Your Shopping Cart | Your Account Information | Catalog Quick Order | Customer Service | Order Status | Contact Us


AboutBlogOur Radio Show SEARCH   KEYWORD

Happy Birthday, Jay Novello!

Radio actors learned practically from their introduction to the medium that their fortunes were set if their talents included a mastery of dialects.  Take Jay Novello, who was born in Chicago on this date in 1904.  Because he was the child of Italian immigrants, Novello was already fluent in that tongue before he took up English (his birth name was “Michael Romano” until he changed it for show business). As his acting career blossomed, he learned to voice characters of Spanish, Greek, Mexican, French and Middle Eastern origin.  His roles ranged from “furtive, twitchy ethnic types and fastidious, comically prissy characters,” according to the TCM website.

An August 5, 1945 issue of Radio Life featured an article entitled “They Write Their Own Ticket.” This was an essay about a summer CBS Radio dramatic anthology called Twelve Players. The roles on this program were portrayed by supporting thespians capable of an amazing versatility…with the stories chosen by the actors as well.  Jay Novello was named as a regular on the program, along with Jack Moyles, Edmund MacDonald, Mary Jane Croft, Howard McNear, John Lake, Herbert Rawlinson, Lurene Tuttle, Cathy Lewis, Charlie Lung, Bea Benaderet, and David Ellis.  (The series’ concept was based on an idea by Moyles, MacDonald, and Ray Buffum.)  The show would later resurface for a second summer run on ABC in 1948.

Jay Novello’s “road” to Twelve Players began through his work for various theatrical troupes and companies in the Chicago area (before he made the trek west to Hollywood).  His first credited motion picture was 1938’s 10th Avenue Kid, with Novello demonstrating the adaptability that would serve him well in radio.  Jay did B-Westerns (The Border Legion [1940] with Roy Rogers; The Great Train Robbery [1941] with Bob Steele) and serial chapter plays (King of the Mounties [1942], The Adventures of Smilin’ Jack [1943]—playing a Japanese spy!) in addition to novelties as Phantom Lady (1944) and The Bullfighters (1945; a memorable encounter with Laurel & Hardy).

As we established earlier, it was Jay Novello’s work with dialects that started to fill his work calendar with multiple radio appointments, beginning with a syndicated series, The Singing Bandit, in 1939.  Novello would work with Arch Oboler on both Lights Out and his Plays series. Other programs on which Jay appeared throughout the 1940s include The Adventures of Philip MarloweAunt MaryBroadway’s My BeatThe Cavalcade of AmericaThe Columbia WorkshopThe Count of Monte CristoEllery QueenEscapeFamily TheatreThe Ford TheatreHollywood Star TimeI Love a MysteryI Love Adventure, IntrigueLet George Do ItThe Lux Radio TheatreMy Favorite HusbandOne Man’s FamilyPursuitRichard Diamond, Private DetectiveScreen Directors’ PlayhouseThe Story of Dr. Kildare, SuspenseThe WhistlerYour Movietown Radio Theatre, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Two of Jay Novello’s best-known radio showcases premiered during this period.  The first was The Lone Wolf, a show based on the jewel thief created by Louis Joseph Vance. The character had been quite popular in novels and a film franchise from Columbia Pictures starring Warren William and Eric Blore.  In the radio version, Novello played the Blore character—Jameson, The Lone Wolf’s indispensable butler—in a series that aired for a season on Mutual from 1948 to 1949.  Jay had better luck with Rocky Jordan, which premiered over CBS’ West Coast network in January of 1945. (It was originally a quarter-hour called A Man Called Jordan, before expanding to the more familiar half-hour form in 1948.)  Rocky was a café owner in Cairo who stumbled into mystery and intrigue each week. Jay played Captain Sam Sabaaya, Rocky’s contact on the police force in a sort of Captain-Renault-vs.-Rick-Blaine-Casablanca thing.  Novello returned to reprise his role in a 1951 summer version of the series that replaced Moyles with George Raft.

As the 1950s were ushered in, Jay Novello continued his demanding radio schedule with appearances on such shows as The Adventures of Frank RaceThe Bakers’ Theatre of StarsBold Venture, The CBS Radio WorkshopThe Cisco KidCrime ClassicsDr. ChristianFibber McGee & MollyThe General Electric TheatreThe George Burns and Gracie Allen ShowThe Hallmark Hall of FameHallmark PlayhouseLife with LuigiThe Line-UpThe Man from HomicideThe NBC University TheatreThe New Adventures of Nero WolfeNight BeatOn StageThe Railroad HourRomanceThe Roy Rogers ShowStars Over HollywoodTales of the Texas RangersTarzan, and That’s Rich.  At the same time, Novello was busy in motion pictures. Most of those appearances featured the actor in bit roles, but Jay would occasionally get a part with some meat on it — as witnessed in one of his best cinematic showcases, The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (1952).  Other notable Novello vehicles include Crime Wave (1954), The Perfect Furlough (1958), The Wonderful Country (1959), The Lost World (1960), and Pocketful of Miracles (1961).

As radio roles began to shrink, Jay Novello seamlessly transitioned to roles provided by the small screen.  His work with Lucille Ball on her radio series My Favorite Husband allowed him to work on her TV show, I Love Lucy on three occasions — including a classic romp, “The Séance.”  Jay was everywhere from 77 Sunset Strip to Naked City. Notably, he appeared in the fourth and final season of McHale’s Navy, when the hit sitcom revamped its format and drydocked the PT 73 crew in a little Italian village called Voltafiore.  As Mayor Mario Lugatto, Novello provided competition in the scheming con man department, making that much more trouble for the beleaguered Captain Wallace Binghampton (Joe Flynn).  Jay would continue to work throughout the 70s on such classics as The Brady Bunch and Chico and the Man. He succumbed to lung cancer in 1982 at the age of 78.

You’re going to want to grab one of our steel-reinforced shopping carts…because birthday boy Jay Novello has one heck of a legacy here at Radio Spirits.  For starters, sample him on everybody’s favorite—Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar—with our collections Confidential, Fatal Matters, and Murder Matters.  Next: a hat trick of Richard Diamond, Private Detective: Dead Man, Homicide Made Easy, and Mayhem is My Business.  There’s additional crime drama entertainment to be found on The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe (Parties for Death), The Adventures of Philip Marlowe (Lonely Canyons), Broadway’s My Beat (Dark Whispers, Great White Way), Crime Classics (The Hyland Files), The Line-Up (Witness), The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (The Stuttering Ghost and Other Mysteries), Rogue’s Gallery (Blue Eyes), and Suspense (One Way Street).  Rounding out today’s birthday tribute to Mr. Novello are Arch Oboler’s Plays, Jack Benny: Be Our Guest, Lights Out: Later Than You Think, and The Story of Dr. Kildare.  Happy birthday, Jay!

One Comment

  1. Dan-o says:

    Nice article on an underrated character actor! He was able to add a bit of culture to many TV shows, often as the scheming or duplicitous visitor, like when he crossed paths with Andy and Barney in Mayberry. I just saw him provide a strong moment of emotion to Jack Palance’s Bronk, where he was an overwhelmed grieving father. He has one of those faces which immediately makes me feel drawn into the show. Hope all is well!

Leave a Reply to Dan-o