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Happy Birthday, Don Quinn!

The most fortuitous event that occurred in the life of writer-cartoonist Don Quinn—born in Grand Rapids, Michigan on this date in 1900—was meeting Jim Jordan at the studios of Chicago’s WENR.  Jordan, an employee at the station along with his wife Marian, had heard that Quinn wrote jokes for a living and asked him to submit some material for a program on which he and Marian were performing, The Farmer Rusk Hour.  Don received $10 for the jokes he concocted…which may not sound like much, but then again—there was a Depression on.  Yet that sawbuck investment would reap handsome dividends when Quinn created for the couple one of old-time radio’s most beloved comedy shows: Fibber McGee & Molly.

For a man who later made his living as a writer, Don Quinn’s formal schooling was brief—interrupted in tenth grade when he elected to put his studies on hiatus in order to serve in World War I.  Later, Quinn would find work as a freelance cartoonist…but in an unusual twist, the magazines that he sold cartoons to would keep his captions while throwing out his artwork.  His talent for gags attracted the notice of vaudeville duo Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson (after establishing himself in radio, Quinn later wrote for their Swift Revue program in 1933-34), who paid Don for his material as did other comics of that era.  With the stock market crash of 1929, however, Quinn’s writing assignments started to dry up.

Don Quinn then decided to relocate to Chicago, the scene of a thriving radio community despite the fierce economic times.  It wasn’t easy for Quinn, who later noted that the Windy City stations treated him “like a leper.”  As such, his meeting Jim Jordan at WENR came just at the right time. Don was called upon to write scripts for The Smith Family, a comedy serial starring Jim and Marian, and was asked to revive an earlier series the couple had appeared on entitled Luke and Mirandy (when Jim and Marian moved to station WMAQ).  On the new series — known as Smackout—The Crossroads of the Air — Jim played Luke Gray, an elderly codger whose general store was always “smack out” of everything, with Marian playing a variety of female characters.  The Jordans earned $200 a week for the daily quarter-hour, with which they paid Don $40.  The trio got a bit of nationwide exposure when Smackout began airing on the national NBC network.  Quinn would eventually churn out a total of 948 scripts for Smackout before it departed the airwaves on August 3, 1935.

Some sources report that the wife of John Jeffry Louis—head of an advertising firm that had S.C. Johnson & Son as a client—was a fan of Smackout and recommended it to her husband when he was looking for a show for Johnson to sponsor.  Others speculate that Louis himself was familiar with the show.  Nevertheless, whoever was listening was clearly able to appreciate both the Jordans’ performing talent and Don Quinn’s genius for witty wordplay, resulting in an offer. Don was given $75 to write a sample script, and the Jordans would star in what eventually became The Johnson Wax Program with Fibber McGee & Molly, which premiered over NBC’s Red Network on April 16, 1935.  In the early years of the program, Fibber and Molly McGee pursued a nomadic life of driving the highways and by-ways of this great country (thanks to the sponsor’s insistence that they promote their product “Carnu”).  With the end of summer, Johnson’s insisted that the McGees switch to hawking “Glo-Coat”…so with the purchase of a winning raffle ticket, the couple put down stakes at radio’s most famous address: 79 Wistful Vista.

On the surface, Fibber McGee & Molly didn’t seem too remarkable a situation comedy (and indeed, some argue it isn’t due to its vaudeville skit-like nature): a husband with a propensity for tall tales (hence the nickname “Fibber”) engaged in constant domestic misadventures with his all-too-patient wife.  But Don Quinn made Fibber & Molly an indisputable comedy classic. His playful way with words (“As the fat lady said as she took off her corset–that lets me out”) and skillful propensity with running gags (Fibber McGee’s famous hall closet is well-known even to those people who’ve never listened to a broadcast) kept audiences coming back week after week. In fact, it was often the number-one rated show during the 1940s (the WW2 years were unquestionably the series’ peak when it came to ratings).  For the most part, Quinn was a one-man writing team, though he did have the occasional assistant in Winsor “Win” Anderson and future Beverly Hillbillies creator Paul Henning. Don wrote in marathon sessions, locking his door and arming himself with sandwiches, a pot of coffee, and two cartons of cigarettes.  (Henning once observed in an interview that he tried to emulate Quinn’s method of writing and it nearly killed him.)

In 1943, Don Quinn started to cede some of his Fibber McGee & Molly writing duties to his protégé Phil Leslie, who would also take over as head writer on a series created by Quinn (featuring a character that had first appeared on Fibber & Molly), The Marlin Hurt and Beulah Show.  Because Don had been the sole writer of the Jordans’ program for so many years, he received a heftier paycheck than most radio scribes (as a full partner, he split $6,000 a week three ways with Jim and Marian). When the Jordans sold the rights to their show to NBC (to stave off any “talent raid” from rival CBS), Quinn was included in the package, signing a seven-year exclusive deal with the network.  At the peak of his career, Don Quinn was pulling down $3,000 a week for Fibber McGee & Molly, but in the fall of 1949, he announced he’d be leaving the show to pursue other projects.

That project wound up being The Halls of Ivy, a comedy-drama about the administrator at a small-town college and his wife.  It had originally starred Gale Gordon (a longtime Fibber McGee & Molly cast member) and Edna Best in a June 22, 1949 audition…but by the time it had its official premiere over NBC Radio on January 6, 1950, Ronald Colman and wife Benita Hume were portraying Dr. William Todhunter Hall and his wife Victoria. (The Colmans were likely considered good candidates thanks to their exposure on The Jack Benny Program.)  The Peabody Award-winning series would air on radio until June 25, 1952 and later transition to TV (airing over CBS for a season in the fall of 1954). Quinn would look back fondly on the Ivy experience as one of the best of his life.

In 1953, Don Quinn accepted a position with Young & Rubicam to supervise comedy shows; he also worked as a story editor on the series Four Star Playhouse.  Quinn’s stories were used on such series as Climax! (Don’s “Public Pigeon No. 1” would later be used for a Red Skelton film in 1957) and The Addams Family. In addition, he was briefly credited as a “script consultant” for his former assistant Paul Henning’s hit series Petticoat Junction.  Toward his retirement years, Don ran a commercial production company (he didn’t care for that aspect of the business, complaining about the under-the-table deals and kickbacks) until his passing in 1967 at the age of 67.

“Be fair in all things; don’t offend people; don’t hurt their feelings.  Keep it clean—and keep it friendly—and it will keep you.”  That was Don Quinn’s personal mantra throughout his life and career, and if Radio Spirits’ Fibber McGee & Molly collections are any indication…it certainly served him well.  You can hear why our birthday boy is revered for his incredible skill at comedy writing in such sets as Cleaning the Closet (with liner notes from yours truly!), Gone FishingToo Much Energy, and Wistful Vista.  There are also individual broadcasts of Quinn’s most famous radio contribution available on our potpourri aggregations of Comedy Goes WestGreat Radio Comedy, and Radio Classics: Selected by Greg Bell; in addition, plenty of yuletide Fibber & Molly on Christmas Radio ClassicsRadio’s Christmas Celebrations, and The Voices of Christmas Past.  Finally, keep your eye out for the new The Halls of Ivy: School Days set, available later this month!

Happy Birthday, Frank Readick!

The actor born Frank Winfield Russell Marion Derwent Readick, Jr. (that’s what he called himself in a 1932 issue of Radio Guide) on this date in Seattle, Washington in 1896 was already a performing veteran at the age of two.  Readick traveled with his parents’ covered wagon show, and (in another edition of Radio Guide) he reminisced that the show once trekked through Utah in search of audiences with little success.  The troupe finally came upon a “boom town” and the large population lifted the spirits of Frank’s father. Once they pitched their tents, he started dreaming of hefty box office receipts that would allow him to pay the salaries of his employees.  The next morning, the senior Readick awoke to learn that the entire population of that town—save for twenty people—had left overnight.

When Frank Readick, Jr. joined his parents’ show at The Curtis Theater in Denver, Colorado, he portrayed a character named “Black Crook, Jr.”—he was “a cunning little clown” who’d appear on stage with a donkey and a stein of beer in one hand.  You needn’t worry about anyone contributing to the delinquency of a minor, however; the donkey was trained to kick the stein out of Readick’s hand before the beverage went down his gullet, whereupon a deadpan Frank would then sing When You Make Those Goo-Goo Eyes at Me.  From performing in dance halls in Dawson City, Alaska (where he picked up gold nuggets tossed at him by the audience) Readick made his way to Broadway.  He appeared in productions like Solid Ivory (1925), although much of his stage career found him touring “on the road.” (“Every Ernest Truex show that played New York, I’d play,” he once remarked.)  One of the productions in which he toured was Peter Pan, with actress Maude Adams.  “Who could think a potential Shadow flighty enough to flit around with ‘Peter Pan’?”

Frank Readick’s reference to “the Shadow” was an observation about his most famous radio role. But before playing the sinister figure who knew what evil lurked in the hearts of men, the actor got his start in front of a microphone playing “Happy Jack Lewis” on Hank Simmons’ Show Boat.  Readick was also a regular on The Love Story Hour, an anthology that dramatized tales from a Street and Smith publication. In fact, he and another actor from that show—Teddy Bergman—starred on Joe Palooka, a CBS series inspired by Ham Fisher’s popular comic strip.  (Frank played manager Knobby Walsh, with Bergman—who later changed his name to the more recognizable “Alan Reed”—as Joe.)  Other radio programs that availed themselves of Frank’s talents include Eno Crime Clues (The Eno Crime Club), Dangerous Paradise, and The March of Time.  (Readick was a regular on this last show from its very first broadcast, often playing New York mayor Jimmy Walker and Chicago mayor Anton Cermak.)

Four months after the premiere of The Detective Story Hour in July of 1930, Frank Readick replaced James La Curto (who had landed a Broadway gig) as the omnipresent narrator who would later take over as the series’ protagonist: The Shadow!  Frank played the Shadow when the program became The Blue Coal Radio Revue in September of 1931, and stayed on until the show’s departure in March of 1935. (Street and Smith insisted that the program start to emulate the character depicted in the stories/novels of Walter B. Gibson.)  This wasn’t the end of Readick’s participation on The Shadow, however.  Though the secret identity of “wealthy young man-about-town” Lamont Cranston would be the responsibility of actor Orson Welles beginning in the fall of 1937, Welles—for all his acting talent—was never quite able to reproduce the sinister laugh of the character at the opening and close of each show.  So, previous recordings of Readick’s Shadow laugh were used during Orson’s stint with the series (making Welles the only radio Shadow who didn’t perform the famous signature chortle).  Readick also portrayed the Shadow’s “doppelganger” on a January 19, 1941 broadcast entitled “The Shadow Challenged.”

Frank Readick’s association with Orson Welles didn’t just stop with his helping out the actor in the-Shadow-laughs department.  Readick was one of several thesps who appeared in Welles’ celebrated radio production of Les Miserables in 1937.  In addition, Frank would be called upon to perform on The Mercury Theatre on the Air (in such productions as “Heart of Darkness” and “A Tale of Two Cities”); he’s best-known as doomed reporter Carl Phillips in the celebrated “The War of the Worlds” broadcast.  Readick continued with the program when it became Campbell Playhouse in December of 1938.  Welles would later appear alongside Frank (as “Matthews”) in the 1943 suspense thriller Journey Into Fear.

Frank Readick, it could be said, was a creature of radio. His motion picture resume outside of Journey was pretty skimpy; he didn’t even receive credit for voicing “The Shadow” in the first (1931’s A Burglar to the Rescue) of a short series of two-reel shorts based on the radio program and produced by Universal between 1931 and 1932. (This short was believed to be lost for many years until it was restored and shown to an appreciative Cinecon audience in 2004.)  Radio kept Frank pretty busy; he was the star of Smilin’ Jack, a 1939 Mutual serial based on Zack Mosley’s comic, and later portrayed the titular henpecked protagonist of Meet Mr. Meek, a CBS situation comedy that aired from 1940 to 1942.  Readick’s other radio credits include The Cavalcade of AmericaThe Columbia WorkshopCounterspyFamous Jury TrialsThe FBI in Peace and WarGangbustersMurder at MidnightThe Mysterious TravelerStudio OneSuspense, and Theatre of Romance.

For a time on the daytime drama This is Nora Drake, Frank Readick emoted as “William Arnold”…and his son Robert (one of several actors to play “Johnny Dollar”) worked alongside him at the microphone as “Tom Morely.”  Frank passed away in 1965, but you can still hear the laugh that cemented his radio immortality in the Radio Spirits Shadow collections Bitter FruitDead Men TellKnight of DarknessStrange Puzzles, and The Story of the Shadow.  You can hear our birthday boy flexing his acting muscles a bit more in “One Hundred in the Dark” in our Suspense set of Fear and Trembling…and as the cherry on the top of the sundae, one of his finest radio showcases in the October 20, 1938 “The War of the Worlds” broadcast on The Mercury Theatre on the Air.  Happy birthday, Frank!

Happy Birthday, Parker Fennelly!

It would become one of radio’s most beloved weekly rituals in the late 1940s: comedian Fred Allen would venture into “Allen’s Alley” to ask its inhabitants a topical question about a recent event in the news.  The first door he knocked on was the residence of a windy Southern politician (Senator Beauregard Claghorn) who demonstrated what “filibuster” was all about in his conversations with Fred.  The second door Allen approached was the home of a taciturn New Englander named Titus Moody, who greeted his visitor with a simple “Howdy, bub.”  Titus was played by actor Parker Fennelly—born on this date in 1891—and never was there a more perfect match between performer and character.  Fennelly was New England from his head to his toes, entering the 19th century as a new resident of Northeast Harbor, Maine.

The son of Nathan and Estelle Fennelly, young Parker (kind of hard to imagine Fennelly ever as a young man!) attended primary and high schools in his hometown.  He may not have been a whiz at the three R’s, but when it came to performing in school plays he tackled each role with enthusiasm.  Parker decided early on to pursue an acting career, and with a financial assist from a cousin he was able to attend the Leland T. Powers school in Boston.  During his stint in Beantown, Fennelly became a member of that city’s Toy Theater company. He later found work on the Midland Chautauqua Circuit with the Maud Scheerer Shakespeare Players, followed by a gig with the Jack X. Lewis Stock Company. After marrying his wife Catherine Reynolds in 1918, the couple formed the Parker Fennelly Duo, performing on stage in short plays and readings.

Before greeting Fred Allen each week in his enthusiastic New England manner, Parker Fennelly worked a great deal on the Broadway stage.  He appeared in the casts of Mr. Pitt (1924), The Small Timers(1925), Florida Girl (1925), Babbling Brookes (1927), and Black Velvet (1927).  Even after he became established in radio, Fennelly continued to appear on stage whenever possible, with productions like The County Chairman (1936), Yours, A. Lincoln (1942), Our Town (1944), Happily Ever After (1945), Live Life Again (1945), Loco (1946), and The Southwest Corner (1955) to his credit.  In addition, a story Parker wrote was expanded into play form by George M. Cohan, becoming 1937’s Fulton of Oak Falls. He also wrote Cuckoos on the Hearth, which had a four-month run in 1941 and 1942.  Fennelly even added “director” to his list of credits, with 1931’s Technique.

Parker Fennelly, however, was a creature of radio. In fact, his boss Fred Allen joked in Treadmill to Oblivion that Fennelly had been a man of the medium since “shortly after Marconi had turned his invention loose.” He performed for many years as a partner to Arthur Allen on the long-running Snow Village Sketches (also known as Soconyland Sketches) beginning on NBC in 1928. Allen portrayed the happy-go-lucky Dan’l Dickey and Fennelly was his sterner chum Hiram Neville.  (The show would air on NBC and CBS until 1943, with a revival on Mutual in 1946.)  Parker and Arthur also performed as The Stebbins Boys (of Bucksport Point), though their “Yankee codgers” also went by The Simpson Boys (of Sprucehead Bay).  With Margaret Burlen, Fennelly starred in a 1936-37 CBS series, Ma and Pa. Later, Parker played a similar character opposite Charme Allen in Mother and Dad (heard on CBS between 1942 and 1944).

Parker Fennelly portrayed Mike Hagen on the daytime drama Valiant Lady and emoted on other soap operas such as A House in the CountryMary Foster, the Editor’s DaughterThe Story of Ellen Randolph, and Your Family and Mine.  Fennelly had recurring roles on shows like The Adventures of the Thin Man (he was Sheriff Ebenezer Williams of Crabtree County);  The American School of the AirIt’s MurderBarrie Craig, Confidential InvestigatorPrairie FolksScattergood Baines (the 1949 Mutual reboot) ; and Stand By For Adventure.  In the summer of 1947, Parker was the star of Lawyer Tucker, a CBS comedy-drama about a homespun legal eagle.  He’d follow that with a 1949-50 Mutual sitcom, Mr. Feathers, portraying another homespun codger (though not in the legal profession).

Many of Parker Fennelly’s radio roles, it could be argued, were variations of the laconic, common-sense New Englander that he had essayed on-air over the years (well before he landed his most famous gig as Titus Moody on The Fred Allen Show). Of Moody, Fred remarked: “I liked Titus Moody the best.  I had more fun writing his lines and trying to invent things for the old boy to do than I had working on the others.”  Allen was, of course, a Boston native—“That may account for my attitude toward Mr. Moody.”  In addition to working alongside Fred, Parker joshed along with Jack Benny, Bob Burns, and Alan Young.  Rounding out Fennelly’s radio c.v. are appearances on such shows as The Adventures of SupermanThe Aldrich FamilyBest PlaysBoston BlackieCasey, Crime Photographer, The Cavalcade of AmericaThe Columbia WorkshopCrime Does Not PayFront Page DramaGene Autry’s Melody RanchGrand Central StationGreat PlaysInheritanceListener’s PlayhouseThe MGM Theatre of the AirThe MarriageMeet Corliss ArcherRadio GuildThe Radio Hall of FameSuspenseThe Theatre Guild of the Air, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Parker Fennelly’s first credited film role was in 1949’s Lost Boundaries. After that auspicious debut, he would rack up roles in the likes of The Whistle at Eaton Falls (1951), The Trouble with Harry (1955), and It Happened to Jane (1959).  Parker would replace Percy Kilbride (who had retired from the franchise after sustaining injuries in an automobile accident) as “Pa Kettle” in the final “Ma and Pa Kettle” film, The Kettles on Old MacDonald’s Farm (1957).  One of Fennelly’s funniest film turns was in The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming! (1966), where he plays another one of his Yankee eccentrics…oblivious to the fact that his wife (Doro Merande) is bound-and-gagged behind him (see the photo at the top of this essay). He’d finish his movie career with roles in the Andy Griffith comedy Angel in My Pocket (1969) and the Don Knotts vehicle How to Frame a Figg (1971).

Andy Griffith was also responsible for Parker Fennelly’s regular TV gig as “Mr. Purdy” in his 1970 series Headmaster. Before that, Parker was always in demand as a guest star on many a small screen favorite like The Phil Silvers ShowFather Knows BestHave Gun – Will Travel, and Route 66.  But for many couch potatoes of my generation, Fennelly is best remembered as the Titus Moody-like spokesman for Pepperidge Farm in commercials he did for the company between the late 50s and early 80s (“Pep’ridge Fahm remembahs”).  It’s only fitting that Parker—so identified as the New England sage who probably spent his spare time whittling on the porch of a feed store—would live to the ripe old age of 96, passing on in 1988.

“Parker Fennelly,” wrote Fred Allen in Treadmill to Oblivion, “in my estimation, is the finest simulator of New England types we have in radio, the theater, in Hollywood or even New England.”  Since I make no secret of my worship of the comedian, I will not argue with him…instead, I recommend you check out Jack Benny vs. Fred Allen: Grudge Match—which features a classic Fred Allen Show broadcast that features our birthday boy (“King for a Day” from May 26, 1946).  Radio Spirits also has Fennelly on hand on The Aldrich FamilyBarrie Craig, Confidential Investigator: Song of Death, Boston Blackie: Death WishCasey, Crime Photographer: Blue NoteCrime Does Not Pay, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: Medium Rare Matters.  Happy birthday, bub!

“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!