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Happy Birthday, Barbara Eiler!

You’re familiar with the old cliché: a young girl leaves her hometown and heads for Hollywood, determined to become an actress…nay, not just an actress—a star!  All that needs to be done is to hang around a drugstore’s soda fountain drinking chocolate malteds until some talent scout wanders in, notices our future star at the counter, and makes her dreams come true.

Sometimes, however, it’s not necessary to go through all this—particularly if you already live in Hollywood.  That was the case with Barbara June Eiler, born in Los Angeles on this date in 1922.  Other than this deviation, Barbara’s road to stardom pretty much mimicked every corny classic film plot.  She was walking across her high school campus one day when a man named Don Chapman approached her and asked: “How would you like to be in radio, Babs?”

Before you start humming the theme from Dragnet—this was all perfectly legitimate.  A local station, KFAC, needed a young girl with a childlike voice to play a part on a series that dramatized the childhood lives of famous people.  They weren’t looking for a professional radio actress, but they did want someone who could act. After discussing it with Barbara’s mother, Don was convinced Babs was perfect for the part.  That next morning, Eiler walked into the radio station and exited a cast member of Dreams of Youth.

Barbara Eiler later learned that while it was easy to get into radio, continuing in the medium was an entirely different matter.  Fortunately for her, her talent started opening doors: she made an appearance on The Gulf Screen Guild Theatre in a production of “Babes in Arms,” where she played Baby Rosalie.  Eiler then found work on the Shirley Temple sitcom Junior Miss, playing the older sister (Lois) to Temple’s character.  Babs almost didn’t stay around on Junior Miss, however; the show’s sponsors thought she sounded too much like Shirley, and they were pressing upon the ad agency to give Barbara a pink slip.  So Eiler went to work on changing both the timbre of her voice and the characterization of Lois.  A different-sounding Barbara kept her job.

Only on one occasion did Barbara Eiler consider giving up her budding radio career.  It was in the summer of 1943 and she was having difficulty finding work. Most of the big network shows saw their talent enjoying well-deserved vacations and the summer replacements, as a rule, utilized smaller casts as a budgetary measure.  Babs told her mother Margaret of her career plans and Mother Eiler offered this advice: “You’re an actress, Barbara.  If you’re going to fail, you might as well do it in your own profession—not in someone else’s.  You can’t type, but even if you did…do you think it would be fair to your employer for you to be acting Camille or Lady Macbeth in the office, when all he wants you to do is take shorthand and file letters?”

As such, it’s no surprise that Barbara Eiler did not want for regular radio assignments throughout her career.  She appeared on daytime dramas like Aunt Mary (as Carla) and The Guiding Light (Susan Collins), and one of her most popular daytime gigs was portraying bookkeeper Barbara Dilley on Glamour Manor, a comedy-variety program starring Kenny Baker.  Eiler was a regular on The Life of Riley for many years as daughter Babs, and on that same network played Mildred Anderson, girlfriend to the titular star of A Day in the Life of Dennis Day.  Other programs on which Babs worked regularly include The Danny Thomas Show (his 1947-48 CBS series), The Fabulous Dr. Tweedy (working opposite star Frank Morgan), Masquerade (Jeannie Wendall), and The Rexall Theatre (as Ellen).  Her comedy resume eventually opened wide to include appearances on The Charlotte Greenwood ShowMaxwell House Coffee Time (Burns & Allen), Meet Mr. McNutleyMy Favorite Husband, and The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show.

Barbara Eiler stretched her dramatic muscles during Radio’s Golden Age with appearances on The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, The Adventures of the SaintArch Oboler’s PlaysBroadway’s My Beat, The Cavalcade of AmericaErrand of MercyFamily Theatre, Free World TheatreGunsmokeThe Hallmark Hall of FameHallmark PlayhouseHave Gun – Will TravelHeartbeat TheatreHollywood Star TheatreThe Lux Radio TheatreMystery in the AirThe NBC University TheatreThe Railroad HourRomanceScreen Directors’ PlayhouseThe Six ShooterStars Over Hollywood, SuspenseWhispering StreetsThe WhistlerYou Were ThereYour Movietown Radio Theatre, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Because Barbara Eiler was one of radio’s busiest actresses, the list of motion pictures in which she appeared is skimpy—1958’s The Deep Six and 1966’s The Bubble (directed by Arch Oboler), according to the IMDb.  Eiler did much more work for the screen once television became the dominant medium; she guest starred on such shows as DragnetTales of Wells FargoThe MillionaireTrackdownWagon TrainThe Bill Dana Show, and The Magical World of Disney.  Babs made a total of 26 appearances on The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet and there’s probably a reason for this—she married Ozzie’s brother Don in 1948, and the two remained in that state of happy-ever-after until 1962.  She would marry her second husband, Sportsman Quartet member Martin Sperzel, shortly afterward and remained Mrs. Sperzel until her passing in 2006 at the age of 83.

To celebrate Barbara Eiler’s natal anniversary, Radio Spirits invites you to check out collections of her signature series A Day in the Life of Dennis Day and The Life of Riley (Blue Collar Blues, Loveable Lug), which you can also find on our potpourri sets of Great Radio Comedy and Great Radio Sitcoms.  You’ll also find plenty of Barbara on The Adventures of Philip Marlowe (Sucker’s Road) and Broadway’s My Beat (The Loneliest Mile).  Rounding out the collections featuring the birthday girl are selections from Have Gun – Will Travel (Bitter Vengeance, Blind Courage), The Six Shooter (Gray Steel, Special Edition), Suspense (Ties That Bind, Wages of Sin), and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (Confidential, Fabulous Freelance, Murder Matters).  Happy birthday, Barbara!


  1. You’re right, I hadn’t heard of her — but that’s one heck of a CV she had there !

  2. Harold Forsko says:

    Barbara Eiler appears in The Rifleman episode “Tinhorn.”So does Grace Lee Whitney.

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