Happy Birthday, Larry Thor!
Arnleifur Lawrence Thorsteinson was born ninety-seven years ago on this date…in an Icelandic village in Lundar, Manitoba, Canada. Fortunately for the radio stations and national networks that would eventually hire him as an announcer and actor, he decided to shorten that handle to “Larry Thor.” Old-time radio fans know his rich, resonant tones well; married at 21, Larry decided on a radio career when he had trouble getting work at a local mine, and worked at various stations in The Great White North beginning in 1937 until he decided to try his luck in Los Angeles in 1946.
In retrospect—it was a good move on the ambitious Thor’s part. He was employed by the likes of KFAC and later KNX…which, as a CBS Pacific affiliate, got him exposure as an announcer on such shows as Tomorrow Calling and It’s Fun to Be Young. He soon landed a high-profile gig on Rocky Jordan, a West Coast adventure series on the Tiffany network that starred Jack Moyles as the titular café owner, who often found himself up to his neck in intrigue and at odds with his nemesis on the police force, Lt. Sam Sabaaya (Jay Novello). Larry also handled announcing chores on such series as Young Love, Pursuit and The Green Lama, and could be heard as a news broadcaster not only on CBS, but ABC and Mutual as well.
In February of 1949, CBS Radio premiered on its schedule a crime drama entitled Broadway’s My Beat—which featured actor Anthony Ross as Detective Danny Clover, a plainclothes NYPD cop whose bailiwick stretched from Times Square to Columbus Circle—“the gaudiest, the most violent…the lonesomest mile in the world.” Befitting its background, Broadway was broadcast from New York during its first four months on the air, then moved out to Hollywood beginning in July…and with that move, Larry Thor found himself playing the starring role. The gritty—and at times lyrical—detective drama would be one of several shows produced at that time by Elliott Lewis, who emphasized the realism of the series through its sound effects, scripts and music. Thor did outstanding work on the show, alongside regulars Charles Calvert (as Sergeant Gino Tartaglia) and Jack Kruschen (as Sergeant Muggavan)—but the program itself didn’t get much respect from CBS. During its five-year-run, it bounced around from time slot to time slot; in the network’s defense, they often broadcast Broadway as a sustaining program due to lack of interest from sponsors.
It can be said that Thor found a patron in producer-director Lewis, who used the actor-announcer to good effect on other shows on which he held the reins, like Crime Classics and On Stage. In addition, Larry would become a familiar voice to fans of “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills”; he was Suspense’s announcer from August 1951 to October 1956, occasionally acting on that program as well. Other series on Thor’s resume include The CBS Radio Workshop, Escape, The Hallmark Hall of Fame, The Railroad Hour, Romance, The Whistler and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.
Larry decided to broaden his horizons a bit by seeking out film roles beginning in 1952. Some of his early movie appearances allowed him to stay well within his comfort zone; he played announcers in such vehicles as The Pride of St. Louis, Roar of the Crowd and The Kid from Left Field. Larger roles soon followed in B-picture classics like The Fast and the Furious and Five Guns West. Many cult movie fans remember Larry as the Army doctor in the 1957 schlock classic The Amazing Colossal Man, where his death scene is one of the film’s highlights. Other notable movie appearances include Zero Hour!, Portland Expose, The Hunters and Machine Gun Kelly.
At the same time, Thor made the rounds on TV series such as M Squad, Leave it to Beaver, Rawhide, Perry Mason, The Andy Griffith Show, I Spy and Hazel—he appeared in five episodes (as Jim Hendricks) of the 1963-65 series Mr. Novak, which starred James Franciscus as an idealistic young schoolteacher. Despite the demise of radio, Thor maintained his skills by narrating a number of documentaries and industrial films for the Canadian National Film Board and American film studios. He also dabbled as a writer, with several screenplays and novels to his credit. Larry’s last notable theatrical film role was a bit part as Major General Fredrick L. Martin in 1970’s Tora! Tora! Tora! That same year, he provided the voice of Tock the Watchdog in the animated feature The Phantom Tollbooth…which featured a number of OTR veterans including Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Candy Candido, June Foray, Hans Conried, Shepard Menken and Les Tremayne. (Thor’s bona fides with kids had been established when he recorded a successful album of children’s songs entitled Galloping on My Dinosaur.) The entertainment world lost a tremendous talent and unforgettable voice when he passed away at the age of 59 on March 15. 1976.
Larry Thor is well represented here at Radio Spirits; you can hear him emote on collections of Crime Classics, Escape and The Whistler—and ply his announcing trade on three CD sets of Suspense: Tales Well Calculated, Omnibus and Around the World. Of course, you won’t want to miss his signature role as Detective Danny Clover from Broadway’s My Beat—available on the Police and Thieves collection, as well as the Broadway releases Murder and Neon Shoals.