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Happy Birthday, Andy Devine!

Actors Andy Devine and Broderick Crawford enthusiastically participated in their own stunts during the filming the 1940 Western When the Daltons Rode. One particular stunt almost sent Crawford to an early appointment outside the Pearly Gates. Brod was climbing out of a moving stagecoach (driven by Andy) when the lower step gave way. A quick-thinking Devine pulled Crawford into the high seat of the coach with one quick yank. Two days later, Andy repeated his heroics when a mishap on a narrow treadmill (the two men were riding horses for process shots in the studio) once again required him to come to Broderick’s rescue. That’s how the man born Andrew Vabre Devine on this date in 1905 saved the life of a future Academy Award winner…twice.

Andy Devine was born in Flagstaff, Arizona, but spent much of his life in nearby Kingsman (beginning when he was one year old). In later years, Andy would describe his scholastic experience as being a “four-letter man in school.” Devine attended St. Mary’s College in Leavenworth, Kansas, St. Benedict’s College in Atchison, Kansas, Northern Arizona State Teacher’s College (now Northern Arizona University) in his native Flagstaff, and Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California. Andy played football constantly at these “halls of ivy” and at one time was playing semi-professionally as “Jeremiah Schwartz,” using the pseudonym in order to maintain his college football eligibility. (Some sources suggest “Jeremiah Schwartz” is Devine’s birth name. Not so.)

After graduating college, Andy Devine had ambitions of being an actor, and worked as a lifeguard at Hollywood-adjacent Venice Beach while waiting for his big break. Devine landed roles in notable silent features, including LonesomeRed Lips, and Naughty Baby (all 1928). When motion pictures entered the talkie era, however, Andy anticipated problems. You see, a childhood accident—Devine told so many different accounts over the years no one really knows for sure how it happened—had left the actor with a high-pitched, raspy whine of a voice that, as it turns out, made him a shoo-in for character roles. His experience on the gridiron also put Andy in good stead in feature films of an athletic nature, like 1931’s The Spirit of Notre Dame.

Some of Andy Devine’s better-known films from the 1930s include Law and Order (1932), Midnight Mary (1933), Doctor Bull (1933), Upperworld (1934), Romeo and Juliet (1936), A Star is Born (1937), In Old Chicago (1938), Never Say Die (1939), and one of his finest onscreen showcases as “Buck,” the driver of Stagecoach (1939). Stagecoach was the second of five films Andy would make for director John Ford (the first was Doctor Bull); the actor later appeared in Two Rode Together (1961), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), and How the West Was Won (1962).

The 1930s also ushered in the beginning of Andy Devine’s successful radio career…and there was no greater venue for jump-starting this than a guest appearance on Jack Benny’s Jell-O Program in 1936. Benny’s writers invented an Old West lawman persona (“Buck” Benny) for their star and when Andy (as a fellow sheriff) greeted Jack with an enthusiastic “Hiya, Buck!” he not only created a ready-made catchphrase…he guaranteed semi-regular appearances for himself between 1936 and 1942 (and guest shots in the years that followed). Benny frequently introduced his guest as “the mayor of Van Nuys”—and he wasn’t just whistling Dixie, since Devine had been declared the town’s “honorary” mayor. Andy was also a frequent guest on radio’s Lum and Abner and became a regular when the fellas from Pine Ridge became prime-time stars in the fall of 1948 with their half-hour CBS program for Frigidaire. Other radio shows on which Devine appeared include Breakfast with BrenemanThe Chesterfield Music ShopCommand PerformanceThe Fitch BandwagonG.I. JournalThe Gulf Screen Guild TheatreHedda Hopper’s HollywoodHollywood HotelLittle Old HollywoodMail CallThe Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, and The Rudy Vallee Sealtest Show.

Andy Devine was a most versatile actor. He could appear in “A” features like Torrid Zone (1940), Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944), and Canyon Passage (1946). But he was equally at home with “second features” (B-movies); he made fourteen profitable films with Richard Arlen (Andy was a contract player at Universal) between 1939 and 1941. When Arlen departed the studio, Devine continued to make entertaining programmers with the likes of Dick Foran and Leo Carrillo. As the 1940s wore on, Andy became associated with “The King of the Cowboys,” Roy Rogers himself. Andy was “Cookie Bullfincher” in several of Roy’s popular oaters (Nighttime in NevadaThe Far Frontier) and, depending on the film, Cookie would be either a lawman or doctor.

Andy Devine was at his busiest in the 1950s. He portrayed “Jingles P. Jones,” the sidekick of Wild Bill Hickok (Guy Madison) in a popular TV Western that ran from 1951 to 1958, The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok. Andy had previously played “Jingles” on a radio version of the series, heard over Mutual from 1951 to 1954, and then again in 1955 and 1956. Devine also took over from the titular star of Smilin’ Ed McConnell and His Buster Brown Gang (also a long-running radio favorite) when McConnell passed away in 1954. Andy’s version, Andy’s Gang, ran on Saturday mornings from 1955 to 1960. Yet Devine still had time to do the occasional motion picture with features like The Red Badge of Courage (1951) and Montana Belle (1952). The actor had two of his most memorable onscreen turns in this period. In Island in the Sky (1953), he’s the hero for a change (as a veteran pilot who helps in the search for a downed aircraft). In Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955), you get to see the darker side of Andy in this Jack Webb-directed film as a no-nonsense police detective.

Apart from his work on Wild Bill Hickok and Andy’s Gang, Andy Devine made guest appearances on small screen favorites like Wagon TrainThe Twilight ZoneBurke’s Law, and Batman (as Santa Claus!). Devine was also a semi-regular in the first season of Flipper as “Hap Gorman.” His feature film appearances at this time included It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), Zebra in the Kitchen (1965), and Myra Breckinridge (1970). One of his final show business jobs was providing the voice of Friar Tuck in the 1973 Disney animated feature Robin Hood. Andy Devine passed away in 1977 at the age of 71.

As we’re celebrating what would have been Andy Devine’s 116th birthday today, it’s incumbent upon us to remind you that we have plenty of the birthday boy’s classic appearances on The Jack Benny Program in our voluminous Radio Spirits inventory with such collections as The Great OutdoorsMaster of SatireThe Sporting Life, and Tough Luck! You can hear Andy on Jack Benny vs. Fred Allen: The Feud as well. In our digital downloads store, there are the Jack Benny compendiums Oh Rochester! and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and a classic Benny Yuletide broadcast on The Voices of Christmas Past. You’ll also hear Mr. Devine ho-ho-ho-ing on Christmas visits with Phil Harris and Alice Faye on Explain the Beer and Family Values. Happy birthday, Andy!

Happy Birthday, Barry Sullivan!

When actor Barry Sullivan—born Patrick Barry Sullivan in 1912 on this date in New York City—was approached to star in Harbourmaster, a television series from the prolific Ziv studios, he had one question for the producers: “Why do you want to do a series about a guy and a boat?”

“Did you ever want to own a boat?” Sullivan was asked. And he had to admit, they had him there. But the first time Barry took the throttle of the Blue Chip II, the 30-foot cruiser belonging to his character on the show (Captain David Scott), he let it out and sped out of the harbor, providing the cameraman with “a good shot.” Except speeding out of any harbor is frowned upon in nautical circles (“The wake can cause a lot of damage,” Sullivan recalled), of which Barry was informed via a dressing down from the real harbourmaster.

Barry Sullivan was born the seventh son of a seventh son. (Spooky!) Barry’s only real ambition as a young shaver was to make the football team. He attended several prep schools before his enrollment at Evander Childs High School in the Bronx got him a spot on the varsity squad and chosen as an all-PSA League Quarterback. After graduation, Sullivan attended New York University (to study law) briefly, and then played pro baseball for a few years before returning to “the halls of ivy” on a football scholarship to Temple University. Barry worked odd jobs from doorman to department store buyer until someone suggested to him that with his good looks and stature (he was 6’3″) he’d do very well in acting.

Barry Sullivan joined a stock company and then made his Broadway debut in 1936’s I Want a Policeman. It was a flop, as were those that followed: St. Helena (1936), All That Glitters and Eye On the Sparrow (both 1938). Sullivan wouldn’t appear in a hit play until he replaced actor Theodore Newton as “Bert Jefferson” in the Moss Hart-George S. Kaufman smash The Man Who Came to Dinner. Even with that success, stage stardom proved elusive for Barry; his next hit wouldn’t surface until he took over for Henry Fonda in The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (1954). Sullivan’s reprisal of the Barney Greenwald role on a special 1955 telecast of Ford Star Jubilee nabbed him his only Emmy Award nomination (Best Actor, Single Performance); he lost to that presentation’s star, Lloyd Nolan (who played Captain Queeg).

Barry Sullivan’s acting success would arrive in the form of motion pictures. As a struggling New York stage actor, he moonlighted in several film shorts cranked out by Educational Pictures, including 1937’s Dime a Dance—which also features June Allyson, Imogene Coca, and Danny Kaye. Once Barry established himself in Hollywood, he got plum roles in movies like The Woman of the Town (1943), Lady in the Dark (1944), And Now Tomorrow (1944), Duffy’s Tavern (1945), Getting Gertie’s Garter (1945), Suspense (1946), Framed (1947), The Gangster (1947), and Smart Woman (1948). Sullivan remembered that making The Great Gatsby (1949) was a particularly trying experience, because of his and star Alan Ladd’s height differences. (Ladd had to stand on a crate…Sullivan in a hole.)

Although he never achieved major stardom, Barry Sullivan was enough of a silver screen presence to make frequent guest appearances on radio, emoting on dramatic anthologies such as The Cavalcade Of AmericaFamily TheatreHallmark PlayhouseHollywood Star PlayhouseThe Lady Esther Screen Guild TheatreThe Lux Radio TheatreThe NBC University TheatreStars Over Hollywood, and Your Movietown Radio Theatre. Other programs on which Barry guest starred include Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood and Obsession. Sullivan had a regular radio gig in the summer of 1947 when he took over Dick Powell’s role of “Richard Rogue” on the series Rogue’s Gallery. He also made appearances on the 1947-48 syndicated program The Unexpected and filled in for star Vincent Price (who was “delayed in Paris”) on The Adventures of the Saint in 1950.

Signing with M-G-M in 1950, Barry Sullivan made many of his most memorable motion pictures, including a particularly nasty turn as Loretta Young’s husband/tormenter in Cause for Alarm! (1951) and as a shady lawyer in No Questions Asked (1951). Barry was also among the high-profile cast of The Bad and the Beautiful (1952; as director “Fred Amiel”) and continued throughout the decade in such features as Jeopardy (1953), Strategic Air Command (1955), Queen Bee (1955), The Maverick Queen (1956), Forty Guns (1957), and Another Time, Another Place (1958). Sullivan continued to work in films (he has a nice bit as a bishop in Oh, God! [1977]) but by the mid-50s had started to transition to small screen work. In addition to the previously mentioned Harbourmaster (also known as Adventure at Scott Island), Ziv Productions had Barry play “Ken Thurston” (the role made famous on radio by Herbert Marshall) on their successful TV adaptation of The Man Called X (1956-57). (Barry also branched out to behind-the-camera work, directing episodes of Harbourmaster and Highway Patrol.)

Barry Sullivan’s most successful small screen venture was The Tall Man, a Western that aired over NBC-TV from 1960 to 1962. Barry played legendary lawman Pat Garrett, with Clu Gulager as his “nemesis” William H. Bonney (better known as “Billy the Kid”). Sullivan’s last regular weekly series was also a Western. On The Road West (a 1966-67 series produced by Gunsmoke’s Norman Macdonnell) Barry was patriarch Ben Pride, a homesteader leading his wife and children through Kansas in the 1860s. Until his retirement in 1981, and eventual passing in 1994 (at the age of 81), Sullivan was a much-in-demand guest star on such classic TV favorites as Barnaby JonesBen CaseyCannonThe High ChaparralIronsideIt Takes a ThiefThe Man from U.N.C.L.E.Mission: ImpossibleThe Name of the GamePerry Mason, and The Streets of San Francisco.

Both “The Ghost That Giggled” (09-17-50) and “Dossier on a Doggone Dog” (09-24-50)—the two broadcasts of The Adventures of the Saint that feature Barry Sullivan filling in as Simon Templar for missing star Vincent Price—are available on the Radio Spirits release The Saint is Heard. You’ll also find a surviving broadcast (06-29-47) of Rogue’s Gallery with our birthday boy in the role that Dick Powell made famous on the collection Blue Eyes.  Why not put these in your shopping cart in honor of Barry’s birthday today?

Happy Birthday, Art Van Harvey!

The actor born Arthur Harvey Van Berschot in Chicago, Illinois on this date in 1883 had much in common with the fictional Victor Rodney Gook, the laid-back patriarch Art played for so many years on the popular daytime radio comedy Vic and Sade. Both men were enthusiastic card players (Van Harvey was particularly fond of bridge and pinochle) and for further relaxation, both Art and Vic were always up for a game of horseshoes. (You’ll recall that Vic worked on his ringers and leaners over at Ike Kneesuffer’s, where Ike had an indoor horseshoe-pitching court in his basement.) Art did differ from his radio doppelgänger, however, when it came to cuisine: in a May 1934 edition of Radio Guide, Art Van Harvey rhapsodizes about smoked sturgeon, calling it “sheer. palate-tickling ecstasy” in a column (“The Dish I Like Best”) that has the feel of one of Vic and Sade creator Paul Rhymer’s scripts. Van Harvey loved it so much that when he was introduced to it as a child he would answer any adult queries of “What are you going to be when you grow up?” with “A fish-taster in a sturgeon factory!”

Art Van Harvey really aspired to be an actor…yet his mother disapproved, declaring that “an actor is an emissary of the Devil.” Still, Mother Van Harvey signed off on allowing her son (who had developed a proficiency for dialects, including Jewish, Irish, and Italian) to perform in kindergarten and grammar school plays, reasoning he wouldn’t be too harmed by their amateur nature (particularly if they were for the benefit of charity). At the age of fourteen, Art got a job as an office boy with the Chicago Board of Trade, a stock and grain brokerage house. It was not a job he had for long; Van Harvey got his pink slip after sneaking off to the theatre one too many times.

Art Van Harvey tried other jobs after he was dismissed from his position, but nothing seemed “a proper fit.” He then got into vaudeville, a venture he genuinely enjoyed for several years. He left that life to go into farm advertising (as a grain salesman), but kept his hand in acting by participating in amateur dramatics. The Stock Market Crash of 1929 freed up Van Harvey to continue performing, which he did with a successful radio audition that allowed him to show off his talents for dialects and mimicry. Art played “Jeffrey Barker” on the Blue Network’s Welcome Valley (1932-36) and, of course, the role of “Vic” on the program that bestowed upon him radio immortality: Vic and Sade.

In his book Radio Comedy, Arthur Frank Wertheim describes Art Van Harvey as “a Wallace Beery type” and notes that the actor “played the mild-mannered Vic in a quiet low-key style with a twist of cynicism that made the small-town Midwestern character unforgettable.” Although Vic and Sade creator Paul Rhymer modeled the character of Vic after his own father, Rhymer also used Vic to express his own views of small-town life, taking pointed aim at bureaucracy. (Vic was a 9-to-5 office drone, working as Chief Accountant for Consolidated Kitchenware Company’s Plant Number Fourteen.) Rhymer got a particular kick out of lampooning fraternal organizations and secret societies; many of Vic and Sade’s funniest installments revolved around Vic’s membership in the Sacred Stars of the Milky Way, Drowsy Venus Chapter. (He was a Sky-Brother and the Exalted Big Dipper.)

Art Van Harvey’s duties on Vic and Sade kept him pretty busy; he took brief absences from the program on only two occasions due to illness. (Van Harvey suffered a mild heart attack in 1940, prompting Rhymer to introduce the previously unheard Uncle Fletcher [played by Clarence Hartzell] to the microphone.) As such, Art’s radio resume features only a few additional entries — he was heard in Author’s PlayhouseCurtain TimeThe Magic KeyThe Radio Hall of Fame, and The Silver Eagle. Art did not reprise his role as Vic when Vic and Sade transitioned to television in 1949 (on NBC’s Colgate Theatre), but he did when the show had a brief two-month run on a Chicago TV station in 1957. Van Harvey also had a part (as Father McGuire) in the 1950 film The Golden Gloves Story and portrayed “Calvin Sperry” on the NBC-TV daytime drama Hawkins Falls, Population 6200 from 1954 to 1955. Art Van Harvey died in 1957 at the age of 73.

Art Van Harvey’s signature radio role of Vic Gook is front-and-center on one of Radio Spirits’ most prized CD releases, Vic and Sade. You can also check out two 1940 broadcasts of the series on our potpourri compilation of classic radio comedy, Great Radio Sitcoms. Happy Birthday, Art!

Happy Birthday, Marvin Miller!

Though his show business career of nearly half-a-century extended to radio, TV, and motion pictures, the actor-announcer born Marvin Elliott Mueller in St. Louis, Missouri on this date in 1913 is perhaps best-remembered for doling out an impressive sum of money every week on CBS-TV’s The Millionaire, which aired on the network from January 19, 1955 to June 7, 1960. As Michael Anthony, executive secretary to wealthy billionaire benefactor John Beresford Tipton (voiced by Paul Frees), Marvin Miller would hand out a tax-free cashier’s check for $1,000,000 ($9.66 million in 2020 dollars) to some lucky recipient whose life would be inevitably changed by their reversal of fortune. In later years, however, Miller expressed “buyer’s remorse” despite the anthology show’s phenomenal popularity. “I never did another important part in a movie or television series,” he recalled in a 1982 interview. “I’d go in with an agent to a casting director and he’d say, ‘Hey, the audience would expect you to give away a million dollars.’”

Marvin Miller broke into radio (while still attending Washington University as a freshman) at the age of 18, once earning $5-a-week as a “one-man radio show.” Miller was working from dawn to dusk as “Assistant Chief Announcer” at St. Louis’s KMOX when he met (and then married) artist Elizabeth Dawson. The couple moved to Chicago (a major radio center at that time) in 1939 where Marvin was heard on an average of 45 shows a week. (Variety dubbed him a “one-man radio industry.”) Sometimes an actor, sometimes an announcer, Miller continued his busy ways upon moving to Hollywood in 1944. (Marvin explained to old-time radio historian Chuck Schaden in 1973 how it was possible to wear two performing hats: “…the only way I actually got around it in Chicago was to tell the advertising agency people that I was an announcer, and tell the directors that I was an actor—and sometimes I met myself coming and going. I’d be announcing a show and suddenly get a part on it!”)

Jim Cox, author of The Great Radio Soap Operas, credits Marvin Miller with acting/announcing on 20 different “weepies”: The Affairs of Anthony (as Anthony Marleybone Sr.), Aunt Mary (announcer), Backstage WifeThe Dreft Star Playhouse (announcer), Family SkeletonThe Guiding LightIrene Rich Dramas (announcer), Judy and JaneKay Fairchild—StepmotherLonely Women (announcer), Ma Perkins (announcing under his pseudonym, “Charlie Warren”), Midstream (Howard Andrews), One Man’s Family (portrayed 20 roles on this one, notably “Roderick Stone”), The Right to Happiness (“The Voice of the Past”), Road of LifeThe Romance of Helen Trent (Gil Whitney), Scattergood BainesToday’s ChildrenWoman from Nowhere (announcer), and Woman in White (Dr. Lee Markham). Gerald Nachman in Raised on Radio jestingly labeled Miller as “the most happily overworked actor of all.” Frank Buxton and Bill Owen’s The Big Broadcast 1920-1950 lists 86 credits for Marvin in the index.

Among the novel programs on Marvin Miller’s radio resume are Armchair Adventures, a 1952 series that allowed Marvin to cement his “one-man show” reputation by doing all the voices and narration. On The Billie Burke Show (Fashions in Rations), Miller not only handled the announcing chores but played two of Billie’s gentleman suitors, Colonel Fitts and Banker Guthrie. (Marvin was also the announcer on Burke’s 1945 sitcom, The Gay Mrs. Featherstone.) Miller portrayed Marvin Sample on Cousin Willie (a 1953 sitcom starring Vic and Sade’s Billy Idelson), “Mr. First Nighter” on The First Nighter Program, and the titular sleuth on Peter Quill, a detective drama that aired over Mutual in 1940-41. Marvin worked on a great many programs but two of his best-known were long-running stints on The Railroad Hour (“All aboard!”) and The Whistler (he even filled in for Bill Forman when Forman was in the Army).

A complete inventory of Marvin Miller’s voluminous radio acting and announcing credits would no doubt keep us occupied for years and years…but the list would inevitably include The Adventures of MaisieThe Adventures of Ozzie and HarrietThe Andrews Sisters Show: Eight-to-the-Bar RanchAunt JemimaAuthor’s PlayhouseBarrie Craig, Confidential InvestigatorBeat the BandBehind the StoryBeulahThe Bickersons (Old Gold Time), Broadway’s My BeatThe Chesterfield Supper Club (Jo Stafford), The Chicago Theatre of the AirConfessionThe Coronet Little Show (The Coronet Storyteller), Crime ClassicsCrisco’s Star PlayhouseThe Cruise of the Poll ParrotDark VentureA Date with JudyDragnetDuffy’s TavernFamily TheatreFather Knows BestFavorite StoryFibber McGee and MollyThe George Burns and Gracie Allen ShowGunsmokeHave Gun – Will TravelI Was a Communist For The FBIInheritanceJack ArmstrongJeff Regan, InvestigatorThe Kemtone HourLassieThe Lux Radio TheatreMe and JanieMusic by Ray NobleThe National Barn DanceThe NBC Star PlayhouseThe NBC University TheatreNight BeatThe Phil Harris-Alice Faye ShowThe Quiz KidsThe Red Skelton ShowRocky FortuneThe Rudy Vallee Drene ShowThe Six-ShooterSmilin’ Ed’s Buster Brown GangSongs by SinatraSpace Patrol, The Stan Freberg ShowStars Over HollywoodStop That VillainStrange WillsTarzanTell it AgainThat Brewster BoyThe Theatre of Famous Radio PlayersWoodbury Journal (Louella Parsons), Your Movietown Radio Theatre, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Miller also did exhaustive duty for the Armed Forces Radio Service (Command PerformanceJubileeMail Call) and was an enthusiastic participant in attempts to revive radio drama (The CBS Radio Mystery TheatreHeartbeat TheatreThe Hollywood Radio TheatreThe Sears Radio TheatreTheatre Five).

Marvin Miller’s first credited screen role was playing the villainous Yamada in 1945’s Blood on the Sun (starring James Cagney and produced by Jimmy’s brother William). Marvin would portray any number of villains and heavies in his movie career, with his memorable films including Johnny Angel (1945), Deadline at Dawn (1946), Just Before Dawn (1946), The Phantom Thief (1946), Dead Reckoning (1947), The Brasher Doubloon (1947), Peking Express (1951), Hong Kong (1952), and The Shanghai Story (1954). Sadly, in those less enlightened times Miller played a lot of Asian characters (“yellowface”). Much of his best work involved voicing animation for studios like Disney (he’s the narrator in Sleeping Beauty [1959]) and UPA (many of the Gerald McBoing-Boing shorts). Marvin would achieve silver screen greatness by giving voice to “Robby the Robot” in the 1956 sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet…a role he reprised the following year in The Invisible Boy (1957).

I mentioned in the essay’s opening paragraph that Marvin Miller’s small screen claim to fame was TV’s The Millionaire…but in addition, Marvin guest starred on TV classics like The Adventures of Ozzie and HarrietBat MastersonBatmanThe Danny Thomas ShowMission: Impossible, and Perry Mason. And yet, television allowed Miller to return to his radio roots narrating shows (Electra Woman and Dyna GirlThe F.B.I.) and voicing cartoons (The Famous Adventures of Mr. MagooThe Superman/Aquaman Hour of AdventureFantastic Voyage). (Many will fondly remember Marvin as the unseen narrator in the “bumpers” between cartoons on The Pink Panther Show.) Marvin Miller passed away in 1985 at the age of 71.

Here at Radio Spirits, we wouldn’t hesitate to open our inventory doors and offer you some of Marvin Miller’s finest radio work on CD. We have several collections of his signature series, The Whistler: Death Watch, Murder in Haste, Root of All Evil, and Skeletons in the Closet. We’ve also plenty of sets featuring “America’s fabulous freelance insurance investigator,” with Marvin—Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and Confidential, Expense Account Submitted, Fabulous Freelance, Fatal Matters, Mysterious Matters, and Wayward Matters. In addition, listen for today’s birthday boy on The Bickersons: Put Out the Lights!, The Bob Bailey Collection, Burns & Allen and Friends, Crime Classics: The Hyland Files, Dark Venture, Duffy’s Tavern: Irish Eyes, Gunsmoke: Dead or Alive, Have Gun – Will Travel: Dressed to Kill, I Was a Communist For the F.B.I.: Sleeper, Jack Benny: Be Our Guest, The Six Shooter: Grey Steel and Special Edition, and Strange Wills: I Devise & Bequeath.

You’ll find more Whistler collections in our digital downloads store (Archives Collection, Eleventh Hour, Impulse, Notes on Murder, Voices) in addition to Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (Archives Collection, Murder Matters, Phantom Chases). Rounding out our Marvin Miller material are Broadway’s My Beat: Great White Way and Murder, Family Theatre, Great Radio Christmas, Jack Benny: The Gang’s All Here, Jeff Regan, Investigator: The Lyon’s Eye, Night Beat: Lost Souls, Radio Christmas Spirits, and Rocky Fortune. Happy birthday to Marvin Miller!

Happy Birthday, Phillips H. Lord!

Triskaidekaphobia. I didn’t make this word up; it’s the technical term for fear of the number “13.” The man born Phillips Haynes Lord in Hartford, Vermont on this date in 1902, however, pooh-poohed any such superstitious nonsense—owing to the fact that he was born on the 13th and that there are thirteen characters in “Phillips H. Lord.” To carry these coincidences further, Lord made his radio debut on June 13, 1928 and later signed the contract for his radio success, Uncle Abe and David, on June 13, 1930. Uncle Abe and David aired twice daily, six days a week, and with Lord’s other weekly hit, Sundays at Seth Parker’s, the two combined to make thirteen. (There were thirteen actors in the Seth Parker cast. I’m going to stop now before things get really silly.)

Phillips H. Lord was born the son of a Vermont clergyman…but didn’t hang around the Green Mountain State too long. He was still an infant when the Lord family moved to Meriden, Connecticut as his father was hired to be the pastor of a local church. Phil was educated at the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts (whose alumni include U.S. Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush) and attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. While at Bowdoin, Lord became quite the entrepreneur to ensure he could pay his way. He started several businesses, including a book-selling operation and a taxicab company. After graduation, the 22-year-old Lord talked a Plainville, Connecticut high school into hiring him as their principal–the youngest administrator in the country.

Phillips H. Lord could have settled for a life of telling juveniles not to run in the halls—yet he was looking for a lot more. He embarked on a number of job adventures including confectioneries and publishing. Radio would prove to be the perfect vocation for Phil’s ambition; Lord started writing scripts (admittedly, he hadn’t much experience) and submitting them to WTIC in Hartford. He would create several successful programs in this fashion: Uncle Abe and David (1930-31), The Stebbins Boys (1931-32), The Old Country Doctor (1932-33), and the most popular at that time, Sundays at Seth Parker’s, which premiered on March 3, 1929 and eventually moved nationally to NBC.

Phillips H. Lord credited his real-life grandfather, Hosea Phillips, as the inspiration for “Seth Parker,” a homespun New England clergyman and philosopher who invited friends into his home weekly for hymn-singing and general good fellowship. Though in his 20s, Lord donned white chin whiskers to play Parker himself, joined by a cast that included Effie Palmer (as Ma Parker) and future Mr. Keen star Bennett Kilpack (as Cephus). Praised by ministers and beloved by mid-American listeners, Seth Parker made Phillips H. an incredibly wealthy man, with the radio series inspiring books, records, a stage play, and a 1931 R-K-O feature film, Way Back Home (providing Bette Davis with one of her early cinematic showcases).

Rich and restless, Phillips H. Lord purchased a four-masted, 186-foot schooner which was christened The Seth Parker…and which would function as a floating studio as Lord headed off on a two-year around-the-world cruise, broadcasting his program via shortwave. The Cruise of The Seth Parker, sponsored by Frigidaire, premiered over NBC on December 5, 1933 and while it initially retained the popularity of the earlier series there were (if you’ll pardon the painful pun) rough seas ahead. There were skirmishes with British officials in the West Indies, and word began to leak out about the raucous on-board parties featuring wine, women, and songs not found in the best-selling Seth Parker hymnals. All of this unfortunate PR reached a crescendo when The Seth Parker was felled by a South Seas gale in February of 1935. Though Lord would be later accused of staging the incident as a stunt, Frigidaire did not renew their sponsorship and Seth Parker, despite two later runs on the Blue network in 1935-36 and 1938-39, never really regained the support and popularity of its early radio run.

Undaunted, Phillips H. Lord decided he had milked the “salvation” angle to its fullest extent and, inspired by popular “gangster” films like The Public Enemy (1931) and Scarface (1932), introduced radio audiences to the “sin” side of the equation when G-Men premiered over NBC Blue on July 20, 1935. The initial premise of the program featured stories concentrating on the notorious “outlaws” who were then making newspaper headlines: John Dillinger, “Machine Gun” Kelly, Bonnie and Clyde, “Pretty Boy” Floyd, etc. Although Lord initially received cooperation from J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation soon objected to the show’s heavy concentration on gunplay and withdrew his support. Cancelled in October, G-Men returned in January of 1936 on CBS with a new and now-legendary title: Gang Busters. It proved to be one of Phillips H.’s most durable creations, making the rounds on all four networks until November 27, 1957.

Gang Busters established Phillips H. Lord as radio’s king of “law-and-order.” He co-created the long-running Mr. District Attorney (1939-53), and later crime-themed programs to emerge from the House of Lord include Counterspy (1942-57), Policewoman (1946-47), and Treasury Agent (1947-57). Phil was also the mastermind behind the daytime drama By Kathleen Norris (1939-41) and the popular We, the People (1936-51)—described by author John Dunning as “a singular mix of humor, pathos, tragedy, sentiment, Hollywood glamour, and old-fashioned melodrama.” Lord’s additional radio credits include American NovelsAuthor’s PlayhouseThe First Nighter ProgramJohnny Presents, and Sky Blazers.

Phillips H. Lord benefitted from a most successful radio career…and he would also witness those properties blossom outside the aural medium as well. For example, Gang Busters would be the subject of a memorably exciting Universal motion picture serial in 1942, and a decade later had a brief run on television, alternating weekly with DragnetMr. District Attorney also got the small screen treatment (in 1951-52, and again in 1954) after earlier inspiring silver screen versions in 1941 (part of a brief Republic Pictures franchise) and 1947. Counterspy was featured in two Columbia Pictures releases in 1950. Lord retired for a well-deserved rest and left this world for a better one in 1975 at the age of 73.

Radio Spirits offers that aforementioned Gang Busters serial for purchase. We’ve also got a vintage Gang Busters broadcast on our gumshoe potpourri set Great Radio Detectives, and you’ll find collections of Mr. District Attorney episodes on Mr. District Attorney and Champion of the People. In our digital downloads store, check out a pair of Gang Busters collections: Cases of Crime and Crime Wave. You’ll also find episodes of Gang Busters and Treasury Agent on Police and Thieves: Crime Radio Drama and installments of Counterspy on Great Radio Spies. Happiest of birthdays to Phillips H. Lord!

Happy Birthday, Harry Von Zell!

It’s now one of the best-remembered and oft-told anecdotes of radio history. A young CBS announcer born Harry Rudolph Von Zell in Indianapolis, Indiana on this date in 1906 manages to mangle the name of the 31st President of the United States during a live radio broadcast in 1931. “The next voice you hear will be that of our new president, Hoobert Heever,” intoned Von Zell with a spoonerism so unforgettable that sponsors later started requesting Harry to be the announcer for the programs on which they bought time. “They thought everybody would listen to see what I would do next!” Von Zell mused many years afterwards.

“I walked out of that studio—we were on the twenty-third floor of the Columbia Broadcasting System building—and fortunately, the windows were not operative,” Harry Von Zell told old-time radio historian Chuck Schaden in 1975. “They were fixed windows or I would have jumped out!” I should interject here and point out that contrary to what some have been led to believe, President Herbert Hoover was not being introduced by Von Zell at the time of the famous goof. It was all part of a scripted birthday tribute to Hoover being read by Harry, who pronounced the President’s name correctly no less than 20 times during his lengthy spiel. The notorious (I think it’s appropriate to use this adjective) Kermit Schafer, producer of a few popular “blooper” albums in the 1970s, did a little “doctoring” on one LP to make listeners think Harry’s verbal boo-boo was done in Hoover’s presence. (“We weren’t even in the same city,” Harry always joked.)

A Hoosier by birth, Harry Von Zell and his family moved to Sioux City, Iowa after he graduated from high school and then relocated to California where he studied music and drama at UCLA. Harry was already working at a variety of jobs when an opportunity to work in radio presented itself—a few of his friends goaded him into performing on a radio program, and offers to work at other stations soon started pouring in. “If you could perform in any way, average or perhaps a little above average, you could get work,” Von Zell explained to Schaden. “If you were average, you worked for nothing.” Fortunately, Harry could carry a tune and was able to obtain gainful employment at a number of West Coast stations (including KNX, where he earned $25 a week) before a successful audition for Paul Whiteman (Harry beat out 250 other announcers) landed him the announcer’s job on The Old Gold Hour. At the end of the program’s run, Von Zell would follow “The King of Jazz” and his band back to the East Coast and soon sign on with the Columbia Broadcasting System as a young staff announcer.

At CBS, Harry Von Zell worked as an announcer on such shows as The Feenamint National Amateur Night, The Gulf Headliners (with Will Rogers), Joe Palooka, The Socony Sketchbook, and Summer Stars (starring Joe Cook). It was not unusual for him to work close to 20 shows a week; Harry was the announcer for Bing Crosby’s inaugural radio broadcast, and worked for such stars as Phil Baker, Ben Bernie, Eddy Duchin, Stoopnagle and Budd, ”Whispering Jack” Smith, and Ed Wynn. One of Von Zell’s most high-profile assignments was as one of the announcers (along with Ted Husing and Westbrook Van Voorhis) on CBS’ The March of Time (Harry was the original “Voice of Time”). Von Zell was with CBS for four years before being hired by Young and Rubicam to work for their clients. That’s how Harry started announcing the adventures of The Aldrich Family weekly in 1939 and how it kicked off a good working relationship with Fred Allen beginning in December of 1935 with Town Hall Tonight.

Harry Von Zell’s longest-running radio relationship began in the fall of 1940, as the announcer/comic foil to Eddie Cantor on It’s Time to Smile. (Von Zell had worked on Smile’s summer incarnation, hosted by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.) Harry would serve in the second banana capacity until 1949 and became so identified with “Banjo Eyes” that in his 1947 Columbia comedy short Meet Mr. Mischief, he falls to his knees upon seeing a large photo of Cantor and begins to “salaam” his “boss” in an amusing in-joke. Von Zell would also work as announcer on Dinah Shore’s program Birds Eye Open House (Eddie liked to claim credit for “discovering” Dinah) and was prominently featured on two summer replacements for Cantor’s show, Quizzer’s Baseball (in 1941) and Wednesday With You (in 1945).

Harry Von Zell was also second banana (among a rather big bunch) on Joan Davis’ program (Joanie’s Tea Room/Joan Davis Time), memorably opening that show by singing “Poor Joan ain’t got nobody/She’s nobody’s sweetheart now” and following it with a maniacal, unsympathetic laugh. Harry was romantically pursued on the program by Verna Felton’s character (“Rosella ‘Hippy’ Hipperton III”), who often greeted him with an enthusiastic “Why, Mr. Von Zellllllllllll!” Von Zell also portrayed “Welby” on Frank Morgan’s The Fabulous Dr. Tweedy and in 1946, got his own starring syndicated sitcom The Smiths of Hollywood which co-starred Brenda Marshall, Jan Ford (a.k.a. Terry Moore), and Arthur Treacher.

Harry Von Zell could also be heard as either the regular announcer or special guest (he did the occasional fill-in, like on Duffy’s Tavern or Fibber McGee and Molly) on the following programs: Al Pearce and His Gang, The Amazing Mr. Smith, Behind the Mike, Bright Star, The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street, The Columbia Workshop, The Frank Fontaine Show, Fun In Print, The Gulf/Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre, Happy Meetin’ Time, The Jack Benny Program, The Jimmy Fidler Show, The Life of Riley, The Music Box Theatre, Truth or Consequences, We The People, and Your All-Time Hit Parade. Harry also contributed his announcing talents to such AFRS entertainments as Command Performance, Mail Call, and Sound Off; he’s among the all-star cast of Performance’s legendary February 15, 1945 operetta “Dick Tracy in B Flat or, For Goodness Sakes, Isn’t He Ever Going To Marry Tess Trueheart?”

For an individual closely associated with radio comedy, one will get a pleasant surprise from Harry Von Zell’s none-too-shabby turns in dramatic motion pictures like The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945), The Guilt of Janet Ames (1947), and The Saxon Charm (1948). There’s plenty of comedy in Harry’s cinematic resume, too; plum roles in two funny Bob Hope vehicles, Where There’s Life (1947) and Son of Paleface (1952) and an interesting curio in How DOooo You Do (1946)—which also features Von Zell’s fellow Eddie Cantor Show stooge Bert “The Mad Russian” Gordon in an attempt to cash in on their radio popularity. Harry eventually received the opportunity to get “star billing” with a series of two-reel comedy shorts (eight in all) he made for Columbia between 1946 and 1950. “I was not enthused by the idea, but when [Columbia shorts department head Jules White] explained that he was prepared to assign me a staff of expert comedy writers and $500 per subject, I changed my mind,” he recounted in Ed Watz and Ted Okuda’s The Columbia Comedy Shorts.

Harry Von Zell later credited the exposure he received in those two-reel shorts for his long-running gig as announcer-foil on George Burns and Gracie Allen’s television show. It wasn’t the first time he’d worked with George & Gracie, though; he had toiled briefly as their radio announcer in the mid-40s. It was also not Harry’s first small screen foray—before taking over for Bill Goodwin on the Burns’ show in 1951, Von Zell served as the pitchman for Pabst Blue Ribbon beer on TV’s The Life of Riley with Jackie Gleason (Harry was doing similar duty on William Bendix’s radio version). Harry would later appear on The George Burns Show (the one sans Gracie) and his other boob tube appearances include Bachelor Father (a recurring role as “Frank Curtis”), The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, McHale’s Navy, Perry Mason, The Tall Man, and Wagon Train. Harry Von Zell passed away in 1981 at the age of 75.

Here at Radio Spirits, we believe there’s no finer way to celebrate Harry Von Zell’s natal anniversary than with a purchase of Jack Benny vs. Fred Allen: The Feud; Harry was working for Fred at the time…though he usually tried to remain neutral when it came to verbal slugfests with Fred’s nemesis. Von Zell can also be heard on The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Duffy’s Tavern: Irish Eyes, Great Radio Sitcoms, Jack Benny: Days of Our Lives, and The Life of Riley: Blue Collar Blues. In our digital downloads store, check out Harry on The Aldrich Family, Bright Star, Burns & Allen: Beverly Hills Uplift Society and Keep Smiling, and The Life of Riley: Lovable Lug. Happy Birthday, Harry!

Happy Birthday, John McIntire!

In the mid-1930s, actor-announcer John Herrick McIntire—born in Spokane, Washington on this date in 1907—decided, along with his actress wife Jeanette Nolan, to retreat from show business and take up a simpler life in northwestern Montana (an area with which McIntire was most familiar, having been raised in Eureka, Montana as a boy) to benefit John’s health. The McIntires built a log cabin in the valley of the Yaak River (their 640-acre spread would soon come to be nicknamed “The Yaak”), many miles south of the Canadian border. It was an area so remote it had only been opened to homesteaders as late as 1914.

The McIntires were frequently snowed in from December to May, with temperatures often dipping to fifteen below zero…and John and Jeanette loved their existence, shooting deer & other game and pitching hay & hauling wood. Come the thaw, the couple collectively known as “the Lunt and Fontanne of radio” would travel to NYC to continue their radio work, earning enough to keep themselves on a firm financial footing so that they might quickly return to life on “the Yaak.” It was very therapeutic for John, plus it provided a touch of authenticity to his later film and television roles as one of the busiest and most durable of character actors (as we will soon see, McIntire appeared in more than a few Westerns).

After fifteen years’ worth of growing up in Montana, John McIntire’s parents moved the family to Santa Monica, California…where John attended high school and then the University of Southern California, majoring in speech and dramatics. While still a college student, McIntire got a job as a part-time announcer at Los Angeles’s KEJK, where at one time he functioned as the entire broadcasting staff for $25 a week. John dropped out of USC after two years and then spent an additional two years as a merchant seaman. Back on dry land, he returned in time to be the first announcer at KEJK to announce its switch in call letters to KMPC (now KSPN). John would use this experience to move up to network radio, where as a busy NBC employee he stood in front of a microphone and was heard on such programs as The Chase and Sanborn Hour (with Jimmy Durante), The Fleischmann Yeast Hour (Rudy Vallee), The Hall of FameMary Pickford and Company, and Shell Chateau (Al Jolson).

John McIntire met future wife Jeanette Nolan while the two of them were working on the 1934 radio serial Tarzan and the Diamond of Asher. John served as the narrator, but Jeanette was convinced that he should be acting as well. They would marry in 1935 and work together again on another Tarzan serial the following year (Tarzan and the Fires of Tohr). While both McIntires enjoyed successful solo radio acting careers, they often worked in tandem on such programs as The Cavalcade of AmericaThe Court of Missing HeirsThe Jack Pearl ShowThe March of Time, and The Shadow.

Since ranching in Montana occupied John McIntire’s time six months out of the year, he really had to step it up where radio was concerned. He starred alongside Betty Garde in We, the Abbotts—a daytime drama that aired over CBS and NBC from 1940 to 1942. John was the master of ceremonies on Lincoln Highway (1940-42), an NBC dramatic anthology that offered the novelty of featuring top Hollywood and Broadway stars in high-quality productions airing in the daytime hours (rather than the traditional primetime slot). On the sitcom Meet Mr. Meek, McIntire portrayed the “sour and cynical” Mr. Apple, and he was one of the first actors to play Dr. Benjamin Ordway, the hero known as the Crime Doctor. John was also Jack Packard (briefly) on I Love a Mystery, the titular criminologist of the detective drama The Adventures of Bill Lance (a CBS West Coast series), Lt. Dundy on The Adventures of Sam Spade, and Hamlet Mantel on the daytime variety series Glamour Manor. In addition, McIntire handled the announcing chores on The Man Called XOrson Welles’ Radio Almanac, and This is My Best.

To catalog the entire radio career of John McIntire would certainly be a Herculean task. A sample list of his accomplishments would include The Adventures of Ozzie and HarrietThe CBS Radio WorkshopThe Columbia WorkshopDark VentureEscapeFamily TheatreFavorite StoryFrontier GentlemanGunsmokeThe Hallmark Hall of FameHallmark PlayhouseHollywood Star PlayhouseHopalong CassidyI Love AdventureLet George Do ItThe Line-UpLuke Slaughter of TombstoneThe Lux Radio TheatreMy Friend IrmaMystery Is My HobbyOn StageThe Phil Harris-Alice Faye ShowThe Prudential Family Hour of StarsThe Railroad HourRichard Diamond, Private DetectiveScreen Directors’ PlayhouseSuspenseThis is Your FBIThe Whistler, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, Long after radio ceased to be the dominant entertainment medium, John made time for an old friend with appearances on The Sears Radio Theatre—the 1970s attempt to revive radio drama.

John McIntire’s motion picture debut was as narrator of the “Baptism of Fire” sequence in the 1940 feature The Ramparts We Watch, and you can also hear him as an announcer in the 1947 film The Hucksters. But his first credited role was in the 1948 film noir classic Call Northside 777, with James Stewart as a newspaper reporter attempting to prove a convicted killer’s innocence. Jimmy and John would cross cinematic paths an additional three times; most notably in Winchester ’73 (1950), with McIntire as a duplicitous gambler and gun trader, and The Far Country (1954), in which he locked horns with Stewart while playing a crooked judge. (Their last collaboration, 1961’s Two Rode Together, also featured wife Jeanette in a small role.)

John McIntire plays the police commissioner in The Asphalt Jungle (1950); a crusading D.A. in The Phoenix City Story (1955; one of my favorites); an ill-fated town doctor in The Tin Star (1957); a laconic sheriff in Psycho (1960); Elvis’ dad in Flaming Star (1960); and a cantankerous judge in Rooster Cogburn (1975). Other noteworthy films that feature McIntire include The Street with No Name (1948), Command Decision (1948), Shadow on the Wall (1950), Horizons West (1952), The Lawless Breed (1952), A Lion is in the Streets (1953), Stranger on Horseback (1955), Elmer Gantry (1960), and Summer and Smoke (1961). John and Jeanette occasionally worked together in features like Saddle Tramp (1950) and No Sad Songs For Me (1950), but one of their most delightful pairings was in 1984’s Cloak & Dagger (as the bad guys!). (The couple also voiced characters in the animated films The Rescuers [1977] and The Fox and the Hound [1981].)

Like many of his radio contemporaries, John McIntire transitioned to the small screen with guest roles on series like Father Knows Best and Cimarron City. In the fall of 1958, McIntire co-starred on the TV version of Naked City, portraying the role essayed by Barry Fitzgerald (Lt. Daniel Muldoon) in the 1948 film. But John was homesick for Montana and quit the series (in an admittedly fiery finish) in the episode “The Bumper” (replaced by Horace McMahon as Lt. Mike Parker). McIntire’s love for “The Yaak” almost kept him from accepting his next regular television assignment: replacing the late Ward Bond on the Western series Wagon Train. (John played wagon master Chris Hale from early 1961 until the show’s cancellation in May 1965.) McIntire also took over for Charles Bickford (who died in 1967) as the lead on The Virginian, playing the brother of Bickford’s character (and real-life wife Jeanette as his TV spouse) from 1967 to 1970. John made the guest star rounds on shows like The Fugitive and Bonanza and had one more regular role (on the short-lived Shirley in 1979-80) before his death in 1991 at the age of 83.

One of the many movie Westerns John McIntire appeared in was 1955’s The Kentuckian…and one of the highlights of that film is a musical number, Possum Up a Gum Tree, performed by John and co-stars Burt Lancaster, Diana Lynn, and Una Merkel.  This catchy little ditty is available on the 2-CD set The Westerns: Music and Songs From Classic Westerns, which is available in our Radio Spirits store. We’ve also got plenty of our birthday celebrant’s appearances on radio in our inventory: The Bob Bailey CollectionGreat Radio Science FictionGunsmoke (The HunterThe Round Up), Jack Benny: Be Our GuestThe Line Up: WitnessThe Man Called X: Race Against DeathMy Friend Irma: On Second ThoughtSuspense (Black CurtainTies That Bind), and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (Expense Account SubmittedThe Many Voices of Yours Truly, Johnny DollarMedium Rare MattersMysterious MattersWayward Matters).

You’ll also find the following collections featuring the talents of John McIntire in our Digital Downloads store: Christmas Radio ClassicsEscape EssentialsFrontier Gentleman: Aces and EightsHopalong Cassidy: Out from the Bar-20The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show: Explain the BeerRichard Diamond: Mayhem is My BusinessSuspense: Around the WorldSuspense: Omnibus, and The Whistler: Eleventh Hour. Happy birthday, John!

Happy Birthday, Tom Collins!

When actor Walter Paterson committed suicide in 1942, One Man’s Family creator Carlton E. Morse made the decision to eliminate Patterson’s character of “Nicholas Lacey” (the husband of Claudia Barbour) from Family’s storyline by having Nicky die in Europe during WW2. (Paterson also portrayed “Reggie Yorke” on Morse’s I Love a Mystery, so Reggie disappeared from that show as well.) A few years after Walter’s passing, however, Carlton E. was determined to bring Nicky back with a dramatic flourish…so he conducted four weeks of extensive auditions to find the most suitable replacement. Morse eventually chose the thespian born Beryl William Collins in Chicago, Illinois on this date in 1913. Professionally, we know him as Tom Collins…and the management at Radio Spirits has requested that I dispense with any and all cocktail jokes for the rest of the essay.

Graduating from Austin High School in 1930, Tom Collins enrolled in the University of Illinois. However, he left after one year to join the Kenneth Sawyer Goodman School of the Theater in Chicago. It was in the Windy City where Tom got his first taste of radio acting, appearing in the radio serial Kitty Keane, Inc. Collins also played E.W. Hornung’s famous gentleman thief Raffles on a program that featured actress Cathy Lewis in the supporting cast and J. Donald Wilson (creator of The Whistler) as director. That series was cancelled after 26 weeks.

Besides, Tom Collins had bigger fish to fry in Hollywood. He signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1938 and began appearing in two-reel shorts (Money to Loan [1939]) and programmers (Tell No Tales and 6,000 Enemies, both in 1939). His lasting contribution to MGM was playing “Dr. Joiner” in four of the films in the Dr. Kildare franchise—his last feature at the studio, in fact, was Dr. Kildare’s Crisis (1940). Tom started to gravitate more and more towards the aural medium. (He guested on Good News of 1939 to perform scenes from Fast and Loose [1939] on a February 16, 1939 broadcast.) He would make appearances on Big TownDr. ChristianFree CompanyHedda Hopper’s Hollywood, and Southern Cruise.

Tom Collins not only had an ideal speaking voice for radio he was quite adept at accents and dialects—a major help in getting the One Man’s Family gig (not to mention taking over as Reggie Yorke on I Love Adventure, the follow-up program to I Love a Mystery). Collins made himself quite well known on multiple daytime dramas; he was “Niles Novak” on Dear John, “Captain John Blanding” on The Gallant Heart, “Barclay Bailey” on The Romance of Helen Trent, “Ned Corbett” on Front Page Ferrell, and “Inspector Malloy” on Stella Dallas. Tom also made appearances on Aunt MaryBackstage WifeLorenzo JonesModern RomancesMy Secret StoryThe Right to HappinessTrue Story, and Whispering Streets.

One of Tom Collins’ most high-profile radio jobs came about from a selfless act on the actor’s part. According to Radio Spirits’ own Martin Grams, Jr., Collins was assigned an acting role on a Cavalcade of America broadcast…and was then asked to switch parts with that week’s celebrity guest because Tom had the larger role. Tom was most obliging, and because of this, Cavalcade producer Jack Zoller offered him the job of announcer…which guaranteed him a steady paycheck week after week. Collins’ best-remembered radio work was playing the titular master of legerdemain known as Chandu the Magician, a “reboot” of the popular 1930s radio adventure serial that aired over Mutual and then ABC from 1948 to 1950. The success of Chandu won Tom starring gigs on the syndicated The Adventures of Frank Race (although he was replaced by Paul Dubov after 22 shows) and The Greatest of These (as wealthy attorney Harvey Desmond).

Tom Collins’ bid for television stardom was nipped in the bud when producers decided that, rather than allow him to reprise his Nicholas Lacey role on a TV adaptation of One Man’s Family, they would cast actor Lloyd Bochner to play the part. (Lloyd Bochner? Seriously?) Collins had moved his family to New York in anticipation of getting the job…and having been rebuffed, found it difficult to mix with NYC’s insular radio community. Tom worked when he could and, in addition to the shows already mentioned, boasted a radio resume that included The Adventures of the SaintThe Amazing Mr. Malone (Murder and Mr. Malone), Box ThirteenCrime FightersDark VentureDear MargieDoctor SixgunEllery QueenFavorite StoryHearthstone of the Death SquadIntrigueThe Lux Radio TheatreMartin Kane, Private EyeMr. ChameleonMr. Keen, Tracer of Lost PersonsThe New Philip Morris ProgramPress ClubRadio City PlayhouseScreen Directors’ PlayhouseStars Over HollywoodThe Theatre of Famous Radio PlayersThis is My StoryTop GuyUnder ArrestThe Whistler, and X-Minus One. Tom Collins died at the age of 60 in 1973.

To celebrate Tom Collins’ birthday, Radio Spirits offers up the actor’s signature radio role of Chandu the Magician—a 6-CD set of vintage Mutual broadcasts that includes the first half-hour episode of the series, “The Origin of Chandu.” Check out Mr. Collins on our Box Thirteen and The Whistler: Root of All Evil CD collections as well. In our digital downloads store, Tom is represented on Great Radio Spies, The Whistler: Eleventh Hour, and X-Minus One: Volume Two. Happy birthday, Tom!