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Happy Birthday, Lionel Stander!

Lionel Stander, the character actor best remembered by fans as chief-cook-and-bottle-washer Max on the TV detective drama Hart to Hart, also had a lengthy radio career—notably playing “stooge” to Fred Allen on The Hour of Smiles and Town Hall Tonight in the 1930s.  Stander—born in The Bronx on this date in 1908—used his trademark gravelly voice and skill with dialects (he was the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants) to become a valued member of “The Mighty Allen Art Players.”  But Lionel had some deficiencies in the “on-time-for-rehearsals” department; he was late so often that Fred joked his employee was probably preoccupied with printing pamphlets in his apartment.  This was a reference to Stander’s leftist politics—Lionel Stander was a pro-labor activist at a time when such beliefs could get a performer blacklisted…and in Stander’s case, they did.  However, his later success on Hart to Hart also allowed him to get the last laugh.

Lionel Stander’s 1994 obituary in The New York Times noted that “he attended everything from the Little Red Schoolhouse to military and prep schools,” but also that he never graduated from any of them.  In addition, he briefly attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill while working as a newspaper reporter in Charlotte. (At UNC Stander appeared in a pair of student dramatic productions.)  His acting career, he later confessed, came about because a role in e e cummings’ Him required someone capable of shooting craps, at which the reluctant thespian was quite skilled.  From this debut, Stander went on to a number of productions staged on Broadway, notably Singing JailbirdsRed Rust, and The House Beautiful. (Dorothy Parker memorably tagged the latter “the play lousy”).

Many stage performers in New York were able to find additional work in movie shorts produced by the Vitaphone Studio, and Lionel Stander was no exception.  He worked with such comedians as Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (In the Dough [1933]), Jack Haley (Salt Water Daffy [1933]), Shemp Howard (Smoked Hams [1934]), and Bob Hope (The Old Grey Mayor [1935]).  At the same time, Lionel was also making inroads in the aural medium with his work for Fred Allen and Eddie Cantor. (Stander was one of several actors who used a Russian dialect to play Cantor violinist Dave Rubinoff…who suffered from mike fright).  His radio work, he later recalled, led to his hiring at RKO as a Russian dialectician (it took a while before producers realized he was an English-speaking actor).

A nice showcase in the 1935 Noel Coward film The Scoundrel was the catalyst for Lionel Stander getting more movie work, including Hooray for Love (1935), We’re in the Money (1935), If You Could Only Cook (1935), and The Milky Way (1936).  He was under contract to Columbia Pictures, who cast him in the classic 1936 comedy Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. They also used him as legman “Archie Goodwin” in the studio’s two Nero Wolfe films, Meet Nero Wolfe (1936) and The League of Frightened Men (1937).  (Lionel would reprise not only his role in Deeds but a part in A Star is Born [1937] when both films got the Lux Radio Theatre treatment in 1937.)  Stander continued his radio appearances on shows headlined by Bing Crosby and Al Jolson, but his commitment to political causes (like raising money for the Scottsboro Boys and the Spanish Loyalists) started to get him unwanted attention in Tinsel Town.  Because Lionel supported the Conference of Studio Unions—which was engaged in a bruising fight with the mob-connected International Alliance of Stage Employees (IATSE)—Columbia head Harry Cohn labeled him a “Red” and suggested that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) fine any studio who renewed Stander’s contract.

Although the House Un-American Activities Committee is often associated with the 1950s and the ”McCarthy era,” HUAC really had its origins back in the late 1930s as a special committee investigating “Reds” in the motion picture industry.  Lionel Stander was among the first performers to fall under the HUAC microscope (along with Fredric March, James Cagney and several others).  Lionel would later be publicly cleared of any Communist activity by a district attorney after “secret” grand jury testimony was publicly published in 1940, but since suspicion by HUAC remained, there was a three-year stretch before his next movie gig.  Radio was a bit more accommodating. 1941 briefly found Stander as the star of The Life of Riley—not the better-known William Bendix vehicle, but an entirely different sitcom (Lionel’s character was named “J. Riley Farnsworth”).  Lionel later became a cast member on The Danny Kaye Show (1945-46) as a character jokingly referred to as “the sandpaper Sinatra.”  (Stander appeared with Danny in the 1946 comedy The Kid from Brooklyn, which also featured Eve Arden—also a Kaye Show cast member.)  Stander made regular appearances on such shows as The Mayor of the Town and Joan Davis Time, and rounding out his radio resume are credits like Crime Does Not PayFavorite StoryForecastG.I. JournalThe Gulf Screen Guild TheatreThe Jack Paar ProgramThe Lincoln Highway Radio ShowThe Rudy Vallee Sealtest Show, and Stage Door Canteen.

Lionel Stander had nothing but praise for director Preston Sturges, who cast him in films like The Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1947) and Unfaithfully Yours (1948). If not for Sturges, Lionel’s sole source of income would have been contributing voices to Walter Lantz cartoons (you’ll hear Stander in several Woody Woodpecker shorts as “Buzz Buzzard”).  Stander was among the many show business personalities listed in the pamphlet Red Channels, and when actors Larry Parks and Marc Lawrence “named” Lionel in their testimony before HUAC, Stander demanded the opportunity to clear his name.  (Lionel later tried to sue Lawrence for slander but was informed that Marc had congressional immunity.)  When Stander finally appeared before HUAC on May 6, 1953, he insisted that the TV lights and cameras be turned off, declaring “I only appear on TV for entertainment or for philanthropic organizations and I consider this a very serious matter that doesn’t fall into either category.”  Stander didn’t hold back with regards to his testimony before the committee: “I am not a dupe, dope, mope, moe or shmoe.  I was absolutely conscious of what I was doing, and I’m not ashamed of anything I ever said in public or in private.”

Lionel Stander took a heroic stand…but it cost him his role in the road company version of Pal Joey, with influential red-baiters (like Walter Winchell) putting pressure on the producers to fire Stander. (Lionel later quit the show to save them the aggravation).  He did land the occasional film job (he’s the narrator for the 1961 neo-noir Blast of Silence and he has a nice turn in The Loved One [1965]), as well as a nice Broadway gig (The Conquering HeroLuther). However, he had better luck in Europe, where his film resume included such features as Cul-De-Sac (1966), A Dandy in Aspic (1968), and Once Upon a Time in the West (also 1968).  In the 1970s, Lionel began making appearances in American films like New York, New York (1977) and 1941 (1979)…but it was Robert Wagner (who had given Stander a rare working gig in a 1968 episode of Wagner’s TV series It Takes a Thief), who insisted that Stander be cast as “Max” on Hart to Hart. (For his work on the show, Lionel won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor—Series, Miniseries or Television Film in 1983.)  He would go on to reprise his role from the series in five Hart to Hart TV-movies before his death of lung cancer in 1994.

Radio Spirits invites you to experience today’s birthday boy in his signature role as Max in the DVD boxset Hart to Hart: Movies are Murder Collection.  There were eight TV movies produced for TV between 1993 and 1996 after the success of the 1979-84 original, and Lionel Stander appears in the first five.  You can also hear Lionel in “A Piece of Pie,” a 1946 audition for what eventually became The Damon Runyon Theatre in the collection It Comes Up Mud.  Happy birthday, Lionel!

“…the stars’ own theatre…”

The glamour of the motion picture industry often disguised an uncomfortable truth—that it was an enterprise that rarely had any further use for those movie colony individuals who had fallen on hard times.  To lend a helping hand to their former colleagues, luminaries like Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith banded together in 1921 to create the Motion Picture Relief Fund (MPRF—now known as the MPTF, to incorporate television).  Joseph M. Schenck served as the first president, with Pickford as vice-president and a board of trustees that included Fairbanks, Cecil B. DeMille, Harold Lloyd, and Hal Roach.

The advent of talkies really required the MPRF to step up their game, as many individuals were now unemployed due to the changes (especially performers whose voices simply couldn’t conform to the standards of the new medium).  Appeals for donations to the fund would be the focus of various charity balls, motion picture premieres, fashion shows and the like.  Mary Pickford, to meet the increasing demand for assistance, instituted the Payroll Pledge Program—a plan whereby deductions from anyone making over $200 a week would be automatic, with studio workers pledging one-half of one percent of their earnings.  Six years later, participation in the PPP would expand to include talent groups, unions, and producer representatives.

The Screen Actors Guild sought to improve this donation effort by requiring compulsory contributions from its “Class A” members.  Jean Hersholt, president at that time, was determined to raise more money for the MPRF (he wanted to expand the Fund to include covering the costs for medical care). He suggested, along with Music Corporation of America (MCA) founder Dr. Jules C. Stein, the creation of a radio program where major stars would appear, donating their salaries to the MPRF.  With members of both the Directors and Writers guilds agreeing to also contribute their services for free, the result was The Screen Guild Theatre—which premiered over 61 CBS radio stations on this date in 1939.

The January 8, 1939 inaugural broadcast of The Gulf Screen Guild Show featured a powerhouse lineup of big-name talent: Judy Garland (who sang Sweet or Hot?), Jack Benny, Joan Crawford, Reginald Gardiner, Ralph Morgan, and George Murphy as master of ceremonies.  (Roger Pryor would replace Murph as the show’s host in the fall of 1939 and remained in charge for the remainder of the series’ Gulf Oil run.)  Screen Guild started out with a variety format in its early broadcasts before gradually transitioning to adaptations of motion pictures, much in the vein of The Lux Radio Theatre.  Lux, however, had an hour for its presentations…The Screen Guild Theatre had half that, which presented a challenge to charitable writers who often had to compress film narratives to fit the tight time frame (22 minutes sans Gulf commercials).

The Gulf Screen Theatre presented a radio adaptation of The Blue Bird (which would be released in 1940) on the December 24, 1939 broadcast with star Shirley Temple (her $35,000 salary was donated to the MPRF).  The story goes that, as Shirley launched into her rendition of Someday You’ll Find Your Bluebird, a woman in the audience stood up with a handgun, intending to do America’s favorite movie moppet bodily harm.  (She was disarmed, thankfully; purportedly the woman lost a daughter in childbirth on the same day Temple was born and she was convinced that Shirl had stolen her child’s soul.)

The Gulf Screen Guild Theatre became an immediate hit — attracting big-name Hollywood celebrities so quickly it looked like Suspense’s waiting room.  Promoted in magazine articles as “the only sponsored program on the air which gives all its profits to charity,” the money generated from the show would soon allow Jean Hersholt to purchase (in 1940) the property that would house the future Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital (which opened in 1948).  By the summer of 1942, the MPRF had received $800,000 in contributions and, at the end of The Screen Guild Theatre’s 13-year run, the amount in the kitty was a little over $5 million.  (Hersholt’s success in establishing the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital, by the way, is the reason why the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award was inaugurated by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1956—an honorary Oscar given to those individuals “whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry.”)

Gulf Oil, the original sponsor of The Screen Guild Theatre, dropped the series in 1942 (uncertainties in the market due to WW2 contributed to this). The Lady Esther cosmetic company start paying the bills in the fall with an all-star broadcast of Yankee Doodle Dandy (featuring James Cagney, Rita Hayworth, and Betty Grable) on October 19, 1942.  The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre continued to be one of radio’s most popular shows, with adaptations of films like Casablanca (with stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Heinreid), Theodora Goes Wild (star Irene Dunne and Cary Grant in the Melvyn Douglas role), and a memorable version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with Edgar Bergen telling the tale to Charlie McCarthy (and Jane Powell as Snow White!).  Lady Esther would withdraw sponsorship in 1947 due to a decline in the cosmetics industry, so Camel cigarettes opened up its checkbook for a season on CBS before jumping networks to NBC a year later.

The change in both networks and time slots caused a slide in the ratings for The Screen Guild Theatre. After finishing its run for Camel it moved to ABC in the fall of 1950 (with a September 7 premiere of Twelve O’Clock High and Gregory Peck, Hugh Marlowe, Millard Mitchell, and John Kellogg reprising their film roles) in a now hour-long format.  The ABC run ended on May 31, 1951 and the “Screen Guild” appellation was applied to some CBS anthology series (Stars in the AirHollywood Sound Stage) before The Screen Guild Theatre returned on March 13, 1952.  The show’s final curtain call was on June 29, 1952.

Jack Benny was among the first celebrities to appear on The Screen Guild Theatre and he made a memorable return on an October 20, 1940 broadcast in which he tries to finagle his way into co-starring with Claudette Colbert…despite objections from Basil Rathbone and director Ernst Lubitsch.  This premise would appear again on both Jack’s radio and TV programs, and is available on the Radio Spirits collection Jack Benny: Be Our Guest.  You can also find Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre adaptations of The Maltese Falcon (from September 20, 1943 with stars Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre) and The Glass Key (July 22, 1946 with Alan Ladd reprising his starring film role) on Smithsonian Legendary Performers: Dashiell Hammett.  In addition, Sydney Greenstreet also stars in Screen Guild Theatre’s adaptation of 1944’s The Mask of Dimitrios (from April 16, 1945) on Nero Wolfe: Parties of Death.

The Robin Hood of Modern Crime

His creator described him as “a buccaneer in the suits of Savile Row, amused, cool, debonair, with hell-for-leather blue eyes and a saintly smile.”  That creator was author Leslie Charteris, and the “buccaneer” in question was Simon Templar—a roguish ex-thief who had gone straight and now made it his mission to relieve the “ungodly” (those individuals he felt adhered to a moral code that couldn’t match his own) of their ill-gotten gains by redistributing that wealth among the less fortunate.  Templar was nicknamed “The Saint” (it might have been the smile, though it’s spelled out in his initials—S.T.) and was introduced in Charteris’ 1928 novel Meet the Tiger.  Radio audiences, however, started following Simon’s adventures over NBC Radio on this date in 1945 with the premiere of The Adventures of the Saint.

“He claims he’s a Robin Hood,” observed a victim in one of Charteris’ Saint short stories, “but to me he’s just a robber and a hood.”  In his early literary escapades, Simon Templar made short work of crooked politicians and other assorted miscreants, taking as compensation a modest ten percent (he must have been an agent before getting into his current line of work) and returning the rest to the injured parties (or donating the “boodle,” as he termed it, to worthy charities).  By the 1940s, Charteris had his hero working on behalf of the U.S. government, giving Nazis what-for.  The post-war Templar would see another transformation as he became more of a global adventurer.  There was a dark side to “The Saint,” as he was not above terminating an adversary if innocent lives would be saved in the bargain.  Leslie wrote both Saint novels and short stories/novellas until 1963. (A number of scribes penned additional books until the final one, Salvage for the Saint, was published in 1983).

Leslie Charteris, in addition to his novels and short stories, found work in the 1930s as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Among his contributions to the cinema were screenplays for such films as Midnight Club (1933), River Gang (1945), and Two Smart People (1946).  But as a hard-working Tinsel Town scribe, Charteris also persuaded one of the majors, RKO, to produce a film based on one of his Saint novels—which was released in 1938 as The Saint in New York (starring Louis Hayward as Templar).  A follow-up hit theatres in 1939, The Saint Strikes Back, with George Sanders as the titular thief…and Sanders would play Templar in four additional features.  Hugh Sinclair finished out the Saint franchise with The Saint’s Vacation and The Saint Meets the Tiger (both in 1941).

The silver screen success of The Saint played a major role in stoking interest in a radio version of Charteris’ sleuth.  It should be noted, however, that the premiere of The Adventures of the Saint on January 6, 1945 was Simon Templar’s American debut. Earlier radio incarnations featuring the character were heard in other countries, including a 1940 venture (heard on the BBC Forces Band) with character actor Terence de Marney.  Character great Edgar Barrier was the first performer to essay The Saint on American radio, in a thirteen-week series heard over NBC for Bromo Seltzer.  In June of that same year, Brian Aherne was elevated to “Sainthood” in a CBS series that served as a summer replacement for The Jack Carson Show. In this version, Louise Arthur was heard as Patricia Holm (Simon Templar’s love interest in Charteris’ early novels).  Charteris went on record with praise for Aherne’s interpretation of the character, opining that the actor “would have been just as good on film.”

The actor most old-time radio fans remember best as The Saint (mostly due to the unavailability of the Barrier and Aherne shows) is Vincent Price. He began playing Simon Templar on a sustained program that aired over CBS’ West Coast network for about a year beginning July 9, 1947.  After a year’s hiatus, Price returned on July 10, 1949 for Ford Motors on Mutual until May 28, 1950. The Adventures of the Saint then relocated to NBC two weeks later.  Vincent would play The Saint on this NBC incarnation until May 20, 1951 until Tom Conway took over the role. (Conway was the brother of George Sanders, who had portrayed Templar briefly in motion pictures.)  Actor Lawrence Dobkin was heard on the NBC Adventures of the Saint as a colorful cabbie named Louie, with many of “Radio Row’s” standout actors turning up in supporting roles (Lurene Tuttle, Harry Bartell, Peggy Webber, etc.).  On October 14, 1951, The Saint wrapped up his last American radio caper…although additional versions would later be broadcast in Australia, Switzerland, South Africa, and Norway (and over the BBC in 1995).

One of the most comprehensive histories of radio’s The Adventures of the Saint was written by Ian Dickerson: The Saint on the Radio.  It is a must-own reference, featuring fastidiously detailed episode guides for each of the American incarnations and two complete Saint scripts: “The High Fence” (the first episode featuring Brian Aherne, originally broadcast June 20, 1945) and “No Hiding Place” (11/20/50, with Vincent Price).  Radio Spirits has but a few copies of this book left…so strike while the iron is hot if you’re a fan.  You’ll also find a classic Saint adventure with Mr. Price (“The Horrible Hamburger,” 09/10/50) on our sleuthing compendium Great Radio Detectives.

Happy Birthday, Humphrey Bogart!

“The young man who embodies the sprig is what is usually and mercifully described as inadequate,” noted legendary critic Alexander Woollcott of an actor’s second appearance on Broadway in 1922 in a play entitled Swifty.  Woollcott (who would eventually go on to radio fame as The Town Crier over CBS Radio in the 1930s) had a reputation for pulling no punches. However, it’s fun to speculate what his reaction would be had he lived long enough to see that actor named by the American Film Institute as the greatest male star of classic American cinema in 1999.  The thespian for whom Woollcott had such sour acclaim was born on Christmas Day in 1899 in NYC as Humphrey DeForest Bogart.

Humphrey Bogart’s film persona was that of a “tough guy” (and later, the cynical anti-hero) so his fans certainly enjoyed the irony that their favorite star had actually been born to wealth and privilege.  His father Belmont was a cardiopulmonary surgeon and his mother Maud a commercial illustrator. (Her drawing of Baby Bogie was used in an advertising campaign by the Mellins Baby Food company.)  Humphrey attended New York’s Delancey School until the fifth grade, when he then transferred to the prestigious Trinity School.  From there it was on to one of the nation’s leading preparatory schools, the Phillips Academy in Andover, MA.  Phillips was considered a steppingstone to Yale, but Bogart wouldn’t get that far.  He was expelled after three semesters for “incontrollable high spirits”—or in layman’s terms, he was a disciplinary problem.

A lifelong love of boats and the sea inspired Humphrey Bogart to join the U.S. Navy at a time when World War I was underway.  It was in the service that Bogie would receive that trademark scar on his upper lip (thanks to a flying wood splinter).  Humphrey returned home to learn that his father had lost a good portion of the family fortune through careless investments, and that necessitated the junior Bogart getting a job quickly.  He tried being a stockbroker for a time, but a job offer from producer William A. Brady (a family friend of the Bogarts, whose son William, Jr. was one of Bogie’s pals) would point him toward a career in show business.  Humphrey started out as a manager of one of Brady’s touring companies until one night he accepted a dare from actor Neil Hamilton (you know him as Commissioner Gordon on Batman) to take his place in a play for one performance.  While Bogart froze with fright during that experience, after complaining about his meager salary in backstage work, Brady suggested he take up acting.

Bill Brady must have sensed that Humphrey Bogart had a talent for playing callow juveniles due to his theatrical inexperience, because he and other producers who cast Humphrey soon made good use of his limited talents.  (It’s been said that Bogart originated the timeworn cliché “Tennis, anyone?” in one of those productions.)  Toward the end of the 1920s, however, Humphrey had started to outgrow those juvenile roles. Fortunately, his stage experience made him an ideal candidate for “the talkies,” as Hollywood began hiring theatre veterans left and right.  Bogart signed a contract with Fox in 1930 for $400 a week, but his five-film output (including 1930’s Up the River, co-starring Spencer Tracy and directed by John Ford) didn’t result in stardom, and the studio dropped his option.  Humphrey would move back and forth between East and West Coasts, appearing in plays and features (like 1932’s Three on a Match).

A role in the Broadway production Invitation to a Murder (1934) impressed producer Arthur Hopkins, who remembered Humphrey Bogart when it came time to cast the character of gangster Duke Mantee in Robert Sherwood’s The Petrified Forest (1935).  The star of Forest was actor Leslie Howard, who was so impressed by Bogie as Mantee that he promised Humphrey he would do what he could to make sure he would reprise the role when Warner Bros. planned their silver screen version. (Warner had actually announced that Edward G. Robinson would play Mantee in the film, but Leslie informed the studio that if they didn’t get Bogart they wouldn’t have Howard.)  Humphrey’s solid turn in Petrified Forest started to get him noticed among the moviegoing public.

The Petrified Forest may not have produced the kind of immediate results for Humphrey Bogart that, say, The Public Enemy (1931) did for James Cagney (or Little Caesar [1930] for Edward G. Robinson for that matter)…but it gave the actor steady employment as a bad guy in features like Bullets or Ballots (1936) and Kid Galahad (1937).  Bogie could play the hero on occasion (Marked Woman [1937]), and in underappreciated films like Black Legion (1937), Humphrey gets involved with a KKK-like organization with tragic results. He really shone in Legion, and was praised by the National Board of Review for that performance. But many of his Warner Bros. efforts cast him in unrewarding secondary roles, and Bogart started to chafe at his treatment by the studio.  Warners often “punished” their obstreperous star with dismal vehicles like Swing Your Lady (1938; a ”hillbilly” musical) and The Return of Dr. X (1939; Bogie’s a zombie!).  “I’m known as a guy who squawks about roles, but never refuses to play one,” Humphrey once remarked to a reporter.  The actor took the advice of a friend that “if you’re always busy, sometime someone is going to get the idea that you must be good.”

It’s become Hollywood legend that George Raft (who co-starred with Bogie in Invisible Stripes [1939] and They Drive by Night [1940]) was apparently every bit as responsible for Humphrey Bogart’s stardom as Bogart was.  Raft turned down the leads in High Sierra (1941; George was purportedly a superstitious man and the death of the main character in Sierra spooked him) and The Maltese Falcon (1941; Raft wouldn’t do a “remake” and he also didn’t want to work with novice director John Huston), allowing Bogart to step in and star in two of his finest films.  Bogart’s first romantic lead in Casablanca (1942) would also garner him his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor…even if the studio did have to hide the fact that his leading lady, Ingrid Bergman, was taller than her male co-star.  Humphrey was now a full-fledged film star, and his teaming with young Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946) made them both firm favorites with moviegoers.

One of Humphrey Bogart’s earliest radio appearances was on a June 28, 1934 broadcast of Rudy Vallee’s The Fleischmann Yeast Hour, where he performed in a truncated version of his Broadway hit Invitation to a Murder (along with Walter Abel and Gale Sondegaard).  Humphrey would return to Vallee’s show on several occasions, and throughout the 1930s and 1940s parodied his “tough guy” persona on shows headlined by Phil Baker (Take It or Leave It), Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy, Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Al Jolson.  Bogart would also reprise film roles (not to mention appear in original plays) on the popular radio anthologies of the era, notably Academy Award TheatreThe Cavalcade of AmericaThe Gulf/Lady Esther/Camel Screen Guild TheatreThe Lux Radio TheatreSuspenseThe Theatre Guild of the Air, and The Theatre of Romance.  Rounding out Bogie’s radio resume are guest appearances on the likes of Command PerformanceHedda Hopper’s HollywoodMail CallThe Shell ChateauShirley Temple Time, and Stagestruck.

Humphrey Bogart’s prominence in movies like Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948) handicapped him when it came to committing to a weekly radio series—though he did participate in a September 17, 1949 audition entitled “Dead Man,” which featured him as both host and performer.  Bogie wouldn’t be heard regularly on radio until 1951-52, when he and Lauren Bacall (now Mrs. Bogart) starred in the syndicated adventure Bold Venture.  As soldier-of-fortune Slate Shannon, Bogart owned both a hotel and the boat of the program’s title…and engaged in weekly escapades with his “ward,” Sailor Duval (Bacall) in the Caribbean.  Mr. and Mrs. B were able to record 3-4 episodes a week ahead of broadcast (netting a nice $4,000 per episode) and Bold Venture went on to become one of Ziv Syndication’s most popular shows, broadcast over 400 radio stations at the peak of its popularity.

Despite now critically-acclaimed turns in movies like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and In a Lonely Place (1950), Humphrey Bogart would be nominated for a Best Actor Oscar just twice more after his first nod for Casablanca. The second time was the charm for Bogie; his thespic peers awarded him a trophy for his role as a drunken boat captain in The African Queen (1951), and his third and final nomination also recognized his seamanship as martinet Lt. Cmdr. Philip Francis Queeg in 1954’s The Caine Mutiny.  By the time of Mutiny, however, Humphrey’s health had begun to deteriorate from a lifelong habit of heavy smoking and drinking.  After his cinematic swan song in The Harder They Fall (1956), Bogart succumbed to esophageal cancer in January of 1957 at the age of 57.

Humphrey Bogart was not the type of actor to toot his own horn about his films, but he had uncharacteristic praise for The Maltese Falcon. “[I]t is practically a masterpiece,” he went on record as saying. “I don’t have many things I’m proud of…but that’s one.”  Radio Spirits’ Smithsonian Legendary Performers: Dashiell Hammett collection features our birthday boy in a September 20, 1943 broadcast of The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre that reunites him with co-stars Myrna Loy, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet in a half-hour radio version of that classic film.  You’ll also hear Humphrey and the missus josh with Jack Benny (from January 5, 1947) on the RS set Jack Benny & Friends and he’s one of several high-wattage celebrities profiled in the 4-DVD compilation Hollywood’s Greatest Screen Legends.  Happy birthday, Bogie!

Happy Birthday, Jane Morgan!

She possessed one of the most distinctive voices heard over the radio airwaves—but you might be surprised to learn that the woman born Jennie Morgan on this date in 1880 had a rather highbrow show business career during her early years of performing.  Jane Morgan made her name as a violinist and classical singer on stage and in concert halls, once boasting of having sung everything from Jack and the Beanstalk to Carmen.  A few sources date her first appearance on radio in 1930, though she later joked to a Radio Life interviewer in 1947 that it was “whenever it was that there was no more theater.”

Jane Morgan was born in the United Kingdom (Warmley, Gloucestershire), but arrived on these shores at the age of one to settle down with her family in Boston.  Her childhood ambition was to become a concert violinist, and Jane attended the New England Conservatory of Music to achieve that purpose.  Along the way, she added voice training to her curriculum and, after graduation, joined the Boston Opera Company as a violinist-singer for $25 a week.  Because operatic roles require some dramatic interpretation, Morgan worked on her acting skills. By 1900, she was living with her widowed father and brother in Anaconda, MT. It was there Jane met the man would eventually marry—Leo Cullen Bryant, who taught music and headed up the Margaret Theater Orchestra.

Jane and Leo taught piano and violin at a school they started in Butte before moving their place of study to Nampa, ID.  Leo would eventually achieve fame as a symphony violinist and for his innovative music instruction.  As for Mrs. Bryant (Jane), she began touring in vaudeville with musical comedies and dramas like The Master Mind (1914), The Silent Voice (1914), and Her Temporary Husband (1926).  She appeared with Charlotte Greenwood in She Couldn’t Say No (1930) and with Barbara Stanwyck in Tattle Tales (1933).  She eventually transitioned into radio acting as a member of the stock company on The Lux Radio Theatre and with guest roles on shows like Dr. Christian.

Jane Morgan’s first bit of radio fame was on Point Sublime. This comedy-drama centered around a small seaport village and the romance between two of its inhabitants, Evelyn “Evy” Hanover (Jane) and storekeeper/mayor Ben Willet (Cliff Arquette).  Earle Ross, Verna Felton, Lou Merrill, and Mel Blanc were also prominent members of the cast of Sublime, which was heard over NBC’s West Coast network from 1940 to 1942, Mutual from 1942 to 1944, and then revived on ABC in 1947-48.  Morgan could also be heard daily as the titular Aunt Mary, a serialized drama with a passing similarity to Ma Perkins that was also a West Coast exclusive on NBC from 1942 to 1952 (except for a brief coast-to-coast Mutual run in 1946-47).

On The Jack Benny Program, Jane Morgan and her good friend Gloria Gordon (mother of Gale) played an adoring pair of geriatric fans named Martha and Emily.  All Gordon’s Emily had to ask was “Oh look, Martha—isn’t that Jack Benny over there?!” and the audience would be dissolved in hysterics, rightly recognizing how Benny’s writers were parodying “bobby-soxers.”  Jane originally played landlady Kathleen O’Reilly on the radio hit My Friend Irma, but she eventually relinquished the role to Gloria. (Gordon’s background was quite similar to Morgan’s — both had been born in England and both got their show business start from their studies in music.)  Jane’s other regular gigs include playing the wacky Mrs. Foster on Jack Carson’s show (The Sealtest Village Store), a variety of different roles on Bob Hope’s program, and taking over from Kathryn Card as “Mother Hemp” on Hal Peary’s Honest Harold (from 1950 to 1951).

The radio role for which Jane Morgan is most fondly remembered, however, is that of Margaret Davis, the pixilated landlady of schoolteacher Connie Brooks on the hit radio sitcom Our Miss Brooks.  Jane became so identified as Mrs. D that she would transition with most of the show’s radio cast to the small screen when OMB became a TV hit, and she reprised her role in the 1956 silver screen adaptation.  (It remains her sole movie credit, save for an uncredited bit in 1951’s Three Guys Named Mike.)  In addition to the dotty Mrs. Davis, Morgan demonstrated her considerable comedic talents on the likes of The Big ShowThe Eddie Bracken ShowFront and CenterThe Great GildersleeveThe Halls of IvyThe Harold Lloyd Comedy TheatreThe Life of RileyThe Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, and Sweeney and March.

Jane Morgan was really a most versatile radio performer, and her non-comedic contributions include guest appearances on The Adventures of Philip MarloweArch Oboler’s PlaysBoston BlackieBroadway’s My BeatThe Cavalcade of AmericaEncore TheatreThe Eternal LightThe First Nighter ProgramThe Ford TheatreHallmark PlayhouseHedda Hopper’s HollywoodHollywood Star PlayhouseHollywood Star TimeThe Lady Esther/Camel Screen Guild TheatreLet George Do ItLights OutThe Man Called XMystery in the AirNight BeatPresenting Charles BoyerRichard Diamond, Private DetectiveScreen Director’s PlayhouseThe Skippy Hollywood Theatre, Suspense, and The Whistler.  When Our Miss Brooks had its final radio curtain call in 1957, Jane decided it was time to leave the limelight. With the exception of a 1965 episode of TV’s Wendy and Me (the George Burns-Connie Stevens sitcom), she retired to her hobbies (she collected Oriental art treasures and loved gardening).  A long battle with heart disease kept her bedridden for the last five years of her life before her passing in 1972 at the age of 91.

At Radio Spirits, we pride ourselves on being able to offer multiple collections of the show that made Jane Morgan a household name, with the Our Miss Brooks sets Boynton BluesFaculty Feuds, and Good English.  (You’ll also find Our Miss Brooks broadcasts on our all-star comedy compendiums Great Radio Comedy and Great Radio Sitcoms, too.)  Our birthday girl can also be heard on The Harold Peary Show: Honest Harold and on the sets The Great Gildersleeve: Gildy for Mayor!Jack Benny: Be Our GuestLights Out, Everybody!Night Beat: Human InterestRichard Diamond, Private Detective: Mayhem is My Business, and Suspense: Beyond Good and Evil.  Happy natal anniversary, Jane!

Happy Birthday, Lillian Randolph!

When actress-singer Lillian Randolph—born on this date in 1898—got word of auditions for The Great Gildersleeve, she was working on a film soundtrack with a vocal group at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.  Lillian stole away from the session on her lunch break and sped off to the NBC studios. Upon entering the building she tripped and literally slid up to the microphone.  Randolph laughed it off and carried on reading the script as if she had rehearsed the incident beforehand.  It’s been said that both her naturalness and trademark infectious laugh at this audition ultimately won her the role of Birdie Lee Coggins, housekeeper to Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve (and his niece and nephew) on the long-running radio program.

Born Castello Randolph in Knoxville, TN to a Methodist minister and teacher, Lillian got her start in show business at the age of four—singing in front of a Methodist Church congregation in Sewickley, PA.  She’d later start a musical act with her older sister Amanda — and it was when she replaced Amanda in a musical revue entitled Lucky Sambo that Randolph had her stage debut.  Lillian’s radio experience blossomed at Cleveland’s WTAM and later at the legendary Detroit station WXYZ.  It was at WXYZ, in fact, that Randolph was schooled in “southern dialect” (despite being a Southerner) by James Jewell—the director of that station’s The Lone Ranger.  While at WXYZ, Lillian co-starred on a comedy program entitled Lulu and Leander where she and fellow performer Billy Mitchell portrayed a variety of roles.

Moving to Los Angeles in 1936, Lillian Randolph would soon get regular gigs on Al Jolson’s radio show, while later appearing on Big Town and the Al Pearce and Joe Penner shows.  When not busy with radio, Randolph performed in nightclubs (notably the Club Alabam) as a blues singer.  Lillian also began making visits to Amos ‘n’ Andy, a program on which she played a variety of roles during its lengthy radio run. Most famously, however, she was heard as Madame Queen, Andy’s one-time fiancée.  (She would later reprise Queen on the TV version of the sitcom, with sister Amanda revisiting her weekly A&A gig as Ramona Smith—the Kingfish’s mother-in-law.)  In addition to her radio work, Randolph would make time for motion pictures with a screen debut in 1938’s Life Goes On.  Lillian had a small part in The Duke is Tops (1938), the film that introduced Lena Horne to motion picture audiences. (When the skimpy budget on Duke wouldn’t allow Lena money for a hotel room, Lillian invited her to stay in her own home.)

Lillian Randolph’s credited screen roles at this time include such films as Little Men (1940), West Point Widow (1941), Gentleman from Dixie (1941), All-American Co-Ed (1941), Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost (1942), and Hi, Neighbor (1942).  A movie gig that did not credit Randolph at the time, but continues to delight scores of modern-day audiences, is her voicing of “Mammy Two-Shoes” in many of the Tom & Jerry cartoons at MGM.  (Those cartoons were criticized at the time for their stereotyping, and Lillian disappeared and reappeared from the franchise until 1952.)  Randolph continued to rack up celluloid credits in the likes of Three Little Sisters (1944), A Song for Miss Julie (1945), Child of Divorce (1946), The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947), and Once More, My Darling (1949).  If you make watching It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) a yearly holiday tradition in your family you’ve definitely spotted Lillian as “Annie,” housekeeper to the Bailey family.

One movie franchise that made certain the name “Lillian Randolph” was in the opening credits was the short-lived The Great Gildersleeve film series based on the popular radio sitcom.  Lillian was the only radio regular besides Harold Peary to appear in all four Gildersleeve movies: The Great Gildersleeve (1942), Gildersleeve’s Bad Day (1943), Gildersleeve on Broadway (1943), and Gildersleeve’s Ghost (1944).  In fact, Randolph was the only member of the Gildersleeve cast to appear on the radio, film, and TV series (a syndicated show that aired in the 1955-56 season).  Old-time radio historian John Dunning once described Lillian’s “Birdie” as “perhaps the most endearing in radio’s long parade of Negro maids, cooks, and housekeepers.  She had genuine warmth, an infectious laugh, and a heart as big as the great man’s midsection.  She also had a feisty side, being fully capable of deflating Gildersleeve’s ego.”  When the situation presented itself, Randolph’s presence on The Great Gildersleeve also allowed to showcase what a fine singer she was.

Gildersleeve was not the only radio program that put groceries on Lillian Randolph’s table.  She appeared with Edna May Oliver on The Remarkable Miss Tuttle, a summer sitcom replacement for Jack Benny’s show in 1942. She also had regular gigs on The Baby Snooks Show (as Mrs. Watson) and The Billie Burke Show (as Daisy).  Other programs on which Lillian appeared include The Cavalcade of AmericaCommand PerformanceDr. ChristianEverything for the BoysThe Hallmark Hall of FameThe Hour of St. FrancisJubileeThe Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre, and The Lux Radio Theatre.  In November of 1951, Randolph took over the title role of radio’s Beulah from Hattie McDaniel when McDaniel became too ill to perform. (McDaniel passed away in October of 1952).  Beulah’s creative team had wanted Lillian’s sister Amanda to play the part, but a clause in Amanda’s Amos ‘n’ Andy contract kept her from taking on that assignment until the fall of 1952. (Amanda’s A&A contract was re-negotiated.)

The 1950s would see Lillian Randolph working on both the radio and TV versions of The Great Gildersleeve and Amos ‘n’ Andy while appearing in such films as That’s My Boy (1951), Dear Brat (1951), and Bend of the River (1952).  Lillian continued to work on the small screen with guest appearances on Ben Casey and The Bill Cosby Show (as Cos’ character’s mother) and films like Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) and The Great White Hope (1970).  Randolph closed out the 70s with work on Sanford and SonThe Jeffersons, and Roots (as Sister Sara) with her silver screen swan song a nice turn in The Onion Field (1979).  She passed away in 1980 at the age of 81…and fittingly, is buried next to her sister Amanda (in Forest Lawn).

Radio Spirits features plenty of The Great Gildersleeve collections showcasing Lillian Randolph in her signature radio role of Birdie. Our newest offering is Gildy for Mayor! (with liner notes by yours truly), but you can also put past releases like Family ManFor Corn’s Sake, and Neighbors in your online cart.  Our potpourri compendiums of Great Radio ChristmasGreat Radio Comedy, and Great Radio Sitcoms also feature vintage Gildersleeve broadcasts with Ms. Randolph.  Last—but certainly not least—you’ll hear Lillian in the Amos ‘n’ Andy sets Radio’s All-Time Favorites and Volume Two.  Happy birthday, Lillian!

“Well…that’s My Little Margie…”

The studio of legendary movie producer Hal Roach was known in the industry as the “Lot of Fun.” He quickly learned that his many years of producing quality two-reel comedy shorts in the silent and sound eras put him in good stead when the time came to creating content for television.  Roach launched his first successful boob tube effort in the fall of 1950 with The Stu Erwin Show (also known as The Trouble with Father). He followed up that hit with a situation comedy based on his daughter Shari.  He got the idea after an ugly quarrel with her, which resulted in the teen stomping-off to her room. Hal said to his wife: “My Lord, she’s hard to handle now.  What’ll happen when she’s over 21 and we have no legal control over her?”

Roach turned this concept over to writer Frank Fox, who was inspired to name the title character of the show after his secretary. The program eventually came to air as My Little Margie.  The creation of the other characters on the show, however, sprung solely from Fox’s imagination.  My Little Margie made its radio debut over CBS on this date in 1952—yes, you read that right…radio!

An explanation is no doubt in order.  As radio gradually ceded its home entertainment dominance to television in the 1950s, many of radio’s popular programs transitioned from the aural medium to the small screen.  Stars like Jack Benny, George Burns, and Gracie Allen would launch successful TV series, as did longtime radio programs like The Lone Ranger and Suspense.  But on occasion, the opposite would happen.  An example of this is Space Patrol, a science fiction adventure which premiered on ABC-TV in March of 1950.  Patrol would attract such a sizeable audience that a radio version was added in October of 1952. It ran for three seasons.  Other TV-to-radio offerings included Tom Corbett, Space Cadet; Howdy DoodyWhat’s My Line; and Have Gun – Will Travel.

So before My Little Margie began entertaining radio audiences, homes with a TV set had been getting acquainted with the series since it premiered over CBS-TV on June 16, 1952. It was the summer replacement for I Love Lucy. Although Margie’s ratings couldn’t quite match the juggernaut that was Lucy, sponsor Philip Morris was impressed enough to continue with the series, which moved to NBC (after its initial 13-week run on CBS) in October.  Assisting in the decision to keep Margie on the air was an exceptionally strong viewer response, in the form of a mail deluge, despite critics’ intense dislike of the show.  (John Crosby dismissed Margie as “[A}n amazingly complete illustration of how not to make a TV show…”)

The concept of My Little Margie centered on the misadventures of Margie Albright (Gale Storm), a 21-year-old woman who lived in New York City with her father Vern (Charles Farrell) in the fashionable Carlton Arms Hotel.  Margie had a knack for getting into farcical situations, many of them prompted by her father’s line of business. He was a vice-president at the investment firm of Honeywell and Todd, where his boss was the autocratic George Honeywell (Clarence Kolb).  Margie, in attempting to either help her dad land clients or convince Old Man Honeywell to give him a raise and/or promotion, would manage to transform innocent events into full-blown catastrophes by the end of each half-hour episode.  She received assistance from two confederates: her boyfriend Freddie Wilson (Don Hayden), who had difficulty holding onto a job, and elderly neighbor Clarissa Odetts (Gertrude Hoffman), who took particular delight in Margie’s screwball escapades.  Rounding out the regulars were Vern’s sophisticated girlfriend Roberta Townsend (Hillary Brooke) and Charlie (Willie Best), the elevator operator in the Albrights’ building.

Six months after My Little Margie made its TV debut, the show premiered on CBS Radio on December 7, 1952. The move of the TV version to NBC in October had little impact on its radio fortunes. (It was sponsored by Philip Morris cigarettes throughout its entire run.) Gale Storm recalled in later years that the CBS network just wanted them to do a radio version, no questions asked. (On TV, the sponsorship of Margie would become the responsibility of the Scott Paper Company beginning in the fall of 1953.)  Gale Storm and Charles Ferrell reprised their TV roles, but there was a new supporting cast. Radio audiences would hear Gil Stratton, Jr. (Freddie), Verna Felton (Mrs. Odetts), Will Wright (Mr. Honeywell), Doris Singleton (Roberta), and Shirley Mitchell.  Johnny Jacobs and Roy Rowan handled the announcing chores.  Although less than two dozen radio broadcasts have survived, the radio Margie relied on original scripts while airing concurrently with its TV counterpart.  The radio Margie remained popular even in its final season, but it eventually bowed out on June 26, 1955. (Its TV sibling said goodbye on August 24th of that same year.)

At the same time that actress Gale Storm was convulsing both TV and radio audiences as the irrepressible Margie Albright, she was quite the fixture on the pop music charts with a steady string of Top Ten hits.  Two of these singles, Ivory Tower (#6 in 1956) and Why Do Fools Fall in Love (#9 in 1956), are available on Heartbreak Hotel: Top 100—a 4-CD music collection available from Radio Spirits.  We’ve also got a rare My Little Margie broadcast on our newest comedy compendium, Great Radio Sitcoms, which also features a virtual cornucopia of classic radio mirth makers.  Happy anniversary, Margie…and Albright—you’re fired!

Happy Birthday, Luis Van Rooten!

Actor Luis Van Rooten received a unique compliment on his thespic talents after his performance as a psychiatrist on ABC’s Exploring the Unknown in 1946.  On the broadcast, Van Rooten’s character was treating an amnesia victim using hypnosis…and shortly after the program concluded, a woman telephoned him with a request. Her husband had been listening so intently to Luis’ performance that he had fallen into a trance—and she needed Luis’ help in snapping him out of it!  Can you prove it didn’t happen?  Well, it could be an apocryphal story (from Tune In magazine), but as the movie quote goes: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”  It certainly doesn’t take anything away from the admirable acting skills of today’s birthday celebrant, who was born Luis d’Antin Van Rooten on this date in 1905.

Luis Van Rooten (his first name was occasionally spelled “Louis”) was born in Mexico City. He came to the United States with his family when he was eight years old, and they settled in Pennsylvania.  Luis would get his BA in architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in 1927.  Van Rooten did quite well for himself as an architect (he was based in Cleveland, and is credited with designing three post offices)…but he harbored ambitions of being an actor. This interest was kindled in his early school days, when he appeared in a student production of Gringoire.  Luis was required to speak French in that play, which was no effort for him — his fluency in that language, as well as Spanish and Italian, put him on solid footing where dialects were concerned. After appearances in various amateur productions around Cleveland, Van Rooten became a radio actor in the mid-1930s.

Luis Van Rooten soon became one of radio’s most prolific character actors and expert dialecticians.  It’s estimated that he worked on close to 50 shows a month, and he himself recalled in later years that often he wasn’t aware what role he was going to play until he arrived at the studio.  Luis always made for a first-rate villain, though, and observed jokingly: “I was ‘bumped off’ in ten different crime shows in a single week.”  Van Rooten could be heard portraying Nero Wolfe for a time in 1944 (he inherited the part from Santos Ortega, another actor who worked extensively on radio crime shows) and he also played sidekick “Denny” on Bulldog Drummond.  Luis appeared multiple times on I Love a Mystery (and I Love Adventure), and when the 1930s radio favorite Chandu the Magician was revived in 1948, the actor punched his villainy time clock and played Chandu’s nemesis Roxor.  Other crime/mystery-themed shows on which Luis worked include The Adventures of the AbbottsThe Adventures of Philip MarloweThe Affairs of Peter SalemBarrie Craig, Confidential InvestigatorBox 13The ChaseCloak and DaggerCounterspyEllery QueenThe FBI in Peace and WarGangbustersLet George Do ItMartin Kane, Private EyeThe Molle Mystery TheatreThe Mysterious TravelerMystery in the AirMystery Theatre (Mark Saber), Nick Carter, Master DetectiveOfficial DetectiveSecret MissionsThe ShadowTime for LoveTop Secret21st PrecinctUnder Arrest, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

The above list just barely scratches the surface of Luis Van Rooten’s radio resume.  Like any hard-working actor in front of a microphone, Luis was kept busy in the area of daytime dramas. He played “Emilio” on Valiant Lady, “George Priestly” on County Seat, and “John Perry” on John’s Other Wife—as well as roles on Backstage WifeOne Man’s Family, and Stella Dallas.  On an August 22, 1949 edition of Radio City Playhouse, “Joey Was Different,” Van Rooten engaged in an actor’s tour de force by playing sixteen different characters (in addition to penning the script)!  Luis’ other radio credits include showcases on Arch Oboler’s PlaysBest PlaysThe Big StoryThe CBS Radio WorkshopThe Cavalcade of AmericaThe Columbia WorkshopThe Couple Next DoorThe Damon Runyon TheatreDimension XDr. SixgunEscapeThe Eternal LightEverything for the BoysFavorite StoryThe First Nighter ProgramGreat PlaysThe Hallmark Hall of FameThe Haunting HourHollywood’s Open HouseInheritanceInner Sanctum MysteriesLuke Slaughter of TombstoneThe Lux Radio TheatreMy Son JeepThe NBC Star TheatreThe NBC University TheatreThe Railroad HourStroke of FateSuspenseTom Corbett, Space CadetX-Minus OneWords at War, and You are There.  Even when radio had seen its glory days come and go, Luis was an enthusiastic participant in the medium on shows like Theatre Five.

By the 1940s, Luis Van Rooten was ready to explore other acting venues in addition to his work in radio.  He made his Broadway debut in 1946’s The Dancer, and would later grace the casts of such stage productions as The Number (1951), A Touch of the Poet (1958), and Luther (1963).  Van Rooten made an auspicious motion picture debut in The Hitler Gang (1944), where he played ”Heinrich Himmler.” His later movie credits include such classic film favorites as Two Years Before the Mast (1946), To the Ends of the Earth (1948), The Big Clock (1948), Saigon (1948), Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948), Boston Blackie’s Chinese Venture (1949), Champion (1949), Detective Story (1951), My Favorite Spy (1951), The Sea Chase (1955), and Fräulein (1958).  One of Luis’ best remembered movie turns allowed him to do what he did best: use his marvelous voice. He portrayed both the King and the Grand Duke in Walt Disney’s Cinderella (1950).

Luis Van Rooten also relied on his voice for a small screen showcase as President Dwight D. Eisenhower in “Thunder in Washington,” a November 27, 1955 telecast of The Alcoa Hour.  All you saw of Luis was the back of his head—and yet he received a great deal of critical notice.  Shows that featured the front of Van Rooten included popular series as The Honeymooners (he played Ralph Kramden’s landlord!), Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Tales of Wells Fargo, and 77 Sunset Strip.  At the risk of tooting Luis’ horn—he was quite the “Renaissance man.”  In addition to his acting, he dabbled in art and literature, authoring such books as Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Râmes, and Van Rooten’s Book of Improbable Saints.  Van Rooten’s love of horticulture was expressed in another book he wrote with the Sherlock Holmesian title The Floriculturist’s Vade Mecum of Exotic and Recondite Plants, Shrubs and Grasses, and One Malignant Parasite.  Luis later retired and designed his own retirement home in Chatham, Massachusetts before passing away in 1973 at the age of 66.

Radio Spirits features in its voluminous inventory—voluminous, that is—a collection of Chandu the Magician broadcasts that showcases Luis Van Rooten in one of his signature roles as the villainous Roxor.  You can also hear him as “Inspector Black” on Box 13.  But wait—there’s more!  There’s plenty of Luis on The Adventures of Philip Marlowe (Night Tide, Sucker’s Road), Escape (Essentials, Peril), and X-Minus One (Countdown, Time and Time Again), as well as our sci-fi compendiums Great Radio Science Fiction and Science Fiction Radio: Atomic Age Adventures.  Rounding our Van Rooten content are sets of Dimension X (Adventures in Time & Space), Inner Sanctum (Shadows of Death), Suspense (Final Curtain), Theatre Five, and Words at War: World War II Radio Drama.  Happy birthday, Luis!