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Happy Birthday, Kenny Delmar!

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The man born in Boston, Massachusetts on this date in 1910 would soon make a big name for himself as the long-winded stooge for a well-known radio comedian who also had roots in the Boston-Cambridge area. Kenneth Frederick Fay Howard would later change his handle to Kenny Delmar, and though he eked out a successful career as a radio actor and announcer on many shows, we remember him best as Senator Beauregard Claghorn, Southern politician and the first person to answer the door when Fred Allen took a stroll down “Allen’s Alley” in the mid-1940s. “Somebody, I say, somebody knocked!” Claghorn would bellow, signaling to the listening audience that while Allen may have been the star of The Fred Allen Show, he’d be lucky to get in a word edgewise as long as the bellicose Claghorn was filibustering.

orphansDelmar may have been a Beantown native, but his mother Evelyn put down stakes in New York City while Kenny was still in infancy. She made a living in vaudeville with her sister as The Delmar Sisters, and young Kenny developed a flair for the buskin around the age of eight. You can spot him in the 1921 film Orphans of the Storm—directed by D.W. Griffith—as the younger version of Joseph Schildkraut’s character. However, he had difficulty finding more movie work after that auspicious debut. He continued his career on stage until the Depression, when he briefly worked in his stepfather’s business, and would later go on to run a dancing school—marrying one of the ballet instructors, Alice Cochran.

delmar9Delmar would eventually gravitate toward a career in radio in 1936, possessing a fine, strong voice that served him well as an announcer on the likes of The March of Time and Your Hit Parade. It’s likely that working on Time is where he made the acquaintance of wunderkind Orson Welles, who used Kenny’s considerable talents in many of his Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcasts. Delmar would play The Secretary of the Interior on the legendary October 30, 1938 “War of the Worlds” broadcast…but because he used his “FDR voice” (at Orson’s request) many listeners were convinced it really was the President they were hearing. Kenny also played Commissioner Weston on The Shadow in both the Welles and Bill Johnstone years. He was also heard on such programs as The Columbia Workshop, The Cavalcade of America…and The Jack Benny Program, as one of the commercial spokesmen for Lucky Strike.

delmar2Kenny’s famous Senator Claghorn character was inspired, as he related the tale, by a Texas cattle rancher who had picked Delmar up one day as Kenny was hitchhiking his way to California. The garrulous cowman like to boast about his spread (“Son, I own five hundred head of cattle—five hundred, that is.”) and memorably punctuated his habit of telling old groaners with “That’s a joke, son—I say, that’s a joke!” Realizing that this encounter was a dream come true for an actor, Delmar filed the man’s speech patterns and mannerisms in his memory bank and would call upon them whenever he played a character he tabbed “Dynamite Gus” at parties. On The Alan Young Show, where Kenny performed as both announcer and one of the regulars, he borrowed the “Gus” voice for a character named Councilman Cartenbranch.

delmar4Minerva Pious, an actress who played many characters on Fred Allen’s program—most notably Pansy Nussbaum, the Jewish housewife who lived in Allen’s Alley—suggested to her boss that Delmar’s windbag politician might be just the ideal replacement for a similar target of ridicule on the program known as Senator Bloat. The actor who played that role, Jack Smart, had left Allen’s program at the end of the 1943-44 season for Hollywood. So when Fred returned to the airwaves in the fall of 1945, “Allen’s Alley” had a new resident in Claghorn—a representation of the Old South that folks prayed would never rise again. The Senator would only drink from Dixie Cups and refused to drive through the Lincoln Tunnel; his favorite actress was Ann Sothern and he never—ever—listened to Mr. and Mrs. North. After just one month on the show, Claghorn became a sensation who’d inspire novelties like T-shirts and compasses (that only pointed South) and songs like “That’s a Joke, Son” and “I Love You, That Is.”

delmar8The Claghorn character enabled Delmar to briefly resurrect his movie career, which had been dormant since 1921. He played the verbose politico in It’s a Joke, Son!—a 1947 film produced by the British-based Eagle-Lion studios. The mildly amusing vehicle that co-starred Una Merkel (Adeline Fairchild on The Great Gildersleeve) and June Lockhart as, respectively, Beau’s wife and daughter. It performed well at the box office, but didn’t usher in any future film work for its star (Delmar’s only other notable entry on his movie resume is 1962’s Strangers in the City).

delmar5In addition to “tooting the Claghorn” every week, Kenny Delmar served as Allen’s announcer and foil on the program, and would play secondary characters when needed. Kenny was Ginny Simms’ announcer for a brief stint, and performed on other shows with the likes of Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Eddie Cantor and Henry Morgan. When the Allen show rang down the curtain in 1949, Kenny could still be heard on such series as The Magnificent Montague, The Theatre Guild on the Air and The Adventures of the Abbotts—and he made a big splash on Broadway as Hominy Smith in the hit musical Texas, Li’l Darlin’. Delmar also made inroads into television, guest starring on the likes of The United States Steel Hour and Kraft Theatre, but was more comfortable voicing a number of characters on cartoon shows. On King Leonardo and His Short Subjects he was the canine detective known as The Hunter (or as he pronounced it, “The Hun-tah!”); on Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales he played the titular ex-military man on the segment The World of Commander McBragg (“Quite.”). Delmar also worked occasionally on Underdog (he was Colonel Kit Coyote of Go-Go Gophers fame) and narrated the adventures of The Beagles, a rock ‘n’ roll band of canines loosely based on some popular British music group.

20206Kenny Delmar spent his remaining years eagerly reminiscing about Radio’s Golden Age on venues like Same Time, Same Station—and finally left this world for a better one on July 14, 1984 at the age of 73. Radio Spirits has plenty of Kenny’s classic comedy performances in our box set The Fred Allen Show, and you’ll recognize his famous voice among the commercial spokesmen for Lucky Strike in many of our Jack Benny collections: Jack Benny International, On the Town, Neighbors, No Place Like Home, Maestro, Tall Tales, Wit Under the Weather, Remotes, Drawing a Blanc, Oh, Rochester! and Be Our Guest. Check out Kenny in some of our Shadow sets as well: Knight of Darkness, Radio Treasures, Crime Does Not Pay and Strange Puzzles. On video, Kenny appears as a cookie sponsor in the uproarious Car 54, Where are You? classic “A Star is Born in the Bronx”…which you can find on that sitcom’s second season DVD set. Happy birthday to you, Kenny—happy birthday, that is!

Happy Birthday, Don Wilson!

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On this date in 1900, the man who enjoyed an association with comedian Jack Benny for over thirty years was born in Lincoln, Nebraska—a man we know as Don Wilson. As Jack’s announcer, Don rhapsodized over the virtues of Jell-O, Grape Nuts and Lucky Strike throughout Jack’s long radio run, and would become an invaluable member of Benny’s repertory company along with Mary, Phil, Dennis and Rochester. And yet…there was a lot more to Don than just the endless series of “fat” jokes his boss would tell at every opportunity.

wilson9Described by old-time radio historian John Dunning as “a roly-poly Gargantuan,” Wilson stood over six feet and weighed around two hundred and twenty pounds. On radio, his employer often kidded him mercilessly about his size. What Benny never mentioned was that his announcer was a first-rate athlete; Don had played football at the University of Colorado before breaking into radio in 1923 (as a singer, no less, over KFEL in Denver) and later in life proved to be an excellent amateur duffer, frequently winning golf matches in Southern California with fellow NBC announcer Bud Stevens. By 1929, Wilson was working for KFI in Los Angeles, and soon after distinguished himself as an emcee, announcer and sportscaster (for the Rose Bowl games from 1930 to 1933), covering the Summer Olympic Games in the City of Angels for NBC in 1932.

wilson8Wilson had the announcing duties on Music by Gershwin, a quarter-hour on NBC Radio in 1934, when Benny heard him and insisted he come to work on his new series The General Tire Program. Don’s deep, resonant voice would become one of the Benny program’s trademarks, and his infectious belly laugh also put him in good stead with Jack, who loved to hear laughter from his cast and crew. Don’s relationship with his boss was also unique in that he appeared to be the only one of Jack’s employees who worried about losing his job—while Mary, Rochester and Phil weren’t shy about tossing insults and wisecracks at the Lord and Master, Don was a bit more deferential. The only area where Don would brook no disagreements was in the frequent battles he had with Benny when his boss would be mistaken about a statement of historical fact or improper usage of grammar; it was established that Wilson was the most educated member of the cast, and he wouldn’t hesitate to call out his employer when Jack was wrong.

wilson6It might have seemed that Don Wilson only had to show up for work on Sunday nights—but the announcer made the rounds on other programs, too. Don could be heard on a variety of syndicated programs, including network series like Tim and Irene and The Packard Hour, and the top shows from the Armed Forces Radio Service, Command Performance and Mail Call. He was Ginny Simms’ announcer for several years, and worked the daytime program Glamour Manor—which starred Kenny Baker, a one-time tenor on the Benny show. Other radio celebrities that allowed Don to make their sponsor’s announcements include Fanny Brice (as Baby Snooks), Victor Borge, Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Jim & Marian Jordan (as Fibber McGee & Molly), Frank Sinatra (Light Up Time), Tommy Riggs & Betty Lou and Alan Young.

wilson2Jack brought Don to television with him in 1950, and while Benny toned down a few of his “Don-is-fat” jokes for a new medium (mainly because the audience could now see that Don wasn’t as enormous as described on radio), Wilson proved to be both the loyal employee and perfect foil. A running gag on the TV show would have Don decked out in some ridiculous get-up, generally resulting in his becoming enraged and prompting him to throw a tantrum by comically stamping his foot. Don also got big audience laughs in several shows that featured his fictional son Harlow (played by Dale White), whom Don was always shamelessly exploiting on Benny’s show. (Wilson’s fourth wife, Lois Corbett, also did double duty as his TV spouse…which she had previously done on radio as well.)

wilson4Don was often called upon to appear in movies featuring his boss—he appeared in Broadway Melody of 1936 and was seen joshing in the opening credits of Buck Benny Rides Again. His unmistakable voice is featured in the Benny vehicles Man About Town and Love Thy Neighbor…and in the 1958 Warner Brothers cartoon parody of The Jack Benny Program, The Mouse That Jack Built. But Wilson had a very impressive film resume despite the fact that he was typecast as an emcee and/or announcer; his vehicles include Meet the Missus, Du Barry Was a Lady, Thank Your Lucky Stars, Dick Tracy, Radio Stars on Parade, The Kid from Brooklyn, The Senator Was Indiscreet and Sailor Beware. He plays a sheriff in the 1941 B-western The Roundup, a romantic role (!) in Swing It Soldier (also 1941)…and perhaps his most famous acting gig, as gregarious boss J.C. Kettering in the Joseph Cotten-Marilyn Monroe noir Niagara (1953). Don also did the occasional guest shot on such TV shows as Death Valley Days, Harrigan and Son and Batman.

20714“Just tell them I want to send a candygram…” Don made that phrase a memorable one thanks to his TV commercial gig as the Western Union Candygram spokesman from 1969 to 1971. As for us old-time radio aficionados, we’ll always remember him as the man who took such pleasure in introducing his parsimonious boss on radio week after week. There’s beaucoups of Benny here at Radio Spirits: a new collection entitled Jack Benny International, and old favorites On the Town, Neighbors, No Place Like Home, Maestro, Tall Tales, Wit Under the Weather, Remotes, Drawing a Blanc, Oh, Rochester! and Be Our Guest. Don’t forget to check out our Jack Benny-Fred Allen compilation, The Feud, and the Shout! Factory DVD collection The Jack Benny Program: The Lost Episodes as well!

Happy Birthday, Anne Whitfield!

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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.

whitfield2Anne 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!).

whitfield4Numerous 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.

whitfield8Anne 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.’”

whitfield6Anne 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.

20739Here 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!

Review: Boston Blackie Booked on Suspicion (1945)

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Businessman Arthur Manleder (Lloyd Corrigan) has just acquired a rare book store from owner Wilfred Kittredge (George M. Carleton)…but his investment is in jeopardy when Kittredge takes ill and his doctor (Edward Keane) prescribes a strict regimen of bed rest. The doctor’s diagnosis has come on the eve of a book auction, and without Kittredge’s participation the turnout will be less stellar than usual. But Manleder’s pal, reformed safecracker/thief Horatio “Boston Blackie” Black (Chester Morris), has a solution—he’ll disguise himself as Kittredge, and no one will be the wiser. To compensate for his inexperience with rare books, he’ll rely on some coaching from one of the store’s clerks, Gloria Mannard (Lynn Merrick).

suspicion5As the event gets underway, the E-ticket item is a rare (and autographed) first edition of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, sold on consignment to the shop by a man named Porter Hadley. Unbeknownst to Manleder and “Kittredge,” however, the book is a counterfeit…and when it’s sold to collector Alexander Harmon (Douglas Wood) for the princely sum of $62,000, an enraged Harmon reports the fraud to Inspector John Farraday (Richard Lane) once he learns of the deception. As is his modus operandi, Farraday is convinced that Blackie is behind the deed…so when he and sidekick Inspector Matthews (Frank Sully) happen upon Blackie leaning over the dead body of Hadley it’s pretty much done, sold, Bob’s your uncle, as far as Farraday is concerned.

Blackie naturally sets out to clear his name…a daunting task, to be sure—but since Boston Blackie Booked on Suspicion (1945) runs a mere sixty-six minutes it shouldn’t take him too long. (The title is also a bit of a misnomer—Mr. Black is never at any time escorted to the police station for the titular processing.)

suspicion1Boston Blackie Booked on Suspicion is an average entry in the popular Columbia movie franchise; its brief running time is a plus, since the plot isn’t too compelling (to be honest, the only truly compelling bookstore in motion pictures is the one in The Big Sleep). But the actors are certainly game, and much of the pleasure in watching Booked on Suspicion is the jovial camaraderie between friendly nemeses Blackie and Farraday—Farraday is always convinced his antagonist isn’t on the level, but at least he maintains a sense of humor about it. Suspicion would be the swan song for character great Lloyd Corrigan as Arthur Manleder; the actor always did a first-rate job in portraying the eccentric financier, whether it be performing amusing bits of business or transforming a simple sentence into one long spoonerism. The Manleder character would return for one more Blackie film (Boston Blackie’s Rendezvous, with actor Harry Hayden in the role) before they retired him from the series.

After one go-round as Inspector Matthews (in the previous entry, One Mysterious Night), Lyle Latell handed off to Frank Sully the part of the stupefyingly dense cop sidekick; Sully would play Matthews in the remaining Blackie entries in which the character was featured. Frank, who always reminded me of an older Earl Holliman, later turned up in a number of late-period Three Stooges shorts at the same studio—but he’s perhaps best recognized as Noah Joad in The Grapes of Wrath (1940).

suspicion2Lynn Merrick plays the femme fatale on Booked on Suspicion; for some odd reason our hero never quite learns not to trust the leading ladies in these movies, and Merrick’s Gloria is no exception. Lynn makes a return appearance (as a different character, of course) in A Close Call for Boston Blackie (1946), and she can also be seen in Voice of the Whistler (1945). Gloria is revealed to be the late Mr. Hadley’s accomplice; she entered into a partnership with him in order to raise enough money to help her husband Jack Higgins (a convict on the lam) continue to elude the cops. Higgins is played by Steve Cochran in his feature film debut; Columbia shared his contract with Sam Goldwyn, and Goldwyn used him as a bad guy in Danny Kaye vehicles like Wonder Man (1945) and The Kid from Brooklyn (1946). Cochran would go on to make a lot of noise at Warner Brothers, where his best remembered roles include movies like White Heat (1949), The Damned Don’t Cry (1950) and Tomorrow is Another Day (1951).

20588The Boston Blackie film franchise often distinguished itself by featuring directors that went on to bigger and better things. Sadly, this would not be the case for Suspicion helmer Arthur Dreifuss. Beginning as a choreographer, he went on to direct many a B-picture for Producers Releasing Corporation, as well as “Jungle” Sam Katzman at Monogram (he did a lot of their teenage melodramas and musicals in the late 1940s). Dreifuss’ best-known directorial effort remains the 1962 feature based on Brendan Behan’s play, The Quare Fellow (starring Patrick McGoohan), but he’ll return to sit in the director’s chair next time for Boston Blackie’s Rendezvous (1945). And don’t forget—there’s plenty of Chester Morris-Richard Lane action on Outside the Law, our popular Boston Blackie CD collection!

Happy Birthday, Marie Wilson!

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The actress born Katherine Elizabeth (Marie) Wilson on this date ninety-eight years ago in Anaheim, California is an example of what show business types like to call an “overnight sensation.” And to think—it only took thirty-one years to accomplish this feat. Marie Wilson had been working in motion pictures since 1934; the only setback was that many of these vehicles were strictly B-picture affairs, titles with which only a die-hard movie buff would be familiar. Wilson’s stock in the entertainment industry would change in a New York minute (if you’ll pardon the pun) with the April 11, 1947 premiere of a CBS Radio sitcom created by “reformed introvert” and gag writer Cy Howard: My Friend Irma.

marie6Before achieving her future destiny as America’s favorite “dumb blonde,” Marie Wilson paid her dues with uncredited parts in films like the Laurel & Hardy operetta Babes in Toyland (1934) and the Thelma Todd-Patsy Kelly short Bum Voyage (1934). Being in motion pictures was a lifelong ambition for the young Marie, who had set her sights on an acting career when her family moved to Hollywood after the death of her father. Educated at the Miss Page School and the Hollywood Cumnock School for Girls, Wilson moonlighted as a salesgirl at a department store while looking for work in movies. A chance meeting with director Nick Grinde proved to be the starlet’s big break. He married her and cast her in several of his movies (the aforementioned Hal Roach Studios films, plus Ladies Crave Excitement and Public Wedding). He also secured her a contract with Warner Brothers, where she started to turn heads in such vehicles as Colleen (1936), Satan Met a Lady (1936) and Boy Meets Girl (1938).

marie8Marie’s last film for Warners was The Cowboy Quarterback (1939); after that, she freelanced at several studios while at the same time appearing on stage with comedian Ken Murray as a stooge in his successful “Blackout” stage revues of that era. Her film credits at this time include Broadway (1942), Shine On, Harvest Moon (1944), Music for Millions (1944) and The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947). And then came My Friend Irma, a situation comedy created by writer Cy Howard—which cast Marie as the dizzy flaxen-haired roommate of the more sensible and down-to-earth Cathy Lewis; both women were secretaries sharing an apartment in New York City, with their lives populated by an array of memorably eccentric characters. (If you don’t examine it too closely, you might notice a slight similarity between Irma and the stage/movie hit My Sister Eileen.)

marie10Lewis played Jane Stacy, the level-headed member of the pair, who worked for the wealthy Richard Rhinelander III and had pretty much set her sights on marching Rhinelander down the aisle while an organ played “Oh, Promise Me.” “What good will that do if he’s got two other wives?” Irma Peterson (Wilson) once asked her roomie innocently when Jane brought up the subject of rice-and-old-shoes. Irma was just one in a long line of daffy radio dames (like Gracie Allen and Jane Ace); sure, she drove Jane to distraction at times…but her sweet nature and naïveté usually kept her best bud from introducing her to Mr. Pillow in the wee a.m. hours. Irma wasn’t quite as ambitious in the boyfriend department as her pal; her steady was a loafer named Al (played by John Brown). Although he seemed quite proud of the fact that he depended on the dole for his sole means of support, it was Irma’s fervent ambition to become “Mrs. Al.”

alanreed11Other regulars on the program included Professor Kropotkin (Hans Conried), the girls’ upstairs neighbor who was constantly kvetching about the state of his living quarters…and landlady Kathleen O’Reilly (Jane Morgan, Gloria Gordon), who was not only the object of Kropotkin’s complaints but the target of many of his sarcastic barbs as well. Because My Friend Irma featured both girls hard at work at their respective jobs, their bosses were also a frequent presence on the series: Irma worked for attorney Milton J. Clyde (Alan Reed), who probably would have sacked her years ago were it not for the fact that he was at the mercy of her unorthodox filing system. As mentioned, Jane’s employer was Richard Rhinelander III (played by Leif Erickson, Donald Woods and Brooks West) and Richard figured heavily in the plots…as did his disapproving mother Helen, played by Myra Marsh.

marie9There were a great many factors involved in the success of My Friend Irma, from its first-rate scripting to superlative performances by its cast of accomplished farceurs…but what really made the series a favorite among radio listeners was its fortuitous scheduling after CBS’ The Lux Radio Theatre on Monday nights. Two years after its debut, the program was the subject of a successful movie adaptation that bears the distinction of being the film that launched the career of comedy duo Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. A follow-up, My Friend Irma Goes West (1950), was released a year later…and a television version in 1952. In the meantime, Marie Wilson was able to capitalize on her “dumb blonde” fame with starring vehicles like A Girl in Every Port (1952) and Never Wave at a WAC (1953). But Marie’s onscreen antics soon got competition from a singer-actress who staked out a similar claim to lovably ditziness: Marilyn Monroe. Both the radio and TV versions of Irma ended in 1954, and after that Wilson’s film output was limited to small roles in The Story of Mankind (1957) and Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962). Wilson didn’t want for work; she did a lot of road theater and summer stock appearances in tailor-made vehicles like Born Yesterday and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and guest-starred on such shows as Burke’s Law and Love, American Style. Her last regular television gig before her death in 1972 from cancer at the age of 56 was providing a voice for football wife Penny McCoy on the Hanna-Barbera series Where’s Huddles?—which allowed her to work alongside her one-time Irma boss Alan Reed.

20590Radio Spirits features a My Friend Irma collection in On Second Thought: sixteen half-hour hilarious broadcasts spotlighting Marie Wilson’s signature radio role as the gal who put the “B” in “blonde, beautiful and bewildered” with Cathy Lewis (and Joan Banks) as her BFF Jane and a cast that also includes John Brown, Hans Conried, Gloria Gordon, Alan Reed, Leif Erickson…and Bea Benaderet as the unforgettable Amber Lipscott. One listen and you’ll know why Radio Mirror chose Irma as their “Favorite New Comedy Program of 1947.” (And besides—I wrote the liner notes!) Happy birthday, Marie!

Happy Centennial Birthday, Parley Baer!

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Simply put, the actor born on this date one hundred years ago in Salt Lake City, Utah possessed one of the most distinctive voices in the multiple mediums of radio, TV and movies. Let me illustrate with a personal example. Many years ago, I was worked on some project in the living room of my home in Savannah, GA and to have some noise on in the background, put on a DVD of the 1951 Cary Grant-Jeanne Crain movie People Will Talk. I was pretty engrossed in what I was doing, but the moment Grant’s character walked into a hobby store with the intention of buying a train set, I looked up upon hearing the voice of the salesman who spoke to him. “Parley Baer!” I shouted out…and then felt kind of silly, because I was the only person in the living room at the time.

parley7After studying drama at the University of Utah, Parley achieved the dream of every young boy: he ran away to join the circus. He was quite an adept ringmaster, employed at various times by Circus Vargas and Barnum & Bailey—and years after his radio and TV success, kept his hand in serving on the board of the community L.A. Circus. The big top is also where he met the future Mrs. Baer; Parley courted circus aerialist-bareback rider Ernestine Clarke, and married her in 1946—they were together for fifty-four years until her passing in 2000.

A stint as an announcer for Salt Lake’s KSLM got Baer interested in radio, and he began getting jobs on such series as The Whistler and The First Nighter Program. Parley would go on to appear on nearly every major dramatic anthology series, among them The Damon Runyon Theater, The Hallmark Hall of Fame, The Lux Radio Theatre, The NBC University Theater and The Railroad Hour. He was versatile enough to do comedy, scoring supporting roles on shows like Shorty Bell, Granby’s Green Acres (he was the original Eb!) and The Truitts, and guesting on the likes of Fibber McGee & Molly, Our Miss Brooks and Those Websters. It’s difficult to name a series that didn’t give Parley a script to hold at one time or another; he graced such popular programs as Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator, Confession, The Count of Monte Cristo (as manservant Rene), Dragnet, The Man Called X, Night Beat, Pat Novak For Hire, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, The Six Shooter, Suspense, Tales of the Texas Rangers, This is Your FBI and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

parley6If Parley Baer had a mentor in radio…it might arguably be producer-director Norman Macdonnell. Norm used Parley frequently on The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, The CBS Radio Workshop, Escape, Fort Laramie and Romance. On Honest Harold, the sitcom Harold Peary did for CBS after departing The Great Gildersleeve, Baer played Harold’s pal Pete, and the actor later essayed the role of Doc Clemmens, the best friend (who often narrated the stories) of the titular hero on Rogers of the Gazette. Parley would also work for Macdonnell on what would later be acknowledged as his signature radio role as Chester Wesley Proudfoot in the dean of radio westerns, Gunsmoke.

parley8As originally written, Chester didn’t actually have a name—star William Conrad complained that Parley’s part in the audition script was simply designated as “Townsman,” and he explained it was silly to call him that when he had to address him. So Conrad came up with “Chester,” and Baer later ad-libbed the remainder of his moniker in another episode. In numerous interviews, the actor unhesitatingly described playing Chester on Gunsmoke as the highlight of his professional career—a complete contrast to Dennis Weaver, who played the “dependable non-thinker” (Baer’s description) on television, and who eventually became dissatisfied with what he considered a limiting, confining trap. Like so many radio veterans, Parley Baer embraced acting in the medium as a pure joy—he continued to perform on such 1970s revivals as The Sears Radio Theater (a.k.a. The Mutual Radio Theater) and played the recurring roles of Reginald Duffield and Uncle Joe Finneman on Adventures in Odyssey in the 1980s/1990s.

parley4By the beginning of the 1950s, Parley was ready to flex his thespic muscles as a movie character actor; his first credited roles were in the films Comanche Territory and Union Station, and he later appeared in the likes of Air Cadet (1951), Away All Boats (1956), The Young Lions (1958), The FBI Story (1959), Wake Me When It’s Over (1960), A Fever in the Blood (1961), Gypsy (1962), Bedtime Story (1964), Those Calloways (1965), Skin Game (1971)…and one of his personal favorites, the controversial Sam Fuller-directed White Dog (1982). He’d continue to play small roles and bit parts in films until 1995; one of his most memorable valedictory roles was as the Senate majority leader in the 1993 comedy Dave.

parley9Parley would become a frequent presence on the small screen as well, guest starring on such TV successes as Have Gun – Will Travel, Perry Mason, The Lucy Show, Hogan’s Heroes, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, The Virginian, Bewitched, WKRP in Cincinnati and Newhart. On The Andy Griffith Show, Parley played Mayberry mayor Roy Stoner (reuniting him with his one-time Gunsmoke colleague Howard McNear), a by-the-book stickler for the rules who frequently created conflict for Sheriff Andy Taylor. Baer also appeared on The Addams Family in several episodes (as city commissioner—and later mayor—Arthur J. Henson) and had a recurring role on The Dukes of Hazzard as Doc Appleby. His best remembered boob tube gig is undoubtedly that of Ozzie and Harriet’s neighbor Herb Darby on The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet; later, in the 1990s, he made multiple appearances on the daytime drama The Young and the Restless as Miles Dugan when that series prominently featured a story arc on senior citizens. Even when Parley wasn’t appearing on a proper TV program chances were you could catch him voicing the Keebler Elf in that cookie company’s popular commercials.

parley5A major stroke in 1997 ended Parley’s acting career, and he finally shuffled off this mortal coil in 2002 at the age of 88. But his radio legacy is a rich one; among the Radio Spirits collections on which you can hear the amazing Mr. Baer: The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, Defense Attorney, Escape (Escape to the High Seas), Fort Laramie Volume Two, Frontier Gentleman (Aces and Eights), The Line Up (Witness), The Mutual Radio Theater, Night Beat (Lost Souls), Our Miss Brooks (Boynton Blues), Pat Novak for Hire (Pain Gets Expensive), Richard Diamond, Private Detective (Mayhem is My Business), Romance, The Six Shooter (Gray Steel), Suspense (Tales Well Calculated) and The Whistler (Notes on Murder, Root of All Evil). Today’s birthday boy also appears on all of our Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar sets: Confidential, Murder Matters, Phantom Chases, Wayward Matters…and The Many Voices of Johnny Dollar. Happy centennial anniversary to one of our favorite character actors!

Happy Birthday, Bill Goodwin!

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There are announcers…and there are personality announcers. The latter were integral to the success of any comedy program during Radio’s Golden Age; not only did they dutifully promote the sponsor’s product, but they were also called upon to play a more participatory role in the weekly shenanigans in the show. Don Wilson, when he wasn’t hawking Jell-O or Grape Nuts or Lucky Strike, was important to the plot that unfolded during each half-hour of The Jack Benny Program. Harlow Wilcox stopped by 79 Wistful Vista each week not only to praise Johnson’s Wax or Carnu, but to needle the laird and master of that residence, Fibber McGee. Harry Von Zell was a foil for Fred Allen, Eddie Cantor, Joan Davis and Dinah Shore before becoming the whipping boy on George Burns and Gracie Allen’s popular TV sitcom.

goodwin5Since I’ve mentioned Burns and Allen, it seems only fitting to mention that their longtime announcer Bill Goodwin celebrates what would have been his one-hundred-and-fourth birthday today. Born William Nettles Goodwin in San Francisco in 1910, Bill can be heard working alongside George and Gracie as early as an extant September 26, 1934 broadcast (when the couple’s show was known as The Adventures of Gracie and was sponsored by White Owl cigars). But he moonlighted with other funsters at the same time, working for Joe Penner’s Cocomalt show and at Jack Oakie’s College (which also meant that he handled the announcing chores for Oakie’s companion program, The Camel Caravan with Benny Goodman). Bill was also the announcer for Hollywood Showcase briefly in 1938, and yucked it up with Arthur Lake and Penny Singleton when those two brought their movie act to radio in the sitcom Blondie.

goodwin1Goodwin’s best known radio gig at that time was as announcer and stooge for Bob Hope, whom he worked with during the comedian’s early years in radio (1938-41), and later rejoined in the 1950s (after George and Gracie chose to concentrate solely on TV). Because Bill was Bob’s announcer, it only made sense that he fill the same role on A Date with Judy when that sitcom was Hope’s summer replacement in 1941. Throughout the 1940s, Bill Goodwin would work alongside the likes of Edgar Bergen (and Charlie McCarthy), Milton Berle (on Three Ring Time), Gracie Fields, Al Pearce and Frank Sinatra. In select summers (because he was employed by Burns and Allen), he handled the chores on Tommy Riggs and Betty Lou and Paul Whiteman Presents. Other shows on which Bill made appearances include Command Performance, Mail Call, The Columbia Workshop, The Silver Theatre and The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre.

goodwin7As George and Gracie’s announcer and foil, Bill Goodwin was a master of the integrated commercial—sneaking in plugs for Swan Soap and Maxwell House Coffee with effortless aplomb. Bill was also a sounding board for Gracie’s weekly bit of wacky, and loved to toss barbs at George…usually on the subjects of his age and how he owed much of his success to his wife. Goodwin also fancied himself quite the ladies’ man, and would offer up his expertise on charming the fairer sex to bandleader Meredith Willson, who was a complete washout where women were concerned.

Because of his popularity on the Burns and Allen program, Bill Goodwin attempted to strike out on his own in two unsuccessful solo ventures. He played an insurance salesman on CBS’ The Bill Goodwin Show (also known as Leave it to Bill), but despite the presence of radio veterans like Jim Backus, Bill Johnstone, Shirley Mitchell, Elvia Allman and Mary Jane Croft, the sitcom came and went rather quickly. The following year, Bill sent up the private eye genre as an inept (and inebriated) gumshoe named Johnny Fletcher, heard briefly on ABC (and co-starring Sheldon Leonard). A quiz show, Dollar a Minute, was hosted by Mr. G for a single season from 1950-51. Of course, by that time Bill was touting Carnation Milk on George and Gracie’s behalf on the small screen, so he certainly wasn’t browsing the want ads for work.

'To Each His Own'Besides, Bill Goodwin was already hard at work establishing his bona fides as a movie character actor. Amusingly, he turns up in two entries in the Blondie franchise (so it must have seemed like Old Home Week for Bill, Penny and Arthur), Blondie in Society (1941) and Blondie Goes to College (1942). You’ll recognize him as the hotel detective in Spellbound (1945), and as Olivia de Havilland’s business partner in To Each His Own (1946), the film that won Livvy her first of two Best Actress Oscars. Other Goodwin performances can be viewed in Incendiary Blonde (1945), The Stork Club (1945), The Jolson Story (1946), It’s a Great Feeling (1949), The Life of Riley (1949), Tea for Two (1950), Lucky Me (1954) and The Opposite Sex (1956). A film that’s been previously discussed here on the blog, So This is New York (1948), also includes Bill Goodwin among the all-star cast (as a megalomaniacal Broadway star)…and was recently released to DVD and Blu-ray this month by Olive Films.

20560It’s quite ironic that Bill Goodwin, who garnered appreciative laughs by ridiculing his boss George Burns’ age, would actually leave this world for a better one before his famous employer—Goodwin died of a heart attack in 1958 at the age of 47. But his underrated prowess as a comedic straight man lives on in such Burns & Allen Radio Spirits collections as Treasury, As Good as Nuts and Burns & Allen and Friends. (Bill gets plenty of time to say a few words in Volumes 1 and 2 of their television show, too.) And for a change of pace…our birthday boy shares a microphone with Bergen and McCarthy in the set Homefront Charlie. Happy birthday, Bill—you’re good to the last drop!

Review: One Mysterious Night (1944)

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It costs only a dollar—1/100th of a C-note—to gaze at a display of precious gems at the Carleton Plaza Hotel, an event that’s fundraising for the war effort…and that features the Blue Star of the Nile as its main attraction. But that attraction won’t be around for long—a couple of hoods, Paul Martens (William Wright) and Matt Healy (Robert Williams), put the snatch on the diamond with the help of the Carleton’s general manager, George Daley (Robert E. Scott). The audience is aware of this, of course, but Inspector Farraday (Richard Lane) is not—and after being called on the carpet by the commissioner (Edward Keane), Farraday falls back on the old reliable of publicly accusing Horatio “Boston Blackie” Black (Chester Morris) of the theft.

night8We’ve already been clued in as to Blackie’s innocence…but even without that information we know our hero is the victim of a baseless accusation, since he and his sidekick The Runt (George E. Stone) are working legitimate jobs in the tool factory owned by their pal Arthur Manleder (Harrison Greene). When Blackie goes to police headquarters to confront Farraday and clear his name…that’s when his cop nemesis reveals his true intentions. He knows that Blackie is the only person who can ferret out the people responsible, and he deputizes the ex-jewel thief to carry out this mission.

night2It will certainly be strange for Blackie to be working with the encouragement of the police department for a change…but Farraday starts to have second thoughts when a series of events, including the murder of Daley, suggests that Blackie might be in on the caper after all. Throw in a doggedly determined female reporter, Dorothy Anderson (Janis Carter), and some truly offbeat set pieces…and you have the makings of one of the best vehicles in Columbia’s Boston Blackie franchise: One Mysterious Night (1944).

What makes Night such an engaging Boston Blackie entry is that while it contains many of the elements audiences have come to expect from the film series, it throws in some amusing twists to make the entry a particular standout. Blackie dons several of his legendary disguises to track down the thieves, and there’s a riotously funny moment where he and Runt, posing as phone repairmen, converse with a salesclerk (Ann Loos) working the hotel’s newsstand. “The nursery’s at the other end of the lobby,” she tells Blackie, suggesting that The Runt is his “little boy.” Blackie corrects her, letting her know The Runt is his assistant. “That half-pint?” she asks.

night4“Why not?” responds Blackie. “I got him for half-price.” Our hero’s first attempt at going undercover, earlier in the film, resulted in his unmasking by reporter Anderson…and he’s hauled back to headquarters, much to Farraday’s frustration—which increases when Blackie tells him he has no other recourse but to let the press (and public) know that he’s “escaped.” “I can see the headlines now,” Farraday wails. “’Blackie Escapes Farraday After Three Hours in Jail’.” Sure enough, after a scene dissolve, Blackie and Runt are perusing a newspaper with that very headline.

night7Night also brings back many of the favorite supporting characters from previous Blackie entries…but audiences might be a bit perplexed by the fact that they have new faces. Lloyd Corrigan is sorely missed as Arthur Manleder. The character puts in but a brief appearance, and he’s played by Harrison Greene for this go-round. Joseph Crehan is adequate as pawnshop owner-fence Jumbo Madigan (played in previous Blackie movies by Cy Kendall). Lyle Latell takes over for Walter Sande as the unbelievably dense Sergeant Matthews. Latell’s Matthews is convincing evidence that they’ve lowered the I.Q. test requirements for the police force…but after seeing a couple of plainclothesman play gin rummy in Jumbo’s shop—oblivious to the fact that two of the “mannequins” are actually Martens and Healy—it could be concluded that there’s a systemic problem.

night5Janis Carter is the leading lady in One Mysterious Night; the Columbia starlet appeared in two of the Whistler films discussed previously here at Radio Spirits, The Mark of the Whistler (1944) and The Power of the Whistler (1945). But she’s a bit overshadowed by the actress playing Eileen Dailey, George’s concerned sister—it’s Dorothy Malone in one of her earliest film roles before going on to Academy Award-winning glory with Written on the Wind in 1956. Also uncredited is character great Minerva Urecal (as the manager of an apartment building with an all-female clientele), who later appeared on such TV shows as The Adventures of Tugboat Annie and Peter Gunn.

night1Honestly, there are some really unusual touches in this—witness the spinning street sign after the opening credits, without any explanation as to why it’s twirling on its axle. The crisp, snappy direction of Night is courtesy of Oscar Boetticher, Jr. This is his third feature film, but the first on which he received official credit. Oscar is probably more familiar to movie buffs as “Budd.” He helmed a number of entertaining B-films—like The Missing Juror (1944) and Behind Locked Doors (1948) —before achieving critical success with Bullfighter and the Lady in 1951, which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Motion Picture Story (which he shared with Ray Nazarro). However, he’s most revered for a series of low-budget westerns made in tandem with cowboy great Randolph Scott and producer Harry Brown. Seven Men from Now (1956), The Tall T (1957), Ride Lonesome (1959), and the like have acquired considerable cache with fans of the genre.

20588One Mysterious Night is one of three Boston Blackie films available on DVD, part of Sony Home Video’s manufactured-on-demand series (MOD). Next up in the catalog: Lloyd Corrigan returns to his Arthur Manleder role for the last time in Boston Blackie Booked on Suspicion (1945), which finds the whole gang mixed up in bookstore shenanigans involving a rare first edition by Charles Dickens. As always, we encourage you to check out our CD collection Outside the Law and listen to the radio adventures of the man who’s an “enemy to those who make him an enemy…friend to those who have no friends.”