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Happy Birthday, Jeanne Bates!

Character great Jeanne Bates—born in Berkley, California on this date in 1918—started her show business career as a billboard and magazine model (while attending San Mateo Junior College)…but it wasn’t long before she discovered a flair for performing in front of a radio microphone.  Jeanne got her start in the aural medium by acting in daytime dramas for radio stations in the San Francisco area, and yet you could argue that a simple scream opened a lot of doors for her.  Radio producer Lew X. Lansworth had created a popular mystery program entitled Whodunit, and the show’s trademark was a scream at the beginning of each broadcast provided by Jeanne (though she performed other roles as well).  The success of Whodunit brought both Bates and Lansworth to Hollywood, and the couple would eventually tie the knot in 1943 in a union that lasted until Lansworth’s passing in 1981.  (Jeanne would occasionally be billed in the credits of radio shows as “Jeanne Bates Lansworth.”)

Jeanne Bates got an additional benefit out of her move to Tinsel Town.  She was signed to a contract by Columbia Pictures in 1943 and made her film debut in one of the studio’s “Boston Blackie” films, The Chance of a Lifetime.  Uncredited roles in The Return of the Vampire (1943) and There’s Something About a Soldier (1943) followed. Bates would also be cast as Tom Tyler’s leading lady in the chapter play The Phantom (1943; based on Lee Falk’s popular comic strip)…although she really didn’t get to do much but stand around and be rescued.  Other noteworthy movie appearances for Jeanne include The Racket Man (1944), Sundown Valley (1944; a “Durango Kid” western), Shadows of the Night (1944; a “Crime Doctor“ programmer), The Soul of a Monster (1944), and Sergeant Mike (1944).  Bates also played the “damsel in distress” in 1946’s The Mask of Dijon – the tale of a rather a deranged stage illusionist (played by the legendary Erich von Stroheim) who hypnotizes people into committing murders.

Yet Jeanne Bates didn’t let any grass grow under her feet where her radio career was concerned.  She made the rounds on many of the medium’s dramatic anthologies: The Bakers’ Theatre of StarsFamily Theatre, Favorite StoryFour Star PlayhouseThe Lux Radio TheatrePresenting Charles BoyerScreen Directors’ PlayhouseStars in the AirStars Over Hollywood, and Your Movietown Radio Theatre.  Bates would also harken back to her salad days in the soaps with regular roles on such “weepies” as Today’s Children (as Candice Drake) and The Woman in My House (as Caroline Wilson).  Jeanne would take over for actress Winifred Wolfe as Teddy Lawton Barbour on the long-running One Man’s Family. The creator-writer of that iconic program, Carlton E. Morse, had previously used Bates on Adventures by Morse and I Love Adventure (where she played “Mary Kay Jones”—”the cutest secretary in Hollywood”).

Other items of interest on Jeanne Bates’ extensive radio resume include The Adventures of Frank RaceThe Adventures of the Lone WolfThe Adventures of the SaintBarrie Craig, Confidential Investigator, Broadway’s My BeatThe CBS Radio WorkshopDangerous AssignmentDefense AttorneyDr. ChristianFrontier GentlemanLet George Do ItThe Line UpThe Man Called XThe Man from HomicideThe New Adventures of Nero WolfeNight BeatRichard Diamond, Private DetectiveRocky FortuneRocky JordanThe Roy Rogers ShowThe Silent MenThe Story of Dr. KildareSuspenseThe WhistlerWild Bill HickokYou Are There, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.  As you can see, Jeanne was quite busy in radio drama…but she could also tackle comedy with equal aplomb.  She had a recurring role on The Great Gildersleeve as Paula Bullard Winthrop—one of the water commissioner’s many romantic conquests—and also appeared on such shows as Mr. and Mrs. BlandingsThe Phil Harris-Alice Faye ShowShorty Bell, and That’s Rich.

Much of Jeanne Bates’ best radio work was done with director-producer Norman Macdonnell, who first used the actress on Escape and The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, then called upon her to play roles on RomanceGunsmokeFort Laramie, and Have Gun – Will Travel.  (Bates would later do two episodes of the TV Gunsmoke and one of the boob tube HGWT.) During her film career in the 1940s, she had shown that she was quite at ease in front of a camera, and her voluminous work on the small screen includes such favorites as Perry MasonThe Restless Gun (I’ve seen Jeanne in five episodes of this western series), General Electric TheaterWhirlybirdsM Squad, RawhideBachelor FatherWagon Train, and Tales of Wells Fargo.  Her best-known TV work was portraying Nurse Wills on Ben Casey from 1961 to 1966. There was just something about Jeanne that made her ideal for those types of roles — she’s a nurse in the 1964 cult horror film The Strangler, and later donned the white uniform for a regular stint on the daytime drama Days of Our Lives (and a guest appearance on Marcus Welby, M.D.).

Jeanne Bates kept busy in the 1970s and 1980s guesting on such popular TV series as Room 222MannixBarnaby Jones, and daytime’s The Young and the Restless.  She’s also a familiar face in movies like Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? (1970) and Gus (1976—another nursing job!), and in 1991 had the titular role in the cult horror film Mom (1991) as a nice old lady who turns into a werewolf!  Bates continued to work in movies such as Die Hard 2 (1990) and Grand Canyon (1991), and though (according to the IMDb) her final credit (voice only) was in a 2002 episode of That 70s Show, Jeanne made a nice contribution to David Lynch’s cult classic Mulholland Drive (2001).  (Bates was in Lynch’s earlier Eraserhead [1977]—as “Mrs. X.”)  Jeanne Bates succumbed to breast cancer in 2007 at the age of 89.

Jeanne Bates did so much radio that I don’t think it’s possible to credit everything she did…but Radio Spirits will do its part to remember her legacy by letting you know about a few of the collections featuring today’s birthday girl that we have on hand.  You’ll hear Mrs. Lansworth on The Adventures of Philip MarloweNight TideSucker’s Road, and Lonely CanyonsBroadway’s My Beat: The Loneliest MileEscape: The Hunted and the HauntedPeril, and Escape to the High SeasFort Laramie: Volume TwoGunsmoke: The Round UpKillers & Spoilers, and SnakebiteThe Great Gildersleeve: For Corn’s SakeHave Gun – Will Travel and Blind Courage;  Let George Do It: Cry Uncle and Sweet PoisonThe Line Up: WitnessThe Man from HomicideNero Wolfe: Parties for Death and The New Adventures of Nero WolfeNight Beat: Human InterestRichard Diamond: Homicide Made Easy and Dead MenThe Whistler: Voices; and the Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar collections Fabulous FreelanceMurder MattersExpense Account Submitted, and Phantom Chases.

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