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Happy Birthday, Bill Thompson!

When he was five years old, actor Bill Thompson lost his voice campaigning around the country selling Liberty bonds (America had just entered World War I).  Now, if you’ve ever listened to a broadcast of Fibber McGee & Molly or watched a Droopy cartoon, you know that Thompson’s voice eventually returned…but it took two years of throat exercises to recover his instrument.  What’s more, Bill discovered as he got older that he was able to switch back and forth from bass to tenor with very little effort. (Doctors later determined that the actor’s ability to do this was a direct result of the temporary voice loss in his youth.)  Combined with a fine comedic sense, the man born William H. Thompson on this date in 1913 in Terre Haute, Indiana enjoyed a long and prosperous career on radio and in movies, providing voices for many of both mediums’ most memorable characters.

Bill Thompson’s hawking of Liberty bonds was done while he was in vaudeville, where he performed as a song-and-dance man alongside his parents—he was a stage veteran at age two, making his debut performing a tap dance.  He’d transition from the boards to a microphone in 1932 after a successful audition with NBC, garnering attention with a routine called “International Parade” (which included demonstrations of ten different dialects).  Thompson then appeared on such programs as The Breakfast ClubClub MatineeThe Hoofinghams, and The Saturday Night Jamboree.

Bill Thompson joined Jim and Marian Jordan on The Johnson Wax Program in January of 1936, and for most of his radio career Fibber McGee & Molly would be his bread-and-butter.  In the show’s early years, he played cafeteria owner Nick Depopolous, a malapropism-prone Greek who got big laughs mispronouncing words. (He called Fibber “Fizzer” and Molly “Kewpie.”)  Thompson also voiced Horatio K. Boomer (originally known as Widdicomb Blotto), a garrulous con man who sounded very much like W.C. Fields. That character’s standard shtick was rummaging through his pockets…where he would invariably find “a check for a short beer.”  Nick and Boomer would eventually fade out in the early forties, though there’s a Bing Crosby Show broadcast from October 10, 1951 that allows Bill to reprise his Boomer characterization.

One of the most popular Fibber & Molly characters voiced by Bill Thompson included The Old Timer, a half-deaf old codger who often had to have Fibber repeat things to him (“Whut say, Johnny?”)…and never failed to be tickled by McGee’s predilection for stretching the truth.  “That’s purty good, Johnny,” The Old Timer would observe, “but that ain’t the way I heerd it!”  (To do the Old Timer, Thompson would distort his jaw and speak as if he had no teeth.)  Another Thompson characterization that really took hold was Wallace Wimple, a henpecked creampuff who was forced to drop in on the McGees at 79 Wistful Vista to escape “Sweety Face” his “big ol’ wife.” The Wimple character was one that Bill had performed as far back as his days on The Breakfast Club, and the voice would later be recycled for a series of popular MGM cartoons featuring Droopy, a stone-faced basset hound (“Hello, folks…”).  The studio would produce the Droopy cartoon series from 1943 to 1958.

It could be argued that voicing Droopy was Bill Thompson’s longest-lasting contribution to motion pictures because outside of a few feature film appearances (1940’s Comin’ Round the Mountain, 1942’s Here We Go Again—the Fibber McGee & Molly film in which he plays Wallace Wimple). But this would diminish his work in many of the animation classics released by the Walt Disney Studios.  In Alice in Wonderland (1951), he voiced both the Dodo and the White Rabbit, and he was Captain Hook’s sidekick Mr. Smee in Disney’s Peter Pan (1953).  (Thompson would reprise this role in a Lux Radio Theatre presentation on December 21, 1953.)  Bill also did voice work in Sleeping Beauty (1959; as King Hubert) and The Aristocats (1970; Uncle Waldo), not to mention several Disney shorts in which he played park ranger J. Audubon Woodlore (Beezy BearIn the Bag).  His most impressive feat was voicing five characters in 1955’s Lady and the Tramp, notably Jock, the pugnacious Scottish terrier.

Bill Thompson’s work on Fibber McGee & Molly was interrupted briefly in the mid-1940s while he was “doing his bit” in the Navy. When he returned, he was given his own starring sitcom (The Bill Thompson Show) that aired briefly in the spring of 1946 on ABC.  In addition to his Fibber & Molly duties, Bill was a guest on programs headlined by Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy, Jimmy Durante & Garry Moore, Phil Harris & Alice Faye, Red Skelton (Avalon Time), and Rudy Vallee.  Thompson also guested on The CBS Radio WorkshopCommand PerformanceThe Great GildersleeveThe Halls of Ivy, and Wild Bill Hickok.  Thompson left show business in 1957 to take an executive position with Union Oil in Los Angeles but continued to keep his hand in when the mood hit. (He appeared on To Tell the Truth in 1959 as a contestant!)  This talented, funny man left this world for a better one in 1971 at the age of 58.

As a kid, it would be many years before I discovered the joys of old-time radio…but I already knew Bill Thompson as the voice of one of my cartoon heroes: Touche Turtle!  (“Touche away!”)  Bill voiced this character for a series produced by Hanna-Barbera in 1962, where he was joined by veteran radio actor Alan Reed as his loyal sheepdog sidekick Dum Dum.  Radio Spirits invites you to celebrate Mr. Thompson’s natal anniversary by picking up a few collections featuring his work on Fibber McGee & MollyCleaning the ClosetGone Fishing, and Wistful Vista.  You’ll also hear Bill on several of the wartime broadcasts featured on our Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy compendium Smile a While, and on the sets The Halls of Ivy: School DaysThe Phil Harris & Alice Faye Show: Smoother and Sweeter, and Great Radio Science Fiction (the CBS Radio Workshop presentation of “A Pride of Carrots”).  Happy birthday, Bill!

Happy Birthday, Tommy Cook!

One night in 1941, child actor Tommy Cook was determined to see the Republic cliffhanger serial Jungle Girl.  You see, he had a part in that motion picture as a native boy, Kimbu, so he stealthily sneaked out of the house and down to the neighborhood theatre…where he presented himself to the manager.  Cook didn’t have the twenty-five-cent admission to get in, so he persuaded the manager to let him see the picture in exchange for making a personal appearance on stage.  Done and done, as they say—and it probably stands as the lowest paid personal appearance in show biz history, instigated by the actor-producer-screenwriter born on this date in 1930.

Tommy Cook called Duluth, Minnesota home in his early years…in fact, Duluth was where he got his first taste of performing, winning a special prize (at the age of four) for “making a speech” at a father-and-son banquet.  His father’s medical condition (he suffered from Bright’s disease, a kidney ailment) necessitated that the family move to warmer climes, so the Cook clan soon found themselves putting down stakes in Los Angeles.  Tommy’s mother encouraged him to explore theatrics, so he studied at the Ben Bard School while performing at the Pasadena Playhouse as a child thespian.  It was Arch Oboler who would give an eight-year-old Cook his first radio job, and who became sort of a mentor for the youngster.

One of Tommy Cook’s most prominent radio roles was “Little Beaver” on The Adventures of Red Ryder. He also played this part in the 1940 serial (opposite Don “Red” Barry as the titular cowpoke) in one of his first motion picture gigs.  Tommy’s dark complexion made him a natural for roles in such films as The Tuttles of Tahiti (1942) and Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946), where he played “Kimba” opposite Johnny Weissmuller.  Tommy appeared as the younger version of John Garfield’s character in Humoresque (1946), and could be seen in such silver screen titles as Hi, Buddy (1943), Strange Holiday (1945—a film written and directed by his mentor, Arch Oboler), Michael O’ Halloran (1948), Cry of the City (1948), and The Vicious Years (1950)—a movie that garnered him a Photoplay Award for “Outstanding Performance of the Year.”

As busy as Tommy Cook was on motion picture screens, his performances in front of a microphone were even more numerous. A 1944 Radio Life article (humorously titled “Busy Little Beaver”) noted that within one week Cook had appeared on BlondieMayor of the TownGallant HeartFashions in Rations (Billie Burke’s sitcom), The Great Gildersleeve, I Was There, and I Love a Mystery.  Blondie was a regular gig for Tommy (he played Alexander Bumstead), as was The Life of Riley (as Chester A. Riley, Jr.), A Date with Judy (Judy’s brother Randolph), and Smilin’ Ed and His Buster Brown Gang.  Cook’s work on comedy and variety shows extended to The Adventures of Ozzie & HarrietCommand PerformanceFibber McGee & MollyOur Miss Brooks, and Point Sublime…plus guest spots on programs headlined by Abbott & Costello, Eddie Bracken, and Bob Burns.

Rounding out Tommy Cook’s radio resume are appearances on The Adventures of Sam SpadeThe Adventures of the SaintThe Cavalcade of AmericaFamily TheatreFree World TheatreGunsmokeThe Lady Esther Screen Guild TheatreLet George Do ItThe Lux Radio TheatreSuspenseTales of the Texas RangersTo the President, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.  Long after the curtain had been rung down on “Radio’s Golden Age,” Tommy could still be heard emoting on the likes of The Adventures of Harry Nile, Heartbeat Theatre, and The Sears Radio Theatre.  Cook was also able to skillfully balance radio work with his motion picture career, notching up films like Panic in the Streets (1950), American Guerrilla in the Philippines (1950), Battle Cry (1955), Teen-Age Crime Wave (1955), Night Passage (1957), and Alaska Passage (1959) to his credit.

Tommy Cook began to make inroads on the small screen by the 1950s, guest starring on such popular shows as DragnetThe Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, and M Squad.  The following decade saw Cook on such TV programs as The UntouchablesThe Rifleman, and Perry Mason...yet he also reached back to his radio roots by providing voices for animated cartoon series such as The Superman/Aquaman Hour and The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  He’d continue his cartoon work throughout the 1970s with The Funky Phantom and Jabberjaw, while also guest starring on the likes of The Streets of San Francisco and Marcus Welby, M.D. 

Some new horizons were opening up for Tommy in the 1970s. He served as an associate producer on such films as Rollercoaster (1977—which was based on his story) and Players (1979—he co-wrote the screenplay).  His lifelong love of tennis inspired him to pitch to the networks a competition on the courts involving top-name celebrities from “the big three” that came to be known as “Celebrity Challenge of the Sexes.”

Tommy Cook officially turns 89 today, and in honor of his natal anniversary we invite you to check out one of his signature radio roles as “Junior” in Radio Spirits’ The Life of Riley collection Blue Collar Blues.  You can also hear Tommy on our Strange Wills set, I Devise & Bequeath, and on our compendium of Mutual Radio Theatre broadcasts.  Happiest of birthdays to you, Tommy!

Happy Birthday, Ed Gardner!

It was on a short-lived radio series entitled This is New York that comedian Ed Gardner found his creative muse…playing a pugnacious New Yorker who answered to “Archie.”  Gardner was the show’s producer, and he’d be the first to admit that he was no actor—the only problem was, he wasn’t able to find a suitable thespian to play the role.  Ed decided to read the part himself in rehearsal, and in so doing convulsed the cast and crew to the point where it was clear he was the only person capable of doing the job.  “Archie” would later become the starring character in a situation comedy entitled Duffy’s Tavern, and make the man born in Astoria, NY (Long Island, you know) on this date in 1901 a household name.

Ed Gardner was born Friedrich Poggenburg, Jr….clearly, he made the right call in changing his name, which he did about the time he entered show business.  Before that, “Poggy” (as he was known to very close friends) received a formal education at both P.S. 4 and William Cullen Bryant High School…up to a point.  You see, the Family Poggenburg encouraged Ed to make his mark in the world without a lot of “fancy book learning,” and at age 14 Ed got a gig playing piano in a neighborhood saloon.  Prohibition sadly put an end to those activities, and like the quintessential hustler he’d later play on Duffy’s, Gardner soon embarked on a “jack-of-all-trades” tour that included jobs as a railroad dispatcher, a stenographer…and endless sales opportunities, peddling everything from pianos to paint.

Ed Gardner did well enough to divert the wolf at the door, but money seemed to run through his fingers. Things really didn’t take off for him until he married actress Shirley Booth in 1929.  Booth was an ambitious performer who dreamed of conquering Broadway, and although she wasn’t particularly sold on her husband developing the same talent, Ed was determined to make his name in show business as well (banking on his fast patter and talent for ingratiating himself with people).  It wasn’t long before Gardner found work as a theatrical publicist, and from that he got into radio as a producer with the J. Walter Thompson agency — working on shows with the likes of Bing Crosby, George Burns, and Gracie Allen.  Along the way, he made the acquaintance of writer Ace Burrows, whose sardonic style of comedy appealed to Ed.  The two men pooled their talents on This is New York in 1938. The series didn’t last long, but the “Archie” creation of Gardner’s became popular enough to make later appearances on Good News of 1940 and Forecast (which devoted a half-hour to a pilot that ultimately became Duffy’s Tavern).

While working as the producer on Rudy Vallee’s Sealtest variety program, Ed Gardner received word from the Schick Razors people that they were interested in sponsoring a Duffy’s Tavern series. Ahead of the March 1, 1941 premiere over CBS, Gardner tapped his buddy Ace Burrows to be the head writer. The two men assembled both an impressive writing staff and supporting cast. Charlie Cantor (one of Fred Allen’s prized stooges) was heard as the stupefyingly dense Clifton Finnegan (his name was a parody of the host of Information Please), and veteran African-American comic Eddie Green became “Eddie the waiter.”  Gardner also cast his spouse Shirley Booth as “Miss Duffy,” the daughter of the tavern’s owner. She was there the keep a close eye on things, because (as we were informed every week) “Duffy ain’t here.” Ed presided over the weekly half-hour proceedings as “Archie the manager,” a fast-talking con man constantly searching for ways to rise above his lowly (serving) station.  Booth didn’t stay with Duffy’s Tavern for long (nor did her marriage to Ed last), and while Gardner welcomed a slew of fine comic actresses to fill the void (including Florence Halop, Sara Berner, Sandra Gould, and Doris Singleton), he often lamented that Shirley’s shoes were hard to fill.

Duffy’s Tavern would soon become one of radio’s most popular radio comedy shows. It justly acquired a reputation as a smartly-written series, and Hollywood celebrities jumped at the opportunity to visit the famed Manhattan dive to be insulted by Archie (while garnering huge laughs in the process).  A number of Tinseltown’s top stars made cameos in a 1945 motion picture based on the film, and while the merits of the movie are often debated (Gardner himself didn’t care for it), the participation of so many film personalities (Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake) ensured a big box office take.  (Ed later tried his hand at producing motion pictures with a 1951 feature, The Man With My Face—but it turned out to be a notorious flop.)  In addition to his weekly duties bragging to audiences that Duffy’s was “where the elite meet to eat,” Gardner made the rounds on such shows as The Big ShowThe Camel Comedy CaravanThe Columbia WorkshopCommand PerformanceJubileeThe Kraft Music HallMail CallPaul Whiteman PresentsThe Radio Hall of FameThe Sealtest Variety Theatre, and Suspense (“The Kettler Method”).  Ed was also made welcome on shows headlined by Fred Allen, Dick Haymes, Kate Smith, and Alan Young.

In 1949, Ed Gardner decided to move production of Duffy’s Tavern to Puerto Rico, which allowed him to take advantage of the country’s favorable tax laws.  In hindsight, it may have been a sound business decision, but the relocation hurt the program: Eddie Green passed away not long after the move, Gardner had trouble keeping writers on staff, and unless a celebrity was in the mood for a nice vacation getting big stars to appear on the program was a challenge.  Television also began to threaten the show’s sponsorship, and when the series left NBC on December 28, 1951, Gardner decided to give TV a try with a video version of Duffy’s that was syndicated between 1954 and 1955.  Although Ed made a few more TV appearances after the cancellation of the TV Duffy’s (including two episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents), his failing health curtailed much of his show business activity.  He left this world for a better one on August 17, 1963 at the age of 62.

“Comedy writing is a labor of love of black coffee,” Ed Gardner once joked about his profession.  The stories of Gardner being a tough taskmaster are legion (I recommend a purchase of Jordan R. Young’s The Laugh Crafters for some anecdotes that we can’t quite quote appropriately here), but his radio creation of Duffy’s Tavern remains of the medium’s funniest shows. Our birthday boy is held in high regard as a first-rate editor who knew funny when he heard it.  For the skeptics in the audience, I also recommend the Radio Spirits collections Duffy Ain’t Here and our newest compendium Irish Eyes for their large belly laugh quotient.  If you’d like to learn more about the history behind the Tavern, leave us invest in a copy of Duffy’s Tavern: A History of Ed Gardner’s Radio Program, written by Radio Spirits’ own Martin Grams, Jr.  Happy Birthday, Ed!

Happy Birthday, Clayton “Bud” Collyer!

“I never try to force people into impossible situations on the shows,” observed Clayton “Bud” Collyer to Radio Mirror in June of 1953.  One of those “shows” Bud was referencing was TV’s Break the Bank, once described by Mirror as “the highest-paying quiz program in the world.”  Bank had been a radio mainstay since 1945, but its peak of popularity occurred when Bert Parks became the host of the program and Collyer his announcer-sidekick.  The other series was Beat the Clock, a game show that Collyer hosted by his lonesome from 1950 to 1961.  (Clock also had radio origins, in a brief 1948 offering entitled Times A-Wastin’.)  On Clock, Bud held forth on a popular program where contestants tackled “problems” (though a more appropriate description would be “stunts”) for cash and/or merchandise.  Both shows made the man born Clayton Johnson Heermance, Jr. in Manhattan on this date in 1908 a household name…and yet, we’re just barely scratched the surface of his remarkable career.

Young Clayton Collyer was brought up in a theatrical family.  His mother Caroline was an actress, his sister June also an actress (a film star married to comic actor Stuart Erwin, her films include Four Sons [1928] and Hangman’s House [1928]), and his brother Richard later entered the business end of the movie industry.  Clayton, Sr. may have only been an attorney, but he had a certain flair for the dramatic, and his son initially set out to follow in his footsteps, first at Williams College and then Fordham University law school.  While studying law, Bud engaged in extracurricular acting in various dramatic clubs and even had his own musical show on radio, which aired six days a week at 7:45am over New York’s WABC (now WCBS).

It wasn’t long after accepting a position as a law clerk that Bud Collyer learned a) his chosen profession could be a bit of a snooze, and b) he could make more money in a month of radio than he could in a year of clerking.  Bud landed a part in a show at an NBC audition in 1935, and a year later at CBS he was pulling down $85 weekly as a vocalist.  Bud estimated that he earned $7,000 annually for standing in front of a microphone on 30 shows weekly, which he later acknowledged was “big money at that time.”  Many of those shows were of the daytime drama variety; Collyer was “Adam Waring” on The Man I Married, “Tom Hopkins” on Kate Hopkins Angel of Mercy, “Michael Conway” on Pretty Kitty Kelly, “Dr. Henry Powell” on Joyce Jordan, MD, “Wyn Strafford” on Kitty Foyle, and “Peter Turner” on Young Widder Brown.  Bud also appeared at one time or another on High PlacesJust Plain Bill, and Life Can Be Beautiful.

In addition, Bud Collyer worked as an announcer on soaps; for many years he was the voice of D-U-Z on the Procter & Gamble-sponsored Big SisterThe Guiding LightThe Goldbergs, and Road to Life.  (Collyer also plugged the product on the nighttime Truth or Consequences.)  Collyer was an announcer on A House in the Country and The Story of Mary Marlin as well.   Other shows that featured Bud handling the announcing chores include The Adventures of Jungle JimThe Benny Goodman Music FestivalThe Cavalcade of America (he served in this capacity from 1940-43), The Continental Celebrity ClubThe Hour of CharmThe Mary Small Show (Mary was a child who sang like an adult woman), Parents’ Magazine of the AirThe Philip Morris PlayhouseThe Raleigh RoomThe Schaefer RevueSilver TheatreStage Door Canteen, and The Victor Borge Show.

Bud Collyer played “Abie Levy” on Abie’s Irish Rose (a.k.a. Knickerbocker Playhouse), “Pat Ryan” on Terry and the Pirates, and was the titular Mountie of Renfrew of the Mounted.  But his best-known dramatic role on radio was giving voice to “The Man of Steel” on The Adventures of Superman when it premiered over Mutual on February 15, 1940.  Bud actually played two parts on this series—the titular superhero, and his alter ego, mild-mannered Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent.  When he emoted as Kent, Collyer spoke in a slightly higher register, only revealing to listeners that Kent had changed to Supe by lowering his voice an octave: “This looks like a job (lower) for Superman!”  Bud became so identified with the role that he was called upon to voice the character when legendary animator Max Fleischer brought Superman to motion picture screens in seventeen cartoons produced between 1941 and 1943. (Bud’s co-stars Joan Alexander [as Lois Lane] and Jackson Beck also worked on the Fleischer shorts.)  Collyer reprised his Man of Steel gig for a TV cartoon version in the 1960s, The New Adventures of Superman, which once again reunited him with Alexander and Beck.

Other items on Bud Collyer’s radio resume include hosting the dramatic anthology Listening Post and a variety series, By Popular Demand.  His future as a TV M.C. was foreshadowed by his work on the previously mentioned Break the Bank; Bud also worked on such radio quiz fests as On Your MarkThree for the Money, and Winner Take All!  (His marriage to radio actress Marian Shockley was even featured on the audience participation show Bride and Groom!)  The TV Bank and Beat the Clock would make Collyer a familiar face to small screen fans, but Bud also hosted This is the Missus, Talent JackpotOn Your WayFeather Your NestQuick as a Flash, and Number Please.  Outside of Beat the Clock, Bud Collyer is best remembered as the moderator for the popular panel show To Tell the Truth, in which he challenged the likes of Orson Bean, Kitty Carlisle, Peggy Cass, and Tom Poston to pick out “the real McCoy” from a group of impostors (“Will the real…John Doe…please…stand up!”).  Collyer hosted both the daytime and nighttime versions of Truth from 1956 to 1968, but when the series was going to be revised for a syndicated run in 1969 Bud would be unable to host—he passed away at the age of 61 on the very day of Truth’s syndicated premiere.

When today’s birthday boy was starring on The Adventures of Superman, he was working at a time when he was required to appear on that series live five days a week.  To give Bud a little R&R, the creators came up with a novel device to push The Man of Steel off to the sidelines: that would be the occasion when Superman came into contact with the powerful substance known as Kryptonite.  (Superman’s fellow DC Comics pals Batman and Robin were also introduced to the radio show to give Collyer the occasional vacation.)  Check out Bud Collyer in his signature radio role of the Man from Krypton in our Adventures of Superman CD collection, Superman: Up, Up and Away!

Happy Birthday, Joseph Julian!

At the time I borrowed Joseph Julian’s This Was Radio from my hometown public library as a kid, I wasn’t all that familiar with the distinguished actor born Joseph Shapiro in St. Marys, Pennsylvania on this date in 1911.  Granted, most of the radio performers with whom I was familiar were those associated with larger-than-life characters—like Brace Beemer (as the Lone Ranger) or Bret Morrison (The Shadow).  The one thing I took away from reading Joe’s book (published in 1975) was that it was a most engaging account of a working actor in the aural medium.  Julian appeared on a lot of programs, running the gamut from horror to crime to science fiction…and he worked with many of radio’s leading lights, including Arch Oboler, Himan Brown, and Norman Corwin.

While attending Johns Hopkins University, Joseph Julian pursued a career in acting by joining the Provincetown University Players.  Joe would make his Broadway debut in Judgment Day in 1934, and soon after found that acting on radio accommodated his stage exploits quite nicely (and no doubt kept groceries in the pantry to boot).  His earliest appearances would be on NBC shows like Ideas That Came True and Renfrew of the Mounted, then Julian moved over to CBS and worked on the likes of ForecastThe Columbia Workshop, and This is War.  It was on this last program that Joe made the acquaintance of “radio’s poet laureate,” Norman Corwin, who was inspired to cast Julian in the titular role of An American in England.  American was a series based on Corwin’s real-life experiences as a Yank in a strange land, and the series received a great deal of critical acclaim.  (Joe would work again many times with Norman, notably on Columbia Presents Corwin.)

Working radio actors kept working by doing a lot of daytime dramas…and Joseph Julian was no exception.  One of his earliest radio gigs was playing “Danny Stratford” on The Life of Mary Sothern, and he later appeared on the likes of Joyce Jordan, M.D. (as Ollie), Life Can Be Beautiful, and Lorenzo Jones (as Lorenzo’s pal Sandy Matson).  Joe’s most prominent soap opera experience was on the popular Big Sister, on which he played Michael West—a singer friend to the show’s long-suffering heroine, Ruth Evans Wayne.  When the decision was made to spin off Michael into his own series, Bright Horizon, Richard Kollmar took over the role…but Julian would later return to the part.

Throughout the 1940s, Joseph Julian could be heard on such shows as The American School of the AirArch Oboler’s PlaysCasey, Crime PhotographerThe Cavalcade of AmericaCrime Club, Foreign AssignmentThe Henry Morgan ShowInner Sanctum, Keeping Up with RosemaryLawyer QThe Molle Mystery TheatreMurder at MidnightThe Mysterious TravelerNew World A’ComingSecret MissionsThe ShadowThe Sparrow and the HawkThe Sportsmen’s ClubUnder Arrest, and Words at War.  In the summer of 1947, Joe was the star (with Joan Tompkins as leading lady) of Call the Police, a crime drama that also appeared in the summers of 1948 and 1949 as a replacement for Amos ‘n’ Andy.  Julian’s stint as Police Commissioner Bill Grant was brief, however; actor George Petrie took over for the two subsequent seasons.

The fifties proved to be a challenging time for Joe Julian where his acting career was concerned.  He had the misfortune of being listed in Red Channels, a noxious little publication that purported to out “Communists” in the entertainment industry.  You’d be excused if you’re wondering how someone who starred in An American in England would wind up in such a pamphlet…but Julian’s friend Norman Corwin was also listed, as were personalities previously covered here on the blog like John Brown, Howard Duff, Dashiell Hammett, Paul McGrath, Minerva Pious…and yes, even Orson Welles.  Joe refused to take the allegations lying down, however, and fought the charges in order to clear his name.  He continued to work whenever he could, with guest appearances on radio shows like Best PlaysThe CBS Radio WorkshopCloak and DaggerThe Couple Next DoorDimension XGang BustersIndictmentNBC Star PlayhouseNow Hear ThisRocky FortuneThe Search That Never EndsTurning Wheel21st Precinct2000 Plus, and X-Minus One.  Julian would help close out Radio’s Golden Age working on Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, and later appeared on both radio revivals like The CBS Radio Mystery Theatre and evergreens like The Eternal Light.

His busy radio career kept him in New York City most of the time, but Joseph Julian occasionally managed to appear in feature films, including The Violators and That Night! (both 1957).  Joe found a place on the small screen in his later thespic years, guesting on the likes of Alfred Hitchcock PresentsThe DefendersPerry Mason, and The Untouchables; and returned to his radio roots by working on daytime dramas like As the World TurnsThe Edge of Night, and Somerset.  Julian passed at the age of 71, seven years after the 1975 publication the previously mentioned This Was Radio.

Joseph Julian was held in such high regard by his fellow stage performers that a memorial service was held in his honor at the American Renaissance Theatre in New York a week after his passing. We think pretty highly of Joe, too, and invite you to check out his work on two of our science fiction potpourri collections: Great Radio Science Fiction and Science Fiction Radio: Atom Age Adventures.  You’ll also hear today’s birthday boy on sets of Dimension X (Adventures in Time and Space, Future Tense) and X-Minus One (Countdown, Far Horizons, Time and Time Again).  Rounding out our audio tribute to Mr. Julian are his appearances on Casey, Crime Photographer (Blue Note), Inner Sanctum (Pattern for Fear), The Mysterious Traveler (Dark Destiny), Suspense (Fear and Trembling, Final Curtain), Words at War: World War II Radio Drama, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (The Many Voices of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar).  Happy birthday, Joe!

“The story of your police force in action.”

Joe Friday: Room 5.  That was the title of the script for a proposed TV pilot, written by Herb Ellis and Jack Webb, as 1948 was marching to a close.  If this treatment about a “private eye” had been picked up, we might not be celebrating an anniversary today…for it was in 1949 on this date that the police procedural that set the standard for the crime dramas to follow premiered over NBC Radio: Dragnet.  Dragnet would soon dominate all facets of pop culture in a very short period of time, permeating the nation’s vocabulary with catchphrases like “All we want are the facts, ma’am” and inspiring comedic tributes by everyone from Stan Freberg (and his million-selling record St. George and the Dragonet) to Daffy Duck & Porky Pig (the 1956 cartoon Rocket Squad).

Actor Jack Webb was working at San Francisco’s KGO in 1946, where he was the mastermind behind series such as One Out of Seven and The Jack Webb Show (a half-hour comedy show—no joke).  The show that garnered him the most attention, however, was a detective drama called Pat Novak, For Hire—in which Webb played a part-time gumshoe who spouted dialogue so hard-boiled it skirted the very edge of parody.  Its popularity allowed Jack to leave Frisco and head out for bigger things, like a network show of his own (Mutual’s Johnny Madero, Pier 23—which was similar to Pat Novak) and appearances on nationally broadcast series like EscapeSuspense, and The Whistler.  Radio kept Webb busy, and yet he found time to jumpstart a movie career with appearances in features like Hollow Triumph (1948).

It was landing the small role of a lab technician in an Eagle-Lion film entitled He Walked by Night (1948) that would change Jack Webb’s fortunes practically overnight.  Night, a police procedural loosely based on the terrifying exploits of a real-life serial killer, utilized the services of L.A.P.D. Sergeant Martin Wynn as a technical advisor.  Wynn and Webb would strike up conversations during downtime on the set, and though Marty was initially distrustful of Jack (Wynn hated shows like Pat Novak, which didn’t present police officers in the most positive light), he seized on the opportunity to talk up the concept of a program about “real cops.”  He even offered the actor access to actual police files.  Truthfully, Webb was cool to the idea at first (he didn’t think such a show would perform well in the ratings), but the success of He Walked by Night changed his mind.  To prepare for the show he was planning out in his head, Jack “went to school” by accompanying Wynn and his partner Vince Brasher on routine patrols in their prowl car, taking notes and learning “cop lingo.”

Jack Webb had played the titular shamus Jeff Regan, Investigator on CBS Radio’s West Coast network…so he decided to give the Tiffany network first grab at his proposed Dragnet series.  CBS was pretty blasé about Webb’s idea, and when they finally agreed to have a listen to an audition record—provided Jack foot the bill for the expense of recording one—Webb turned his attention to NBC.  Seeing as most of their talent was now working for CBS (courtesy of the legendary “talent raids”), NBC was far more receptive to Jack’s proposal.  West Coast operations director Homer Canfield fronted Webb $2,000 for an audition record, and when that was a success NBC gave it the greenlight for its June 3, 1949 premiere.

It took a while for Dragnet to build a following…but a laudatory review from critic Jack Crosby (who called the show “an astonishing cops-and-robbers job simply because nothing very astonishing happens on it”) soon catapulted the program to the point where it no longer had to depend on NBC’s largesse (as a sustaining show) and it grabbed a sponsor in Fatima Cigarettes.  In retrospect, it’s difficult to comprehend why people didn’t recognize how groundbreaking the show was from the very first broadcast.  Webb supervised every aspect of the show, while getting an assist in the writing chores from his old cronies James E. Moser and Richard L. Breen.  Jack also cast performers who were able to adapt to the naturalistic acting style he had chosen for the show, radio pros like Peggy Webber (who would often portray Joe Friday’s mother), Herb Ellis, Harry Bartell, Vic Perrin, and Virginia Gregg.  (The dialogue on the show was to be spoken in the manner of someone “pouring a cup of coffee.”)

Barton Yarborough, an actor with whom Webb had worked many times in the past, won the role of Sergeant Ben Romero, Joe Friday’s partner.  Romero provided the perfect counterbalance to Friday: whereas Joe was a confirmed bachelor and occasionally too dedicated when it came to the badge, devoted family man Ben was more soft-spoken and possessed a self-deprecating sense of humor.  Yarborough’s Romero would head off for The Great Precinct in the Sky with the December 27, 1951 radio broadcast, “The Big Sorrow” (actor Bart suffered a fatal heart attack). Friday tried out several partners (including Barney Phillips as Ed Jacobs) before settling on Officer Frank Smith—played by radio veteran Ben Alexander.

The December 16, 1951 installment of TV’s Chesterfield Sound-Off Time served as a special introduction to the boob tube version of Dragnet, which quickly became Must See TV (in the 1953-54 season, it was second only to I Love Lucy as the nation’s favorite program).  The TV show even inspired a 1954 feature film, with Jack Webb and Ben Alexander reprising their roles as Friday and Smith.  At the same time, Dragnet continued to be a radio favorite even when the aural medium was starting to see its audience being enticed by its more attractive sibling, TV.  The radio version continued to be heard until September 20, 1955, with an additional two years of “repeats.”  The TV Dragnet would run until August 23, 1959.

Jack Webb’s decided to retire the television series while it was still quite popular, but re-launched the program on January 12, 1967.  Jack had asked Ben Alexander to reprise his Frank Smith role, but because Alexander was already committed to another series (he was on ABC’s The Felony Squad) Sergeant Friday took on another partner: Officer Bill Gannon (portrayed by Harry Morgan).  Though the chemistry between the two actors often recalled the Friday-Smith years, Dragnet had by this time become a little too pro-cop, getting the nickname “the fuzz industrial.”  Its attempts to be relevant with narcotics-themed episodes has given the series a campy reputation (with such deathless dialogue as “You’re pretty high and far out—what kind of trip are you on, son?”).  Sadly, because no one seems to know who owns the original film negatives from the 1951-59 run, it’s the 1967-70 version that’s rerun the most.

Radio Spirits offers a 2-DVD collection of twenty telecasts from the 1951-59 run of the TV series. If your only familiarity with the visual version is that of Jack Webb and Harry Morgan moving about the floors and apartments in some hotel out of a David Lynch film, you owe it to yourself to check out these 20 Episodes to get a feel for the electricity of what was truly a groundbreaking series.  We’ve also got plenty of the radio Dragnet, from our latest collection Get ‘Em (liner notes by me!) to past releases like The Big BlastBig CrimeThe Big Gamble, and Night Watch.  Remember: the blog post you’ve read is true. Only the names were changed to protect the innocent.

Happy Birthday, Herbert Marshall!

The man born Herbert Brough Falcon Marshall on this date in 1890 is revered by classic movie mavens as one of the premiere leading men in motion pictures in the 1930s and 1940s.  Marshall graced so many classics, among them Trouble in Paradise (1932), Foreign Correspondent (1940), The Letter (1940), The Little Foxes (1941), and Duel in the Sun (1946).  What movie fans may not remember, however, is that “Bart” excelled in the aural medium; appearing multiple times on The Lux Radio TheatreThe Gulf/Lady Esther/Camel Screen Guild Theatre, and Suspense (the actor was even on the audition show for “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills”: Forecast).  He was also the host of the radio anthology series Hollywood Star Theatre (from 1946 to 1947), and starred as The Man Called X from 1944 to 1952.  Producer Jack Johnstone, who worked with Marshall on both of these shows, described his friend as “a three-way thespian, equally at home in the motion picture, the theatre or radio.”

Born in London as the only child to a theatrical family (both father Percy and mother Ethel May were actors), Herbert Marshall didn’t take to show business at first. He was raised by his three maternal aunts whenever his parents were performing, and on those occasions (school vacations) when he did accompany Mom and Pop, he developed a negative view of the profession.  Upon graduating from St. Mary’s College in Old Harlow, Essex, Marshall took a job as an accounting clerk…but his career in that vocation was brief. (Bart was a little slow in his calculations.)  He accepted a job as an assistant business manager for a theatrical troupe operated by a family friend, and in later years Marshall would look back and say he got into acting because he didn’t know how to do anything else.

Herbert Marshall enlisted in World War I and, while serving on the Western Front in 1917, was hit in his left knee by a sniper during the Second Battle of Arras in France.  Doctors were unable to save his leg despite a series of operations, and Marshall’s left limb was amputated.  After a period of introspection and what he himself described as “self-pity,” Bart made the concerted effort to learn how to walk with his prosthetic leg so that he could return to his acting career.  Except for a slight limp, his false leg was virtually undetectable throughout his work on stage and film.  Marshall did suffer, however, from the occasional pain common to amputees. (He wore trousers with holes in the pockets to allow him to loosen the strap on his prosthetic leg to ease the discomfort.)

Herbert Marshall’s stage career was a distinguished one; he worked alongside such theatrical lights as Noel Coward, Gertrude Lawrence, Edna Best (who would become his second wife), and Edmund Gwenn (his future Foreign Correspondent co-star), and appeared in productions ranging from As You Like It to The Queen is in the Parlour.  His motion picture debut came in 1927 with Mumsie, a British silent film, and Marshall made his first American film appearance alongside Jeanne Eagels in The Letter (1929)—a film that was remade in 1940 with Bette Davis (in which Bart also appeared). Marshall began to attract industry notice when he was cast opposite Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus (1932), and throughout his Hollywood career he would work with such leading ladies as Claudette Colbert (1934’s Four Frightened People), Greta Garbo (The Painted Veil [1934]), Barbara Stanwyck (Always Goodbye [1938]), Katharine Hepburn (A Woman Rebels [1936]), and Joan Crawford (When Ladies Meet [1941]).  Despite an impressive body of work in movies, Marshall was never nominated for an Academy Award!

Herbert Marshall’s busy movie career might go a long way toward explaining why he was frequently called upon to stand behind a radio microphone. The actor reprised a good many of his film roles in radio adaptations, including The Dark Angel (1935), Mad About Music (1938), and Kathleen (1941).  But Marshall was a favorite guest star of many of radio’s top comedians as well, among them George Burns & Gracie Allen, Eddie Cantor, and Bob Hope.  Bart filled in for an absent Jack Benny on a February 2, 1941 broadcast of The Jell-O Program and was so well-received that he returned for the following two shows.  Marshall worked alongside the likes of Al Jolson, Dinah Shore, and Rudy Vallee, and guested on Command PerformanceG.I. JournalThe Harold Lloyd Comedy Theatre, Information PleaseThe Kraft Music HallMail CallThe Old Gold ProgramRequest Performance, and The Texaco Star Theatre.

Herbert Marshall’s most prominent radio showcase was as the star of The Man Called X, which premiered on July 10, 1944 (as a summer replacement for The Lux Radio Theatre) over CBS Radio.  Marshall played Ken Thurston, an operative who started out as a detective in the show’s early years before morphing into a secret agent who worked for “The Bureau”—globetrotting hither and yon in search of smugglers, black marketeers, etc.  Man Called X had the occasional period of inactivity but it would eventually run (on both CBS and NBC) until May 27. 1952.  Rounding out Bart’s radio resume are credits for The Cavalcade of AmericaThe CBS Radio WorkshopColumbia Presents CorwinThe First Nighter ProgramThe Hallmark Hall of FameHallmark PlayhouseMatinee Theatre, The NBC University TheatreThe Silver TheatreThe Skippy Hollywood TheatreThe Star and the StoryTheater of Romance, and This is My Best.

Although he distinguished himself throughout the 1940s with roles in films like The Moon and Sixpence (1942) and The Razor’s Edge (1946), Herbert Marshall found himself settling into character roles by the following decade, turning in fine performances in such favorites as The Underworld Story (1950), The Virgin Queen (1955), and The Fly (1958).  Bart also started accepting work on the small screen, as a guest star on such TV series as Letter to Loretta (The Loretta Young Show) and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  Marshall continued to be active in the 1960s, gracing the cast of movies like Midnight Lace (1960), The Caretakers (1963), and The List of Adrian Messenger (1963).  But it comes to us all in the end: his valedictory performance was in 1965’s The Third Key. Herbert Marshall left this world for a better one in early 1966 at the age of 75.

During the Second World War, Herbert Marshall not only was a major presence on AFRS (as host of The Globe Theatre) but he also became an inspiration to veterans who were injured during the conflict, using his personal experiences to offer advice to amputees on how to adjust to their new limbs.  Radio Spirits is pleased to offer a collection of broadcasts from our birthday boy’s signature series—remember: “Wherever there’s mystery, intrigue, romance…in all the strange and dangerous places of the world…there you will find The Man Called X!”

A (Birth)Day in the Life of Dennis Day

Shortly after its premiere in 1932, The Jack Benny Program started a tradition of featuring tenor vocalists to entertain during the musical portions of the show.  James Melton, Frank Parker, and Michael Bartlett accepted the singing chores in the early years of the series, with Kenny Baker (who debuted on Jack’s show in 1935) sticking with the gig the longest in the 1930s.  When Baker decided to pursue other radio opportunities at the end of the 1938-39 season (amusingly, he would soon start hitting high notes on the program headlined by Jack’s “nemesis,” Fred Allen), his replacement was a singer who was just beginning his professional career in show business.  He was born Owen Patrick Eugene McNulty on this date in 1916 in New York City…but for the millions of devoted listeners who flocked to their radios every Sunday night at seven throughout the 1940s/1950s, he was better known as Dennis Day.

Dennis Day was raised in the Throggs Neck section of The Bronx in the Big Apple, and after matriculating at Cathedral Preparatory Seminary began attending Manhattan College.  Day‘s enthusiastic participation in the college glee club soon began to point the way toward a singing career, which Dennis had even engaged in during the summer of 1938 on NBC’s The RCA Victor Campus Club (a vehicle for Larry Clinton and his orchestra).  Day graduated in 1939 and considered continuing his education with law school at Fordham University.  But Kenny Baker’s decision to leave The Jack Benny Program after four years would change things for Dennis Day.

Baker had grown weary of his role as Benny’s singing simpleton. Having heard of Jack’s search for a replacement, Dennis Day submitted a photo and audition record to Mary Livingstone, Jack’s wife.  Livingstone convinced her hubby to give Dennis a tryout. The story goes that, during his audition, Jack asked the nervous young man a question and Day responded with a high-pitched “Yes, please?”  Whether or not this anecdote is true, Benny was clearly impressed with Dennis’ singing and agreed to hire him, with Day making his debut on The Jack Benny Program on October 8, 1939.

Dennis Day would soon stake his claim on The Jack Benny Program playing a naïve young teenager (his age on the show was estimated at nineteen even though the real-life Day was older) who drove Jack to distraction with nonsensical, silly statements when he wasn’t having to mow Benny’s lawn weekly (it was in his contract!).  Radio Spirits’ Elizabeth McLeod once noted in an essay on Dennis that “Baker established the basic characterization, but it was Dennis Day who nailed it down for all time,” further noting that “Dennis took the character into a delightful surrealism far removed from Kenny Baker’s goofy-twit interpretation.”  Day became a distaff version of Gracie Allen, whose “illogical logic” would eventually wear his boss down to the point where Jack’s only response was “Sing, Dennis.”

Dennis Day had a few performing tricks up his sleeve, however, that would soon make Jack Benny fans ask, “Kenny who?”  Day would display a sense of comic timing that was outshone only by his employer, and he also proved to be a gifted mimic, with flawless impressions of Jerry Colonna, Parker Fennelly (as Titus Moody), Bert Gordon (as “The Mad Russian”), and Benny’s “next-door neighbor,” Ronald Colman.  (One classic Benny broadcast has bandleader Phil Harris goading Dennis into impersonating Colman on the telephone, inviting Jack over…with the usual wacky complications ensuing.)  In just five years, Day would cement his position on the Benny program to the point where even when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy (he reached the rank of lieutenant) during WW2, his replacement—Larry Stevens—only stayed around long enough to “save his seat.”

Dennis Day would get an additional surprise once he was mustered out of the service.  Like his Benny co-worker Phil Harris, Dennis got a show of his own in the fall of 1946: A Day in the Life of Dennis Day.  (Both Harris and Day’s “two shows” would be used for much hilarity at their home base of the Benny program.)  The popular sitcom, heard on NBC from 1946 to 1951, featured Day playing a character named after himself (but not the famed vocalist from the Benny program—he took pains to remind audiences of this), a small-town nebbish who worked as a drugstore soda jerk.  Dennis courted a girl named Mildred Anderson (played by Bettie Miles, Barbara Eiler, and Sharon Douglas) who was mad about the boy even if her parents (Bea Benaderet, Francis “Dink” Trout) were a tad apprehensive.

In addition to his own show and his Jack Benny assignment, Dennis Day’s radio resume included appearances on The Camel Comedy CaravanThe Carnation Contented HourCommand Performance, Duffy’s TavernEverything for the BoysFamily TheatreFibber McGee & MollyThe Ford ShowThe Lux Radio TheatreMail CallOrson Welles’ Radio Almanac, and Suspense.  In addition, Dennis was warmly welcomed as a guest star on shows headlined by Fred Allen, Victor Borge, Bing Crosby (Philco Radio Time), Al Jolson (The Kraft Music Hall), Dorothy Lamour (on both Front and Center and The Sealtest Variety Theatre), and Jack Paar.  Day’s exposure on radio certainly didn’t hurt him in the recordings arena, charting hit songs like Clancy Lowered the Boom and Dear Hearts and Gentle People.

Radio kept Dennis Day busy, yet he still found time to make the occasional appearance in feature films (he appears with Jack, Phil, Andy Devine, and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson in 1940’s Buck Benny Rides Again) such as Sleepy Lagoon (1943), Music in Manhattan (1944), I’ll Get By (1950), and The Girl Next Door (1953).  Truth be told, Dennis established quite a foothold on the small screen—not only with his only series, The RCA Victor Show (which he shared with Ezio Pinza on an alternate basis for a time), but still playing that same “crazy kid” on Jack Benny’s TV show.  (Day was close to fifty years old by the time Jack’s show went off the air!)  Dennis made the rounds on shows like Alfred Hitchcock PresentsBurke’s Law, and The Lucy Show and before his passing in 1988 (at the age of 71) lent his unmistakable voice to animated Yuletide specials like Frosty’s Winter Wonderland and The Stingiest Man in Town.

Dennis Day left a large family behind. (He had married Margaret Ellen Almquist in 1948 and, being devout Catholics, they would eventually bring ten children into the world.)  He left a large body of work behind as well. Radio Spirits offers a collection from our birthday boy’s starring series, A Day in the Life of Dennis Day, plus there are Day encounters on our potpourri collections Comedy Goes West and Great Radio Comedy.  After you’ve checked out Dennis’ guest appearance on the May 2, 1944 broadcast of Duffy’s Tavern (available on our newest Tavern collection, Irish Eyes), dig deep into our Jack Benny sets—The Fabulous 40sThe Fabulous 50sThe Great OutdoorsJack Benny & FriendsOn the TownPlanes, Trains and AutomobilesSilly Skits, and Tough Luck!  Happy birthday, Dennis!