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“Get this and get it straight…”

In 1932, having been dismissed from his position as a vice-president with the Dabney Oil Syndicate, Raymond Chandler decided to take up writing detective fiction to make a living.  Chandler had previous experience in journalism, writing poetry and reviews for such publications as The Westminster Gazette and The Academy, but his dissatisfaction with journalism led him to other pursuits.  Back for a second bite at the apple, Raymond’s first professional short story, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot,” was published in the December 1933 edition of the pulp magazine Black Mask. The newly-minted author followed that up with additional submissions for Mask and Dime Detective before his first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939.

The protagonist of The Big Sleep was a private detective named Philip Marlowe, who figured heavily in Chandler’s follow-up novel, Farewell, My Lovely, in 1940.  Lovely would be adapted for two motion picture screenplays: an RKO production in their popular “Falcon” series (starring George Sanders) entitled The Falcon Takes Over (1942), and a Dick Powell film destined to become a noir classic (also produced at RKO) called Murder, My Sweet (1944).  With Sweet and the silver screen adaptations of Chandler’s Sleep in 1946 (starring Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe) and The Lady in the Lake (with Robert Montgomery) the following year, it was only a matter of time before Chandler’s “white knight in a trench coat” got his own radio series (especially after Sweet was well-received on a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast in 1945).  The Adventures of Philip Marlowe made its debut over the ether on this date in 1947.

Academy Award-winner Van Heflin played Marlowe in this first radio incarnation of Chandler’s detective, though as critic John Crosby noted in a 1947 review for The Oakland Tribune, “No matter who plays Marlowe, he remains a cynical cuss who complains that he could be quite a nice guy if everyone else in the world weren’t such a 14-karat heel.  This somewhat sweeping indictment is understandable in Marlowe’s case; he gets mixed up with the funniest people.”  Heflin’s interpretation of Marlowe is a most interesting one and it’s conceivable that after thirteen episodes (Marlowe was a summer replacement for Bob Hope’s Pepsodent show) the actor could have made a further go at portraying the shamus.  Raymond Chandler, however, wasn’t a fan of Heflin’s take on his creation. He complained that it was “thoroughly flat” in a letter to Perry Mason creator Erle Stanley Gardner. (Chandler studied many of the Mason stories before embarking on his writing own ambitions.)  Anyway, MGM—Van Heflin’s employer—had other plans for their star.

After a year’s vacation, Philip Marlowe returned for a CBS series that premiered on September 26, 1948.  The actor who put on Marlowe’s trench coat was Gerald Mohr, in a production overseen by director-producer Norman Macdonnell.  (Macdonnell’s Marlowe was a favorite of CBS chairman William S. Paley, who pressed the network’s creative team to come up with a “Philip Marlowe in the early West.”)  Mohr also had Chandler’s approval. The author noted that Gerald’s voice “at least packed personality.”  (Okay, so Chandler wasn’t exactly effusive with the praise.)  CBS’s The Adventures of Philip Marlowe was an audience favorite featuring a memorable opening. Mohr’s Marlowe would bark: “Get this and get it straight—crime is a sucker’s road, and those who travel it end up in the gutter, the prison, or an early grave…”

For his portrayal of Marlowe, Gerald Mohr was chosen by Radio-Television Magazine as their Most Popular Male Actor.  The Adventures of Philip Marlowe ran two years (it was a sustained series), but was briefly revived in the summer of 1951 (as a replacement for Hopalong Cassidy) with Mohr reprising his role.  “The Sound and the Unsound” (09/15/51) would be Philip Marlowe’s radio swan song, but he continued to take cases on TV (for example, Philip Carey played the detective in a 1959-60 TV series for ABC) and in movies (interpreted by thespians such as James Garner and Elliott Gould).

For many years, only three broadcasts from the original 1947 Philip Marlowe survived the ravages of time and neglect…but two additional transcriptions eventually resurfaced, and you’ll find all five of those Van Heflin episodes on our The Adventures of Philip Marlowe collection.  Gerald Mohr’s Marlowe is represented on that set, too—not to mention Lonely CanyonsNight Tide, and Sucker’s Road.  There are broadcasts of Mohr’s Marlowe on our potpourri compilations Great Radio Detectives (“The Uneasy Head”) and Radio Classics: Selected by Greg Bell (“The Quiet Magpie”), and to round out your collection, Radio Spirits highly recommends DVD purchases of Farewell, My Lovely (1975) and The Big Sleep (1978)—both starring Robert Mitchum as our favorite shamus.  In the words of Raymond Chandler: “…down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.  He is the hero; he is everything.”  He’s Philip Marlowe!

Happy Birthday, Judy Garland!

For generations both old and new, Judy Garland—born Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minnesota on this date in 1922—will be forever known as Dorothy Gale, the young Kansas girl who gets an opportunity to travel “Over the Rainbow” from her little farm in the Sunflower State to the “Emerald City” in the 1939 movie classic The Wizard of Oz.  An accomplishment like this might have been the career highpoint for any other performer…but Judy possessed far too much talent and versatility to rest on those laurels.  Garland was frequently listed among the Top Ten box office movie draws during the 1940s, and conquered radio, television, recordings, and the concert stage.  It should come as no surprise that in a career that netted Judy an Oscar (a special juvenile trophy), a Tony (in 1952), a Golden Globe (the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1962), and a Grammy, the American Film Institute named Judy among their ten greatest female stars from classic American cinema in 1999.

Judy Garland was a show business veteran at the age of two-and-a-half.  It sounds facetious, but it’s true. She began performing with her sisters Mary Jane (nicknamed “Suzy” or “Suzanne”) and Dorothy Virginia (“Jimmie”) as “The Gumm Sisters” on stage in Minnesota…because father Francis managed a movie theatre that featured vaudeville acts.  The family would later relocate to Lancaster, California in 1926, and while the Gumm sisters were enrolled in dance school (in 1928), they became members of the Meglin Kiddies dance troupe (Ethel Meglin operated the school).  The sisters’ connection with the Meglin Kiddies would lead to their motion picture debut in the 1929 short The Big Revue (the Gumm trio sang That’s the Good Ol’ Sunny South).  Several musical shorts followed, notably A Holiday in Storyland (1930—featuring Judy’s first onscreen solo, Blue Butterfly) and La Fiesta de Santa Barbara (1935).

In between movie assignments, The Gumm Sisters toured the vaudeville circuit. In 1934, while playing Chicago’s Oriental Theater, comedian George Jessel suggested that the trio change their billing to…well, anything more appealing than “Gumm.”  There are endless variations on how the sisters decided on “Garland” (one story suggests that they were inspired by the last name of Carole Lombard’s character in Twentieth Century [1934]), but “Garland” it became. The act broke up in August of 1935, when Suzanne flew to Reno, Nevada to tie the knot with musician Lee Kahn.  (Judy, incidentally, decided on her new first name after being inspired by the title of a popular Hoagy Carmichael tune.)

Judy signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1935 on the strength of a performance of Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart and Eli, Eli for MGM’s Louis B. Mayer.  The studio got a bundle of talent with the acquisition of Garland but was often perplexed about what to do with her. At thirteen, she was older than the usual child star, but was too young for adult roles.  (Mayer, charming as he was, also fretted that Judy was not as glamorous as the rest of MGM’s female stars, reportedly calling her his “little hunchback.”)  After being loaned to 20th Century-Fox for 1936’s Pigskin Parade, her first role for MGM would be in a 1936 musical short, Every Sunday, which also featured a performer that would make a name for herself as Universal’s resident child talent: Deanna Durbin.  Garland’s first MGM feature film appearance would be a memorable one, performing You Made Me Love You to a photograph of the studio’s “king,” Clark Gable, in Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937).  From there, Judy landed roles in efforts like Everybody Sing (1938) and Listen, Darling (1938).

Judy Garland’s role in Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry (1937) would be the first of ten feature films she made with MGM’s other big child star, Mickey Rooney (including specialty bits in Thousands Cheer [1943] and Words and Music [1948]).  Their “let’s-put-on-a-show” musicals like Babes in Arms (1939), Strike Up the Band (1940), Babes on Broadway (1941), and Girl Crazy (1943) proved quite popular with moviegoers, and Judy also appeared as “Betsy Booth” in three of the entries in Mickey’s Andy Hardy series: Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), Andy Hardy Meets Debutante (1940), and Life Begins for Andy Hardy (1941).  Her work in Wizard and Babes netted Garland her only Oscar, but by the 1940s she was transitioning to more adult roles with Little Nellie Kelly (1940) and Ziegfeld Girl (1941). Kelly was the film in which she received her first “grown-up” kiss…and was required to do her first death scene. (Sorry for the spoiler.)

Me and My Gal (1942) was the first of six films Judy Garland appeared in with MGM’s resident dance dynamo, Gene Kelly (among their memorable team-ups are The Pirate [1948] and Summer Stock [1950]).  Judy’s other 40s hits include Presenting Lily Mars (1943) and The Harvey Girls (1946—featuring the Oscar-winning song On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe). However, her best-known film from that period is inarguably Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), which was directed by her soon-to-be husband Vincente Minnelli.  A heartwarming tale of a family whose lives are turned upside down when the father gets news he’s being relocated to New York City. St. Louis introduced three Garland song standards: The Trolley SongThe Boy Next Door, and the Yuletide classic Have Yourself a Little Merry Christmas.  Judy and Vincente would tie the knot after St. Louis was completed, and though the union came to an end in 1951, the couple worked on several additional films together, including Garland’s first straight dramatic film The Clock in 1945.

A star of Judy Garland’s magnitude would certainly make the rounds of network radio, and she made one of her first appearances over the ether on a 1935 broadcast of Shell Chateau.  Judy’s films would be dramatized on shows like The Lux Radio Theatre and The Gulf/Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre, and Garland also made a memorable appearance on Suspense with the classic “Drive-In” (11/21/46).  As a dues-paying MGM employee, Garland would appear on Good News of 1938/1939 on multiple occasions, and during WW2 was a favorite on such AFRS mainstays as Command PerformanceG.I. Journal, and Mail Call.  Radio stars learned that inviting Judy on their programs guaranteed a half-hour of unadulterated entertainment, and big names like Edgar Bergen, Bob Hope, George Jessel, Al Jolson, Danny Kaye, and Jack Oakie made her most welcome.  The Old Groaner himself, Bing Crosby, always enjoyed having Judy as guest. Garland not only appeared on his Philco Radio Time, but at a time when Judy was struggling with personal problems in her life, Der Bingle called her “guest star” on over a dozen of the broadcasts he did for Chesterfield/General Electric between 1949 and 1952.  (An October 30, 1952 show even has Judy Garland going solo on Bing’s program—a possible audition for a Garland radio series?)

As magical as Judy Garland’s life onscreen and before the radio microphones seemed, her personal life was occasionally fraught with turmoil.  Though her movie successes included at this time Easter Parade (1948; with Fred Astaire) and In the Good Old Summertime (1949), Judy would end up being replaced on three feature films: The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), Annie Get Your Gun (1950), and Royal Wedding (1951).  She left MGM in 1951 and embarked on a series of concert bookings in the United Kingdom, with her appearance at Manhattan’s famed Palace Theatre in October of that year hailed as “one of the greatest personal triumphs in show business history.”  Her stage work was singled out for a special Tony Award, and in 1954 Judy began work on her “comeback” film, A Star is Born.

You could theoretically argue with Garland fans until the end of time as to what her greatest motion picture triumph was. I love Wizard of Oz (a childhood favorite), but others will make strong cases for Meet Me in St. Louis and A Star is Born.  Star, which had been filmed previously in 1937 (and technically, before that as What Price Hollywood? in 1932), opened in September of 1954 to both enthusiastic audience and critical acclaim.  (Then the studio went in and edited it with a chainsaw, ensuring that Star would fail to make back its cost.)  Judy was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award…and though expected by many to win, she sadly watched Grace Kelly walk off with the prize for her turn in The Country Girl (1954).  (Judy’s loss prompted Groucho Marx to remark that it was “the biggest robbery since Brink’s.”)  Undaunted, Garland began to explore avenues on the small screen, beginning with a well-received appearance on Ford Star Jubilee, which was the first full-scale color telecast on CBS.  Judy did a series of follow-up specials throughout the years before committing to the rigors of a weekly TV show in the fall of 1963. (She had quite a few debts at the time, which convinced her to go back on an earlier declaration that she’d never do weekly TV.)

The Judy Garland Show was adored by critics and would win four Emmy Award nominations (including Best Variety Series), but it had the misfortune of being scheduled up against NBC’s Top Ten favorite Bonanza on Sunday nights. It was cancelled after 26 telecasts.  Judy’s continued concert successes—her April 23, 1961 Carnegie Hall appearance spawned the Grammy-winning double LP Judy at Carnegie Hall, which even today remains a best seller—kept her in the public eye. She even made the occasional feature film appearance in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961—a powerful performance that would win her last Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress), Gay Purr-ee (1962—an animated feature where she provided the singing and speaking voice of the movie’s feline hero), and A Child is Waiting (1963).  Judy’s final feature film was 1963’s I Could Go on Singing; she had been scheduled to play a role in Valley of the Dolls (1967), but this would go the way of previous unfinished projects.  Judy Garland left this world far too soon at the age of 47 on June 22, 1969.

Judy Garland, in later years, was a much-in-demand guest on the talk show circuit, where she demonstrated that, despite her struggles with offstage demons, she was the true embodiment of the word “entertainer.”  Here at Radio Spirits, Ms. Garland is one of several stars showcased on the 4-DVD collection Hollywood’s Greatest Screen Legends…but your best bet for Maximum Garland is a purchase of the 3-CD George Gershwin Collection; Judy and Mickey Rooney’s title duet from Strike Up the Band is included, as is a hit duet with Bing Crosby (Mine) and three tunes from Girl CrazyEmbraceable YouBidin’ My Time, and the standard I Got Rhythm (another duet with the Mick).  You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet! Showstoppers features four Judy favorites—Over the RainbowThe Trolley SongThe Man That Got Away, and her title duet with Gene Kelly from 1942’s Me and My Gal (For Me and My Gal is also available on Their Shining Hour – The Road to Victory).  Judy duets with Gene on When You Wore a Tulip and solos on Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart (her audition song!) on You Make Me Feel So Young, and two of her favorites, The Boy Next Door and Dear Mr. Gable, are front and center on With a Song in My Heart: Hooray for Hollywood.  Finally…it’s not too early to stock up on Christmas gifts: Legends: The Christmas Collection offers Judy Garland’s immortal rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.  Happy birthday, Judy!

Happy Birthday, William Boyd!

The man responsible for the motion picture career of actor William Lawrence Boyd—born in Hendrysburg, Ohio on this date in 1895—was without question Cecil B. DeMille. The famed director-producer cast the young hopeful in bit roles in many of his silent features: Why Change Your Wife? (1920), Forbidden Fruit (1921), The Affairs of Anatol (1921), etc.  Boyd’s “breakout” role was in DeMille’s The Road to Yesterday (1925), and after that success, Bill was featured prominently in Cecil’s The Volga Boatman (1926), The Yankee Clipper (1927), and The King of Kings (1927).

Fittingly, William Boyd’s cinematic swan song was in a movie helmed by his old boss—1952’s The Greatest Show on Earth, which would win the Academy Award for Best Picture.  In the film, Boyd portrayed the character that would bring him his greatest fame in movies, radio, TV, and practically every aspect of popular culture you can name: the one and only Hopalong Cassidy!

Though born in the Buckeye State, young Bill Boyd moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma at the age of seven.  His parents, Charles and Lida, passed away while Bill was still in his teens, forcing him to relocate to California and take on a variety of occupations (including orange picker, surveyor, and auto salesman).  Boyd enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War I but received an exemption due to his “weak heart.”  Bill then made the trek to Tinsel Town and began to pay his dues as an extra in DeMille’s productions before landing larger roles in the director’s films.

While he was employed at Paramount, William Boyd also appeared in other films which not necessarily DeMille-related.  Among his credited motion picture appearances were Brewster’s Millions (1921), Bobbed Hair (1922), Forty Winks (1925), Two Arabian Knights (1927—which won its director, Lewis Milestone, an Oscar for Best Comedy Feature), Skyscraper (1929), and Lady of the Pavements (1929).  Though Boyd made the transition to “talkies” with efforts like The Painted Desert (1931) and Men of America (1932), he wasn’t enjoying the success that he had during the silent era when he pulled down $100,000 a year.

William Boyd’s contract with RKO came to an end due to an event that could have been the plot of a Hitchcock film.  An actor named William “Stage” Boyd was arrested on gambling, liquor, and morals charges…but the newspaper story that told of “Stage’s” misfortune featured a picture of the other William Boyd.  The paper apologized for its error the following day…but as Boyd himself told the story: “The damage was already done.”  Boyd’s decision to change his billing from “William Boyd” to “Bill Boyd” didn’t help his career much, with acting jobs becoming harder and harder to come by.

The story goes that William Boyd was offered the minor role of “Red Connors” in a film entitled Hop-a-Long Cassidy (1935), which would bring the hard-drinking, rough-riding pulp magazine character created by Clarence E. Mulford to the silver screen.  Boyd pressed upon producer Harry “Pop” Sherman to consider him for the lead, and when he won the role, the actor decided to clean “Hoppy” up and make him a paragon of virtue. He abstained from liquor and tobacco (sarsaparilla was his beverage of choice), didn’t swear (he spoke with flawless grammar), and rarely enjoyed the company of women.  The success of Hop-a-Long Cassidy led to a follow-up in The Eagle’s Brood (1935), and then a most profitable series of B-Westerns produced by Sherman for Paramount (until 1941) and United Artists (until 1944). This made “Hopalong Cassidy” a member-in-good-standing of the Silver Screen Cowboy Trinity (the other members being Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, of course).

After 1936’s Go-Get-‘Em, Haines William Boyd played nobody on the silver screen but Hopalong Cassidy. The actor made a total of 54 westerns for Paramount and United Artists…and was certainly amenable to making more, but producer Sherman wanted to move on to more ambitious motion picture projects.  Boyd decided to put on a producer’s hat in addition to a ten-gallon one and cranked out a dozen additional “Hoppies” between 1946 and 1948.  By that point in his career, Bill had resigned himself to the fact that Hopalong Cassidy would be his movie legacy — so in 1948, he made a business decision that many probably thought insane at the time.  He purchased the rights to his entire catalog from Harry Sherman (who believed the Hoppy series was all played out) for $350,000, mortgaging everything he owned (including his ranch) to do so.

William Boyd brought a print of one of his old Hoppy westerns to a local NBC TV station that year, offering them a nominal fee to show the movie (in the hopes that it would give him a little exposure).  The reaction to the film was such that NBC requested more, and soon Boyd had leased his entire library to the network.  The popularity of the movies thrust Boyd into the national limelight. He became a radio star with a series for the syndicated Commodore Productions that aired on both Mutual and CBS from 1950 to 1952. Then, after editing the twelve Cassidy films that he had produced himself to half-hour length for television, he created forty additional episodes that aired on TV between 1952 and 1954.

Hoppy merchandise was everywhere—watches, trash cans, trading cards, toy guns, cowboy outfits, records, and lunch boxes. In fact, Hoppy was the first character to be merchandised for the burgeoning lunchbox industry.  (The Yuletide standard It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas even features a lyric that refers to “a pair of Hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots.”)  Fawcett and DC Comics published a series of Hopalong Cassidy comic books from 1946 to 1959, and a Hopalong Cassidy comic strip ran in newspapers from 1949 to 1955.  Rather than disappoint those fans who remembered him as their favorite silver-haired cowboy hero (Boyd had gone prematurely grey about the time he arrived in Hollywood) — not wanting them to see his inevitable advancing years — Bill decided to retire. He became quite wealthy with real estate investments until his death in 1972.

Though I stated that William Boyd’s final live action feature film appearance was in The Greatest Show on Earth, Cecil B. DeMille had purportedly wanted Boyd to play the role of Moses in what would be DeMIlle’s cinematic curtain closer, The Ten Commandments (1956).  The actor turned him down, believing that he was too well known as Hopalong Cassidy to be convincing…and truth be told, you can’t really think of Bill Boyd without thinking of the famous movie character. He once explained: “I’ve tried to make Hoppy a plain and simple man in manners and dress.  Hoppy isn’t a flashy character.  He isn’t illiterate.  Nor is he smart-alecky.  He doesn’t use big words or bad words.  After all, I felt that Hoppy might be looked up to and that children might try to pattern their lives after the man.  If Hoppy said ‘ain’t’ and ‘reckon’ and that-away’, all the kids might start saying the same things.”  Here at Radio Spirits, we invite you to “get your Hoppy on” with our Silver Spurs collection…plus Boyd-as-Hoppy is one of the many famous celebrities to drop in on George & Gracie in Burns & Allen and Friends.  Are we excited about celebrating William Boyd’s birthday?  You’re durn tootin’!

Happy Birthday, Jeanne Bates!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, Artie Auerbach!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, Paul Sutton!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, Orson Welles!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, Eve Arden!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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