Portland Hoffa

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Portland Hoffa
Portland Hoffa 1940 photo.jpg
Hoffa in 1940
Born(1905-01-25)January 25, 1905
DiedDecember 26, 1990(1990-12-26) (aged 85)
Occupation
  • Actress
  • comedian
  • dancer
Spouse(s)
  • (m. 1927; died 1956)
  • Joe Rines
    (m. 1959; died 1986)
Signature
Portland Hoffa (1990 signature).svg

Portland Hoffa (January 25, 1905 – December 26, 1990) was an American comedian, radio host, actress, and dancer. The daughter of an itinerant optometrist, she was named after Portland, Oregon, the city in which she was born. She began her career performing as a dancer in numerous Broadway productions in the 1920s, before meeting her first husband, comedian Fred Allen. They were married in 1927, and Hoffa began performing characters with Allen in comic radio programs, often portraying a dimwitted female counterpart in fast-paced, witty skits.[1][2] She gained particular notice from audiences for her distinctive, high-pitched voice.[3]

Allen hosted several highly successful network radio shows in the 1930s and 1940s, in which Hoffa was a frequent participant. She remained married to him until his death in 1956, after which she married bandleader Joe Rines. Hoffa spent her later years working as an advertising executive, and helped compile her first husband's correspondence, which was published as Fred Allen's Letters in 1965. She died in 1990 in Los Angeles of natural causes, aged 85.

Life and career[edit]

1905–1921: Early life[edit]

Hoffa was born January 25, 1905 in Portland, Oregon[4][5][a] to Frederick and Mary Hoffa.[5][7] As with most of her other siblings, including sister Lebanon and brother Harlem, she was named after the city in which she was born.[6] Additionally, she had two younger sisters, Lastone and Fredericka.[7] Her father, an itinerant optometrist, was a native of Washington state of German descent,[7] while her mother was from Pennsylvania.[7] Her father was Jewish, while her mother was a Presbyterian.[8] By the time Hoffa was 15 years old, she and her family had relocated to New York City and were residing in Manhattan.[7]

1922–1956: Performing career[edit]

Hoffa and Fred Allen in 1941

In New York, Hoffa performed as a dancer in vaudeville and Broadway stage productions, and met Fred Allen while performing in The Passing Show in 1922 and joined him in his vaudeville routines (centered on his clever jokes spun off his weakness as a juggler). The couple married in 1927 at St. Malachy's Church in Manhattan[9] before Allen began his long-running radio work in 1932. Because Allen was a devout Roman Catholic, Hoffa converted to Catholicism before the two married.[8]

A frequent performer opposite Allen, Hoffa became familiar for her distinctive high-pitched voice,[10] her brief routines involving jokes bounced off or from her mother, and, later, strolling Allen's Alley with her husband, after asking him what his question of the week for the Alley denizens would be. Allen himself likened Hoffa's voice to "two slate pencils mating or a clarinet reed calling for help."[11]

Although Hoffa performed under her real name on her husband's show, the character she portrayed as "Portland Hoffa" in the radio broadcasts was not Allen's wife; instead, she depicted an enthusiastic girl of indeterminate age, around thirteen years old. One of Allen's sponsors loathed the character played by Hoffa, and kept urging Allen to drop her from the show. Allen ignored these requests for as long as he could, then finally — in an angry outburst at a sales meeting — told the executive that the broadcasts were bearable only due to Hoffa's presence, and that if she were removed from the program then Allen would quit.[citation needed]

Allen's declining health was the main reason he ceased hosting his own show after 1949, but Hoffa often joined him as a semi-regular on Tallulah Bankhead's radio variety show, The Big Show (1950–52). She also appeared as the "mystery guest" on one episode of television's What's My Line, on which Allen had become a panelist from 1954 until his death in early 1956. Hoffa and Allen had also appeared in such films as Is Everybody Listening? (1947) and the Jack Benny vehicle Buck Benny Rides Again (1940).[citation needed]

1957–1990: Later years[edit]

Allen died in 1956. In 1959, Hoffa married bandleader Joe Rines, who later worked as an advertising executive. Hoffa and Rines lived long enough to celebrate a silver wedding anniversary, allowing Hoffa an unusual second such anniversary in one lifetime.[citation needed] In 1965, she compiled a large volume of her first husband's correspondence, which was edited into and published as Fred Allen's Letters. Rines died in 1986.

Death[edit]

Twice widowed and childless, Hoffa died of natural causes in Los Angeles on December 26, 1990,[12] aged 85.[3] She was survived by her two younger sisters, Lastone Hershkowitz of New York and Los Angeles, and Frederika Bond of Bellingham, Washington.[3] She is interred at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York. Hoffa has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1640 Vine Street.[12]

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1940 Buck Benny Rides Again Herself (voice) [13]
1947 Is Everybody Listening? Herself Documentary film [14]
1954 Take Your Chance Herself Unaired gameshow pilot [15]
1954 Omnibus Herself Episode: "Treadmill to Oblivion" [16]
1955 What's My Line? Herself Season 6, episode 25
1965 A 1960s Radio Broadcast Addition: Chase and Sandborn 101st Anniversary Herself Television film

Radio credits[edit]

Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1933–1956 The Fred Allen Show Series regular

Stage credits[edit]

Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1921 The Mimic World Performer Century Promenade Theatre [17]
[18]
1922 Make It Snappy Performer Winter Garden Theatre
1922 The Passing Show of 1922 Performer Winter Garden Theatre
1924 Marjorie Performer Shubert Theatre; 44th Street Theatre
1925 Tell Me More Performer Gaiety Theatre
1926–1927 George White's Scandals Performer Apollo Theatre
1929–1930 The Little Show Performer Apollo Theatre
1930–1931 Three's a Crowd Performer Selwyn Theatre

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Some news sources erroneously state that Hoffa was born in Portland, Maine,[6] but this is disputed by several bibliographic sources that cite Portland, Oregon as her birthplace, as well as 1920 U.S. Census Records from when she resided with her family in New York City, that list her birthplace as Oregon.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Fuller-Seeley 2017, p. 69.
  2. ^ Laurie 1953, p. 21.
  3. ^ a b c "Portland Hoffa Dies; Fred Allen's Partner". The New York Times. December 30, 1990. Archived from the original on January 4, 2013. Retrieved April 29, 2020.
  4. ^ DeLong 1996, pp. 131–132.
  5. ^ a b Unterbrink 1987, p. 62.
  6. ^ a b Van Raalte, Joseph (January 11, 1930). "Bo Broadway". The Evening Independent. Massillon, Ohio. Central Press. p. 4 – via Newspapers.com.
  7. ^ a b c d e f United States Census, 1920. Portland Hoffa in household of Frank Hoffa, Manhattan Assembly District 19, New York, New York, United States; citing ED 1334, sheet 9A, line 41, family 224, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992), roll 1221; FHL microfilm 1,821,221. closed access Archived copy of census page.
  8. ^ a b Warner 2007, p. 7.
  9. ^ "TV Memorial Forgone". New York Daily News. March 19, 1956. p. 345 – via Newspapers.com.
  10. ^ Wertheim 1979, p. 164.
  11. ^ Poupard 2000, p. 53.
  12. ^ a b "Portland Hoffa". Los Angeles Times. Hollywood Star Walk. Archived from the original on April 29, 2020. Retrieved April 29, 2020.
  13. ^ Pitts 2012, p. 46.
  14. ^ "Is Everybody Listening?". Cinema Paradiso. Archived from the original on April 29, 2020.
  15. ^ Terrace 2018, p. 229.
  16. ^ "Omnibus, III No. 1 (TV)". Paley Center for Media. Archived from the original on April 29, 2020.
  17. ^ "Portland Hoffa". Internet Broadway Database. Archived from the original on April 29, 2020.
  18. ^ "Portland Hoffa". Playbill. Archived from the original on April 29, 2020.

Sources[edit]

  • DeLong, Thomas A. (1996). Radio Stars: An Illustrated Biographical Dictionary of 953 Performers, 1920 through 1960. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-2834-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Fuller-Seeley, Kathryn (2017). Jack Benny and the Golden Age of American Radio Comedy. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-29504-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Laurie, Joe, Jr. (1953). Vaudeville: From the Honky-tonks to the Palace. New York City, New York: Henry Holt.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Pitts, Michael (2012). Western Movies: A Guide to 5,105 Feature Films (2nd ed.). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-1-476-60090-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Poupard, Dennis (2000). Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Company. ISBN 978-0-787-62739-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Terrace, Vincent (2018). Encyclopedia of Unaired Television Pilots, 1945-2018. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-1-476-67206-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Unterbrink, Mary (1987). Funny Women: American Comediennes, 1860-1985. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-899-50226-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Warner, Sam Bass, Jr. (2004). "Introduction: O'Connor's Boston". In O'Connor, Thomas; O'Toole, James; Quigley, James (eds.). Boston's Histories: Essays in Honor of Thomas H. O'Connor. Boston, Massachusetts: Northeastern University Press. pp. 3–13. ISBN 978-1-555-53582-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Wertheim, Arthur Frank (1979). Radio Comedy. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-195-02481-4.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

Further reading[edit]

  • Fred Allen, Much Ado About Me (Boston: Little, Brown, 1956).
  • Frank Buxton and Bill Owen, The Big Broadcast: 1920–1950 (New York: Flare Books/Avon, 1972).

External links[edit]