee, Philip Van Zandt, Del Moore, Joi Lansing, Jack Chefe, Ralph Brooks|
|So You Want to Be a Banker||April 1954||July 3, 1954||Snub Pollard, Fred Kelsey|
|So You're Taking in a Roomer||August 1954||October 30, 1954||Jane Frazee, Rodney Bell, Joi Lansing, Fred Kelsey, Herb Vigran|
|So You Want to Know Your Relatives||September 1954||December 18, 1954||Jane Frazee, Frank Nelson, Emory Parnell|
|So You Don't Trust Your Wife||September 1954||January 29, 1955||Jane Frazee, Fred Kelsey|
|So You Want to Be a Gladiator||December 1954||March 12, 1955||Jane Frazee, Del Moore, Philip Van Zandt, John Doucette|
|So You Want to Be on a Jury||December 1954||May 7, 1955||Jackson Wheeler, Phil Arnold, Arthur Q. Bryan, Philip Van Zandt|
|So You Want a Model Railroad||December 1954||August 27, 1955||Jane Frazee, Ted Stanhope, Anne O’Neal, Arthur Q. Bryan|
|So You Want to Be a V.P.||September 1955||October 29, 1955||Emory Parnell, Del Moore, Joi Lansing, Minerva Urecal, Philip Van Zandt|
|So You Want to Be a Policeman||October 1955||December 17, 1955||Arthur Q. Bryan, Joi Lansing, Sandy Sanders|
|So You Think the Grass Is Greener||October 1955||January 28, 1956||Jane Frazee, Joi Lansing, Emory Parnell, Del Moore|
|So You Want to Be Pretty||December 1955||March 10, 1956||Phyllis Coates, Fritz Feld, Iris Adrian|
|So You Want to Play the Piano||December 1955||May 5, 1956||Phyllis Coates, Charlie Hall|
|So Your Wife Wants to Work||December 1955||July 14, 1956||Phyllis Coates, Emory Parnell|
Home video availability
Warner Bros. has released the entire series of 63 shorts in the DVD-R format, as The Joe McDoakes Collection. Individual shorts can also be found as extras on DVDs of classic Warner Bros. films of the period:
- So You Want to Be an Actor is on the DVD of My Dream Is Yours.
- So You Want to Learn to Dance and So You Want a Television Set are on the DVD of By the Light of the Silvery Moon.
- So You Want to Be on the Radio is on the DVD of Adventures of Don Juan.
- So You Want to Give Up Smoking is on the DVD of All Through the Night.
- So Your Wife Wants to Work is on the DVD of The Spirit of St. Louis.
- So You Want to Be in Pictures is on the DVD of The Hasty Heart.
- So You Think You Need Glasses is on the DVD of The Man Who Came to Dinner.
- So You Think You're a Nervous Wreck is on the DVD of A Night in Casablanca.
- So You Think You're Not Guilty is on the DVD of White Heat.
- So You Want to Be a Detective is on the DVD of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
- So You Want to Enjoy Life is on the DVD of Big Jim McLain
- So You Want to Move is on the DVD of Rocky Mountain
- Joe McDoakes at the Internet Movie Database
- Review of The Joe McDoakes Collection at DVD Talk
- Appreciation and review by Leonard Maltin
- Liebman, Roy Vitaphone Films – A Catalogue of the Features and Shorts 2003 McFarland & Company
- Maltin, Leonard The Great Movie Shorts 1972 Bonanza Books