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Happy Birthday, Olan Soule!

In 1947, when the dramatic anthology The First Nighter Program moved from its long-time Chicago home to Hollywood, leading man Olan Soule—born in La Harpe, Illinois on this date in 1909—relocated to Tinsel Town as well.  Olan went shopping for patio furniture to furnish his new digs and in paying for his purchase handed the salesclerk a check.  The clerk recognized Soule’s name immediately.  “Well, my goodness, I’ve listened to you for all these years and now to finally meet you.”  After giving Olan a good once-over, the salesman then remarked: “I don’t mind telling you, I’m sure disappointed.”

Olan Evart Soule developed an interest in writing and dramatics in high school and, at age 17, toured the Midwest with the Jack Brooks stock company.  Work in similar repertory troupes soon followed, but by 1931 many of these road shows had folded due to the Great Depression.  Olan and his bride Norma moved to New York, where the only employment available to the struggling young thespian was operating elevators and serving hamburgers “with the best actors in town.”  Two years later, Soule was in the Windy City where his job as a secretary-switchboard operator-file clerk would soon be discarded so that he could pursue his acting ambitions (okay—technically Olan was fired).

Although Olan Soule made his radio debut over KSO in Des Moines, Iowa in 1933, his first dramatic role was on Chicago’s WGN, with Uncle Quin’s Scalawags.  After that, Olan scored a regular role on Painted Dreams.  Soule soon became one of the Windy City’s busiest and most reliable actors; he played Bob Regent on Chandu the Magician, Coach Hardy on Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, and Chinese cook Aha on Little Orphan Annie (yes, really!).  Olan had a prominent role on Captain Midnight as L. William Kelly, second-in-command of the Secret Squadron.  Another long-running role was that of Sam Ryder on the popular daytime drama Bachelor’s Children, which originated over WGN.  During his time in Chicago, Soule appeared on such favorites as Author’s PlayhouseThe Chicago Theatre of the AirThe Couple Next Door (not the Peg Lynch-Alan Bunce series), Curtain TimeFifth Row CenterFreedom of OpportunityGrand HotelGrand MarqueeJenny PeabodyMidstreamThe Story of Joan and KermitA Tale of TodayTom Mix and His Ralston Straight ShootersValiant Lady, and The Wayside Theatre.

Olan Soule joined the cast of talented performers on The First Nighter Program in 1943, and three years later became that show’s designated leading man (opposite leading lady Barbara “Biddy” Luddy). The job lasted until Nighter left the airwaves in the fall of 1953.  That following year, Soule replaced Bob Bailey as George Valentine on the popular detective drama Let George Do It.  Olan was kept quite busy in the aural medium, with a c.v. that includes The Adventures of Philip MarloweThe Adventures of Sam SpadeBarrie Craig, Confidential InvestigatorBold VentureDragnetThe Great GildersleeveHave Gun – Will TravelI Was a Communist for the FBIInheritanceThe Lux Radio TheatreA Memo from MollyThe Railroad HourThe Romance of Helen TrentScreen Directors’ PlayhouseStars Over HollywoodTarzanToday’s ChildrenThe WhistlerYou Were ThereYour Movietown Radio Theatre, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.  Long after “Radio’s Golden Age” had ended, Soule was an enthusiastic participant in radio drama revivals like Heartbeat TheatreThe Hollywood Radio Theatre, and The Sears Radio Theatre.

Olan Soule once described himself as a “What’s-His-Name?” actor in motion pictures.  He may not have been a major star…but he worked much more often than the “major stars” did.  Olan’s name usually went missing from the onscreen credits (for example, he’s “Mr. Krull” in 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still) but his credited films include Cuban Fireball (1951), The Atomic City (1952), Francis Joins the WACS (1954), Dragnet (1954), Cult of the Cobra (1955), -30- (1959), The Bubble (1966), The Seven Minutes (1971), and The Towering Inferno (1974).  (Soule is uncredited in my favorite Hitchcock film, North by Northwest [1959], as the assistant to the auctioneer—played by Olan’s fellow radio chum Les Tremayne.)

On the small screen, however, Olan Soule’s billing was a different matter.  One of the reasons he had a prominent showcase in the 1954 feature film of TV’s Dragnet is because he reprised his role as lab technician Ray Pinker; Soule later speculated that more people recognized him from that program than any other.  But couch potatoes also knew Olan as scientist Aristotle “Tut” Jones on Captain Midnight (the only actor to do both the radio and TV versions), Cal on Stagecoach West (Soule’s list of boob tube Westerns appearances would stretch to infinity and beyond), choir director (and hotel clerk) John Masters on The Andy Griffith Show, and Fred Springer on the Herschel Bernardi sitcom Arnie.  Soule’s best-remembered TV gig would fall back on the skills he learned in radio, providing the voice of The Caped Crusader beginning with The Batman/Superman Hour in 1968 and ending with the last permutation of the “Super Friends” franchise in 1983.  According to the IMDb, one of Olan’s final gigs was playing a crime scene technician in the 1991 movie Homicide (most appropriate!).  He passed away in 1994 at the age of 84.

On radio’s Honest Harold (The Harold Peary Show), today’s birthday boy had a recurring role as Mr. Peabody, the radio station manager (and Harold Hemp’s boss).  Radio Spirits invites you to check out Olan Soule’s wonderful flair for comedy in our The Harold Peary Show: Honest Harold collection, as well as our The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, Have Gun — Will Travel: Bitter Vengeance, I Was a Communist for the FBI: Sleeper, and Stop the Press! sets, too.

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