Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel

In the fall of 1932 the Standard Oil Company combined forces with Colonial Beacon Oil to sponsor a radio series that would promote Esso gasoline and Essolube motor oil. Since archrival Texaco was enjoying vast success with its new Texaco Fire Chief Program, starring vaudeville comic Ed Wynn, the Standard Oil Companies were naturally interested in carving out their own territory over the airwaves. The result was the Esso Five Star Theater, a variety series that offered a different program each night of the week, Monday through Friday, all to dramatize Esso gasoline's five unique properties, including something called "hydrofining."

The shows featured music, comedy and even some interviews. And each show included a dramatization. These ranged from Charlie Chan to light opera. But the jewel of the enterprise was Monday night's entry, Beagle, Shyster and Beagle, Attorneys at Law. The series was about a malpracticing attorney and his bumbling assistant. The program was created to showcase the talents of Groucho and Chico Marx, half of the four Marx Brothers. The talents of Zeppo and Harpo Marx did not lend themselves well to radio.

Beginning with the fourth show of the series, the name was changed to Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel after a New York lawyer named "Beagle" called and threatened a lawsuit if the name was not changed.

For 26 shows, the two Marx Brothers were paid a princely sum to stand in front of the microphone for 15 minutes each week to read from a script they barely bothered rehearsing. True, they also had to spend 60 seconds hawking Esso products. But that was O.K. Imagine in 1932-33 they received $6,500 per episode!

The first show was on Monday, November 28, 1932, 7:30 p.m. eastern time. It continued for 26 weeks, broadcasting both from NBC in New York and NBC in Los Angeles, depending on the weather. After the May 22, 1933 broadcast, Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel went off the air for the summer. It never returned. The reasons were that the Four Marx Brothers were ready to return to films, coupled with the fact the show never garnered the same ratings as Ed Wynn did for Texaco, although it did have a very loyal following.