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In Which I Try To Meet The Missus And End Up With Tommy Bartlett

Heaven only knows when & where I got these old cards (which makes me think it was at Georgine’s, where we toss things into boxes quickly), but I do know why I bought them.

First, it was the graphics which grabbed me — vintage graphics usually do. Second was the tiny product advertising for Kitchen Klenzer & Automatic Soap Flakes on four of the cards — cards which had “Meet The Missus” on them (also very intriguing, so let’s call that the third reason).

But reason number four was the real kicker — the corny jokes on them.

1Q: What part of a baseball park should be reserved for platinum blondes?
1A: The Bleachers. Ba Dum Bum!

14Q: What is meant by a joint bank account?
14A: The husband puts in the money — the wife draws it out. Har Har Har

I just knew these cards would be a journey of discovery. Or a silly night at home playing the game — if they all were there, something you usually don’t have a clue about at any sale. So home they came.

In order to know if I had all the cards — or indeed all the parts of the game — I needed to look at the cards. I have 48 of them. If there were only 22 pairs of question & answer cards, and only four of the “Meet The Missus” cards, then all I need is question card #4, and answer card #15. Am I only missing two cards from the deck? (Hey, no jokes about me not playing with a full deck!) Or is there more to this game?

Time to turn to the Internet.

Quickly I discover this is a rather rare set of cards. It belongs to a 1937 game, of which there were at least four versions, according to Kovels. As Kovels doesn’t offer much in terms of description, and has no photos, I can’t even begin to guess which — if any — my cards belong to.

My search continues…

I discover that the Meet The Missus game was in fact an advertising premium for The Fitzpatrick Brothers (of Chicago, Illinois) who sponsored a radio show of the same name. The show was the 1934 brain-child of Thomas Kivlan, a salesman for Chicago’s WBBM. A young Tommy Bartlett was the show’s host — yes, that Tommy Bartlett, of the famous water-skiing show and other attractions in the Wisconsin Dells. This is exciting to me because I’m originally from Wisconsin, and I’ve been to The Dells & Tommy’s attractions many times. I love discovering hidden connections in things!

While many may remember Bartlett for his radio days at WBBM hosting Welcome Travelers with Bob Cunningham, Jim Ameche, and Les Lear, Bartlett’s early radio fame had much to do with Meet The Missus.

Meet The Missus was a daily radio show, on at 3:00 in the afternoon in 1937, which catered to housewives. It quickly became so popular that spin-off shows, such as The Missus Goes to Market, were created. By 1940 Kivlan had gone from salesman to advertising executive — and Tommy Bartlett had become “the housewife’s pinup boy”.

The Missus radio shows were, as my cards indicate, corny. It’s not just my hip 2008 mentality being cruel to some old time radio shows — even Time in 1940 called them “the cutest, corniest radio programs in the U. S.” But the shows were wildly popular. The Time article says:

In its early career on the air, The Missus Goes to Market opened 10,000 new outlets for Automatic Soap Flakes. Similarly successful, Meet the Missus has attracted a million requests for a card game advertised on the program, and pulls 3,000 letters a week. Reveling in his success with the matrons, young Tommie Bartlett earns $22,000 a year, lives handsomely in a duplex apartment on Lake Shore Drive. A feature of almost every berry, corn and apple festival around Chicago, Bachelor Tommie has so far received 20 proposals of marriage, inherited $5,000 from one mike-struck listener.

Did you catch that part about the million requests for a Meet The Missus card game advertised on the program? Me too. But what was this game exactly? Do I have a complete one? And, if so, which one?

I continued to search. And then I found it — at least the cards look identical to mine.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that I’m missing (at least) the game board (which is supposed to be made of heavy paper, measuring 18 inches square when unfolded), and the instructions (which were printed on the back of the mailing envelope). But that’s still not the worst of it.

It’s not just that I’m currently unable to play Meet The Missus, even if I’ve grown to adore it more minute by minute as I discover more about the game, but seeing those nifty gameboard graphics just makes me itch all the more… I need it, you see. The $150 may be entirely reasonable given its scarcity; but I don’t have it. And so that means I am unable to really meet this Missus.

Pooh.

But, if the Tommy Bartlett Show could continue this year, it’s 55th year, despite there being no more lake for a water show (Lake Delton literally vanished in 15 minutes this past June), then this collector can keep her spirits up and her eyes down, looking for more pieces of this old vintage game.

You can learn a lot from Tommy Bartlett, a man who never water skied yet started a water skiing show — and ended up in the Water Ski Hall of Fame. OK, so the guy slipped on a pair of water skies at his 70th birthday party, but still…

Bartlett himself was said to be a collector. Not just of tourist attractions and things to put in them (like one of Russia’s three spare core modules for the space station Mir, which is a main attraction at the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory), but of paperweights. In that old Time article, it was said that Bartlett listed lawyers’ offices, barbershops, & funeral parlors as the places he haunted, considering them to be the “best bets” for adding to his collection of (at that time) 150.

Maybe that’s where I’ll start my searches for the missing parts of my Meet The Missus game.

*****

Side Note: Tommy Bartlett died September 6, 1998 at the age of 84. It’s rather fitting as that was a Labor Day weekend, which is the end of the show season in the Wisconsin Dells. It is purely coincidental that this, another Labor Day weekend, is when I decided to dig through the box that had these cards in them and do my research. However, the serendipity, as it usually is in collecting, is delightful.


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Pete Hi Ms. Dahlsad, Know its been several months ago since you authored this article...but I just came across youe article...because I recently found the "Meet the Missus" game board but knew nothng about the game. Very informative article...thanks so much. Did you ever get the board or other cards? I only have the board...so I would like to either get the other game pieces...or sell the board. Thanks..and Happy New Year! Pete January 1st, 2009 at 11:58 AM

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