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Happy Birthday, Jeanne Bates!

Character great Jeanne Bates—born in Berkley, California on this date in 1918—started her show business career as a billboard and magazine model (while attending San Mateo Junior College)…but it wasn’t long before she discovered a flair for performing in front of a radio microphone.  Jeanne got her start in the aural medium by acting in daytime dramas for radio stations in the San Francisco area, and yet you could argue that a simple scream opened a lot of doors for her.  Radio producer Lew X. Lansworth had created a popular mystery program entitled Whodunit, and the show’s trademark was a scream at the beginning of each broadcast provided by Jeanne (though she performed other roles as well).  The success of Whodunit brought both Bates and Lansworth to Hollywood, and the couple would eventually tie the knot in 1943 in a union that lasted until Lansworth’s passing in 1981.  (Jeanne would occasionally be billed in the credits of radio shows as “Jeanne Bates Lansworth.”)

Jeanne Bates got an additional benefit out of her move to Tinsel Town.  She was signed to a contract by Columbia Pictures in 1943 and made her film debut in one of the studio’s “Boston Blackie” films, The Chance of a Lifetime.  Uncredited roles in The Return of the Vampire (1943) and There’s Something About a Soldier (1943) followed. Bates would also be cast as Tom Tyler’s leading lady in the chapter play The Phantom (1943; based on Lee Falk’s popular comic strip)…although she really didn’t get to do much but stand around and be rescued.  Other noteworthy movie appearances for Jeanne include The Racket Man (1944), Sundown Valley (1944; a “Durango Kid” western), Shadows of the Night (1944; a “Crime Doctor“ programmer), The Soul of a Monster (1944), and Sergeant Mike (1944).  Bates also played the “damsel in distress” in 1946’s The Mask of Dijon – the tale of a rather a deranged stage illusionist (played by the legendary Erich von Stroheim) who hypnotizes people into committing murders.

Yet Jeanne Bates didn’t let any grass grow under her feet where her radio career was concerned.  She made the rounds on many of the medium’s dramatic anthologies: The Bakers’ Theatre of StarsFamily Theatre, Favorite StoryFour Star PlayhouseThe Lux Radio TheatrePresenting Charles BoyerScreen Directors’ PlayhouseStars in the AirStars Over Hollywood, and Your Movietown Radio Theatre.  Bates would also harken back to her salad days in the soaps with regular roles on such “weepies” as Today’s Children (as Candice Drake) and The Woman in My House (as Caroline Wilson).  Jeanne would take over for actress Winifred Wolfe as Teddy Lawton Barbour on the long-running One Man’s Family. The creator-writer of that iconic program, Carlton E. Morse, had previously used Bates on Adventures by Morse and I Love Adventure (where she played “Mary Kay Jones”—”the cutest secretary in Hollywood”).

Other items of interest on Jeanne Bates’ extensive radio resume include The Adventures of Frank RaceThe Adventures of the Lone WolfThe Adventures of the SaintBarrie Craig, Confidential Investigator, Broadway’s My BeatThe CBS Radio WorkshopDangerous AssignmentDefense AttorneyDr. ChristianFrontier GentlemanLet George Do ItThe Line UpThe Man Called XThe Man from HomicideThe New Adventures of Nero WolfeNight BeatRichard Diamond, Private DetectiveRocky FortuneRocky JordanThe Roy Rogers ShowThe Silent MenThe Story of Dr. KildareSuspenseThe WhistlerWild Bill HickokYou Are There, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.  As you can see, Jeanne was quite busy in radio drama…but she could also tackle comedy with equal aplomb.  She had a recurring role on The Great Gildersleeve as Paula Bullard Winthrop—one of the water commissioner’s many romantic conquests—and also appeared on such shows as Mr. and Mrs. BlandingsThe Phil Harris-Alice Faye ShowShorty Bell, and That’s Rich.

Much of Jeanne Bates’ best radio work was done with director-producer Norman Macdonnell, who first used the actress on Escape and The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, then called upon her to play roles on RomanceGunsmokeFort Laramie, and Have Gun – Will Travel.  (Bates would later do two episodes of the TV Gunsmoke and one of the boob tube HGWT.) During her film career in the 1940s, she had shown that she was quite at ease in front of a camera, and her voluminous work on the small screen includes such favorites as Perry MasonThe Restless Gun (I’ve seen Jeanne in five episodes of this western series), General Electric TheaterWhirlybirdsM Squad, RawhideBachelor FatherWagon Train, and Tales of Wells Fargo.  Her best-known TV work was portraying Nurse Wills on Ben Casey from 1961 to 1966. There was just something about Jeanne that made her ideal for those types of roles — she’s a nurse in the 1964 cult horror film The Strangler, and later donned the white uniform for a regular stint on the daytime drama Days of Our Lives (and a guest appearance on Marcus Welby, M.D.).

Jeanne Bates kept busy in the 1970s and 1980s guesting on such popular TV series as Room 222MannixBarnaby Jones, and daytime’s The Young and the Restless.  She’s also a familiar face in movies like Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? (1970) and Gus (1976—another nursing job!), and in 1991 had the titular role in the cult horror film Mom (1991) as a nice old lady who turns into a werewolf!  Bates continued to work in movies such as Die Hard 2 (1990) and Grand Canyon (1991), and though (according to the IMDb) her final credit (voice only) was in a 2002 episode of That 70s Show, Jeanne made a nice contribution to David Lynch’s cult classic Mulholland Drive (2001).  (Bates was in Lynch’s earlier Eraserhead [1977]—as “Mrs. X.”)  Jeanne Bates succumbed to breast cancer in 2007 at the age of 89.

Jeanne Bates did so much radio that I don’t think it’s possible to credit everything she did…but Radio Spirits will do its part to remember her legacy by letting you know about a few of the collections featuring today’s birthday girl that we have on hand.  You’ll hear Mrs. Lansworth on The Adventures of Philip MarloweNight TideSucker’s Road, and Lonely CanyonsBroadway’s My Beat: The Loneliest MileEscape: The Hunted and the HauntedPeril, and Escape to the High SeasFort Laramie: Volume TwoGunsmoke: The Round UpKillers & Spoilers, and SnakebiteThe Great Gildersleeve: For Corn’s SakeHave Gun – Will Travel and Blind Courage;  Let George Do It: Cry Uncle and Sweet PoisonThe Line Up: WitnessThe Man from HomicideNero Wolfe: Parties for Death and The New Adventures of Nero WolfeNight Beat: Human InterestRichard Diamond: Homicide Made Easy and Dead MenThe Whistler: Voices; and the Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar collections Fabulous FreelanceMurder MattersExpense Account Submitted, and Phantom Chases.

Happy Birthday, Artie Auerbach!

It was a cold January day in 1946 when Jack Benny, attending the Rose Bowl game, made the acquaintance of a hot dog salesman who enthusiastically peddled his wares with a cry of “Pickle in the middle and the mustard on top!”  The salesman tells the notoriously tight Benny that the dogs are three cents apiece, and when Jack asks why he sells them so cheap the vendor’s reply is “Taste ’em!” (At least he’s an honest man—when his would-be customer notices the weenies look a little tough he responds: “Hoo hoo hoooo…what suitcase handles they would make!”)

Now…before we confuse anyone—this historic meeting occurred on Jack’s radio show…not in real life.  But Benny’s encounter with the vendor would be a most momentous one—for although he’s not identified specifically by name in that broadcast, that tube steak proprietor would soon become a regular on Jack’s program in the form of the comedian’s good friend “Mr. Kitzel.”  Kitzel was performed by the talented Arthur “Artie” Allan Auerbach, born in 1903 on this date in New York City…and before achieving radio immortality, was a professional photographer by trade.

The photography practiced by Artie Auerbach was that of the newspaper variety; the periodicals that employed him at various stages of his fourth estate career include The New York GraphicThe New York Daily Mirror, and The New York Daily News.  Auerbach covered such headline stories as the Hall-Mills murder case (1922) and the Lindbergh Baby kidnapping (1932), but in his off-time Artie demonstrated that he had a knack for dialects by telling Yiddish anecdotes at private parties.  The story goes that Auerbach found the inspiration for the “Kitzel” character by hearing druggist Maurice Ahdorf warble Yes Sir, That’s My Baby in a strong accent (not necessarily Jewish, as many believe, but rather a combination of Balkan tongues).  Artie would eventually cross paths with radio comedian Phil Baker, who enjoyed Auerbach’s dialect humor so much that he recommended him to his friend Lew Brown.  In 1934, Brown was casting for a stage revue entitled Calling All Stars, and signed Artie up for the show (as a hillbilly!).  Auerbach apparently had reservations about a career in show business, because rather than quit the newspaper outright…he just took a leave of absence.

Artie Auerbach wound up taking quite a few furloughs.  He worked on Baker’s show until the fall of 1936, when he was hired by Milton Berle for The Gillette Community Sing.  Artie then made his way to Eddie Cantor’s Texaco Town and, in the fall of 1937, went to work for Jack Haley on first The Log Cabin Jamboree and then The Wonder Show.  The Wonder Show featured both Lucille Ball and Gale Gordon (as announcer), but it was Lucy’s cousin Cleo Manning (also in the cast) that caught Artie’s eye. The two of them would later wed, and Lucy put her Jane Hancock on the wedding certificate as a witness.

In his early radio years, Artie Auerbach’s character eschewed formalities and simply went by “Kitzel.”  He did, however, establish a catchphrase—”Hmmm…could be!”—which he brought with him to his next radio gig, as a regular on Al Pearce and His Gang.  He’d spend two years on Pearce’s show (and play “Kitzel” in the 1943 Republic motion picture release Here Comes Elmer, starring Al, Dale Evans, and Gang regulars Arlene Harris and William “Tizzie Lish” Comstock) before embarking on a tour of Army posts and Navy boot camps.  Auerbach returned before the microphones in October of 1944 as a regular on The Abbott & Costello Program, and then (in January of 1946) made his home on Jack Benny’s show.

During Radio’s Golden Age, much humor was mined from dialect comedy and Jack’s show was no exception. In the 1930s, second banana Sam Hearn played a Yiddish gentleman named Schlepperman (“Hullo, stranzer…”) who even made the rounds on such shows as Fibber McGee and Company and The Great Gildersleeve.  (When Hearn returned to work for Benny in the late 40s, Jack advised him that he couldn’t revive the Schlepperman character due to Kitzel’s popularity…so Hearn became the man from Calabasas who always greeted the comedian with “Hiya, rube!”)  Though not particularly enlightened when looking through a modern day-lens, it should be noted that the laughs Mr. Kitzel got from audiences were never born of malice. His gentle humor relied on the character’s malapropisms (much like the “Pansy Nussbaum” character Minerva Pious played on Fred Allen’s show).  For example, Mr. Kitzel could be discussing his love of baseball and in naming his favorite players would reference “Rabbi Maranville” — prompting Jack to correct him by saying he means ‘Rabbit’ Maranville.  “Him I never heard of,” Kitzel would reply with a shrug.  (We should also point out that Kitzel was one of the rare individuals that wouldn’t disparage the long-suffering Benny in the way that, say, Mel Blanc or Frank Nelson would.)

Auerbach’s “Kitzel” was a hit with audiences from his very first appearance on the Benny program. In fact, Benny scribe John Tackaberry and songwriter Carl Sigman turned Kitzel’s “Pickle in the middle” chant into a novelty song in 1946 that was recorded by both Artie and Louis Prima.  Kitzel also popularized “hoo hoo hoooo!”, which he would say to Benny whenever he needed to punctuate a joke.  The Mr. Kitzel character soon became such an integral presence on Jack’s program (though they were careful not to use him every week, for fear he’d get stale) that he transitioned to several appearances on Benny’s TV show, too.  (There was even an audition for a Kitzel radio spin-off entitled Here Comes Mr. Kitzel, which was produced in December of 1950 and a copy survives today.)  His last show business credit was a Benny telecast that aired posthumously; Artie Auerbach succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 54 in 1957.

According to those familiar with the language, “Kitzel” is Yiddish for “tickle.”  (Most appropriate!) But did Mr. Kitzel have a first name?  Well, on a January 26, 1947 broadcast—in a spoof of the 1946 film Margie—much of the Benny cast figures in a childhood flashback, and Mr. K is introduced as “Sammy” Kitzel.  (Hoo hoo hoooo!)  Radio Spirits invites you to check out our extensive Jack Benny Show collections featuring the dialect talents of Artie Auerbach: Jack Benny vs. Fred Allen: Grudge MatchThe Fabulous 40sThe Fabulous 50sTough Luck!No Place Like HomePlanes, Trains, and AutomobilesSilly Skits, Jack Benny & Friends, and Wit Under the Weather.

Happy Birthday, Paul Sutton!

From 1938 to 1955, Detroit radio station WXYZ was the home of Sergeant William Preston—the stalwart Canadian Mountie who, with his trusty canine King, brought evildoers to justice in the exciting days of the Klondike Gold Rush.  When Challenge of the Yukon premiered on WXYZ in February of 1938, it was a five-day-a-week quarter-hour featuring actor Jay Michael in the role of Preston…but when the series expanded to a half-hour on June 12, 1947, Michael relinquished the part of Preston to an actor born in Albuquerque, New Mexico on this date in 1910.  We know him as Paul Sutton.

The details of Paul Sutton’s biography are sketchy at best: many reference books (Dick Osgood’s Wyxie Wonderland, Jim Harmon’s Radio Mystery and Adventure in Film, Television and Other Media) note that Sutton migrated to WXYZ after a busy motion picture career in Hollywood, where he played villains and heavies in B-westerns and low-budget films.  His first onscreen credit was in Rio Grande Ranger (1936), in which he squared off against Texas Ranger Bob Allen.  The following year, Paul graced the casts of such films as Nancy Steele is Missing!Under Strange FlagsThe Firefly, and Conquest.

Paul Sutton also had a prominent role in a 1937 Universal serial, Jungle Jim, based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond (which debuted in 1934, as competition to the popular Tarzan of the Apes).  Grant Withers plays the titular hero, whose best friend is murdered by a henchman named LaBat (Sutton).  (At the risk of spoiling it for anyone…LaBat only sticks around for the first six chapters, which should clue you in as to his fate.)  Sutton continued to amass entries on his cinematic c.v. with appearances in Shadows Over ShanghaiSunset Murder CaseAir Devils and the Hopalong Cassidy oaters Bar 20 Justice and In Old Mexico (as “The Fox”)—all of which were released in 1938.

Though familiar for his work in B-pictures, Paul Sutton occasionally landed minor roles and uncredited bits in bigger “A” films, like Jesse James (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), North West Mounted Police (1940), and Little Old New York (1940).  In the 1940s, Paul continued his villainous ways with memorable turns in In Old California (1942; with John Wayne), Riders of the Northland (1942; with Charles “Durango Kid” Starrett), and Silver City Raiders (1943; with Russell “Lucky” Hayden…and Bob Willis and the Texas Playboys!).  His last movie role (according to the IMDb) was a brief bit as a barfly in the 1945 Gary Cooper-Loretta Young western comedy Along Came Jones.

Not long after his cinematic swan song, Paul Sutton began his career with WXYZ, playing utility roles on the station’s popular radio adventure The Lone Ranger.  He took over for Jay Michael as Sergeant Preston on Challenge of the Yukon (Michael continued to work on the show as the announcer) and became for many fans the most familiar voice of Preston.  Sutton handed off the Challenge of the Yukon gig (which was renamed Sergeant Preston of the Yukon in 1951) to ex-Lone Ranger Brace Beemer, and embarked on a career in politics (running for Congress in 1954 and 1956).  Those two races were run from Michigan, where Paul resided until his death in 1970 at the age of 59.

Here’s an amusing bit of trivia: today’s birthday boy portrayed a villainous scoundrel named “Pierre Ledoux” in the 1939 adventure film North of the Yukon…which cast Charles Starrett and Bob Nolan (with The Sons of the Pioneers) as heroic Mounties!  It’s nice to know that Paul Sutton eventually turned to the right side of the law, and you can hear him emote in his most famous radio role in the Sergeant Preston of the Yukon collections On, You Huskies!Relentless Pursuit, and Frozen Trails.  Radio Spirits also has “plenty of Sutton” on our Lone Ranger collections The Lone Ranger Rides Again and Vengeance!

Happy Birthday, Orson Welles!

Author Gore Vidal once remarked of Orson Welles: “For the television generation he is remembered as an enormously fat and garrulous man with a booming voice, seen most often on talk shows and in commercials where he somberly assured us that a certain wine would not be sold ‘before its time,’ whatever that meant.”  But for old-time radio fans, classic movie mavens, and anyone with an interest in nostalgia (not that I’m singling anyone out, you understand), we recognize the individual born George Orson Welles in Kenosha, Wisconsin on this date in 1915 as a true “Renaissance Man.” He was an amazing actor, writer, director, and producer who broke new ground in the worlds of theatre, radio, and motion pictures.  Chronicling Welles’ life has never been an easy task; by his own admission, he took great delight in amusing both interviewers and himself by embellishing his personal history.  “I don’t want any description of me to be accurate,” Orson once confessed to author Kenneth Tynan. “I want it to be flattering.”

Born in affluence as the youngest son of Richard and Beatrice Welles, Orson experience much hardship despite his family’s comfortable existence. (His father was quite wealthy, having invented a popular bicycle lamp.) His parents separated when he was four and, upon moving to Chicago, Richard gradually replaced his interest in business with a heavy pull on the bottle.  It was up to Beatrice to put groceries on the table, which she did by securing gigs as a pianist. (Orson’s older brother, “Dickie,” had been institutionalized at an early age due to learning difficulties.)  Just as the protagonist of Citizen Kane would be separated from his mother, Orson Welles would also experience maternal loss. Beatrice died of hepatitis in 1924.  Orson spent three years with Richard, traveling to Jamaica and the Far East. In the words of Frank Brady (author of Citizen Welles): “During the three years that Orson lived with his father, some observers wondered who took care of whom.”  Welles’ father died of alcoholism when Orson was fifteen, and the young man never completely forgave himself…believing he was in some way responsible.

The roots of Orson Welles’ desire for a career in the performing arts were well established in this tumultuous time. His interests were encouraged by a combination of factors — including his mother’s musical talents, a summer stay with an artists’ colony after her death, and schooling at the Todd Seminary for Boys (a private institution in Woodstock, Illinois).  It was there that Orson met his mentor and lifelong friend, Roger Hill, who indulged his creative pursuits while nurturing his academic interests.  The Todd Seminary had a radio station, and it was there that Welles made his debut over the ether, performing in a production of Sherlock Holmes that he wrote.

Orson graduated in 1931 and, despite obtaining a scholarship to attend Yale University, he elected to embark on a life of travel — buoyed by both his inheritance from his father and an interest in painting.  After a walking tour of Ireland, he decided to apply a bit of blarney and strode into Dublin’s Gate Theatre, claiming to be a Broadway star.  His age (sixteen) naturally set off skepticism, but Orson soon proved his mettle by acting in small roles in various Gate Theatre productions (notably a version of W. Somerset Maugham’s The Circle at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre).  Orson Welles’ rise in the world of theatre was truly meteoric.  Meeting Thornton Wilder at a party in Chicago got him an introduction to Alexander Woollcott…and that led to a job with Katherine Cornell’s repertory company, where he appeared in such plays as Romeo and Juliet and The Barretts of Wimpole Street.

His role as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet garnered the attention of John Houseman, his future Mercury Theatre partner, who cast Orson in the lead of Archibald MacLeish’s Panic.  Welles would perform a scene from Panic when he made his debut on the CBS Radio series The March of Time. The wunderkind had made his official debut over the airwaves in 1934 on The American School of the Air (thanks to actor-director Paul Stewart, another lifelong Welles crony). He soon began standing regularly in front of a microphone on such series as The Columbia WorkshopThe Cavalcade of America, and America’s Hour.  One of his best-remembered radio gigs was briefly portraying Lamont Cranston, the “wealthy young man about town” whose secret identity was…The Shadow.

On stage, Orson Welles and John Houseman scaled new heights in theatre with their participation in The Federal Theatre Project, where they staged such productions as an all-black version of Macbeth and the now-legendary The Cradle Will Rock. The two men went on to form The Mercury Theatre, where they continued to find new ways to be audacious — including a modern-dress version of Julius Caesar.  Much of Orson and John’s Mercury work was done simultaneously with The Mercury Theatre on the Air. This CBS anthology (originally entitled First Person Singular) began on July 11, 1938 and dramatized classic works of literature.  October 30, 1938 marked the day that Orson Welles would find his instant fame with his production of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. Presented in the novel form of news bulletins breaking into a musical program, the episode later acquired mythical status by allegedly frightening listeners who were unaware that they were listening to a work of fiction.  “The War of the Worlds” would bring Welles to the attention of Hollywood. After signing a contract with RKO Pictures in August of 1939, Orson commuted back-and-forth from East to West Coast as Mercury Theatre continued on the air (the title of the program became Campbell Playhouse in December of 1938) until March 31, 1940.

It was Orson Welles’ third “proposal” to RKO that would go before the motion picture cameras — a film that is often named in “ten best” movie lists and, for some, remains the greatest motion picture ever made —Citizen Kane (1941).  Despite being what could be arguably called his greatest achievement, Kane also became Welles’ cinematic downfall.  The rich, fascinating tale of a newspaper mogul, Kane purportedly contained so many parallels to the real life of William Randolph Hearst that Welles and RKO became frequent targets of Hearst’s papers. Hollywood, under pressure from Hearst, began distancing itself from the twenty-six-year old wunderkind.  In fact, it’s been speculated that Welles’ second film for the studio, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), might have surpassed the greatness of Citizen Kane had Welles not been so preoccupied with making a movie in Mexico…leaving the studio free to edit Ambersons against his wishes.

Orson Welles would eventually be fired by RKO, and from then on his motion picture career was defined by a series of assignments at various studios.  Unfortunately, no one would commit to signing the director to a long-term contract because of his troubles at RKO…and because his desire to maintain creative control led him to acquire an undeserved reputation for irresponsibility.  Orson made such films as The Lady from Shanghai (1948) for Columbia and Touch of Evil (1958) for Universal-International, but most of his pictures were the working definition of what we would call “independent filmmaking.” It took him three years to make his version of Shakespeare’s Othello (1951) — during which time, he funded the production with the money from acting jobs. My personal favorite of Welles’ attempts to bring Shakespeare to the silver screen is a 1948 version of Macbeth, which he put together at Republic Studios.  (The idea of using the place famous for B-westerns and cliffhanger serials just makes me giggle for one reason or another.)

Despite his motion picture career, Orson Welles never abandoned radio.  In the 1940s, he hosted such programs as The Orson Welles TheatreHello Americans (Ceiling Unlimited), Orson Welles’ Radio AlmanacThis is My Best, and The Mercury Summer Theatre.  Welles made several memorable appearances on “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills,” Suspense, and guested on the likes of Command PerformanceG.I. JournalThe Gulf Screen TheatreInformation PleaseThe Lux Radio TheatreMail Call, and The Silver Theatre.  Orson performed alongside such radio personalities as Gracie Fields, Dinah Shore, and Rudy Vallee. He poked fun at himself (calling his radio persona “Crazy Welles” or “Imperial Welles”) with the likes of Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy, Bob Hope, and Danny Kaye.  Much of Welles’ Othello money came from his regular gigs as the star of The Lives of Harry Lime (reprising the famous character he portrayed in the 1949 movie classic The Third Man) and narrator of The Black Museum, both of which were broadcast in 1951 and 1952.

My favorite Orson Welles anecdote has a lot to do with radio. He had a reputation for being a bit undisciplined—performances of his plays would sometimes be postponed, and he was always scrounging here and there to raise money for a movie.  Richard Wilson, an assistant to Orson during his Mercury Theatre radio days, reminisced: “Radio was the only medium that imposed a discipline that Orson would recognize, and that was the clock. When it came time for Mercury to go on the air, there was no denying it.  I can’t think of one theater production…that was not postponed, but [in] radio, he knew every week that clock was ticking, that red light [would come] on and say ‘On the Air.’ And good or bad, right or wrong, boy, that was it. It was the only discipline Orson was able ever to accept.”  Orson Welles left this world for a better one at the age of 70 in 1985.

To celebrate one of the true greats (sorry for gushing…I’ve always been a big fan), Radio Spirits recommends you check out our extensive Shadow collections, featuring today’s birthday boy in one of his earliest (and best-remembered) showcases: Bitter FruitKnight of DarknessDead Men TellRadio TreasuresStrange Puzzles, and The Story of the Shadow.  The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of broadcasts from the 1955 BBC radio series, features Orson as Professor Moriarty, Holmes’ nemesis (“The Napoleon of Crime”).  Welles is one of several celebrities featured in the biographies that comprise the DVD set Hollywood’s Greatest Screen Legends, and you’ll also find him in our 10-DVD set of films dealing with space travel, NASA Collection.  Last—but certainly not least—enjoy a dramatization of Orson’s early days of launching the Mercury Theatre in Richard Linklater’s delightful 2008 feature film—Me and Orson Welles.

Happy Birthday, Eve Arden!

At the height of her fame as the tart-tongued schoolmarm of radio and TV’s Our Miss Brooks, Eve Arden—born in Mill Valley, CA on this date in 1908—got more than a few offers from school boards across the nation to teach in real-life.  Despite their sincerity, these organizations were in for a big letdown.  First, by the time Our Miss Brooks made the transition to the small screen in 1952, Eve was pulling down a salary of $200,000 a year…and if you’ve been keeping up with the news of late, no high school teacher is making that kind of money regardless of how many of them stage walkouts.  Arden also politely declined all offers because she herself had only reached as far as high school in her academic career.  “I wasn’t as smart as Connie Brooks,” she admitted one time in an interview.  “I played Connie as I remembered my third-grade teacher, Miss Waterman.”

For young Eunice Mary Quedens, third grade was a Dominican convent school near Modesto. (She later attended Tamalpais High.)  Eunice’s childhood was a troubled one; her parents had divorced (her mother Lucille split from husband Charles due to his gambling) and Eunice herself was self-conscious about her looks.  At age 16, Quedens quit school to join a San Francisco touring company known as the Henry Duffy Players.  She went on to do a stint with a repertoire group, followed by work performing in a revue at the Pasadena Playhouse.  Her Pasadena gig soon opened a few doors in Hollywood, and in 1929 she made her movie debut in the Columbia Pictures musical The Song of Love.

Eunice Quedens appeared uncredited in a second motion picture, Dancing Lady (1933)—which starred Joan Crawford, whom Eve would work with again in later years.  It was at this time that the young starlet decided to leave Hollywood and pursue a stage career, and she relocated to New York City where she got her big Broadway break in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1934.  In this production, she went by her now famous moniker; the story goes that Arden was told to change her name for the show and she concocted it by glancing at two cosmetic bottles on her dressing room table—“Evening in Paris” and “Elizabeth Arden.”  Later, Arden would grace such stage successes as ParadeZiegfeld Follies of 1936 (she was an understudy for Fanny “Baby Snooks” Brice), Very Warm for MayTwo for the Show, and Let’s Face It!

Returning to Hollywood in 1937 after signing a contract with RKO Pictures, Eve Arden began appearing in many B-pictures like Oh Doctor! (1937) and Cocoanut Grove (1938; Paramount).  One of Eve’s early movie triumphs was a role in RKO’s Stage Door (1937), a now-classic movie about young actresses looking for their big break. It features an impressive female cast, including Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Gail Patrick, Lucille Ball, and Ann Miller.  It was in Stage Door that Arden honed what would be identified as her acting trademark. Radio Spirits’ own Elizabeth McLeod described her as “rarely the leading lady, but she was always a welcome second lead—usually as the sensible best-friend figure who heard out the leading lady’s problems, grabbed her by the shoulders, and told her to snap out of it.”

“Or, just as often,” McLeod continued, “Arden would appear as smart-mouthed comedy relief, cracking off sarcastic commentary from the sidelines as the hero and heroine writhed through their paces.”  Eve worked this wisenheimer magic in 1938’s Letter of Introduction, which also featured radio stars Edgar Bergen and dummy Charlie McCarthy (along with Mortimer Snerd) in its cast.  Arden was a perfect foil for Groucho in the 1939 Marx Brothers feature At the Circus (as the acrobatic “Peerless Pauline”), provided marvelous support for Red Skelton in Whistling in the Dark (1941), and reprised her stage role as “Maggie Watson” in the 1943 Bob Hope romp Let’s Face It.

Eve Arden worked with many a radio personality on the big screen…but she was more than capable of holding her own when it came to performing in front of a radio microphone, too.  She began making appearances in the 1930s on shows headlined by Rudy Vallee and Ken Murray, and reprised her Stage Door role (along with co-stars Ginger Rogers and Adolphe Menjou) on a February 20, 1939 broadcast of The Lux Radio Theatre.  In January of 1945, she began appearing weekly as a regular on CBS’ The Danny Kaye Show, portraying Danny’s gal Friday.  Danny and Eve had displayed a unique chemistry while appearing in the stage version of Let’s Face It!, and the couple continued to work on both his short-lived comedy-variety show and a 1946 film comedy, The Kid from Brooklyn (a reboot of Harold Lloyd’s The Milky Way [1936]).

Danny Kaye wasn’t the only co-star Eve Arden had on radio, however.  In the fall of 1945, she replaced Joan Davis (who graduated to her own series, Joanie’s Tea Room) as the co-hostess of NBC’s Sealtest Village Store, where Jack Haley had been working with Joan since its premiere in 1943.  Haley left at the end of the 1945-46 season, and Eve finished out the show’s run the following season alongside Jack Carson.  The summer of 1948 would see the debut of Arden’s best-remembered radio showcase: Our Miss Brooks.  Initially, Eve had to be talked into taking the role (which was originally going to be played by Shirley Booth) because Arden wanted to take a well-deserved vacation.  CBS’ William S. Paley pressured the actress into taking the job, and Eve finally relented after arrangements were made to transcribe (pre-record) the show before she headed off for her R&R.  While on vacation, Arden received a phone call from CBS executive Frank Stanton that Our Miss Brooks was the runaway hit of the summer season.

With an exemplary cast that included Jeff Chandler (later to be replaced by Robert Rockwell), Gale Gordon, Jane Morgan, Richard Crenna, and Gloria McMillan, Our Miss Brooks became one of the Tiffany’s enduring hits. It lasted on radio until 1957, enjoyed a healthy four-year-run on CBS-TV (where Eve Arden would win an Emmy Award as Best Female Star of a Regular Series), and there was even a silver screen version of the show in 1956.  While busy as a radio actress, Arden continued to make waves in such movie hits as Comrade X (1940), Ziegfeld Girl (1941), Manpower (1941), Obliging Young Lady (1942), Cover Girl (1944), and The Doughgirls (1944).  Eve received her only Academy Award acting nomination for her unforgettable performance (“When men get around me, they get allergic to wedding rings.”) as Joan Crawford’s supportive chum in Mildred Pierce (1945). The two actresses later appeared together in 1951’s Goodbye, My Fancy and Eve did excellent solo work in such features as My Reputation (1946), The Unfaithful (1957), Three Husbands (1950), and We’re Not Married (1952).

Doing Our Miss Brooks as a weekly TV series kept Eve Arden busy throughout the 1950s. It was only after the failure of The Eve Arden Show (which only lasted a single season in 1957) that the actress continued in the flickers with two of her very best cinematic showcases. She played Jimmy Stewart’s sarcastic (but loyal) secretary in Anatomy of a Murder (1959) and turned in a solid performance in 1960’s The Dark at the Top of the Stairs.  In the 1960s, Eve made the rounds as a guest star on such hits as CheckmateMy Three SonsBewitched, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  The fall of 1967 saw Arden return to weekly television as one-half of The Mothers-in-Law (her co-star was Kaye Ballard), an underrated sitcom that had a two-year-run on NBC.

The 1970s saw Eve Arden doing more television guest appearances (Love, American StyleMaude) and Movies-of-the-Week (A Very Missing PersonAll My Darling Daughters)…but 1978 provided her with a wonderful showcase (and to Our Miss Brooks fans—a promotion!) in the smash movie musical Grease.  Portraying the character of “Principal McGee” as a female Osgood Conklin, Arden would reprise the role in the 1982 sequel, Grease 2, and make appearances in motion pictures such as Under the Rainbow (1981) and Pandemonium (1982).  She cut back on her TV guest appearances, but did make time for The Love Boat and Hart to Hart. She tried a brief return to the stage in 1983’s Moose Murders…but wisely chose to back out on what later became a tremendous flop. Meanwhile, Arden published a well-received autobiography (The Three Phases of Eve), and had her show business swan song with an episode of Falcon Crest, the nighttime soap opera starring her good friend Jane Wyman.  Arden left this world for a better one in 1990 at the age of 82.

One of the worst-kept secrets on the Internet is that I am a devoted fan of Eve Arden’s signature series, Our Miss Brooks.  It was a real treat writing the liner notes for the Radio Spirits collection Boynton Blues, and I’m sure that you’re not only going to enjoy that set but our other Our Miss Brooks compendiums, Good English and Faculty Feuds.  For dessert, you can check out our birthday girl on Here is Broadway, a collection of classic broadcasts from radio’s The Damon Runyon Theatre.  Happiest of birthdays, Eve—you’re the one “schoolteacher” whose class I’d never dream of skipping!

Happy Birthday, Marian Jordan!

On a cold December night in 1915, young Marian Driscoll—born on this date in Peoria, Illinois in 1898—had no idea that after that evening’s choir practice at St. John’s Catholic Church, a lively jig that she danced during a “social period” would attract the attention of a young man named James Jordan.  Jim became quite taken with the Irish colleen and asked a friend of his to introduce him to the fetching teenager because…well, Jim was a bit on the bashful side.  The two youngsters chatted after the introductions were made and found out that they both shared a love of music.  But it took shy young Jim a week to work up the nerve to ask Marian out; he eventually found the courage and the duo went out that New Year’s Eve.  It’s fortunate for us that Jim did, too…for he and Marian would eventually tie the knot—and become one of radio’s most beloved comedy couples: Fibber McGee & Molly.

Marian’s father mined coal for a living to support his four daughters (including Marian) and nine sons.  She attended school at The Academy of Our Lady (her future husband’s school was right across the street). In addition to her classes, Driscoll made excellent use of her musical talents—Marian had a beautiful contralto voice and was quite proficient on both the piano and violin.  It was after inviting Jim to one of her piano recitals (shortly after their December 1915 meeting) that Marian realized she was very much in love with her bashful suitor. Jim had even spent $2.50 on a bouquet of roses…at a time when he was pulling down eight dollars a week…and they started making plans to wed after she graduated high school.  Her parents weren’t too enthused about Marian marrying Jim – largely due to his ambition to be an entertainer – so he tried out a variety of different jobs, including warehouse clerk and mail carrier, etc. But when his big break came (as a tenor singer with a Chicago vaudeville act), he took it.  Life on the road was difficult for Jim, who missed Marian terribly…and he would eventually return to Peoria to ask for her hand in marriage.  The joyous event took place on August 31, 1918.

No sooner had they become Mr. and Mrs. Jim Jordan than Jim got a letter from his Uncle Sam…and he soon found himself in WWI France, sidelined with dysentery.  Marian, in the meantime, kept “the home fires burning” by eking out a living teaching piano and performing at church services (she was often pressed into service to sing at weddings).  Jim would soon return home and, in the manner of Fibber McGee, tried out another series of jobs…before succumbing once again to the itch for performing.  Jordan thought that if Marian joined him they might make a little more noise on stage as a duo.  While vaudeville provided an excellent training ground for the Jordans’ show business aspirations, it was not conducive to marriage stability.  Marian took breaks from “the road” to give birth to their daughter Kathryn (in 1920) and son Jim, Jr. (1923). Jim, though he began with enthusiasm, would return home broke, taking on various odds-and-ends occupations until the family could maintain a sense of solvency.

It would be no exaggeration to state that radio provided a permanency for this married couple that vaudeville couldn’t offer…the only problem was that, in its infancy, performing on radio didn’t pay much.  In 1924, Jim’s brother Byron (affectionately known as “Mickey”) goaded him and Marian into performing on Chicago radio station WIBO. (Mickey believed that the Jordans could do a better job than the act that was on the air.) They were so well-received that the station hired them to perform (as The O’Henry Twins) at $35 a week.  Between 1925 and 1927, the couple worked an average of three radio stations a night. In October of 1927, they signed a contract with Chicago’s WENR for $60 weekly.  During their time on WENR, Jim and Marian appeared on The Air ScoutsGrab Bag, and Luke and Mirandy.  1929 saw the Jordans debut in The Smith Family, an early daytime drama that some radio historians consider the first “soap opera.”

The Jordans would appear regularly on such series as Kaltenmyer’s Kindergarten and The Breakfast Club…but Marian and Jim’s most successful program on Chicago radio would premiere on March 2, 1931: Smackout. This six-day-a-week quarter-hour featured Jim as Luke Gray, a garrulous general store owner who was always “smack out” of items requested by his clientele.  Marian supported her husband with a variety of quirky characters, demonstrating her versatility and vocal talents. Notably, she played a little girl named “Teeny,” who liked to tease Luke about his propensity for stretching the truth.  If this is starting to sound a little familiar…it should; Smackout was a blueprint for the wildly successful Fibber McGee & Molly. In fact, the writer on Smackout was none other than longtime Fibber scribe Don Quinn.  It was Smackout, of course, that brought Jim and Marian to the attention of the Johnson’s Wax people when they were looking to put a new program on the air on NBC.  The Johnson’s Wax Program with Fibber McGee & Molly premiered on April 16, 1935. After a slow start, it became one of radio’s most popular comedy programs.

Because Marian Jordan was considered such an integral part of the success of Fibber McGee & Molly, it’s often difficult to separate her from her equally famous husband.  But shortly after the pair made their first motion picture in Hollywood (1937’s This Way Please), Marian’s health deteriorated. She was forced to check into a Chicago sanitarium for a long period of rest while Jim carried on with the radio program, which was renamed in her absence Fibber McGee & Company.  Many doubted that Marian would ever return to the show, but in April of 1939 she was warmly welcomed back…and the show became better than ever.  In the 1940s, Fibber McGee & Molly was often ranked at the top of radio’s comedy programs and the show itself became one of the biggest morale boosters during WW2.

Marian and Jim Jordan performed as Fibber McGee & Molly from 1935 to 1956 (the years between 1953 and 1956 their show was a five-day-a-week quarter-hour). They kept the characters alive from 1957 to 1959 by doing short skits as the couple on NBC’s Monitor.  The Jordans made guest appearances on shows headlined by the likes of Amos ‘n’ Andy (Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll), Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy (with whom they made two motion pictures, Look Who’s Laughing [1941] and Here We Go Again [1942]), Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour, Lum & Abner, and Dinah Shore.  Even when guesting on such programs as The Big ShowCommand PerformanceFamily TheatreG.I. JournalThe Great Gildersleeve (a sitcom spin-off from their own series), The Gulf/Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre, and The Lux Radio Theatre, Marian and Jim usually performed in character.  A notable exception was heard on February 3, 1949, when a Suspense broadcast, “Backseat Driver,” allowed them to stretch their acting muscles a bit.  (The couple did such a great job that they did an encore performance on February 22, 1951.)

Marian and Jim were unique in that, while they did bring their famous radio characters to film (such as 1944’s Heavenly Days), they were content to remain creatures of the aural medium. The fact that Marian’s health continued to be chancy with the passing years (doctors had advised her many times to take a long rest…but she didn’t want to disappoint fans) scotched any idea of bringing Wistful Vista’s favorite couple to the small screen.  When Fibber McGee & Molly finally did come to TV in the fall of 1959, Marian Jordan had already been diagnosed with inoperable cancer.  She would leave this world for a better one on April 7, 1961…and many old-time radio fans were saddened by the loss of a woman they considered a trusted friend.

I don’t know about you…but all I have to hear is Marian Jordan’s warm and welcoming “How you do, I’m sure!” and whatever funk I happened to be in is scattered to the four winds and beyond.  Radio Spirits has just the tonic for such blues, with Fibber McGee & Molly collections like Cleaning the Closet (with liner notes by yours truly), Gone Fishing, and Wistful Vista. (Be sure to keep an eye out for another upcoming Radio Spirits Fibber McGee & Molly collection…I know this because I wrote the booklet for that as well.)  You can also spend holiday time with Wistful Vista’s famous residents in our Yuletide compendiums Christmas Radio ClassicsRadio’s Christmas Celebrations, and The Voices of Christmas Past.  Last but not least…check out the McGees in our potpourri offerings of Comedy Goes WestGreat Radio Comedy, and Radio Classics: Selected by Greg Bell.  Heavenly days–that’s a lot of listening!

Happy Birthday, Paul McGrath!

On May 29, 1945, radio’s popular Inner Sanctum Mysteries welcomed inside “the creaking door” a new host to replace the departing Raymond Edward Johnson.  The new master of ceremonies who welcomed audiences to the weekly broadcasts of murder and mayhem would be referred to as “The Host” or “Your Host” …and not “Raymond,” the beloved narrator that had been a fixture on the series since its debut in 1941.  There was a reason why Inner Sanctum’s Himan Brown chose not to identify the replacement; according to Johnson, “Hi used to be a lawyer, and Hi knew that they could not say [“Raymond”] because it was my name, a natural name.”

Additional speculation as to why the new host’s identity was cloaked in semi-anonymity is that Brown insisted that the content of Inner Sanctum was the star, and he was reluctant to promote another pop culture icon like Raymond Edward Johnson’s macabre host.  We won’t keep you in suspense any longer: the new host of the Sanctum was none other than actor Paul McGrath, born in Chicago on this date in 1904.  Not only did Paul bid listeners “Pleasant dreams…hmmm?” until the show left the airwaves in 1952, he served as the narrator of a short-lived attempt to bring the series to TV in 1953-54.

Though a native son of the Windy City, Paul McGrath moved with his family to New York, where he attended Public School 26 and graduated from Evander Childs High School.  After that, he was off to Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute of Technology to study engineering…but that choice of vocation didn’t last long.  Paul had been bitten by the acting bug, and he dropped out in 1924 to return to New York and a career in the footlights.  He made his stage debut in a road company version of The First Year (written by character actor Frank Craven). He later confessed that he landed a part in that play “by lying about my stage experience.”  McGrath followed that gig touring as a member of the repertory company in shows like The Doctor’s DilemmaMr. Wu, and Ned Cobb’s Daughter.

The lights of Broadway were not all that far off for Paul McGrath: he appeared in stage hits like In the Near Future (1925), Made in America (1925), and The Arabian (1927).  Paul’s breakthrough role was in a 1931 production of Ferenc Molnar’s The Good Fairy featuring “The First Lady of the American Theatre,” Helen Hayes. Throughout his lengthy Broadway career (his final play was 1970’s Brightower) McGrath acted alongside some of the stage’s finest actresses.  He did Here Today (1932) with Ruth Gordon, Ode to Liberty (1934) with Ina Claire, In Bed We Cry (1944) with Ilka Chase, The Small Hours with Dorothy Stickney and Love and Let Love with Ginger Rogers (both in 1951), and a summer production of Desk Set with Shirley Booth.

McGrath’s most prominent role was opposite the legendary Gertrude Lawrence in 1940’s Susan and God; a part that became his after Osgood Perkins (the father of Anthony) died unexpectedly.  Lawrence and McGrath reprised their roles in an early televised performance of the play (also in 1940), and he would work again with Ms. Lawrence the following year in Lady in the Dark.  Paul McGrath would experience many Broadway triumphs, including turns opposite Paul Kelly in 1947’s Command Decision (later adapted for the silver screen) and John Garfield in 1949’s The Big Knife (also made into a movie, in 1955).

Performing on stage allowed Paul McGrath to make extra money as a radio actor—he could do any number of daytime soap operas and still fulfill his theatrical commitments in the evenings. And McGrath certainly made the rounds of radio’s most popular “weepies”; he was Edwin Lorimer on This Life is Mine, Phil Stanley on When a Girl Marries, Dr. Sewell Crawford on Young Doctor Malone, and Richard Lane on Lora Lawton.  His best-remembered “soap gig” was portraying Dr. John Wayne (I’m not making that name up) on Big Sister, and in the waning days of radio Paul was emoting as the titular medico of The Affairs of Dr. Gentry.

Other radio programs to employ Paul include A Date with Judy (he was the first thespian to play Melvin Foster, in the Ann Gillis years of the program), Barrie Craig, Confidential InvestigatorBest PlaysThe Casebook of Gregory Hood (in the title role), The Chase, Crime DoctorThe Eternal LightThe FBI in Peace and WarMy Son JeepStudio One, Suspense, and The Theatre Guild on the Air.  Even after “Radio’s Golden Age” rang down the curtain, McGrath made time for shows that attempted to revive audio drama, like Theater Five and The CBS Radio Mystery Theatre.

Though his radio and stage work no doubt kept him busy, Paul McGrath found time for appearances in feature films every now and then.  Paul had a high-profile role in This Thing Called Love, a 1940 comedy with Rosalind Russell; a 1941 Charlie Chan film, Dead Men Tell; and a nice showcase in the Claudette Colbert-Fred MacMurray romp No Time for Love (1943). Other items of interest on McGrath’s cinematic c.v. include A Face in the Crowd (1957) and Advise and Consent (1962).  Paul was no slouch when it came to the small screen, either. He made the rounds on many of TV’s top dramatic anthologies (Robert Montgomery PresentsThe United States Steel Hour), daytime soaps (The Guiding LightThe Edge of Night), and several New York-based dramatic series such as East Side/West SideThe Doctors and the Nurses, and For the People.  According to the IMDb, Paul McGrath’s final film performance was in a 1969 TV movie entitled This Town Will Never Be the Same. The actor passed away two days after his 74th birthday in 1978.

You know simply by having read the above material that Paul McGrath was a much-in-demand actor in radio, and Radio Spirits features two compendiums of his signature role as “Your Host” on Inner Sanctum MysteriesShadows of Death (with liner notes by yours truly) and Pattern for Fear.  (There’s also Inner Sanctum to be heard in our potpourri set of audio chills and thrills, Great Radio Horror.)  But please don’t overlook Final Curtain, a collection of vintage Suspense broadcasts from the final years of “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills,” and a classic episode entitled “The Lost Lady” (06-14-53) on Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator.  Happy birthday to one of the richest voices in the aural medium!

Happy Birthday, Lou Merrill!

An item in the September 25, 1939 edition of The Van Nuys News trumpets the motion picture debut of actor Louis Merrill—born in Winnipeg, Canada on this date in 1912.  The blurb is a little hyperbolic; Lou had previously appeared (uncredited) in the 1938 cliffhanger serial Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars. In addition, his voice had been heard as the narrator of the 1935 Boris Karloff feature The Black Room. However, his Tropic Fury (1939) role as Porthos Scipio, a menacing South American rubber baron, would be the first time the character great received billing on the silver screen.  There would be motion pictures to follow, of course, but Merrill was first and foremost a radio actor…described in the News article as “a veteran of the networks for the past eight years” and who “has mastered nine different dialects for his widely varied characterizations.”

If you can call being a choirboy in Montreal “show business,” then Lou Merrill was bitten by the bug from a very early age.  His big break in American radio was sharing a microphone with silent film queen Mary Pickford on Parties at Pickfair, and one of Lou’s earliest high-profile assignments was working on radio’s prestigious The Lux Radio Theatre. Not only was he on the latter program weekly as a member of the series’ repertory company of supporting players, but he also served as an assistant director, handling “crowd scenes” in the show’s broadcast plays.  On Big Town, Lou’s hefty 250 lb. frame gave him the gravitas to play a variety of “heavies”; he excelled at portraying gangsters—a nod to star Edward G. Robinson’s cinematic stock-in-trade.  (Merrill even served as Robinson’s “stand-in” whenever Eddie G. was unavailable.)  Throughout the 1930s, Lou racked up radio credits on shows like Calling All CarsDr. ChristianThe Joe Penner ShowThe John Barrymore TheatreThe Mickey Mouse Theatre of the AirStrange as It SeemsThose We Love (as con man Ed Neely), and Woodbury Playhouse.  Merrill was even a participant in the classic Yuletide radio production The Cinnamon Bear, where he played “the big man” himself: Santa Claus.

In the 1940’s, Lou Merrill scored roles in two films directed by the legendary Cecil B. DeMille: North West Mounted Police (1940; as Lesure) and Reap the Wild Wind (1942; as the Captain of “The Pelican”).  He was identified onscreen for those turns, but most of his film work consisted of uncredited roles in offerings like New Wine (1941), Hangmen Also Die! (1943), and Passport to Suez(1943).  Lou’s radio career, on the other hand, was going like “gang busters.”  He was a favorite of radio auteur Arch Oboler, who made use of his talents and dialects on Lights OutArch Oboler’s PlaysEverything for the BoysFree World Theatre, and Plays for Americans.  Orson Welles also liked the cut of Merrill’s jib, casting him in parts on Hello AmericansCeiling Unlimited, and Radio Almanac.  (Lou also has a nice turn in Orson’s The Lady from Shanghai [1948] as “Jake Bjornsen.”)

For the most part, however, Lou Merrill leveraged his experience as a Lux Radio Theatre player to work scads of radio anthology programs, among them The Cavalcade of AmericaDark Venture, Encore TheatreThe Eternal LightFamily TheatreHollywood Star TimeThe NBC University TheatreThe Pacific StoryThe Railroad HourScreen Directors’ PlayhouseStudio OneThe Theatre of Famous Radio Players, and Theatre of Romance.  Merrill’s versatility also brought him to such venues as The Alan Young ShowThe George Burns & Gracie Allen ShowThe Jack Benny ProgramThe Life of RileyMail CallPoint Sublime (as Aaron Saul, the town jeweler), Request PerformanceThe Rudy Vallee Show, and Smilin’ Ed’s Buster Brown Gang.  He starred briefly as Captain Craig McKenzie on an early adult science-fiction series, Latitude Zero, and racked up appearances on Ellery QueenIntrigueThe New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and Rogue’s Gallery.

Merrill also enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with “Mr. Radio,” Elliott Lewis; he appeared frequently on the Lewis-produced Broadway’s My Beat, as well as On Stage and Suspense.  In addition, Elliott cast Lou in the radio role for which old-time radio fans remember him best: as Crime Classics host/narrator Thomas Hyland—“connoisseur of crime, student of violence, and teller of murders.”  A short-lived crime anthology that is nevertheless revered by radio devotees even today, Classics allowed Lou-as-Hyland to be his droll, deadpan best as he regaled listeners with tales of true criminal cases presented in a macabre, tongue-in-cheek fashion.  The departure of Crime Classics (a crime in itself) didn’t slow Merrill down, however; his radio resume continued to bulge with entries such as The Adventures of Sam SpadeThe Adventures of the SaintThe CBS Radio WorkshopThe Hallmark Hall of FameThe Halls of IvyHeartbeat TheatreThe LineupLuke Slaughter of TombstoneThe Man Called XNight BeatObsessionPresenting Charles BoyerRetributionRocky FortuneThe Silent MenThe Six ShooterSomebody KnowsStars in the AirStars Over HollywoodThat’s RichThis is Your FBIWild Bill Hickok, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Although a dedicated “radio man,” Lou Merrill was not a stranger to the small screen.  He appeared in several installments of a series entitled The Oboler Comedy Theatre (for his old boss Arch Oboler) and guest-starred on such hits as I Love LucyThe LineupColt .45The MillionaireSugarfoot, and Shirley Temple’s Scrapbook.  Most of his movie appearances allowed him to fall back on his love of radio. For example, that’s Lou as the radio announcer in the loopy morality film The Next Voice You Hear… (1950), and like his fellow radio thespian Paul Frees, Merrill enjoyed narrating trailers for such AIP features as It Conquered the World (195x), I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), and A Bucket of Blood (1959).  His credited films include roles in Charge of the Lancers (1954), The Iron Glove (1954), The Crooked Web (1955), and a schlock favorite of mine, The Giant Claw (1957).  His cinematic swan song was 1961’s The Devil at 4 O’Clock; Lou Merrill passed on two years later at the tender age of 54.

If you’re in the mood—and you know you are—to celebrate Lou Merrill’s birthday, you’re going to want to own our Crime Classics collection The Hyland Files, featuring his signature role as Thomas Hyland.  However, Lou is present and accounted for in three of our Broadway’s My Beat sets: Dark WhispersGreat White Way, and our just-released The Loneliest Mile (with liner notes from your humble narrator).  In addition, you’ll hear Merrill working his microphone magic on Big Town: Blind JusticeDark VentureLights Out, Everybody and Lights Out: Later Than You ThinkThe Line Up: WitnessThe Man Called XRogue’s Gallery: Blue EyesSherlock Holmes: ElementaryThe Six Shooter: Gray SteelSomebody Knows; the Suspense compendiums Beyond Good and Evil and Wages of Sin; and the Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar collections Murder Matters and Wayward Matters.  Believe you me—Lou Merrill is no April fool!