At the height of The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show’s popularity, radio audiences were often curious to know whether the children on the program—based on the couple’s real-life offspring, Alice Faye and Phyllis Wanda Harris—were played by their actual daughters in the same manner as the sons of another bandleader and his wife on their sitcom (referring, of course, to David and Ricky Nelson). Old-time radio devotees know, of course, that the role of “Little” Alice was essayed by Jeanine Roos…and in the part of young Phyllis, a radio veteran who began her long show business career at the age of seven by uttering the words: “I want another slice of bread.” This actress is none other than Anne Whitfield, and she turns seventy-six today.
Anne was born on this date in Oxford, Mississippi…but her radio career kicked off when her parents migrated to California in August of 1945. Her entry into show business was a bit unconventional; she had no professional contacts or experience in the field, but that didn’t stop her mother from knocking on doors, trying to see anyone who would give her daughter an audition. One door that was not shut in the Whitfields’ face belonged to Carlton E. Morse, the creative force behind I Love a Mystery and One Man’s Family. Morse had received a letter from Mrs. Whitfield and he allowed young Anne to read some Family scripts as an audition. Anne performed in the show’s commercial (that’s where the slice of bread comes in) and two weeks afterward had been assigned the role of Penny, the daughter of Claudia and Nick. Whitfield enjoyed a long association with One Man’s Family; she played Penny on the radio version till nearly the end of its long broadcast run…and when the program briefly transitioned to TV, she played the part of Claudia (Penny’s radio mom!).
Numerous radio jobs followed in the wake of Anne’s success on Family: she appeared on such soap operas as Doctor Paul (indulging in a bit of transgenderism by emoting as young Christopher Martin) and Doorway to Life, and made the rounds on such series as The Lux Radio Theatre, The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theater, Family Theater, The Great Gildersleeve, The Life of Riley, The Halls of Ivy and Cavalcade of America. She also worked with radio comedians George Burns & Gracie Allen, Jack Carson and Fanny Brice—on Brice’s Baby Snooks series, Anne was frequently heard as the snobbish Pamela Richardson, daughter of the local banker (played by Alan Reed). She later replaced actress Gloria McMillan as Harriet Conklin on the radio version of Our Miss Brooks in the program’s final years.
Anne Whitfield’s signature role was as the younger daughter of Phil Harris and his actress wife, Alice Faye on their hit series…and she handled much of the program’s sharply written dialogue like a consummate pro. In the classic Christmas broadcast where Jack Benny is recruited to play Santa Claus, Little Alice can be heard admonishing her sister not to backslide on her good behavior or else she won’t receive any of Jolly St. Nick’s gift largesse. “Don’t crack up now,” Little Alice warns her younger sib, “you’ve been so good for so long.” “I know,” retorts Phyllis. “But as Daddy always says, ‘It ain’t been easy, Clyde.’”
Anne would play Phyllis when the Harris-Faye show began as The Fitch Bandwagon in the fall of 1946, and went the distance until The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show left the airwaves in June of 1954. That same year, Anne Whitfield played young Susan Waverly in the popular holiday movie White Christmas; Anne’s movie career wasn’t quite as prolific as the one on radio, but she graced such gems as The Gunfighter (1950), The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (1952), Juvenile Jungle (1958), Senior Prom (1958) and The New Interns (1964). Fans of classic TV shows will also come across her many guest appearances on hit series such as Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, Bonanza, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Gunsmoke, Rawhide and Perry Mason. Anne remained true to her radio roots, appearing on such revival shows as Heartbeat Theatre and The Hollywood Radio Theatre. She’s also been a frequent (and most welcomed) presence at old-time radio conventions and reenactments.
Here at Radio Spirits, we’ve got plenty of collections featuring Anne Whitfield’s stellar radio work—and there’s no better place to start than with such Phil Harris-Alice Faye sets as our latest release, Smoother and Sweeter…not to mention Private Lives, Wonga, Hotel Harris, Quite an Affair and Family Values. In addition, check out her guest appearances on the likes of Let George Do It (Enter Mr. Valentine), The Man Called X, The Halls of Ivy and The Saint (The Saint Takes the Case). Happy birthday, Anne—and the best returns of the day to you!