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Happy Birthday, Grace Matthews!

Grace Matthews was a drama queen.  Okay, that sounds a bit churlish, in light of what that bit of slang means nowadays—what I should emphasize is that the actress born in Toronto, Canada on this date in 1910 was what author Jim Cox referred to in a 2006 Radio Recall article as an “ethereal busybody”; Matthews, during her lengthy radio career, played the female leads on several of the daytime “soap operas” that kept housewives glued to their Philcos on weekday afternoons as they completed household tasks.  But Grace also enjoys a little immortality for a role she played beginning in the fall of 1946: that of Margo Lane, “aide and companion” to the mysterious crimefighter known…as The Shadow.

After graduating from the University of Toronto, Grace Matthews decided to tour Europe…where she would enroll and then graduate from London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.  In Canada, she worked in stock theatre in both Manitoba and Ontario, with active assignments at The Hart House Theatre (in plays like Merrily We Roll Along) and with The John Holden Players.  Though radio acting would eventually become her focus, Grace enjoyed stage work: she played in summer stock in Marblehead, Massachusetts and notably appeared a production of Dame Nature with New York City’s Theatre Gould.

Grace’s big break in radio was the result of a successful audition for the lead role in The Story of Dr. Susan, a Canadian soap opera that would also introduce her to her later husband, actor-announcer Court Benson (he was working on Susan at the time).  Matthews also appeared on American Portrait, Armstrong’s Theatre of Today, and Soldier’s Wife.  Her “Great White North” radio work resulted in her winning much recognition and awards, notably the Beaver Award (for “Distinguished Service to Canadian Radio”).  When Court finished up his service in WW2 (he was in the 48th Highlanders), the Bensons decided to set their sights on a move to New York.  Court got work as the narrator on radio’s Tennessee Jed, and Grace would appear on such shows as The Mercury Summer Theatre and Archie Andrews.

Grace Matthews scored two very important radio jobs at that point in her career.  The first was replacing future Academy Award winner Mercedes McCambridge as Ruth Evans Wayne on the popular soap Big Sister.  The second was the gig for which most old-time radio fans remember her best: she began emoting as Margo Lane on radio’s The Shadow, always ready to help “wealthy young man about town” Lamont Cranston demonstrate to evildoers that “the weed of crime bears bitter fruit.”  Of her work on The Shadow, Grace recalled in a 1987 interview with The Milwaukee Journal: “The plots were so complicated I often had difficulty figuring them out.  After the show, I‘d go home and ask my husband, who was supposed to be listening, to explain what happened.”  Mr. Benson, however, found it difficult to tear himself away from whatever ballgame happened to be in progress while The Shadow was on…so Matthews observed: “I’m certain his explanations weren’t accurate.”  Matthews would relinquish the role of Margo to Gertrude Warner in 1949, but she kept suffering as Ruth on Big Sister until 1952, when the tower clock in Glen Falls tolled for the final time.

The role of Ruth on Big Sister wasn’t Grace Matthews’ only daytime occupation: she later portrayed Dr. Carson McVicker on Road of Life and made stops on Hilltop House (as Julie Erickson) and The Brighter Day (Liz), not to mention Just Plain Bill and City Hospital.  (Curiously, Grace’s husband Court would appear on the nighttime TV version of this last show, while Matthews worked the daytime radio version.)  Other items on Grace’s radio resume include The Cavalcade of America, Escape, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Indictment, Suspense, You Are There, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Grace Matthews’ busy soap opera schedule didn’t leave her much time for movie work (she was also a New York-based thespian, which kept her occupied on the East Coast) but she did appear on the boob tube version of Road of Life and As the World Turns, and in the late 60s/early 70s landed a brief role on the small screen version of radio stalwart The Guiding Light (as Claudia Dillman).  (Grace is also credited at the IMDB with guest shots on Britain’s ITV Play of the Week.)  Matthews never relinquished her love of radio: she appeared on occasion on Theatre Five in the 1960s and made many visits to The CBS Radio Mystery Theatre in the 1970s.  She left this world for a better one in 1995 at the age of 84.

In 1985, the now-defunct Radiola Records released The Story of The Shadow—a 4-LP celebrating the history of the immortal radio series with vintage broadcasts and reminisces from Bret Morrison, Gertrude Warner…and our birthday girl, Grace Matthews.  Check out Grace on our CD set release of Story, plus we invite you to check out the Shadow collections Bitter Fruit, Dead Men Tell, Knight of Darkness, Radio Treasures, and Strange Puzzles.  (You can also hear Grace on our Suspense compendium, Final Curtain, too!)  Happy birthday, Grace!

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