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Happy Birthday, Sir John Gielgud!

Sir John Gielgud made his cinematic debut in a 1924 silent film, Who is the Man?  Yet the celebrated actor, born in South Kensington, London on this date in 1904, really didn’t commit to a movie career until he had reached his sixties, with memorable turns in such films as Becket (1964), The Loved One (1965), and Murder on the Orient Express (1974).  Sir John had kept pretty busy in the interim, however, dominating the British stage along with contemporaries like Dame Peggy Ashcroft. With Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Ralph Richardson, he formed what Alan Strachan dubbed a “great trinity of theatrical knights.”

The Terry family was a renowned theatrical dynasty, a clan of performers who started in the late 19th century and whose members weren’t just limited to those with the surname Terry (they were either blood relations or related by marriage)—they included Neilsons, Craigs …and Gielguds.  John’s father Frank was not in the theatrical profession (he was a stockbroker), but his mother Kate had been a stage veteran until she got married.  Young John’s interest in the footlights began at an early age, while he attended preparatory school at Hillside in Surrey.  His early performances in school included Julius Caesar (as Mark Antony) and The Merchant of Venice (as Shylock).

John Gielgud’s scholastic achievements were insufficient to secure him a scholarship to prestigious universities like Eton or Rugby (where his elder brothers attended), so he settled as a “day boy” at Westminster School.  Westminster enjoyed a proximity to the West End, which exposed Gielgud to stage legends like actress Sarah Bernhardt and ballet dancer Adeline Genée.  His parents tried to discourage him from a theatrical career (Frank wanted him to become an architect), but John struck a deal upon leaving Westminster: if he was unable to make acting pan out by the time he reached25, he would settle for an office post.

John Gielgud enrolled in a private dramatic school run by Constance Benson, whose assessment of the would-be actor’s stage presence was that he “walked like a cat with rickets.”  John would appear in amateur productions both before and after he entered dramatic school, eventually getting in with a professional company that, alas, did not pay him for his work.  Gielgud would get a break through familial connections; his cousin, Phyllis Neilson-Terry, invited him to work with J.B. Fagan’s company as an assistant stage manager, understudy, and bit player.  From there, a colleague recommended John to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, where his fellow classmates included Claude Rains.

John Gielgud graced the cast of many a West End production throughout the 1920s (he did a number of Chekhov plays including The Cherry Orchard and Three Sisters). He also began working for BBC Radio, thanks to his distinctive speaking voice. (His biographer, Sheridan Morley, observed that Gielgud’s relationship with the BBC was “a medium he made his own for seventy years.”)  In 1928, Sir John made his Broadway debut as the Grand Duke Alexander in a production of The Patriot; while the play closed after one week, the actor got rave reviews from the likes of Alexander Woolcott and Brooks Atkinson.

1929 would be a watershed year for John Gielgud: it was the year he was invited to join the company at the Old Vic, a company that staged performances of plays and operas for working-class audiences at reduced ticket prices.  It was here that Gielgud would cement his theatrical immortality playing Hamlet (many believe that John was among the best to tackle the role), as well as appearing as “John Worthing” in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.  It was here that John would also make the acquaintance of Ralph Richardson, and while the two men were polar opposites in terms of personality (Ralph was an outgoing extrovert, John a shy introvert), they would enjoy a friendship and professional association (on stage, TV, etc.) that would last until Sir Ralph’s passing in 1983.

One of the projects that Sirs John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson collaborated on was a series of BBC Radio dramatizations of tales featuring Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary sleuth Sherlock Holmes.  This series was rebroadcast over NBC in 1955, with Gielgud as Holmes and Richardson as Dr. Watson.  This series is (sadly) often overlooked (in the opinion of Radio Spirits’ Elizabeth McLeod) among “Baker Street Irregulars.”  (John’s older brother Val, who later became the head of drama at the BBC, not only directed many of the productions but fittingly played Mycroft to John’s Sherlock in one episode.)  While most of Gielgud’s radio work was done for the Beeb (he continued on “the wireless” in the 1980s/1990s), he occasionally made the rounds on American radio—notably on The Theatre Guild on the Air.

Before his cinematic resurgence, John Gielgud appeared in the occasional silver screen presentation, such as 1933’s The Good Companions and the Alfred Hitchcock-directed Secret Agent (1936).  Gielgud made his first Hollywood film in 1953, appearing as “Cassius” in the all-star MGM production of Julius Caesar (he would later credit learning much of his film technique to James Mason, who was also in the film).  Other notable items on John’s cinematic resume include Richard III (1955), The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1957), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), Providence (1977), Murder by Decree (1979), and The Elephant Man (1980)…but his real movie claim-to-fame would arrive when he portrayed Dudley Moore’s acerbic butler Hobson in the classic comedy Arthur (1981).  The role would nab Gielgud an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (he also agreed to reprise the role as a “ghost” in the ill-advised sequel, Arthur 2: On the Rocks [1988]) and lead to further movie triumphs in such films as Gandhi (1982), The Shooting Party (1984), Plenty (1985), Prospero’s Books (1991), First Knight (1996), and Elizabeth (1998).  Sir John Gielgud (he was knighted in 1953) left this world for a better one in 2000 at the age of 96.

Though he expressed indifference when it came to winning awards, Sir John Gielgud is a member of the select group of performers nicknamed “EGOTs”—those who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony (Gielgud won three in the last category).  To celebrate Sir John’s natal anniversary, Radio Spirits invites you to check out Our Finest Hour, a DVD/CD collection spotlighting the sights and sounds of London circa 1940 as a great nation prepared for war (Gielgud reads “An Airmen’s Letter to His Mother”).  We also feature John at his finest on radio with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, an 8-CD collection of classic BBC/NBC broadcasts with Gielgud as “the world’s greatest consulting detective” and his friend Sir Ralph Richardson as Dr. Watson.  Happy Birthday, Sir John!

“…the official broadcast from the files of the Federal Bureau of Investigation…”

Author Frederick Lewis Collins’ book The FBI in Peace and War became such a huge best seller in 1943 that a radio adaptation premiered the following fall. The series was created by Louis Pelletier and directed-produced by Max Marcin, who was also bringing audiences Crime Doctor every week.  You’d think that such a series—which was heard over CBS from 1944 to 1958—would number Federal Bureau of Investigation head J. Edgar Hoover among its fans.  I mean—you can’t buy that kind of publicity.

But G-man J. Edgar…well, he purportedly wasn’t enamored of Peace and War.  Instead, Hoover chose to bestow his personal stamp of Bureau approval to a rival series that premiered over ABC Radio on this date in 1945.  “It is my sincere hope that the broadcasts will enable you to know more about how to cooperate with your local police officials and every branch of law enforcement in your community,” Hoover stated at the time of This is Your FBI’s debut.  “I also hope that you will come to know your FBI as a group of men and women who seek no personal glory, and who are part of a great team serving you, your family, and the nation.”

This is Your FBI was created by director-producer Jerry Devine, who began his radio career as a comedy writer for personalities like Kate Smith and Tommy Riggs before turning to radio dramas like Mr. District Attorney.  Devine was given carte blanche by J. Edgar to access closed case files from the Bureau as material for This is Your FBI’s scripts. In return Hoover used the show as both publicity and a recruiting tool for future Feds (he raved about the show as “the finest dramatic program on the air”).  Using the Hoover-approved material gave FBI a true air of authenticity, though each weekly broadcast had that now-familiar disclaimer: “All names used are fictitious and any similarity thereof to the names of persons or places, living or dead, is accidental.”  (Author Jim Cox, in his book Radio Crime Fighters, mused in his write-up on FBI: “Some listeners must have pondered that for a while—‘So did these events happen or not?’”)

In the early years of This is Your FBI, the program originated in New York…and as such, utilized Big Apple radio talent like Mandel Kramer, Karl Swenson, Santos Ortega, Elspeth Eric, and Lesley Woods.  Future Night Beat reporter Frank Lovejoy also appeared on the series as both a player and the show’s original announcer. (He would be replaced by Dean Carlton from 1946 to 1947.)  When FBI relocated to the West Coast in 1948, the series tabbed actor Stacy Harris to portray Special Agent Jim Taylor, who represented all of the Bureau’s operatives.  Harris would be supported by many of “Radio Row’s” veterans: William Conrad, Parley Baer, Georgia Ellis, Bea Benaderet, Herb Ellis,

William Woodson became This is Your FBI’s new announcer with the West Coast migration, and his authoritarian voice would soon become associated with law enforcement-themed films like Down Three Dark Streets (1954; Woodson also played a professor in the film) and Cell 2455 Death Row (1955).  In later years, Bill would enjoy an association with the 60s cult TV series The Invaders (doing voice work) and the Saturday morning cartoon favorite Super Friends (“Later…at the Hall of Justice…”).  (Woodson’s tones will also be familiar to WKRP in Cincinnati fans as the voice who introduced Les Nessman’s newscasts.)  The This is Your FBI announcer who did the show’s Equitable Life Assurance Company commercials (the show’s longtime sponsor) at this time may also sound familiar. It’s actor Larry Keating, who later played George Burns and Gracie Allen’s next door neighbor Harry Morton on their TV sitcom (and Roger Addison, neighbor to a certain talking equine on the even later Mister Ed).

This is Your FBI provided memorable entertainment from its debut to its final show on January 30, 1953.  Special Agent Taylor took on all criminal comers: embezzlers, hijackers, con men, and fraudsters of all shapes and sizes.  The fictional Taylor was encouraged by the real-life J. Edgar Hoover, who squeezed every drop of publicity he could from the series (much as he would later do with the 1965-74 TV show The F.B.I.). Hoover gave the show’s creator Jerry Devine VIP tours of Bureau facilities, and kept him in the loop on the latest leaps in technology used by the Feds in their law enforcement pursuits.

The FBI in Peace and War may have been the higher-rated program (it certainly had a more memorable theme song in Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges), but surviving broadcasts of This is Your FBI demonstrate that it was clearly the superior series. (Plus, more of its broadcasts have managed to survive compared to the output of Peace and War.)  We hope that you’ll agree and purchase a copy of National Security, an 8-CD collection of early episodes from the program’s New York years.  This…is Your FBI!

Happy Birthday, Maurice Tarplin!

A 1946 issue of Radio Mirror noted that “practically everyone connected with the Boston Blackie show is a former athlete.” Radio Mirror was not publishing “fake news”: the show’s star, Richard Kollmar, was a member of the tennis team while attending Tusculum College (Tennessee) and later, at Yale, became an outstanding water polo player.  (I’ll spare you the old joke about the horses.)  Kollmar’s female co-star, Lesley Woods (who played girlfriend Mary Wesley), was captain of the women’s basketball team during her matriculation at Northwestern.  The third member of the Blackie triumvirate—actor Maurice Tarplin (Blackie’s nemesis Inspector Farraday), born in Boston on this date in 1911—attended William and Mary, where he showed his stuff on skates as a member of that institution’s championship ice hockey squad.

Maurice Tarplin was not only a William and Mary alum—he attended both Phillips Exeter and Harvard during his pursuit of higher education.  As for a post-graduate career, Maurice decided an actor’s life was for him and he found that his memorably sardonic voice lent itself beautifully to the new medium of radio.  He arrived in New York in 1937 and became a working thespian in the world of daytime dramas. He appeared on Myrt and Marge (as Barnie Belzer), Valiant Lady (Barclay), The Guiding Light (Richard Hanley), and When a Girl Marries.  Tarplin would eventually become a member of the stock company on The March of Time, where his impersonation of Winston Churchill was always in high demand. Supplementing his gigs on the aforementioned shows were appearances on The ShadowIdeas That Came TrueGang Busters, and The Columbia Workshop.

One of Maurice Tarplin’s high-profile radio jobs was playing Agatha Christie’s sleuthing creation Hercule Poirot on Murder Clinic, a show heard briefly over Mutual in 1942.  Tarplin also starred (and announced) on Manhunt, a syndicated crime anthology in which Maurice’s homicide detective Bill Monroe assisted the investigations of forensic cop Andrew “Drew” Stevens.  Manhunt was a quarter-hour production from the Ziv people, who put Maurice to work (as Farraday) when they resurrected Boston Blackie as a Mutual (and ABC) offering that ran from April 1, 1945 to October 25, 1950.

Maurice Tarplin’s best-remembered stint in front of the microphone was as the titular train passenger on The Mysterious Traveler, a mystery-horror anthology that became one of Mutual’s most popular programs.  Tarplin’s interpretation of that series’ omnipresent terror tale narrator was described by author/radio historian John Dunning as conveying “good-natured menace, the kind of mischievous malevolence inspired by The Whistler or Raymond of Inner Sanctum Mysteries.”  Traveler aired from 1943 to 1951, and at one time Mutual recycled many of the show’s scripts for a quarter-hour series along similar lines in The Strange Dr. Weird.  (Maurice played that role as well.)

Other radio programs on which Maurice Tarplin made the rounds include The Adventures of the AbbottsBy the PeopleCasey, Crime PhotographerThe Cavalcade of AmericaThe ChaseCloak and DaggerCounterspyDid Justice Triumph?Easy MoneyEchoes of a CenturyEye Witness NewsFamous Jury TrialsHallmark PlayhouseHigh AdventureHollywood’s Open HouseMr. and Mrs. NorthMurder by ExpertsThe New Adventures of Sherlock HolmesNew World A’Comin’Nick Carter, Master DetectiveNow Hear ThisOut of the ThunderThe Sealed BookSecret MissionsWe Came This WayWhat’s the Good Word?Worlds at War, and You are There/CBS is There.  Tarplin also had the distinction of appearing on the radio versions of two early TV favorites, Tales of Tomorrow and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet—both rare examples of programs that made a TV-to-radio transition.

Maurice Tarplin was first and foremost a radio actor.  He made the occasional appearance on shows like Danger and Naked City, but he went the distance where radio’s last hour was concerned—working on shows like X-Minus One, Exploring Tomorrow, IndictmentSuspense, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.  Even after “the Golden Age of Radio” had come to an end, Tarplin could be heard on such series as The Eternal Light and Theatre Five.  Maurice was a man of many interests: he penned a short story, Seven Casks of Death, which was published in a 1948 issue of Dime Mystery Magazine.  Until his passing at the age of 64 in 1975, Tarplin kept busy doing voiceovers on television commercials and providing translations on the English soundtracks for foreign films.

Radio Spirits is pleased to offer a fine collection of broadcasts featuring today’s birthday celebrant in his signature role as The Mysterious Traveler. Not only can you listen to Maurice Tarplin on Dark Destiny, but you can enjoy his exploits in two Traveler episodes featured among the many on our Great Radio Horror compilation.  Maurice plays Inspector Farraday on our Boston Blackie sets Boston Blackie Delivers the Goods (and he does!) and Death Wish, and gives it his all on the Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar compendiums Medium Rare Matters and Mysterious Matters.  We hope you saved room for the “ice cream and cake”: Tarplin’s showcases on Casey, Crime Photographer: Blue NoteThe Sealed Book: GhostmakersThe Shadow: The Story of the ShadowSuspense: Final Curtain, Words at War, and X-Minus One: Far Horizons.  Happy birthday, Maurice!

Happy Birthday, Earle Ross!

As a boy, actor Earle Ross had been gifted with a beautiful soprano voice—one that he put to good use singing in the boys’ choir at his local church. (His parents wanted him to become a minister.)  One day, Earle reached for a high note…and his voice cracked.  For several days, he was unable to speak; when his voice finally returned, his vocal chords were no longer in a high register.  “The more I talked,” Ross reminisced in later years, “the lower they seemed to get.  I didn’t sound like a boy anymore.  I sounded like an old man.”  Well, you know the old adage about life, lemons, and lemonade. Ross, who was born on this date in Chicago in 1888, used his new gift to earn a successful show business career portraying elderly men. Authority figures were his forte, and he is probably best remembered by radio fans for playing Judge Hooker on the successful radio sitcom The Great Gildersleeve.

Earle Ross’ acting ambitions began about the time his voice made that startling change from youth to old age.  He bypassed the usual juvenile roles, playing only old men or villains.  One of his first paying gigs (earning a salary of $20 a week) found him taking on three roles in a melodrama entitled In a Woman’s Power or a Dangerous Friend.  (Earle not only negotiated that impressive salary, he cadged an extra $2.50 as the stage manager.)  By 1912, Ross was working on the East Coast in productions like Where the Trail Divides and Cost of Living.  Earle put his experience in stage managing to good use by building up a chain of theatres…but the stock market crash in 1929 put an end to that business venture.

Undaunted, Earle Ross soon created acting opportunities for himself in the burgeoning medium of radio.  For a time, he had his own program called The Earle Ross Theatre of the Air.  Ross also starred in an early radio series penned by One Man’s Family creator Carlton E. Morse, playing the titular role of Inspector Post.  The Ramblings of Jonathan Quid was another early offering featuring Earle, who became one of the pioneer members in Actors’ Equity.  Ross eventually worked his way onto network shows like The Lux Radio Theatre, where he was a member of that program’s unofficial stock company—not to mention his work on The Columbia Workshop and Dr. Christian.  Earle began a weekly gig around this time on the offbeat comedy-drama Point Sublime, a charming series about a small seaport village and the romance between two of its inhabitants, storekeeper/mayor Ben Willet (played by Cliff Arquette) and Evelyn “Evy” Hanover (Jane Morgan).  Ross portrayed retired Texas millionaire Howie McBrayer, who acted as Ben’s rival on the series; Howie was a good-hearted soul who nevertheless found himself the frequent butt of Willet’s jokes.

Earle Ross cemented his radio immortality playing another rival in another small town: he was Judge Horace Hooker of Summerfield in the Fibber McGee & Molly spin-off The Great Gildersleeve.  Hooker, whose billy goat laugh earned him the nickname of “the old goat” from water commissioner Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve (Harold “Hal” Peary), was a cantankerous old codger whose quarrels with Gildy provided many memorable moments of mirth for fans of the show.  Although Judge Hooker and Gildersleeve often went at one another with verbal swords, the two men really were the best of friends—joining other Summerfield chums in that fraternal organization known as “The Jolly Boys.”  Ross was also a regular on Billie Burke’s sitcom (as her disapproving brother Julius), The Mel Blanc Show (as Uncle Rupert), and in the 1950s, played opposite Audrey Totter and Bea Benaderet on Meet Millie as Millie’s hard-to-please boss, J.R. Boone, Sr.

On That Amazing Jennifer Logan, Earle Ross played a darker version of his “Howie McBrayer” Point Sublime character as “John Barton,” a ruthless tycoon who showed an interest in the titular heroine.  Ross was also “Mayor Turner” on Jonathan Trimble, Esq. (a lighter drama starring Oscar-winning actor Donald Crisp as a newspaperman).  Earle demonstrated quite a comedy flair with appearances on such radio shows as The Adventures of MaisieBeulahFather Knows BestFibber McGee & MollyThe Halls of IvyThe Jack Benny ProgramLife with LuigiMaxwell House Coffee Time (with Francis Langford), Meet Corliss ArcherThe Merry Life of Mary ChristmasMr. and Mrs. BlandingsOur Miss BrooksThe Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, and Shorty Bell.

Rounding out Earle Ross’ extensive radio resume are entries like The Adventures of Red RyderThe Adventures of the SaintArch Oboler’s PlaysBroadway’s My BeatThe Cavalcade of America, Encore TheatreFamily TheatreFavorite StoryFrontier TheatreHallmark PlayhouseHopalong CassidyI Want a DivorceLet George Do ItLights OutMichael ShaynePlays for AmericansThe Railroad HourThe Roy Rogers ShowScreen Directors’ PlayhouseStars Over HollywoodThe Story of Dr. KildareThe Theatre of Famous Radio PlayersTheatre of RomanceThe WhistlerWild Bill Hickok, and Your Movietown Radio Theatre.  On the August 13, 1945 broadcast of The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre, Earle portrayed “Judge Hooker” on that program’s presentation of the 1943 film Gildersleeve’s Bad Day.  However, Ross was only in one of the RKO features based on the Gildersleeve program (1944’s Gildersleeve’s Ghost); the role of Hooker was played in the other entries (including Day) by Charles Arnt.

Earle Ross’ cinematic oeuvre includes roles in B-pictures like The Courageous Dr. Christian (1940) and A Date with the Falcon (1941). Western fans might recognize him as “Professor Cleary” in one of the “Three Mesquiteers” best-remembered vehicles, Riders of the Whistling Skull (1937).  Ross dabbled a bit in TV, reprising his Meet Millie role as J.R. Boone, Sr. in that show’s first season on the small screen and playing Judge Hooker in two TV episodes of The Great Gildersleeve.  Earle’s other TV credits include The Adventures of Wild Bill HickokBig TownI Married JoanOur Miss Brooks, and The Real McCoys.  Ross would succumb to cancer in 1961 at the age of 73.

Here at Radio Spirits, we’d like to pay tribute to today’s birthday boy by showcasing Earle Ross’ signature role as Judge Hooker in our Great Gildersleeve collections Family ManNeighbors, and For Corn’s Sake.  (You should also check out Gildy shows in our potpourri compendiums of Great Radio Christmas and Great Radio Comedy.)  In addition, you’ll find Earle on our sets of Broadway’s My Beat (Dark WhispersThe Loneliest Mile), Father Knows Best (Maple Street), Family Theatre (Every Home), The Halls of Ivy (School Days), and Lights Out (Later Than You Think).  Happy birthday, Mr. Ross!

Happy Birthday, Sammy Kaye!

It was at a Cleveland, Ohio venue known as The Cabin Club where Sammy Kaye—born Samuel Zamocay, Jr on this date in 1910—would acquire the slogan that would make him and his orchestra famous.  The Cabin Club’s master of ceremonies liked to give Sammy and his musical aggregation a nice rhyming welcome: “Music in the Rhythmic/Sentimental Way with Sammy Kaye” were two popular catchphrases, but the one that stuck was “Let’s Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye.”  Why?  It seems that fans of the band greeted Kaye and his musicians one night with “Hi, Swing and Sway” and Sammy instinctively knew it was a perfect fit.

Sammy Kaye entered this world in Lakewood, Ohio and attended high school in Rocky River.  Upon graduation, Sammy attended Ohio University (in Athens), intending to earn a degree in civil engineering.  To finance his studies, Kaye started a band (he was proficient on both the clarinet and saxophone, though he rarely soloed on either instrument). The group became so popular that, in addition to playing the usual school dances and proms, he opened up his own little “nickel a dance” nightspot: The Varsity Inn.  Sammy kept his crew together after college graduation and embarked on a tour. What began with one-nighters at “whistle stops” soon blossomed into gigs at hotels, theatres, and nightclubs.

In Radio’s Golden Age, hotels often served as a location for “band remotes,” which comprised much of the medium’s musical programming.  Sammy Kaye and his Orchestra were just one of the many “big bands” who performed before appreciative hotel crowds and listeners at home.  Kaye and his band got their initial start in radio in Cincinnati before relocating to Pittsburgh.  Nationally, Kaye and Company began doing remotes for Mutual in 1937, and for the next twenty years would log airtime on all of the major networks (many of his popular series were broadcast as Sammy Kaye’s Sunday Serenade). Most notably, they were heard on CBS’s The Old Gold Program from January 1943 to March 1944 (Wednesdays at 8pm), where Sammy was the bandleader for a half-hour show starring “The Old Redhead,” Red Barber, and later comic actor Monty Woolley.  Kaye also headlined a half-hour program for Rayve/Richard Hudnut on ABC from November 1945 to January 1948 (heard on Sunday afternoons), and from 1953 to 1956 held court on Sammy Kaye’s Cameo Room, heard in various formats and time slots on ABC.

One of Sammy Kaye’s best remembered radio series was born during a two-year engagement that he and his band had in the Century Room at New York’s Commodore Hotel.  (Kaye and his orchestra got the gig after another orchestra—fronted by someone named Tommy Dorsey—found work elsewhere.)  The story goes that a couple sauntered up to Kaye’s bandstand one evening and the man asked if he could lead the orchestra.  “Sure,” joked Sammy, “if you let me dance with your girl.”  This moment of levity inspired Kaye to make it a permanent part of the band’s repertoire, and on September 5, 1946 So You Want to Lead a Band premiered over ABC on Thursday evenings at 10.  Kaye would select amateur maestros from the audience and hand out prizes to the participants (the grand prize was $1,000).  Its run on ABC was brief (the last broadcast was on October 24, 1946), but during that time the program hosted guest celebrities like Betty Grable, Linda Darnell, and Ethel Merman.  Sammy continued “So You Want to Lead a Band” in his orchestra’s live appearances afterward (and often used it as a warm-up before radio broadcasts). In fact, he even brought the show to the small screen on ABC-TV in 1954-55.

Jazz writer George T. Simon was not a Sammy Kaye fan, describing the maestro’s style as “mickey mouse music”: “[W]here the phrase came from I don’t know, except perhaps that the music sounded as manufactured and mechanized as Walt Disney’s famous mouse—and projected just about as much depth.”  (In Kaye’s defense, George was a one-time drummer for rival Glenn Miller’s band, so there may have been a little professional jealousy.)  The general public paid little attention to Simon’s opinion; beginning with the appropriate Swing and Sway in 1937, they made certain that Sammy and Company were never missing from the popular music charts. Fans propelled such records as Rosalie (1937), Love Walked In (1938), Dream Valley (1940), Daddy (1941), Chickery Chick (1945), I’m a Big Girl Now (1946), The Old Lamp-Lighter (1946), and Harbor Lights (1950) to the top spot.  (Lights would become Kaye’s signature tune.)

Sammy Kaye and his band also appeared in two motion pictures: Iceland (1942) and Song of the Open Road (1944).  On the small screen, the maestro headlined two separate series entitled The Sammy Kaye Show (on CBS in 1951-52 and a summer NBC series in 1953) and Sammy Kaye’s Music from Manhattan (1958-59, ABC).  Throughout the 1950s/1960s Kaye continued to be a familiar face on TV, notably as a guest on such programs as Toast of the Town/The Ed Sullivan ShowThe Jackie Gleason Show, and The Merv Griffin Show. He was even among the many big band legends in a PBS presentation from 1978 called Big Band Bash.  Sammy continued to perform for appreciative audiences before his last swing and sway in 1987 at the age of 77. Before retiring, he put his orchestra in the hands of Roger Thorpe, who continues to wield the baton as of this writing.  Sammy was posthumously inducted into The Big Band Hall of Fame in 1992, and his musical legacy in radio, movies, TV, and records earned him a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Sammy Kaye borrowed the music from Ohio University’s Alma Mater and (with Don Reid) wrote Remember Pearl Harbor, which rocketed to #3 on the pop charts in 1942.  You’ll find that classic tune on the 4-CD collection America’s Greatest Hits 1942, as well as another popular Kaye standard, I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen (which also peaked at #3).  In addition, Radio Spirits features our birthday boy on the 3-CD set You Make Me Feel So Young (with Sammy’s chart-topping rendition of Love Walked In) and Too Young: Hits of the 1950s, another 3-CD compilation featuring Kaye and band member Don Cornell on It Isn’t Fair (#2 in 1950).  Happy birthday, Sammy!

Happy Birthday, Harlow Wilcox!

If real life were like an old-time radio comedy program—and my gosh, don’t you think it should be?—I can’t think of any other individual that I would want to handle the announcing chores from week to week…and to feel free to literally enter my house and plug the sponsor’s wares with all the enthusiasm they could muster.  I’m referring, of course, to announcer Harlow Wilcox, born on this date in 1900 in Omaha, Nebraska. His longtime association with The Johnson’s Wax Program with Fibber McGee & Molly provided so many memorable moments, “making himself to home” at 79 Wistful Vista to extol the virtues of Johnson’s Glo-Coat or Carnu.  The integration of commercials into the comedic content on Fibber McGee & Molly became one of the series’ trademarks…though it did create a problem or two when the Armed Forces Radio Service had to do judicious editing to remove any unnecessary plugs for the troops overseas.

It was a foregone conclusion that Harlow Wilcox would eventually embrace a career in show business.  His father played cornet for the Ringling Brothers circus, and later became a bandleader (with young Harlow as “band boy”).  Wilcox’s sister Hazel was a concert violinist, who also performed in vaudeville.  Harlow, as a youth, aspired to be a musician (he wanted to play “hot trombone”), and after graduating from Omaha High School he embarked on the Chatauqua and Lyceum circuits for a two-year period.  Wilcox soon learned, to his disappointment, that the life of an artist is frequently a starving one—so when he was offered a job as a salesman for an electrical equipment firm he accepted.

Harlow Wilcox’s life as a salesman wasn’t a particularly fulfilling one.  He kept his hand in performing by engaging in amateur dramatics, but Harlow would eventually decide that combining that with the salesmanship he had been engaged in over the years, radio announcing would be ideal.  It took a little time for Wilcox to get into radio—stations were usually reluctant to hire anyone without experience…and you can’t get experience if they don’t hire you—but eventually he landed a job at a small Chicago radio station in 1929.  A gig as announcer for comedian Charles “Chic” Sale would be the impetus for Harlow’s burgeoning career, and soon his baritone voice was one of the most recognized on-air in Chicago—first as a CBS staff announcer (on shows like Myrt and Marge), then NBC.

Harlow Wilcox had a relationship with the Johnson’s Wax organization almost since he got his break in radio.  He was the announcer on The House by the Side of the Road in 1934, a Johnson’s sponsored program that featured radio personality Tony Wons (“Are you listening?”). When the company rolled out Fibber McGee & Molly on April 16, 1935 over NBC Blue, Harlow was made the announcer on that show as well.  It marked, as Humphrey Bogart remarked in Casablanca, “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Wilcox was so determined to get in his spiel as he dropped in to say “hi-dy” to the McGees weekly that Fibber jokingly nicknamed him “Waxy.” (During the Pet Milk years of the show, Fib referred to Wilcox as “Milky.”) Harlow would be a mainstay on Fibber McGee & Molly until the half-hour version of the program closed up shop on June 30, 1953. When Jim and Marian Jordan went on vacation in the summer, Harlow stuck around and performed announcing chores for such Fib & Molly replacements as Attorney at LawMeredith Willson’s Musical RevueHap HazardThe Victor Borge Show, and King for a Night (featuring The King’s Men).

Throughout his long radio career, Harlow Wilcox worked for such leading lights as Ben Bernie, Phil Baker (The Armour Hour), Rudy Vallee (The Fleischmann’s Yeast Hour), Major Bowes, and Charlie Ruggles.  In addition, Wilcox had an interesting association with Frank Morgan and Fanny Brice: first, on Maxwell Coffee House Time when Morgan and Brice were the stars, and then on a single season of Coffee Time when it was solely Morgan’s preserve.  Harlow would work with Fanny when she began her own Baby Snooks program in the mid-40s.  When Amos ‘n’ Andy expanded to a half-hour in the fall of 1943, Wilcox was the announcer on that program for a few seasons, left and then returned in 1951 to finish out the show’s run in 1955 (Harlow was also heard on The Amos ‘n’ Andy Music Hall as well).  Other programs on which he worked include The Adventures of Frank MerriwellArnold Grimm’s DaughterBlondieBoston BlackieThe Curtain of TimeThe Grennaniers Variety Show, Hedda Hopper’s HollywoodHollywood PremiereMail CallThe Mayor of the TownThe Nash-Kelvinator Showroom (starring the Andrews Sisters), Niles and Prindle (Ice Box Follies), The Princess Pat Players, and Truth or Consequences.

From 1948 to 1954, Harlow Wilcox’s other high-profile gig was on “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills”—Suspense, where he was the commercial spokesman for Auto-Lite.  Harlow was just as enthusiastic about spark plugs as he was about the floor wax from Racine, and on the program’s classic February 3, 1949 broadcast “Backseat Driver,” Wilcox welcomed his bosses Fibber and Molly as they stepped before the Suspense microphones for a most memorable dramatic half-hour.  On TV, Harlow’s small screen resume was a short one, appearing on installments of Science Fiction Theatre and You Are There. His work on the larger screen was even more brief, including only a handful of theatrical shorts (Bah WildernessThey’re Off) and an interesting turn as “Mr. Collins” in the 1941 Bergen & McCarthy/Fibber McGee & Molly feature Look Who’s Laughing.  Harlow Wilcox left this world for a better one in 1960 at the age of 60.

In the 1950s, Harlow Wilcox was the executive vice president of Rockett Pictures, a Hollywood film production company.  Maybe it’s us, but we just can’t picture our birthday boy seated behind a desk and smoking a stogie.  We’ve decided to remember “Waxy” for what he did best: beseeching folks to purchase the finest of floor wax in our Fibber McGee & Molly collections of Cleaning the ClosetGone FishingToo Much Energy, and Wistful Vista.  You can also listen to Mr. Wilcox in Fibber McGee & Molly episodes in our potpourri compendiums of Comedy Out West and Great Radio Comedy, and selected broadcasts on Amos ‘n’ Andy: Radio’s All-Time Favorites.  Finally—because if we’ve learned anything from Harlow it’s “You’re always right with Autolite!”—our Suspense collections of Ties That Bind and Wages of Sin allow him ample opportunity to strut his announcer stuff.  Happy birthday, Harlow!

Happy Birthday, Edgar Barrier!

Life in motion pictures was never easy for actor Edgar Barrier.  It wasn’t that the work was difficult—it’s that whenever Edgar appeared in a movie, it was even money that he wouldn’t make it to the closing credits.  “He has experienced horrible deaths by suicide, stabbing, fire, gunshot wounds,” noted Radio Life in 1945.  Radio was a little kinder to the man born in New York City on this date in 1907. Sure, Barrier still practiced his trademark villainy, but he also received an opportunity to play the hero now and then (as witnessed in his brief stint as Simon Templar on The Adventures of the Saint).

Edgar Barrier developed his love of acting in childhood.  When he enrolled at Columbia University after high school graduation, he purposely arranged his class schedule to ensure little conflict with matinees.  Barrier worked with many stage legends—Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Maude Adams, Helen Hayes, etc.—but when he was spotted in a production of Love from a Stranger by a brash youngster named Orson Welles, his future success in radio was assured.  Welles signed him for his stock company, and Edgar soon began broadcasting each week on CBS’ The Mercury Theatre on the Air.  Barrier remained with the program when it secured a sponsor and became Campbell Playhouse — and when Orson revived the series in 1946 as The Mercury Summer Theatre, Barrier was still with the organization.  Welles would also cast Edgar in films, including Journey Into Fear (1943) and Macbeth (1948 – as Banquo). The actor also appeared in Welles’ Too Much Johnson (1938), the director’s first cinematic effort (which was considered lost for many years until it was rediscovered in 2013).

His participation in Johnson persuaded Edgar Barrier to remain in Hollywood, where he soon found work in additional motion pictures.  His dark complexion and proficiency in languages made him the ideal candidate for parts that required mysterious and sinister backgrounds. Barrier played such roles in movies like Arabian Nights (1942) and Cobra Woman (1943).  Edgar’s a good guy in the 1943 version of The Phantom of the Opera (as a policeman), but one of his best-known silver screen turns was as the villainous Erich Kreiger in Game of Death (1945)—a remake of the 1932 version of The Most Dangerous Game.  Barrier is only a voice in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942), but he also graced the casts of the 1943 serial The Adventures of Smilin’ Jack and features like Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946), To the Ends of the Earth (1948), The Secret of St. Ives (1949), Last of the Buccaneers (1950), and Cyrano de Bergerac (1950).

Edgar Barrier’s 13-week gig—from January 4 to March 29, 1945—as “the Robin Hood of modern crime” on The Adventures of the Saint for Bromo Seltzer over NBC was one of his few leading roles in the aural medium.  Suffice it to say, Barrier was a busy actor; working for leading radio lights such as Norman Corwin and Arch Oboler, and appearing on familiar dramatic anthologies like The Bakers’ Theatre of Stars, Family TheatreFrontier TheatreThe General Electric TheatreThe Hallmark Hal of FameHallmark PlayhouseThe Lady Esther Screen Guild TheatreThe Lux Radio TheatreThe Molle Mystery Theatre, and On Stage.  In addition, Edgar made the rounds on The Adventures of Philip MarloweBroadway’s My BeatThe CBS Radio WorkshopChandu the MagicianCrime ClassicsEscapeFort LaramieThe Green LamaGunsmokeHave Gun – Will TravelJeff Regan, InvestigatorThe Line-UpThe Mayor of the TownPursuitRichard Diamond, Private Detective, Rogers of the GazetteRomance, SuspenseThe Whistler, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Edgar Barrier continued to work in motion pictures throughout the 1950s. He appears uncredited (as Professor McPherson) in The War of the Worlds (1953), and added features like The Whip Hand (1951), Prince of Pirates (1953), The Stand at Apache River (1953), Count the Hours! (1953), The Giant Claw (1957), and On the Double (1961) to his resume.  Barrier also garnered small screen credits, appearing in several episodes of Zorro (as Don Cornelio Esperon), and guest starring on favorites such as 77 Sunset StripBroken ArrowHawaiian EyeThe MillionaireMy Little MargieThe Rebel, and Wagon Train.  Sadly, Edgar’s contributions to the entertainment world came to an abrupt end when a heart attack took his life in 1964. He was 57 years old.

From the time he made his motion picture debut as an elderly Asian in a 1930 French film, Le spectre vert, Edgar Barrier engaged in a variety of ethnic characterizations that included Frenchmen, Spaniards, Turks, and Germans—he attributed his foreign language fluency to his mother, a talented linguist.  Barrier once remarked in an interview: “I speak some German, some Russian, pretty good Spanish, pretty good French.  And fair English.”  That last statement was Edgar engaging in a little levity, and Radio Spirits has the proof. The birthday boy is speaking spectacularly on the following collections of The Adventures of Philip Marlowe (Lonely CanyonsNight TideSucker’s Road), Broadway’s My Beat (Dark WhispersGreat White WayThe Loneliest Mile), Chandu the Magician, Crime Classics (The Hyland Files), Escape (Escape Essentials, Peril), Fort LaramieGunsmoke (Killers & Spoilers), Lights Out (Later Than You ThinkLights Out, Everybody), The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Cue for Murder), and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (Expense Account Submitted, Fabulous FreelanceMedium Rare MattersWayward Matters).  Happy birthday, Mr. Barrier!

Happy Birthday, Staats Cotsworth!

A newspaper man once referred to actor Staats Cotsworth—born in Oak Park, Illinois on this date in 1908—as “the Clark Gable of radio.”  It was one of several nicknames Cotsworth would acquire during his long career in the aural medium — the most fitting being “the busiest actor in radio,” because Staats had emoted before a microphone for an estimated 7,500 broadcasts within a 12-year period alone.  But Staats could also be labeled a true “Renaissance man.” His acting engagements spanned stage, screen (both silver and small), and radio – but he also pursued other artistic interests, including painting, music, and photography. The latter hobby was a side effect from his most famous role as the “ace cameraman who covers the crime news of the great city” on radio’s Casey, Crime Photographer.

Staats Jennings Cotsworth, Jr. wanted to be a painter since childhood, and to achieve that dream he attended the Pennsylvania Museum’s School of Industrial Art.  After receiving his diploma, Staats journeyed to Paris for more instruction at the Académie Colarossi.  He returned to the States a few years later where, according to his first wife Muriel Kirkland Cotsworth, he illustrated several books before receiving a commission to paint murals in some Washington bowling alleys.  It was only after he returned to New York (it was difficult to sell paintings during the Great Depression) that Cotsworth heard “the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd” and decided that an actor’s life was for him. He began as a member of Eve LeGalliene’s Civic Repertory Theatre, where he appeared in Alice in Wonderland (as The Mad Hatter) and Hedda Gabler.  (Two of Staats’ fellow thespians in this troupe were Burgess Meredith and Parker Fennelly.)

It was Abby Lewis who noticed that Staats Cotsworth had a fine voice, and introduced him to some people in the radio industry. Soon, he was playing Jeff Taylor on the daytime drama Pepper Young’s Family.  Since many “soaps” were heard five days a week—and since Cotsworth worked on a lot of them—this explains how he was able to run up that 7,500 broadcasts number mentioned earlier.  Staats appeared on the likes of Amanda of Honeymoon Hill (as Edward Leighton), Big Sister (Dr. John Wayne), Lone Journey (Wolfe Bennett), Ma Perkins (Gideon Harris), Marriage for Two (Roger Hoyt), The Right to Happiness (Alex Delavan), and When a Girl Marries (Phil Stanley). He also made the rounds on Lorenzo JonesThe Second Mrs. BurtonStella Dallas, and The Story of Mary Martin.  Cotsworth’s most famous daytime gig was portraying the titular reporter on Front Page Ferrell, a role that he held longer than any other actor. (The character had been played in the program’s early run by Richard Widmark.)

His work as the muckraking Ferrell no doubt allowed Staats Cotsworth to move seamlessly into the part of Casey on Crime Photographer, a detective drama that spotlighted the investigative exploits of a shutterbug employed by The Morning Express.  Each week, our hero lubricated himself at a dive called The Blue Note—where he hung out with reporter girlfriend Annie Williams and jawed with sardonic bartender Ethelbert.  A favorite of listeners between 1943 and 1955, Casey, Crime Photographer was just one of several radio jobs that kept Staats busy. He could also be heard as Lt. Weigand on Mr. and Mrs. North; district attorney Sam Howe on Roger Kilgore, Public Defender; Major Hugh North on The Man from G-2, and the titular heroes on Inspector Thorne and Mark Trail.

A 1948 Newsweek article on Staats Cotsworth (humorously entitled “Cotsworth in the Chips”) gave the game away as to how well-compensated the actor was for his hectic broadcasting schedule.  After a few Casey-style cocktails, Staats let slip enough information to the reporter that allowed any accountant worth his/her salt to estimate that the radio thespian had a weekly income of $1,000—a considerable sum at that time.  (For example, Cotsworth was pulling down $250 weekly in his capacity as Casey, Crime Photographer alone.)  When asked why he continued to act on daytime dramas, Staats matter-of-factly replied: “Giving up a daytime show is like turning in your insurance policy.”  A sample of Cotsworth’s radio resume would include such shows as Best PlaysThe Cavalcade of AmericaThe ChaseCrime ClubDimension XThe Ford TheatreGrand Central StationGreat PlaysThe March of TimeThe MGM Theatre of the Air, Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost PersonsThe Mysterious TravelerThe NBC Star PlayhouseRocky FortuneRogue’s GallerySecret MissionsThe ShadowThe Silver TheatreThe Sportsmen’s ClubThe Theatre Guild on the AirWords at War, You are There, and You Make the News.

As you can probably gather from the preceding paragraph, Staats Cotsworth didn’t let any grass grow under his feet where radio was concerned…so it’s not too surprising that the movies in which he appeared—That Night! (1957), Peyton Place (1957), They Might Be Giants (1971)—were made long after radio was giving way to TV.  Cotsworth would do quite a bit of small screen work (playing judges and other authority figures), appearing on shows like The DefendersDr. Kildare, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.  In addition, he returned to what many have said was his true love—the stage, where he appeared in productions of Advise and Consent (1960) and The Right Honourable Gentleman (1965).  Staats would never abandon the medium that rewarded him the most, however; he appeared on shows that closed out Radio’s Golden Age (like The CBS Radio Workshop and X-Minus One) and on attempts to keep radio alive (like The Eternal Light and Theatre Five).  One of his final performing jobs would be on The CBS Radio Mystery Theatre before his death in 1979 at the age of 71.

An obituary for Staats Cotsworth in The St. Petersburg Times noted that he was “an accomplished painter of oils and watercolors” and was even listed in the current edition of Who’s Who in American Art.  But here at Radio Spirits, we remember today’s birthday boy for his lofty accomplishments in the ether, beginning with his trademark role as Casey, Crime Photographer in the collection Blue Note.  Check out Mr. Cotsworth also in Crime ClubDimension X: Adventures in Time & SpaceThe Mysterious Traveler: Dark DestinyWords at War, and X-Minus One: Time and Time Again.  Our Stop the Press! compendium features a pair of Casey, Crime Photographer broadcasts from 1947, and on Great Radio Science Fiction, Cotsworth is among the cast in a two-part adaptation of Frederick Pohl’s classic “The Space Merchants” from The CBS Radio Workshop.  Happy birthday, Staats!