Trumpet player and novelty singer Ish Kabibble was a household name during the 1940s. With his puddin’ bowl haircut and country bumpkin persona, he was the comedic foil to Kay Kyser on the College of Musical Knowledge radio and television series. Offstage, though, he was an astute businessman and the manager of Kyser’s orchestra for almost twenty years.
Merwyn Bogue joined Kyser in 1931. He accidentally created his Ish Kabibble persona in 1935 when he combed his hair into bangs and performed an old Yiddish song called “Isch Ka Bibble (I Should Worry),” the sheet music for which he’d found in a piano stool. The song, as well as his act, was an instant hit, and people began to call him by its name.
When Kyser’s orchestra achieved national prominence in 1938 with the College radio broadcasts, Ish quickly became a celebrity. His songs and comedy spots were popular features of the program. He would often interrupt Kyser with the recitation of a silly poem, such as the following:
I sneezed a sneeze into the air
it fell to earth I know not where
but you should have seen the looks on those
in whose vicinity I snoze
Bogue appeared with Kyser’s band in several motion pictures. The Army caught up with him in 1944, but while in uniform he continued to perform with Kyser, who worked tirelessly entertaining the troops. He officially rejoined the band once he returned to civilian life. Kyser by that time had lost interest in the music business, and he mostly used studio orchestras and concentrated on his radio show, leaving Bogue with little to do, so beginning in 1947, in between Kyser duties, Bogue began to tour solo on the theater circuit, working with a small group.
In 1948, Bogue attempted to drop his Ish Kabibble persona completely to take up serious acting. He looked different in real life compared to his stage act, and using his normal street appearance and the name M.A. Bogue, he passed a Warner Brothers screen test and earned a part as one of Joan Crawford’s boyfriends in Flamingo Road, all without anyone recognizing him as Ish Kabibble. Even Crawford, who had worked with him on stage just weeks before didn’t catch on to who he was. It wasn’t until filming had well begun when a publicity agent finally figured out his secret identity. He was then suddenly mobbed for autographs.
Bogue stayed with Kyser until the leader retired in 1950. He then pursued a solo career, working with his Dixieland outfit, the Shy Guys. In 1960, he gave up music and turned to selling real estate, for a time living in Hawaii. Merwyn Bogue died of respiratory failure in 1994.
Bogue is hard to research, as there were so many spelling variations of the name Ish Kabibble in newspapers and magazines. “Isch-Ga-Dibble” is one such example. ↩︎