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Happy Birthday, Hanley Stafford!


The actor who achieved his greatest fame on radio as the best foil Fanny Brice’s Baby Snooks could ever wish for was born on this date in 1899 as Alfred John Austin. His birthplace of Hanley in Staffordshire provided all the inspiration he would need for his chosen stage name: Hanley Stafford.

stafford5Hanley and his parents immigrated to Winnipeg, Canada in 1911, and it was during his time in The Great White North that he developed his ambition to be an actor. You see, he had enlisted in a Canadian military platoon at the age of 16 and was injured in World War I…during his convalescence, he formed a theatrical group, which led to his later finding work with the Winnipeg Permanent Players. After that, he got a job with a stock company that toured western Canada. The life of an actor was not a secure one, however; when the company folded he found himself toiling in wheat fields in order to earn enough money to return to Winnipeg. Stafford’s interim jobs also included hauling freight and being a stenographer.

stafford2Hanley and his first wife Doris—along with his only son, Graham, who was one at the time—entered the U.S. in 1922 (he became a naturalized citizen three years later). He landed villainous roles in B-westerns and, after doing that for a few years, eventually made his way back to the stage. He received rave notices for his appearance in Six Characters in Search of an Author, and the positive buzz from that led to more parts…and eventually an engagement as an actor-director with Los Angeles’ Shelby Players. Then the Great Depression hit, and Stafford found a life preserver in the medium of radio.

Hanley Stafford’s early days over the airwaves were marked by a constant presence in many programs produced for syndication; some of the shows he appeared on include The World Adventurer’s Club, Strange Adventures in Strange Lands, The Last of the Mohicans and Police Headquarters. In the 1932 serial Tarzan of the Apes, Hanley took on three roles—Count Raoul de Conde, Lord Tennington and Karanoff! He could also be heard on Chandu the Magician and The Further Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon, and toward the end of the 1930s, Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police and The Shadow of Fu Manchu (as Nayland Smith). In addition, Hanley was one of several familiar radio voices who appeared in the holiday favorite The Cinnamon Bear (he was Snapper Snitch, the Crocodile). Hanley eventually began to make the rounds of network radio, notably on daytime dramas like John’s Other Wife (on which he was “John” for a few years) and Big Sister; he also played the titular role of Thatcher Colt on the NBC Sunday afternoon crime drama from 1936 to 1937. Some of the other series on which he guested include Big Town, Calling All Cars, The Court of Human Relations, The John Barrymore Theatre and The Palmolive Players.

stafford3It was 1938 when Hanley Stafford landed the gig that would make him famous. The legendary Fanny Brice had become quite a sensation on radio playing the child terror known as Baby Snooks (Higgins) on the 1936 series The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air, with broadcast veteran Alan Reed as her father, Lancelot “Daddy” Higgins. When Brice wanted to move to the West Coast, Reed elected to stay put…and Hanley auditioned for the part, much to Fanny’s delight. “He was perfect,” she reminisced in later years. “We didn’t need to hear anyone else.” Brice and Stafford performed Baby Snooks sketches on the Good News program from 1938 to 1940, then on Maxwell House Coffee Time from 1940-44 (a show she shared with comedian Frank Morgan). Baby Snooks then became a half-hour situation comedy on CBS for General Foods from 1944 to 1948, and for Tums on NBC from 1949 until Brice’s death in May of 1951.

brice&stafford5Playing opposite Brice soon made Stafford one of the “go-to” guys in radio for stack-blowing, as the poor put-upon “Daddy” would be driven to distraction by his daughter’s bratty antics. The Snooks gig undoubtedly led to Hanley’s other recurring radio role as J.C. Dithers on the situation comedy Blondie. Who could ever forget Dithers bellowing “Bumstead! I’ll run your little finger through the pencil sharpener!” Hanley used his exposure with Fanny to work alongside such radio comedians as Jack Haley (on his Log Cabin Jamboree), Fred Allen (Town Hall Tonight), W.C. Fields (Your Hit Parade) and Eddie Cantor (It’s Time to Smile). In addition to all this, Hanley also made time for guest appearances on such shows as The Halls of Ivy, Presenting Charles Boyer, The Screen Guild Theatre, Suspense and The Railroad Hour.

stafford11Hanley Stafford’s work in radio kept him pretty busy, so he only made sporadic appearances in motion pictures like The Light That Failed (1939) and Life with Henry (1941). But after the passing of Fanny Brice, he began to get more roles in movies like Three Guys Named Mike (1951), Lullaby of Broadway (1951), A Girl in Every Port (1952), Just This Once (1952), Here Come the Marines (1952—with the Bowery Boys), Francis Covers the Big Town (1953) and The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953). His notable guest appearances on the small screen include such favorites as Maverick, The Millionaire, Sugarfoot, Cheyenne and 77 Sunset Strip—his final appearance on TV was in an episode of The Lucy Show. Hanley Stafford passed away in 1968 at the age of 68…less than two weeks from his sixty-ninth birthday.

20697Here at Radio Spirits, we remember Hanley for what is unmistakably his greatest radio role: the long-suffering Daddy Higgins, tormented to no end by his mischievous daughter Baby Snooks. Why. Daddy?—with liner notes composed by yours truly—features skits and sketches from the duo’s successful stint on Maxwell House Coffee Time. The latest collection, Smart Aleck, concentrates on their appearances from the Good News program. Author Ben Ohmart contributed the liner notes for Aleck, and has also compiled two wonderful books—The Baby Snooks Scripts and The Baby Snooks Scripts Volume 2—that contain original scripts written by the man who also gave us John and Blanche Bickerson, Philip Rapp. Happy birthday, Hanley!

Happy Birthday, Lawrence Dobkin!


There are eight million stories in the naked city…and today we’ll highlight one of them, by celebrating the 95th birthday of the actor who narrated those tales on one of television’s most memorable police procedurals. Before becoming the “voice” associated with the Naked City series, Lawrence Dobkin—born in NYC on this date in 1919—was a veteran of radio, stage and movies, possessing some of the most distinctive tones in any broadcast medium.

dobkin5Larry began acting at an early age. In fact, he broke into radio in order to finance his studies at the Yale School of Drama (his roommate was Richard Fleischer, future film director and son of cartoon innovator Max). Dobkin’s prolificacy over the airwaves was astonishing: he emoted on many big-time broadcasts including The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, Broadway is My Beat, Doctor Christian, Jeff Regan, Investigator, Let George Do It, The Line-Up, The Man Called X, Night Beat, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, The Story of Dr. Kildare, Tales of the Texas Rangers and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Dobkin also made the rounds of the prestigious anthology programs—notably on Escape, where he was practically a regular—but also on The CBS Radio Workshop, Family Theatre, The First Nighter Program, The Hallmark Hall of Fame, The Lux Radio Theatre, The NBC University Theatre, Romance, Suspense and The Whistler.

Lawrence Dobkin circa 1958Lawrence Dobkin was one of five actors to play the legendary Ellery Queen on radio; he solved cases as the super sleuth over ABC from 1947 to 1948. Dobkin was also a regular on The Adventures of the Saint as Simon Templar’s cabbie sidekick…and once stepped into the shoes of Mr. Templar in an episode entitled “The Fish Case” (09/02/51) when the star of the series, Tom Conway, was incapacitated by drink. Larry was also one of several actors to play famed sidekick Archie Goodwin to the corpulent Nero Wolfe (played by Sydney Greenstreet) in a celebrated crime drama broadcast on NBC from 1950 to 1951. In 1951, he sidekicked for Dan Duryea (and in the first episode, Charles McGraw) in a summer replacement for Inner Sanctum, The Man from Homicide.

dobkin8One show that Larry Dobkin frequented, even though he wasn’t technically a regular, was the dean of radio westerns: Gunsmoke. Along with John Dehner, Vic Perrin, Harry Bartell, Jeanette Nolan, Sam Edwards, Virginia Gregg, Barney Phillips and so many other talented veterans, Dobkin could usually be counted on to pick up a script weekly. Well, let’s put it this way—if an episode didn’t feature Larry in a supporting role that week it was cause for concern. Dobkin would later turn up on the many radio westerns that followed in the wake of Gunsmoke’s success and dotted the landscape in radio’s waning era: Fort Laramie, Frontier Gentleman, Luke Slaughter of Tombstone and Have Gun – Will Travel.

dobkin7Lawrence Dobkin’s first credited film role was in 1949’s Not Wanted, playing an assistant district attorney in the directorial debut of actress Ida Lupino (she did not receive credit for taking over for the ailing Elmer Clifton). He did not possess matinee idol looks, but his bald pate was perfect for playing all sorts of authority figures (doctors, lawyers, police sergeants)…and if push came to shove, he could always wear his toupee. His C.V. in movies is far too lengthy to list here, but some of our favorite Dobkin film appearances include D.O.A. (1950), Angels in the Outfield (1951—as a rabbi), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Deadline – U.S.A. (1952), Them! (1954), The Killer Is Loose (1956), The Ten Commandments (1956—as Hur Ben Caleb!), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Portland Exposé (1957), and The Defiant Ones (1958). You’ve also heard him narrate classics like Broken Arrow (1950) and The Robe (1953). And in North by Northwest (1959)—my favorite Alfred Hitchcock film—he plays the U.S. intelligence official who observes: “It’s so horribly sad…why is it I feel like laughing?”

dobkin4Perhaps he was inspired after watching Lupino start her directing career in Not Wanted…but Lawrence Dobkin started to flex his muscles behind the camera by the late 1950s. He wrote episodes for such series as The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor and The Rifleman, produced the series Klondike and Temple Houston, and helmed a number of episodes from hit series such as The Real McCoys, 77 Sunset Strip, The Munsters, Gilligan’s Island, The Andy Griffith Show, The Donna Reed Show, Felony Squad, The Mod Squad, Emergency!, Cannon, Barnaby Jones and The Waltons. Though Larry was comfortable as the unseen narrator on Naked City, he occasionally stepped in front of the camera to play Dutch Schultz in three episodes of The Untouchables. He also appeared on the likes of I Love Lucy, Have Gun – Will Travel, Rawhide, The Streets of San Francisco (he played a memorable bad guy in that series’ pilot, a former horror film actor turned psycho)…and of course, Gunsmoke. Larry was also the only person to direct an episode of the original Star Trek series (“Charlie X”) and later appear in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (“The Mind’s Eye”).

20745Before his death in 2002 at age 83, Lawrence Dobkin remarked on his radio days: “The few of us who are left kept telling each other we never had it so good.” He’ll certainly get no argument from us, but we’re most fortunate that Larry’s radio legacy survives in the form of several Radio Spirits collections: The Saint is Heard, Night Beat: Lost Souls, Defense Attorney, Frontier Gentleman: Aces and Eights, The Man from Homicide, three sets of Suspense (Around the World, Tales Well Calculated, The Ties That Bind) and two sets of The Adventures of Nero Wolfe, The Case of the Midnight Ride and Other Tales and Parties for Death. Be sure to keep an ear peeled for our birthday boy in Fort Laramie: Volume Two, The Whistler, The Whistler: Root of All Evil, Escape to the High Seas, The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, Let George Do It, Jeff Regan, Investigator: Stand by for Mystery, The Line Up: Witness and Broadway is My Beat: Neon Shoals. Happy birthday, Larry!

Happy Birthday, Edmond O’Brien!


Born 101 years ago on this date in New York City, Redmond O’Brien would go on to become one of the movies’ most beloved and respected character actors…after dropping the “r” in the first part of his name, that is. Edmond would make a standout debut in the 1939 film classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and go on to win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 1954’s The Barefoot Contessa. But old-time radio fans know that O’Brien also took on the role of “the man with the action-packed expense account” on Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar from 1950 to 1952.

obrienyoungIt has been said that while growing up in The Bronx, Edmond O’Brien was a neighbor to the legendary magician Harry Houdini, who encouraged Eddie’s own amateur aspirations to prestidigitation. Dabbling in magic instilled in the young man a desire to study acting and, after majoring in drama at Columbia University, O’Brien made his Broadway debut at the age of 21 in Daughters of Atreus. Ed’s deep voice and mature looks gave him an advantage in the theater—he was able to play roles much older than his actual age. He excelled in a number of Shakespearean productions: he was “The Gravedigger” in John Gielgud’s Hamlet, “Mark Antony” in Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater presentation of Julius Caesar, and “Mercutio” to Laurence Olivier’s “Romeo” when Larry produced Romeo and Juliet.

obrien2His stage experience convinced RKO’s Pandro S. Berman to cast him in Hunchback…but after that auspicious debut, most of O’Brien’s film work consisted of fairly standard vehicles such as Parachute Battalion (1941) and Obliging Young Lady (1942). Ed really wouldn’t come into his own in movies until he finished a stint in the service (he’s billed as “Sergeant Edmond O’Brien” in 1944’s Winged Victory) and was cast in a 1946 film based on Ernest Hemingway’s short story “The Killers.” Because of the need to flesh out the details for a full-length feature, O’Brien played the role of an insurance investigator (a foreshadowing of things to come?) looking into the death of a former boxer (played by Burt Lancaster in his film debut). The Killers would establish the actor’s solid noir credentials, and Ed appeared in subsequent “Dark City” films such as The Web (1947), A Double Life (1947) and An Act of Murder (1948).

obrien8Edmond O’Brien would receive another plum assignment at Warner Brothers in 1949 when he landed the part of an undercover cop who ingratiates himself with James Cagney’s psychotic criminal in the gangster classic White Heat. A year later, the actor continued his streak of film noirs with entries like Backfire (1950), 711 Ocean Drive (1950) and Between Midnight and Dawn (1950)…and a movie that features one of his finest performances, D.O.A. (1950). In that classic crime tale, Ed is Frank Bigelow, an accountant whose casual notarization of a bill of sale ends up being his death warrant when he’s slipped a radioactive poison; the unforgettable opening has Bigelow stumbling into a police station, babbling that he wants to report a murder…his own!

edmondobrien1950 was also the year that Edmond O’Brien took on the role of “America’s fabulous freelance insurance investigator” on Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Ed was no stranger to radio; he had impressive showcases on programs like Suspense and Escape, and made appearances on the likes of Arch Oboler’s Plays, The Lux Radio Theatre, Hallmark Playhouse, The NBC University Theatre, Family Theatre, Screen Directors’ Playhouse and The Cavalcade of America. In fact, if things had worked out differently, O’Brien might have become the star of the program eventually known as Night Beat; he had appeared on a May 19, 1949 audition record for the series (which eventually starred Frank Lovejoy in the fine dramatic offering that ran from 1950-52).

obrienoscarEdmond O’Brien left Johnny Dollar in the capable hands of actor John Lund in 1952, and continued his impressive string of film performances that included offbeat roles as the titular husband of The Bigamist (1953) and “Casca” in MGM’s all-star presentation of Julius Caesar that same year. (O’Brien even had a couple of turns behind the camera, co-directing 1954’s Shield for Murder and later Man-Trap in 1961.) The actor finally received tribute from his peers in 1955 when he was awarded a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as sweaty press agent Oscar Muldoon in 1954’s The Barefoot Contessa (all those years of perspiring in noirs finally paid off!). Ed would continue to make impressions in such memorable classic films as 1984 (1956), The Rack (1956), The Girl Can’t Help It (1956), The Great Imposter (1961), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), Seven Days in May (1964—for which he received a second Best Supporting Actor nomination), Fantastic Voyage (1966) and The Wild Bunch (1969).

obrien5Edmond O’Brien kept busy on the small screen as well: the programs are not rerun much, but he was the star of a 1960-61 syndicated detective series entitled Johnny Midnight and later played lawyer Sam Benedict on a short-lived NBC series from 1962-63. Ed also guest starred on such hits as Laramie, The Virginian, Mission: Impossible, It Takes a Thief, The Name of the Game, The High Chaparral, The Streets of San Francisco and McMillan & Wife. His last feature film before retiring was 1974’s 99 and 44/100% Dead; he passed away at the age of 69 in 1985.

19881You can hear today’s birthday boy in three broadcasts of the radio series he starred in from 1950-52 in our collection The Many Voices of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: “The Yankee Pride Matter” (10-14-50), “The Woodward Manila Matter” (11-25-50) and “The Hannibal Murphy Matter” (11-03-51). When you’re done with that, curl up with some of Edmond O’Brien’s finest forays on the silver screen; we highly recommend The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Killers, A Double Life, White Heat, D.O.A., The Hitch-Hiker and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance…just for starters, you understand! Happy birthday, Ed!

Happy Birthday, Kenny Delmar!


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!


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!


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)


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!


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!