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Happy Birthday, Marvin Miller!

Though his show business career of nearly half-a-century extended to radio, TV, and motion pictures, the actor-announcer born Marvin Elliott Mueller in St. Louis, Missouri on this date in 1913 is perhaps best-remembered for doling out an impressive sum of money every week on CBS-TV’s The Millionaire, which aired on the network from January 19, 1955 to June 7, 1960. As Michael Anthony, executive secretary to wealthy billionaire benefactor John Beresford Tipton (voiced by Paul Frees), Marvin Miller would hand out a tax-free cashier’s check for $1,000,000 ($9.66 million in 2020 dollars) to some lucky recipient whose life would be inevitably changed by their reversal of fortune. In later years, however, Miller expressed “buyer’s remorse” despite the anthology show’s phenomenal popularity. “I never did another important part in a movie or television series,” he recalled in a 1982 interview. “I’d go in with an agent to a casting director and he’d say, ‘Hey, the audience would expect you to give away a million dollars.’”

Marvin Miller broke into radio (while still attending Washington University as a freshman) at the age of 18, once earning $5-a-week as a “one-man radio show.” Miller was working from dawn to dusk as “Assistant Chief Announcer” at St. Louis’s KMOX when he met (and then married) artist Elizabeth Dawson. The couple moved to Chicago (a major radio center at that time) in 1939 where Marvin was heard on an average of 45 shows a week. (Variety dubbed him a “one-man radio industry.”) Sometimes an actor, sometimes an announcer, Miller continued his busy ways upon moving to Hollywood in 1944. (Marvin explained to old-time radio historian Chuck Schaden in 1973 how it was possible to wear two performing hats: “…the only way I actually got around it in Chicago was to tell the advertising agency people that I was an announcer, and tell the directors that I was an actor—and sometimes I met myself coming and going. I’d be announcing a show and suddenly get a part on it!”)

Jim Cox, author of The Great Radio Soap Operas, credits Marvin Miller with acting/announcing on 20 different “weepies”: The Affairs of Anthony (as Anthony Marleybone Sr.), Aunt Mary (announcer), Backstage WifeThe Dreft Star Playhouse (announcer), Family SkeletonThe Guiding LightIrene Rich Dramas (announcer), Judy and JaneKay Fairchild—StepmotherLonely Women (announcer), Ma Perkins (announcing under his pseudonym, “Charlie Warren”), Midstream (Howard Andrews), One Man’s Family (portrayed 20 roles on this one, notably “Roderick Stone”), The Right to Happiness (“The Voice of the Past”), Road of LifeThe Romance of Helen Trent (Gil Whitney), Scattergood BainesToday’s ChildrenWoman from Nowhere (announcer), and Woman in White (Dr. Lee Markham). Gerald Nachman in Raised on Radio jestingly labeled Miller as “the most happily overworked actor of all.” Frank Buxton and Bill Owen’s The Big Broadcast 1920-1950 lists 86 credits for Marvin in the index.

Among the novel programs on Marvin Miller’s radio resume are Armchair Adventures, a 1952 series that allowed Marvin to cement his “one-man show” reputation by doing all the voices and narration. On The Billie Burke Show (Fashions in Rations), Miller not only handled the announcing chores but played two of Billie’s gentleman suitors, Colonel Fitts and Banker Guthrie. (Marvin was also the announcer on Burke’s 1945 sitcom, The Gay Mrs. Featherstone.) Miller portrayed Marvin Sample on Cousin Willie (a 1953 sitcom starring Vic and Sade’s Billy Idelson), “Mr. First Nighter” on The First Nighter Program, and the titular sleuth on Peter Quill, a detective drama that aired over Mutual in 1940-41. Marvin worked on a great many programs but two of his best-known were long-running stints on The Railroad Hour (“All aboard!”) and The Whistler (he even filled in for Bill Forman when Forman was in the Army).

A complete inventory of Marvin Miller’s voluminous radio acting and announcing credits would no doubt keep us occupied for years and years…but the list would inevitably include The Adventures of MaisieThe Adventures of Ozzie and HarrietThe Andrews Sisters Show: Eight-to-the-Bar RanchAunt JemimaAuthor’s PlayhouseBarrie Craig, Confidential InvestigatorBeat the BandBehind the StoryBeulahThe Bickersons (Old Gold Time), Broadway’s My BeatThe Chesterfield Supper Club (Jo Stafford), The Chicago Theatre of the AirConfessionThe Coronet Little Show (The Coronet Storyteller), Crime ClassicsCrisco’s Star PlayhouseThe Cruise of the Poll ParrotDark VentureA Date with JudyDragnetDuffy’s TavernFamily TheatreFather Knows BestFavorite StoryFibber McGee and MollyThe George Burns and Gracie Allen ShowGunsmokeHave Gun – Will TravelI Was a Communist For The FBIInheritanceJack ArmstrongJeff Regan, InvestigatorThe Kemtone HourLassieThe Lux Radio TheatreMe and JanieMusic by Ray NobleThe National Barn DanceThe NBC Star PlayhouseThe NBC University TheatreNight BeatThe Phil Harris-Alice Faye ShowThe Quiz KidsThe Red Skelton ShowRocky FortuneThe Rudy Vallee Drene ShowThe Six-ShooterSmilin’ Ed’s Buster Brown GangSongs by SinatraSpace Patrol, The Stan Freberg ShowStars Over HollywoodStop That VillainStrange WillsTarzanTell it AgainThat Brewster BoyThe Theatre of Famous Radio PlayersWoodbury Journal (Louella Parsons), Your Movietown Radio Theatre, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Miller also did exhaustive duty for the Armed Forces Radio Service (Command PerformanceJubileeMail Call) and was an enthusiastic participant in attempts to revive radio drama (The CBS Radio Mystery TheatreHeartbeat TheatreThe Hollywood Radio TheatreThe Sears Radio TheatreTheatre Five).

Marvin Miller’s first credited screen role was playing the villainous Yamada in 1945’s Blood on the Sun (starring James Cagney and produced by Jimmy’s brother William). Marvin would portray any number of villains and heavies in his movie career, with his memorable films including Johnny Angel (1945), Deadline at Dawn (1946), Just Before Dawn (1946), The Phantom Thief (1946), Dead Reckoning (1947), The Brasher Doubloon (1947), Peking Express (1951), Hong Kong (1952), and The Shanghai Story (1954). Sadly, in those less enlightened times Miller played a lot of Asian characters (“yellowface”). Much of his best work involved voicing animation for studios like Disney (he’s the narrator in Sleeping Beauty [1959]) and UPA (many of the Gerald McBoing-Boing shorts). Marvin would achieve silver screen greatness by giving voice to “Robby the Robot” in the 1956 sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet…a role he reprised the following year in The Invisible Boy (1957).

I mentioned in the essay’s opening paragraph that Marvin Miller’s small screen claim to fame was TV’s The Millionaire…but in addition, Marvin guest starred on TV classics like The Adventures of Ozzie and HarrietBat MastersonBatmanThe Danny Thomas ShowMission: Impossible, and Perry Mason. And yet, television allowed Miller to return to his radio roots narrating shows (Electra Woman and Dyna GirlThe F.B.I.) and voicing cartoons (The Famous Adventures of Mr. MagooThe Superman/Aquaman Hour of AdventureFantastic Voyage). (Many will fondly remember Marvin as the unseen narrator in the “bumpers” between cartoons on The Pink Panther Show.) Marvin Miller passed away in 1985 at the age of 71.

Here at Radio Spirits, we wouldn’t hesitate to open our inventory doors and offer you some of Marvin Miller’s finest radio work on CD. We have several collections of his signature series, The Whistler: Death Watch, Murder in Haste, Root of All Evil, and Skeletons in the Closet. We’ve also plenty of sets featuring “America’s fabulous freelance insurance investigator,” with Marvin—Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and Confidential, Expense Account Submitted, Fabulous Freelance, Fatal Matters, Mysterious Matters, and Wayward Matters. In addition, listen for today’s birthday boy on The Bickersons: Put Out the Lights!, The Bob Bailey Collection, Burns & Allen and Friends, Crime Classics: The Hyland Files, Dark Venture, Duffy’s Tavern: Irish Eyes, Gunsmoke: Dead or Alive, Have Gun – Will Travel: Dressed to Kill, I Was a Communist For the F.B.I.: Sleeper, Jack Benny: Be Our Guest, The Six Shooter: Grey Steel and Special Edition, and Strange Wills: I Devise & Bequeath.

You’ll find more Whistler collections in our digital downloads store (Archives Collection, Eleventh Hour, Impulse, Notes on Murder, Voices) in addition to Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (Archives Collection, Murder Matters, Phantom Chases). Rounding out our Marvin Miller material are Broadway’s My Beat: Great White Way and Murder, Family Theatre, Great Radio Christmas, Jack Benny: The Gang’s All Here, Jeff Regan, Investigator: The Lyon’s Eye, Night Beat: Lost Souls, Radio Christmas Spirits, and Rocky Fortune. Happy birthday to Marvin Miller!

Happy Birthday, Phillips H. Lord!

Triskaidekaphobia. I didn’t make this word up; it’s the technical term for fear of the number “13.” The man born Phillips Haynes Lord in Hartford, Vermont on this date in 1902, however, pooh-poohed any such superstitious nonsense—owing to the fact that he was born on the 13th and that there are thirteen characters in “Phillips H. Lord.” To carry these coincidences further, Lord made his radio debut on June 13, 1928 and later signed the contract for his radio success, Uncle Abe and David, on June 13, 1930. Uncle Abe and David aired twice daily, six days a week, and with Lord’s other weekly hit, Sundays at Seth Parker’s, the two combined to make thirteen. (There were thirteen actors in the Seth Parker cast. I’m going to stop now before things get really silly.)

Phillips H. Lord was born the son of a Vermont clergyman…but didn’t hang around the Green Mountain State too long. He was still an infant when the Lord family moved to Meriden, Connecticut as his father was hired to be the pastor of a local church. Phil was educated at the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts (whose alumni include U.S. Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush) and attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. While at Bowdoin, Lord became quite the entrepreneur to ensure he could pay his way. He started several businesses, including a book-selling operation and a taxicab company. After graduation, the 22-year-old Lord talked a Plainville, Connecticut high school into hiring him as their principal–the youngest administrator in the country.

Phillips H. Lord could have settled for a life of telling juveniles not to run in the halls—yet he was looking for a lot more. He embarked on a number of job adventures including confectioneries and publishing. Radio would prove to be the perfect vocation for Phil’s ambition; Lord started writing scripts (admittedly, he hadn’t much experience) and submitting them to WTIC in Hartford. He would create several successful programs in this fashion: Uncle Abe and David (1930-31), The Stebbins Boys (1931-32), The Old Country Doctor (1932-33), and the most popular at that time, Sundays at Seth Parker’s, which premiered on March 3, 1929 and eventually moved nationally to NBC.

Phillips H. Lord credited his real-life grandfather, Hosea Phillips, as the inspiration for “Seth Parker,” a homespun New England clergyman and philosopher who invited friends into his home weekly for hymn-singing and general good fellowship. Though in his 20s, Lord donned white chin whiskers to play Parker himself, joined by a cast that included Effie Palmer (as Ma Parker) and future Mr. Keen star Bennett Kilpack (as Cephus). Praised by ministers and beloved by mid-American listeners, Seth Parker made Phillips H. an incredibly wealthy man, with the radio series inspiring books, records, a stage play, and a 1931 R-K-O feature film, Way Back Home (providing Bette Davis with one of her early cinematic showcases).

Rich and restless, Phillips H. Lord purchased a four-masted, 186-foot schooner which was christened The Seth Parker…and which would function as a floating studio as Lord headed off on a two-year around-the-world cruise, broadcasting his program via shortwave. The Cruise of The Seth Parker, sponsored by Frigidaire, premiered over NBC on December 5, 1933 and while it initially retained the popularity of the earlier series there were (if you’ll pardon the painful pun) rough seas ahead. There were skirmishes with British officials in the West Indies, and word began to leak out about the raucous on-board parties featuring wine, women, and songs not found in the best-selling Seth Parker hymnals. All of this unfortunate PR reached a crescendo when The Seth Parker was felled by a South Seas gale in February of 1935. Though Lord would be later accused of staging the incident as a stunt, Frigidaire did not renew their sponsorship and Seth Parker, despite two later runs on the Blue network in 1935-36 and 1938-39, never really regained the support and popularity of its early radio run.

Undaunted, Phillips H. Lord decided he had milked the “salvation” angle to its fullest extent and, inspired by popular “gangster” films like The Public Enemy (1931) and Scarface (1932), introduced radio audiences to the “sin” side of the equation when G-Men premiered over NBC Blue on July 20, 1935. The initial premise of the program featured stories concentrating on the notorious “outlaws” who were then making newspaper headlines: John Dillinger, “Machine Gun” Kelly, Bonnie and Clyde, “Pretty Boy” Floyd, etc. Although Lord initially received cooperation from J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation soon objected to the show’s heavy concentration on gunplay and withdrew his support. Cancelled in October, G-Men returned in January of 1936 on CBS with a new and now-legendary title: Gang Busters. It proved to be one of Phillips H.’s most durable creations, making the rounds on all four networks until November 27, 1957.

Gang Busters established Phillips H. Lord as radio’s king of “law-and-order.” He co-created the long-running Mr. District Attorney (1939-53), and later crime-themed programs to emerge from the House of Lord include Counterspy (1942-57), Policewoman (1946-47), and Treasury Agent (1947-57). Phil was also the mastermind behind the daytime drama By Kathleen Norris (1939-41) and the popular We, the People (1936-51)—described by author John Dunning as “a singular mix of humor, pathos, tragedy, sentiment, Hollywood glamour, and old-fashioned melodrama.” Lord’s additional radio credits include American NovelsAuthor’s PlayhouseThe First Nighter ProgramJohnny Presents, and Sky Blazers.

Phillips H. Lord benefitted from a most successful radio career…and he would also witness those properties blossom outside the aural medium as well. For example, Gang Busters would be the subject of a memorably exciting Universal motion picture serial in 1942, and a decade later had a brief run on television, alternating weekly with DragnetMr. District Attorney also got the small screen treatment (in 1951-52, and again in 1954) after earlier inspiring silver screen versions in 1941 (part of a brief Republic Pictures franchise) and 1947. Counterspy was featured in two Columbia Pictures releases in 1950. Lord retired for a well-deserved rest and left this world for a better one in 1975 at the age of 73.

Radio Spirits offers that aforementioned Gang Busters serial for purchase. We’ve also got a vintage Gang Busters broadcast on our gumshoe potpourri set Great Radio Detectives, and you’ll find collections of Mr. District Attorney episodes on Mr. District Attorney and Champion of the People. In our digital downloads store, check out a pair of Gang Busters collections: Cases of Crime and Crime Wave. You’ll also find episodes of Gang Busters and Treasury Agent on Police and Thieves: Crime Radio Drama and installments of Counterspy on Great Radio Spies. Happiest of birthdays to Phillips H. Lord!

Happy Birthday, Harry Von Zell!

It’s now one of the best-remembered and oft-told anecdotes of radio history. A young CBS announcer born Harry Rudolph Von Zell in Indianapolis, Indiana on this date in 1906 manages to mangle the name of the 31st President of the United States during a live radio broadcast in 1931. “The next voice you hear will be that of our new president, Hoobert Heever,” intoned Von Zell with a spoonerism so unforgettable that sponsors later started requesting Harry to be the announcer for the programs on which they bought time. “They thought everybody would listen to see what I would do next!” Von Zell mused many years afterwards.

“I walked out of that studio—we were on the twenty-third floor of the Columbia Broadcasting System building—and fortunately, the windows were not operative,” Harry Von Zell told old-time radio historian Chuck Schaden in 1975. “They were fixed windows or I would have jumped out!” I should interject here and point out that contrary to what some have been led to believe, President Herbert Hoover was not being introduced by Von Zell at the time of the famous goof. It was all part of a scripted birthday tribute to Hoover being read by Harry, who pronounced the President’s name correctly no less than 20 times during his lengthy spiel. The notorious (I think it’s appropriate to use this adjective) Kermit Schafer, producer of a few popular “blooper” albums in the 1970s, did a little “doctoring” on one LP to make listeners think Harry’s verbal boo-boo was done in Hoover’s presence. (“We weren’t even in the same city,” Harry always joked.)

A Hoosier by birth, Harry Von Zell and his family moved to Sioux City, Iowa after he graduated from high school and then relocated to California where he studied music and drama at UCLA. Harry was already working at a variety of jobs when an opportunity to work in radio presented itself—a few of his friends goaded him into performing on a radio program, and offers to work at other stations soon started pouring in. “If you could perform in any way, average or perhaps a little above average, you could get work,” Von Zell explained to Schaden. “If you were average, you worked for nothing.” Fortunately, Harry could carry a tune and was able to obtain gainful employment at a number of West Coast stations (including KNX, where he earned $25 a week) before a successful audition for Paul Whiteman (Harry beat out 250 other announcers) landed him the announcer’s job on The Old Gold Hour. At the end of the program’s run, Von Zell would follow “The King of Jazz” and his band back to the East Coast and soon sign on with the Columbia Broadcasting System as a young staff announcer.

At CBS, Harry Von Zell worked as an announcer on such shows as The Feenamint National Amateur Night, The Gulf Headliners (with Will Rogers), Joe Palooka, The Socony Sketchbook, and Summer Stars (starring Joe Cook). It was not unusual for him to work close to 20 shows a week; Harry was the announcer for Bing Crosby’s inaugural radio broadcast, and worked for such stars as Phil Baker, Ben Bernie, Eddy Duchin, Stoopnagle and Budd, ”Whispering Jack” Smith, and Ed Wynn. One of Von Zell’s most high-profile assignments was as one of the announcers (along with Ted Husing and Westbrook Van Voorhis) on CBS’ The March of Time (Harry was the original “Voice of Time”). Von Zell was with CBS for four years before being hired by Young and Rubicam to work for their clients. That’s how Harry started announcing the adventures of The Aldrich Family weekly in 1939 and how it kicked off a good working relationship with Fred Allen beginning in December of 1935 with Town Hall Tonight.

Harry Von Zell’s longest-running radio relationship began in the fall of 1940, as the announcer/comic foil to Eddie Cantor on It’s Time to Smile. (Von Zell had worked on Smile’s summer incarnation, hosted by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.) Harry would serve in the second banana capacity until 1949 and became so identified with “Banjo Eyes” that in his 1947 Columbia comedy short Meet Mr. Mischief, he falls to his knees upon seeing a large photo of Cantor and begins to “salaam” his “boss” in an amusing in-joke. Von Zell would also work as announcer on Dinah Shore’s program Birds Eye Open House (Eddie liked to claim credit for “discovering” Dinah) and was prominently featured on two summer replacements for Cantor’s show, Quizzer’s Baseball (in 1941) and Wednesday With You (in 1945).

Harry Von Zell was also second banana (among a rather big bunch) on Joan Davis’ program (Joanie’s Tea Room/Joan Davis Time), memorably opening that show by singing “Poor Joan ain’t got nobody/She’s nobody’s sweetheart now” and following it with a maniacal, unsympathetic laugh. Harry was romantically pursued on the program by Verna Felton’s character (“Rosella ‘Hippy’ Hipperton III”), who often greeted him with an enthusiastic “Why, Mr. Von Zellllllllllll!” Von Zell also portrayed “Welby” on Frank Morgan’s The Fabulous Dr. Tweedy and in 1946, got his own starring syndicated sitcom The Smiths of Hollywood which co-starred Brenda Marshall, Jan Ford (a.k.a. Terry Moore), and Arthur Treacher.

Harry Von Zell could also be heard as either the regular announcer or special guest (he did the occasional fill-in, like on Duffy’s Tavern or Fibber McGee and Molly) on the following programs: Al Pearce and His Gang, The Amazing Mr. Smith, Behind the Mike, Bright Star, The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street, The Columbia Workshop, The Frank Fontaine Show, Fun In Print, The Gulf/Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre, Happy Meetin’ Time, The Jack Benny Program, The Jimmy Fidler Show, The Life of Riley, The Music Box Theatre, Truth or Consequences, We The People, and Your All-Time Hit Parade. Harry also contributed his announcing talents to such AFRS entertainments as Command Performance, Mail Call, and Sound Off; he’s among the all-star cast of Performance’s legendary February 15, 1945 operetta “Dick Tracy in B Flat or, For Goodness Sakes, Isn’t He Ever Going To Marry Tess Trueheart?”

For an individual closely associated with radio comedy, one will get a pleasant surprise from Harry Von Zell’s none-too-shabby turns in dramatic motion pictures like The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945), The Guilt of Janet Ames (1947), and The Saxon Charm (1948). There’s plenty of comedy in Harry’s cinematic resume, too; plum roles in two funny Bob Hope vehicles, Where There’s Life (1947) and Son of Paleface (1952) and an interesting curio in How DOooo You Do (1946)—which also features Von Zell’s fellow Eddie Cantor Show stooge Bert “The Mad Russian” Gordon in an attempt to cash in on their radio popularity. Harry eventually received the opportunity to get “star billing” with a series of two-reel comedy shorts (eight in all) he made for Columbia between 1946 and 1950. “I was not enthused by the idea, but when [Columbia shorts department head Jules White] explained that he was prepared to assign me a staff of expert comedy writers and $500 per subject, I changed my mind,” he recounted in Ed Watz and Ted Okuda’s The Columbia Comedy Shorts.

Harry Von Zell later credited the exposure he received in those two-reel shorts for his long-running gig as announcer-foil on George Burns and Gracie Allen’s television show. It wasn’t the first time he’d worked with George & Gracie, though; he had toiled briefly as their radio announcer in the mid-40s. It was also not Harry’s first small screen foray—before taking over for Bill Goodwin on the Burns’ show in 1951, Von Zell served as the pitchman for Pabst Blue Ribbon beer on TV’s The Life of Riley with Jackie Gleason (Harry was doing similar duty on William Bendix’s radio version). Harry would later appear on The George Burns Show (the one sans Gracie) and his other boob tube appearances include Bachelor Father (a recurring role as “Frank Curtis”), The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, McHale’s Navy, Perry Mason, The Tall Man, and Wagon Train. Harry Von Zell passed away in 1981 at the age of 75.

Here at Radio Spirits, we believe there’s no finer way to celebrate Harry Von Zell’s natal anniversary than with a purchase of Jack Benny vs. Fred Allen: The Feud; Harry was working for Fred at the time…though he usually tried to remain neutral when it came to verbal slugfests with Fred’s nemesis. Von Zell can also be heard on The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Duffy’s Tavern: Irish Eyes, Great Radio Sitcoms, Jack Benny: Days of Our Lives, and The Life of Riley: Blue Collar Blues. In our digital downloads store, check out Harry on The Aldrich Family, Bright Star, Burns & Allen: Beverly Hills Uplift Society and Keep Smiling, and The Life of Riley: Lovable Lug. Happy Birthday, Harry!

Happy Birthday, John McIntire!

In the mid-1930s, actor-announcer John Herrick McIntire—born in Spokane, Washington on this date in 1907—decided, along with his actress wife Jeanette Nolan, to retreat from show business and take up a simpler life in northwestern Montana (an area with which McIntire was most familiar, having been raised in Eureka, Montana as a boy) to benefit John’s health. The McIntires built a log cabin in the valley of the Yaak River (their 640-acre spread would soon come to be nicknamed “The Yaak”), many miles south of the Canadian border. It was an area so remote it had only been opened to homesteaders as late as 1914.

The McIntires were frequently snowed in from December to May, with temperatures often dipping to fifteen below zero…and John and Jeanette loved their existence, shooting deer & other game and pitching hay & hauling wood. Come the thaw, the couple collectively known as “the Lunt and Fontanne of radio” would travel to NYC to continue their radio work, earning enough to keep themselves on a firm financial footing so that they might quickly return to life on “the Yaak.” It was very therapeutic for John, plus it provided a touch of authenticity to his later film and television roles as one of the busiest and most durable of character actors (as we will soon see, McIntire appeared in more than a few Westerns).

After fifteen years’ worth of growing up in Montana, John McIntire’s parents moved the family to Santa Monica, California…where John attended high school and then the University of Southern California, majoring in speech and dramatics. While still a college student, McIntire got a job as a part-time announcer at Los Angeles’s KEJK, where at one time he functioned as the entire broadcasting staff for $25 a week. John dropped out of USC after two years and then spent an additional two years as a merchant seaman. Back on dry land, he returned in time to be the first announcer at KEJK to announce its switch in call letters to KMPC (now KSPN). John would use this experience to move up to network radio, where as a busy NBC employee he stood in front of a microphone and was heard on such programs as The Chase and Sanborn Hour (with Jimmy Durante), The Fleischmann Yeast Hour (Rudy Vallee), The Hall of FameMary Pickford and Company, and Shell Chateau (Al Jolson).

John McIntire met future wife Jeanette Nolan while the two of them were working on the 1934 radio serial Tarzan and the Diamond of Asher. John served as the narrator, but Jeanette was convinced that he should be acting as well. They would marry in 1935 and work together again on another Tarzan serial the following year (Tarzan and the Fires of Tohr). While both McIntires enjoyed successful solo radio acting careers, they often worked in tandem on such programs as The Cavalcade of AmericaThe Court of Missing HeirsThe Jack Pearl ShowThe March of Time, and The Shadow.

Since ranching in Montana occupied John McIntire’s time six months out of the year, he really had to step it up where radio was concerned. He starred alongside Betty Garde in We, the Abbotts—a daytime drama that aired over CBS and NBC from 1940 to 1942. John was the master of ceremonies on Lincoln Highway (1940-42), an NBC dramatic anthology that offered the novelty of featuring top Hollywood and Broadway stars in high-quality productions airing in the daytime hours (rather than the traditional primetime slot). On the sitcom Meet Mr. Meek, McIntire portrayed the “sour and cynical” Mr. Apple, and he was one of the first actors to play Dr. Benjamin Ordway, the hero known as the Crime Doctor. John was also Jack Packard (briefly) on I Love a Mystery, the titular criminologist of the detective drama The Adventures of Bill Lance (a CBS West Coast series), Lt. Dundy on The Adventures of Sam Spade, and Hamlet Mantel on the daytime variety series Glamour Manor. In addition, McIntire handled the announcing chores on The Man Called XOrson Welles’ Radio Almanac, and This is My Best.

To catalog the entire radio career of John McIntire would certainly be a Herculean task. A sample list of his accomplishments would include The Adventures of Ozzie and HarrietThe CBS Radio WorkshopThe Columbia WorkshopDark VentureEscapeFamily TheatreFavorite StoryFrontier GentlemanGunsmokeThe Hallmark Hall of FameHallmark PlayhouseHollywood Star PlayhouseHopalong CassidyI Love AdventureLet George Do ItThe Line-UpLuke Slaughter of TombstoneThe Lux Radio TheatreMy Friend IrmaMystery Is My HobbyOn StageThe Phil Harris-Alice Faye ShowThe Prudential Family Hour of StarsThe Railroad HourRichard Diamond, Private DetectiveScreen Directors’ PlayhouseSuspenseThis is Your FBIThe Whistler, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, Long after radio ceased to be the dominant entertainment medium, John made time for an old friend with appearances on The Sears Radio Theatre—the 1970s attempt to revive radio drama.

John McIntire’s motion picture debut was as narrator of the “Baptism of Fire” sequence in the 1940 feature The Ramparts We Watch, and you can also hear him as an announcer in the 1947 film The Hucksters. But his first credited role was in the 1948 film noir classic Call Northside 777, with James Stewart as a newspaper reporter attempting to prove a convicted killer’s innocence. Jimmy and John would cross cinematic paths an additional three times; most notably in Winchester ’73 (1950), with McIntire as a duplicitous gambler and gun trader, and The Far Country (1954), in which he locked horns with Stewart while playing a crooked judge. (Their last collaboration, 1961’s Two Rode Together, also featured wife Jeanette in a small role.)

John McIntire plays the police commissioner in The Asphalt Jungle (1950); a crusading D.A. in The Phoenix City Story (1955; one of my favorites); an ill-fated town doctor in The Tin Star (1957); a laconic sheriff in Psycho (1960); Elvis’ dad in Flaming Star (1960); and a cantankerous judge in Rooster Cogburn (1975). Other noteworthy films that feature McIntire include The Street with No Name (1948), Command Decision (1948), Shadow on the Wall (1950), Horizons West (1952), The Lawless Breed (1952), A Lion is in the Streets (1953), Stranger on Horseback (1955), Elmer Gantry (1960), and Summer and Smoke (1961). John and Jeanette occasionally worked together in features like Saddle Tramp (1950) and No Sad Songs For Me (1950), but one of their most delightful pairings was in 1984’s Cloak & Dagger (as the bad guys!). (The couple also voiced characters in the animated films The Rescuers [1977] and The Fox and the Hound [1981].)

Like many of his radio contemporaries, John McIntire transitioned to the small screen with guest roles on series like Father Knows Best and Cimarron City. In the fall of 1958, McIntire co-starred on the TV version of Naked City, portraying the role essayed by Barry Fitzgerald (Lt. Daniel Muldoon) in the 1948 film. But John was homesick for Montana and quit the series (in an admittedly fiery finish) in the episode “The Bumper” (replaced by Horace McMahon as Lt. Mike Parker). McIntire’s love for “The Yaak” almost kept him from accepting his next regular television assignment: replacing the late Ward Bond on the Western series Wagon Train. (John played wagon master Chris Hale from early 1961 until the show’s cancellation in May 1965.) McIntire also took over for Charles Bickford (who died in 1967) as the lead on The Virginian, playing the brother of Bickford’s character (and real-life wife Jeanette as his TV spouse) from 1967 to 1970. John made the guest star rounds on shows like The Fugitive and Bonanza and had one more regular role (on the short-lived Shirley in 1979-80) before his death in 1991 at the age of 83.

One of the many movie Westerns John McIntire appeared in was 1955’s The Kentuckian…and one of the highlights of that film is a musical number, Possum Up a Gum Tree, performed by John and co-stars Burt Lancaster, Diana Lynn, and Una Merkel.  This catchy little ditty is available on the 2-CD set The Westerns: Music and Songs From Classic Westerns, which is available in our Radio Spirits store. We’ve also got plenty of our birthday celebrant’s appearances on radio in our inventory: The Bob Bailey CollectionGreat Radio Science FictionGunsmoke (The HunterThe Round Up), Jack Benny: Be Our GuestThe Line Up: WitnessThe Man Called X: Race Against DeathMy Friend Irma: On Second ThoughtSuspense (Black CurtainTies That Bind), and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (Expense Account SubmittedThe Many Voices of Yours Truly, Johnny DollarMedium Rare MattersMysterious MattersWayward Matters).

You’ll also find the following collections featuring the talents of John McIntire in our Digital Downloads store: Christmas Radio ClassicsEscape EssentialsFrontier Gentleman: Aces and EightsHopalong Cassidy: Out from the Bar-20The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show: Explain the BeerRichard Diamond: Mayhem is My BusinessSuspense: Around the WorldSuspense: Omnibus, and The Whistler: Eleventh Hour. Happy birthday, John!

Happy Birthday, Tom Collins!

When actor Walter Paterson committed suicide in 1942, One Man’s Family creator Carlton E. Morse made the decision to eliminate Patterson’s character of “Nicholas Lacey” (the husband of Claudia Barbour) from Family’s storyline by having Nicky die in Europe during WW2. (Paterson also portrayed “Reggie Yorke” on Morse’s I Love a Mystery, so Reggie disappeared from that show as well.) A few years after Walter’s passing, however, Carlton E. was determined to bring Nicky back with a dramatic flourish…so he conducted four weeks of extensive auditions to find the most suitable replacement. Morse eventually chose the thespian born Beryl William Collins in Chicago, Illinois on this date in 1913. Professionally, we know him as Tom Collins…and the management at Radio Spirits has requested that I dispense with any and all cocktail jokes for the rest of the essay.

Graduating from Austin High School in 1930, Tom Collins enrolled in the University of Illinois. However, he left after one year to join the Kenneth Sawyer Goodman School of the Theater in Chicago. It was in the Windy City where Tom got his first taste of radio acting, appearing in the radio serial Kitty Keane, Inc. Collins also played E.W. Hornung’s famous gentleman thief Raffles on a program that featured actress Cathy Lewis in the supporting cast and J. Donald Wilson (creator of The Whistler) as director. That series was cancelled after 26 weeks.

Besides, Tom Collins had bigger fish to fry in Hollywood. He signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1938 and began appearing in two-reel shorts (Money to Loan [1939]) and programmers (Tell No Tales and 6,000 Enemies, both in 1939). His lasting contribution to MGM was playing “Dr. Joiner” in four of the films in the Dr. Kildare franchise—his last feature at the studio, in fact, was Dr. Kildare’s Crisis (1940). Tom started to gravitate more and more towards the aural medium. (He guested on Good News of 1939 to perform scenes from Fast and Loose [1939] on a February 16, 1939 broadcast.) He would make appearances on Big TownDr. ChristianFree CompanyHedda Hopper’s Hollywood, and Southern Cruise.

Tom Collins not only had an ideal speaking voice for radio he was quite adept at accents and dialects—a major help in getting the One Man’s Family gig (not to mention taking over as Reggie Yorke on I Love Adventure, the follow-up program to I Love a Mystery). Collins made himself quite well known on multiple daytime dramas; he was “Niles Novak” on Dear John, “Captain John Blanding” on The Gallant Heart, “Barclay Bailey” on The Romance of Helen Trent, “Ned Corbett” on Front Page Ferrell, and “Inspector Malloy” on Stella Dallas. Tom also made appearances on Aunt MaryBackstage WifeLorenzo JonesModern RomancesMy Secret StoryThe Right to HappinessTrue Story, and Whispering Streets.

One of Tom Collins’ most high-profile radio jobs came about from a selfless act on the actor’s part. According to Radio Spirits’ own Martin Grams, Jr., Collins was assigned an acting role on a Cavalcade of America broadcast…and was then asked to switch parts with that week’s celebrity guest because Tom had the larger role. Tom was most obliging, and because of this, Cavalcade producer Jack Zoller offered him the job of announcer…which guaranteed him a steady paycheck week after week. Collins’ best-remembered radio work was playing the titular master of legerdemain known as Chandu the Magician, a “reboot” of the popular 1930s radio adventure serial that aired over Mutual and then ABC from 1948 to 1950. The success of Chandu won Tom starring gigs on the syndicated The Adventures of Frank Race (although he was replaced by Paul Dubov after 22 shows) and The Greatest of These (as wealthy attorney Harvey Desmond).

Tom Collins’ bid for television stardom was nipped in the bud when producers decided that, rather than allow him to reprise his Nicholas Lacey role on a TV adaptation of One Man’s Family, they would cast actor Lloyd Bochner to play the part. (Lloyd Bochner? Seriously?) Collins had moved his family to New York in anticipation of getting the job…and having been rebuffed, found it difficult to mix with NYC’s insular radio community. Tom worked when he could and, in addition to the shows already mentioned, boasted a radio resume that included The Adventures of the SaintThe Amazing Mr. Malone (Murder and Mr. Malone), Box ThirteenCrime FightersDark VentureDear MargieDoctor SixgunEllery QueenFavorite StoryHearthstone of the Death SquadIntrigueThe Lux Radio TheatreMartin Kane, Private EyeMr. ChameleonMr. Keen, Tracer of Lost PersonsThe New Philip Morris ProgramPress ClubRadio City PlayhouseScreen Directors’ PlayhouseStars Over HollywoodThe Theatre of Famous Radio PlayersThis is My StoryTop GuyUnder ArrestThe Whistler, and X-Minus One. Tom Collins died at the age of 60 in 1973.

To celebrate Tom Collins’ birthday, Radio Spirits offers up the actor’s signature radio role of Chandu the Magician—a 6-CD set of vintage Mutual broadcasts that includes the first half-hour episode of the series, “The Origin of Chandu.” Check out Mr. Collins on our Box Thirteen and The Whistler: Root of All Evil CD collections as well. In our digital downloads store, Tom is represented on Great Radio Spies, The Whistler: Eleventh Hour, and X-Minus One: Volume Two. Happy birthday, Tom!

Happy Birthday, Herb Vigran!

The man born Herbert (some sources spell it “Herburt”) Vigran in Cincinnati, Ohio on this date in 1910 would become one of show business’ most distinctive character actors. His easily recognized voice and facial features (particularly his bushy eyebrows) granted him the versatility to play individuals on both sides of the law (cops and gangsters) and flawlessly move back-and-forth from comedic roles to dramatic parts. Truth be told, Vigran’s acting resume is so lengthy and extensive it does him a disservice to boil everything down to a solitary blog post. Any aspiring biographer should really consider writing one about Herb, who chalked up over 350 film and TV appearances in his 50-year career (and he was every bit as busy on radio).

Although born in the Buckeye State, Indiana welcomed Herb as an adopted Hoosier sixteen years later when the Vigran family moved to Fort Wayne. He would end up graduating from the University of Indiana with a degree in law, and even passed the state bar exam. However, instead of hanging out his legal shingle, he took off for the Big Apple to become an actor. Herb landed small roles in Broadway productions of Achilles Had a Heel (1935), Cyrano de Bergerac (1936), and Having Wonderful Time (1937). Buoyed by his significant stage success, Vigran ventured out to Tinsel Town…despite having no prospects and no money.

Herb Vigran’s agent got him an acting job on radio’s The Silver Theatre, and Vigran spent $5 to have that broadcast recorded. With that transcription in hand, Herb was able to get additional work on popular anthology programs like The Lux Radio Theatre and The Cavalcade of America. Vigran would later make the rounds on programs such as California CaravanThe Camel Screen Guild TheatreThe CityThe Damon Runyon Theatre (as Harry the Horse), Dark VentureThe Eternal LightFamily TheatreFavorite StoryThe Ford TheatreThe Hallmark Hall of FameHollywood Star PlayhouseInheritanceNBC Presents: Short StoryOn StageThe Prudential Family Hour of StarsThe Railroad HourScreen Directors’ PlayhouseStars in the AirSuspenseThe WhistlerYour Movietown Radio Theatre, and You Were There.

Herb also proved his worth as a second banana, yukking it up alongside such mirth makers as Abbott & Costello, Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, Fibber McGee and Molly, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Lum and Abner, Phil Harris & Alice Faye, Jack Paar, and Alan Young. In addition, Herb logged guest appearances on many situation comedies: The Adventures of MaisieThe Adventures of Ozzie and HarrietThe BickersonsFamily SkeletonGranby’s Green AcresThe Great GildersleeveThe Halls of IvyThe Life of RileyMeet Mr. McNutleyMr. and Mrs. BlandingsMy Favorite HusbandSara’s Private Caper, and That’s Rich.

Three of Herb Vigran’s most memorable radio assignments were on comedy programs. The first was his only starring gig: from June 12 to September 4, 1946 Vigran played The Sad Sack, cartoonist George Baker’s famed luckless G.I. creation. The radio version featured Vigran-as-Sack mustered out of the service (coincidentally, Herb had just got out as well) and attempting to adjust to civilian life with the help of his chiseling roommate Chester Fenwick (Jim Backus) and girlfriend Lucy Twitchell (Sandra Gould). In the fall of 1949, Herb could be heard as next-door neighbor Hector Smith on the Robert Young series Father Knows Best with Eleanor Audley as wife Elizabeth and Sam Edwards as their son Billy.

Perhaps the one radio job that ensured Herb Vigran would be standing in front of a microphone week after week was his joining the “stock company” of the medium’s most popular comedy broadcast, The Jack Benny Program. Herb’s “Everyman” quality allowed him to play any number of characters on Jack’s show. An excellent example is a November 15, 1953 episode in which Vigran, as “Mac the Doorman,” explains to the comedian that while he was assigned to watch the doors at the radio studio he’s been transferred to “Television City.”

“Mr. Benny,” Mac asks the star, “how long ago was it that you held the ‘I Can’t Stand Jack Benny’ contest?”

Jack is somewhat taken aback. “Well, we finished that eight years ago,” Benny explains to the doorman.

“Well, you ought to make an announcement on your program,” Mac responds. “We keep getting about 500 letters a week!”

Rounding out Herb Vigran’s radio C.V. are favorites like The Adventures of Philip MarloweThe Adventures of the Lone WolfThe Adventures of the SaintBarrie Craig, Confidential InvestigatorBold VentureBox ThirteenBroadway’s My BeatThe Casebook of Gregory HoodThe Cisco KidDragnetFort LaramieThe Green LamaGunsmokeHave Gun — Will TravelI Was a Communist for the FBIJeff Regan, InvestigatorLet George Do ItLuke Slaughter of TombstoneThe New Adventures of Nero WolfePresenting Charles BoyerRocky FortuneThe Roy Rogers ShowThe Six-ShooterSomebody KnowsTales of the Texas RangersWild Bill Hickok, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. You know the old saying (that I just made up): “You can take the boy out of radio…but you can’t take radio out of the boy.” Herb continued to perform on shows that attempted to revive radio drama, including The Hollywood Radio Theatre and The Sears Radio Theatre.

Herb Vigran appeared in a multitude of motion picture shorts and features, often uncredited but never failing to make an impression. Among his early credited films are It All Came True (1940), Murder by Invitation (1941), Reg’lar Fellers (1941), and Secrets of a Co-Ed (1942). He’s the reporter interviewing Henri Verdoux (Charles Chaplin) on his way to the gallows in Monsieur Verdoux (1947); the police lieutenant in Bedtime for Bonzo (1951); and a nightclub manager in White Christmas (1954). Herb’s also the salesman who sells The Long, Long Trailer (1954) to Tacy and Nicky Collini (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz).

Herb Vigran had a long working association with Lucille Ball—he made multiple appearances on I Love Lucy and later on The Lucy Show. Herb was also a familiar presence on Dragnet, on both the 1951-59 and 1967-70 versions, as well as the 1954 feature film. (Vigran plays a desk clerk in both versions of “The Big Little Jesus,” the series’ celebrated Yuletide offering.) Among the many TV shows that Herb guested on before his passing in 1986 at the age of 76: The Adventures of SupermanBachelor FatherBewitchedBonanzaBurns and AllenThe Danny Thomas ShowThe Dick Van Dyke ShowThe Ed Wynn Show (as Ernest Hinshaw), The FlintstonesGomer Pyle: USMCGunsmoke (as Judge Brooker), I Married JoanThe Jack Benny ProgramMaverickMcHale’s NavyMy Little MargieOur Miss Brooks, and Perry Mason.

That Jack Benny Program broadcast I mentioned a few paragraphs up is available for purchase on the Radio Spirits collection The Fabulous ‘50s, as are several other Benny sets featuring today’s birthday celebrant: Be Our Guest, Days of Our Lives, The Fabulous ‘40s, Jack Benny & Friends, and Tough Luck! In addition, you’ll find plenty of Herb on compilations of The Life of Riley (Blue Collar Blues, Lovable Lug), The Six-Shooter (Gray Steel, Special Edition), and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (Expense Account Submitted, Fabulous Freelance, Fatal Matters, Wayward Matters). Rounding out our Vigran CD compendiums are The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, The Adventures of the Saint: The Saint is Heard, Broadway’s My Beat: The Loneliest Mile, Christmas on the Air, Damon Runyon: Here is Broadway, Dark Venture, Dragnet: Get ‘Em, Family Theatre: Every Home, Father Knows Best: Maple Street, Fibber McGee & Molly: Selling Kisses, Fort Laramie: Volume Two, The Halls of Ivy: School Days, Have Gun – Will Travel: Dressed to Kill, Jeff Regan, Investigator: Stand By For Mystery, The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe: Parties for Death, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show: Reminiscing, and Somebody Knows.

You thought I was kidding about Herb Vigran being a busy man in the aural medium, didn’t you? Well, in Radio Spirits’ digital downloads store there’s plenty more of Herb with Barrie Craig: Confidential Investigator, Broadway’s My Beat: Great White Way, Family Theatre, The Halls of Ivy, Happy Halloween, Let George Do It (Cry Uncle, Enter Mr. Valentine), The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show (Family Values, Hotel Harris), Rocky Fortune, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: Phantom Chases. If your cart isn’t too full, see if you can make some room for more Jack Benny—International, No Place Like Home, Oh, Rochester!, On the Town, and Picture Parodies. Happy birthday, Herb!

Happy Birthday, Henry Fonda!

For actor Henry Fonda, the old “third time’s the charm” idiom certainly rang true in 1982. He was recognized by his peers at the Academy Awards ceremony that year and awarded the Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar for his performance as an elderly curmudgeon who reconnects with his daughter (played by real-life daughter Jane) in On Golden Pond (1981). The winner of an honorary award the previous year (“in recognition of his brilliant accomplishments and enduring contribution to the art of motion pictures”), Fonda had been nominated earlier for his turns in The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and 12 Angry Men (1957). Yet the legitimate trophy would provide a fitting capper to the career of the actor born Henry Jaynes Fonda in Grand Island, Nebraska on this date in 1905.

Henry Fonda and his family moved to Omaha when he was six months old. His father set up a printing shop, and while young Hank aspired to be a newspaperman (majoring in journalism when he enrolled at the University of Minnesota), he quit college after two years and accepted a job as an office boy with the Retail Credit Company. That line of work didn’t satisfy Fonda, either. However, his time spent with the Omaha Community Playhouse (which he joined at age 20, at the suggestion of Marlon Brando’s mother Dodie) stoked an interest in acting and the theatre. After success in productions like You and I and Merton of the Movies, he quit his Omaha job in 1928 and relocated to Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

A short time after his arrival in Cape Cod, Henry Fonda (on the advice of a friend) joined the University Players in nearby Falmouth—an intercollegiate summer stock company that developed his acting style. It was here that he met future wife Margaret Sullivan (they were married from 1931 to 1933 and appeared together onscreen in 1936’s The Moon’s Our Home), and made acquaintances with the likes of Joshua Logan, Myron McCormick, Mildred Natwick, and James Stewart (who would become Hank’s lifelong friend and even roommate when the two arrived in Hollywood).

Henry Fonda and James Stewart were also best buds/roomies when Fonda moved to NYC to be with his then-wife Margaret Sullavan. Hank soon got roles in productions of I Loved You Wednesday (1932) and New Faces of 1934 (his first important Broadway role). Even after establishing himself as a major motion picture star, Fonda still made time for stage work with later appearances in Mister Roberts (1948; he reprised the role in the 1955 film adaptation), The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (1954), Two For the Seesaw (1958), Critic’s Choice (1960), and a 1969 revival of Our Town. However, it was his showcase in 1934’s The Farmer Takes a Wife that started his meteoric rise in Hollywood when he was asked to reprise his stage role in the 1935 film adaptation. He would soon become a favorite of moviegoers in features like The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), You Only Live Once  (1937), Jezebel (1938), and Spawn of the North (1938).

The apex of Henry Fonda’s early Hollywood career was reached with his appearance in John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), the first of seven films Hank would make with the veteran director. In fact, the two films released after LincolnDrums Along the Mohawk (1939) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940), were Fonda-Ford collaborations—with Wrath earning the actor his first Best Actor Oscar nomination. (He was beaten in that race by his pal Jimmy Stewart, who won for The Philadelphia Story.) The remaining films of the Fonda-Ford partnership were postwar releases: My Darling Clementine (1946), The Fugitive (1947; a box office disappointment), Fort Apache (1948), and Mister Roberts (1955; started by Ford but taken over by Fonda’s old friend Josh Logan when Ford fell ill). (Henry also appeared in the 1962 epic How the West Was Won, which featured direction by Ford–but Hank’s scenes were helmed by George Marshall.)

One of Henry Fonda’s earliest radio appearances was on a December 13, 1934 broadcast of Rudy Vallee’s Fleischmann’s Yeast Hour, on which he and June Walker performed a scene from The Farmer Takes a Wife. Hank would become a welcomed guest on the top dramatic anthologies of the day, reprising roles from such feature films as I Met My Love Again (1938), The Return of Frank James (1940), and The Magnificent Dope (1942) on the likes of Hollywood Star Theatre and The Lux Radio Theatre. Fonda’s radio resume includes appearances on Academy Award TheatreThe Cavalcade of AmericaThe Electric TheatreEyes AloftFamily TheatreFree CompanyThe Gulf/Lady Esther Screen Guild TheatreThe Hotpoint Holiday HourThe Martin and Lewis ShowPhilco Radio TimeThe Royal Gelatin HourThe Shell ChateauSuspenseTheatre of Romance, and The Treasury Hour.

Henry Fonda’s film career was one of great versatility: he shined in screwball comedies like The Lady Eve (1941) and The Male Animal (1942) and excelled in Westerns such as Jesse James (1939) and The Ox-Bow Incident (1943). Fonda enlisted in the Navy in 1942, serving in the Pacific in WW2 and receiving a Bronze Star and a Presidential Citation. As a civilian once again, he fluctuated from motion pictures to stage work, and continued to do so throughout the 1950s. Hank scored a critical success with his appearance in the Alfred Hitchcock-directed The Wrong Man (1957); that same year, he received his second Best Actor Oscar nomination for 12 Angry Men.

1957 also saw the release of The Tin Star, an Anthony Mann-directed Western featuring Henry Fonda as a bounty hunter who mentors an inexperienced young lawman (Anthony Perkins). The film’s plot would inspire Fonda’s first starring TV series, The Deputy (1959-61), with the actor as a U.S. Marshal giving a helping hand to the titular peacekeeper (Allen Case). Fonda’s participation on the program was a bit minimal (in the first season, he shot all his scenes in ten weeks to free up his schedule for film and theatre work); he committed himself more to The Smith Family (1971-72), a family comedy with Hank as the cop patriarch of a brood that featured Ron Howard as his oldest son. Fonda was also a guest on such shows as The Bill Cosby ShowThe Dick Powell TheatreThe Ed Sullivan Show, and Maude.

Throughout the 1960s, Henry Fonda came to represent authority figures in feature films. He was a Secretary of State nominee in Advise & Consent (1962) and a candidate for the Presidency in The Best Man (1964). (He’d eventually get to be President in 1964’s Fail Safe…though he’d also wind up having to decide to nuke New York City.) Fonda played top cops in Madigan and The Boston Strangler (both 1968) and was even cast against type as one of the most cold-blooded villains in movie history in the classic Western Once Upon a Time in the West (1969). In the 70s, Hank would portray historical figures like Clarence Darrow (in a 1974 TV movie), General Douglas MacArthur (1976’s Collision Course: Truman vs. MacArthur), and Admiral Chester W. Nimitz (Midway [1976]). The actor received the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award in 1978 and left this world for a better one a few months after winning the Best Actor Oscar at the age of 77.

Radio Spirits invites you to celebrate Mr. Fonda’s natal anniversary by checking out our Jack Benny collection Be Our Guest. Henry’s the narrator of “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” a production of the classic George S. Kaufman-Moss Hart play as originally presented December 25, 1949 on The Hotpoint Holiday Hour. Fonda is also among the galaxy of stars featured on our 4-DVD set Hollywood’s Greatest Screen Legends. In our digital downloads store, we have Henry on hand on Great Radio Spies and an October 8, 1945 broadcast of The Cavalcade of America (“Spy on the Kilocycles”). Happy birthday, Hank!

Happy Birthday, Ben Wright!

“Ben was one of the last of the true English gentlemen in the Edwardian sense of the word, with an accent on the gentle,” remarked Joe Bandille in 1989 on the passing of his good friend, actor Ben Wright. “He was also a scholar in the best tradition of the self-educated man.” Old-time radio devotees know that the man born Benjamin Huntington Wright in London, England on this date in 1915 was one of the most skilled character actors in the medium. One would also be hard-pressed to find a more practiced dialectician, in that Ben’s roles ranged from portraying the titular sleuth on The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (in the 1949-50 season) to Toku, the devoted Tibetan assistant to Jethro Dumont, a.k.a. The Green Lama.

At the age of 16, Ben Wright scratched the itch left by the acting bug by joining the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). (Ida Lupino was one of his classmates!) After graduation, Ben appeared in a number of stage productions in London’s West End. Wright enlisted in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps as World War II was underway. His arrival in Hollywood in 1946 was ostensibly to attend a cousin’s wedding (Ben’s father was American—his mother British) but he decided to stay…and found ample acting opportunities in radio.

Ben Wright quickly established himself in radio as a valuable supporting player, particularly when it came to dialects. Of course, he could be in the center spotlight on occasion…like his previously mentioned Sherlock Holmes gig and his portrayal of “Inspector Peter Black” in the 1951-52 season of Pursuit. Ben’s undeniable performing strengths, however, would be showcased in supporting roles like his “Nicholas Lacey” on the long-running One Man’s Family. During the 1940s, he was also heard on popular programs such as The Adventures of Philip MarloweChandu the MagicianEncore TheatreEscapeFamily TheatreThe Lux Radio TheatreMystery in the AirThe NBC University TheatreOur American HeritageRocky JordanRomanceScreen Directors’ PlayhouseSuspenseTell it AgainVoyage of the Scarlet QueenThe Whistler, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

In the 1950s, Ben Wright was doing some of his best radio work, particularly on shows directed and produced by Elliott Lewis: Broadway’s My BeatCrime ClassicsOn Stage, etc. Ben’s credits include appearances on The Adventures of Christopher LondonThe Adventures of MaisieThe Cisco KidDangerous AssignmentThe General Electric TheatreThe Hallmark Hall Of FameHallmark PlayhouseThe Halls of IvyInheritanceLuke Slaughter of Tombstone, Let George Do ItThe Man Called XThe Modern Adventures of CasanovaNBC Presents: Short StoryNight BeatO’HaraRichard Diamond, Private DetectiveThe Screen Guild TheatreThe Six-ShooterThe Silent MenStars Over HollywoodThe Story of Doctor Kildare, and T-Man. Wright would continue as radio was struggling on life support with quality programs like The CBS Radio Workshop and Gunsmoke.

When the CBS Radio Network issued a press release announcing the February 2, 1958 premiere of a new program, Frontier Gentleman, the copy read: “Featured in the leading role of J.B. Kendall, a quiet-spoken freelance correspondent for a London newspaper and a veteran of a long service with the British army in India will be the versatile radio and TV actor Ben Wright, who has appeared in many of CBS Radio’s most popular dramatic programs…” This was a bit of a faux pas on the network’s part; while Ben auditioned for the role of Kendall (a recording of which exists today), he lost out to actor John Dehner, who would play the part for 41 broadcasts until Frontier Gentleman’s cancellation on November 16, 1958. The following week, however, would see the two performers working together on a radio version of the TV hit Have Gun – Will Travel. Dehner portrayed “Paladin,” the gun-for-hire made popular on the small screen by Richard Boone, and Wright used dialect to play “Hey Boy,” the Chinese houseboy at the Carlton Hotel. The radio version lasted until November 27, 1960. Ben never really abandoned radio, acting on 1960s dramas like Arch Oboler’s Plays and Horizons West and 70s revivals such as The Hollywood Radio Theatre and The Sears Radio Theatre.

Ben Wright made his Hollywood movie debut (billed as Ben H. Wright) in 1947’s The Exile, and included among his credited roles are such features as Botany Bay (1952), The Desert Rats (1953), Johnny Concho (1956), The Power and the Prize (1956), Pharaoh’s Curse (1957), The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959), Operation Bottleneck (1961), and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). Ben’s best-remembered live action role (as “Herr Zeller”) is in a film that’s now become a holiday viewing staple, The Sound of Music (1965)…but sharp-eared fans will immediately recognize his familiar clipped tones voicing “Roger Radcliff” in the Walt Disney animated classic One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961) and “Rama” (Mowgli’s wolf father) in The Jungle Book (1967). Wright’s final motion picture credit was in a Disney movie (released after his death), voicing “Grimsby” in The Little Mermaid (1989).

Ben Wright was kept quite busy on the small screen, too, with guest appearances on the usual suspects: Barnaby JonesBonanzaCannonDeath Valley DaysGunsmokeHave Gun – Will TravelHogan’s HeroesIronsideThe Man from U.N.C.L.E.Mission: ImpossiblePerry MasonQuincy, M.E.The Rockford FilesThe Twilight ZoneThe Virginian, and The Wild, Wild West, to name just a few. Ben Wright died in July of 1989 at the age of 74 from complications during heart bypass surgery.

Radio Spirits wants you to celebrate Ben Wright’s birthday in style, which is why we can’t recommend highly enough three CD collections featuring the actor’s signature role on Have Gun – Will TravelBitter VengeanceBlind Courage, and Dressed to Kill. Ben can also be heard on sets of The Adventures of Philip Marlowe (Lonely CanyonsSucker’s Road) and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (Confidential, Expense Account SubmittedFatal MattersThe Many Voices of Yours Truly, Johnny DollarMedium Rare MattersWayward Matters). Rounding out our physical media offerings are Broadway’s My Beat: The Lonesomest MileChandu the MagicianCrime Classics: The Hyland FilesEscape: PerilFrontier Gentleman: The Violent YearsGreat Radio Private EyesGunsmoke: Dead or AliveNight Beat: Human InterestRomanceSherlock Holmes: Cue for MurderThe Six Shooter: Special EditionStop the Press!Suspense: Wages of Sin, and The Whistler: Root of All Evil.

In our digital downloads store, we have classic broadcasts of Broadway’s My Beat (Neon Shoals), Crime Classics, Escape (Classics, Essentials, High Adventure, The Hunted and the Haunted, Journey Into Fear, To the High Seas), Frontier Gentleman (Aces and Eights, Frontier Gentleman), Great Radio Detectives, The Halls of Ivy, Have Gun – Will Travel, Let George Do It (Full Details), Night Beat (Lost Souls, Nightside is Different), Pursuit (When Man Hunts Man), Radio Christmas Spirits, Richard Diamond, Private Detective (Mayhem is My Business), Suspense (Around the World, Tales Well Calculated, Ties That Bind), The Voices of Christmas Past, Voyage of the Scarlet Queen (Volume One and Two), The Whistler (Eleventh Hour), and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (Phantom Chases). Happy birthday, Ben!