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“Good night, folks…”

In his essential reference encyclopedia of old-time radio, On the Air, author John Dunning notes that actor William Gargan’s presence on the detective drama Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator “was an interesting bit of typecasting.”  “As a young man he had worked in a real detective office,” Dunning continues, “and had once confessed amusement at the blunders of radio detectives.”  John damns the show that premiered over NBC on this date in 1951 with faint praise, noting that it “seldom rose above B-grade detective fare.”  This is not necessarily a bad thing, speaking as someone who’s watched and listened to more “B-grade detective fare” than Carter has little liver pills.  Here’s the straight dope: with Gargan on board, Barrie Craig was always worth a listen.

Though William Gargan enjoyed a long motion picture career—which included an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his memorable turn in 1940s They Knew What They Wanteda good many of the movies on his resume were known in the industry as “second features” (B-movies), and crime mellerdrammers at that.  (For example, Bill played Ellery Queen in the final three programmers in Columbia’s franchise…and might have appeared in more had he been under contract to the studio.)  On radio, Gargan was also a veteran in the crime business, starring on such shows as Murder Will Out and I Deal in Crime—with his best-known turn before a microphone as the titular gumshoe on Martin Kane, Private Eye.  Bill simultaneously played Kane in the TV version, stepping down only when he became disenchanted with the show’s scripts. (According to Gargan, they were “a vehicle for the meat parade.”)

That brings us to the fall of 1951, with William Gargan set to star in a radio mystery series entitled Barrie Crane, Confidential Investigator.  Yes, that was the character’s original name…but Bill’s old Martin Kane bosses objected, arguing that “Crane” sounded too much like “Kane.”  So the protagonist became “Craig,” and for most of the show’s four-year run, Gargan delivered the goods…even when the plots were not the textbook definition of “inspired.”  When the show’s announcer (future Jeopardy! and Saturday Night Live announcer Don Pardo during the program’s New York period) enthused that listeners would soon hear “another transcribed drama of mystery and adventure with America’s number one detective,” it’s possible that there was some eye-rolling in a few quarters.  (Radio Mirror noted in 1953 that Barrie Craig was “a sucker for a $100 retainer.”)

The strengths of Barrie Craig were with Gargan, of course, but also a dedicated stock company of New York acting talent that included Ralph Bell (as Lt. Travis Rogers, Barrie’s contact on the force), Parker Fennelly (as Jake the elevator operator), Elspeth Eric, Santos Ortega, Arnold Moss, and Amzie Strickland.  Himan Brown, the man who frightened radio listeners with the mere sound of a door in need of oil for its hinges (Inner Sanctum Mysteries), was the director for the series. Scripts were contributed by veterans including Ernest Kinoy, John Roeburt, and Louis Vittes.  Vittes had a gift for eccentric characters and offbeat dialogue, a talent he had previously displayed on the likes of Mr. and Mrs. North and The Adventures of the Thin Man (another Hi Brown show).

The production of Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator migrated to the West Coast after a three-year stint on NBC, allowing members of the “Radio Row” congregation—Betty Lou Gerson, Jack Moyles, Barney Phillips, Virginia Gregg, Vivi Janiss, etc.—to support William Gargan as Barry.  (Parley Baer even does his best “Parker-Fennelly-as-Jake” impression in an August 31, 1954 episode entitled “Hay is for Homicide.”)  In the surviving transcription for “Ghosts Don’t Die in Bed” (09/07/54), you’ll hear Gargan’s pre-recorded remarks for next week’s show (“The Corpse Who Couldn’t Swim”) before announcer John Laing drops this little bombshell: “We regret that with the program you have just heard, we conclude the present Barrie Craig series…we hope you have enjoyed them, and we look forward to bringing them to you again sometime in the not too distant future.”

Laing wasn’t wrong about “the not too distant future,” by the way; “Corpse” would be the focus of Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator when the show resumed on October 3rd.  With his June 30, 1955 broadcast (“The Man Who Didn’t Get Them Wholesale”), Barrie Craig filed for unemployment …though the actor who portrayed him, William Gargan, would reprise his role as the original Martin Kane in a syndicated TV series in 1957 (The New Adventures of Martin Kane) before he lost his voice box to throat cancer.

Radio Spirits has a brand-new collection of Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator broadcasts headed your way in Song of Death, which spotlights the show’s New York years and performers like Jackson Beck, Joan Alexander, and Mandel Kramer.  Keep an eye peeled for it, and for those impatient fans we also have our original release, Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator, and a Craig show from 1955 (“Visitor at Midnight”) on our compendium of radio’s best gumshoes, Great Radio Detectives.

Happy Birthday, Barton Yarborough!

Despite the fact that radio’s I Love a Mystery had closed up shop over CBS Radio on December 29, 1944, Columbia Pictures wanted to adapt the popular “blood-and-thunder” melodrama for the silver screen…and did so by paying creator Carlton E. Morse a princely sum for the rights for a three-picture deal in 1945.  Since Morse had written the third member of the ILAM trio, Britisher Reggie York, out of the show with the passing of actor Walter Patterson (death by suicide) in 1942, there were only two parts to be cast.  The role of unofficial leader Jack Packard—played on radio by Michael Raffetto—was assigned to the slightly more movie-genic Jim Bannon, an ex-stuntman who had experience as a radio announcer and had also graced a few B-pictures at the same studio.  But for the irrepressible Doc Long, actor Barton Yarborough—born on this date in Goldthwaite, Texas in 1900—reprised his original radio role. Yarborough enjoyed a long association with Morse—not only emoting on Mystery but essaying the part of Clifford Barbour on Carlton’s long-running One Man’s Family for nearly twenty years (beginning with its debut in 1932).

He was born William Barton Yarborough to father Patrick and mother Mollie. From the earliest of ages, he developed a love for acting, and ran away to join a traveling medicine show in his teens.  Bart performed briefly in vaudeville during the early 1920s before joining the prestigious Eve Le Gallienne Company, a theatrical troupe that took him to New York and London. Yarborough later enrolled at USC-Berkeley and performed in a local company known as The Mask and Dagger Productions.  By the start of the 1930s, Barton was working in radio around San Francisco…a year after he married an actress named Barbara Jo Allen.  The couple later divorced in 1936, but Allen became a well-known performer in the aural medium, portraying “Vera Vague” on The Bob Hope Show.

When Carlton E. Morse’s One Man’s Family premiered over the West Coast NBC Network on April 29, 1932, Barton Yarborough began playing Clifford Barbour—one of five children born to stockbroker Henry and wife Fanny Barbour, who resided in San Francisco’s Sea Cliff area.  One Man’s Family expanded to the full coast-to-coast NBC Network a year later, becoming the longest-running uninterrupted dramatic serial in U.S. radio history (leaving the airwaves in 1959).  At the same time that Bart was employed by One Man’s Family, he could also be heard as Doc Long on Morse’s I Love a Mystery. This serialized mystery-adventure premiered on the West Coast over NBC on January 16, 1939. (Much like FamilyMystery was soon promoted to coast-to-coast status.) Yarborough was also a regular (as Skip Turner) on Morse’s syndicated Adventures by Morse. So of course, when Carlton resurrected Mystery as I Love Adventure for ABC in the summer of 1948, Bart reprised his famous Doc Long character.

The main reason for Barton Yarborough’s loyalty to Carlton E, Morse’s productions was simple. According to Peggy Webber (who worked a great deal with Yarborough on Dragnet), Morse had a rule about his actors working on other shows.  Eventually, Carlton E. lifted that restriction, which enabled Bart to take on the role of “Brazos John” in the early adult western Hawk Durango in July of 1946 for CBS.  The series, which starred Elliott Lewis in the title role and was directed and produced by William N. Robson, had a brief summer run (as a replacement for The Adventures of Maisie) before returning in the fall with a new title: Hawk Larabee. Yarborough took over the role of the titular character, with Barney Phillips as his sidekick.  Yarborough was then demoted back to sidekick when Lewis returned to play Hawk in September of 1947. The series made its final exit on February 7, 1948.

Barton Yarborough’s Texas drawl got him plenty of work on such Western radio shows as All-Star Western TheatreThe Black GhostThe Cisco KidFrontier TheatreFrontier TownGene Autry’s Melody RanchHopalong Cassidy, and Wild Bill Hickok.  In July of 1950, Yarborough landed another sidekick gig on Mutual’s Hashknife Hartley (he played “Sleepy Stevens”), which might have had a longer run had it not been for the actor’s premature passing.  Bart’s other radio appearances include The Adventures of Christopher LondonBold VentureBroadway’s My BeatThe Cavalcade of AmericaFamily TheatreThe First Nighter ProgramThe Halls of IvyLet George Do ItThe Line UpThe Lux Radio TheatreThe March of TimeMeet MillieRadio AlmanacRichard Diamond, Private DetectiveScreen Director’s PlayhouseThe Story of Dr. KildareSuspenseToday’s ChildrenVoyage of the Scarlet Queen, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Barton Yarborough made a name for himself on radio with his showcases on One Man’s Family and I Love a Mystery…but if there’s one program for which it could be argued he’s best remembered it would be Dragnet.  Bart had worked with Dragnet creator Jack Webb (who also got his start in San Francisco radio) on shows like Errand of MercyEscapeJeff Regan, Investigator, and Three for Adventure (a 1949 audition very similar to I Love a Mystery). When Webb began casting the police procedural that debuted over NBC on June 3, 1949, he picked Bart to play Joe Friday’s partner—soft-spoken family man Ben Romero.  Frequent Dragnet performer Harry Bartell once observed of the character’s Texas background: “At first I wondered why a Los Angeles cop would have an out-of-town accent, but no one paid any attention to it.”  The Ben Romero character (as played by Yarborough) had an endearing sense of humor about himself, avoiding the somewhat broader portrayals of the later Frank Smith (Ben Alexander) and Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan).

When Jack Webb brought Dragnet to TV in December of 1951, Barton Yarborough was all set to reprise his Ben Romero role.  Bart’s years of acting experience had been mostly put to use on radio, but he demonstrated that he was quite at ease in front of a camera. His first credited film appearance was in 1941’s They Meet Again (a movie in the Dr. Christian series). This was followed-up with such features as Saboteur (1942), The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), the three I Love a Mystery films (including The Devil’s Mask and The Unknown), and Kilroy Was Here (1947).  But Yarborough would only appear in the first two episodes of the Dragnet TV series. He suffered a heart attack shortly after filming wrapped on the second episode on December 19, 1951.  Webb paid tribute to his friend by making Ben Romero’s passing a plot point in the radio broadcast of “The Big Sorrow” (12/27/51). The actor’s final film performance was an uncredited (but wonderful) role as Humphrey Bogart’s assistant in Deadline – U.S.A. (1952).

“I felt of all the sidekicks that Jack had, Bart was the best,” actress Peggy Webber reflectively asserted in My Name’s Friday, Michael J. Hayde’s essential reference book on Jack Webb, Dragnet, and the feature films that would bear Webb’s name.  “He was so easy with what he did and he added a subtle dimension of humor.  It was a good contrast with Jack.”  We couldn’t agree more. That’s why Radio Spirits highly recommends a purchase of two Dragnet collections, The Big Blast and Night Watch.  You can also hear our birthday boy on broadcast in three of our Escape compendiums—EssentialsThe Hunted and the Haunted, and Peril—and if that isn’t enough to satisfy you, there’s Jeff Regan, Investigator: Stand By For MysteryLet George Do It: Cry Uncle, and Richard Diamond, Private Detective: Homicide Made Easy.  Happiest of birthdays to you, Mr. Yarborough!

“Howdee, Straight Shooters! Howdee!”

The man born Thomas Hezikiah Mix in Mix Run, Pennsylvania in 1880 became a Western legend during the 20th century…and he did it using the same good old fashioned skill as Buffalo Bill Cody: salesmanship!  Tom Mix would be recognized as a genuine cowboy and soldier of fortune — even those some of his exploits were a bit exaggerated. (For example, Mix did not serve with Teddy Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders.”)  However, Mix did become a champion rodeo rider, winning a national championship in 1909. In that same year, an appearance in a short produced by the Selig Polyscope Company—The Cowboy Millionaire—started him on a career that made him Hollywood’s first big Western film star.  Tom’s popularity would even cross over to radio, when The Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters premiered over NBC on this date in 1933.

In the silent film era, Tom Mix made close to 100 short films for Selig Polyscope before the company went belly up in 1917.  Mix then signed a contract with Fox Film (where he would eventually earn $7,500 a week) and continued to produce solid two-reel actioners until his first starring feature, Cupid’s Round Up, was released in 1918.  Tom would later work with such silent screen sirens as Colleen Moore (The Wilderness TrailThe Cyclone) and Clara Bow (The Best Bad Man) and under the direction of big names like John Ford (Three Jumps AheadNorth of Hudson Bay) and George Marshall (Prairie TrailsAfter Your Own Heart).  Many of Tom Mix’s classic oaters have been lost to the ravages of time and neglect…but new generations of silent western fans continue to enjoy the likes of Sky High (1922—named to the National Film Registry in 1998), Riders of the Purple Sage (1925), and The Great K&A Train Robbery (1926).

When Fox declined to renew his contract (among other things, Tom Mix was a victim of his own hefty salary), Tom worked briefly in vaudeville before signing a contract with Film Booking Offices of America in 1928.  He was contracted to make six westerns but wound up one short. (His FBO oaters were not as well received as his Fox features, and the sixth to be produced, The Dude Ranch, was scrapped).  The film star then returned to vaudeville and a two-year stint with the Sells Fioto Circus before Universal came a-calling, signing him up for nine westerns (plus a cameo in a non-western, The Cohens and Kellys in Hollywood) that returned Mix to box office glory.  A bout of influenza and some other injuries forced Tom to end his association with the studio, and Tom returned to live performances.  He partnered with Sam Gill in 1934 to form “Tom Mix Wild West and Sam Gill Circus (Combined).” When Gill died from a heart attack, Mix made plans to buy out his partner’s share of the business…and to finance the deal, he made his final film. This 15-chapter serial for Nat Levine’s Mascot studio was entitled The Miracle Rider (1935).  Rider was a box office success…but it was Tom Mix’s cinematic swan song.

It was the Ralston-Purina company who ensured that Tom Mix would still be remembered after his tragic death from an automobile accident in 1940.  The company purchased the rights to use his name for a thrice weekly quarter-hour series. According to radio historian Jim Harmon (author of The Great Radio Heroes), the action on this program took place at Mix’s ranch (the T-M Bar) near Dobie Township in Texas (but of course!).  Tom maintained the spread with his two young wards, Jimmy and Jane …and an elderly codger nicknamed “The Old Wrangler,” who would usher in each broadcast with: “Let’s get a-goin’!”  When the actor who played the Wrangler (Percy Hemus) went off to join the Ghost Riders in the Sky, the character of Sheriff Mike Shaw was introduced as Tom’s new sidekick.  Other regulars on the show included chief-cook-and-bottle-washer Wash, Tom’s pal Pecos Williams, and Amos Q. Snood—the miserly hotel owner in Dobie.

There was little doubt as to who the star of The Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters was…and that was the titular cowboy. His serialized adventures had him squaring off against a continual array of evildoers that included rustlers, killers, and (once World War II was underway) saboteurs and spies.  At the height of its popularity, Tom Mix was billed as “radio’s biggest western-detective program.” According to old-time radio historian John Dunning, Tom’s adventures consistently ranked among the most popular during “the wheat-and-barley hour.”

Ralston-Purina—who advertised on the show from its 1933 premiere until it departed the airwaves on December 16, 1951—was the show’s only sponsor. They rewarded loyal listeners with such dime-and-boxtops swag as decoders, comics, badges, and other kiddie baubles.  The Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters was truly one of radio’s greatest premium givers, and that can’t-get-it-out-of-my-head theme song remains one the best remembered of Radio’s Golden Age (sung to the tune of When the Bloom is On the Sage):

Shre-ea-ded Ralston for your breakfast
Start the day off shinin’ bright
Gives you lots of cowboy energy
With a flavor that’s just right
It’s delicious and nutritious
Bite-size and ready to eat
Take a tip from Tom 
Go and tell your mom
Shredded Ralston can’t be beat!

As previously noted, the show’s namesake went to a better world than this one in 1940…so who replaced Tom Mix on the radio show after his passing?  Truth be told—Tom Mix gave little to Ralston Straight Shooters other than his name and a bit of his Western legend glory.  Tom never emoted on the program—his voice suffered due to some broken noses and a bullet to his throat in more adventurous times. He was portrayed by Artells Dickson when the show premiered in 1933. Jack Holden took over in 1937, followed by Russell Thorson, and Joe “Curley” Bradley. Joe played Tom the longest—from June 5, 1944 until the show’s final curtain call.  Harold Peary and Willard Waterman (the future stars of The Great Gildersleeve) played multiple roles on the series, as did ”Lonesome” George Gobel.

One of the tragedies of old-time radio is that while some broadcasts of The Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters have survived, they only number an estimated thirty or so (which is always sad to hear, particularly since the show was serialized).  However, Radio Spirits does offer a collection of Tom Mix western shorts—two hours of adventures from his Selig Polyscope period, including Cactus Jim (1915) and An Angelic Attitude (1916).  You can also check out Tom’s valedictory film/serial, The Miracle Rider, in our Vintage Western Serials compendium.  Travel back in time with the “King of Cowboys”…and don’t forget Tony—his “wonder horse”!

Happy Birthday, June Foray!

In 2009, Bear Manor Media published Did You Grow Up with Me, Too?: The Autobiography of June Foray.  The titular performer—born June Lucille Forer in Springfield, Massachusetts on this date in 1917—collaborated on the book with cartoon historians Jerry Beck and Earl Kress. (At the risk of being facetious, we’re surprised that the tome – it’s 164 pages – isn’t the size of ten city phone books.) June was without question “The First Lady of Voice Artists” (not to be confused with “The First Lady of Radio”). An incredibly talented performer, she was not only one of the founders of ASIFA-Hollywood (the society devoted to promoting animation) but was instrumental in the creation of that organization’s “Annie Awards.”  June also played a major role in convincing the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences to begin handing out an Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2001.

One of three children born to Ida and Morris Forer, June Foray’s ambition as a youngster was to be a dancer—but she was forced to quit classes after she developed a case of pneumonia.  Undaunted, June set her sights on acting and performed on her first broadcast at the age of twelve.  Three years later, she was working regularly, doing voices on the air at Boston’s WBZA.  After graduating from high school, Foray moved with her family to Los Angeles to live with her mother’s brother (after father Morris had fallen on hard times).  Settling in on the West Coast, June would soon star in her own series, Lady Make Believe—a program that she also scripted.

June Foray had hit the big time by the 1940s with many assignments on network radio.  She was a regular on the popular children’s program, Smilin’ Ed McConnell’s Buster Brown Gang, playing Midnight the cat (“Nice, nice…”) and Old Grandie, the piano.  (While working on the McConnell show, June met and married her second husband, director Hobart Donavan.)  Foray also did multiple voices on Smile Time (Keep ‘Em Smiling), a Mutual variety show starring a young Steve Allen, and performed the same utility function on The Jimmy Durante Show.  During her radio career, June worked with many of the legends: Edgar Bergen, Phil Harris & Alice Faye, Bob Sweeney & Hal March, and Rudy Vallee.  In addition, June emoted on Amos ‘n’ AndyCommand PerformanceThe Life of Riley, and Our Miss Brooks.

If you’ve ever listened to the July 13, 1949 audition for what later became Gunsmoke (“Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye”), you’ll hear June Foray’s unmistakable voice as the treacherous woman who unsuccessfully tries to persuade our hero not to arrest her for murder.  (Foray noted in her autobiography that she perfected her Spanish accent on the Steve Allen program, and it’s “where my booming Marjorie Main-type voice got a good workout.”)  June did an impressive amount of dramatic radio; among her credits are appearances on The Adventures of Philip MarloweThe Cavalcade of AmericaThe CBS Radio WorkshopThe ChaseFamily TheatreFavorite StoryLassieLet George Do ItThe Lux Radio TheatreThe NBC University TheatreNight BeatThe Railroad HourRocky FortuneRocky JordanScreen Directors’ Playhouse, Suspense, and You Were There.  Foray was also one of the many cast members in On a Note of Triumph, the legendary Norman Corwin (director, producer, and author) broadcast that commemorated V-E Day.

June Foray’s voluminous radio work got her a toehold in the movies.  But like her participation in the aural medium, the motion picture industry came to depend on her for her vocal talents instead of in what she could do in front of the camera (though she does appear in the flesh in the 1954 film Sabaka, as “Marku Ponjoy, The High Priestess”).  June would work for Walter Lantz (she voiced “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” in 1943’s The Egg Cracker Suite, and later played Woody Woodpecker’s nephew “Knothead” and niece “Splinter” in several of his cartoons). She also worked for MGM (Car of Tomorrow [1951], One Cab’s Family [1952]). Then, when the Walt Disney Studio asked if she “could do the voice of a cat,” Foray met the challenge by voicing the villainous feline Lucifer in Cinderella (1950) as well as providing voices in Peter Pan (1953).  June’s longest theatrical animation association, however, was with the gang at “Termite Terrace”—she voiced “Granny” in the Tweety & Sylvester cartoons, “Alice Crumden” in Warner Brothers’ “Honeymousers” take-offs, and “Witch Hazel” in several outings with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.  (“Hazel” had her origins in a 1952 Donald Duck cartoon—Trick or Treat!)

As radio started to cede its audience to that upstart television—and as the motion picture studios started to gather up the ink-and-paint supplies that made possible their animated cartoons—June Foray would eventually find a use on the small screen for her many voices.  Not that she didn’t go out over the ether without a fight.  In the summer of 1957, comedian Stan Freberg relied on June to do most of the female parts on The Stan Freberg Show. Stan and June knew each other well from their WB cartoon work, and June had previously performed on Freberg’s many comedy records, including 1953’s #1 smash St. George and the Dragonet. (“He breathed fire on me…he burned me already!”)  The Stan Freberg Show was radio’s last gasp when it came to great comedy, and June was always sensational—my favorite role of hers on the show was the secretary in the “Grey Flannel Hat Full of Teenage Werewolves” sketch.

When Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera found a way to do theatrical animation for television—but at a fraction of the cost, of course—June would get work at their studio, too: The Huckleberry Hound Show, The Yogi Bear ShowThe Flintstones, etc.  The television animation for which she’s beloved and best-remembered, however, is her work for Jay Ward. On Rocky and His Friends and The Bullwinkle Show, she was the voice of heroic Rocket J. Squirrel (“Hokey smoke, Bullwinkle!”) and sidekick baddie Natasha Fatale (“Boris, dollink…”).  Foray also provided the speaking tones of Nell Fenwick for the “Dudley Do-Right” segments, multiple voices on Jay’s Fractured Flickers, and when Ward unleashed George of the Jungle to Saturday morning audiences in the fall of 1967, June was Ursula and Marigold (from the “Tom Slick” segments).  June was everywhere—from Calvin and the Colonel to The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo…from The Alvin Show to Off to See the Wizard.  (She also worked on such legendary holiday classic specials as How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Frosty the Snowman!)

Truthfully, to list all of June Foray’s television work would require an infinite amount of internet bandwidth (this will give you an idea of all the cartoon shows on which she plied her trade), but she occasionally showed us what a lovely lady she was in live appearances on series like The Ray Milland Show and The Red Skelton Hour.  One of my fondest Foray memories was an appearance she made with her former Jay Ward co-worker Bill Scott (the voice of Bullwinkle, Mr. Peabody, and so many others) on a 1984 episode of the short-lived sitcom The Duck Factory—the duo were the guest hosts at “The Annie Awards!”  In Hollywood, however, June was much in demand “looping” voices when needed on series like I Love Lucy and Rawhide. (Who can forget June as “Talky Tina” in the classic Twilight Zone outing “Living Doll”?)  Foray never quit working throughout her lengthy show business career—she remarked to Variety in 2013: “I’m still going.  It keeps you thinking young.  My body is old, but I think the same as I did when I was 20 years old.”  Sadly, the lady that brightened so many Saturday mornings eventually left this world for a better one when she died just two months shy of her centennial birthday in 2017.  (There was a noticeable pall on Facebook that day.)

“June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc,” the legendary animation director Chuck Jones once observed. “Mel Blanc was the male June Foray.”  Our birthday girl is one of several voice talents featured in the 2013 Annie Award-winning documentary I Know That Voice (available on DVD from Radio Spirits), and because Foray never abandoned her radio roots (appearing on both The Hollywood Radio Theatre and The Sears Radio Theatre in the 1970s) you can hear her in our CD collection of the radio revival series The Mutual Radio Theatre. Listen for June in our The Adventures of Philip Marlowe and Our Miss Brooks: Faculty Feuds sets, too!  Happy birthday, June–I know this is going to be something we really like!

Happy Birthday, Lauren Bacall!

The woman born Betty Joan Perske in New York City on this date in 1924 had a burning ambition to become an actress.  After all, she took lessons at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (before the age of 18), where one of her classmates was a fellow thespian who would also achieve silver screen stardom: Kirk Douglas.  (Betty Joan and Kirk would appear together in 1950’s Young Man with a Horn, considered one of her finest film performances.)  Perske had to abandon her acting lessons, however, when she lost her job as a showroom model—but as it turns out, it would be modeling that opened doors in Hollywood for Betty.  Nancy Hawks, wife of director Howard, saw the young girl on the March 1943 cover of Harper’s Bizarre and urged him to screen test her for a movie he was working on at the time: an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not.  Betty got the part (not to mention a seven-year contract), and when Howard changed her name to “Lauren Bacall”…the rest was show business history.

Lauren Bacall was born to Romanian-Jewish parents, Natalie and William, who divorced when she was five years old.  Wealthy uncles financed her education; Bacall attended both The Highland Manor Boarding School for Girls (in Tarrytown, NY) and Julia Richman High School in Manhattan.  Lauren formed a close, lifelong bond with her mother, who remarried after her divorce and legally changed her last name to Bacal—Lauren just added an extra “L” to hers for the movies.  While studying acting, Bacall did a lot of teenage modeling…an activity that earned her recognition as “Miss Greenwich Village” in 1942.  Once arriving in Hollywood, the Hawks took the young starlet under their wing; Nancy gave her fashion pointers in addition to instruction on manners and poise.  Howard had Lauren study with a vocal coach to lower the pitch of her voice (it was high-pitched and nasal), making it lower and deeper.  (The story goes that Bacall would shout Shakespearean verses for hours each day to achieve this effect.)

Lauren Bacall’s co-star in To Have and Have Not (1944) was actor Humphrey Bogart, and she was so nervous that to cope with her uneasiness she pressed her chin against her chest and titled her eyes upward whenever she faced the camera.  This trademark, dubbed “The Look,” perfectly complemented her sultry voice.  Bacall’s role in the film was a small one, but Hawks couldn’t ignore the amazing chemistry between her and Bogie, and her part would wind up being revised multiple times to make it bigger.  There were sparks off-screen as well; Bacall and Bogart began a romantic relationship when the cameras weren’t rolling (despite Bogie’s still being married to Mayo Methot).  To Have and Have Not was a smash at the box office, and not long after the release of the film the two stars tied the knot (on May 21, 1945).  The Bogarts would go on to appear in three additional films together (four if you count their cameo in Two Guys from Milwaukee [1946]). Their second, The Big Sleep (1946), became a film noir classic.

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart also worked together in Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948). They had planned to make Top Secret Affair (eventually released in 1957 with Kirk Douglas and Susan Hayward), but Bogart’s death from cancer in 1957 put the kibosh on that project (though they did film some clothing tests for the movie).  Hollywood lore notes that Bogart had wanted his wife for the leading lady roles in his films In a Lonely Place (1950) and Sabrina (1954), but the couple’s only other acting project before the cameras would be a 1955 appearance on TV’s Producers’ Showcase. In this, Bogie reprised the movie role that first got him noticed in Tinsel Town, that of Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest.  Bacall played the part that Bette Davis did in that 1936 picture. (Bacall would later donate the only known kinescope of this small screen event to The Museum of Television & Radio/The Paley Center for Media in the 1990s.)

Lauren Bacall did do one additional dramatic exercise with her husband.  Humphrey Bogart had been approached over the years about doing a radio series…but until the practice of transcribing programs for later broadcast began to dominate the industry, he was reluctant to make that weekly commitment.  Writers Morton Fine and David Friedkin pitched the couple Bold Venture, a syndicated outing from Frederic W. Ziv.  Bogie played “Slate Shannon,” a soldier of fortune who skippered the titular vessel. Shannon also operated a hotel in the Caribbean and looked after his “ward” Sailor Duval (played by “Baby,” of course). The show was a huge radio hit, and it allowed the couple to do 3-4 shows at one time…while collecting $4,000 per program.  (Nice work if you can get it!)  On the non-Bold Venture side of the microphone, Lauren and Humphrey reprised their To Have and Have Not roles (as “Slim” and “Steve”) in a now-classic broadcast of The Lux Radio Theatre (October 14,1946). They also appeared on such variety shows as Command Performance, and traded jokes with stars like Jack Benny and Bing Crosby.  (There are a number of surviving 1941 broadcasts from a WEVD-New York series called Let’s Playwright—featuring some of Bacall’s earlies acting!)

Since Lauren Bacall was often reluctant to talk about her famous husband, and once remarked that “being a widow is not a profession.” So we will move on to concentrate on some of the outstanding film work she did without Bogart.  One of her finest performances was in 1956’s Written on the Wind (she should have been nominated for an Oscar…but she wasn’t). She also starred in such features as Bright Leaf (1950), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), Woman’s World (1954), The Cobweb (1955), Designing Woman (1957—with her good friend Gregory Peck), and North West Frontier (1959; a.k.a. Flame Over India).  Truth be told, Lauren could be very choosy when it came to film roles (which, unfortunately, earned her a reputation for being “difficult”). It was also tricky making time for the movies when she was doing quite well for herself as a stage actress.  Bacall appeared in Broadway successes like Goodbye, Charlie (1959) and Cactus Flower (1965), and would eventually win Tony Awards for 1970’s Applause (the stage version of All About Eve) and 1981’s Woman of the Year (based on the 1942 Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn film).

Despite first-rate performances in movies like Harper (1966), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), The Shootist (1976), Misery (1990), My Fellow Americans (1996), and Dogville (2003), Lauren Bacall was only nominated for an Oscar once—for 1996’s The Mirror Has Two Faces.  The inside scuttlebutt was that she would be recognized by her peers, but she lost out that year to Juliette Binoche (for The English Patient).  In 2010, “in recognition of her central place in the Golden Age of motion pictures,” Lauren would receive an honorary statuette—a most worthy honor for the actress recognized by the American Film Institute as the 20th greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema in 1999.  Lauren Bacall’s final feature, The Forger, was released in 2012; she passed away at the age of 89 two years later.

Radio Spirits offers up a 3-DVD collection entitled Hollywood’s Greatest Screen Legends, which spotlights biographies of many of our favorite classic movie actors and actresses…and you’ll be pleased to know that our birthday girl is among the star-studded lineup!  On the radio side, we invite you to check out one of the funniest broadcasts of The Jack Benny Program—a January 5, 1947 episode that guest stars Baby and Bogie—on our popular CD collection Jack Benny & Friends.  But while Lauren Bacall excelled both in movies and on radio, she also turned in consistently first-rate performances on the small screen. She was nominated for an Emmy for her guest appearance (as “Kendall Warren”) on the “Lions, Tigers, Monkeys and Dogs” two-parter of The Rockford Files, and we have the complete series available on DVD for your edification.  Happiest of birthdays to you, Lauren!

Happy Birthday, Grace Matthews!

Grace Matthews was a drama queen.  Okay, that sounds a bit churlish, in light of what that bit of slang means nowadays—what I should emphasize is that the actress born in Toronto, Canada on this date in 1910 was what author Jim Cox referred to in a 2006 Radio Recall article as an “ethereal busybody”; Matthews, during her lengthy radio career, played the female leads on several of the daytime “soap operas” that kept housewives glued to their Philcos on weekday afternoons as they completed household tasks.  But Grace also enjoys a little immortality for a role she played beginning in the fall of 1946: that of Margo Lane, “aide and companion” to the mysterious crimefighter known…as The Shadow.

After graduating from the University of Toronto, Grace Matthews decided to tour Europe…where she would enroll and then graduate from London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.  In Canada, she worked in stock theatre in both Manitoba and Ontario, with active assignments at The Hart House Theatre (in plays like Merrily We Roll Along) and with The John Holden Players.  Though radio acting would eventually become her focus, Grace enjoyed stage work: she played in summer stock in Marblehead, Massachusetts and notably appeared a production of Dame Nature with New York City’s Theatre Gould.

Grace’s big break in radio was the result of a successful audition for the lead role in The Story of Dr. Susan, a Canadian soap opera that would also introduce her to her later husband, actor-announcer Court Benson (he was working on Susan at the time).  Matthews also appeared on American Portrait, Armstrong’s Theatre of Today, and Soldier’s Wife.  Her “Great White North” radio work resulted in her winning much recognition and awards, notably the Beaver Award (for “Distinguished Service to Canadian Radio”).  When Court finished up his service in WW2 (he was in the 48th Highlanders), the Bensons decided to set their sights on a move to New York.  Court got work as the narrator on radio’s Tennessee Jed, and Grace would appear on such shows as The Mercury Summer Theatre and Archie Andrews.

Grace Matthews scored two very important radio jobs at that point in her career.  The first was replacing future Academy Award winner Mercedes McCambridge as Ruth Evans Wayne on the popular soap Big Sister.  The second was the gig for which most old-time radio fans remember her best: she began emoting as Margo Lane on radio’s The Shadow, always ready to help “wealthy young man about town” Lamont Cranston demonstrate to evildoers that “the weed of crime bears bitter fruit.”  Of her work on The Shadow, Grace recalled in a 1987 interview with The Milwaukee Journal: “The plots were so complicated I often had difficulty figuring them out.  After the show, I‘d go home and ask my husband, who was supposed to be listening, to explain what happened.”  Mr. Benson, however, found it difficult to tear himself away from whatever ballgame happened to be in progress while The Shadow was on…so Matthews observed: “I’m certain his explanations weren’t accurate.”  Matthews would relinquish the role of Margo to Gertrude Warner in 1949, but she kept suffering as Ruth on Big Sister until 1952, when the tower clock in Glen Falls tolled for the final time.

The role of Ruth on Big Sister wasn’t Grace Matthews’ only daytime occupation: she later portrayed Dr. Carson McVicker on Road of Life and made stops on Hilltop House (as Julie Erickson) and The Brighter Day (Liz), not to mention Just Plain Bill and City Hospital.  (Curiously, Grace’s husband Court would appear on the nighttime TV version of this last show, while Matthews worked the daytime radio version.)  Other items on Grace’s radio resume include The Cavalcade of America, Escape, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Indictment, Suspense, You Are There, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Grace Matthews’ busy soap opera schedule didn’t leave her much time for movie work (she was also a New York-based thespian, which kept her occupied on the East Coast) but she did appear on the boob tube version of Road of Life and As the World Turns, and in the late 60s/early 70s landed a brief role on the small screen version of radio stalwart The Guiding Light (as Claudia Dillman).  (Grace is also credited at the IMDB with guest shots on Britain’s ITV Play of the Week.)  Matthews never relinquished her love of radio: she appeared on occasion on Theatre Five in the 1960s and made many visits to The CBS Radio Mystery Theatre in the 1970s.  She left this world for a better one in 1995 at the age of 84.

In 1985, the now-defunct Radiola Records released The Story of The Shadow—a 4-LP celebrating the history of the immortal radio series with vintage broadcasts and reminisces from Bret Morrison, Gertrude Warner…and our birthday girl, Grace Matthews.  Check out Grace on our CD set release of Story, plus we invite you to check out the Shadow collections Bitter Fruit, Dead Men Tell, Knight of Darkness, Radio Treasures, and Strange Puzzles.  (You can also hear Grace on our Suspense compendium, Final Curtain, too!)  Happy birthday, Grace!

Happy Birthday, Lurene Tuttle!

“The First Lady of Radio.”  That’s the fitting appellation given to actress Lurene Tuttle, born Lurene Susie Tuttle in Pleasant Lake, Indiana on this date in 1907.  Lurene was, without question, a consummate character performer, achieving fame in the aural medium, in films and on TV. She even used her acting gifts to coach others so that they perfected their craft.  Radio Spirits’ own Elizabeth McLeod said it best: “She was one of the giants of West Coast radio drama, an actress whose career spanned the life of her medium, and an activist who helped to forge broadcasting’s first successful labor union.  Dismiss her as a mere ‘voice actress’ at your peril.”

Before becoming indispensable to West Coast radio drama, Lurene Tuttle started to develop her love of acting while in the Midwest. She hailed from a family of performers—her grandfather Frank was manager of an opera house and also taught drama.  Her father, O.V. Tuttle, performed in blackface in minstrel shows before switching his vocation to a railroad station agent (minstrelsy was on the decline).  It wasn’t until the Tuttle family moved to Glendale, Arizona, that the young Lurene started to seriously consider an acting career. We have local drama coach Mrs. Easley to thank for that—she provided much guidance and encouragement to Lurene.  At age 15, Lurene and the family moved even further westward (California was the place they had to be) and she found herself becoming quite active in her high school drama club.  Tuttle’s thespic aspirations would attract the attention of the Pasadena Playhouse, and as a member of the Playhouse’s stock company she received the equivalent of a college education in drama.  By the age of 20, Lurene was a seasoned actress. She worked briefly in vaudeville, and by the early 1930s gambled on getting into the burgeoning entertainment medium of radio.

As radio began to grow by leaps and bounds, no station in the nation would prove more beneficial to dedicated actors than Los Angeles’ KHJ. Lurene Tuttle was fortunately to be hired on there by producer-director Lindsay McHarrie.  KHJ’s productions—broadcast both locally and over the CBS Network—relied on performers who were willing to work hard and demonstrate flexibility when it came to schedules. Lurene was more than up to the task, but the hours in radio were long and the pay was short. Tuttle and actor Frank Nelson were members of the stock company on CBS’ Hollywood Hotel, where they earned the princely sum of $25…while the guest stars on the show were pulling down $5,000.  Frank announced to Lurene one day that he was going to get them a raise—$35—and although the show’s producer played hardball at first, he eventually agreed to Nelson and Tuttle’s demands.  Both actors would later be inspired to become founding members of the Hollywood chapter of the Radio Actors’ Guild—which eventually became the American Federation of Radio Artists.  Lurene would later serve as AFTRA’s first female president.

Lurene Tuttle’s voluminous radio work occurred on many of the medium’s prestigious dramatic anthology programs. At one time, she was practically a regular on The Lux Radio Theatre (one of the shows that directly influenced the activism that formed AFTRA…and also where she met her first husband, Melville Ruick). Tuttle also worked constantly on “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills,” Suspense.  To list all of the shows Lurene did would require this essay to continue until 2020, but a partial list would include Academy Award TheatreArch Oboler’s PlaysThe Cavalcade of America, The CBS Radio WorkshopThe ClockColumbia Presents CorwinThe Columbia WorkshopDark VentureDiary of FateEncore TheatreFamily TheatreFavorite StoryThe First Nighter Program, ForecastThe Hallmark Hall of FameHallmark PlayhouseHollywood PremierHollywood Star PlayhouseHollywood Star TimeThe Lady Esther/Camel Screen Guild TheatreLights OutThe Mercury Summer TheatreMystery in the AirThe NBC University TheatreThe Railroad HourScreen Director’s PlayhouseThe Silver TheatreStars Over HollywoodStrange WillsThe Theatre of Famous Radio PlayersThe Theatre of RomanceTwelve PlayersThe UnexpectedThe WhistlerWhite Fires of Inspiration, and Your Movietown Radio Theatre.

In the fall of 1941, Lurene Tuttle was a regular on The Great Gildersleeve—portraying Marjorie Forrester, Gildy’s niece.  Tuttle was by this time in her mid-30s…and yet convincingly portrayed the high school senior until 1944, when she handed off the role to Louise Erickson.  Gildersleeve was a great showcase for Lurene’s comedy talents; the actress later appeared on such shows as The Adventures of MaisieThe Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet (where she had a recurring role as Harriet’s mother), Good News of 1940The Smiths of Hollywood, and The Texaco Star Theatre.  Lurene would also be afforded an opportunity to work alongside such radio personalities as Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen, George Burns & Gracie Allen, Dorothy Lamour, and Rudy Vallee.  Her best-remembered work in comedy occurred when she joined the cast of The Red Skelton Show in the fall of 1947 to portray the female foils (like Junior the Mean Widdle Kid’s mother), which had previously been played by Harriet Nelson and GeGe Pearson.  Lurene would remain with the program until the Skelton show closed the radio curtain in 1952.

By the time Lurene Tuttle went to work for Red Skelton, she was already hard at work on her other unforgettable radio gig: portraying dizzy secretary Effie Perrine on The Adventures of Sam Spade (which premiered in the summer of 1946).  The Spade people, aware that Effie usually appeared at the beginning and end of each broadcast, arranged to record the banter between her and star Howard Duff on Sunday afternoons so that Tuttle could attend the Skelton show rehearsals (which were held later in the evening).  The excellent chemistry between Howard and Lurene is the reason why Sam Spade remains a firm favorite among old-time radio devotees today, and the actress’ dedication to character can also be heard in appearances on such favorites as The Adventures of Frank RaceThe Adventures of Philip MarloweThe Adventures of Red RyderThe Adventures of the SaintBroadway’s My BeatCalling All CarsDr. ChristianEllery QueenHave Gun – Will Travel, Hopalong CassidyJeff Regan, InvestigatorLet George Do ItThe Mayor of the TownMr. PresidentNight BeatPat Novak for HirePresenting Charles BoyerRichard Diamond, Private Detective, Rocky JordanRogue’s GalleryThe Silent MenThe Story of Dr. KildareTales of the Texas Rangers, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Lurene Tuttle’s first credited motion picture role was in 1947’s Heaven Only Knows.  However, it wouldn’t be long before she would bring the same professionalism to the silver screen as she did before a microphone. Some of her most memorable movie appearances include Macbeth (1948), Goodbye, My Fancy (1951—a personal favorite, as she plays a college alum with a little more moxie on the ball than folks might think.), Tomorrow is Another Day (1951), Niagara (1953—she’s married to Don Wilson!), The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953), The Glass Slipper (1955), Untamed Youth (1957), and Psycho (1960)—where she plays the wife of Sheriff John McIntire, her old radio crony.  On the small screen, Tuttle made guest appearances everywhere from I Love Lucy to Perry Mason to Gunsmoke, but she had regular roles on such series as Life with Father (a sitcom version of the 1947 film), Father of the Bride (another movie-to-TV transplant), and Julia—on which she played fellow nurse Hannah Yarby.

Lurene Tuttle was so devoted to acting that she literally worked until the day she died; her last show business credit was a guest appearance on TV’s Crazy Like a Fox.  When she wasn’t teaching other aspiring performers, Tuttle stayed true to her radio roots by appearing on such revival shows as The Hollywood Radio TheatreThe CBS Radio Mystery Theatre, and The Sears Radio Theatre.  Her fellow artists would bestow upon her “Woman of the Year” honors at both AFRTA and the Pasadena Playhouse, and she held the Diamond Circle of the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters.  She passed away in 1986 at the age of 78.

“I think she never met a part she didn’t like,” Howard Duff once reminisced about his Sam Spade co-star. “She just loved to work; she loved to act.  She’s a woman who was born to do what she was doing and loved every minute of it.”  Radio Spirits offers plenty of collections to demonstrate Lurene Tuttle’s love of performing, starting with her appearances on The Red Skelton Show—including our newest Skelton compendium, Clown Prince, and classic sets like ClowningMischief, and Scrapbook of Satire.  You’ll also hear our birthday girl as Effie on the Sam Spade collection Lawless and as Marjorie on The Great Gildersleeve: Family Man.  Rest assured—we’re not being stingy: we also present for your edification sets of The Adventures of Philip MarloweBurns & Allen (As Good as Nuts, Illogical LogicMuddling Through),  Jeff Regan, Investigator (Stand By for Mystery), Let George Do It (Cry UncleSweet Poison), Lights Out (Later Than You Think), The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Cue for Murder), Night Beat (Human Interest), Richard Diamond, Private Detective (Dead MenMayhem is My Business), Rogue’s Gallery (Blue Eyes), The Story of Dr. KildareStrange Wills(I Devise & Bequeath), Suspense (At WorkBeyond Good and EvilTies That BindWages of Sin), and The Whistler (Eleventh HourRoot of All EvilSkeletons in the ClosetVoices).  Happy birthday, Lurene!

Happy Birthday, Charles Boyer!

Any self-respecting impressionist attempting to imitate actor Charles Boyer—born in Figeac, Lot, France on this date in 1899—had only to utter this phrase: “Come wiz me to the Cazbah…”  It’s a reference to one of Charles’ best-known movie roles: that of master thief Pepe le Moko, a fugitive hiding out in the famed Casbah section (Casbah translates as “fortress” or “citadel”) of Algiers in the 1938 movie of the same name.  Algiers was a remake of a 1937 French film, Pepe le Moko, but the Boyer version (with co-star Hedy Lamarr) would be the film that not only launched a thousand Boyer impressions but inspired the Warner Brothers cartoon character Pepe le Pew.  (You shouldn’t be too surprised that, like “Play it again, Sam” and “Me Tarzan, you Jane,” the line “Come with me to the Casbah” is not actually spoken in the film.)

As for the star of Algiers, Charles Boyer was offscreen a private and bookish individual—a persona completely at odds with his silver screen reputation as a suave romantic idol.  As a child, he overcame an innate shyness by developing a fondness for the theatre and movies at the age of 11. His earliest performances were for injured soldiers during the First World War, where he worked as a hospital orderly.  While studying at the Sorbonne (where he would eventually earn a degree in philosophy), Boyer waited for an opportunity to pursue acting at the Paris Conservatory.  Charles was committed to an acting career at this point in his life, and his ability to quickly memorize lines won him the leading role in a theatrical production in 1920.  Throughout that decade, Boyer not only worked regularly on stage, he appeared in several silent films as well — beginning with L’homme du large (1920).

Charles Boyer’s deep voice was tailor-made for talking pictures and he began to make appearances in films like Paramount’s The Man from Yesterday (1932), MGM’s Red-Headed Woman (1932), and scored the starring role in Fritz Lang’s Liliom for Fox Film in 1934 (later remade as the 1956 musical Carousel). He played leading man to Loretta Young in Caravan (1934) and Claudette Colbert (his Man from Yesterday co-star) in Private Worlds (1935).  Boyer’s preference may have been for French feature films at this time, but after a string of U.S. hits like Break of Hearts (1935; with Katharine Hepburn), The Garden of Allah (1936; Marlene Dietrich), History is Made at Night (1937; Jean Arthur), Conquest (1937; Greta Garbo), and Love Affair (1939; Irene Dunne), Charles’ status as a romantic leading man could no longer be ignored.  (Love Affair was purportedly his favorite among his many movies.)

Charles Boyer may have portrayed the great lover onscreen…but offscreen, he refused to wear his toupee (Boyer had been losing his hair since his twenties) and made no effort to conceal a rather pronounced paunch.  (The story goes that his All This, and Heaven, Too leading lady Bette Davis failed to recognize him and tried to have him ejected from the set.)  But movies are magic, ma chère; Charlie continued to make female moviegoers swoon with film successes such as Back Street (1941), Hold Back the Dawn (1941—my favorite of Boyer’s films), The Constant Nymph (1943), Gaslight (1944), Confidential Agent (1945), Cluny Brown (1946), and A Woman’s Vengeance (1947).  Boyer would win an honorary Academy Award in 1943 for his work in establishing Los Angeles’ French Research Foundation. This somewhat compensated for the fact that, despite being nominated four separate times for an acting Oscar (ConquestAlgiersGaslight, and 1961’s Fanny), the actor never got a trophy to put on his mantle.

Charles Boyer’s radio career began back in the late 1930s with regular appearances on Hollywood Playhouse. The actor’s silver screen stardom would lead him to make the rounds—often reprising his movie roles, and sometimes appearing in original productions—on such popular programs as The Cavalcade of AmericaThe Gulf/Lady Esther Screen Guild TheatreFamily TheatreThe Hallmark Hall of FameHallmark PlayhouseThe Lux Radio TheatreThe Philco Radio Hall of FameScreen Directors’ PlayhouseThe Silver Theatre, and Suspense.  Charles’ romantic reputation in the flickers also made him the perfect foil for comedians and personalities like Edgar Bergen, Bob Burns, George Burns & Gracie Allen, Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, Bob Hope, Al Jolson, and Francis Langford…while also making time to guest star on Amos ‘n’ AndyThe Big Show, Command PerformanceA Date with Judy, and Mail Call.

Regarding his work on the radio, a trade publication from 1940 reported: “It is an open secret that he doesn’t like the present policy of a different story and characters each week.  Boyer would prefer a program in which he could develop a permanent characterization.”  Charles Boyer would get his wish with Presenting Charles Boyer, a dramatic series that premiered in the summer of 1950 as a replacement for Fibber McGee & Molly. (It would exit the airwaves in October that same year.) Boyer played a charming rogue named Michel who, according to announcer Don Stanley, “belongs to that royal line of adventurers whose titles are stitched on the fabric of their own imaginations but who’d willingly give up any title for a moment of romance or a spot of cash.”  By this point in his career, Charles was starting to gravitate more toward character roles and did so quite successfully with movies like The 13th Letter (1951), The First Legion (1951), The Happy Time (1952), and The Earrings of Madame De… (1953).

Along with David Niven, Dick Powell, and Ida Lupino, Charles Boyer was part of the founding quartet of stars who appeared as both host and occasional performer on TV’s Four Star Playhouse. This popular television anthology ran for four seasons and was produced by the aptly named Four Star Productions.  Four Star would continue in the small screen business with several successful hits, including Dick Powell’s Zane Grey TheatreBurke’s Law, and The Big Valley. Niven and Boyer would later comprise two-thirds of the cast of another of the company’s boob tube offerings, The Rogues, a most entertaining comedy-drama that sadly lasted but a single season (despite winning a Golden Globe Award as Best Television Series in 1964).  (The premise was that Niven, Boyer, and Gig Young were a trio of con artists who used their talents for niceness to shake down unscrupulously wealthy “marks.”)

Charles Boyer continued in his senior roles throughout the 1960s/1970s with appearances in feature films like Fanny and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (both 1961), How to Steal a Million (1966), Barefoot in the Park (1967), Lost Horizon (1973), and Stavisky… (1974).  His final feature film was 1976’s A Matter of Time. Although moviegoers saw him alongside a variety of leading ladies throughout his cinematic career, in real life he was dedicated to only one woman—British actress Pat Paterson, whom he had wed in 1934.  When Pat succumbed to cancer in 1978, Charles took his own life two days later with an overdose of barbiturates at the age of 79.

“In America, when you have an accent, in the mind of the people they associate you with kissing hands and being gallant,” Charles Boyer once remarked to an interviewer.  “I think that has harmed me, just as it has harmed me to be followed and plagued by a line I never said.”  But you need not worry! Radio Spirits’ offerings featuring our birthday celebrant are free of propositions to follow him to the Casbah.  In our Suspense collection Wages of Sin, Boyer is the guest on “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills” with a May 17, 1951 presentation of “Another Man’s Poison.”  On the DVD side, we offer two collections of Four Star Playhouse (Volume 1 and Volume 4) containing a total of eight of Charles’ appearances from the popular TV anthology.  Additionally, Boyer is well-represented on Four Star Playhouse, Volume 4 with a presentation of “The Man in the Cellar” (09/30/54).  Happy birthday to one of our favorite Hollywood legends!