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Happy Birthday, Sharon Douglas!

When A Day in the Life of Dennis Day premiered over NBC Radio in the fall of 1946, it was actress Sharon Douglas—born Rhoda-Nelle (Rhodanelle) Nader in Stephens County, Oklahoma on this date in 1920—who originated the role of Mildred Anderson, Dennis’ supportive girlfriend. Sharon, as the expression goes, wasn’t with the organization long. You see, Douglas was expecting a visit from the stork…so she took parental leave and handed off her Mildred duties to Barbara Eiler. Sharon wasn’t the only Dennis Day performer on “Babywatch” — Bea Benaderet (who played Clara “Poopsie” Anderson, Mildred’s mother) was also great with child, and following Douglas’ example had Paula Winslowe replace her as Mrs. A.

One night, a wacky complication worthy of a plotline from a Dennis Day episode presented itself in the form of sudden illness; both Eiler and Winslowe were too incapacitated to do the broadcast. A call went out to both Bea and Sharon to be “show-must-go-on” troupers and do a quick one-time stint. Both actresses agreed with one stipulation: that Dennis’ brother be present for the broadcast. Was it because they preferred his rendition of Clancy Lowered the Boom to that of his famous brother’s? No. Dennis’ sibling was an obstetrician, and they weren’t taking any chances.

Sharon Douglas had ambitions of an acting career from childhood. She participated in a “Tom Thumb wedding” (a pageant where children act out the marriage ceremony) as a toddler and enthusiastically participated in drama classes while still attending elementary school. After graduating from Las Cruces Union High School in Las Cruces, New Mexico in 1939, Sharon and her mother moved to Hollywood in the hopes of fulfilling her objective. (Her brother William was already working in Tinsel Town as a camera operator.) Realizing that working as an actor in Hollywood can be quite competitive, Douglas decided to hone her craft at the “Drawing Room Theatre,” under the tutelage of Madame Sara Kapelle.

After a year with Madame Kapelle, Sharon Douglas was ready to spread her thespic wings. She landed an audition at a local radio station, where she was spotted by Bob Longnecker (married to actress Ruth Hussey), who recommended Sharon be signed by the Myron Selznick Agency. As one of the agency’s actresses, Douglas won out over her competitors and landed the role of “Terry Burton” on the popular CBS Radio daytime drama The Second Mrs. Burton. Other radio work followed, with appearances on programs like The Cavalcade of America and The Lux Radio Theatre.

At the same time, Sharon Douglas was determined to demonstrate her versatility in motion pictures. She had nice showcases in several 1940s films: A Gentleman After Dark (1942), The Navy Way (1944), Fog Island (1945), and Our Hearts Were Growing Up (1946). Sharon focused most of her acting work, however, in the aural medium. For example, multiple appearances on the Rudy Vallee program led to a fruitful association with Joan Davis when Joan took over Rudy’s show. Douglas (as Penelope “Penny” Cartwright) vied with Davis for Jack Haley’s affections on The Sealtest Village Store, and later played similar rivals on Joanie’s Tea Room (“Barbara Weatherby”) and Joan Davis Time.

As previously mentioned, Sharon Douglas originated the role of Mildred on A Day in the Life of Dennis Day, and she was also the first to give voice to daughter Barbara “Babs” Riley on The Life of Riley. Sharon was “Brenda” on The Judy Canova Show, the Mayor’s secretary on Mayor of the Town, and played both “Greta Steffanson” and “Lois Holland” on One Man’s Family. Other programs on which Douglas appeared include The Abbott and Costello ShowThe Adventures of the SaintThe Amazing Nero WolfeThe Gallant HeartHallmark PlayhouseHedda Hopper’s HollywoodHollywood Star TimeMail CallMichael ShaynePoint SublimeRomanceScreen Directors’ PlayhouseThe Screen Guild TheatreThe Silver TheatreThe Story of Dr. KildareSuspenseThe Theatre of Famous Radio Players, and Three Sheets to the Wind.

Sharon Douglas married her first husband, movie producer Edward Nassour (later the producer of TV’s Sheena: Queen of the Jungle), in 1946…but experienced tragedy in 1962 when Nassour committed suicide. It wasn’t until she divorced her second husband in 1968 that Sharon returned to acting, appearing in TV commercials and on shows like The FBI. She also returned to the silver screen with movies like The Daughters of Joshua Cabe (1972) and Jimmy B. & André (1980). Douglas passed away in 2016 at the age of 95..

To celebrate Sharon Douglas’ natal anniversary today, Radio Spirits recommends checking out her signature role as Babs on The Life of Riley with the collections Blue Collar Blues and Magnificent Mug. We’ve got Riley in our digital downloads store, too (Irving Brecher’s The Life of Riley, What a Revoltin’ Development!), as well as a The Adventures of the Saint collection (The Saint Solves the Case) featuring today’s birthday celebrant on a February 11, 1951 broadcast, “The Bride Who Lost Her Groom.” Happy birthday, Sharon!

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