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Happy Birthday, Paul Sutton!

From 1938 to 1955, Detroit radio station WXYZ was the home of Sergeant William Preston—the stalwart Canadian Mountie who, with his trusty canine King, brought evildoers to justice in the exciting days of the Klondike Gold Rush.  When Challenge of the Yukon premiered on WXYZ in February of 1938, it was a five-day-a-week quarter-hour featuring actor Jay Michael in the role of Preston…but when the series expanded to a half-hour on June 12, 1947, Michael relinquished the part of Preston to an actor born in Albuquerque, New Mexico on this date in 1910.  We know him as Paul Sutton.

The details of Paul Sutton’s biography are sketchy at best: many reference books (Dick Osgood’s Wyxie Wonderland, Jim Harmon’s Radio Mystery and Adventure in Film, Television and Other Media) note that Sutton migrated to WXYZ after a busy motion picture career in Hollywood, where he played villains and heavies in B-westerns and low-budget films.  His first onscreen credit was in Rio Grande Ranger (1936), in which he squared off against Texas Ranger Bob Allen.  The following year, Paul graced the casts of such films as Nancy Steele is Missing!Under Strange FlagsThe Firefly, and Conquest.

Paul Sutton also had a prominent role in a 1937 Universal serial, Jungle Jim, based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond (which debuted in 1934, as competition to the popular Tarzan of the Apes).  Grant Withers plays the titular hero, whose best friend is murdered by a henchman named LaBat (Sutton).  (At the risk of spoiling it for anyone…LaBat only sticks around for the first six chapters, which should clue you in as to his fate.)  Sutton continued to amass entries on his cinematic c.v. with appearances in Shadows Over ShanghaiSunset Murder CaseAir Devils and the Hopalong Cassidy oaters Bar 20 Justice and In Old Mexico (as “The Fox”)—all of which were released in 1938.

Though familiar for his work in B-pictures, Paul Sutton occasionally landed minor roles and uncredited bits in bigger “A” films, like Jesse James (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), North West Mounted Police (1940), and Little Old New York (1940).  In the 1940s, Paul continued his villainous ways with memorable turns in In Old California (1942; with John Wayne), Riders of the Northland (1942; with Charles “Durango Kid” Starrett), and Silver City Raiders (1943; with Russell “Lucky” Hayden…and Bob Willis and the Texas Playboys!).  His last movie role (according to the IMDb) was a brief bit as a barfly in the 1945 Gary Cooper-Loretta Young western comedy Along Came Jones.

Not long after his cinematic swan song, Paul Sutton began his career with WXYZ, playing utility roles on the station’s popular radio adventure The Lone Ranger.  He took over for Jay Michael as Sergeant Preston on Challenge of the Yukon (Michael continued to work on the show as the announcer) and became for many fans the most familiar voice of Preston.  Sutton handed off the Challenge of the Yukon gig (which was renamed Sergeant Preston of the Yukon in 1951) to ex-Lone Ranger Brace Beemer, and embarked on a career in politics (running for Congress in 1954 and 1956).  Those two races were run from Michigan, where Paul resided until his death in 1970 at the age of 59.

Here’s an amusing bit of trivia: today’s birthday boy portrayed a villainous scoundrel named “Pierre Ledoux” in the 1939 adventure film North of the Yukon…which cast Charles Starrett and Bob Nolan (with The Sons of the Pioneers) as heroic Mounties!  It’s nice to know that Paul Sutton eventually turned to the right side of the law, and you can hear him emote in his most famous radio role in the Sergeant Preston of the Yukon collections On, You Huskies!Relentless Pursuit, and Frozen Trails.  Radio Spirits also has “plenty of Sutton” on our Lone Ranger collections The Lone Ranger Rides Again and Vengeance!

Happy Birthday, Orson Welles!

Author Gore Vidal once remarked of Orson Welles: “For the television generation he is remembered as an enormously fat and garrulous man with a booming voice, seen most often on talk shows and in commercials where he somberly assured us that a certain wine would not be sold ‘before its time,’ whatever that meant.”  But for old-time radio fans, classic movie mavens, and anyone with an interest in nostalgia (not that I’m singling anyone out, you understand), we recognize the individual born George Orson Welles in Kenosha, Wisconsin on this date in 1915 as a true “Renaissance Man.” He was an amazing actor, writer, director, and producer who broke new ground in the worlds of theatre, radio, and motion pictures.  Chronicling Welles’ life has never been an easy task; by his own admission, he took great delight in amusing both interviewers and himself by embellishing his personal history.  “I don’t want any description of me to be accurate,” Orson once confessed to author Kenneth Tynan. “I want it to be flattering.”

Born in affluence as the youngest son of Richard and Beatrice Welles, Orson experience much hardship despite his family’s comfortable existence. (His father was quite wealthy, having invented a popular bicycle lamp.) His parents separated when he was four and, upon moving to Chicago, Richard gradually replaced his interest in business with a heavy pull on the bottle.  It was up to Beatrice to put groceries on the table, which she did by securing gigs as a pianist. (Orson’s older brother, “Dickie,” had been institutionalized at an early age due to learning difficulties.)  Just as the protagonist of Citizen Kane would be separated from his mother, Orson Welles would also experience maternal loss. Beatrice died of hepatitis in 1924.  Orson spent three years with Richard, traveling to Jamaica and the Far East. In the words of Frank Brady (author of Citizen Welles): “During the three years that Orson lived with his father, some observers wondered who took care of whom.”  Welles’ father died of alcoholism when Orson was fifteen, and the young man never completely forgave himself…believing he was in some way responsible.

The roots of Orson Welles’ desire for a career in the performing arts were well established in this tumultuous time. His interests were encouraged by a combination of factors — including his mother’s musical talents, a summer stay with an artists’ colony after her death, and schooling at the Todd Seminary for Boys (a private institution in Woodstock, Illinois).  It was there that Orson met his mentor and lifelong friend, Roger Hill, who indulged his creative pursuits while nurturing his academic interests.  The Todd Seminary had a radio station, and it was there that Welles made his debut over the ether, performing in a production of Sherlock Holmes that he wrote.

Orson graduated in 1931 and, despite obtaining a scholarship to attend Yale University, he elected to embark on a life of travel — buoyed by both his inheritance from his father and an interest in painting.  After a walking tour of Ireland, he decided to apply a bit of blarney and strode into Dublin’s Gate Theatre, claiming to be a Broadway star.  His age (sixteen) naturally set off skepticism, but Orson soon proved his mettle by acting in small roles in various Gate Theatre productions (notably a version of W. Somerset Maugham’s The Circle at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre).  Orson Welles’ rise in the world of theatre was truly meteoric.  Meeting Thornton Wilder at a party in Chicago got him an introduction to Alexander Woollcott…and that led to a job with Katherine Cornell’s repertory company, where he appeared in such plays as Romeo and Juliet and The Barretts of Wimpole Street.

His role as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet garnered the attention of John Houseman, his future Mercury Theatre partner, who cast Orson in the lead of Archibald MacLeish’s Panic.  Welles would perform a scene from Panic when he made his debut on the CBS Radio series The March of Time. The wunderkind had made his official debut over the airwaves in 1934 on The American School of the Air (thanks to actor-director Paul Stewart, another lifelong Welles crony). He soon began standing regularly in front of a microphone on such series as The Columbia WorkshopThe Cavalcade of America, and America’s Hour.  One of his best-remembered radio gigs was briefly portraying Lamont Cranston, the “wealthy young man about town” whose secret identity was…The Shadow.

On stage, Orson Welles and John Houseman scaled new heights in theatre with their participation in The Federal Theatre Project, where they staged such productions as an all-black version of Macbeth and the now-legendary The Cradle Will Rock. The two men went on to form The Mercury Theatre, where they continued to find new ways to be audacious — including a modern-dress version of Julius Caesar.  Much of Orson and John’s Mercury work was done simultaneously with The Mercury Theatre on the Air. This CBS anthology (originally entitled First Person Singular) began on July 11, 1938 and dramatized classic works of literature.  October 30, 1938 marked the day that Orson Welles would find his instant fame with his production of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. Presented in the novel form of news bulletins breaking into a musical program, the episode later acquired mythical status by allegedly frightening listeners who were unaware that they were listening to a work of fiction.  “The War of the Worlds” would bring Welles to the attention of Hollywood. After signing a contract with RKO Pictures in August of 1939, Orson commuted back-and-forth from East to West Coast as Mercury Theatre continued on the air (the title of the program became Campbell Playhouse in December of 1938) until March 31, 1940.

It was Orson Welles’ third “proposal” to RKO that would go before the motion picture cameras — a film that is often named in “ten best” movie lists and, for some, remains the greatest motion picture ever made —Citizen Kane (1941).  Despite being what could be arguably called his greatest achievement, Kane also became Welles’ cinematic downfall.  The rich, fascinating tale of a newspaper mogul, Kane purportedly contained so many parallels to the real life of William Randolph Hearst that Welles and RKO became frequent targets of Hearst’s papers. Hollywood, under pressure from Hearst, began distancing itself from the twenty-six-year old wunderkind.  In fact, it’s been speculated that Welles’ second film for the studio, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), might have surpassed the greatness of Citizen Kane had Welles not been so preoccupied with making a movie in Mexico…leaving the studio free to edit Ambersons against his wishes.

Orson Welles would eventually be fired by RKO, and from then on his motion picture career was defined by a series of assignments at various studios.  Unfortunately, no one would commit to signing the director to a long-term contract because of his troubles at RKO…and because his desire to maintain creative control led him to acquire an undeserved reputation for irresponsibility.  Orson made such films as The Lady from Shanghai (1948) for Columbia and Touch of Evil (1958) for Universal-International, but most of his pictures were the working definition of what we would call “independent filmmaking.” It took him three years to make his version of Shakespeare’s Othello (1951) — during which time, he funded the production with the money from acting jobs. My personal favorite of Welles’ attempts to bring Shakespeare to the silver screen is a 1948 version of Macbeth, which he put together at Republic Studios.  (The idea of using the place famous for B-westerns and cliffhanger serials just makes me giggle for one reason or another.)

Despite his motion picture career, Orson Welles never abandoned radio.  In the 1940s, he hosted such programs as The Orson Welles TheatreHello Americans (Ceiling Unlimited), Orson Welles’ Radio AlmanacThis is My Best, and The Mercury Summer Theatre.  Welles made several memorable appearances on “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills,” Suspense, and guested on the likes of Command PerformanceG.I. JournalThe Gulf Screen TheatreInformation PleaseThe Lux Radio TheatreMail Call, and The Silver Theatre.  Orson performed alongside such radio personalities as Gracie Fields, Dinah Shore, and Rudy Vallee. He poked fun at himself (calling his radio persona “Crazy Welles” or “Imperial Welles”) with the likes of Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy, Bob Hope, and Danny Kaye.  Much of Welles’ Othello money came from his regular gigs as the star of The Lives of Harry Lime (reprising the famous character he portrayed in the 1949 movie classic The Third Man) and narrator of The Black Museum, both of which were broadcast in 1951 and 1952.

My favorite Orson Welles anecdote has a lot to do with radio. He had a reputation for being a bit undisciplined—performances of his plays would sometimes be postponed, and he was always scrounging here and there to raise money for a movie.  Richard Wilson, an assistant to Orson during his Mercury Theatre radio days, reminisced: “Radio was the only medium that imposed a discipline that Orson would recognize, and that was the clock. When it came time for Mercury to go on the air, there was no denying it.  I can’t think of one theater production…that was not postponed, but [in] radio, he knew every week that clock was ticking, that red light [would come] on and say ‘On the Air.’ And good or bad, right or wrong, boy, that was it. It was the only discipline Orson was able ever to accept.”  Orson Welles left this world for a better one at the age of 70 in 1985.

To celebrate one of the true greats (sorry for gushing…I’ve always been a big fan), Radio Spirits recommends you check out our extensive Shadow collections, featuring today’s birthday boy in one of his earliest (and best-remembered) showcases: Bitter FruitKnight of DarknessDead Men TellRadio TreasuresStrange Puzzles, and The Story of the Shadow.  The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a collection of broadcasts from the 1955 BBC radio series, features Orson as Professor Moriarty, Holmes’ nemesis (“The Napoleon of Crime”).  Welles is one of several celebrities featured in the biographies that comprise the DVD set Hollywood’s Greatest Screen Legends, and you’ll also find him in our 10-DVD set of films dealing with space travel, NASA Collection.  Last—but certainly not least—enjoy a dramatization of Orson’s early days of launching the Mercury Theatre in Richard Linklater’s delightful 2008 feature film—Me and Orson Welles.

Happy Birthday, Eve Arden!

At the height of her fame as the tart-tongued schoolmarm of radio and TV’s Our Miss Brooks, Eve Arden—born in Mill Valley, CA on this date in 1908—got more than a few offers from school boards across the nation to teach in real-life.  Despite their sincerity, these organizations were in for a big letdown.  First, by the time Our Miss Brooks made the transition to the small screen in 1952, Eve was pulling down a salary of $200,000 a year…and if you’ve been keeping up with the news of late, no high school teacher is making that kind of money regardless of how many of them stage walkouts.  Arden also politely declined all offers because she herself had only reached as far as high school in her academic career.  “I wasn’t as smart as Connie Brooks,” she admitted one time in an interview.  “I played Connie as I remembered my third-grade teacher, Miss Waterman.”

For young Eunice Mary Quedens, third grade was a Dominican convent school near Modesto. (She later attended Tamalpais High.)  Eunice’s childhood was a troubled one; her parents had divorced (her mother Lucille split from husband Charles due to his gambling) and Eunice herself was self-conscious about her looks.  At age 16, Quedens quit school to join a San Francisco touring company known as the Henry Duffy Players.  She went on to do a stint with a repertoire group, followed by work performing in a revue at the Pasadena Playhouse.  Her Pasadena gig soon opened a few doors in Hollywood, and in 1929 she made her movie debut in the Columbia Pictures musical The Song of Love.

Eunice Quedens appeared uncredited in a second motion picture, Dancing Lady (1933)—which starred Joan Crawford, whom Eve would work with again in later years.  It was at this time that the young starlet decided to leave Hollywood and pursue a stage career, and she relocated to New York City where she got her big Broadway break in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1934.  In this production, she went by her now famous moniker; the story goes that Arden was told to change her name for the show and she concocted it by glancing at two cosmetic bottles on her dressing room table—“Evening in Paris” and “Elizabeth Arden.”  Later, Arden would grace such stage successes as ParadeZiegfeld Follies of 1936 (she was an understudy for Fanny “Baby Snooks” Brice), Very Warm for MayTwo for the Show, and Let’s Face It!

Returning to Hollywood in 1937 after signing a contract with RKO Pictures, Eve Arden began appearing in many B-pictures like Oh Doctor! (1937) and Cocoanut Grove (1938; Paramount).  One of Eve’s early movie triumphs was a role in RKO’s Stage Door (1937), a now-classic movie about young actresses looking for their big break. It features an impressive female cast, including Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Gail Patrick, Lucille Ball, and Ann Miller.  It was in Stage Door that Arden honed what would be identified as her acting trademark. Radio Spirits’ own Elizabeth McLeod described her as “rarely the leading lady, but she was always a welcome second lead—usually as the sensible best-friend figure who heard out the leading lady’s problems, grabbed her by the shoulders, and told her to snap out of it.”

“Or, just as often,” McLeod continued, “Arden would appear as smart-mouthed comedy relief, cracking off sarcastic commentary from the sidelines as the hero and heroine writhed through their paces.”  Eve worked this wisenheimer magic in 1938’s Letter of Introduction, which also featured radio stars Edgar Bergen and dummy Charlie McCarthy (along with Mortimer Snerd) in its cast.  Arden was a perfect foil for Groucho in the 1939 Marx Brothers feature At the Circus (as the acrobatic “Peerless Pauline”), provided marvelous support for Red Skelton in Whistling in the Dark (1941), and reprised her stage role as “Maggie Watson” in the 1943 Bob Hope romp Let’s Face It.

Eve Arden worked with many a radio personality on the big screen…but she was more than capable of holding her own when it came to performing in front of a radio microphone, too.  She began making appearances in the 1930s on shows headlined by Rudy Vallee and Ken Murray, and reprised her Stage Door role (along with co-stars Ginger Rogers and Adolphe Menjou) on a February 20, 1939 broadcast of The Lux Radio Theatre.  In January of 1945, she began appearing weekly as a regular on CBS’ The Danny Kaye Show, portraying Danny’s gal Friday.  Danny and Eve had displayed a unique chemistry while appearing in the stage version of Let’s Face It!, and the couple continued to work on both his short-lived comedy-variety show and a 1946 film comedy, The Kid from Brooklyn (a reboot of Harold Lloyd’s The Milky Way [1936]).

Danny Kaye wasn’t the only co-star Eve Arden had on radio, however.  In the fall of 1945, she replaced Joan Davis (who graduated to her own series, Joanie’s Tea Room) as the co-hostess of NBC’s Sealtest Village Store, where Jack Haley had been working with Joan since its premiere in 1943.  Haley left at the end of the 1945-46 season, and Eve finished out the show’s run the following season alongside Jack Carson.  The summer of 1948 would see the debut of Arden’s best-remembered radio showcase: Our Miss Brooks.  Initially, Eve had to be talked into taking the role (which was originally going to be played by Shirley Booth) because Arden wanted to take a well-deserved vacation.  CBS’ William S. Paley pressured the actress into taking the job, and Eve finally relented after arrangements were made to transcribe (pre-record) the show before she headed off for her R&R.  While on vacation, Arden received a phone call from CBS executive Frank Stanton that Our Miss Brooks was the runaway hit of the summer season.

With an exemplary cast that included Jeff Chandler (later to be replaced by Robert Rockwell), Gale Gordon, Jane Morgan, Richard Crenna, and Gloria McMillan, Our Miss Brooks became one of the Tiffany’s enduring hits. It lasted on radio until 1957, enjoyed a healthy four-year-run on CBS-TV (where Eve Arden would win an Emmy Award as Best Female Star of a Regular Series), and there was even a silver screen version of the show in 1956.  While busy as a radio actress, Arden continued to make waves in such movie hits as Comrade X (1940), Ziegfeld Girl (1941), Manpower (1941), Obliging Young Lady (1942), Cover Girl (1944), and The Doughgirls (1944).  Eve received her only Academy Award acting nomination for her unforgettable performance (“When men get around me, they get allergic to wedding rings.”) as Joan Crawford’s supportive chum in Mildred Pierce (1945). The two actresses later appeared together in 1951’s Goodbye, My Fancy and Eve did excellent solo work in such features as My Reputation (1946), The Unfaithful (1957), Three Husbands (1950), and We’re Not Married (1952).

Doing Our Miss Brooks as a weekly TV series kept Eve Arden busy throughout the 1950s. It was only after the failure of The Eve Arden Show (which only lasted a single season in 1957) that the actress continued in the flickers with two of her very best cinematic showcases. She played Jimmy Stewart’s sarcastic (but loyal) secretary in Anatomy of a Murder (1959) and turned in a solid performance in 1960’s The Dark at the Top of the Stairs.  In the 1960s, Eve made the rounds as a guest star on such hits as CheckmateMy Three SonsBewitched, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  The fall of 1967 saw Arden return to weekly television as one-half of The Mothers-in-Law (her co-star was Kaye Ballard), an underrated sitcom that had a two-year-run on NBC.

The 1970s saw Eve Arden doing more television guest appearances (Love, American StyleMaude) and Movies-of-the-Week (A Very Missing PersonAll My Darling Daughters)…but 1978 provided her with a wonderful showcase (and to Our Miss Brooks fans—a promotion!) in the smash movie musical Grease.  Portraying the character of “Principal McGee” as a female Osgood Conklin, Arden would reprise the role in the 1982 sequel, Grease 2, and make appearances in motion pictures such as Under the Rainbow (1981) and Pandemonium (1982).  She cut back on her TV guest appearances, but did make time for The Love Boat and Hart to Hart. She tried a brief return to the stage in 1983’s Moose Murders…but wisely chose to back out on what later became a tremendous flop. Meanwhile, Arden published a well-received autobiography (The Three Phases of Eve), and had her show business swan song with an episode of Falcon Crest, the nighttime soap opera starring her good friend Jane Wyman.  Arden left this world for a better one in 1990 at the age of 82.

One of the worst-kept secrets on the Internet is that I am a devoted fan of Eve Arden’s signature series, Our Miss Brooks.  It was a real treat writing the liner notes for the Radio Spirits collection Boynton Blues, and I’m sure that you’re not only going to enjoy that set but our other Our Miss Brooks compendiums, Good English and Faculty Feuds.  For dessert, you can check out our birthday girl on Here is Broadway, a collection of classic broadcasts from radio’s The Damon Runyon Theatre.  Happiest of birthdays, Eve—you’re the one “schoolteacher” whose class I’d never dream of skipping!

Happy Birthday, Marian Jordan!

On a cold December night in 1915, young Marian Driscoll—born on this date in Peoria, Illinois in 1898—had no idea that after that evening’s choir practice at St. John’s Catholic Church, a lively jig that she danced during a “social period” would attract the attention of a young man named James Jordan.  Jim became quite taken with the Irish colleen and asked a friend of his to introduce him to the fetching teenager because…well, Jim was a bit on the bashful side.  The two youngsters chatted after the introductions were made and found out that they both shared a love of music.  But it took shy young Jim a week to work up the nerve to ask Marian out; he eventually found the courage and the duo went out that New Year’s Eve.  It’s fortunate for us that Jim did, too…for he and Marian would eventually tie the knot—and become one of radio’s most beloved comedy couples: Fibber McGee & Molly.

Marian’s father mined coal for a living to support his four daughters (including Marian) and nine sons.  She attended school at The Academy of Our Lady (her future husband’s school was right across the street). In addition to her classes, Driscoll made excellent use of her musical talents—Marian had a beautiful contralto voice and was quite proficient on both the piano and violin.  It was after inviting Jim to one of her piano recitals (shortly after their December 1915 meeting) that Marian realized she was very much in love with her bashful suitor. Jim had even spent $2.50 on a bouquet of roses…at a time when he was pulling down eight dollars a week…and they started making plans to wed after she graduated high school.  Her parents weren’t too enthused about Marian marrying Jim – largely due to his ambition to be an entertainer – so he tried out a variety of different jobs, including warehouse clerk and mail carrier, etc. But when his big break came (as a tenor singer with a Chicago vaudeville act), he took it.  Life on the road was difficult for Jim, who missed Marian terribly…and he would eventually return to Peoria to ask for her hand in marriage.  The joyous event took place on August 31, 1918.

No sooner had they become Mr. and Mrs. Jim Jordan than Jim got a letter from his Uncle Sam…and he soon found himself in WWI France, sidelined with dysentery.  Marian, in the meantime, kept “the home fires burning” by eking out a living teaching piano and performing at church services (she was often pressed into service to sing at weddings).  Jim would soon return home and, in the manner of Fibber McGee, tried out another series of jobs…before succumbing once again to the itch for performing.  Jordan thought that if Marian joined him they might make a little more noise on stage as a duo.  While vaudeville provided an excellent training ground for the Jordans’ show business aspirations, it was not conducive to marriage stability.  Marian took breaks from “the road” to give birth to their daughter Kathryn (in 1920) and son Jim, Jr. (1923). Jim, though he began with enthusiasm, would return home broke, taking on various odds-and-ends occupations until the family could maintain a sense of solvency.

It would be no exaggeration to state that radio provided a permanency for this married couple that vaudeville couldn’t offer…the only problem was that, in its infancy, performing on radio didn’t pay much.  In 1924, Jim’s brother Byron (affectionately known as “Mickey”) goaded him and Marian into performing on Chicago radio station WIBO. (Mickey believed that the Jordans could do a better job than the act that was on the air.) They were so well-received that the station hired them to perform (as The O’Henry Twins) at $35 a week.  Between 1925 and 1927, the couple worked an average of three radio stations a night. In October of 1927, they signed a contract with Chicago’s WENR for $60 weekly.  During their time on WENR, Jim and Marian appeared on The Air ScoutsGrab Bag, and Luke and Mirandy.  1929 saw the Jordans debut in The Smith Family, an early daytime drama that some radio historians consider the first “soap opera.”

The Jordans would appear regularly on such series as Kaltenmyer’s Kindergarten and The Breakfast Club…but Marian and Jim’s most successful program on Chicago radio would premiere on March 2, 1931: Smackout. This six-day-a-week quarter-hour featured Jim as Luke Gray, a garrulous general store owner who was always “smack out” of items requested by his clientele.  Marian supported her husband with a variety of quirky characters, demonstrating her versatility and vocal talents. Notably, she played a little girl named “Teeny,” who liked to tease Luke about his propensity for stretching the truth.  If this is starting to sound a little familiar…it should; Smackout was a blueprint for the wildly successful Fibber McGee & Molly. In fact, the writer on Smackout was none other than longtime Fibber scribe Don Quinn.  It was Smackout, of course, that brought Jim and Marian to the attention of the Johnson’s Wax people when they were looking to put a new program on the air on NBC.  The Johnson’s Wax Program with Fibber McGee & Molly premiered on April 16, 1935. After a slow start, it became one of radio’s most popular comedy programs.

Because Marian Jordan was considered such an integral part of the success of Fibber McGee & Molly, it’s often difficult to separate her from her equally famous husband.  But shortly after the pair made their first motion picture in Hollywood (1937’s This Way Please), Marian’s health deteriorated. She was forced to check into a Chicago sanitarium for a long period of rest while Jim carried on with the radio program, which was renamed in her absence Fibber McGee & Company.  Many doubted that Marian would ever return to the show, but in April of 1939 she was warmly welcomed back…and the show became better than ever.  In the 1940s, Fibber McGee & Molly was often ranked at the top of radio’s comedy programs and the show itself became one of the biggest morale boosters during WW2.

Marian and Jim Jordan performed as Fibber McGee & Molly from 1935 to 1956 (the years between 1953 and 1956 their show was a five-day-a-week quarter-hour). They kept the characters alive from 1957 to 1959 by doing short skits as the couple on NBC’s Monitor.  The Jordans made guest appearances on shows headlined by the likes of Amos ‘n’ Andy (Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll), Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy (with whom they made two motion pictures, Look Who’s Laughing [1941] and Here We Go Again [1942]), Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour, Lum & Abner, and Dinah Shore.  Even when guesting on such programs as The Big ShowCommand PerformanceFamily TheatreG.I. JournalThe Great Gildersleeve (a sitcom spin-off from their own series), The Gulf/Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre, and The Lux Radio Theatre, Marian and Jim usually performed in character.  A notable exception was heard on February 3, 1949, when a Suspense broadcast, “Backseat Driver,” allowed them to stretch their acting muscles a bit.  (The couple did such a great job that they did an encore performance on February 22, 1951.)

Marian and Jim were unique in that, while they did bring their famous radio characters to film (such as 1944’s Heavenly Days), they were content to remain creatures of the aural medium. The fact that Marian’s health continued to be chancy with the passing years (doctors had advised her many times to take a long rest…but she didn’t want to disappoint fans) scotched any idea of bringing Wistful Vista’s favorite couple to the small screen.  When Fibber McGee & Molly finally did come to TV in the fall of 1959, Marian Jordan had already been diagnosed with inoperable cancer.  She would leave this world for a better one on April 7, 1961…and many old-time radio fans were saddened by the loss of a woman they considered a trusted friend.

I don’t know about you…but all I have to hear is Marian Jordan’s warm and welcoming “How you do, I’m sure!” and whatever funk I happened to be in is scattered to the four winds and beyond.  Radio Spirits has just the tonic for such blues, with Fibber McGee & Molly collections like Cleaning the Closet (with liner notes by yours truly), Gone Fishing, and Wistful Vista. (Be sure to keep an eye out for another upcoming Radio Spirits Fibber McGee & Molly collection…I know this because I wrote the booklet for that as well.)  You can also spend holiday time with Wistful Vista’s famous residents in our Yuletide compendiums Christmas Radio ClassicsRadio’s Christmas Celebrations, and The Voices of Christmas Past.  Last but not least…check out the McGees in our potpourri offerings of Comedy Goes WestGreat Radio Comedy, and Radio Classics: Selected by Greg Bell.  Heavenly days–that’s a lot of listening!

Happy Birthday, Paul McGrath!

On May 29, 1945, radio’s popular Inner Sanctum Mysteries welcomed inside “the creaking door” a new host to replace the departing Raymond Edward Johnson.  The new master of ceremonies who welcomed audiences to the weekly broadcasts of murder and mayhem would be referred to as “The Host” or “Your Host” …and not “Raymond,” the beloved narrator that had been a fixture on the series since its debut in 1941.  There was a reason why Inner Sanctum’s Himan Brown chose not to identify the replacement; according to Johnson, “Hi used to be a lawyer, and Hi knew that they could not say [“Raymond”] because it was my name, a natural name.”

Additional speculation as to why the new host’s identity was cloaked in semi-anonymity is that Brown insisted that the content of Inner Sanctum was the star, and he was reluctant to promote another pop culture icon like Raymond Edward Johnson’s macabre host.  We won’t keep you in suspense any longer: the new host of the Sanctum was none other than actor Paul McGrath, born in Chicago on this date in 1904.  Not only did Paul bid listeners “Pleasant dreams…hmmm?” until the show left the airwaves in 1952, he served as the narrator of a short-lived attempt to bring the series to TV in 1953-54.

Though a native son of the Windy City, Paul McGrath moved with his family to New York, where he attended Public School 26 and graduated from Evander Childs High School.  After that, he was off to Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute of Technology to study engineering…but that choice of vocation didn’t last long.  Paul had been bitten by the acting bug, and he dropped out in 1924 to return to New York and a career in the footlights.  He made his stage debut in a road company version of The First Year (written by character actor Frank Craven). He later confessed that he landed a part in that play “by lying about my stage experience.”  McGrath followed that gig touring as a member of the repertory company in shows like The Doctor’s DilemmaMr. Wu, and Ned Cobb’s Daughter.

The lights of Broadway were not all that far off for Paul McGrath: he appeared in stage hits like In the Near Future (1925), Made in America (1925), and The Arabian (1927).  Paul’s breakthrough role was in a 1931 production of Ferenc Molnar’s The Good Fairy featuring “The First Lady of the American Theatre,” Helen Hayes. Throughout his lengthy Broadway career (his final play was 1970’s Brightower) McGrath acted alongside some of the stage’s finest actresses.  He did Here Today (1932) with Ruth Gordon, Ode to Liberty (1934) with Ina Claire, In Bed We Cry (1944) with Ilka Chase, The Small Hours with Dorothy Stickney and Love and Let Love with Ginger Rogers (both in 1951), and a summer production of Desk Set with Shirley Booth.

McGrath’s most prominent role was opposite the legendary Gertrude Lawrence in 1940’s Susan and God; a part that became his after Osgood Perkins (the father of Anthony) died unexpectedly.  Lawrence and McGrath reprised their roles in an early televised performance of the play (also in 1940), and he would work again with Ms. Lawrence the following year in Lady in the Dark.  Paul McGrath would experience many Broadway triumphs, including turns opposite Paul Kelly in 1947’s Command Decision (later adapted for the silver screen) and John Garfield in 1949’s The Big Knife (also made into a movie, in 1955).

Performing on stage allowed Paul McGrath to make extra money as a radio actor—he could do any number of daytime soap operas and still fulfill his theatrical commitments in the evenings. And McGrath certainly made the rounds of radio’s most popular “weepies”; he was Edwin Lorimer on This Life is Mine, Phil Stanley on When a Girl Marries, Dr. Sewell Crawford on Young Doctor Malone, and Richard Lane on Lora Lawton.  His best-remembered “soap gig” was portraying Dr. John Wayne (I’m not making that name up) on Big Sister, and in the waning days of radio Paul was emoting as the titular medico of The Affairs of Dr. Gentry.

Other radio programs to employ Paul include A Date with Judy (he was the first thespian to play Melvin Foster, in the Ann Gillis years of the program), Barrie Craig, Confidential InvestigatorBest PlaysThe Casebook of Gregory Hood (in the title role), The Chase, Crime DoctorThe Eternal LightThe FBI in Peace and WarMy Son JeepStudio One, Suspense, and The Theatre Guild on the Air.  Even after “Radio’s Golden Age” rang down the curtain, McGrath made time for shows that attempted to revive audio drama, like Theater Five and The CBS Radio Mystery Theatre.

Though his radio and stage work no doubt kept him busy, Paul McGrath found time for appearances in feature films every now and then.  Paul had a high-profile role in This Thing Called Love, a 1940 comedy with Rosalind Russell; a 1941 Charlie Chan film, Dead Men Tell; and a nice showcase in the Claudette Colbert-Fred MacMurray romp No Time for Love (1943). Other items of interest on McGrath’s cinematic c.v. include A Face in the Crowd (1957) and Advise and Consent (1962).  Paul was no slouch when it came to the small screen, either. He made the rounds on many of TV’s top dramatic anthologies (Robert Montgomery PresentsThe United States Steel Hour), daytime soaps (The Guiding LightThe Edge of Night), and several New York-based dramatic series such as East Side/West SideThe Doctors and the Nurses, and For the People.  According to the IMDb, Paul McGrath’s final film performance was in a 1969 TV movie entitled This Town Will Never Be the Same. The actor passed away two days after his 74th birthday in 1978.

You know simply by having read the above material that Paul McGrath was a much-in-demand actor in radio, and Radio Spirits features two compendiums of his signature role as “Your Host” on Inner Sanctum MysteriesShadows of Death (with liner notes by yours truly) and Pattern for Fear.  (There’s also Inner Sanctum to be heard in our potpourri set of audio chills and thrills, Great Radio Horror.)  But please don’t overlook Final Curtain, a collection of vintage Suspense broadcasts from the final years of “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills,” and a classic episode entitled “The Lost Lady” (06-14-53) on Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator.  Happy birthday to one of the richest voices in the aural medium!

Happy Birthday, Lou Merrill!

An item in the September 25, 1939 edition of The Van Nuys News trumpets the motion picture debut of actor Louis Merrill—born in Winnipeg, Canada on this date in 1912.  The blurb is a little hyperbolic; Lou had previously appeared (uncredited) in the 1938 cliffhanger serial Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars. In addition, his voice had been heard as the narrator of the 1935 Boris Karloff feature The Black Room. However, his Tropic Fury (1939) role as Porthos Scipio, a menacing South American rubber baron, would be the first time the character great received billing on the silver screen.  There would be motion pictures to follow, of course, but Merrill was first and foremost a radio actor…described in the News article as “a veteran of the networks for the past eight years” and who “has mastered nine different dialects for his widely varied characterizations.”

If you can call being a choirboy in Montreal “show business,” then Lou Merrill was bitten by the bug from a very early age.  His big break in American radio was sharing a microphone with silent film queen Mary Pickford on Parties at Pickfair, and one of Lou’s earliest high-profile assignments was working on radio’s prestigious The Lux Radio Theatre. Not only was he on the latter program weekly as a member of the series’ repertory company of supporting players, but he also served as an assistant director, handling “crowd scenes” in the show’s broadcast plays.  On Big Town, Lou’s hefty 250 lb. frame gave him the gravitas to play a variety of “heavies”; he excelled at portraying gangsters—a nod to star Edward G. Robinson’s cinematic stock-in-trade.  (Merrill even served as Robinson’s “stand-in” whenever Eddie G. was unavailable.)  Throughout the 1930s, Lou racked up radio credits on shows like Calling All CarsDr. ChristianThe Joe Penner ShowThe John Barrymore TheatreThe Mickey Mouse Theatre of the AirStrange as It SeemsThose We Love (as con man Ed Neely), and Woodbury Playhouse.  Merrill was even a participant in the classic Yuletide radio production The Cinnamon Bear, where he played “the big man” himself: Santa Claus.

In the 1940’s, Lou Merrill scored roles in two films directed by the legendary Cecil B. DeMille: North West Mounted Police (1940; as Lesure) and Reap the Wild Wind (1942; as the Captain of “The Pelican”).  He was identified onscreen for those turns, but most of his film work consisted of uncredited roles in offerings like New Wine (1941), Hangmen Also Die! (1943), and Passport to Suez(1943).  Lou’s radio career, on the other hand, was going like “gang busters.”  He was a favorite of radio auteur Arch Oboler, who made use of his talents and dialects on Lights OutArch Oboler’s PlaysEverything for the BoysFree World Theatre, and Plays for Americans.  Orson Welles also liked the cut of Merrill’s jib, casting him in parts on Hello AmericansCeiling Unlimited, and Radio Almanac.  (Lou also has a nice turn in Orson’s The Lady from Shanghai [1948] as “Jake Bjornsen.”)

For the most part, however, Lou Merrill leveraged his experience as a Lux Radio Theatre player to work scads of radio anthology programs, among them The Cavalcade of AmericaDark Venture, Encore TheatreThe Eternal LightFamily TheatreHollywood Star TimeThe NBC University TheatreThe Pacific StoryThe Railroad HourScreen Directors’ PlayhouseStudio OneThe Theatre of Famous Radio Players, and Theatre of Romance.  Merrill’s versatility also brought him to such venues as The Alan Young ShowThe George Burns & Gracie Allen ShowThe Jack Benny ProgramThe Life of RileyMail CallPoint Sublime (as Aaron Saul, the town jeweler), Request PerformanceThe Rudy Vallee Show, and Smilin’ Ed’s Buster Brown Gang.  He starred briefly as Captain Craig McKenzie on an early adult science-fiction series, Latitude Zero, and racked up appearances on Ellery QueenIntrigueThe New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and Rogue’s Gallery.

Merrill also enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with “Mr. Radio,” Elliott Lewis; he appeared frequently on the Lewis-produced Broadway’s My Beat, as well as On Stage and Suspense.  In addition, Elliott cast Lou in the radio role for which old-time radio fans remember him best: as Crime Classics host/narrator Thomas Hyland—“connoisseur of crime, student of violence, and teller of murders.”  A short-lived crime anthology that is nevertheless revered by radio devotees even today, Classics allowed Lou-as-Hyland to be his droll, deadpan best as he regaled listeners with tales of true criminal cases presented in a macabre, tongue-in-cheek fashion.  The departure of Crime Classics (a crime in itself) didn’t slow Merrill down, however; his radio resume continued to bulge with entries such as The Adventures of Sam SpadeThe Adventures of the SaintThe CBS Radio WorkshopThe Hallmark Hall of FameThe Halls of IvyHeartbeat TheatreThe LineupLuke Slaughter of TombstoneThe Man Called XNight BeatObsessionPresenting Charles BoyerRetributionRocky FortuneThe Silent MenThe Six ShooterSomebody KnowsStars in the AirStars Over HollywoodThat’s RichThis is Your FBIWild Bill Hickok, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Although a dedicated “radio man,” Lou Merrill was not a stranger to the small screen.  He appeared in several installments of a series entitled The Oboler Comedy Theatre (for his old boss Arch Oboler) and guest-starred on such hits as I Love LucyThe LineupColt .45The MillionaireSugarfoot, and Shirley Temple’s Scrapbook.  Most of his movie appearances allowed him to fall back on his love of radio. For example, that’s Lou as the radio announcer in the loopy morality film The Next Voice You Hear… (1950), and like his fellow radio thespian Paul Frees, Merrill enjoyed narrating trailers for such AIP features as It Conquered the World (195x), I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), and A Bucket of Blood (1959).  His credited films include roles in Charge of the Lancers (1954), The Iron Glove (1954), The Crooked Web (1955), and a schlock favorite of mine, The Giant Claw (1957).  His cinematic swan song was 1961’s The Devil at 4 O’Clock; Lou Merrill passed on two years later at the tender age of 54.

If you’re in the mood—and you know you are—to celebrate Lou Merrill’s birthday, you’re going to want to own our Crime Classics collection The Hyland Files, featuring his signature role as Thomas Hyland.  However, Lou is present and accounted for in three of our Broadway’s My Beat sets: Dark WhispersGreat White Way, and our just-released The Loneliest Mile (with liner notes from your humble narrator).  In addition, you’ll hear Merrill working his microphone magic on Big Town: Blind JusticeDark VentureLights Out, Everybody and Lights Out: Later Than You ThinkThe Line Up: WitnessThe Man Called XRogue’s Gallery: Blue EyesSherlock Holmes: ElementaryThe Six Shooter: Gray SteelSomebody Knows; the Suspense compendiums Beyond Good and Evil and Wages of Sin; and the Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar collections Murder Matters and Wayward Matters.  Believe you me—Lou Merrill is no April fool!

Happy Birthday, Charles Russell!

Fans of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar are generally in agreement that it was actor Bob Bailey who made “America’s fabulous freelance investigator” the old-time radio icon he is today.  (I apologize in advance to all the John Lund fans out there.)  As revered as Bailey was as “the man with the action-packed expense account,” Johnny Dollar devotees know that he wasn’t the first radio thespian to tackle the role: that honor belongs to an actor born in New York City on this date in 1918.  We know him as Charles Russell.

While we know the name of the first of the Johnny Dollar thespians (excluding Dick Powell, of course, who starred in the show’s first audition), Charles Russell’s biography is a little sketchy…as author John C. Abbott acknowledged in his book The Who is Johnny Dollar Matter?  A 1949 issue of Radio Mirror offers but the briefest biographical blurb for Russell, noting that he turned down employment in his hometown of Tarrytown, NY for a career on the stage.  “After starving several years in Little Theater roles,” observes Mirror, “Charles wangled a screen test and subsequently made several pictures.”

The IMDb notes that Charles Russell’s first foray into motion pictures was an uncredited bit as a ball player in 1943’s Ladies’ Day, a romantic baseball-themed romp starring Eddie Albert and Lupe Velez.  Russell’s second film featured his first onscreen credit: Bombardier, a WW2 docudrama that also featured Albert…though the stars of that picture were Pat O’Brien and Randolph Scott.  Both Ladies’ Day and Bombardier were released by RKO, and on the strength of those appearances Charles was soon signed to a contract with 20th Century-Fox.

Charles’ first film for Fox was a prestigious one: The Purple Heart (1944), an all-star war drama whose cast included Dana Andrews, Richard Conte, and Farley Granger.  It would prove to be one of the studio’s biggest hits that year, and Russell would be pressed into service (if you’ll pardon the pun) for other “military” roles in Captain Eddie (1945—a biopic on Captain Eddie Rickenbacker) and Johnny Comes Flying Home (1946).  Charlie also appeared in a “B” mystery, Behind Green Lights (1946—you can read a review of this at my home base, Thrilling Days of Yesteryear), and a romantic tale with Fox headliners John Payne, June Haver, and Charlotte Greenwood: Wake Up and Dream (1946).

Charles Russell’s biggest success at 20th Century-Fox was 1947’s The Late George Apley—a sprightly comedy satire (based on the best-selling novel by author John P. Marquand, best-known as the man who introduced Asian sleuth Mr. Moto to bookshelves) about a proper Bostonian family whose lives are turned upside down when their children announce that they’re marrying “beneath their station.”  Charlie played the fiancé of the Apley daughter, Ellie (Peggy Cummins), and his would-be father-in-law was portrayed by an actor who was certainly no stranger to radio: Ronald Colman.

Russell finished out his stint at Fox with appearances in Give My Regards to Broadway (1948), Night Wind (1948), Trouble Preferred (1949), and Tuscon (1949).  Night Wind was one of only two pictures where Charlie received top billing; the other was an independent production entitled Inner Sanctum (1948)…which, despite the deceptive poster art, had very little connection to the popular radio show (I reviewed it for Radio Spirits here).  (Russell was also in the cast of 1948’s Canon City—a nifty little prison break noir that makes the rounds of Turner Classic Movies every now and then, so keep an eye out for it.)  Charles then drifted over to Columbia to make three pictures…but in only one of them, Chinatown at Midnight (1949), did he receive onscreen billing (the other two were Mary Ryan, Detective [1949] and Breakthrough [1950], his final film).

By the time Mary Ryan, Detective was released to theaters, however, Charles Russell had already made his “radio debut” in the role of the titular insurance investigator on Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.  Russell’s first show aired February 11, 1949, and he would be kept busy itemizing his expense accounts for a total of 35 broadcasts (until motion picture star Edmond O’Brien replaced him in January of 1950).  John C. Abbott describes Russell’s portrayal of Dollar as “a sarcastic, irreverent, droll and somewhat lecherous person. Johnny always got the bad guy, but he always seemed to get the girl as well—sometimes to his undoing and always, it seemed ‘on’ the expense account.”  After his stint on Dollar, Russell would make appearances on such radio favorites as Family Theatre and The Adventures of Philip Marlowe.

Not much is known about Charles Russell after 1950. We do know that he married fellow Fox player Nancy Guild in 1947, and that the two divorced three years later.  In a 2012 issue of Radio Recall, Abbott writes: “…there is a clue to what he might have been up to. I have a photo of Russell taken from the St. Louis Dispatch. In that photo he is sitting at a paper-strewn table holding a pencil. The inference in this picture is that Russell is writing, but the question is: what?”  Curiouser and curiouser, to borrow a famous literary phrase.  Charles Russell passed on at the age of 66 in 1985.

The Radio Spirits collection of The Adventures of Philip Marlowe features our birthday boy in a January 28, 1950 broadcast entitled “The Hairpin Turn.”  But to get maximum Charles Russell in front of the mike, you’ll want to collect his signature role as Johnny Dollar in our compendiums of Medium Rare MattersMysterious Matters, and of course, The Many Voices of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Happy Birthday, Jerry Lewis!

August 20, 2017 was for many fans of comedy a day to weep…not laugh.  The man born Joseph Levitch (though other sources report his name as Jerome) in Newark, NJ on this date in 1926 had left this world for a better one.  Whether or not you consider yourself a fan, it’s inarguable that Jerry Lewis made incalculably important contributions to comedy.  Lewis was one of the few performers whose show business career touched upon every facet of entertainment in the 20th century.  He began in vaudeville and burlesque before achieving initial fame in nightclubs.  Jerry conquered movies, working not only as an actor-comedian, but graduating to a position as a writer, director, and producer.  He flourished in television with variety programs and talk shows, conquered Las Vegas and Broadway…and of course, Lewis did okay for himself in radio as well.

Jerry Lewis seemed destined for a life in show business.  His father, Danny, was a vaudeville performer and M.C. (Master of Ceremonies); his mother, Rachel (known to all as “Rae”), was Danny’s musical director and a piano player for New York’s WOR.  Jerry began performing on stage at age five, and initially achieved some small success with what became known as “The Record Act”—in which he frantically lip-synched and mimed to phonograph records played offstage.  This specialty kept the young comedian busy throughout the New York entertainment circuit affectionately known as “the Borscht Belt.”

It was making the acquaintance of a singer named Dean Martin that would catapult both men to the top of the entertainment world.  Jerry initially met Dean in 1945 at a club called The Glass Hat. A year later, while Jerry was bombing at the Havana-Madrid Club in New York City (the Spanish audience was unreceptive to Lewis’ miming-to-records shtick), he convinced the club manager to let him cut up a little during Martin’s performance, as Dean was also on the bill at the time.  Lewis, dressed as a bellboy, interrupted Martin’s musical number by dropping a tray of dishes and generally wreaking havoc, and this resulted in a hilarious exchange of insults between the duo that laid the audience in the aisles. Their subsequent nightclub bookings came fast and furious; it was estimated that the team took in $15,000 weekly in 1948 alone.

It wouldn’t take long before the public became familiar with Martin and Lewis’ antics over the ether. Dean and Jerry made a well-received appearance on The Bob Hope Show in October of 1948, and NBC decided to give the duo their own radio show. It premiered on April 3, 1949, with Lucille Ball as their guest.  NBC spent $10,000 a week on The Martin & Lewis Show, booking big celebrities like Henry Fonda, John Garfield, and Jane Russell…but the show failed to attract much of an audience.  The program left NBC on January 30, 1950.

Though their work in radio experienced a temporary setback, the team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis would return to a microphone in the fall of 1951 with a show that would run for two seasons.  The reason for this was the duo’s popularity in motion pictures…which began (interestingly enough) with an appearance in a movie based on a radio hit.  Paramount brought My Friend Irma to the silver screen in 1949, with star Marie Wilson reprising her radio role as the frustratingly dim-witted blonde. Martin & Lewis were added to the cast as incidental characters; Martin played a love interest for the Jane Stacy character (played in the film by Diana Lynn).  My Friend Irma not only became a box-office smash, it led to a sequel the following year (My Friend Irma Goes West). The first solo Dean & Jerry film followed: At War with the Army (1950).  Martin & Lewis would soon overtake Abbott & Costello as the #1 movie comedy team, appearing in a string of celluloid smashes that included That’s My Boy (1951), Sailor Beware (1951), Jumping Jacks (1952), Scared Stiff(1953), and Money from Home (1953).

Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin were also hard at work convulsing television audiences as well.  The team were among the guests on the very first telecast of Ed Sullivan’s The Toast of the Town on June 20, 1948, and they would eventually be hired to host The Colgate Comedy Hour in the fall of 1950. (The Colgate series rotated the hosts regularly, insuring that Martin & Lewis were not tied down to a weekly series.)  It’s been said that while nothing could quite capture the improvised zaniness of Dean & Jerry’s nightclub act, their assignments on the Comedy Hour came as close as possible.  The duo remained mainstays on the program until it left the airwaves in December of 1955.

Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin continued their string of movie successes with hits like Living It Up (1954), You’re Never Too Young (1955), and Artists and Models (1955)…but their partnership had already started to show signs of strain by the time the duo made 3 Ring Circus (1954).  Martin’s role in their films had started to take a backseat to Lewis’ antics, and the friction that developed would eventually lead to their break-up before their final film as a team, Hollywood or Bust, was released in 1956.  Both men would later have wildly successful solo film careers…though it was Lewis who fared a little better on the moviemaking side, with popular releases like The Delicate Delinquent (1957), Rock-a-Bye Baby (1958), and Don’t Give Up the Ship (1959).  The 1960 comedy The Bellboy established Jerry as a director, and he would helm such successes as The Ladies’ Man (1961) and The Nutty Professor (1963), the latter considered by his many fans to be his best solo film.

Although Jerry Lewis continued to make appearances on television—he hosted a two-hour variety show in 1963 and another variety hour from 1967 to 1969—he never found the small screen success that his ex-partner achieved with The Dean Martin Show from 1965 to 1974.  It didn’t really matter much in the big picture, however; Lewis was a frequent guest (and occasional guest host) on outlets like The Tonight Show.  In addition, from 1966 to 2010, he hosted the popular Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon, an annual fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.  Jerry would continue to make movies throughout the 1960s (The PatsyThe Family Jewels) before finishing out the decade with Which Way to the Front? In 1970.  He was absent from the silver screen for about a decade until he returned in the 1980s with hits like Hardly Working (1981) and Cracking Up (1983).  It was about this time that Jerry began to receive critical praise for appearances in the likes of such films as The King of Comedy (1983) and Funny Bones (1995).

Despite a series of health setbacks over the years, Jerry Lewis never let his energy wane. In 1995, he achieved a lifelong ambition to appear in a Broadway production, portraying The Devil in a revival of the musical Damn Yankees.  Lewis continued to be a dynamo with guest roles on TV shows like Mad About You and Law & Order: SVU. His final solo film, Max Rose, was released in 2013 and his cinematic swan song was 2016’s The Trust.  However, Jerry Lewis had a booking to play an exclusive nightclub in The Great Beyond and left this world to fulfill that obligation at the age of 91.

From 1950 to 1955, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin appeared in twenty-eight telecasts of The Colgate Comedy Hour…and on The Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Collection—a DVD set available from Radio Spirits—you can revisit those hilarious moments when TV was live and America’s favorite comedy team was working without a net.  (The collection also features three of Jerry’s solo films: 3 on a Couch [1966], Don’t Raise the Bridge, Lower the River [1968], and Hook, Line and Sinker [1969].)  You’ll also find clips of our birthday boy on Funniest Moments of Comedy, a 6-DVD collection stuffed with classic clowns from the worlds of both the big and small screens.  Happy birthday to the incomparable Jerry Lewis!