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Happy Birthday, June Foray!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, Lauren Bacall!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, Grace Matthews!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, Lurene Tuttle!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, Charles Boyer!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, Wally Maher!

In the annals of movie animation, there was never a cartoon character quite like Screwball “Screwy” Squirrel.  Described by author-historian Leonard Maltin in Of Mice and Magic as possessing “all the brashness associated with such recent stars as Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker,” the manic creation of legendary director Tex Avery had a short life in motion picture cartoons (only five shorts released between 1944 and 1946). This is because, according to Maltin, Avery “made him so aggressive, so completely obnoxious, that there was no room for ‘lovability’.”

However, the actor who voiced Screwy—born Walter Maher in Cincinnati, OH on this date in 1908—was indeed quite lovable, and certainly made his presence known in movies and on radio.  Radio Spirits’ own Elizabeth McLeod once described Wally Maher as “an unassuming fellow.” He was the perfect “Everyman” called upon whenever a radio script required “a truck driver, a security guard, a garage mechanic, a patrol cop, or just plain Joseph H. Blow.”  Though show business may not have been the direction Wally initially had planned to go in life (despite his father William’s history with vaudeville as a song-and-dance-man), he discovered he had a knack for mimicry while working as a baggage clerk for the Southern Pacific railroad.  An audition with Cincinnati radio station WLW—”the Nation’s Station”—in 1930 for a role in a radio serial version of the film All Quiet on the Western Front landed him a job with the station’s dramatic staff (despite that audition being a bit disastrous, as Maher would admit in later years).

While at WLW, Wally Maher was an actor, director and producer.  During his stay in Cincinnati, Maher made the acquaintance of a performer named Tommy Riggs.  Riggs had been diagnosed with a medical condition that doctors at the Cornell Medical Center would dub “bi-vocalism.”  It wasn’t life-threatening…it simply allowed Riggs to switch back-and-forth from his natural baritone voice to the tones of a seven-year-old girl (whom he dubbed “Betty Lou Barrie”).  It was not a childish falsetto—it was an honest-to-goodness girl’s voice, which Tommy used to his amusement one day when he nearly cleared out a Brown University locker room filled with his teammates.

Tommy Riggs and Betty Lou were stars on WLW, and one day when Riggs heard Wally imitate an angry kid, he persuaded Maher to join his program as Betty Lou’s boyfriend “Wilbur.”  Wally’s character was well-received, and when Maher eventually came back to the West Coast in 1942 (after a brief sojourn in New York, performing on Broadway and doing radio shows like Camel CaravanEno Crime CluesGangbusters, and Mr. District Attorney) the first person he ran into at the Hollywood CBS studios was his old pal Tommy. Riggs had been signed to do a summer replacement series (George Burns and Gracie Allen got a vacation) for Swan Soap.  While that show came to end in 1943 (due to Riggs’ enlistment in the Navy), it would return in the summer of 1946 with Wally Maher back on board.

Tommy Riggs was not the only radio comedian that Maher had the pleasure of working with. Wally would appear on shows headlined by the likes of Bud Abbott & Lou Costello, Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen, Eddie Bracken, Burns & Allen, Phil Harris & Alice Faye, and Rudy Vallee.  In addition, Maher made the rounds on comedy-variety programs like Amos ‘n’ AndyG.I. JournalThe Harold Peary ShowThe Magnificent MontagueMaisieMeet Me at Parky’sMy Favorite HusbandThe Penny Singleton Show, and Sealtest Variety Theatre.  Despite his flair for comedy, Wally worked on many of the dramatic series of that era: Arch Oboler’s PlaysThe Cavalcade of AmericaEscapeFamily TheatreHallmark PlayhouseLights OutThe Lux Radio TheatreNBC Presents: Short StoryThe NBC University TheatreScreen Director’s PlayhouseThe Silver TheatreSuspense (most memorably in “Dead Ernest”), and The Whistler.

In 1944, Wally Maher was cast as the titular gumshoe of The Adventures of Michael Shayne, Private Detective, a hard-boiled detective series based on Brett Halliday’s literary creation.  The program began as West Coast offering (with Louise Arthur and Cathy Lewis as his gal Friday) before being promoted to the full Mutual network in later seasons.  Maher also had a recurring role on another West Coast detective program, Let George Do It, on which he played Lieutenant Riley, the friendly police nemesis of private investigator George Valentine.  In addition, Wally was “Dan Murray” on Carlton E. Morse’s One Man’s Family and did occasional work on Morse’s I Love a Mystery.  Maher was one of several actors to portray “Archie Goodwin” on The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe, and he made the rounds on other popular crime dramas such as The Adventures of Philip MarloweThe Adventures of Sam SpadeJeff Regan, InvestigatorRichard Diamond, Private DetectiveT-ManTales of the Texas RangersThis is Your FBI, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Wally Maher’s initial decision to “go west, young man” was prompted (according to Radio Life) by his landing a bit role in a 1935 film, Murder in the Fleet.  Yet once established in Tinsel Town, Wally didn’t lack for work in motion pictures, appearing in such features as Thanks a Million (1935), Fury (1936), Libeled Lady (1936), You Only Live Once (1937), and It’s a Wonderful World (1939).  By the end of the 1940s, Maher’s movie work resulted in more than a few credited roles in the likes of Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949) and The Story of Molly X (1949—with his Michael Shayne co-star Cathy Lewis).  He appeared in two Dick Powell vehicles, The Reformer and the Redhead (1950) and Right Cross (1950), and was among the cast of an oft-overlooked little noir, Mystery Street (1950).

But Wally Maher enjoyed radio above all else, and in addition to his duties on Let George Do It he made the rounds on such shows as The Cisco KidDangerous AssignmentHopalong CassidyNight BeatThe Story of Dr. Kildare, and Wild Bill Hickok.  Maher’s last major role was as “Sergeant Matt Grebb” on The Line-Up—a no-nonsense cop who provided an excellent contrast to star William Johnstone’s “Lieutenant Ben Guthrie.”  Unfortunately for Wally, a troublesome medical history of respiratory problems (which kept him from enlisting during WW2) continued to plague him at this point in his career – despite surgery to have a lung removed in 1950.  Wally Maher passed away on December 27, 1951 at the tender age of 43.

Despite his regrettably short stay on this planet we lovingly call Earth, Wally Maher was a hard man to keep down where radio was concerned—and Radio Spirits is ready to back up that boast with collections from his two signature radio series: Michael Shayne: Murder, Prepaid and The Line-Up: Witness.  You can also hear our birthday boy as Lt. Riley in the Let George Do It sets Cry Uncle and Sweet Poison, plus his brief (emphasis on brief) stint as Nero Wolfe’s legman in Parties for Death.  If that’s not enough for Maher for you, check out his work on such shows as The Adventures of Philip Marlowe (Great Radio DetectivesLonely Canyons), The Adventures of Sam Spade (Lawless), Burns & Allen (Burns & Allen and FriendsMuddling Through), Escape (Peril), The Fitch Bandwagon with Phil Harris & Alice Faye (A Song and a Smile), Lights Out (Lights Out, Everybody), Richard Diamond, Private Detective (Dead MenHomicide Made EasyMayhem is My Business), Suspense (Beyond Good and EvilSuspense at WorkTies That BindWages of Sin), The Whistler (Root of All Evil), and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (The Many Voices of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar).

Happy Birthday, Alice Frost!

At the turn of the twentieth century, a career as an actor or actress was frowned upon in “proper” society.”  Aspirations to trod amongst the footlights were held in low regard, particularly among members of the clergy. So a Lutheran minister in Minneapolis, MN named John August Frost certainly would have raised objections if he thought his daughter—born Alice Dorothy Margaret Frost on this date in 1905—was planning on making performing her life’s vocation.  Reverend Frost was blissfully unaware of it at the time…but when four-year-old Alice stood up in his little Swedish church and sang Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam one Sunday morning, her theatrical ambitions were already well underway.

The closest anyone in Alice Frost’s family came to a performing career at that time was Alice’s mother, who was the organist in Reverend Frost’s church.  Her father was so dead set against her acting that ten-year-old Alice had to sneak out at night to attend rehearsals for a production of Hansel and Gretel (she played the witch).  By the time she entered high school, the acting bug had bit and refused to let go; she participated in both the drama society and glee club in addition to the student newspaper and debate society.  After graduation, Frost would enroll at the University of Minnesota…and landed a small part in a play being put on by the school’s drama club.  It was during rehearsal for the production that Alice got the terrible news: her father had died suddenly, leaving the family destitute.  Alice had to drop out of school and take a job in a department store to help the family make ends meet.

Alice Frost would eventually return to dramatics when she started taking night classes at the McPhail School of Music in Minneapolis.  That summer, Frost was cast as Lorelei in a Chautauqua production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and she hoped that stardom would not be too far behind when the play passed through Chicago in late summer.  Alice got an offer to join a road company troupe…but the company found itself broke and stranded in Miami not long afterward.  Following the 1929 Wall Street Crash, Frost and her mother decided to use some money from a small legacy to move to the big city in search of acting work.  Alice would appear in a number of stage plays—The Great Lover, As Husbands GoIt’s a Wise Child, etc.—but she really found the idea of performing on radio most attractive.  As she later remarked for an interview with Movie and Radio Guide in 1940: “Radio was something new and, I felt, something big.  I felt that if I could get into it with my dramatic background and grow up with it, I’d find a real place for myself.”

Radio parts were hard to come by at first, but a friend of hers, announcer Fred Uttel, gave her some advice: Alice would be more likely to make inroads into the medium if she made her presence known to the directors at the advertising agencies responsible for underwriting much of radio’s content.  Soon, Alice began getting work on such shows as Al Pearce and His GangThe Criminal CourtForty-Five Minutes in HollywoodFive Star FinalThe Eno Crime ClubStoopnagle and BuddMrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, and The Camel Caravan.  Frost would also be one of the inaugural members of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre troupe. On radio, she would work on Les Miserables and Welles’ The Mercury Theatre on the Air/Campbell Playhouse, and on stage she understudied the role of Portia in Orson’s famed production of Julius Caesar.

Alice Frost’s big radio break came when she was cast as the long-suffering Ruth Evans Wayne on the popular daytime drama Big Sister.  (It was Kismet—the announcer on that program was her chum Fred Uttel.)  Alice would also reprise her role of Ruth on Sister’s soapy spin-off, Bright Horizon, and in addition the actress made the rounds on David HarumLorenzo JonesAunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories, and The Second Mrs. Burton.  Frost’s radio resume would eventually encompass such favorites as The Adventures of the SaintThe Big StoryThe Cavalcade of AmericaCBS Radio WorkshopCloak and DaggerThe ClockThe Columbia Workshop, Crime ClubFamous Jury TrialsThe Fat ManThe FBI in Peace and WarGrand Central StationGreat PlaysThe Harold Lloyd Comedy TheatreInner SanctumThe Lux Radio TheatreThe Mercury Summer Theatre, The MGM Theatre of the AirMr. District AttorneyMr. I.A. MotoThe Philip Morris PlayhouseThe Private Files of Rex SaundersThe Radio Reader’s DigestRomanceThe Shadow, and Suspense.

As you can see—Alice Frost was never idle when it came to standing in front of a microphone.  Her best known radio gig, however, was unquestionably portraying the female half of the husband-and-wife sleuthing team Mr. and Mrs. North.  Premiering over NBC on December 30, 1942, the series would soon become one of radio’s most popular radio mystery shows…with Alice as the delightfully dizzy Pam North alongside Joseph Curtin as her down-to-earth book publisher spouse, Jerry.  The series ran on NBC from 1942 to 1946 before switching to CBS in July of 1947 for an even longer run until 1955.  Alice, however, turned over the role of Pam North to actress Barbara Britton by the fall of 1953; Britton was by that time appearing as Pam in a TV version of the show (with her boob tube spouse Richard Denning replacing Curtin on radio as well).

With her busy radio schedule, Alice Frost had little time for movies—she didn’t start seeking film roles until the 1960s, with bit roles in such features as The Wheeler Dealers (1963) and The Prize (1963).  Television, on the other hand, was a different story: Alice made her small screen debut on TV’s Mama in 1949 and would go on to notch up guest appearances on such popular TV hits as GunsmokeThe Twilight ZoneWagon Train, and Hazel.  (She had a recurring role as “Mama Holstrum” on the ABC-TV sitcom The Farmer’s Daughter, which aired from 1963 to 1966.)  Frost also guested on such 70s shows as BarettaPolice Woman, and Fantasy Island; she passed away at the age of 87 in 1998.

The secret of Alice Frost’s longevity on radio is that like any good actress, she mastered a number of dialects, with her friends jokingly referring to her as “the girl of a hundred voices.”  Frost would trace this talent to her childhood; her father welcomed in any number of visiting ministers who had traveled to the four corners of the earth, and young Alice would delight in mimicking their speech patterns.  Our birthday girl shows off her thespic prowess in our brand-new Suspense collection, Fear and Trembling, and you can also check her out in Inner Sanctum: Shadows of Death and The Shadow: Strange Puzzles.  Happy birthday, Alice!

Happy Birthday, Blake Edwards!

If I enlisted you into playing a word association game and started the ball rolling by uttering “Blake Edwards”—chances are that you would respond with “Pink Panther”…for it was indeed Edwards who instituted that long-running movie franchise (beginning with 1964’s The Pink Panther) starring British actor-comedian Peter Sellers as the bumbling French Inspector Jacques Clouseau.  Edwards’ film career as a movie director includes such classics as Operation Petticoat (1959), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), and Days of Wine and Roses (1962), and on the small screen he was responsible for introducing super-suave Peter Gunn to TV audiences.  But I’d bet only a handful know of Blake’s contributions to radio, including a detective that also had a bit of success on the boob tube—Richard Diamond, Private Detective.  Seeing that Mr. Edwards was born William Blake Crump on this date in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1922, it seems only fitting we pay tribute to his career, particularly his work in the aural medium.

Blake Edwards’ father, Donald Crump, purportedly abandoned the family before Blake was born.  His interest in show business might have been cultivated by his stepfather, Jack McEdwards, who moved the family out to L.A. in 1925 to take a job as a film production manager.  (He had been a movie director during the silent era.)  In a 1971 interview with The Village Voice, Blake observed that relations between him and his stepdad were not particularly rosy (he felt “alienated” and “estranged”), but after attending grammar and high school in Los Angeles, actively sought work as a film actor — beginning with an uncredited bit as a cadet in 1942’s Ten Gentlemen from West Point.

Movies in which Blake Edwards performed bit roles (non-credited) include A Guy Named Joe (1943), Wing and a Prayer (1944), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), and They Were Expendable (1945).  Blake played a lot of military men in the movies, and life would imitate art during World War II when he served in the United States Coast Guard. (He would suffer a back injury that resulted in years of agonizing discomfort.)  As for his film career—well, he worked with a lot of well-known directors, but at that time was acquiring a reputation as (as he put it) “a spunky, smart-assed kid.”  “Maybe even then I was indicating that I wanted to give, not take, direction,” he mused.  The ambitious Edwards convinced John C. Champion, an individual with whom he had attended high school, to put some money into a Western movie that the two men would write. The finished product was released by Monogram in 1948 as Panhandle.  They teamed up for another film as their follow-up (as producers and writers), Stampede (1949), before going their separate ways.

With those writing and producing credits under his belt, Blake Edwards happened to tune into a radio program on which his girlfriend, an aspiring actress, was appearing. When she asked him what he thought, Blake confessed that it was “pretty bad.”  Challenged to do better, Edwards worked up his own script (using the girl’s show, Hollywood Star Theatre, as a template) and she submitted it to Star Theatre’s producer, Nat Wolff…who liked Blake’s contribution so much that he passed it off to radio auteur Jack Webb.  Wolff would then introduce Edwards to Don Sharp, who was looking for a radio vehicle for his client, Dick Powell.  Blake did a little bluffing—telling Sharp he had just the thing for Dick, but…since he was living at the beach…he would have to go home and bring it back the following day.  He wrote up a treatment for Richard Diamond, Private Detective that evening, and the show premiered over NBC Radio on April 24, 1949. The program would continue to run (with stops at ABC and CBS) under various sponsorships until September 20, 1953.

Blake Edwards not only penned the weekly investigations of Richard Diamond…he had a hand in the creation of radio’s The Line-Up, and contributed to both Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar as well.  Asked by Leonard Maltin in an interview if there was a specific reason why he didn’t continue in radio, Edwards quipped: “Only because I got a better job.  You know, somebody called me up and said, ‘You want to write a movie?’  And that was that.”  That movie was 1952’s Sound Off, which he co-wrote with director Richard Quine; the duo would also work together on such films as All Ashore (1953), Drive a Crooked Road (1954), and The Atomic Kid (1954).

All four of the aforementioned movies starred Mickey Rooney, with whom both Edwards and Quine would work with on a short-lived TV sitcom entitled The Mickey Rooney Show: Hey Mulligan.  It was TV that provided Blake with his first opportunity to become a director, helming episodes of his friend Dick Powell’s Four Star Playhouse. Later in the decade, Edwards would create and produce (as well as contribute scripts to) Peter Gunn, a jazzy crime drama that ran for three seasons on NBC and ABC.  Blake also produced, for a time, the series Mr. Lucky. Both Gunn and Lucky featured music from Henry Mancini, a composer with whom Edwards enjoyed a fruitful partnership. When Blake’s motion picture directing career was in full swing, Mancini worked with him on the likes of Experiment in Terror (1962) and The Party (1968).

Blake Edwards’ feature film directorial debut was 1955’s Bring Your Smile Along. Although his career included high points (like the previously mentioned Tiffany’s and Wine and Roses), he would become best known for his comedic contributions (like the Pink Panther films), and occasional curios like Darling Lili (1970), The Tamarind Seed (1974), and S.O.B. (1981).  All three of the latter films starred Mrs. Edwards — he wed Julie Andrews in 1969 — as did 1982’s Victor/Victoria, which many consider to be one of his finest films.  Edwards would continue to direct until 1995 (his last effort was a TV presentation of Victor/Victoria with Andrews, a video recording of the Broadway version he directed), and passed away in 2010 at the age of 88.

Blake Edwards said of Dick Powell, “…we took a liking to each other, as a matter of fact. He was really a sweet man.”  Edwards did admit, however, that when Powell brought Diamond to TV (starring future Fugitive David Janssen) he sort of had to remind him that he did originate the character before Dick finally threw some money his way.  On the anniversary of Blake’s birthday, Radio Spirits invites you to check out our Richard Diamond collections of Homicide Made EasyMayhem is My Business, and Dead Man (which also features our other birthday celebrant, Stacy Harris—a favorite actor of Blake’s during his stint in radio!).  You can also hear Edwards’ work on The Line-Up: Witness and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: Mysterious Matters.