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Philip Rapp; Created 'Battling Bickersons'

January 24, 1996|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Philip Rapp, the writer, director and producer who created the legendary 1940s radio comedy couple known as the "Battling Bickersons" portrayed by Don Ameche and Frances Langford, died Tuesday. He was 88.

Rapp died in his Beverly Hills home, said his sons, Paul, a motion picture producer, and Joel, a writer.

The senior Rapp also created the Baby Snooks character for then middle-aged Ziegfield Follies star Fanny Brice, and wrote six hit movies for Danny Kaye as well as the popular "Topper" television series.

But he established an entertainment icon and an American idiom when he created the ever-bickering Blanche and John Bickerson, first for radio, then television and records, and eventually for the stage. Written with Joel, the 1967 stage version was titled "Match Please, Darling," and was performed at Los Angeles' Coronet Theater to the delight of a new generation.

The Bickersons became a prototype for battling couples, married or not, fictional or real. In fact, a few months ago, a Times columnist referred to the squabbling Gov. Pete Wilson and former Assembly Speaker Doris Allen as "the Bickersons of the GOP."

Rapp also wrote material over the years for George Burns, his crony at the comedy table of the Hillcrest Country Club, where Rapp was a member and golfer for 47 years.

Rapp's writing career began to flourish in the 1930s, with radio programs for Eddie Cantor and Broadway scripts for "Ziegfield Follies of '33" and "Life Begins at 40."

He went on to write, direct and produce radio's "Maxwell House Coffee Time" for five years, showcasing not only Brice, but also Frank Morgan, Robert Taylor and Robert Young.

Rapp also penned film scripts for Kaye, including "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and "The Inspector General."

Segueing into the new medium of television, Rapp created, wrote, directed and produced "Topper," a popular series that ran from 1953 to 1956. The series starred Leo G. Carroll as a henpecked bank vice president, Cosmo Topper, who bought a house complete with three ghosts, previous owners George and Marian Kirby and their alcoholic St. Bernard, Neil.

Rapp also wrote, directed and produced "The Adventures of Hiram Holliday," which starred Wally Cox and earned a Peabody award.

Rapp's television work included another popular comedy series, "I Married Joan," starring Joan Davis, which he wrote and directed.

A friend of all the Marx brothers, Rapp almost reunited them as senior citizens for a television series.

In 1959, he created a television pilot and managed to talk the trio into re-teaming after a decade to do it. Titled "Deputy Seraph," the proposed series was to feature Chico, then 72, and Harpo, 71, as muddling angels with occasional chastisement from Groucho, 69. Rapp filmed only part of the pilot before Chico was declared uninsurable because of atherosclerosis, killing the project. Gummo Marx had worked out the deal, Rapp later related, in return for Rapp's promise of a Rolls-Royce if the pilot sold.

Reminiscing about the famous brothers for The Times in 1981, Rapp said, "Groucho was knife-edged. . . . The most lovable was Harpo. Chico, the lovable rogue, was a born gambler. Giving Chico $100 to make a bet at the track was like giving a cabbage leaf to a rabbit, but you did it anyway, he was such a beautiful, sweet guy."

In addition to his two sons, Rapp is survived by one grandson, Brian, and two granddaughters, Lisa Stanley and Danielle Rapp.

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