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Happy Birthday, Conrad Binyon!

“Why are you so extra nice to me?” asked sixteen-year-old Conrad Binyon of his mother in 1947.  Ma Binyon wouldn’t admit it…but she was still trembling from her son’s recent experience involving a crash landing with a friend on an aviation trip to Arizona.  Binyon—born Conrad Ambress Binyon on this date in 1931—had just become a newly-licensed pilot at that tender age, and his adventures into the wild blue yonder were just some of the many extracurricular activities in which the youngster was engaged.  Conrad (still with us as of this writing at the age of 89) was best known as a child performer, with regular roles on such radio favorites as One Man’s Family and The Mayor of the Town.

As a youngster growing up in Los Angeles, Conrad Binyon and his family moved around to various homes in central Hollywood, allowing Conrad to walk or bicycle to both the CBS studios (located on Sunset Boulevard at that time) and to movie studios in the neighborhood.  His mother Ann got him into show business early (Binyon made his motion picture debut at the age of six in 1937’s Life Begins with Love) by encouraging his participation in productions at a local playhouse. His work there led to an audition with NBC and that was followed by a tryout for Carlton E. Morse’s popular radio serial One Man’s Family.  Conrad began playing Henry Herbert “Hank” Murray in April of 1939, the son of Barbour daughter Hazel. “Hank” was the “good” half of twin brothers, with his sibling “Pinky” being the more interesting (because he got into a lot of trouble).  Binyon would play the role until he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force (as a licensed pilot, he was a natural) at the age of 21.

Conrad Binyon portrayed Alvin, the “precocious” nephew of “Major” Amos Hoople (Arthur Q. Bryan) in the early broadcasts of Major Hoople—a 1942-43 NBC Blue sitcom based on the popular newspaper comic Our Boarding House.  He also essayed the role of Chester A. Riley, Jr. during the halcyon days of The Life of Riley (starring William Bendix). It’s interesting to note that Riley wasn’t the only comedy program on which Conrad played a character named “Junior.” He could also be heard as Junior Nebb on the Mutual program The Nebbs (also based on a popular comic strip) and Junior Anderson on the syndicated The Anderson Family.  In addition, Binyon regularly appeared on the Saturday morning children’s favorite Smilin’ Ed and His Buster Brown Gang. Conrad’s old-time radio resume includes such classics as The Cavalcade of AmericaCommand PerformanceFashions in Rations (The Billie Burke Show), The Great GildersleeveThe Halls of IvyHollywood Star TimeI Want a DivorceI Was ThereMystery in the AirThe Penny Singleton ShowThe Smiths of HollywoodSuspense, and Sweeney & March.

Conrad Binyon’s most fulfilling radio gig came in 1944 when he played Roscoe “Butch” Gardner on The Mayor of the Town. This popular comedy-drama starred Lionel Barrymore and Agnes Moorehead and had been airing since 1942. (It would eventually be heard over all four networks—CBS, NBC, ABC, and Mutual—during its seven-year-run.)  “Butch” was the ward to Barrymore’s “Mayor Russell,” and became sort of a surrogate son to the childless official.  Binyon told author Axel Nissen in 2007: “The character of Butch didn’t stem from the show’s beginning.  I seem to recall about three years or so playing the character, who was introduced as a boy who lost both his parents in an auto accident.  Prior to that, the story line involved the mayor in city administration plots, police investigations, and fraud schemes against citizens.  The Butch character became the mayor’s ward and turned the plot line more into a family-like situation.”  In a 1991 interview with old-time radio historian Chuck Schaden, Conrad also reminisced fondly about doing “A Christmas Carol” on Mayor, with Lionel giving his all as Ebenezer Scrooge. (Binyon performed as the kid Scrooge asks to buy the Christmas goose toward the story’s end.)

Conrad Binyon was a busy radio actor, but he still made time for the occasional part in motion pictures. Author Nissen relates that Conrad was “no pretty, delicate Dickie Moore type, nor was he a comedically cute George ‘Spanky’ McFarland.”  Instead, Binyon “was your typical, straight-haired, fresh-faced boy next door,” which served him well — not only in radio but in credited roles in the likes of The Boy from StalingradGood Luck, Mr. Yates, and The Underdog (all three released in 1943).  Claude can also be glimpsed in such favorites as The Glass Key (1942), The Meanest Man in the World (1943), Since You Went Away (1944), Courage of Lassie (1946), and Sands of Iwo Jima (1949).  His last film role was a bit as an elevator boy in My Blue Heaven (1950). He enlisted in the Air Force and spent a twenty-year career there before retiring.  Binyon had no desire to return to show business, though—he told Schaden: “I looked at it, and it was doing quite well without me.”

When Conrad Binyon landed the role of Butch on The Mayor of the Town, he was forced to relinquish his regular gig as Junior on The Life of Riley—but Radio Spirits comes to the rescue with Magnificent Mug, a Riley collection of early broadcasts featuring our birthday boy in one of his signature radio roles.  You can also check out Conrad on the Suspense set Beyond Good and Evil and our Halls of Ivy audio compendium School Days.  Happy birthday, Conrad!

One Comment

  1. Scott Cowden says:

    Thank you for another great biography!!!

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