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Happy Birthday, Billy Idelson!

When Vic and Sade writer-creator Paul Rhymer decided to add a third character to his program in July of 1932, he had only one phone call to make.  You see, that third addition was going to be for “Rush Meadows”—the son of one of Sadie’s old school friends who gave Rush up for adoption to the Gooks since she was unable to care for him.  It wasn’t long after “Rush” made his first appearance on-mike that listeners simply believed that the boy had always been Vic and Sade’s son, wonderfully portrayed by the actor who was born William Idelson in Forest Park, Illinois on this date in 1919.

The number of anecdotes involving stage-struck parents trying to nudge their children into show business careers would fill many encyclopedia volumes…but in the case of Billy Idelson, the decision to pursue acting sprung from his own initiative.  A Chicago radio station working on an adaption of the Gasoline Alley comic strip (made popular in the pages of The Chicago Tribune) wasn’t having any luck finding a child actor to portray the strip’s young protagonist, Skeezix—not even after having contacted the traditional ranks of juvenile performers.  So the station started calling elocution schools in the hopes of turning up talent there.  Idelson’s older sister taught in such a school and, after having mentioned the request over dinner that same night, young William—despite never having taken any lessons in elocution—insisted on being allowed to audition that next day.  He did so and beat out over a hundred competitors for the part.

His excellent work on Gasoline Alley (a.k.a. Uncle Walt and Skeezix) made such an impression that he ultimately became the only child called for the Vic and Sade audition. In retrospect, it was unquestionably the right choice.  Idelson’s Rush was described by many a Vic and Sade listener as being “just like my own son”; a well-behaved kid who only occasionally deviated into childhood mischief.  He was an average student who, like most of us, tried to avoid studying if he could. The kid genuinely loved and respected his parents, yet was not above ribbing them good-naturedly from time to time.  Most memorably, Rush approached the world with a mixture of endearing awe and wonderment.  We learned everything we needed to know about his colorful friends (Smelly Clark, Blue Tooth Johnson) through casual conversations with his Mom and Dad.

Billy Idelson portrayed Rush on Vic and Sade until 1942, when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He served as a fighter pilot during WWII, obtaining a Distinguished Flying Cross and earning four additional Air Medals.  After leaving the service, Idelson returned to Hollywood to continue his acting career. He re-joined Vic and Sade until it had its final radio curtain call in October of 1946.   It wasn’t his only radio job, by the way; his on-air resume also included the likes of Thunder Over ParadiseSecret City (as Bill Clark), The Trouble with the Truitts (Hugo), That Brewster Boy (Chuck), The Women in My House (Clay), and the title role in Cousin Willie (a summer sitcom in 1953).  Other entries include appearances on such shows as The CBS Radio WorkshopThe Family DoctorFamily SkeletonFamily TheatreFibber McGee & MollyGunsmokeHave Gun – Will TravelThe Magic KeyThe Radio Reader’s DigestRomance, and Suspense.

Billy Idelson’s TV debut came about from his appearances as Clifford Barbour on One Man’s Family (he performed the role on radio as well).  Idelson later chalked up appearances on such small screen favorites as DragnetFather Knows BestLeave it to BeaverCheyenneMy Three SonsPerry Mason, and Gomer Pyle, USMC.  Billy made seven appearances on The Bill Dana Show as “Babcock,” but perhaps his most famous gig on a 60s TV sitcom was his work on The Dick Van Dyke Show. He played Herman Glimscher, the mother-dominated boyfriend of Sally Rogers (Rose Marie) in four episodes.  (Idelson also had a role in a fifth Van Dyke episode, the classic “Never Bathe on Saturday.”  In that one, he played a bellboy who can’t quite figure out where Rob Petrie’s moustache has gone.)

(When the surviving cast members of The Dick Van Dyke Show assembled for a reunion special in 2004, entitled The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited, we learned that among the many developments on the series Sally and Herman finally tied the knot, which a few fans—like myself—found very sweet.)

Billy Idelson’s television contributions went far beyond the occasional acting role, however.  Idelson’s first script for the small screen, “Long Distance Call” (co-written with Charles Beaumont), would be telecast on The Twilight Zone in 1961. From that moment on, Bill was submitting scripts to such favorites like LawmanThe FlintstonesGet Smart, and Bewitched, among many others (often in tandem with his partner Sam Bobrick).  Idelson was inspired by his Herman Glimscher character on The Dick Van Dyke Show to write a script for The Andy Griffith Show, “The County Clerk.” This introduced another milquetoast in Howard Sprague (played by Jack Dodson), who would eventually become one of the Griffith show’s more popular characters in the later years of the series (and its spin-off, Mayberry RFD).

Billy Idelson later used this script writing success to branch out as a producer in the 1970s, overseeing such series as Love, American Style and The Bob Newhart Show.  Billy’s additional television credits during the 1970s include M*A*S*HThe Odd Couple, and Happy Days.  Idelson passed away at the age of 88 in 2007.

You can hear Billy Idelson’s signature radio role on both our Great Radio Sitcoms and Vic and Sade collections…but why not, in celebration of his natal anniversary, check him out on Gunsmoke (The Hunter) and Great Radio Science Fiction (the CBS Radio Workshop presentation of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World), too?  Happy birthday, Billy!

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