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Happy Birthday, Berry Kroeger!

Berry Kroeger’s initial show business ambition was to become a concert pianist.  Kroeger didn’t lack for talent, you understand—but being painfully shy and terrified of performing threatened to sideline his promising career.  To improve his stage presence, Barry’s music teacher suggested he take a dramatic lesson or two and what started out as the means to an end became the end itself.  The man born Walker Berry Kroeger in San Antonio, Texas on this date in 1912 quickly traded that piano for a microphone.

For an actor who hailed from The Lone Star State, Berry Kroeger would eventually leave that patch of ground without a trace of a drawl.  Instead, Kroeger mastered scores of dialects and accents, domestic and imported.  Berry could play anything from a suave, cultured villain to a down-to-earth, Midwestern physician.  Like most of his fellow radio thespians, Kroeger found steady work and paychecks on daytime dramas; he was “Sam Williams” on Young Doctor Malone, “Conrad Overton” on Road of Life, and “Dr. Reed Bannister” on Big Sister.

Berry Kroeger was well-known on radio for his narration skills.  He served as a narrator on Calling All Cars and Salute to Youth.  Before “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills” hired The Man in Black, Berry narrated the early broadcasts of Suspense.  Horror fans will recognize Kroeger’s sinister tones on The Haunting Hour and Murder at Midnight.  Later in the decade, Berry was featured on the newspaper drama anthology The Big Story.  The actor even got a shot at playing the lead when The Adventures of the Falcon premiered in 1943.

Shows like The Adventures of the Thin Man, The American School of the AirBulldog DrummondThe Columbia WorkshopThe Cresta Blanca CarnivalDr. ChristianThe Eternal LightGrand Central StationInner Sanctum MysteriesThe Molle Mystery TheatreThe Radio Hall of FameThe Theatre Guild on the Air, and Words at War kept Berry Kroeger busy at this point in his career.  The actor started making inroads on stage, too, beginning with his Broadway debut in The World’s Full of Girls.  Berry would work alongside such notables as Dame May Whitty, Victor Jory, Eve LeGalliene, and Ingrid Bergman.  Kroeger’s stage work also attracted the attention of director William Wellman, who cast Berry in his first credited motion picture, The Iron Curtain (1948).

Berry Kroeger’s penchant for slimy villainy really came to the fore with several noirs released at this time: Cry of the City (1948), The Dark Past (1948), Act of Violence (1949), Gun Crazy (1949), etc.  (I just happened to catch Black Magic {1949] a week or so ago, and thoroughly enjoyed Berry as Alexander Dumas pere opposite Raymond Burr as Alexander Dumas fils.)  In the meantime, Berry continued to beef up his radio resume:  The Adventures of Phillip MarloweAmerican PortraitBarrie Craig, Confidential InvestigatorThe Cavalcade of AmericaThe CBS Radio WorkshopCloak and DaggerThe ClockDimension XEscapeFamily TheatreFavorite StoryThe House of MysteryJeff Regan, Investigator, The NBC University TheatreThe Railroad HourTom Corbett, Space CadetTrue Detective MysteriesVoyage of the Scarlet QueenThe WhistlerX-Minus OneYours Truly, Johnny Dollar, and You Are There.

There would be many a memorable Berry Kroeger movie appearance in later years (Seven ThievesThe Mephisto WaltzDemon Seed) in addition to TV work (he did more than a few Perry Masons), but Barry Kroeger really pulled out all the stops in character acting in his twilight years.  Once described as “a junior edition of Charles Laughton,” Kroeger turned in tongue-in-cheek homages to Sydney Greenstreet on episodes of The Thin Man (“Bookworms”) and Get Smart (“Maxwell Smart, Private Eye”).  Berry Kroeger passed away in 1991 at the age of 78.

To celebrate Mr. Kroeger’s natal anniversary, we invite you to purchase collections from the actor’s signature shows: Dimension X (Adventures in Time and Space, Future Tense); Inner Sanctum Mysteries (Pattern for Fear, Shadows of Death); and Suspense (Black Curtain, Fear and Trembling).  Rounding out Berry’s catalog: The Adventures of Phillip Marlowe: Night Tide; Big Story: As It Happened; Family Theatre: Every Home; Great Radio Science Fiction; Stop the Press!; and Words At War: World War II Radio Drama.  Happy birthday, Berry!

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