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


AboutBlogOur Radio Show SEARCH   KEYWORD

Happy Birthday, Howard Culver!

In the summer of 1949, with CBS working on the idea for what would eventually become Gunsmoke, an audition was recorded (“Mark Dillon Goes to Gouge Eye”) that starred Howard Brasfield Culver—born in Larimer County, Colorado on this date in 1918—as Dodge City’s resolute lawman.  (The name of the character was later changed to Matt Dillon, of course.)  Howard Culver might have achieved radio immortality in the role that would eventually go to William Conrad in 1952…except for one teensy snag.  As the star of Mutual’s Straight Arrow, Culver was contractually forbidden to appear on any competing western series…so he had to abandon his ambition of taking that chancy job that makes a man watchful (and a little lonely).  Howard would get a consolation prize on Gunsmoke in later years…but more importantly, he’d leave behind a radio resume that’s every bit as impressive as the role on which he lost out.

Though born in Colorado, Howard Culver spent his formative years in Los Angeles.  As a senior at Manual Arts High School, he was selected to play a small role in a local radio show play…and by age 19 he was appearing on The Life of Mary Southern.  On Happy Dalton’s Ranch in 1938, Culver played all four roles on the half-hour show *and* wrote, directed and handled the sound effects!  His baritone voice was perfect for announcing, and he made the rounds at stations in L.A. (KFI, KNX) and San Francisco (KFRC). Surviving broadcasts of Mutual’s News of the World Today in 1942-43 feature Howie plying his trade before the mike.  Culver abandoned radio for a brief period during World War II to serve a hitch in the Navy, something that came in handy in 1944 when he returned to civilian life and hosted CBS’ We Deliver the Goods. This series illustrated tales of heroism from Santa Catalina Island, California and utilized actual seamen in the acting roles.  Howard was “your maritime narrator.”

Culver also portrayed “Stephen Biggs” on The Gallant Heart, a short-lived NBC daytime drama that originated in Hollywood at a time when most of the “soaps” came out of Chicago and New York.  In addition, Howard appeared regularly as the announcer on the syndicated anthology series Strange Wills, which dramatized events involving searches for missing heirs and other odd bequests by the deceased.  Howard Culver’s C.V. started to fill up with gigs on The WhistlerMystery in the AirFamily TheatreTell it AgainMake-Believe Town, and The Croupier.  On Stairway to the Stars, the actor read poetry, and on the ABC revival of Chandu the Magician, Culver served as the show’s announcer.  In January of 1948, Howard took over from Lawrence Dobkin and played famed radio sleuth of The Adventures of Ellery Queen until that series left the airwaves on May 27, 1948.

Howard Culver’s best-known role from this period was that of the titular hero of Mutual’s Straight Arrow, a popular juvenile adventure series broadcast from 1948 to 1951.  Rancher Steve Adams, owner of the Broken Bow cattle spread, is really the “secret identity” of Straight Arrow, a Comanche orphan who was raised by a white family…and now matched wits weekly with the usual Western villains.  Howard’s stint as Straight Arrow later put him in good stead for similar radio series like The Roy Rogers Show and Wild Bill Hickok, and he later co-starred as Judson “Jud” Barnes, the reporter boyfriend of Mercedes McCambridge’s D.A. Martha Ellis ‘Marty’ Bryant on ABC’s Defense Attorney from 1951 to 1952.

Rounding out Culver’s radio resume are appearances on The Adventures of Ozzie & HarrietThe Adventures of Philip MarloweBarrie Craig, Confidential InvestigatorEscapeFather Knows BestFort LaramieHave Gun – Will TravelInheritanceHollywood Star PlayhouseThe Man from HomicideNBC Presents: Short StoryThe Railroad HourRocky FortuneSuspense, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.  Culver was a “radio man” till the very end; he was part of the cast of the AFRS shows Horizons West and When the West was Young, and later acted on attempts to revive radio drama, including The Hollywood Theatre Group and The Sears/Mutual Radio Theatre.

Though Howard Culver had to forfeit playing the hero of radio’s Gunsmoke, he did make appearances on that program as other characters from time to time.  On the television version, Howard had a recurring role as Howie Uzzell, the desk clerk at the Dodge House—he’d play that role up until the series’ penultimate small screen season in 1974.  An old-time radio author humorously noted that Culver ”was a frequent performer in virtually anything that Jack Webb was ever a party to”—the actor not only turned up on both the 50s and 60s versions of Dragnet, but also such Webb-affiliated series as Adam-12 and Project U.F.O. (and he played “Walt” in the Webb-directed feature film -30- in 1959).

A much-in-demand character actor, Howard guest starred on such TV favorites as Perry MasonDick Powell’s Zane Grey TheatreThe Twilight ZoneThe UntouchablesVoyage to the Bottom of the SeaThe Brady Bunch, and Marcus Welby, M.D.  Culver was a familiar face in several Walt Disney releases, such as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1970) and The Million Dollar Duck (1971). And whenever an actor was needed to play an announcer, Howard Culver was on everyone’s speed dial (he demonstrates his newscaster chops in Shampoo [1975] and The Bad News Bears [1976]).  His prolific career came to an end in 1984, when he passed away at the age of 66 in Hong Kong during a vacation trip to China.

While actor Warren William starred as fictional probate attorney John Francis O’Connell on the syndicated series Strange Wills, it was the man whose birthday we’re honoring on the blog today that served as the show’s announcer—Howard Culver.  The Radio Spirits collection I Devise & Bequeath features sixteen broadcasts from that series, and you can also hear Howie on The Adventures of Philip Marlowe: Night Tide and Lonely CanyonsChandu the MagicianFamily Theater: Every HomeFather Knows Best: Maple StreetFort Laramie and Fort Laramie Volume TwoHave Gun – Will TravelThe Man From Homicide, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: Medium Rare Matters.  Happy birthday to one of the best character actor veterans!


Leave a Reply