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Happy Birthday, Clayton “Bud” Collyer!

“I never try to force people into impossible situations on the shows,” observed Clayton “Bud” Collyer to Radio Mirror in June of 1953.  One of those “shows” Bud was referencing was TV’s Break the Bank, once described by Mirror as “the highest-paying quiz program in the world.”  Bank had been a radio mainstay since 1945, but its peak of popularity occurred when Bert Parks became the host of the program and Collyer his announcer-sidekick.  The other series was Beat the Clock, a game show that Collyer hosted by his lonesome from 1950 to 1961.  (Clock also had radio origins, in a brief 1948 offering entitled Times A-Wastin’.)  On Clock, Bud held forth on a popular program where contestants tackled “problems” (though a more appropriate description would be “stunts”) for cash and/or merchandise.  Both shows made the man born Clayton Johnson Heermance, Jr. in Manhattan on this date in 1908 a household name…and yet, we’re just barely scratched the surface of his remarkable career.

Young Clayton Collyer was brought up in a theatrical family.  His mother Caroline was an actress, his sister June also an actress (a film star married to comic actor Stuart Erwin, her films include Four Sons [1928] and Hangman’s House [1928]), and his brother Richard later entered the business end of the movie industry.  Clayton, Sr. may have only been an attorney, but he had a certain flair for the dramatic, and his son initially set out to follow in his footsteps, first at Williams College and then Fordham University law school.  While studying law, Bud engaged in extracurricular acting in various dramatic clubs and even had his own musical show on radio, which aired six days a week at 7:45am over New York’s WABC (now WCBS).

It wasn’t long after accepting a position as a law clerk that Bud Collyer learned a) his chosen profession could be a bit of a snooze, and b) he could make more money in a month of radio than he could in a year of clerking.  Bud landed a part in a show at an NBC audition in 1935, and a year later at CBS he was pulling down $85 weekly as a vocalist.  Bud estimated that he earned $7,000 annually for standing in front of a microphone on 30 shows weekly, which he later acknowledged was “big money at that time.”  Many of those shows were of the daytime drama variety; Collyer was “Adam Waring” on The Man I Married, “Tom Hopkins” on Kate Hopkins Angel of Mercy, “Michael Conway” on Pretty Kitty Kelly, “Dr. Henry Powell” on Joyce Jordan, MD, “Wyn Strafford” on Kitty Foyle, and “Peter Turner” on Young Widder Brown.  Bud also appeared at one time or another on High PlacesJust Plain Bill, and Life Can Be Beautiful.

In addition, Bud Collyer worked as an announcer on soaps; for many years he was the voice of D-U-Z on the Procter & Gamble-sponsored Big SisterThe Guiding LightThe Goldbergs, and Road to Life.  (Collyer also plugged the product on the nighttime Truth or Consequences.)  Collyer was an announcer on A House in the Country and The Story of Mary Marlin as well.   Other shows that featured Bud handling the announcing chores include The Adventures of Jungle JimThe Benny Goodman Music FestivalThe Cavalcade of America (he served in this capacity from 1940-43), The Continental Celebrity ClubThe Hour of CharmThe Mary Small Show (Mary was a child who sang like an adult woman), Parents’ Magazine of the AirThe Philip Morris PlayhouseThe Raleigh RoomThe Schaefer RevueSilver TheatreStage Door Canteen, and The Victor Borge Show.

Bud Collyer played “Abie Levy” on Abie’s Irish Rose (a.k.a. Knickerbocker Playhouse), “Pat Ryan” on Terry and the Pirates, and was the titular Mountie of Renfrew of the Mounted.  But his best-known dramatic role on radio was giving voice to “The Man of Steel” on The Adventures of Superman when it premiered over Mutual on February 15, 1940.  Bud actually played two parts on this series—the titular superhero, and his alter ego, mild-mannered Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent.  When he emoted as Kent, Collyer spoke in a slightly higher register, only revealing to listeners that Kent had changed to Supe by lowering his voice an octave: “This looks like a job (lower) for Superman!”  Bud became so identified with the role that he was called upon to voice the character when legendary animator Max Fleischer brought Superman to motion picture screens in seventeen cartoons produced between 1941 and 1943. (Bud’s co-stars Joan Alexander [as Lois Lane] and Jackson Beck also worked on the Fleischer shorts.)  Collyer reprised his Man of Steel gig for a TV cartoon version in the 1960s, The New Adventures of Superman, which once again reunited him with Alexander and Beck.

Other items on Bud Collyer’s radio resume include hosting the dramatic anthology Listening Post and a variety series, By Popular Demand.  His future as a TV M.C. was foreshadowed by his work on the previously mentioned Break the Bank; Bud also worked on such radio quiz fests as On Your MarkThree for the Money, and Winner Take All!  (His marriage to radio actress Marian Shockley was even featured on the audience participation show Bride and Groom!)  The TV Bank and Beat the Clock would make Collyer a familiar face to small screen fans, but Bud also hosted This is the Missus, Talent JackpotOn Your WayFeather Your NestQuick as a Flash, and Number Please.  Outside of Beat the Clock, Bud Collyer is best remembered as the moderator for the popular panel show To Tell the Truth, in which he challenged the likes of Orson Bean, Kitty Carlisle, Peggy Cass, and Tom Poston to pick out “the real McCoy” from a group of impostors (“Will the real…John Doe…please…stand up!”).  Collyer hosted both the daytime and nighttime versions of Truth from 1956 to 1968, but when the series was going to be revised for a syndicated run in 1969 Bud would be unable to host—he passed away at the age of 61 on the very day of Truth’s syndicated premiere.

When today’s birthday boy was starring on The Adventures of Superman, he was working at a time when he was required to appear on that series live five days a week.  To give Bud a little R&R, the creators came up with a novel device to push The Man of Steel off to the sidelines: that would be the occasion when Superman came into contact with the powerful substance known as Kryptonite.  (Superman’s fellow DC Comics pals Batman and Robin were also introduced to the radio show to give Collyer the occasional vacation.)  Check out Bud Collyer in his signature radio role of the Man from Krypton in our Adventures of Superman CD collection, Superman: Up, Up and Away!

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