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Happy Birthday, Fran Carlon!

Actress Fran Carlon—born in Indianapolis, Indiana on this date in 1913—was married to actor-announcer Casey Allen for many years. The couple even occasionally worked together on radio programs like Radio City Playhouse and Theatre Five.  On the day of their nuptials, another couple drove Fran and Casey to a secluded spot outside of North Tarrytown (the burg in which the newly marrieds tied the knot) and treated them to a lavish wedding lunch, complete with champagne on ice.  The four of them were having a lovely time until a motorcycle cop happened by, wanting to know what the quartet was up to…since they were “trespassing” in a no-picnicking zone.

When Fran and Casey’s friend, a doctor by trade, explained to the patrolman that the four of them were celebrating the Allens’ “just married” status, the cop grumbled: “What didya have to go and do that for?  I’ve been married eight years and now we can’t stand each other.”  The quartet tried to execute some marital counseling to man-in-blue by coaxing him into having some champagne…but in the end, all he was able to offer up was: “My sympathies to you both.”  Neither Casey nor Fran were discouraged in the slightest. The pair enjoyed not only a wonderful marriage, but successful careers in the aural medium. This was true of Fran, in particular, who worked any number of daytime dramas in addition to her prominent nighttime gig as Lorelei Kilbourne on the popular newspaper drama Big Town.

Though born a Hoosier, Fran Carlon spent most of her childhood growing up in Chicago.  She received theatrical training at the Windy City’s Goodman Theatre and, later, the Pasadena Playhouse.  Fran made her stage debut in a road company production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, portraying Little Eva.  As her career progressed, Carlon appeared in such Broadway plays as Play, Genius, PlaySunrise at Campobello, and Men of Distinction.  A brief sojourn in Hollywood in 1934 allowed her to appear (uncredited) in two films: The White Parade and 365 Nights in Hollywood.  “[N]o one in our neighborhood suspected I was an actress until the grocer asked what I did and I told him I was on radio,” she mused in an article she wrote for Radio Mirror in April of 1952 about her life with husband Casey.

Fran Carlon got as much acting work as she could handle once she returned to Chicago and booked a gig doing commercials on Amos ‘n’ Andy.  The thespic floodgates opened in the world of soap operas, where she played Martha on This Changing World and was the star (portraying Joan Martell) on The Story of Joan and Kermit.  Fran was heard as Bunny Mitchell on The Story of Mary Marlin, Irene Galway on Our Gal Sunday, Eileen Moran on Today’s Children, and Sue on Big Sister.  Carlon also, at various times, brought life to the titular heroines of Joyce Jordan, M.D.Kitty Keene, Incorporated, and The Life of Mary Sothern.  Fran also played attorney Portia Manning of Portia Faces Life briefly when star Lucille Wall was incapacitated due to illness.

Rounding out Fran Carlon’s daytime drama resume are gigs on Attorney at LawGirl AloneLora LawtonMa PerkinsMary Noble, Backstage Wife, and A Woman of America.  Fran also played assistant Rhoda Trent on Blackstone, the Magic Detective—a quarter-hour adventure series (with Edwin Jerome as the titular prestidigitator) adapted from the comic books by Elmer Cecil Stoner and based on the real-life magician Harry Blackstone, Sr.  (Walter B. Gibson, the prolific author behind The Shadow, wrote many of the show’s scripts.)  In addition, Carlon could be heard on occasion on such radio favorites as Barrie Craig, Confidential InvestigatorBest PlaysThe Chicago Theatre of the AirCrime and Peter ChambersThe Eternal LightThe Ford TheatreThe MarriageMr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons, and Words at War.

Fran Carlon’s most high-profile radio employment was on the primetime drama Big Town, a show that had premiered over CBS in 1937. It starred motion picture gangster Edward G. Robinson as Steve Wilson, editor of the daily newspaper Illustrated Press.  For five seasons, Robinson had made Big Town one of the Tiffany Network’s biggest hits. After he decided to hang it up, Broadway veteran Edward J. Pawley replaced him in the role (following the program’s year-long hiatus).  Backing up Pawley was Fran as Lorelei Kilbourne, who had made the transition from gossip columnist to girl reporter in the meantime.  Big Town continued over CBS until the fall of 1948, when it switched networks to NBC. During the final months of the show, Walter Greaza took over as Wilson – but Pawley and Carlon punched a time clock at the paper until June 25, 1952.

Fran Carlon did not reprise her role of Lorelei when Big Town transitioned to TV in the fall of 1950 (where it had a six-year-run on both CBS and NBC). However, she did start to make appearances on such small screen shows as Robert Montgomery Presents and Decoy. Her previous experience portraying Portia on Portia Faces Life came in handy when she took over the role from Frances Reid when the popular radio soap became a TV show on NBC from 1954 to 1955 (it also went by the title The Inner Flame).  Carlon was a regular on CBS’ As the World Turns from 1968 to 1975, portraying Julia Burke.  Fran left this world for a better one in 1993 at the age of 80.

Our Big Town collection, Blind Justice, features today’s birthday girl emoting as Lorelei Kilbourne.  You’ll also find Fran on Words at War: World War II Radio Drama (“Love at First Flight”) and in the Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator episode “Dead Loss” on our Craig set Song of Death.  Happy birthday, Fran!

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