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Wayne and Shuster on readjusting to civilian life

The Story

Before Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster were television stars, they were Armed Forces officers whose comedy act brightened the lives of other soldiers. In this radio clip, they look back on their days entertaining the troops. And they tell how they were afraid, after the war, of moving back to hard-to-please civilian audiences. Wayne and Shuster's association with the military continued when the Department of Veterans Affairs commissioned them in 1945 to do a CBC Radio show. The government wanted a show that would explain veterans' benefits "without being dull." Also, to provide lessons on how to deal with the problems of readjusting to civilian life. Wayne and Shuster came up with The Johnny Home Show about a fictional veteran getting re-settled. The comedians note that they used veterans' benefits themselves, pointing out a typewriter they bought with a "tools of the trade" allowance. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: Feb. 24, 1958
Guest(s): Frank Shuster, Johnny Wayne
Host: James Bannerman
Reporter: Gerry Quinney
Duration: 5:49
Photo: National Archives of Canada PA-152118

Did You know?

• In the early years of the Second World War, Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster produced comedy shows for Toronto radio station CFRB and for CBC Radio. At the same time they were working on graduate English degrees at the University of Toronto.

• Wayne and Shuster both enlisted in 1941 as sergeants in the Armed Forces. They were immediately assigned to The Army Show, a comedy and music stage review that entertained Canadian troops at home as well as in Belgium, France and Holland.

The Army Show, which aimed to boost recruitment and morale, was heard on CBC Radio as The Canadian Army Radio Show from 1942 to 1943.

• Wayne and Shuster created and wrote The Johnny Home Show, discussed in this clip, but they chose somebody else to play the title role. Canadian actor Austin Willis played the readjusting veteran Johnny while his brother, J. Frank Willis, produced the show. It ran for 52 weeks.

• Wayne and Shuster made the transition back to civilian audiences just fine. They moved from radio to television, displaying their literary slapstick humour in dozens of CBC Television specials and over 67 appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show as Ed's most frequent guests.

• CBC Radio broadcast other programs aimed at helping to ease ex-soldiers' transition to peacetime. They included Return to Civvy Street, Servicemen's Forum and Welcome Home.

• In 2004, military historian Laurel Halladay argued the post-war boom in Canadian culture can be traced directly to the dancers, singers, comedians and others who entertained wartime troops. Wayne and Shuster were prime examples, the University of Calgary research fellow told the Canadian Press.
• Halladay said that, while the government used such shows as a political tool, they nurtured talent in what amounted to an early form of public subsidy of the arts.


Welcome Home, Soldier! Life in Postwar Canada more