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Happy Birthday, Lurene Tuttle!

“The First Lady of Radio.”  That’s the fitting appellation given to actress Lurene Tuttle, born Lurene Susie Tuttle in Pleasant Lake, Indiana on this date in 1907.  Lurene was, without question, a consummate character performer, achieving fame in the aural medium, in films and on TV. She even used her acting gifts to coach others so that they perfected their craft.  Radio Spirits’ own Elizabeth McLeod said it best: “She was one of the giants of West Coast radio drama, an actress whose career spanned the life of her medium, and an activist who helped to forge broadcasting’s first successful labor union.  Dismiss her as a mere ‘voice actress’ at your peril.”

Before becoming indispensable to West Coast radio drama, Lurene Tuttle started to develop her love of acting while in the Midwest. She hailed from a family of performers—her grandfather Frank was manager of an opera house and also taught drama.  Her father, O.V. Tuttle, performed in blackface in minstrel shows before switching his vocation to a railroad station agent (minstrelsy was on the decline).  It wasn’t until the Tuttle family moved to Glendale, Arizona, that the young Lurene started to seriously consider an acting career. We have local drama coach Mrs. Easley to thank for that—she provided much guidance and encouragement to Lurene.  At age 15, Lurene and the family moved even further westward (California was the place they had to be) and she found herself becoming quite active in her high school drama club.  Tuttle’s thespic aspirations would attract the attention of the Pasadena Playhouse, and as a member of the Playhouse’s stock company she received the equivalent of a college education in drama.  By the age of 20, Lurene was a seasoned actress. She worked briefly in vaudeville, and by the early 1930s gambled on getting into the burgeoning entertainment medium of radio.

As radio began to grow by leaps and bounds, no station in the nation would prove more beneficial to dedicated actors than Los Angeles’ KHJ. Lurene Tuttle was fortunately to be hired on there by producer-director Lindsay McHarrie.  KHJ’s productions—broadcast both locally and over the CBS Network—relied on performers who were willing to work hard and demonstrate flexibility when it came to schedules. Lurene was more than up to the task, but the hours in radio were long and the pay was short. Tuttle and actor Frank Nelson were members of the stock company on CBS’ Hollywood Hotel, where they earned the princely sum of $25…while the guest stars on the show were pulling down $5,000.  Frank announced to Lurene one day that he was going to get them a raise—$35—and although the show’s producer played hardball at first, he eventually agreed to Nelson and Tuttle’s demands.  Both actors would later be inspired to become founding members of the Hollywood chapter of the Radio Actors’ Guild—which eventually became the American Federation of Radio Artists.  Lurene would later serve as AFTRA’s first female president.

Lurene Tuttle’s voluminous radio work occurred on many of the medium’s prestigious dramatic anthology programs. At one time, she was practically a regular on The Lux Radio Theatre (one of the shows that directly influenced the activism that formed AFTRA…and also where she met her first husband, Melville Ruick). Tuttle also worked constantly on “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills,” Suspense.  To list all of the shows Lurene did would require this essay to continue until 2020, but a partial list would include Academy Award TheatreArch Oboler’s PlaysThe Cavalcade of America, The CBS Radio WorkshopThe ClockColumbia Presents CorwinThe Columbia WorkshopDark VentureDiary of FateEncore TheatreFamily TheatreFavorite StoryThe First Nighter Program, ForecastThe Hallmark Hall of FameHallmark PlayhouseHollywood PremierHollywood Star PlayhouseHollywood Star TimeThe Lady Esther/Camel Screen Guild TheatreLights OutThe Mercury Summer TheatreMystery in the AirThe NBC University TheatreThe Railroad HourScreen Director’s PlayhouseThe Silver TheatreStars Over HollywoodStrange WillsThe Theatre of Famous Radio PlayersThe Theatre of RomanceTwelve PlayersThe UnexpectedThe WhistlerWhite Fires of Inspiration, and Your Movietown Radio Theatre.

In the fall of 1941, Lurene Tuttle was a regular on The Great Gildersleeve—portraying Marjorie Forrester, Gildy’s niece.  Tuttle was by this time in her mid-30s…and yet convincingly portrayed the high school senior until 1944, when she handed off the role to Louise Erickson.  Gildersleeve was a great showcase for Lurene’s comedy talents; the actress later appeared on such shows as The Adventures of MaisieThe Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet (where she had a recurring role as Harriet’s mother), Good News of 1940The Smiths of Hollywood, and The Texaco Star Theatre.  Lurene would also be afforded an opportunity to work alongside such radio personalities as Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen, George Burns & Gracie Allen, Dorothy Lamour, and Rudy Vallee.  Her best-remembered work in comedy occurred when she joined the cast of The Red Skelton Show in the fall of 1947 to portray the female foils (like Junior the Mean Widdle Kid’s mother), which had previously been played by Harriet Nelson and GeGe Pearson.  Lurene would remain with the program until the Skelton show closed the radio curtain in 1952.

By the time Lurene Tuttle went to work for Red Skelton, she was already hard at work on her other unforgettable radio gig: portraying dizzy secretary Effie Perrine on The Adventures of Sam Spade (which premiered in the summer of 1946).  The Spade people, aware that Effie usually appeared at the beginning and end of each broadcast, arranged to record the banter between her and star Howard Duff on Sunday afternoons so that Tuttle could attend the Skelton show rehearsals (which were held later in the evening).  The excellent chemistry between Howard and Lurene is the reason why Sam Spade remains a firm favorite among old-time radio devotees today, and the actress’ dedication to character can also be heard in appearances on such favorites as The Adventures of Frank RaceThe Adventures of Philip MarloweThe Adventures of Red RyderThe Adventures of the SaintBroadway’s My BeatCalling All CarsDr. ChristianEllery QueenHave Gun – Will Travel, Hopalong CassidyJeff Regan, InvestigatorLet George Do ItThe Mayor of the TownMr. PresidentNight BeatPat Novak for HirePresenting Charles BoyerRichard Diamond, Private Detective, Rocky JordanRogue’s GalleryThe Silent MenThe Story of Dr. KildareTales of the Texas Rangers, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Lurene Tuttle’s first credited motion picture role was in 1947’s Heaven Only Knows.  However, it wouldn’t be long before she would bring the same professionalism to the silver screen as she did before a microphone. Some of her most memorable movie appearances include Macbeth (1948), Goodbye, My Fancy (1951—a personal favorite, as she plays a college alum with a little more moxie on the ball than folks might think.), Tomorrow is Another Day (1951), Niagara (1953—she’s married to Don Wilson!), The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953), The Glass Slipper (1955), Untamed Youth (1957), and Psycho (1960)—where she plays the wife of Sheriff John McIntire, her old radio crony.  On the small screen, Tuttle made guest appearances everywhere from I Love Lucy to Perry Mason to Gunsmoke, but she had regular roles on such series as Life with Father (a sitcom version of the 1947 film), Father of the Bride (another movie-to-TV transplant), and Julia—on which she played fellow nurse Hannah Yarby.

Lurene Tuttle was so devoted to acting that she literally worked until the day she died; her last show business credit was a guest appearance on TV’s Crazy Like a Fox.  When she wasn’t teaching other aspiring performers, Tuttle stayed true to her radio roots by appearing on such revival shows as The Hollywood Radio TheatreThe CBS Radio Mystery Theatre, and The Sears Radio Theatre.  Her fellow artists would bestow upon her “Woman of the Year” honors at both AFRTA and the Pasadena Playhouse, and she held the Diamond Circle of the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters.  She passed away in 1986 at the age of 78.

“I think she never met a part she didn’t like,” Howard Duff once reminisced about his Sam Spade co-star. “She just loved to work; she loved to act.  She’s a woman who was born to do what she was doing and loved every minute of it.”  Radio Spirits offers plenty of collections to demonstrate Lurene Tuttle’s love of performing, starting with her appearances on The Red Skelton Show—including our newest Skelton compendium, Clown Prince, and classic sets like ClowningMischief, and Scrapbook of Satire.  You’ll also hear our birthday girl as Effie on the Sam Spade collection Lawless and as Marjorie on The Great Gildersleeve: Family Man.  Rest assured—we’re not being stingy: we also present for your edification sets of The Adventures of Philip MarloweBurns & Allen (As Good as Nuts, Illogical LogicMuddling Through),  Jeff Regan, Investigator (Stand By for Mystery), Let George Do It (Cry UncleSweet Poison), Lights Out (Later Than You Think), The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Cue for Murder), Night Beat (Human Interest), Richard Diamond, Private Detective (Dead MenMayhem is My Business), Rogue’s Gallery (Blue Eyes), The Story of Dr. KildareStrange Wills(I Devise & Bequeath), Suspense (At WorkBeyond Good and EvilTies That BindWages of Sin), and The Whistler (Eleventh HourRoot of All EvilSkeletons in the ClosetVoices).  Happy birthday, Lurene!

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