Arquette was born in Toledo, Ohio, the son of Winifred (née Clark) and Charles Augustus Arquette, a vaudevillian. He was the patriarch of the Arquette show business family, which became famous because of him. Arquette was the father of the late actor Lewis Arquette and the grandfather of actors Patricia,Rosanna, Alexis (originally Robert), Richmond, and David Arquette. He was a night club pianist, later joining the Henry Halstead orchestra in 1923.
In the late 1930s, Arquette invented the modern rubber theatrical prosthetic mask, flexible enough to allow changing facial expressions, and porous enough to allow air to reach the actor's skin.
Arquette had been a busy, yet not nationally known, performer in radio, theatre, and motion pictures until 1956, when he retired from show business. At one time, he was credited with performing in 13 different daily radio shows at different stations in the Chicago market, getting from one studio to the other by way of motorboats along the Chicago River through its downtown. One such radio series he performed on was The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok Arquette and Dave Willock had their own radio show, Dave and Charley, in the early 1950s as well as a television show by the same name that was on the air for three months. Arquette performed on the shows as Charley Weaver.
The story that Arquette later told about his big break was that one night in the late 1950s he was watching The Tonight Show. Host Jack Paar happened to ask the rhetorical question, "Whatever became of Cliff Arquette?" That startled Arquette so much that, "I almost dropped my Scotch!"
In 1959, Arquette accepted Paar's invitation to appear on Paar's NBC Tonight Show. Arquette depicted the character of "Charley Weaver, the wild old man from Mount Idy." He would bring along, and read, a letter from his "Mamma" back home. This characterization proved so popular that Arquette almost never again appeared in public as himself, but nearly always as Charley Weaver, complete with his squashed hat, little round glasses, rumpled shirt, broad tie, baggy pants, and suspenders.
Although a good number of Arquette's jokes appear 'dated' now (and, arguably, even back then), he could still often convulse Paar and the audience into helpless laughter by way of his timing and use of double entendres in describing the misadventures of his fictional family and townspeople. As Paar noted, in his foreword to Arquette's first Charley Weaver book:
"Sometimes his jokes are old, and I live in the constant fear that the audience will beat him to the punch line, but they never have. And I suspect that if they ever do, he will rewrite the ending on the spot. I would not like to say that all his jokes are old, although some have been found carved in stone. What I want to say is that in a free-for-all ad lib session, Charley Weaver has and will beat the fastest gun alive."
Arquette, as Charley Weaver, hosted Charley Weaver's Hobby Lobby on ABC from September 30, 1959 to March 23, 1960.
Arquette also appeared as Charley Weaver on the short-lived The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show on ABC from September 29 to December 29, 1962.
Arquette was also a frequent guest on NBC's The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford, the short-lived The Dennis Day Show in the 1953-1954 season, and on The Jack Paar Show after Paar left The Tonight Show.
"Letters from Mamma"
The usual pattern of the Letters was:
- A strange-name greeting from "Mamma," with Weaver explaining that it related to what "Mamma always wanted me to be." Example: "Dear Peyton. (Mamma always wanted me to have my own place.)"
- The statement, "'Things are fine in Mount Idy.' (She goes on) ...."
- The news of "Weaver's" family and townspeople back in the fictional town of Mount Idy. (The state was never specified, although there is strong evidence to believe that it was modeled afterCarey, Ohio; as a name, "Mount Idy" bears a strong resemblance to Mount Ida, Arkansas. The town has taken Charlie Weaver as a "favorite son," and has published material attributing the character to Arquette's childhood memories of his mother's reading aloud of letters from an old friend in Mount Ida. Arquette himself was born in Toledo, Ohio.)
- The closing, in which "Mamma" would have to break away to rescue her husband, "Father," from some awful mess.
Several townspeople would regularly be featured, such as:
- Elsie Krack, the ugliest and strongest girl in town;
- Grandpa Ogg, whose stubbornness usually got him into messes with "Father;"
- Grandma Ogg, who (due to a metal plate in her head) could receive television signals onto her glasses so that folks could come and watch shows;
- Clara Kimball Moots, the town's high-society leader; and,
- Ludlow Bean, Leonard Box, and Wallace Swine, assorted male townspeople who coped with strange everyday occurrences.
Some examples from the Letters:
- "Elsie Krack arrived back in town yesterday. You remember, son, she left town two weeks ago by rail. Leonard Box and Byron Ogg were carrying the rail."
- "Ludlow Bean, the groom [at his wedding to Birdie Rodd], got pretty banged up at the wedding. Somebody hit him with some rice. It was still in the fifty-pound bag."
- "The entire population of Mount Idy--308 souls in all--was rushed to the Mount Idy Emergency Hospital on Memorial Day, due to a slight oversight on the part of Ludlow Bean. At noon, the oldCivil War cannon in the town square was fired, and everybody in town rushed out to the park and dove into our new swimming pool. Ludlow Bean was the only one who didn't go to the hospital. He was also the one who forgot to fill the pool."
- "We all saw Elsie Krack the other day, which made us all very happy, because when you see Elsie at this time of the year it means six weeks of good weather."
- "[Leonard Box and his wife] were such a lovely couple. She was so bowlegged and he was so knock-kneed that when they walked down the street they spelled OX."
- "I was going to send you that $5 I owe you but I see I have already sealed the envelope."
- "We had a fire in the bathroom. Luckily, it didn't spread to the house."
- "Son, I don't mind those two [Father and Grandpa Ogg] insulting each other, but I think your father went just a little bit too far when he and Grandpa went out in the hot sun to play Croquet and Grandpa had a stroke--and your father made him count it."
- "We're all proud of Ludlow [Bean]. When he first came to Mount Idy, he started out in a small way. He started as an organ grinder, with one small monkey. He worked hard and saved. Two years later he expanded--now he has a pipe organ and a gorilla. He doesn't have any trouble with people putting money in the cup now."
- "Well, son, I must close now and go help your father. He just went down to the barn to feed the pigs with Grandpa Ogg. There's a big fist fight going on down there. Grandpa doesn't want to be fed to the pigs. Love, Mamma."
Weaver issued books compiled from the letters, and also recorded a comedy album based on the routine for Columbia Records. Around this time, a "Charley Weaver Bartender" mechanical toy was marketed, depicting Charley behind a bar mixing a drink, then pretending to drink it himself. His face would then turn red (due to a red bulb in the plastic head) and "smoke" would appear to come out of his ears.
Later career and legacy
In his Charley Weaver persona, Arquette became a regular on the original version of the classic game show The Hollywood Squares, placed in an oft-visited "square," at lower left, to give him a good deal of comic opportunities. That gig did not lend itself well to the "Letters from Mamma" theme, so he shifted his standard joke setting to his presumed residency in a nursing home, which he simply referred to as "out at The Home." He was known for his delivery of one-liners on the show:
Question (asked by "Square-Master" Peter Marshall):
Hey, Big Chuck, your bird has a temperature of 150 degrees. Will he live?
Weaver: Gee, I hope not. My dinner guests will be here in a couple of minutes.
(and on another occasion)
Question: In the literary world, who kept saying 'I think I can, I think I can?'
Weaver: Well, out at the home, that was Mr. Ferguson. And Mrs. Ferguson kept saying 'I wish he would! I wish he would!'"
(and on another occasion)
Question: How many balls are on a standard billiard table?
Weaver: How many guys are playing?
(and on yet another occasion)
Question: Should you train your very young children on the piano?
Weaver: No, try newspapers.
He continued his Charley Weaver characterization on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, with the same cornpone humor. One time Carson happened to mention something about Arquette's fondness for alcohol. Arquette replied with apparent seriousness:
Arquette: I don't drink any more, Johnny.
Johnny: You don't?
Arquette: "No, I don't drink any more...but I don't drink any LESS!"
One notable exception to his perennial portrayal of Charley Weaver was his characterization of Mrs. Butterworth of syrup fame. He dressed as the brand's "old lady" icon, affected an obviously falsetto voice ("Hello! Mrs. Butterworth here!") and continued to sport his moustache. Additionally, he played the role of General Sam Courage (for whom Fort Courage had been named) in the March 30, 1967 episode of F Troop.
The role as General Sam Courage in F Troop was far from hateful to Arquette, for he was a Civil War buff, and in the 1950s, he opened the Charley Weaver Museum of the Civil War in Gettysburg, PA. The Museum was housed in a building that had served as headquarters for General O. O. Howard during the Battle of Gettysburg, and remained in operation for about ten years. The site later became the Soldiers National Museum.
Arquette spent some time in the hospital in the early 1970s, due to heart disease. He suffered a stroke in 1973 that kept him off the Hollywood Squares program for some time. Among those who occupied his square during his absence was George Gobel, whose appearances on the show became more frequent after Arquette's death, later replacing Arquette in the lower left square. Partially paralyzed by the stroke and requiring the use of a wheelchair, Arquette eventually returned to Squares looking gaunt, but with mind and comedic spirit still intact.
Arquette died of another stroke on Monday, September 23, 1974. Dave Willock, who worked with Arquette in the early 1950s and maintained a lifelong friendship with him, said Arquette was a skilled piano and trumpet player, an expert woodworker, artist and a fine student of history. Near the time of his death, Arquette planned to marry his longtime girlfriend, Miriam Call, with whom he lived in Burbank California, and who had come back into his life during the 1960s.
[Arquette writing in character as Charley Weaver:]
- Charley Weaver's Letters From Mamma (with introduction by Jack Paar; John C. Winston Co., 1959)
- Charley Weaver's Family Album (These Are My People) (John C. Winston Co., 1960)
[Arquette wrote and performed the lyrics in character as Charley Weaver:]
- Charley Weaver sings for His People (Music direction by Charles (Puddin' Head) Dant and the Mt. Idy Symphonette, Columbia HF LP, no date)