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Happy Birthday, Alice Frost!

At the turn of the twentieth century, a career as an actor or actress was frowned upon in “proper” society.”  Aspirations to trod amongst the footlights were held in low regard, particularly among members of the clergy. So a Lutheran minister in Minneapolis, MN named John August Frost certainly would have raised objections if he thought his daughter—born Alice Dorothy Margaret Frost on this date in 1905—was planning on making performing her life’s vocation.  Reverend Frost was blissfully unaware of it at the time…but when four-year-old Alice stood up in his little Swedish church and sang Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam one Sunday morning, her theatrical ambitions were already well underway.

The closest anyone in Alice Frost’s family came to a performing career at that time was Alice’s mother, who was the organist in Reverend Frost’s church.  Her father was so dead set against her acting that ten-year-old Alice had to sneak out at night to attend rehearsals for a production of Hansel and Gretel (she played the witch).  By the time she entered high school, the acting bug had bit and refused to let go; she participated in both the drama society and glee club in addition to the student newspaper and debate society.  After graduation, Frost would enroll at the University of Minnesota…and landed a small part in a play being put on by the school’s drama club.  It was during rehearsal for the production that Alice got the terrible news: her father had died suddenly, leaving the family destitute.  Alice had to drop out of school and take a job in a department store to help the family make ends meet.

Alice Frost would eventually return to dramatics when she started taking night classes at the McPhail School of Music in Minneapolis.  That summer, Frost was cast as Lorelei in a Chautauqua production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and she hoped that stardom would not be too far behind when the play passed through Chicago in late summer.  Alice got an offer to join a road company troupe…but the company found itself broke and stranded in Miami not long afterward.  Following the 1929 Wall Street Crash, Frost and her mother decided to use some money from a small legacy to move to the big city in search of acting work.  Alice would appear in a number of stage plays—The Great Lover, As Husbands GoIt’s a Wise Child, etc.—but she really found the idea of performing on radio most attractive.  As she later remarked for an interview with Movie and Radio Guide in 1940: “Radio was something new and, I felt, something big.  I felt that if I could get into it with my dramatic background and grow up with it, I’d find a real place for myself.”

Radio parts were hard to come by at first, but a friend of hers, announcer Fred Uttel, gave her some advice: Alice would be more likely to make inroads into the medium if she made her presence known to the directors at the advertising agencies responsible for underwriting much of radio’s content.  Soon, Alice began getting work on such shows as Al Pearce and His GangThe Criminal CourtForty-Five Minutes in HollywoodFive Star FinalThe Eno Crime ClubStoopnagle and BuddMrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, and The Camel Caravan.  Frost would also be one of the inaugural members of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre troupe. On radio, she would work on Les Miserables and Welles’ The Mercury Theatre on the Air/Campbell Playhouse, and on stage she understudied the role of Portia in Orson’s famed production of Julius Caesar.

Alice Frost’s big radio break came when she was cast as the long-suffering Ruth Evans Wayne on the popular daytime drama Big Sister.  (It was Kismet—the announcer on that program was her chum Fred Uttel.)  Alice would also reprise her role of Ruth on Sister’s soapy spin-off, Bright Horizon, and in addition the actress made the rounds on David HarumLorenzo JonesAunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories, and The Second Mrs. Burton.  Frost’s radio resume would eventually encompass such favorites as The Adventures of the SaintThe Big StoryThe Cavalcade of AmericaCBS Radio WorkshopCloak and DaggerThe ClockThe Columbia Workshop, Crime ClubFamous Jury TrialsThe Fat ManThe FBI in Peace and WarGrand Central StationGreat PlaysThe Harold Lloyd Comedy TheatreInner SanctumThe Lux Radio TheatreThe Mercury Summer Theatre, The MGM Theatre of the AirMr. District AttorneyMr. I.A. MotoThe Philip Morris PlayhouseThe Private Files of Rex SaundersThe Radio Reader’s DigestRomanceThe Shadow, and Suspense.

As you can see—Alice Frost was never idle when it came to standing in front of a microphone.  Her best known radio gig, however, was unquestionably portraying the female half of the husband-and-wife sleuthing team Mr. and Mrs. North.  Premiering over NBC on December 30, 1942, the series would soon become one of radio’s most popular radio mystery shows…with Alice as the delightfully dizzy Pam North alongside Joseph Curtin as her down-to-earth book publisher spouse, Jerry.  The series ran on NBC from 1942 to 1946 before switching to CBS in July of 1947 for an even longer run until 1955.  Alice, however, turned over the role of Pam North to actress Barbara Britton by the fall of 1953; Britton was by that time appearing as Pam in a TV version of the show (with her boob tube spouse Richard Denning replacing Curtin on radio as well).

With her busy radio schedule, Alice Frost had little time for movies—she didn’t start seeking film roles until the 1960s, with bit roles in such features as The Wheeler Dealers (1963) and The Prize (1963).  Television, on the other hand, was a different story: Alice made her small screen debut on TV’s Mama in 1949 and would go on to notch up guest appearances on such popular TV hits as GunsmokeThe Twilight ZoneWagon Train, and Hazel.  (She had a recurring role as “Mama Holstrum” on the ABC-TV sitcom The Farmer’s Daughter, which aired from 1963 to 1966.)  Frost also guested on such 70s shows as BarettaPolice Woman, and Fantasy Island; she passed away at the age of 87 in 1998.

The secret of Alice Frost’s longevity on radio is that like any good actress, she mastered a number of dialects, with her friends jokingly referring to her as “the girl of a hundred voices.”  Frost would trace this talent to her childhood; her father welcomed in any number of visiting ministers who had traveled to the four corners of the earth, and young Alice would delight in mimicking their speech patterns.  Our birthday girl shows off her thespic prowess in our brand-new Suspense collection, Fear and Trembling, and you can also check her out in Inner Sanctum: Shadows of Death and The Shadow: Strange Puzzles.  Happy birthday, Alice!

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