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Happy Birthday, Florence Halop!

A September 1935 edition of Radio Mirror spotlights child stars on the radio in one of its articles, mentioning such talents as Walter Tetley and Billy Halop. Billy wasn’t the only member of the Halop clan putting groceries on the table by standing in front of a microphone. His sister Florence (born on this date in 1923 in Jamaica, Queens, New York) was a radio veteran at the age of four. When Billy played the title role on the popular juvenile western-drama Bobby Benson and the H-Bar-O Rangers, Florence was a regular on the same show as “Polly Armstead.” The Radio Mirror article notes that Florence once competed with five other actresses for a role on The March of Time that required a first-rate Mae West impersonation…and Flo beat all of them out for the part. “Try her again,” complained one of the women, perturbed at losing to a ten-year-old child. “It was probably just an accident that her voice sounded like Mae West’s this time.” Florence did a flawless West encore and removed all doubt–an impersonation that would come in handy later in her career, as we shall soon see.

Florence Halop was born into a theatrical family; her mother, Lucille, was a dancer. And I’ve already mentioned brother Billy, who would go on to later fame as one of the “Dead End Kids” in films like Dead End (1937) and Angels With Dirty Faces (1938). “The youngest star of the National Broadcasting Company” heralded a newspaper article in 1931, as Florence started to build up a radio resume that included stints on such programs as The Albert Peyton Terhune Dog ShowThe Chick Chick ProgramThe Children’s HourCoast-to-Coast on a BusLet’s PretendMarch of GamesOur Magic CircleWheatenaville News, and The Wonder Show.

Florence Halop’s brother Billy appeared alongside her in several of the programs mentioned above and Flo, in turn, has a small role as “Mary” in Junior G-Men (1940), a Universal cliffhanger serial that also starred Billy’s fellow “Dead End” compadres Huntz Hall, Gabriel Dell, and Bernard Punsly. Florence’s only other motion picture appearance was an uncredited part as “Phyllis Gimble” in Nancy Drew… Reporter (1939), one of the vehicles in the brief Nancy Drew franchise produced by Warner Brothers. Truth be told, Halop was quite busy in radio, appearing on such shows as Dr. Christian and The Cavalcade of America. From July 6 to August 24, 1943, Florence was a cast member on Meet the Colonel, a half-hour CBS sitcom starring F. Chase Taylor as his “Colonel Stoopnagle” character. One newspaper columnist remarked that Halop was “a young lady who is not Shirley Booth but who sounds so much like her that Miss Booth should be getting royalties.”

As such, it was only fitting that Florence Halop took over for Shirley Booth when Booth left the popular Duffy’s Tavern in 1943 (Shirley was the one-time spouse of Ed Gardner, the program’s star). The story goes that Florence landed the Miss Duffy role with an audition record that fooled the newest Mrs. (Simone) Gardner into thinking she was listening to Shirley Booth. Ed insisted to anyone who’d listen that Booth’s replacement would have to hail from Brooklyn because “that Brooklyn twist just about has to be real.” Unfortunately for “Archie the Manager,” Florence grew up on Long Island and attended the Professional Children’s School in Manhattan as a tot. Halop was also the polar opposite of the Miss Duffy character in that she spoke fluent French and was a devotee of classical music. Still, she was a most welcomed presence on Duffy’s (she played Miss Duffy from 1943 to 1944 and again in 1947-49); Gardner later lamented that the many actresses that followed Flo were never really able to measure up to her interpretation of the role.

Florence Halop would later appear as a regular (as “Hortense”) on The Henry Morgan Show, but she also made excellent use of that Mae West impression on The Jimmy Durante Show, where she played the West-like “Hotbreath Houlihan” (“Relax, boys…it’s Hotbreath Houlihan…”). In addition, Flo had regular stints on Easy AcesThe Jack Paar ProgramJoan Davis TimeShorty Bell (as waitress Irene Brown), and Sweeney and March. Rounding out Halop’s voluminous radio c.v. are appearances on The Adventures of Christopher LondonThe Adventures of the FalconThe Adventures of Frank RaceThe Baby Snooks ShowEverything GoesFrontier TownGang BustersThe Lux Radio TheatreMy Favorite HusbandNow is the TimeThe Phil Harris-Alice Faye ShowScreen Directors’ Playhouse, and The Sportsman’s Club.

Like so many of her radio brethren and sistren, Florence Halop started to make inroads into television; she was a regular on Don Ameche’s Musical Playhouse and made guest appearances on shows like I Love Lucy and Goodyear Playhouse. Flo got major exposure with a role on Meet Millie, a situation comedy that had origins on radio. It featured Audrey Totter playing Millie Bronson, a dizzy secretary not too far removed from the one Marie Wilson played on My Friend Irma. When Millie transitioned to TV in the fall of 1952, Elena Verdugo replaced Totter as Millie (Totter’s home studio of M-G-M forbade her to go on television) and the part of her mother (originally essayed by Bea Benaderet on radio) went to Florence. Florence was twenty-nine at the time she started playing “Mamma Bronson” and since the character was in her late 40s/early 50s the actress spent a considerable amount of time in the makeup chair. Meet Millie was never a critics’ favorite, but it did last four seasons (the radio version closed up shop in 1954, with Flo playing the mother role on occasion).

Florence Halop’s television career was highlighted by many guest appearances on favorites like The Alfred Hitchcock HourThe Danny Thomas ShowThe Dick Van Dyke ShowI SpyThat Girl, and The Untouchables. In the 1970s she contributed voice work to animated series like Wait Till Your Father Gets Home and Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels while making recurring appearances on the likes of AngieArchie Bunker’s PlaceBarney MillerThe Betty White Show, and The Mary Tyler Moore Hour. In 1984, Florence landed the role that cemented her TV immortality: she was originally scheduled to appear on St. Elsewhere for one episode as the nettlesome patient Mrs. Hufnagel, but her character was so well-received that the show’s creative staff worked her into seventeen additional installments before giving her one of the small screen’s most unforgettable demises. Her Elsewhere work helped her land the role of Florence Kleiner, a feisty bailiff on the sitcom Night Court…which was her final TV work before her passing in 1986 at the age of 63.

Florence Halop’s signature role of “Miss Duffy” is on full display in the Radio Spirits collections of the iconic radio sitcom Duffy’s TavernDuffy Ain’t Here and Irish Eyes. You can also hear today’s birthday gal on a June 1, 1949 Tavern broadcast on Great Radio Comedy and listen to her clown with Jimmy Durante (in person!) on The Jimmy Durante Show. In our digital downloads store, Flo can be heard in the collections The Falcon: Private Eye to Super SpyGang Busters: Crime WaveHenry Morgan, and The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show: Wonga. Happy birthday to you, Florence!

Happy Birthday, Lloyd Bridges!

The classic TV favorite Sea Hunt could facetiously–-but truthfully–-be described as “the one that got away.” Every one of the major television networks took a pass on the proposed series from producer Ivan Tors, rationalizing that its premise–-an ex-Navy frogman now working as a freelance undersea investigator–-was too limited for a weekly program. Tors got the last laugh (and made a small mint) when he decided to offer up the series for syndication, where it became a monster hit. The star of that show was born Lloyd Vernet Bridges Jr. in Leandro, California on this date in 1913…and though Lloyd Bridges was already well-known for his work in motion pictures and on stage, Sea Hunt was his ticket to TV immortality.

Lloyd Bridges’ parents were Kansas natives, with his father Lloyd, Sr. involved in the hotel business in California and also owner of a movie theatre at one time. Lloyd, Jr. graduated from Petaluma High School in 1930 and went on to UCLA to major in political science. Yet Bridges was also bitten by the acting bug and in 1937 made his Broadway debut as part of the Ensemble in a production of Othello, which starred Walter Huston and Brian Aherne. Lloyd also had small uncredited roles in a pair of movies at this time, Freshman Love (1935) and Dancing Feet (1936).

Lloyd Bridges’ big break came when he became a contractee at Columbia Pictures at $75 a week, with his first credited film being 1941’s The Lone Wolf Takes a Chance. Despite steady work in films (Blondie Goes to CollegeThe Crime Doctor’s Strangest Case) and short subjects (Bridges can be seen fleetingly in the 1943 Three Stooges comedy They Stooge to Conga as well as two-reelers starring The Glove Slingers and El Brendel), the actor described his stint at the studio as “tough sledding.” “All the best roles went to Glenn Ford and William Holden,” Lloyd reminisced in later years. “They just put me in these awful B-pictures, like Two Latins from Manhattan.” On occasion, Bridges would get a nice meaty part such as that in the 1943 war film Sahara, which starred Humphrey Bogart. Lloyd left Columbia during World War II to enlist in the Coast Guard; after being discharged, he became a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and later did public service announcements for the organization as well.

Returning to acting, Lloyd Bridges had better luck outside Columbia, appearing in independent films like A Walk in the Sun (1945) and starring in the Universal cliffhanger serial Secret Agent X-9 (1945). His film work continued with such vehicles as Abilene Town (1946), Canyon Passage (1946), and Unconquered (1947), and Lloyd was the lead in several films at Republic Studios including Secret Service Investigator (1948) and Hideout (1949). Bridges had a nice showcase in 1949’s Home of the Brave, but one of his truly memorable onscreen roles was portraying a psychopath opposite old-time radio veteran Frank Lovejoy in an underrated noir, The Sound of Fury (1950; a.k.a. Try and Get Me!).

Lloyd Bridges’ career hit a momentary speed bump in the 1950s after he admitted to the House Un-American Activities Committee that he had once been a member of the Actors’ Laboratory Theatre (HUAC declared the Theatre had links to the Communist Party). The actor recanted his membership and became a cooperative witness. Interestingly enough, Bridges also had a substantial supporting role in High Noon (1952), in which he played callow deputy Harvey Pell. Although Lloyd would continue to work in high-profile movies like The Rainmaker (1956) and The Goddess (1958; one of his best), he was starting to become increasingly a presence on the small screen on such dramatic anthologies as Studio OneClimax!, and Playhouse 90. (Lloyd made an unforgettable appearance on a 1956 telecast of The Alcoa Hour, “Tragedy in a Temporary Town.” In ad-libbing, the actor let loose with some mild profanity that may have generated viewer complaints…but garnered him an Emmy nomination.)

Then came Sea Hunt, which was a hit in syndication for four years (a total of 156 episodes). It would not be Lloyd Bridges’ only television series; he later starred in The Lloyd Bridges Show (1962-63), a CBS anthology series that occasionally featured his actor sons Beau and Jeff, and The Loner (1965-66), a western for the Tiffany network that was created and written by The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling (it only lasted a season despite positive reviews). Bridges later headlined San Francisco International Airport in 1970-71 and had another critical yet short-lived success with Joe Forrester (1975-76), in which he played a veteran cop-on-the-beat (he originated the character on an episode of Police Story). Bridges was a cast member of the short-lived series Paper Dolls in 1984, Capital News in 1990, and Harts of the West in 1993-94 (starring his son Beau).

Although Lloyd Bridges appeared in many TV movies in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, one film provided him with an opportunity to reinvent himself as a comic actor: Airplane! (1980). Airplane! was a spoof of disaster films, and featured Bridges as dedicated airport tower supervisor Steve McCroskey (“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking…”), parodying his strait-laced, no-nonsense image along with actors of a similar stripe including Leslie Nielsen and Robert Stack. Airplane! led to Bridges being cast as the stupefyingly dense Admiral “Tug” Benson in both Hot Shots! (1991) and Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993–-Benson was now a Ronald Reagan-like President) and he later appeared in Jane Austen’s Mafia! (1998) from the same creators (in one of his final film roles). Lloyd would get one more Emmy nomination before his passing in 1998 at the age of 85: for an appearance in the Seinfeld episode, “The Blood” (as fitness nut Izzy Mandelbaum).

Lloyd Bridges occasionally worked in the aural medium on such shows as Arch Oboler’s Plays, Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood, Stagestruck, and Suspense. Still, we at Radio Spirits like to remember today’s birthday boy for his voluminous contributions to the silver screen…and you’ll find one of those classic movies, The Limping Man (1953), available on the DVD set Dark Film Mysteries III. Happy birthday, Lloyd!

Happy Birthday, Robert Readick!

Actor Frank Readick’s voice is a familiar one to those fans who remember old-time radio–he was one of the busiest thesps in the aural medium, starring on such programs as Smilin’ Jack and Meet Mr. Meek. He was also a member-in-good-standing with Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre, with roles in such Wellesian triumphs as Les Miserables and the later Mercury Theatre on the Air (Frank played doomed reporter Carl Phillips on the classic “War of the Worlds” broadcast). Readick is best remembered for portraying the Shadow from September 1931 to March 1935. In fact, when his future boss Orson took over the role, the producers had to depend upon Frank’s recorded Shadow laugh because Welles could never quite master the sinister chortle.

For a time on the daytime drama This is Nora Drake, Frank Readick portrayed “William Arnold”…and the actor who worked alongside him as “Tom Morely” was none other than his son Robert Readick, who was born in New York City on this date in 1925. Young Bob was clearly anxious to follow in his pop’s footsteps and began his radio career as a member of the juvenile cast of CBS’ Let’s Pretend. Readick also played a character endearingly titled “Pesky Brat” on Home of the Brave and appeared on several of radio’s dramatic series, including Arch Oboler’s PlaysThe Cavalcade of AmericaThe Columbia Workshop, and The Sportsmen’s Club. Bob was also a regular on The Adventures of Father Brown, a Mutual series inspired by G.K. Chesterton’s famed literary sleuth (played by the ubiquitous Karl Swenson).

Robert Readick had a very brief career in Hollywood as a juvenile actor, appearing in both Harrigan’s Kid (1943)—where he received top billing as “Bobby Readick”—and The Canterville Ghost (1944). Readick also did stage work, appearing in such productions as George Washington Slept Here (1941), All in Favor (1942), and The Biggest Thief in Town (1949). He would later be in the cast of Sweet Bird of Youth (1959) toward the end of its run in 1960, replacing Rip Torn as “Tom, Jr.” when Torn took over for star Paul Newman.

For Robert Readick, however, radio was his mistress; one source reports that he had appeared on 7,000 broadcasts by the time he turned 23 in 1950. Many of those broadcasts were undoubtedly, like most industrious radio actors, daytime “soap operas.” Bob’s role on This is Nora Drake has already been mentioned, but he also worked on Aunt Jenny’s Real Life StoriesHilltop House (as Dr. Ricky Browning), Pepper Young’s Family (Dave Wallace), Road of Life (Dr. John Brent), Rosemary (Bill Roberts), The Second Mrs. Burton (Don Cornwell), Whispering Streets, and Young Doctor Malone (Dr. Ted Mason).

Robert Readick also co-starred on Marlene Dietrich’s foray into radio, Time for Love (a.k.a. Cafe Istanbul), as her love interest “Michael Victor,” and had a recurring role on the 1951 Naval dramatic anthology Now Hear This. Rounding out Bob’s radio resume are appearances on such shows as 21st PrecinctThe Big StoryThe CBS Radio WorkshopThe FBI in Peace and WarGang BustersThe Phil Harris-Alice Faye ShowSpace PatrolSpecial AgentSuspenseThe Theatre Guild On the Air, and You Are There.

If Robert Readick is remembered by old-time radio fans today, it is unquestionably for his stint (29 episodes) as “the man with the action-packed expense account” on Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Bob was assigned the role of “America’s fabulous freelance insurance investigator” when production of the series moved from Hollywood to New York. Readick would play Johnny from December 4, 1960 to June 18, 1961 after which actor Mandel Kramer took over until the series turned in its last expense report on September 30, 1962. Bob dabbled in a little in television (the IMDb credits him with an episode of The Armstrong Circle Theatre in 1963 yet leaves out his role on the TV soap As the World Turns). But he remained a creature of radio, with appearances on The CBS Radio Mystery TheatreThe Eternal Light, and Theatre Five in his later years. Robert Readick was the victim of a tragic automobile accident in 1985, dying at the age of 59.

To celebrate the natal anniversary of Bob Readick, why not check out his performances in his signature role on Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: Medium Rare Matters, Mysterious Matters, and The Many Voices of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. You can also find Bob on the sets Great Radio Science Fiction, Suspense: Final Curtain, and Theater 5. Mr. Readick also makes an appearance in our digital downloads store on The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show: Hotel Harris. Happy Birthday, Bob!

Happy Birthday, Ralph Bell!

It would be no exaggeration to state that the actor born Ralph Scognamiglio in New Jersey (though sources also state his place of birth as New York City) on this date in 1915 had a lifelong love affair with the aural medium. Scognamiglio — who later changed his professional name to “Ralph Bell” — continued to send his voice out over the airways (on series like Theatre Five and the long-running The Eternal Light) long after the curtain fell on prime time radio drama. Bell was there when Himan Brown tried to resurrect the art form in the 1970s with The CBS Radio Mystery Theatre (he would do some one-hundred-and-twenty Mystery Theatre broadcasts). He also emoted on Brown’s The General Mills Adventure Theatre (also known as The CBS Adventure Theatre) and NPR’s Earplay. In addition, Ralph Bell continued to pay the rent with voice-overs for TV commercials and the like.

Whether you consider him a native New Yorker or not, Ralph Bell spent much of his formative years in The Garden State—Hackensack, to be precise. Ralph did his higher learning at the University of Michigan (go Wolverines!), where his interest in acting was stoked by attending the college’s Drama School as he majored in English. Upon graduating in 1937, the university offered him a job teaching drama and producing plays, which Bell happily accepted. He spent a year teaching at his alma mater and then decided to strike out on his own, putting his acting skills to practical use.

Moving to New York City, Ralph Bell landed a small part in What a Life! (1938)—the Clifford Goldsmith-penned play that would later be adapted for radio as The Aldrich Family. (Bell later replaced Jack Byrne in the role of “Mr. Patterson” in that same Broadway production.) Ralph’s stage credits include See My Lawyer (1939), Banjo Eyes (1941), Native Son (1942), and The Great Big Doorstep (1942). In later years, Bell would return to his footlights origins with appearances in such plays as The Crucible (1953), A View from the Bridge/A Memory of Two Mondays (1955), In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer (1969), The Time of Your Life (1969), and Camino Real (1970).

Like most stage actors, it didn’t take long for Ralph Bell to realize that moonlighting in radio could reap substantial financial benefits…and for Bell, his voice (described by some as “nasal” and “sing-songy”) was ideal for playing gangsters, villains, and other sinister types. One of Ralph’s early high-profile gigs was on the daytime drama This is Nora Drake. He played a no-goodnik named Spencer on that long-running soap, but he also acted as the titular heroine’s “lost” father Alfred (after the performer who was playing Daddy Drake, Everett Sloane, had to take a leave of absence from the program to work on the motion picture Prince of Foxes [1949]). Bell could also be heard as “Joe Peterson” on Lorenzo Jones, “Charlie Gleason” on The Strange Romance of Evelyn Winters, “Jack Eastman” on Valiant Lady, and various parts on Big SisterThe Guiding Light, and The Right to Happiness.

Throughout his lengthy radio career, Ralph Bell made regular appearances on such favorites as $1000 RewardCloak and DaggerColumbia Presents CorwinCrime DoctorDavid Harding, CounterspyThe FBI in Peace and WarGang BustersThe MarriageMr. District AttorneyNew World A’Comin’, and Treasury Agent. In the early New York years of Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator, Bell portrayed Craig’s nemesis on the force, Lt. Travis Rogers, from 1951 to 1953. Other shows on Ralph’s radio resume include 2000 PlusABC Mystery TimeThe Adventures of Sherlock HolmesThe Adventures of the FalconBest PlaysThe Big StoryThe CBS Radio WorkshopCasey, Crime PhotographerThe Cavalcade of AmericaThe ChaseThe Columbia WorkshopCrime and Peter ChambersA Crime Letter from Dan DodgeDangerously YoursDick TracyDimension XDr. Six-gunEasy MoneyInheritanceInner Sanctum MysteriesThe Kate Smith HourThe Lux Radio TheatreThe Magnificent MontagueThe Mollé Mystery TheatreMr. I.A. MotoMurder by ExpertsThe Mysterious TravelerNBC Star PlayhouseThe Radio City PlayhouseRomanceThe Search That Never EndsThe ShadowThis is My StoryThe Theatre Guild On the AirTop SecretTreasury SaluteTrue Detective MysteriesUnder ArrestX Minus One, and You Are There.

Ralph Bell is listed among the 151 names from the entertainment field in Red Channels, the anti-Communist booklet published in 1950 that did significant damage to the careers of those performers unfortunate to be featured in its pages. (Ralph’s then-spouse, Pert Kelton, is also named in the pamphlet.) A website (with an anonymous author) that declares the Hollywood blacklist to be a “myth” argues that Bell was not blacklisted despite appearing in Red Channels because — according to one of Ralph’s neighbors — the actor “harbored no political leanings at all.” The neighbor must have been unaware of Bell’s participation in Stage for Action, a social activist organization of performers founded in the 1940s that, in the words of author Chrystyna Dail, “amplified the voices of the some of the most radically anti-racist, anti-fascist, and pro-union thinkers of the era.” The website also posits that because Ralph continued to work in radio and on stage in New York this means he wasn’t on anyone’s list, ignoring the “Hollywood blacklist” part. (Blacklisted performers did find radio/stage work on the East Coast, but it was hardly a walk in Central Park.) As such, Ralph’s early small screen acting work was limited to appearances on television soaps like The Edge of Night and the boob tube version of radio’s Suspense, while contributing scripts to such series as The Loretta Young Show.

Eventually Ralph Bell found himself being offered work on television favorites like The Andy Griffith ShowThe DefendersEast Side/West SideHawaiian EyeHawkThe Patty Duke Show (as William Schallert’s boss), The Tom Ewell Show, and Wanted: Dead or Alive. In later years Bell appeared on the likes of Kate & Allie and Law & Order while landing roles in theatrical features like Wolfen (1981) and Zelig (1983). A longtime member of the Screen Actors Guild (where he served as a national board member beginning in 1965 and concluding in 1994), Ralph Bell left this world for a better one in 1998 at the age of 82.

Ralph Bell was part of the floating repertory company that acted on Dimension X and later X Minus One…and you can hear his familiar tones on the Dimension collections Adventures in Time and Space and Future Tense and our X Minus One sets Countdown and Time and Time Again. Ralph’s also present and accounted for on Great Radio Science Fiction and Science Fiction Radio: Atom Age Adventures, as well as The Mollé Mystery Theatre: Close ShaveThe Mysterious Traveler: Dark DestinySherlock Holmes: Well Staged MurderSuspense: Final CurtainTheatre 5, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: Mysterious Matters.

You’ll also find today’s birthday boy in our digital downloads store, beginning with his signature role on Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator. That’s followed by Casey, Crime Photographer: Snapshots of MysteryThe Falcon: Private Eye to Super SpyGang Busters: Crime WaveGreat Radio SpiesThe Mysterious Traveler: Out of the PastMurder by Experts, and Police and Thieves: Crime Radio Drama. Happy, happy birthday, Ralph!

Happy Birthday, Burgess Meredith!

Two iconic roles immediately come to mind when discussing the career of the actor born Oliver Burgess Meredith on this date in 1907. One is his deliciously over-the-top portrayal of The Penguin on TV’s Batman (1966-68), a memorable foe amongst the Caped Crusader’s gallery of villains. The other is cantankerous corner man Mickey Goldmill from the Rocky movie franchise; the man affectionately known to his friends as “Buzz” was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in the inaugural 1976 feature and reprised the role in three of the sequels. (His character dies in Rocky III [1982] but appears in a flashback in Rocky V [1990].) Meredith was considered one of the finest character actors in the business, whose six decades of performances were succinctly summed up by New York Times critic Mel Gussow as “a richly varied career in which he played many of the more demanding roles in classical and contemporary theater.”

Burgess Meredith’s work in radio, however, often gets overlooked. (His Wikipedia entry mentions contributions in narration and voice-overs…but skimps a little on radio.) Although he was already making a name for himself as a stage presence at the same time he stood before a microphone, Meredith had a true fondness for the aural medium. One of his finest acting showcases was on an April 11, 1937 broadcast of The Columbia Workshop in a production of Archibald MacLeish’s “The Fall of the City.” Burgess played a pacifist in this presentation that also featured Orson Welles and Edgar Stehli, and according to a 1938 Radio Stars interview “Buzz” offered his services to the Columbia Broadcasting System gratis “Because I believe in it!” (CBS turned down Meredith’s magnanimous gesture and insisted on paying him the union-mandated amount of $18.50.)

Burgess Meredith was a Cleveland, Ohio native, born to a Canadian-born physician and a mother who was the daughter of a Methodist revivalist. He lived in nearby Lakewood for a time, attending Madison Elementary School, where his performing ambition was stoked by his participation in school plays and as a boy soprano in the choir. Meredith would eventually participate in a nationwide audition held by the Paulist Choristers Boy Choir of New York. Burgess was selected as one of the winning finalists…but his uncle and sister intervened and after another successful audition he joined the choir at the Protestant Cathedral of St. John the Divine. In his sub-teens, Buzz sang with the St. John Choir in NYC in exchange for schooling, board, and lodging.

Burgess Meredith would graduate from the preparatory Hoosac School in 1926 and then attended Amherst College (he failed trigonometry and dropped out without graduating). With money always in short supply, Meredith embarked on several employment excursions that included newspaper reporting (for The Stamford Advocate), department store clerking, selling vacuum cleaners and later roofing materials, and seamanship (he made two trips to South America on a freighter). Burgess was tossed into the brig when he quit this last job and passed the time by reciting lines from anything that came to mind. This inspired him to join the prestigious Eva Le Gallienne Civic Repertory Theatre in NYC in 1929.

Burgess Meredith developed an affinity for the footlights and made a name for himself in the likes of Romeo and Juliet (1930), The Green Cockatoo (1930), Siegfried (1930), People On the Hill (1931), and Lillom (1932). Meredith scored considerable success in a production of Alice in Wonderland (1932), following that with Little Ol’ Boy (1933), She Loves Me Not (1933), The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1935), and Flowers of the Forest (1935). It was his performance as “Mio Romagna” in Maxwell Anderson’s Winterset (1935) that earned Buzz much critical acclaim (you thought I was going to say “critical buzz,” didn’t you?). When the play reached the silver screen the following year, Burgess reprised the role in what would be his first credited motion picture appearance. In years to follow, Meredith never completely abandoned the stage—he appeared in such productions as The Playboy of the Western World (1946), The Fourposter (1951), The Teahouse of the August Moon (1953), The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker (1953), and Major Barbara (1956). Burgess also directed several plays, notably 1960s A Thurber Carnival…which won him a special Tony Award (shared with author-collaborator James Thurber).

Like many working thespians during the Depression era, Burgess Meredith sought to supplement his income with radio work. The actor got a break by landing the titular lead in Red Adams, one of the first daytime dramas created by Elaine Carrington (later responsible for When a Girl Marries and Rosemary). Premiering over NBC Blue on October 2, 1932, Red Adams got a new sponsor in Beech-Nut Gum in September of 1933…and a new title in Red Davis (Beech-Nut insisted on the change because “Adams” was a gum competitor). The long-running soap opera would eventually be known as Pepper Young’s Family, lasting until January 16, 1959 (with a brief revival in 1964). Meredith left the program in 1934, replaced by Curtis Arnall.

Burgess Meredith later emceed The Pursuit of Happiness on CBS Radio from October 22, 1939 to May 5, 1940 – a program memorably described by Max Wylie as “a flag-waving show” that “had the good sense not only to admit this at the beginning but to insist upon it throughout the run of the series.” One of the first directorial assignments for “radio’s poet laureate,” Norman Corwin, Happiness allowed Meredith to preside over a half-hour collage of dramatic skits and musical performances. Meredith later hosted The Free Company on the same network – a documentary drama that was described by old-time radio historian John Dunning as “an attempt by 14 major American writers to counter what was seen as a tide of foreign propaganda infiltrating the American press and radio.” It had only a brief run in 1941 thanks to William Randolph Hearst, who used his formidable newspaper empire to publish constant criticism of the program and bring about its cancellation. (Hearst’s particular target was Free Company contributor/obedient servant Orson Welles, who was at that moment lacerating the publisher in his immortal film Citizen Kane [1941].)

In the 1950s, Burgess Meredith served as host of ABC Radio’s American Music Hall, a Sunday evening variety program produced by Paul Whiteman. Other programs on Burgess’ radio resume include Arch Oboler’s PlaysBest PlaysCampbell PlayhouseThe Cavalcade of America, Chesterfield TimeCommand PerformanceThe Fleischmann’s Yeast HourForecastThe Gulf Screen Guild TheatreHallmark PlayhouseThe Harold Lloyd Comedy TheatreInner Sanctum MysteriesThe Kate Smith HourLincoln HighwayThe Lux Radio TheatreMaxwell House Coffee TimeThe Radio Hall of FameThe Radio Reader’s DigestThe Raleigh RoomStagestruckStudio OneThe Texaco Star Theatre, The Theatre Guild on the AirThis is My Best, and We the People (Meredith occasionally guest hosted).

Many of the programs listed above allowed Burgess Meredith to promote his movie career. For example, the September 08, 1941 broadcast of The Lux Radio Theatre was a production of “Tom, Dick, and Harry” with Burgess, Ginger Rogers, George Murphy, and Alan Marshal reprising their roles from the 1941 RKO comedy. Meredith’s acting career went into limbo in 1942 when he enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces, where he achieved the rank of captain. His WW2 experience served him well when he played war correspondent Ernie Pyle in the 1945 film The Story of G.I. Joe, as well as narrating the war drama A Walk in the Sun (1945). One of Burgess’ best remembered feature films was Of Mice and Men (1939); the actor reprised his role as “George” on both The Theatre Guild on the Air (05/08/49) and Best Plays (05/08/53)…though his co-star from that film, Lon Chaney, Jr., did not join him.

In 1949, Burgess Meredith directed the first of two feature films he would helm during his career, The Man on the Eiffel Tower (he also acted in the movie). (His second was The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go, in 1970.) His work in films started to slow when his liberal politics ran afoul of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (and he found himself on the blacklist), so Meredith compensated with radio and stage work. He’d work again in Joe Butterfly (1957), but if anyone should claim credit for Burgess’ return to motion pictures it’s director Otto Preminger, who used the actor in Advise and Consent (1962), The Cardinal (1963), In Harm’s Way (1965), Hurry Sundown (1967), Skidoo (1968), and Such Good Friends (1971).

Burgess Meredith soon became as busy on the small screen as he was on the silver. I’ve mentioned his work on Batman, of course (he also played The Penguin in the 1966 feature film…and a hilarious episode of The Monkees, “Monkees Blow Their Minds”), but fans of The Twilight Zone remember that Meredith made four appearances on that dramatic anthology (he’s tied with Jack Klugman) including the classic “Time Enough at Last” (a bookworm survives a nuclear holocaust). Burgess guest-starred on such classic shows as Ben CaseyBurke’s LawNaked CityRawhideThe Virginian, and The Wild Wild West. But he also had regular roles on the likes of Mr. NovakSearch, and Gloria while narrating the likes of The Big Story and Korg: 70,000 B.C.

While his role in Rocky (1976) earned him an Academy Award nod for Best Supporting Actor, it was actually Burgess Meredith’s second nomination—he was singled out a year earlier for the same trophy (though he did not win) for his turn in The Day of the Locust. Meredith had to take satisfaction knowing that the sting of the blacklist had received a soothing balm in the form of an Emmy Award for his portrayal of lawyer Joseph Welch in the 1977 TV movie Tail Gunner Joe, which dramatized the life of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Among the movies that Burgess appeared in during the latter part of his career: There Was a Crooked Man… (1970), Burnt Offerings (1976), Foul Play (1978), Clash of the Titans (1981), Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983; as narrator), and State of Grace (1990). Before his passing in 1997 at the age of 89, Meredith was stealing scenes from Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in Grumpy Old Men (1993) and Grumpier Old Men (1995), convulsing a new generation of audiences.

To celebrate Burgess Meredith’s birthday, we invite you to check out his radio work on two of our collections here at Radio Spirits. On Arch Oboler’s Plays, Burgess can be heard in the June 14, 1945 broadcast of “Mr. Pyle.” On The Bob Bailey Collection, you’ll hear today’s birthday boy on a broadcast of The Cavalcade of America from March 19, 1945 (“Sign Here, Please”). Happy Birthday, Burgess!

Happy Birthday, George Fenneman!

Despite his incredible career as a radio/TV announcer and emcee, George Watt Fenneman—born in Peking (now Beijing), China on this date in 1919—was never hesitant about crediting the job that secured his fame and fortune: straight man to “quizmaster” Groucho Marx on the long-running You Bet Your Life. “Listen, those were the biggest 15 years of my life,” Fenneman reminisced to the Los Angeles Times in 1975, about the time KTLA-TV started displaying the series in reruns. “You Bet Your Life was my career.”

To Groucho, George was “the male Margaret Dumont”—a reference to the character actress who served as the comedian’s formidable foil in such classic Marx Brothers movies as Duck Soup (1933) and A Night at the Opera (1935). George Fenneman frequently found himself the target of Marx’s rapier-sharp barbs on You Bet Your Life. For example, when Fenneman once took too long to add up a contestant’s earnings, Groucho cracked: “Look at this idiot. He can’t even add two and two, and he went to Stanford.”

It wasn’t being called an idiot that bothered Fenneman—it was the fact that George was a proud alum of San Francisco State, and he was concerned about any misrepresentation. So he timidly asked Groucho for an on-the-air retraction…and his boss was extremely happy to oblige. The following week, Marx announced to everyone in Television Land: “Here’s this idiot who can’t add two and two and who couldn’t get into Stanford.”

George Fenneman’s place of birth (Beijing) was a never-ending source of comic inspiration for his future boss, who often found politically incorrect “Chinese laundry” jokes too tempting to resist. The only child of an importer-exporter, Fenneman was nine months old when his parents moved to San Francisco, CA. It was here that young George had dreams of show business at the age of eight, while staging amateur theatricals in his folks’ basement. After graduating from San Francisco Polytechnic High School, Fenneman enrolled at the previously mentioned San Francisco State College, graduating with a B.A. in speech and drama in 1942.

Before graduating from college, however, George Fenneman was making inroads into a broadcasting career, beginning with a $35-a-week job at KSFO in 1941. Here he hosted Lunch at the Top of the Mark, where he interviewed celebrities like Boris Karloff. A year later, Fenneman moved to KGO (he got a $20 raise), where he got the opportunity to flex his thespic muscles by playing legendary bandit Joaquin Murrieta (“The Robin Hood of El Dorado”) in a production entitled Golden Days. George enlisted in the service during World War II, but poor eyesight and asthma kept him out of any military action. Instead, he was sent to the U.S. Office of War Information, where he became a broadcast correspondent. He also befriended a young acting hopeful named Jack Webb…who would make effective use of Fenneman in his future endeavors. (During the war, George also teamed up with an old college chum, Bob Sweeney, to entertain troops at military bases. When Bob and partner Hal March later got their own CBS Radio comedy program, Fenneman became their announcer.)

Out of the service in 1946, George Fenneman made the decision to move to Los Angeles, reasoning “if you’re going to be in this business, you’ve got to be in southern California.” KECA welcomed him with open arms, and his 4:00 p.m. weekday program The George Fenneman Show would become one of the station’s most popular. It was around this time that Fenneman was hired to be You Bet Your Life’s announcer. George’s “courtly manner” might have clinched his landing the prestigious gig…but Life’s director, Robert Dwan, later admitted: “We picked him because he was very bright, someone who could keep track of the quiz score and do the math on the spot.” (Even if he didn’t go to Stanford.) Groucho may have leapt at every opportunity to needle his ready-made foil, but he had nothing but affection and respect for Fenneman, writing in 1976’s The Secret Word is Groucho: “There never was a comedian who was any good unless he had a good straight man. And George was straight on all four sides.”

Groucho Marx was not the only comedy legend to take advantage of George Fenneman’s talents before a radio microphone. George worked for Bud Abbott and Lou Costello during their last year on radio and did similar duty for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis on their program in the 1950s. (Fenneman also worked on the zany duo’s TV show, where Dean and Jerry would pelt him with sheet music or cut off his tie as he tried to plug Chesterfield cigarettes.) Fenneman also did a little radio acting; he played mechanic sidekick “Buzz” opposite Dick Haymes’ “Dockery Crane” on the ABC Radio adventure I Fly Anything (1950-51). Other radio programs on which George appeared include The Amazing Mr. MaloneDark VentureGunsmoke (still selling Chesterfields), The Hedda Hopper ShowMonitorOn Stage AmericaRoundup Time on the RangeSound Off, and Wake Up America.

Outside of You Bet Your Life, George Fenneman’s most recognized radio showcases are the programs on which he worked for his good friend Jack Webb. Fenneman was the announcer on Pat Novak for HirePete Kelly’s Blues, and Dragnet (along with Hal Gibney). George would continue in that capacity when Dragnet transitioned to television in its 1951-59 and 1967-70 incarnations. When The Simpsons spoofed Dragnet in 1993 (in the episode “Marge on the Lam”), Fenneman contributed his all-too-familiar voice as narrator.

In commenting on his motion picture debut in 1951’s The Thing from Another World, George Fenneman wincingly remarked: “”I played Dr Redding, one of the scientists. And it took me 26 takes to deliver my big speech. End of movie career.” Of course, George is being a tad facetious; he appeared in additional films like Mystery Lake (1953), How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967), and Once You Kiss a Stranger… (1969), while providing narration for Stormy, the Thoroughbred (1954) and Big Jake (1971). On the small screen, Fenneman guest starred on TV favorites such as Batman, The Danny Thomas Show, Gomer Pyle, USMC, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Name of the Game, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, That Girl, and The Tom Ewell Show.

Like the one, the only Groucho, George Fenneman also tried his hand at being a quizmaster, emceeing such TV series as Anybody Can Play, The Perfect Husband (which George also did for radio), Who in the World, Your Claim to Fame, and Your Surprise Package. Fenneman’s other TV gigs include On Campus, Talk About Pictures, and Your Funny, Funny Films. Before his passing in 1997 at the age of 77, George was familiar to West Coast viewers as the spokesman for the Los Angeles-based Home Savings & Loan (he did their commercials from 1978 to 1995).

Radio Spirits invites you to celebrate the natal anniversary of one of our favorite old-time radio announcers by checking out collections of George Fenneman’s signature series, Dragnet. We have on hand The Big Make, Get ‘Em, and Night Watch. There’s a Dragnet broadcast on our potpourri set of radio gumshoes, Great Radio Detectives, as well. You can also hear George extolling the virtues of Chesterfield cigarettes in the Gunsmoke compilations Around Dodge City, Dead or Alive, Flashback, The Hunter, Last Man, and Snakebite.

In our digital downloads store, check out Mr. Fenneman’s work on Dark Venture and Pat Novak For Hire: Pain Gets Expensive. You’ll find a lot more Dragnet here, too, in the sets The Big Blast, Big Crime, The Big Death, The Big Gamble, Crime to Punishment, Official Files, and Protect the Innocent. Happy Birthday, George!

Happy Birthday, Barney Phillips!

Although there was certainly a note of melancholy involved, replacing the departed Barton Yarborough as Jack Webb’s new partner on Dragnet (as Sgt. Ed Jacobs) must have been a dream assignment for actor Barney Phillips. Barney was no stranger to the program; he’d played a few “heavies” on the radio version and portrayed “Battalion Chief Sam Erickson” on the show’s inaugural small screen installment, “The Human Bomb.” Still, the actor born Bernard Philip Ofner on this date in St. Louis, Missouri in 1913 had a formidable obstacle to overcome: though he was shorter than the show’s star, Phillips’ stocky, jowly appearance was a little too close to that of Jack Webb’s.

This wouldn’t have been a problem on radio…but where television was concerned, it was an entirely different story (one in which the names were not changed to protect the innocent). Barney Phillips decided to establish a contrast between his character and Webb’s Friday by donning spectacles and adding a touch of grey to his hair. In the end, Barney’s “disguise” didn’t help—Sgt. Jacobs was only around long enough to make “How’s your mom, Ed?” a running joke in MAD Magazine. Herb Ellis, who played “Officer Frank Smith” before being replaced by the now-iconic Ben Alexander, opined to author Michael J. Hayde (My Name’s Friday: The Unauthorized But True Story of Dragnet and the Films of Jack Webb) the real reason why Phillips was “transferred,” and it was as simple as a close-up: “Barney Phillips had a habit of wetting his lips between each line, when ostensibly the next person was speaking. So Jack could never cut to him for a facial reaction.” As you’ve no doubt surmised, Barney didn’t have to clip coupons: he remained one of the busiest actors in the business.

Raised and educated in “The Gateway to the West,” Barney Phillips later moved to Los Angeles, California and graduated from college in 1935. Barney decided to try acting, having dabbled in the performing arts as a student, and joined a Shakespeare troupe at the Globe Theatre in San Diego. A small role in a 1937 Buck Jones Universal Western (billed as “Bernard Phillips”), Black Aces, would mark his first true professional “gig.” Phillips was also starting to use his perfect-for-radio voice on programs like Doctor Christian, but his thespic career—which included appearing in the 1940-41 Broadway revue Meet the People—was put on hold when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in July of 1941. During World War II, he served in the signal corps.

Back in civilian life, Barney Phillips began working in front of a microphone in earnest, appearing on programs like The Abbott and Costello Kids ShowThe Adventures of Frank RaceThe Adventures of Philip MarloweThe Adventures of the SaintThe Cavalcade of AmericaDark VentureDiary of FateEllery QueenEncore TheatreEscapeLet George Do ItThe Lux Radio TheatreThe Railroad HourStars Over HollywoodStraight Arrow, and The Whistler. On Hawk Larabee, a 1946-48 attempt by CBS to initiate an “adult” Western, Phillips had a short co-starring stint as “Somber Jones,” sidekick to the titular hero.

It was at this time that Barney Phillips resurrected his film career, starting with a small role as a reporter in The Judge (1949). He continued with uncredited roles in movies like Little Egypt (1951), My Six Convicts (1952), Down Among the Sheltering Palms (1952), and Has Anybody Seen My Gal (1952). Barney had a genuinely nice showcase in Ruby Gentry (1952) as both the film’s narrator and as “Dr. Saul Manfred.” Phillips’ credited roles throughout the 1950s include Eight Iron Men (1952), A Blueprint for Murder (1953), All American (1953), The Night Holds Terror (1955), The Square Jungle (1955), The True Story of Jesse James (1957), I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), Cry Terror! (1958), and Gang War (1958).

As previously noted, Barney Phillips was a Dragnet co-star briefly…but he had plenty to occupy himself in the interim. (It wasn’t always easy: sometime after getting his pink slip, Phillips remembered walking into a producer’s office…only to have the man greet him with “My God! I thought you were dead!”) He was a frequent presence on radio’s Gunsmoke, where his resonant and distinctive voice made him an ideal villain—director-producer Norman Macdonnell also used Barney on Fort LaramieHave Gun – Will Travel, and Romance. In turn, Elliott Lewis called upon Barney to play roles on Broadway’s My BeatThe CBS Radio WorkshopCrime ClassicsOn Stage, and Suspense. (Lewis would also cast Phillips in his attempt to revive radio drama in the 1970s, The Sears Radio Theatre.) On Rocky Fortune, Barney had the recurring role of NYPD Sergeant Hamilton J. Finger, the police nemesis of the titular jack-of-all-trades played by Frank Sinatra.

Rounding out Barney Phillips’ radio resume (it’s a lengthy one!): The Adventures of MaisieBarrie Craig, Confidential InvestigatorThe Bob Hope ShowThe Cisco KidConfessionThe Couple Next DoorCousin WillieDangerous AssignmentDefense AttorneyFamily TheatreFather Knows BestFibber McGee and MollyFrontier GentlemanThe Hallmark Hall of FameThe Halls of IvyI Was a Communist For the FBIInheritanceThe Line-UpLuke Slaughter of TombstoneThe Man from HomicideMeet Mr. McNutleyMr. PresidentNBC Presents: Short StoryThe New Adventures of Nero WolfeThe Pendleton StoryPresenting Charles BoyerRetributionRichard Diamond, Private DetectiveThe Six-ShooterSomebody KnowsThe Story of Doctor KildareTales of the Texas RangersThis is Your FBIWild Bill Hickok, and (you knew this would be on the list) Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

After his work on the TV Dragnet, Barney Phillips made the rounds on many of the popular shows of the day: The Adventures of Ozzie and HarrietI Love LucyI Married JoanM SquadThe MillionaireOur Miss Brooks, and Peter Gunn. He also had a memorable turn on The Twilight Zone, where his role as a counterman in the classic episode “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” won him many, many fans (that’s where the photo at the top of this post originates). In the 1960s, Barney had recurring roles on The Brothers BranniganThe Felony SquadJohnny Midnight (starring Edmond O’Brien), The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, and most notably 12 O’Clock High, on which he played sardonic flight surgeon Major Donald ‘Doc’ Kaiser. Phillips would also guest star on such favorites as The Andy Griffith ShowThe Dick Van Dyke ShowThe FugitiveGunsmokeHave Gun – Will Travel, and Perry Mason.

Some of Barney Phillips’ television work harkened back to his radio days. He provided the voice of Shazzan!, a cartoon genie that was a Saturday morning favorite back in 1967. Phillips would also contribute voicework to animated shows such as The Three Musketeers (a segment on The Banana Splits Adventure Hour), The Funky PhantomJosie and the Pussycats in Outer SpaceDevlin, and Jana of the Jungle. Barney continued to work on TV shows like Dan August (where he had a recurring role), Cade’s County (also recurring), CannonLou Grant, and The Dukes of Hazzard throughout the 1970s and 1980s. One of Barney’s last high-profile roles before his passing in 1982 (at the age of 68) was on the criminally underrated The Betty White Show; he played the fidgety “Fletcher Huff,” a veteran actor playing the police chief on the fictional TV program Undercover Woman.

When I was researching Barney Phillips’ radio history, my first question after an hour or two was “When did this man find time to sleep?” Because here’s what Radio Spirits has on hand: you can hear much of his signature work on Gunsmoke with the collections Around Dodge CityDead or AliveFlashbackThe HunterKillers & SpoilersLast Man, and Snakebite. You’ll also hear Barney on our The Adventures of Philip Marlowe sets (The Adventures of Philip MarloweLonely CanyonsNight Tide, and Sucker’s Road) and voluminous Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar compendiums (ConfidentialExpense Account Submitted, Fabulous FreelanceFatal MattersMysterious MattersWayward Matters). In addition, we have The Adventures of the Saint (The Saint is Heard), Broadway’s My Beat (The Loneliest Mile), The Couple Next DoorCrime Classics (The Hyland Files), Escape (Peril), Father Knows Best (Maple Street), Fort Laramie (Volumes One and Two), Frontier Gentleman (Frontier GentlemanThe Violent Years), Have Gun – Will Travel (Blind CourageDressed to Kill), I Was a Communist For the FBI (SleeperUndercover Man), The Line-Up (Witness), The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe (The New Adventures of Nero WolfeParties for Death), Richard Diamond, Private Detective (Homicide Made Easy), RomanceThe Six-Shooter (Gray SteelSpecial Edition), Somebody Knows, and Stop the Press!.

Hey…where are you going? We’re just getting started! In our digital downloads store, we have  The Adventures of the Saint (The Saint Goes Underground, The Saint Solves the Case), Christmas Radio Classics, Crime Classics, Dark Venture, Defense Attorney, Dragnet (The Big Blast, The Big Death), Escape (Essentials, High Adventure, Journey Into Fear, To the High Seas), Gunsmoke (Bloody Hands, The Round Up), The Halls of Ivy, Have Gun – Will Travel (Bitter Vengeance, Have Gun – Will Travel), Let George Do It (Cry Uncle, Let George Do It), The Man from Homicide, Radio Christmas Spirits, Rocky Fortune, Suspense (Around the World, Omnibus), The Whistler (The Eleventh Hour), and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (Murder Matters, Phantom Chases). You will find today’s birthday celebrant on all of these releases…and if you need help getting them out to the car, wait until I get my coat!

Happy Birthday, Sharon Douglas!

When A Day in the Life of Dennis Day premiered over NBC Radio in the fall of 1946, it was actress Sharon Douglas—born Rhoda-Nelle (Rhodanelle) Nader in Stephens County, Oklahoma on this date in 1920—who originated the role of Mildred Anderson, Dennis’ supportive girlfriend. Sharon, as the expression goes, wasn’t with the organization long. You see, Douglas was expecting a visit from the stork…so she took parental leave and handed off her Mildred duties to Barbara Eiler. Sharon wasn’t the only Dennis Day performer on “Babywatch” — Bea Benaderet (who played Clara “Poopsie” Anderson, Mildred’s mother) was also great with child, and following Douglas’ example had Paula Winslowe replace her as Mrs. A.

One night, a wacky complication worthy of a plotline from a Dennis Day episode presented itself in the form of sudden illness; both Eiler and Winslowe were too incapacitated to do the broadcast. A call went out to both Bea and Sharon to be “show-must-go-on” troupers and do a quick one-time stint. Both actresses agreed with one stipulation: that Dennis’ brother be present for the broadcast. Was it because they preferred his rendition of Clancy Lowered the Boom to that of his famous brother’s? No. Dennis’ sibling was an obstetrician, and they weren’t taking any chances.

Sharon Douglas had ambitions of an acting career from childhood. She participated in a “Tom Thumb wedding” (a pageant where children act out the marriage ceremony) as a toddler and enthusiastically participated in drama classes while still attending elementary school. After graduating from Las Cruces Union High School in Las Cruces, New Mexico in 1939, Sharon and her mother moved to Hollywood in the hopes of fulfilling her objective. (Her brother William was already working in Tinsel Town as a camera operator.) Realizing that working as an actor in Hollywood can be quite competitive, Douglas decided to hone her craft at the “Drawing Room Theatre,” under the tutelage of Madame Sara Kapelle.

After a year with Madame Kapelle, Sharon Douglas was ready to spread her thespic wings. She landed an audition at a local radio station, where she was spotted by Bob Longnecker (married to actress Ruth Hussey), who recommended Sharon be signed by the Myron Selznick Agency. As one of the agency’s actresses, Douglas won out over her competitors and landed the role of “Terry Burton” on the popular CBS Radio daytime drama The Second Mrs. Burton. Other radio work followed, with appearances on programs like The Cavalcade of America and The Lux Radio Theatre.

At the same time, Sharon Douglas was determined to demonstrate her versatility in motion pictures. She had nice showcases in several 1940s films: A Gentleman After Dark (1942), The Navy Way (1944), Fog Island (1945), and Our Hearts Were Growing Up (1946). Sharon focused most of her acting work, however, in the aural medium. For example, multiple appearances on the Rudy Vallee program led to a fruitful association with Joan Davis when Joan took over Rudy’s show. Douglas (as Penelope “Penny” Cartwright) vied with Davis for Jack Haley’s affections on The Sealtest Village Store, and later played similar rivals on Joanie’s Tea Room (“Barbara Weatherby”) and Joan Davis Time.

As previously mentioned, Sharon Douglas originated the role of Mildred on A Day in the Life of Dennis Day, and she was also the first to give voice to daughter Barbara “Babs” Riley on The Life of Riley. Sharon was “Brenda” on The Judy Canova Show, the Mayor’s secretary on Mayor of the Town, and played both “Greta Steffanson” and “Lois Holland” on One Man’s Family. Other programs on which Douglas appeared include The Abbott and Costello ShowThe Adventures of the SaintThe Amazing Nero WolfeThe Gallant HeartHallmark PlayhouseHedda Hopper’s HollywoodHollywood Star TimeMail CallMichael ShaynePoint SublimeRomanceScreen Directors’ PlayhouseThe Screen Guild TheatreThe Silver TheatreThe Story of Dr. KildareSuspenseThe Theatre of Famous Radio Players, and Three Sheets to the Wind.

Sharon Douglas married her first husband, movie producer Edward Nassour (later the producer of TV’s Sheena: Queen of the Jungle), in 1946…but experienced tragedy in 1962 when Nassour committed suicide. It wasn’t until she divorced her second husband in 1968 that Sharon returned to acting, appearing in TV commercials and on shows like The FBI. She also returned to the silver screen with movies like The Daughters of Joshua Cabe (1972) and Jimmy B. & André (1980). Douglas passed away in 2016 at the age of 95..

To celebrate Sharon Douglas’ natal anniversary today, Radio Spirits recommends checking out her signature role as Babs on The Life of Riley with the collections Blue Collar Blues and Magnificent Mug. We’ve got Riley in our digital downloads store, too (Irving Brecher’s The Life of Riley, What a Revoltin’ Development!), as well as a The Adventures of the Saint collection (The Saint Solves the Case) featuring today’s birthday celebrant on a February 11, 1951 broadcast, “The Bride Who Lost Her Groom.” Happy birthday, Sharon!