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Happy Birthday, Cathy Lewis!


When radio actress Cathy Lewis—born on this date in Spokane, Washington in 1916—married actor-director-producer Elliott Lewis (who would later become known as “Mr. Radio”) in 1943, she didn’t even have to take her husband’s surname.  That’s because Cathy Lewis was actually born “Cathy Lewis,” and their union (making them “Mr. and Mrs. Radio”) would bear much fruit in the aural medium, culminating in the critically-acclaimed dramatic anthology On Stage from 1953 to 1954.  But I’m getting a little ahead of the story…

cathy10Cathy left Washington and arrived in Hollywood in 1936 with the expressed desire to become a female vocalist—something that she did for a short while with bandleader Kay Kyser’s orchestra.  But she also had aspirations of becoming an actress, and after an apprenticeship with the Pasadena Playhouse, she was signed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to a contract.  Her stint at MGM involved a lot of extra work and bit parts; she can be seen in one of the studio’s Crime Does Not Pay shorts (“Soak the Old”) and a couple of entries from the Dr. Kildare series (Dr. Kildare’s Crisis, Dr. Kildare’s Wedding Day).  Lewis, billed as “Catherine” Lewis, also shows up in a 1941 PRC Harry Langdon quickie, Double Trouble, and an MGM B-picture starring Van Heflin, Kid Glove Killer (1942), that occasionally plays on Turner Classic Movies.

Elliott_and_Cathy_LewisHer film career might not have been going anywhere…but it was a different story when Lewis stood in front of a radio mike.  She began to get jobs on shows like Lights Out, The Lux Radio Theatre, Theatre of Romance, Michael Shayne, Private Detective, The Philip Morris Playhouse and The Adventures of Sam Spade.  Cathy was one of “Whistler’s children,” the nickname given to the loose repertory company that frequently appeared on the West Coast radio mystery smash, The Whistler.  She would also find herself a frequent player on “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills,” Suspense; she played the female lead opposite Robert Taylor in one of that program’s best-remembered playlets, “The House in Cypress Canyon,” and emoted next to Cary Grant in an equally famous Suspense broadcast, “On a Country Road.”  Cathy’s marriage to Elliott Lewis in 1943 allowed them to work together on such programs as Twelve Players, The Clock and The Voyage of the Scarlet Queen (on which Elliott starred as Philip Carney, skipper of the titular vessel), but their best known collaboration was on the series On Stage, in which the Lewises performed in first-rate mysteries, adventures and comedies.  Mrs. Radio also made appearances on two other series overseen by her husband, Broadway’s My Beat and the aforementioned Suspense.

EDS1350328458PZYXQICathy Lewis would be no stranger to radio comedy.  She worked on series headlined by Rudy Vallee, Eddie Bracken and Dennis Day, and it was her experience on these shows that lured her to an audition for a new situation comedy created by a writer named Cy Howard…one that would become known as My Friend Irma.  The legend goes that Cathy, late for another appointment, began to grow a little impatient during her Irma audition…and loving that irritated quality in her voice, Howard gave her the job.  As sardonic roommate Jane Stacy, Cathy would co-star with Marie Wilson (as Irma) on the hit sitcom from 1947 to 1953; she left the program in its last radio season (and its second on TV) and was replaced by Mary Shipp (as Irma’s new roomie, Kay Foster).  At the same time that Lewis was working on Irma she was also appearing on The Great Gildersleeve as Nurse Kathryn Milford, one of the many girlfriends that Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, water commissioner in the town of Summerfield, acquired during his long radio run.

cathy11Cathy and Elliott Lewis divorced in 1958, and though Cathy continued to perform on radio she found new vistas in her entertainment career.  Her film appearances at this time include The Party Crashers (1958) and The Devil at O’Clock (1961), and she appeared briefly alongside comic actor Bob Sweeney in an ill-fated attempt to bring Fibber McGee & Molly to TV screens in the fall of 1959.  (As you’ve probably surmised, Cathy played Molly…but the show only lasted a few months.)  Lewis made guest appearances on series like The Danny Thomas Show, Death Valley Days, The Farmer’s Daughter and F Troop—she had a funny recurring role as Deirdre Thompson, the snobbish sister of attorney George Baxter (Don DeFore) who employed the meddlesome maid played by Shirley Booth on Hazel.  Cathy Lewis passed away from lung cancer in 1968.

20004Cathy Lewis’ remarkable radio career is well-represented at Radio Spirits: you’ll hear her as Kathryn Milford on The Great Gildersleeve collection Marjorie’s Wedding, and in support of Wally Maher’s “red-headed Irishman” on Michael Shayne, Private Detective.  There’s also Lewis performances on Broadway’s My Beat (Great White Way), The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe (Parties for Murder), The Adventures of Sam Spade (Volumes One and Two) and The Voyage of the Scarlet Queen (Volumes One and Two).  There are also several sets of Suspense (Omnibus, Around the World, Tales Well Calculated) and we mustn’t leave out The Whistler (Skeletons in the Closet).  For those of you who’d like to get a look at today’s birthday girl—the Route 66: The Complete First Season set features her in the two-part drama, “Fly Away Home.”  (Note: A new collection of My Friend Irma radio episodes is scheduled to be released in January—keep your eye out for it!)


  1. ClassicBecky says:

    I’ve always loved Lewis in “My Friend Irma.” A good friend gave me a wonderful gift of radio CD’s (what a guy!) and that is such a favorite of mine. It’s nice to find out more about Lewis, as well as have a list of other shows she did so I can look for them.

    • Dan McGuire says:

      Hi Becky. I’m doing some research for an old time radio book and ran across your comments about Cathy Lewis and “My Friend Irma” on the Radio Spirits site. If you’d like to read more about OTR folks, Chuck Schaden’s book “Speaking of Radio” is a wonderful collection of interviews he did with folks who entertained us during the so-called Golden Age of Radio.

  2. Earline says:

    I once listened to a commentary, given by Actress Terry Moore, She was commenting about an actress she was co-starring with in the movie: “A Christmas Wish” She spoke about how women looked in that era as they aged compared to how they look now. Cathy Lewis appeared older than she really was. She became forty-five years old in “Hazel’s” first year and became fifty years old the year it ended. Maybe that was just the way her character was suppose to look or that was simply the way she allowed herself to look. I really disliked when her hair was white. I still wonder, was it dyed that color or was it naturally that color? Women, at that time, was not into strength training and working out with weights the way they are now. She could have probably slimmed down and toned up without going to extremes, and still looked attractive for her age. At the beginning of “Hazel” she appeared to be in her mid-fifties. I was surprised when I learned of her age when she passed away. Now Whitney Blake, was only about ten years or so younger, but the vast difference in the way they looked was incredible. It could have been that Whitney Blake was a very beautiful woman anyway. She did wear attractive clothes and she kept her weight down. And of course TV Shows dress their performers differently to reflect their characters. But Whitney Blake dressed the way I love to dress: Turtlenecks, V-Neck Blouses and Sweaters, classy style skirts, appropriate jewelry and heels that wasn’t to high. She hardly ever wore pants, though I love those too: slacks and jeans. Anyway Cathy Lewis was a very good actress. It’s to bad that she passed away so young. She would have become ninety-eight this year.

  3. Mieka Speir says:

    Cathy was Jane! To me the replacements never quite measured up. While I love the movie, it would have been great to see Cathy Lewis along side Marie Wilson. He Jane to Wilson’s Irma is what makes the show for me, as I believe the radio show to be the best version of this beloved series.

    • Larynxa says:

      “My Friend Irma” got Cathy Lewis typecast, and broke her spirit. Before “Irma”, and during its first season, she did many radio shows a week, playing a variety of roles. Then, she found herself typecast as Jane Stacey, and suffered a nervous breakdown, which got her hospialized for a while, and unable to work at all for a whole year. To help care for her, her husband, Elliott, greatly reduced his many radio roles.

      When she returned to “Irma”, Lurene Tuttle was standing by in the studio, in case Cathy couldn’t continue. Luckily, Lurene wasn’t needed.

      When “Irma” moved to TV, things got worse for Cathy. Yes, she was on a hit TV show, and making money, but all of her time was devoted to learning lines and rehearsing for that one weekly live broadcast. She hated it so much that she was quoted in an article, “Why Jane Hates Irma”…which she then had to follow up with a “clarification” interview.

      She was “rescued” from the all-consuming “Irma” when she and Elliott were doing “On Stage”. Even so, she continued to have mental health issues. She was also

      a heavy smoker, which aged her prematurely, and caused the cancer that took her life at such a young age.

      Knowing how trapped she felt by “Irma” lends more weight to an interview with Elliott Lewis, in which he talks about hesitating to accept the job of executive-producing “Sears Radio Theatre”, because the worst thing that can happen is, you say yes to doing something, and it’s a big hit, and you’re stuck doing it for a long time, whether you like it or not.

      • Earline says:

        I didn’t know that Cathy smoked. Back then not as many details were revealed about Actors the way that they are now. I did read somewhere that she had breast cancer and passed away in her apartment. And you could be right as to the smoking being the reason for her premature aging. And about mental issues?

        I never read anything about that either. You must have a secret code or combination because I looked all over the internet and didn’t find much detail about her, other than her Television and Film Career. Hollywood protected their Actors for decades. It wasn’t until people started writing tell all books that the lid came off of Actors personal lives. Affairs and Mental Issues are meat for gossip and tell all books. You’re right! She did die to young.

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