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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!

Happy Birthday, Andy Devine!

Actors Andy Devine and Broderick Crawford enthusiastically participated in their own stunts during the filming the 1940 Western When the Daltons Rode. One particular stunt almost sent Crawford to an early appointment outside the Pearly Gates. Brod was climbing out of a moving stagecoach (driven by Andy) when the lower step gave way. A quick-thinking Devine pulled Crawford into the high seat of the coach with one quick yank. Two days later, Andy repeated his heroics when a mishap on a narrow treadmill (the two men were riding horses for process shots in the studio) once again required him to come to Broderick’s rescue. That’s how the man born Andrew Vabre Devine on this date in 1905 saved the life of a future Academy Award winner…twice.

Andy Devine was born in Flagstaff, Arizona, but spent much of his life in nearby Kingsman (beginning when he was one year old). In later years, Andy would describe his scholastic experience as being a “four-letter man in school.” Devine attended St. Mary’s College in Leavenworth, Kansas, St. Benedict’s College in Atchison, Kansas, Northern Arizona State Teacher’s College (now Northern Arizona University) in his native Flagstaff, and Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California. Andy played football constantly at these “halls of ivy” and at one time was playing semi-professionally as “Jeremiah Schwartz,” using the pseudonym in order to maintain his college football eligibility. (Some sources suggest “Jeremiah Schwartz” is Devine’s birth name. Not so.)

After graduating college, Andy Devine had ambitions of being an actor, and worked as a lifeguard at Hollywood-adjacent Venice Beach while waiting for his big break. Devine landed roles in notable silent features, including LonesomeRed Lips, and Naughty Baby (all 1928). When motion pictures entered the talkie era, however, Andy anticipated problems. You see, a childhood accident—Devine told so many different accounts over the years no one really knows for sure how it happened—had left the actor with a high-pitched, raspy whine of a voice that, as it turns out, made him a shoo-in for character roles. His experience on the gridiron also put Andy in good stead in feature films of an athletic nature, like 1931’s The Spirit of Notre Dame.

Some of Andy Devine’s better-known films from the 1930s include Law and Order (1932), Midnight Mary (1933), Doctor Bull (1933), Upperworld (1934), Romeo and Juliet (1936), A Star is Born (1937), In Old Chicago (1938), Never Say Die (1939), and one of his finest onscreen showcases as “Buck,” the driver of Stagecoach (1939). Stagecoach was the second of five films Andy would make for director John Ford (the first was Doctor Bull); the actor later appeared in Two Rode Together (1961), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), and How the West Was Won (1962).

The 1930s also ushered in the beginning of Andy Devine’s successful radio career…and there was no greater venue for jump-starting this than a guest appearance on Jack Benny’s Jell-O Program in 1936. Benny’s writers invented an Old West lawman persona (“Buck” Benny) for their star and when Andy (as a fellow sheriff) greeted Jack with an enthusiastic “Hiya, Buck!” he not only created a ready-made catchphrase…he guaranteed semi-regular appearances for himself between 1936 and 1942 (and guest shots in the years that followed). Benny frequently introduced his guest as “the mayor of Van Nuys”—and he wasn’t just whistling Dixie, since Devine had been declared the town’s “honorary” mayor. Andy was also a frequent guest on radio’s Lum and Abner and became a regular when the fellas from Pine Ridge became prime-time stars in the fall of 1948 with their half-hour CBS program for Frigidaire. Other radio shows on which Devine appeared include Breakfast with BrenemanThe Chesterfield Music ShopCommand PerformanceThe Fitch BandwagonG.I. JournalThe Gulf Screen Guild TheatreHedda Hopper’s HollywoodHollywood HotelLittle Old HollywoodMail CallThe Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, and The Rudy Vallee Sealtest Show.

Andy Devine was a most versatile actor. He could appear in “A” features like Torrid Zone (1940), Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944), and Canyon Passage (1946). But he was equally at home with “second features” (B-movies); he made fourteen profitable films with Richard Arlen (Andy was a contract player at Universal) between 1939 and 1941. When Arlen departed the studio, Devine continued to make entertaining programmers with the likes of Dick Foran and Leo Carrillo. As the 1940s wore on, Andy became associated with “The King of the Cowboys,” Roy Rogers himself. Andy was “Cookie Bullfincher” in several of Roy’s popular oaters (Nighttime in NevadaThe Far Frontier) and, depending on the film, Cookie would be either a lawman or doctor.

Andy Devine was at his busiest in the 1950s. He portrayed “Jingles P. Jones,” the sidekick of Wild Bill Hickok (Guy Madison) in a popular TV Western that ran from 1951 to 1958, The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok. Andy had previously played “Jingles” on a radio version of the series, heard over Mutual from 1951 to 1954, and then again in 1955 and 1956. Devine also took over from the titular star of Smilin’ Ed McConnell and His Buster Brown Gang (also a long-running radio favorite) when McConnell passed away in 1954. Andy’s version, Andy’s Gang, ran on Saturday mornings from 1955 to 1960. Yet Devine still had time to do the occasional motion picture with features like The Red Badge of Courage (1951) and Montana Belle (1952). The actor had two of his most memorable onscreen turns in this period. In Island in the Sky (1953), he’s the hero for a change (as a veteran pilot who helps in the search for a downed aircraft). In Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955), you get to see the darker side of Andy in this Jack Webb-directed film as a no-nonsense police detective.

Apart from his work on Wild Bill Hickok and Andy’s Gang, Andy Devine made guest appearances on small screen favorites like Wagon TrainThe Twilight ZoneBurke’s Law, and Batman (as Santa Claus!). Devine was also a semi-regular in the first season of Flipper as “Hap Gorman.” His feature film appearances at this time included It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), Zebra in the Kitchen (1965), and Myra Breckinridge (1970). One of his final show business jobs was providing the voice of Friar Tuck in the 1973 Disney animated feature Robin Hood. Andy Devine passed away in 1977 at the age of 71.

As we’re celebrating what would have been Andy Devine’s 116th birthday today, it’s incumbent upon us to remind you that we have plenty of the birthday boy’s classic appearances on The Jack Benny Program in our voluminous Radio Spirits inventory with such collections as The Great OutdoorsMaster of SatireThe Sporting Life, and Tough Luck! You can hear Andy on Jack Benny vs. Fred Allen: The Feud as well. In our digital downloads store, there are the Jack Benny compendiums Oh Rochester! and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and a classic Benny Yuletide broadcast on The Voices of Christmas Past. You’ll also hear Mr. Devine ho-ho-ho-ing on Christmas visits with Phil Harris and Alice Faye on Explain the Beer and Family Values. Happy birthday, Andy!

Happy Birthday, Barry Sullivan!

When actor Barry Sullivan—born Patrick Barry Sullivan in 1912 on this date in New York City—was approached to star in Harbourmaster, a television series from the prolific Ziv studios, he had one question for the producers: “Why do you want to do a series about a guy and a boat?”

“Did you ever want to own a boat?” Sullivan was asked. And he had to admit, they had him there. But the first time Barry took the throttle of the Blue Chip II, the 30-foot cruiser belonging to his character on the show (Captain David Scott), he let it out and sped out of the harbor, providing the cameraman with “a good shot.” Except speeding out of any harbor is frowned upon in nautical circles (“The wake can cause a lot of damage,” Sullivan recalled), of which Barry was informed via a dressing down from the real harbourmaster.

Barry Sullivan was born the seventh son of a seventh son. (Spooky!) Barry’s only real ambition as a young shaver was to make the football team. He attended several prep schools before his enrollment at Evander Childs High School in the Bronx got him a spot on the varsity squad and chosen as an all-PSA League Quarterback. After graduation, Sullivan attended New York University (to study law) briefly, and then played pro baseball for a few years before returning to “the halls of ivy” on a football scholarship to Temple University. Barry worked odd jobs from doorman to department store buyer until someone suggested to him that with his good looks and stature (he was 6’3″) he’d do very well in acting.

Barry Sullivan joined a stock company and then made his Broadway debut in 1936’s I Want a Policeman. It was a flop, as were those that followed: St. Helena (1936), All That Glitters and Eye On the Sparrow (both 1938). Sullivan wouldn’t appear in a hit play until he replaced actor Theodore Newton as “Bert Jefferson” in the Moss Hart-George S. Kaufman smash The Man Who Came to Dinner. Even with that success, stage stardom proved elusive for Barry; his next hit wouldn’t surface until he took over for Henry Fonda in The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (1954). Sullivan’s reprisal of the Barney Greenwald role on a special 1955 telecast of Ford Star Jubilee nabbed him his only Emmy Award nomination (Best Actor, Single Performance); he lost to that presentation’s star, Lloyd Nolan (who played Captain Queeg).

Barry Sullivan’s acting success would arrive in the form of motion pictures. As a struggling New York stage actor, he moonlighted in several film shorts cranked out by Educational Pictures, including 1937’s Dime a Dance—which also features June Allyson, Imogene Coca, and Danny Kaye. Once Barry established himself in Hollywood, he got plum roles in movies like The Woman of the Town (1943), Lady in the Dark (1944), And Now Tomorrow (1944), Duffy’s Tavern (1945), Getting Gertie’s Garter (1945), Suspense (1946), Framed (1947), The Gangster (1947), and Smart Woman (1948). Sullivan remembered that making The Great Gatsby (1949) was a particularly trying experience, because of his and star Alan Ladd’s height differences. (Ladd had to stand on a crate…Sullivan in a hole.)

Although he never achieved major stardom, Barry Sullivan was enough of a silver screen presence to make frequent guest appearances on radio, emoting on dramatic anthologies such as The Cavalcade Of AmericaFamily TheatreHallmark PlayhouseHollywood Star PlayhouseThe Lady Esther Screen Guild TheatreThe Lux Radio TheatreThe NBC University TheatreStars Over Hollywood, and Your Movietown Radio Theatre. Other programs on which Barry guest starred include Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood and Obsession. Sullivan had a regular radio gig in the summer of 1947 when he took over Dick Powell’s role of “Richard Rogue” on the series Rogue’s Gallery. He also made appearances on the 1947-48 syndicated program The Unexpected and filled in for star Vincent Price (who was “delayed in Paris”) on The Adventures of the Saint in 1950.

Signing with M-G-M in 1950, Barry Sullivan made many of his most memorable motion pictures, including a particularly nasty turn as Loretta Young’s husband/tormenter in Cause for Alarm! (1951) and as a shady lawyer in No Questions Asked (1951). Barry was also among the high-profile cast of The Bad and the Beautiful (1952; as director “Fred Amiel”) and continued throughout the decade in such features as Jeopardy (1953), Strategic Air Command (1955), Queen Bee (1955), The Maverick Queen (1956), Forty Guns (1957), and Another Time, Another Place (1958). Sullivan continued to work in films (he has a nice bit as a bishop in Oh, God! [1977]) but by the mid-50s had started to transition to small screen work. In addition to the previously mentioned Harbourmaster (also known as Adventure at Scott Island), Ziv Productions had Barry play “Ken Thurston” (the role made famous on radio by Herbert Marshall) on their successful TV adaptation of The Man Called X (1956-57). (Barry also branched out to behind-the-camera work, directing episodes of Harbourmaster and Highway Patrol.)

Barry Sullivan’s most successful small screen venture was The Tall Man, a Western that aired over NBC-TV from 1960 to 1962. Barry played legendary lawman Pat Garrett, with Clu Gulager as his “nemesis” William H. Bonney (better known as “Billy the Kid”). Sullivan’s last regular weekly series was also a Western. On The Road West (a 1966-67 series produced by Gunsmoke’s Norman Macdonnell) Barry was patriarch Ben Pride, a homesteader leading his wife and children through Kansas in the 1860s. Until his retirement in 1981, and eventual passing in 1994 (at the age of 81), Sullivan was a much-in-demand guest star on such classic TV favorites as Barnaby JonesBen CaseyCannonThe High ChaparralIronsideIt Takes a ThiefThe Man from U.N.C.L.E.Mission: ImpossibleThe Name of the GamePerry Mason, and The Streets of San Francisco.

Both “The Ghost That Giggled” (09-17-50) and “Dossier on a Doggone Dog” (09-24-50)—the two broadcasts of The Adventures of the Saint that feature Barry Sullivan filling in as Simon Templar for missing star Vincent Price—are available on the Radio Spirits release The Saint is Heard. You’ll also find a surviving broadcast (06-29-47) of Rogue’s Gallery with our birthday boy in the role that Dick Powell made famous on the collection Blue Eyes.  Why not put these in your shopping cart in honor of Barry’s birthday today?

Happy Birthday, Art Van Harvey!

The actor born Arthur Harvey Van Berschot in Chicago, Illinois on this date in 1883 had much in common with the fictional Victor Rodney Gook, the laid-back patriarch Art played for so many years on the popular daytime radio comedy Vic and Sade. Both men were enthusiastic card players (Van Harvey was particularly fond of bridge and pinochle) and for further relaxation, both Art and Vic were always up for a game of horseshoes. (You’ll recall that Vic worked on his ringers and leaners over at Ike Kneesuffer’s, where Ike had an indoor horseshoe-pitching court in his basement.) Art did differ from his radio doppelgänger, however, when it came to cuisine: in a May 1934 edition of Radio Guide, Art Van Harvey rhapsodizes about smoked sturgeon, calling it “sheer. palate-tickling ecstasy” in a column (“The Dish I Like Best”) that has the feel of one of Vic and Sade creator Paul Rhymer’s scripts. Van Harvey loved it so much that when he was introduced to it as a child he would answer any adult queries of “What are you going to be when you grow up?” with “A fish-taster in a sturgeon factory!”

Art Van Harvey really aspired to be an actor…yet his mother disapproved, declaring that “an actor is an emissary of the Devil.” Still, Mother Van Harvey signed off on allowing her son (who had developed a proficiency for dialects, including Jewish, Irish, and Italian) to perform in kindergarten and grammar school plays, reasoning he wouldn’t be too harmed by their amateur nature (particularly if they were for the benefit of charity). At the age of fourteen, Art got a job as an office boy with the Chicago Board of Trade, a stock and grain brokerage house. It was not a job he had for long; Van Harvey got his pink slip after sneaking off to the theatre one too many times.

Art Van Harvey tried other jobs after he was dismissed from his position, but nothing seemed “a proper fit.” He then got into vaudeville, a venture he genuinely enjoyed for several years. He left that life to go into farm advertising (as a grain salesman), but kept his hand in acting by participating in amateur dramatics. The Stock Market Crash of 1929 freed up Van Harvey to continue performing, which he did with a successful radio audition that allowed him to show off his talents for dialects and mimicry. Art played “Jeffrey Barker” on the Blue Network’s Welcome Valley (1932-36) and, of course, the role of “Vic” on the program that bestowed upon him radio immortality: Vic and Sade.

In his book Radio Comedy, Arthur Frank Wertheim describes Art Van Harvey as “a Wallace Beery type” and notes that the actor “played the mild-mannered Vic in a quiet low-key style with a twist of cynicism that made the small-town Midwestern character unforgettable.” Although Vic and Sade creator Paul Rhymer modeled the character of Vic after his own father, Rhymer also used Vic to express his own views of small-town life, taking pointed aim at bureaucracy. (Vic was a 9-to-5 office drone, working as Chief Accountant for Consolidated Kitchenware Company’s Plant Number Fourteen.) Rhymer got a particular kick out of lampooning fraternal organizations and secret societies; many of Vic and Sade’s funniest installments revolved around Vic’s membership in the Sacred Stars of the Milky Way, Drowsy Venus Chapter. (He was a Sky-Brother and the Exalted Big Dipper.)

Art Van Harvey’s duties on Vic and Sade kept him pretty busy; he took brief absences from the program on only two occasions due to illness. (Van Harvey suffered a mild heart attack in 1940, prompting Rhymer to introduce the previously unheard Uncle Fletcher [played by Clarence Hartzell] to the microphone.) As such, Art’s radio resume features only a few additional entries — he was heard in Author’s PlayhouseCurtain TimeThe Magic KeyThe Radio Hall of Fame, and The Silver Eagle. Art did not reprise his role as Vic when Vic and Sade transitioned to television in 1949 (on NBC’s Colgate Theatre), but he did when the show had a brief two-month run on a Chicago TV station in 1957. Van Harvey also had a part (as Father McGuire) in the 1950 film The Golden Gloves Story and portrayed “Calvin Sperry” on the NBC-TV daytime drama Hawkins Falls, Population 6200 from 1954 to 1955. Art Van Harvey died in 1957 at the age of 73.

Art Van Harvey’s signature radio role of Vic Gook is front-and-center on one of Radio Spirits’ most prized CD releases, Vic and Sade. You can also check out two 1940 broadcasts of the series on our potpourri compilation of classic radio comedy, Great Radio Sitcoms. Happy Birthday, Art!

Happy Birthday, Marvin Miller!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, Phillips H. Lord!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, Harry Von Zell!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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