The Mohr the merrier
The actor born ninety-eight years ago on this date in New York City had one of the most easily recognizable voices of all his radio brethren and sistern. But were it not for a surprise bout of illness, Gerald Mohr would have become “Dr. Gerald Mohr”—he was a Columbia University medical student who found himself felled by an attack of appendicitis. Mohr was recuperating when one of his fellow patients, who was in the radio business, liked Gerald’s pleasing baritone voice and suggested he would be ideal for radio. Mohr got in on the ground floor at that station as a reporter, and in the mid-1930s Orson Welles took him under his tutelage and hired him for his prestigious Mercury Theatre. There, Mohr would appear in such plays as The Petrified Forest and Jean Christophe (in which he had the starring role).
Mohr’s voice was his ticket to success in Hollywood. One of his earliest gigs in the movie industry was using his sepulchral tones to voice the villainous Scorpion in the 1941 serial The Adventures of Captain Marvel; he later got the opportunity to be the bad guy in the flesh when he played “Slick Latimer” in the fifteen-chapter cliffhanger Jungle Girl. When Warren William gave up his starring role in Columbia’s The Lone Wolf film series, Mohr stepped in to play Michael Lanyard in three of that series’ films (he also played the part briefly in a radio series as well). Other films in which Gerald appeared include Lady of Burlesque, Gilda, Two Guys from Texas, Hunt the Man Down, Sirocco, Detective Story, The Sniper, The Ring, and Money from Home. (His last onscreen appearance was as “Tom Branca” in Funny Girl.)
But radio is the medium in which Mohr definitely made his mark—it is estimated that he logged in nearly 4,000 on-the-air performances. Gerald was the announcer on the 1930s radio serial The Shadow of Fu Manchu, and also played Jungle Jim in a radio serial, not to mention Bill Lance (The Adventures of Bill Lance), Sorrowful Jones (The Damon Runyon Theater) and Archie Goodwin (The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe). Other radio appearances include The Adventures of Superman, Dr. Christian, Escape, Let George Do It, Mandrake the Magician, Night Beat, Rogue’s Gallery, Suspense, Tales of the Texas Rangers, and The Whistler…as well as most of the major dramatic anthologies: Cavalcade of America, Hallmark Playhouse, The Lux Radio Theatre, and Screen Director’s Playhouse. Mohr also displayed versatility as a comic performer with appearances on The Adventures of Maisie, Burns and Allen, The Eddie Cantor Show (as Cantor’s kidnapper, “Baby Face”), The Judy Canova Show (as muscle-bound movie star Humphrey Cooper), My Favorite Husband, Our Miss Brooks (one of my personal favorites—he was Jacques Monet, Madison’s French teacher) and The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show.
Gerald Mohr’s signature role came in the fall of 1948, when CBS decided to have another go at getting Raymond Chandler’s famed literary sleuth Philip Marlowe on the air (a previous attempt by NBC in the summer of 1947 with Van Heflin had not been successful). Chandler was on the record as not being thrilled with either performer on The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, but confided to his friend Erle Stanley Gardner that Mohr’s interpretation “at least packed personality.” But for many old-time radio buffs, Mohr was the definitive Marlowe; most convincing when he barked out each week on the program’s memorable opening: “Get this and get it straight: crime is a sucker’s road, and those who travel it wind up in the gutter, the prison, or the grave…” Mohr played the part until September of 1951, and surviving recordings of the program are huge favorites among OTR fans today.
Gerald Mohr would later go on to make guest appearances on close to 100 television shows; Warner Brothers’ television division used him quite frequently on such productions as Cheyenne, Maverick (he played Doc Holliday on a couple of occasions), Sugarfoot, 77 Sunset Strip and Hawaiian Eye; he also guested on the likes of Perry Mason, I Love Lucy, The Big Valley and Lost in Space…and he even fronted his own starring series in 1954-55 with the syndicated Foreign Intrigue. He was working on a pilot for another series in 1968 when he suffered a heart attack after completing filming…and though he left this world for a better one at a far-too-early age, he has also left us with a Golden Age of Radio legacy that any actor would kill to have on his resume.