Your Shopping Cart | Your Account Information | Catalog Quick Order | Customer Service | Order Status | Contact Us
RadioSpirits.com

HOMENEW RELEASESBESTSELLERSCLEARANCEBOOKSDVDsMUSICDOWNLOADS

AboutBlogOur Radio Show SEARCH   KEYWORD

Happy Birthday, Herb Ellis!

ellis1

It’s not often that we here at the Radio Spirits blog get an opportunity to blow a noisemaker and celebrate the natal anniversary of an old-time radio performer who’s still with us—but that’s what we intend to do today, as we commemorate actor Herb Ellis’s 95th birthday! Herb, born Herbert Siegel in Cleveland, OH on this date in 1921, was a longtime collaborator with Dragnet actor-director-producer Jack Webb. In fact, it was once recalled in an interview that the police procedural, lauded for revolutionizing crime drama in both radio and television, was mapped out on Ellis’ kitchen table. (Jack and Herb wanted to sell the idea to television as Joe Friday, Room Five—but their small screen efforts would have to take a detour towards a radio microphone first.)

20334Herb Ellis began his radio career as an announcer, presiding over many a jazz band remote (broadcast under the aegis of One Night Stand). He would eventually land work at San Francisco’s KGO…a station where Jack Webb also found employment. Ellis worked with Webb on Jack’s Pat Novak for Hire, both during its KGO years and its brief run on the ABC network. Herb could also be heard on Jeff Regan, Investigator, on which Jack played the titular gumshoe. But Herb really became indispensable on Dragnet, becoming a solid member of Jack Webb’s “stock company” of performers, hewing to the creator’s insistence on realism. (In Leonard Maltin’s The Great American Broadcast, Ellis recalled that he had reservations about Webb’s style of monotone acting on the series. “He was so vertical in the way he wanted everyone to play,” reminisced Herb, “that I felt there was no humanness, because we all talked the same way. Why it struck America and struck a chord, I don’t know, but it did.”) Ellis was the first actor to portray Officer Frank Smith, which he did for eight episodes in the TV transplant before being replaced by radio veteran Ben Alexander. Herb later had a co-starring role (as Frank La Valle) on the Jack Webb-produced series The D.A.’s Man in 1959. In 1967, when Dragnet was revived for NBC, Ellis made appearances on that as well.

ellis4However, to suggest that Herb Ellis owed his long career to a fruitful association with Jack Webb would be doing the actor a tremendous disservice. Herb’s work on Dragnet shouldn’t overshadow the fact that he was in high demand as a radio actor, working on other crime dramas such as The Adventures of the Saint, Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator, Broadway’s My Beat, Jason and the Golden Fleece, The Line-Up, Mike Malloy, Private Cop, Night Beat, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, Tales of the Texas Rangers, and This is Your FBI. Ellis was even a member of the “revolving door” fraternity that took a crack at satisfying star Sydney Greenstreet’s standards for an actor to play sidekick Archie Goodwin on The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe (unfortunately for Herb, the gig lasted for one solitary broadcast). Ellis’s radio resume also includes Dangerous Assignment, Dr. Christian, Escape, Family Theatre, Fibber McGee & Molly, Frontier Gentleman, Gunsmoke, The Hallmark Hall of Fame, Hallmark Playhouse, The Halls of Ivy, The Lux Radio Theatre, The NBC Star Playhouse, Rocky Fortune, Rogers of the Gazette, Romance, The Six Shooter, The Story of Dr. Kildare, Suspense, The Whisperer, Wild Bill Hickok, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Even after the casket belonging to Radio’s Golden Age had long been lowered into the ground, Herb Ellis worked on the shows that nobly wanted to keep radio drama alive including Heartbeat Theatre, Horizons West, and The Sears/Mutual Radio Theatre.

ellis2When radio was “down on its uppers,” Herb turned to television to make a living, and found that his talents as a character actor were welcomed by a number of shows that signed him on as a semi-regular. On Peter Gunn, he played a character named “Wilbur”—who owned a bistro and did a little sculpting on the side. He was “Dr. Dan Wagner” on the Jackie Cooper comedy-drama Hennesey, and “Lou Porter” on the short-lived Peter Loves Mary. Ellis made guest appearances on such television classics as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Andy Griffith Show, Bewitched, The Fugitive, M Squad, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, My Favorite Martian, and Perry Mason. On the silver screen side of the Ellis resume, we have such movies as Rogue Cop (1954), Naked Alibi (1954), The Killing (1956), The Fortune Cookie (1966), What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966), and The Party (1968)—not to mention the Jack Webb feature film Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955) and the big-screen version of Dragnet in 1954.

21120Radio Spirits invites you to listen to some of Herb Ellis’ work on our newest Night Beat collection, Human Interest, and we’ve also got Herb working with his pal Jack Webb in Pat Novak for Hire: Pain Gets Expensive. In addition, Herb is Archie Goodwin for a night in Parties for Death, a set of broadcasts from The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe. Round out your Ellis library by acquiring Escape to the High Seas, Frontier Gentleman, Richard Diamond, Private Detective: Homicide Made Easy, Romance, The Six Shooter (Grey Steel and Special Edition), Suspense at Work, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (Expense Account Submitted, Mysterious Matters, Murder Matters, Phantom Chases, Wayward Matters) in honor of this versatile actor’s milestone birthday!

6 Comments

  1. Jimmy Davis says:

    Happy Birthday Mr. Ellis ! I have enjoyed hearing your voice on
    many of my favorite shows for many decades. You brought great
    enjoyment to many people through your fine acting skills. God bless you !

  2. Dan Olson says:

    That face is very familiar! He’s one of those character actors who were staples on many classics of the golden era of TV; I did not know about his early proficiency in radio! Happy Birthday Mr. Ellis! Someone at Films of the Golden Age magazine should do an interview with him…

  3. Knox Carmack says:

    Happy birthday herb Ellis loved it when you were on Andy Griffith Show as Bobby Fleet Jim Lindsey’s boss you’re 97 now you must eat healthy to live so long

  4. November 10, 2018

    Dear Mr. Ellis,

    I just finished watching a “Dragnet” TV episode entitled “Harassing Wife” in which you played the bad guy, John R. Sawyer, with the versatile actress, Peggy Webber, as your very annoying wife (air date: 04/02/1970). Because I have always loved radio, especially the various programs that aired during the 1940s and 1950s, and that are still available today via various OTR “outlets,” your name comes up often in the credits. That’s how I’ve come to know you as a great character actor! So, now, through this wonderful medium, the internet, I get to say Thank You in a more personal way for adding such a wonderful and profound contribution to radio–aka, “The Theater of the Mind”, and to that next medium, television.

    Sincerely,

    Dale R. Steffy

    (11/10/2018)

  5. […] further reading about Herb's career, there's a comprehensive  profile on the Radio Spirits website that was published on the occasion of Herb's 95th birthday almost three years […]

  6. […] further reading about Herb's career, there's a comprehensive  profile on the Radio Spirits website that was published on the occasion of Herb's 95th birthday three years […]

Leave a Reply