Happy birthday, Janet Waldo!
One of old-time radio’s true blue veterans—not to mention one of the preeminent voice artists of any generation—celebrates her 89th birthday today. Janet Waldo, whose instantly recognizable voice has been heard since the 1930s on radio, television and movies, is still active in show business today as one of the performers on the weekly radio series Adventures in Odyssey.
A native of Yakima, Washington, Janet’s bite from the acting bug occurred in her early years while participating in church plays, but her big break came when while attending the University of Washington. It was there that she received an award for her participation in a student play and caught the eye of none other than The Old Groaner himself, Bing Crosby…who happened to visiting as an old alum at the time. Der Bingle got her a screen test with Paramount, and she got bit parts in several of Bing’s feature films, among them Sing, You Sinners (1938), The Star Maker (1939) and Rhythm on the River (1940).
Waldo continued to get small parts in notable films like Waterloo Bridge (1940) and So Ends Our Night (1941)…and was even leading lady to cowboy star Tim Holt in a pair of B-westerns, The Bandit Trail (1941) and Land of the Open Range (1942). It would be radio, however, that paved the way for a more secure foothold in show business and, once again, she got an assist from Bing. She began getting roles on The Lux Radio Theatre in 1941, and from that point found herself in demand as a radio actress. Among the many shows on which Janet emoted were Dr. Christian, The Mayor of the Town, One Man’s Family, The Cavalcade of America, The Eddie Bracken Show, Favorite Story, The Great Gildersleeve, Burns and Allen and The Railroad Hour.
Janet’s best known radio gigs included The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, on which she played dizzy teenager Emmy Lou, whose advice to Ozzie wasn’t always particularly sound. (She would also visit the Nelsons on TV, too.) She acted opposite the silver screen’s Henry Aldrich, Jimmy Lydon, in a short-lived series entitled Young Love…which was heard during the 1949-50 season. But, her true radio epitaph would probably state in humorous fashion: “Here Lies Corliss Archer.”
Meet Corliss Archer was a situation comedy that premiered on January 7, 1943 over CBS Radio. It was based on the literary creation of F. Hugh Herbert, who transformed a magazine story entitled “Private Affair” into a successful stage play, Kiss and Tell. (The play would later be adapted for the big screen as a vehicle for a more mature Shirley Temple, who also appeared in a 1949 follow-up, A Kiss for Corliss.) Corliss Archer was your average teenage girl experiencing the typical problems of growing up…and while her misadventures didn’t quite approach the weekly catastrophes of her distaff counterparts Henry Aldrich and Archie Andrews, they were guaranteed not to be straightened out until the end of the half-hour. Priscilla Lyon originated the role of Corliss when it went on the air in 1943, but relinquished the part to Janet by the following year. Waldo continued in the role for nearly ten years afterward. The show had a lengthy run on CBS and other networks, but audiences often had difficulty locating the program due to its “musical chair” time slots. (By the way, Radio Spirits has a 2-disc collection available.)
Janet married playwright Robert E. Lee (the co-author of the hit play Inherit the Wind) in 1948, and found that radio was a good way to keep working while raising a family…which is why she turned down the chance to be Corliss Archer when the show went to TV in 1951. Throughout the decade, she would become an accomplished voice artist…and as such, came to the attention of cartoon producers Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera in 1962. The pair cast her as the voice of daughter Judy Jetson (think Corliss in space) on their primetime animated series The Jetsons. Waldo would become identified as the voice of Judy, not to mention other characters in Hanna-Barbera creations: she was Granny Sweet in the Precious Pupp segments of The Atom Ant Show; feminine car enthusiast Penelope Pitstop on both Wacky Races and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, a Races’ spin-off; and lead singer Josie McCoy on both Josie and the Pussycats and Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space. Other H-B cartoons on which Janet worked include The Space Kiddettes, Shazzan and The Cattanooga Cats…and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.
Recently, Janet participated with several other voice artists (including June Foray, Gary Owens, Chuck McCann and Stan Freberg) in a documentary entitled I Know That Voice, which is scheduled to be released sometime this year. Radio Spirits wants to wish her many happy returns of the day–and after the candles are extinguished, and cake and ice cream dished out, we’d throw in a “COOOOORRRR-LAISS!” just for good measure.