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Happy Birthday, Leonore “Lee” Allman!

The dirty little secret about show business is that it is a virtual petri dish for nepotism. As Fred Allen jokes in It’s in the Bag! (1945), after seeing a list of names in the film’s opening credits: “In Hollywood, all a producer produces is relatives.” It was not uncommon in vaudeville, either, where performers often worked their spouses into the act (for example, the aforementioned Mr. Allen and his wife, Portland Hoffa).

Such is the case with the radio actress born Leonore Jewell Allman in Detroit, Michigan on this date in 1908. Lee Allman’s brother was James Jewell, a producer, director…and even, on occasion, an actor at the legendary radio station WXYZ. Jim joined the station in June of 1932 as WXYZ’s “dramatic director,” working on two of the station’s most popular programs, The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet. Lee asked her brother for a part on the latter series and, as she later related to Rik Viola of The (Camden, NJ) Courier-Post in May of 1978, “Jim said it wasn’t much, probably a one-shot deal. The one-shot lasted for 25 years.” Allman would play “Lenore ‘Casey’ Case,” secretary to Daily Sentinel publisher Britt Reid (a.k.a. The Green Hornet) from the first Hornet broadcast on which she was introduced to the final show on December 5, 1952.

Although she dabbled in dramatics at the age of five by playing a potato, Lee Allman’s love of acting accompanied her choice of vocation (school teaching) at Wayne State University College in Detroit. Graduating in 1930, Lee taught speech and drama in Detroit schools and did readings in those same schools in addition to hospitals, detention facilities and the like. Brother Jim asked her to fill in one day for the hostess of a WXYZ women’s show, who had taken ill. On that broadcast, she ad-libbed a tale about Santa Claus’ cat. “We did a lot of ad-libbing in those days,” Allman reminisced. She was signed to a $25-a-week contract soon after, becoming a member of what was informally known as the “Jewell Players.” Lee was part of a rare group at WXYZ in that actresses were a minority (other female thesps at “Wxyie Wonderland” included Ruth Dean Rickaby and Beatrice Leiblee). Writer Fran Striker compensated for this by limiting the number of women’s roles in his scripts for shows like The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet.

As a WXYZ performer, Lee Allman had more to do than play Miss Case on The Green Hornet. She was also heard on The Lone RangerAnn Worth, and Manhunters. Later in the 1940s she worked on The Hermit’s Cave (produced at Detroit’s WJR) and Challenge of the Yukon (Sergeant Preston of the Yukon). (In her 1978 interview with the Courier-Post’s Viola, Allman remembered once having to portray a “toothless Eskimo” on Preston.) Lee worked hard for the money in that she would have to do three separate broadcasts anytime she was on Ranger, for example—one for the local broadcast, one for the Midwest, and one for the West Coast. “Sometimes I’d work seven days a week ’til 11 o’clock,” she mused. “Then I’d go over to Canada and work through the night at stations there.” Her prominent gig on Hornet also gave Allman little opportunity for vacations; when the actress took maternity leave “Miss Case” went with her, temporarily replaced with “Emma Lovejoy” (played by Ruth Rickaby), Casey’s aunt.

Despite the long hours and short pay (Miss Case really should have considered joining a union), Lee Allman did an outstanding job making the publisher’s secretary an integral part of The Green Hornet. There was even a bit of friction between Lee and brother Jim because she elected to stay behind after he left WXYZ in 1938 (Jewell later supervised the likes of Jack Armstrong and The Silver Eagle). Allman’s Casey would eventually get the opportunity to work at the Sentinel as a full-fledged reporter, and in early 1948, would be let in on the secret that her boss (who she had a crush on in the early years of the program) was the one and only Green Hornet!

After The Green Hornet departed the airwaves, Lee Allman continued to work on The Lone Ranger and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. She later appeared on a few Detroit TV shows before returning to higher education to get her master’s in education and teach school. She and her husband Emerson eventually relocated to Moorestown, NJ, where she got involved in local theatre as both an actress and a director of children’s shows. Lee would even become liaison director of the New Jersey Theatre League. In the 1970s, she would share her experiences during those “thrilling days of yesteryear” at several old-time radio conventions. (Radio Spirits’ own Martin Grams, Jr. has some pictures of Allman in this blog post from 2011.) Ms. Allman passed away in 1989 at the age of 82.

Radio Spirits is pleased to have so many broadcasts featuring our birthday celebrant in its voluminous inventory. We highly recommend the Green Hornet CD collections The Big Deal, City Hall Shakeup, The Green Hornet Strikes Again, Night Flight, Racket Busters, and Road to Ruin. If you’re curious to hear the fascinating backstory of the connections between The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, we have that covered, too, with Generations. In our digital downloads store, we have the Green Hornet sets The Biggest Game, Endpoint, Fog in the Night, The Green Hornet Fights Crime, Spies & Rackets, Sting of Justice, and Underworld. We’ve even got a little “Har-nut” on the mini-collection Great Radio Favorites. Sufferin’ snakes, Reid!

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