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Happy Birthday, Clark Gable!

In Hollywood, he was reverentially referred to as “The King.”  William Clark Gable, born in Cadiz, OH on this date in 1901, would celebrate an acting career that spanned over 35 years—23 of them with motion picture studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.  For classic film fans, he’s a symbol of virility and sex appeal; the American Film Institute ranked him seventh on their 1999 list of greatest male stars of classic cinema.  A most impressive achievement for someone who was once dismissed by the legendary Darryl F. Zanuck (then an executive with Warner Bros.): “His ears are too big and he looks like an ape!”

Although Clark Gable was named after his father (William Henry “Will” Gable, an oil well driller), he was almost always addressed as “Clark.”  Gable’s mother died when he was ten months old and his stepmother stoked his show business aspirations by teaching him to play piano.  Young Clark also learned to play brass instruments, becoming a member of the town band at thirteen.  A year later, Gable left school and home to work in a tire factory in Akron.  His musical talents and love of Shakespeare provided inspiration for a career in acting, which he began to seriously consider at the age of 17 after watching a performance of the play The Bird of Paradise.

After a momentary detour in the field of wildcatting (at the behest of his father), Clark Gable made a full commitment to acting.  He performed in several stock companies as he made his way West, winding up penniless in Oregon where he was forced to take on odd jobs like selling neckties and lumberjacking.  Another traveling company Clark joined was headed by a veteran actress, Josephine Dillon, who took an interest in Gable. Under her tutelage, he was able to get bit parts in films like Forbidden Paradise (1924) and The Merry Widow (1925).

Despite credited parts in movies like North Star (1925), Clark Gable had a tough time getting anywhere in the “flickers.” He returned to touring stage companies, eventually making it to Broadway in productions of Machinal (1928) and Love Honor and Obey (1930).  Clark’s turn in a Los Angeles production of The Last Mile impressed Lionel Barrymore, who wangled the neophyte actor an audition with MGM.  Leo the Lion took a pass, but Gable’s performance as a swarthy villain in The Painted Desert (1931) convinced them to take a second look.  Clark would appear in a dozen features in 1931—notably A Free Soul (with his benefactor Barrymore) and Night Nurse (made at Warner Bros. with Barbara Stanwyck).  In that same year, Gable also appeared in three of the eight movies he’d eventually make in total with Joan Crawford: Dance, Fools, Dance; Laughing Sinners; and Possessed.

Clark Gable quickly proved himself to be big box office for MGM with hits like Red Dust (1932) and Dancing Lady (1933)…yet his tumultuous private life gave MGM’s Louis B. Mayer ulcers. To keep “The King” in line, he lent Gable out to Columbia Pictures for a project directed by Frank Capra — an unassuming little comedy titled It Happened One Night (1934). Clark was unhappy about the assignment, but no doubt changed his mind when Night swept all five major categories at the Academy Awards (Film, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay) the following year.  His studio welcomed him back with the role of Fletcher Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), another huge box office smash (and Best Actor Oscar nomination).

During his stay at MGM, Clark Gable would make seven films with “Queen” Myrna Loy (Manhattan MelodramaTest Pilot), six with Jean Harlow (Hold Your ManChina Seas), four with Lana Turner, and three with Norma Shearer.  Gable’s most famous role, however, would be made outside his familiar environs. In fact, to get Clark for the role of Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind (1939), producer David O. Selznick had to cough up both some cash and distribution rights.  Gable initially displayed the same amount of enthusiasm as he did for It Happened One Night, but could take satisfaction in knowing that he had one of the most memorable closing lines in cinematic history (“Frankly, my dear…”). In addition, he got to play the best-liked character in the film.  (Sadly, despite the flurry of Oscars won by Gone with the Wind, Clark lost the Best Actor trophy to Goodbye, Mr. Chips’ Robert Donat.  It was Gable’s third and final nomination.)

Clark Gable’s leading lady in 1932’s No Man of Her Own was actress Carole Lombard. While it would be their only onscreen teaming, offscreen they tied the knot (in 1939, his third marriage). Thus began one of the happiest periods of his life.  Clark was on top of the world with hits like Boom Town (1940) and Honky Tonk (1941). However, that world came crashing down with Lombard’s death in a plane crash in 1942.  Devastated, Gable joined the Army Air Corps and spent two years during WW2 as an aerial cameraman and bomber gunner in Europe.

Writer Milt Josefsberg noted in his book The Jack Benny Show that Clark Gable was the only major star who turned down a guest appearance on his boss’ program.  Jack’s writers had sketched out what would have been a very funny show (with Benny taking advantage of Clark’s hefty fee by forcing him to do every job—and I mean every job—associated with the program), but Gable’s longtime battles with “mike fright” scotched any further plans.  “The King” was able to overcome his microphone malady on a few occasions; he guest-starred on programs like Command PerformanceGood News of 1938/1939, and Mail Call, and joked with the likes of Burns & Allen and Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy.  Clark also made the rounds on various anthology programs: The Cavalcade of AmericaThe Gulf/Lady Esther/Camel Screen Guild TheatreThe Hallmark Hall of FameThe Lux Radio Theatre, and The Silver Theatre, to name a few.

Clark Gable resumed his movie career in 1945, yet despite still being popular with the moviegoing public (the reissues of Gone With the Wind saw to that) he never really recaptured that “Jack Dempsey in a tuxedo” quality of his earlier career, particularly after age set in.  There would be good movies to follow—The Hucksters (1947), Command Decision (1948), Mogambo (1953), Run Silent Run Deep (1958)—and his final film, The Misfits (1961), allow him to go out with a bang.  It was released posthumously after his death in 1960 at the age of 59.

Clark Gable didn’t let “microphone jitters” keep him from a classic appearance on Maxwell House Coffee Time, starring George Burns & Gracie Allen.  You’ll find this November 21, 1946 broadcast on our collection Illogical Logic—an excellent way to celebrate our friend’s natal anniversary today.

“When man hunts man!”

The Golden Age of Radio featured many programs that, despite their excellence, failed to attract a large listening audience.   There are any number of reasons to explain their lukewarm receptions—the most common being scheduling. If a network had difficulty deciding on a suitable timeslot, and moved a series around to different days and times, listeners would quickly become discouraged with the “hide-and-seek.”  An issue related to scheduling was sponsorship. If a show couldn’t find an angel to pay the bills, the network might move on. 
Sadly, it is only through the hindsight of transcription recordings that old-time radio fans have learned of “the ones that got away.”  Pursuit, which premiered over CBS on this date in 1949, is an excellent example.  Elliott “Mr. Radio” Lewis, Norman Macdonnell, and William N. Robson worked on Pursuit’s production-direction end during its brief run, with the show scripted by veterans like Antony Ellis, Les Crutchfield, and Morton Fine & David Friedkin.  Leith Stevens and his orchestra provided the music (with Eddie Dunstedter and his organ in the show’s last season). 
“A criminal strikes and fades quickly back into the shadow of his own dark world…and then, the man from Scotland Yard, the famous Inspector Peter Black, and the relentless, dangerous pursuit…when man hunts man!”  So went Pursuit’s opening each week, presenting cases from the files of fictional Inspector Peter Black.  Black was the epitome of the dedicated English cop; a manhunter so relentless in his duty that he would not rest until his target was brought to justice.  Assisting Black (who went by “Inspector Harvey” in the pilot and first episode of the series) was Sergeant Moffatt. 
The first actor to portray Black was Ted de Corsia, whose radio gigs include The Shadow and The Adventures of Ellery Queen.  Radio allowed de Corsia to demonstrate a remarkable flexibility outside his familiar film roles in features like The Naked City (1948) and The Enforcer (1951).  Ted’s stint on Pursuit lasted until May of 1950 (where it had been sponsored by Ford since January); the program then became a brief summer replacement for Gene Autry (and Wrigley’s Gum), with John Dehner as Black (also Herb Butterfield).  In the summer of 1951, Pursuit returned for Wrigley’s, as Life with Luigi’s replacement.  Ben Wright had stepped into the role of Inspector Black by then. 
Wright continued on Pursuit for its second full (and final) season beginning in the fall of 1951, with the bills now being paid by Sterling Drugs (Haley’s M-O, Molle).  Pursuit also co-starred William Johnstone as Black’s superior, Chief Inspector Harkness, adding an interesting aspect to the program in that there were dual narrators (Black did the bridging scenes while Harkness handled the opening and closing).  It was a well-done program, with a total of 64 broadcasts generated and some 20 shows available to collectors. 
You’ll find a few of those shows available on our digital download collection of Pursuit: When Man Hunts Man, including the original 1948 audition.  “Pursuit, and the pursuit is ended.” 

Happy Birthday, Berry Kroeger!

Berry Kroeger’s initial show business ambition was to become a concert pianist.  Kroeger didn’t lack for talent, you understand—but being painfully shy and terrified of performing threatened to sideline his promising career.  To improve his stage presence, Barry’s music teacher suggested he take a dramatic lesson or two and what started out as the means to an end became the end itself.  The man born Walker Berry Kroeger in San Antonio, Texas on this date in 1912 quickly traded that piano for a microphone.

For an actor who hailed from The Lone Star State, Berry Kroeger would eventually leave that patch of ground without a trace of a drawl.  Instead, Kroeger mastered scores of dialects and accents, domestic and imported.  Berry could play anything from a suave, cultured villain to a down-to-earth, Midwestern physician.  Like most of his fellow radio thespians, Kroeger found steady work and paychecks on daytime dramas; he was “Sam Williams” on Young Doctor Malone, “Conrad Overton” on Road of Life, and “Dr. Reed Bannister” on Big Sister.

Berry Kroeger was well-known on radio for his narration skills.  He served as a narrator on Calling All Cars and Salute to Youth.  Before “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills” hired The Man in Black, Berry narrated the early broadcasts of Suspense.  Horror fans will recognize Kroeger’s sinister tones on The Haunting Hour and Murder at Midnight.  Later in the decade, Berry was featured on the newspaper drama anthology The Big Story.  The actor even got a shot at playing the lead when The Adventures of the Falcon premiered in 1943.

Shows like The Adventures of the Thin Man, The American School of the AirBulldog DrummondThe Columbia WorkshopThe Cresta Blanca CarnivalDr. ChristianThe Eternal LightGrand Central StationInner Sanctum MysteriesThe Molle Mystery TheatreThe Radio Hall of FameThe Theatre Guild on the Air, and Words at War kept Berry Kroeger busy at this point in his career.  The actor started making inroads on stage, too, beginning with his Broadway debut in The World’s Full of Girls.  Berry would work alongside such notables as Dame May Whitty, Victor Jory, Eve LeGalliene, and Ingrid Bergman.  Kroeger’s stage work also attracted the attention of director William Wellman, who cast Berry in his first credited motion picture, The Iron Curtain (1948).

Berry Kroeger’s penchant for slimy villainy really came to the fore with several noirs released at this time: Cry of the City (1948), The Dark Past (1948), Act of Violence (1949), Gun Crazy (1949), etc.  (I just happened to catch Black Magic {1949] a week or so ago, and thoroughly enjoyed Berry as Alexander Dumas pere opposite Raymond Burr as Alexander Dumas fils.)  In the meantime, Berry continued to beef up his radio resume:  The Adventures of Phillip MarloweAmerican PortraitBarrie Craig, Confidential InvestigatorThe Cavalcade of AmericaThe CBS Radio WorkshopCloak and DaggerThe ClockDimension XEscapeFamily TheatreFavorite StoryThe House of MysteryJeff Regan, Investigator, The NBC University TheatreThe Railroad HourTom Corbett, Space CadetTrue Detective MysteriesVoyage of the Scarlet QueenThe WhistlerX-Minus OneYours Truly, Johnny Dollar, and You Are There.

There would be many a memorable Berry Kroeger movie appearance in later years (Seven ThievesThe Mephisto WaltzDemon Seed) in addition to TV work (he did more than a few Perry Masons), but Barry Kroeger really pulled out all the stops in character acting in his twilight years.  Once described as “a junior edition of Charles Laughton,” Kroeger turned in tongue-in-cheek homages to Sydney Greenstreet on episodes of The Thin Man (“Bookworms”) and Get Smart (“Maxwell Smart, Private Eye”).  Berry Kroeger passed away in 1991 at the age of 78.

To celebrate Mr. Kroeger’s natal anniversary, we invite you to purchase collections from the actor’s signature shows: Dimension X (Adventures in Time and Space, Future Tense); Inner Sanctum Mysteries (Pattern for Fear, Shadows of Death); and Suspense (Black Curtain, Fear and Trembling).  Rounding out Berry’s catalog: The Adventures of Phillip Marlowe: Night Tide; Big Story: As It Happened; Family Theatre: Every Home; Great Radio Science Fiction; Stop the Press!; and Words At War: World War II Radio Drama.  Happy birthday, Berry!

Happy Birthday, Paul Dubov!

The 1968 feature film comedy With Six You Get Eggroll served as actress-singer Doris Day’s cinematic swan song.  Dodo would turn her attention to television after Eggroll’s release, with a successful sitcom that aired over CBS-TV from 1968 to 1973.  Not many people are aware, however, that Eggroll’s plot—two widowed individuals with children from their previous marriages who form a “blended” family by tying the knot—was based on a novel. The book was co-authored by a veteran thespian who enjoyed a lengthy career in movies and on radio as an actor and singer.  His name was Paul Dubov, and he was born on this date in the Windy City in 1918.

Paul Dubov’s movie career couldn’t have blossomed at a busier studio. He became a contract player at Universal in the 1930s. The IMDb notes that his motion picture debut was an uncredited role in 1938’s Little Tough Guy, but he soon worked his way up to credited appearances in such programmers as North to the Klondike (1942) and Girls’ Town (1942), followed by Escape from Hong Kong, Danger in the Pacific, and The Boss of Big Town.  Serial fans got a glimpse of Paul in The Adventures of Smilin’ Jack and Don Winslow of the Coast Guard.  The more celebrated flicks that Paul had a hand in include The Set-Up (1949), Champion (1949), Young Man with a Horn (1950), Triple Trouble (1950), The Killer That Stalked New York (1950), Cyrano de Bergerac (1950), High Noon (1952), The Sniper (1952), Kansas City Confidential (1952), I, the Jury (1953), Abbott & Costello Meet the Keystone Kops (1955), and Cell 2455, Death Row (1955).

Paul Dubov was most prolific in the aural medium, emoting early in his career on such shows as The Eternal Light, Great Plays, I Sustain the Wings, The Lux Radio Theatre, and Plays for Americans.  Dubov would take over for actor Tom Collins (after 22 episodes) on The Adventures of Frank Race, a syndicated 1949-50 program about an attorney who became something of a globetrotter after the end of WW2.  Paul also appeared a few times on the post-Jack Webb reboot of Jeff Regan, Investigator and even filled in for star Frank Graham on occasion.

Paul Dubov’s radio resume includes appearances on the likes of The Adventures of Phillip Marlowe, Amos ‘n’ Andy, Barrie Craig, Confidential Investigator, Broadway’s My Beat, Dangerous Assignment, Escape, Family Theatre, The First Nighter Program, Gunsmoke, The Hallmark Hall of Fame, Hallmark Playhouse, Hollywood Sound Stage, Hollywood Star Theatre, Inheritance, I Was a Communist For the FBI, Mike Malloy, The NBC Star Playhouse, The NBC University Theatre, Night Beat, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, Rogers of the Gazette, Romance, The Roy Rogers Show, Screen Directors’ Playhouse, The Silent Men, The Story of Dr. Kildare, Tales of the Texas Rangers, The Whisperer, The Whistler, Wild Bill Hickok, Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, and You Were There.  Dubov was a radio man till the last dying days of the Golden Age (Fort Laramie, Suspense, Have Gun – Will Travel) and even worked to revive the medium with The Hollywood Radio Theatre in the 1970s.

Toward the end of the 1950s, Paul Dubov kept busy appearing in a great quantity of drive-in theatre fodder, with appearances in such programmers as Day the World Ended (1955), The She-Creature (1956), Shake, Rattle & Rock! (1956), and Voodoo Woman (1957).  Fans of cult movie director Samuel Fuller know Paul quite well; Dubov worked in six of Fuller’s films: China Gate (1957), Forty Guns (1957), Verboten! (1959), The Crimson Kimono (1959), Underworld U.S.A. (1961), and Shock Corridor (1963).  Of course, Paul also found himself welcome on the small screen: his TV show appearances include The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, The Millionaire, The Ann Sothern Show, 77 Sunset Strip, The Untouchables, The Danny Thomas Show, Hawaiian Eye, and Peter Gunn, to name just a few.

With his marriage to Gwen Bagni in 1963, however, Paul Dubov was able to explore new avenues in TV.  The pair collaborated on scripts for such shows as The Green Hornet, The Felony Squad, and Burke’s Law, and on that last program introduced the character of Honey West (played by Anne Francis), who was spun off into a detective series in the fall of 1965.  Dubov and Bagni would later go on to script the miniseries Backstairs at the White House in 1979, which earned them an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing in a Limited Series or a Special.  Paul’s last TV project was a posthumous one; he passed on before Shirley, an hour-long family drama starring Partridge Family matriarch Shirley Jones, premiered on NBC in the fall of 1979 for a season’s run.

On the occasion of Paul Dubov’s natal anniversary, Radio Spirits invites you to check out one of his signature shows: our Jeff Regan, Investigator collection of Stand By for Mystery.  You can also hear Paul on several of our Gunsmoke sets (Flashback, Killers & Spoilers, The Round-Up, Snakebite), owing to the fact that he was one of Norman Macdonnell’s go-to performers—on Fort Laramie (Volume 1 and 2) and The Adventures of Philip Marlowe (Lonely Canyons, Night Tide, Sucker’s Road), too. Rounding our Dubov showcases: Escape (Peril), Have Gun – Will Travel (Bitter Vengeance), Night Beat (Human Interest), Richard Diamond, Private Detective (Dead Man, Homicide Made Easy), and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (The Many Voices of…, Mysterious Matters, Murder Matters, Expense Account Submitted, Fabulous Freelance, Wayward Matters).  Happy birthday, Paul!

“…that footloose and fancy-free young gentleman…”

In hindsight, the low ebb that marked Frank Sinatra’s show business career in the early 1950s should have been interpreted as a mere blip for the entertainer affectionately known as The Chairman of the Board.  From Sinatra’s perspective, however…it wasn’t looking good.  The “bobby-soxer” phenomenon that had propelled him to the top of the popular music charts had come and gone, and movie wise, Frank had been reduced to appearing in poorly-received features such as Double Dynamite (1951) and Meet Danny Wilson (1952).  Sinatra’s comeback performance as the tragic recruit Angelo Maggio in From Here to Eternity (1953) was just around the corner (his performance would win him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), but in the meantime, a man’s gotta eat. So Rocky Fortune, which premiered over NBC Radio on this date in 1953, ensured that Francis Albert’s cupboard would not be bare.

“Rocky Fortune” was the nickname of Rocco Fortunato, an aspiring private detective who operated out of New York City.  While there may have been eight million stories in the Naked City back then, a large percentage of them were already being tended to by the cops…so Rocky frequently found himself looking for work outside of his chosen sleuthing profession.  Fortune collected unemployment on those occasions that the Gridley Employment Agency wasn’t able throw some work his way.  The agency’s temporary assignments made Rocky Fortune the Kelly girl of radio detectives.Fortune’s latest misadventure would be addressed in the opening of each weekly broadcast, with announcers like Eddie King and Ray Barrett intoning: “NBC presents Frank Sinatra starring as that footloose and fancy-free young gentleman, Rocky Fortune.”  This would be Sinatra’s cue: “Did I ever tell you about the time I got mixed up in a plan to murder Santa Claus?  Yeah, it all started when I answered a Christmas ad for a department store…”  In his one-season career as a temp, Rocky floated from job to job as an oyster shucker (the premiere broadcast), a short-order cook in an all-night diner, and a truck driver…hired to haul nitroglycerin in a scenario clearly inspired by the 1953 film The Wages of Fear.

Radio detectives had a special knack for solving cases that were baffling to the authorities, and while some gumshoes were on good terms with the cops (see Richard Diamond and Walt Levinson) others were not.  Rocky was one of the “were-nots”; his nemesis on the force was NYPD Sergeant Hamilton J. Finger, who could not be convinced that Fortune was a right guy. He knew Rocky was guilty of something and was determined to prove that his instincts were solid.  Finger was played by OTR veteran Barney Phillips; Fortune also made use of the talents of such performers as Parley Baer, Georgia Ellis, Vivi Janis, Jack Kruschen, Marvin Miller, and Jan Miner, to name but a few.

Rocky Fortune was scripted by a pair of NBC staff writers, Ernest Kinoy and George Lefferts. They had distinguished themselves working on Dimension X and would later repeat their fine efforts on X-Minus One.  Sinatra was particularly fond of Lefferts’ lightning-quick dialogue, which nicely captured the singer’s “ring-a-ding-ding” style.  The reviews for Rocky Fortune weren’t always flattering, however.  OTR historian John Dunning remarked that the show was “an undistinguished, low-budget affair.  Even Sinatra sounded bored with it.”  It’s a series that deserves a second look (Variety called Sinatra a “skinny Sam Spade,” which seems to me heady praise). That said, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to getting a chuckle out of this assessment: “It was sustained, so everybody came out losers except the sponsor who didn’t take it.”

Rocky Fortune was indeed sustained, and on March 30, 1954 NBC made certain that the titular hero would continue pounding the pavement for employment…just not on the network’s dime.  As for Francis Albert Sinatra, he collected his Academy Award for From Here to Eternity and after that there was no other direction but up. 
Radio Spirits invites you to check out our digital collection of vintage Rocky Fortune broadcasts available in our downloads store! 

Happy Birthday, Jay Novello!

Radio actors learned practically from their introduction to the medium that their fortunes were set if their talents included a mastery of dialects.  Take Jay Novello, who was born in Chicago on this date in 1904.  Because he was the child of Italian immigrants, Novello was already fluent in that tongue before he took up English (his birth name was “Michael Romano” until he changed it for show business). As his acting career blossomed, he learned to voice characters of Spanish, Greek, Mexican, French and Middle Eastern origin.  His roles ranged from “furtive, twitchy ethnic types and fastidious, comically prissy characters,” according to the TCM website.

An August 5, 1945 issue of Radio Life featured an article entitled “They Write Their Own Ticket.” This was an essay about a summer CBS Radio dramatic anthology called Twelve Players. The roles on this program were portrayed by supporting thespians capable of an amazing versatility…with the stories chosen by the actors as well.  Jay Novello was named as a regular on the program, along with Jack Moyles, Edmund MacDonald, Mary Jane Croft, Howard McNear, John Lake, Herbert Rawlinson, Lurene Tuttle, Cathy Lewis, Charlie Lung, Bea Benaderet, and David Ellis.  (The series’ concept was based on an idea by Moyles, MacDonald, and Ray Buffum.)  The show would later resurface for a second summer run on ABC in 1948.

Jay Novello’s “road” to Twelve Players began through his work for various theatrical troupes and companies in the Chicago area (before he made the trek west to Hollywood).  His first credited motion picture was 1938’s 10th Avenue Kid, with Novello demonstrating the adaptability that would serve him well in radio.  Jay did B-Westerns (The Border Legion [1940] with Roy Rogers; The Great Train Robbery [1941] with Bob Steele) and serial chapter plays (King of the Mounties [1942], The Adventures of Smilin’ Jack [1943]—playing a Japanese spy!) in addition to novelties as Phantom Lady (1944) and The Bullfighters (1945; a memorable encounter with Laurel & Hardy).

As we established earlier, it was Jay Novello’s work with dialects that started to fill his work calendar with multiple radio appointments, beginning with a syndicated series, The Singing Bandit, in 1939.  Novello would work with Arch Oboler on both Lights Out and his Plays series. Other programs on which Jay appeared throughout the 1940s include The Adventures of Philip MarloweAunt MaryBroadway’s My BeatThe Cavalcade of AmericaThe Columbia WorkshopThe Count of Monte CristoEllery QueenEscapeFamily TheatreThe Ford TheatreHollywood Star TimeI Love a MysteryI Love Adventure, IntrigueLet George Do ItThe Lux Radio TheatreMy Favorite HusbandOne Man’s FamilyPursuitRichard Diamond, Private DetectiveScreen Directors’ PlayhouseThe Story of Dr. Kildare, SuspenseThe WhistlerYour Movietown Radio Theatre, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

Two of Jay Novello’s best-known radio showcases premiered during this period.  The first was The Lone Wolf, a show based on the jewel thief created by Louis Joseph Vance. The character had been quite popular in novels and a film franchise from Columbia Pictures starring Warren William and Eric Blore.  In the radio version, Novello played the Blore character—Jameson, The Lone Wolf’s indispensable butler—in a series that aired for a season on Mutual from 1948 to 1949.  Jay had better luck with Rocky Jordan, which premiered over CBS’ West Coast network in January of 1945. (It was originally a quarter-hour called A Man Called Jordan, before expanding to the more familiar half-hour form in 1948.)  Rocky was a café owner in Cairo who stumbled into mystery and intrigue each week. Jay played Captain Sam Sabaaya, Rocky’s contact on the police force in a sort of Captain-Renault-vs.-Rick-Blaine-Casablanca thing.  Novello returned to reprise his role in a 1951 summer version of the series that replaced Moyles with George Raft.

As the 1950s were ushered in, Jay Novello continued his demanding radio schedule with appearances on such shows as The Adventures of Frank RaceThe Bakers’ Theatre of StarsBold Venture, The CBS Radio WorkshopThe Cisco KidCrime ClassicsDr. ChristianFibber McGee & MollyThe General Electric TheatreThe George Burns and Gracie Allen ShowThe Hallmark Hall of FameHallmark PlayhouseLife with LuigiThe Line-UpThe Man from HomicideThe NBC University TheatreThe New Adventures of Nero WolfeNight BeatOn StageThe Railroad HourRomanceThe Roy Rogers ShowStars Over HollywoodTales of the Texas RangersTarzan, and That’s Rich.  At the same time, Novello was busy in motion pictures. Most of those appearances featured the actor in bit roles, but Jay would occasionally get a part with some meat on it — as witnessed in one of his best cinematic showcases, The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (1952).  Other notable Novello vehicles include Crime Wave (1954), The Perfect Furlough (1958), The Wonderful Country (1959), The Lost World (1960), and Pocketful of Miracles (1961).

As radio roles began to shrink, Jay Novello seamlessly transitioned to roles provided by the small screen.  His work with Lucille Ball on her radio series My Favorite Husband allowed him to work on her TV show, I Love Lucy on three occasions — including a classic romp, “The Séance.”  Jay was everywhere from 77 Sunset Strip to Naked City. Notably, he appeared in the fourth and final season of McHale’s Navy, when the hit sitcom revamped its format and drydocked the PT 73 crew in a little Italian village called Voltafiore.  As Mayor Mario Lugatto, Novello provided competition in the scheming con man department, making that much more trouble for the beleaguered Captain Wallace Binghampton (Joe Flynn).  Jay would continue to work throughout the 70s on such classics as The Brady Bunch and Chico and the Man. He succumbed to lung cancer in 1982 at the age of 78.

You’re going to want to grab one of our steel-reinforced shopping carts…because birthday boy Jay Novello has one heck of a legacy here at Radio Spirits.  For starters, sample him on everybody’s favorite—Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar—with our collections Confidential, Fatal Matters, and Murder Matters.  Next: a hat trick of Richard Diamond, Private Detective: Dead Man, Homicide Made Easy, and Mayhem is My Business.  There’s additional crime drama entertainment to be found on The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe (Parties for Death), The Adventures of Philip Marlowe (Lonely Canyons), Broadway’s My Beat (Dark Whispers, Great White Way), Crime Classics (The Hyland Files), The Line-Up (Witness), The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (The Stuttering Ghost and Other Mysteries), Rogue’s Gallery (Blue Eyes), and Suspense (One Way Street).  Rounding out today’s birthday tribute to Mr. Novello are Arch Oboler’s Plays, Jack Benny: Be Our Guest, Lights Out: Later Than You Think, and The Story of Dr. Kildare.  Happy birthday, Jay!

Happy Birthday, Billy Idelson!

When Vic and Sade writer-creator Paul Rhymer decided to add a third character to his program in July of 1932, he had only one phone call to make.  You see, that third addition was going to be for “Rush Meadows”—the son of one of Sadie’s old school friends who gave Rush up for adoption to the Gooks since she was unable to care for him.  It wasn’t long after “Rush” made his first appearance on-mike that listeners simply believed that the boy had always been Vic and Sade’s son, wonderfully portrayed by the actor who was born William Idelson in Forest Park, Illinois on this date in 1919.

The number of anecdotes involving stage-struck parents trying to nudge their children into show business careers would fill many encyclopedia volumes…but in the case of Billy Idelson, the decision to pursue acting sprung from his own initiative.  A Chicago radio station working on an adaption of the Gasoline Alley comic strip (made popular in the pages of The Chicago Tribune) wasn’t having any luck finding a child actor to portray the strip’s young protagonist, Skeezix—not even after having contacted the traditional ranks of juvenile performers.  So the station started calling elocution schools in the hopes of turning up talent there.  Idelson’s older sister taught in such a school and, after having mentioned the request over dinner that same night, young William—despite never having taken any lessons in elocution—insisted on being allowed to audition that next day.  He did so and beat out over a hundred competitors for the part.

His excellent work on Gasoline Alley (a.k.a. Uncle Walt and Skeezix) made such an impression that he ultimately became the only child called for the Vic and Sade audition. In retrospect, it was unquestionably the right choice.  Idelson’s Rush was described by many a Vic and Sade listener as being “just like my own son”; a well-behaved kid who only occasionally deviated into childhood mischief.  He was an average student who, like most of us, tried to avoid studying if he could. The kid genuinely loved and respected his parents, yet was not above ribbing them good-naturedly from time to time.  Most memorably, Rush approached the world with a mixture of endearing awe and wonderment.  We learned everything we needed to know about his colorful friends (Smelly Clark, Blue Tooth Johnson) through casual conversations with his Mom and Dad.

Billy Idelson portrayed Rush on Vic and Sade until 1942, when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He served as a fighter pilot during WWII, obtaining a Distinguished Flying Cross and earning four additional Air Medals.  After leaving the service, Idelson returned to Hollywood to continue his acting career. He re-joined Vic and Sade until it had its final radio curtain call in October of 1946.   It wasn’t his only radio job, by the way; his on-air resume also included the likes of Thunder Over ParadiseSecret City (as Bill Clark), The Trouble with the Truitts (Hugo), That Brewster Boy (Chuck), The Women in My House (Clay), and the title role in Cousin Willie (a summer sitcom in 1953).  Other entries include appearances on such shows as The CBS Radio WorkshopThe Family DoctorFamily SkeletonFamily TheatreFibber McGee & MollyGunsmokeHave Gun – Will TravelThe Magic KeyThe Radio Reader’s DigestRomance, and Suspense.

Billy Idelson’s TV debut came about from his appearances as Clifford Barbour on One Man’s Family (he performed the role on radio as well).  Idelson later chalked up appearances on such small screen favorites as DragnetFather Knows BestLeave it to BeaverCheyenneMy Three SonsPerry Mason, and Gomer Pyle, USMC.  Billy made seven appearances on The Bill Dana Show as “Babcock,” but perhaps his most famous gig on a 60s TV sitcom was his work on The Dick Van Dyke Show. He played Herman Glimscher, the mother-dominated boyfriend of Sally Rogers (Rose Marie) in four episodes.  (Idelson also had a role in a fifth Van Dyke episode, the classic “Never Bathe on Saturday.”  In that one, he played a bellboy who can’t quite figure out where Rob Petrie’s moustache has gone.)

(When the surviving cast members of The Dick Van Dyke Show assembled for a reunion special in 2004, entitled The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited, we learned that among the many developments on the series Sally and Herman finally tied the knot, which a few fans—like myself—found very sweet.)

Billy Idelson’s television contributions went far beyond the occasional acting role, however.  Idelson’s first script for the small screen, “Long Distance Call” (co-written with Charles Beaumont), would be telecast on The Twilight Zone in 1961. From that moment on, Bill was submitting scripts to such favorites like LawmanThe FlintstonesGet Smart, and Bewitched, among many others (often in tandem with his partner Sam Bobrick).  Idelson was inspired by his Herman Glimscher character on The Dick Van Dyke Show to write a script for The Andy Griffith Show, “The County Clerk.” This introduced another milquetoast in Howard Sprague (played by Jack Dodson), who would eventually become one of the Griffith show’s more popular characters in the later years of the series (and its spin-off, Mayberry RFD).

Billy Idelson later used this script writing success to branch out as a producer in the 1970s, overseeing such series as Love, American Style and The Bob Newhart Show.  Billy’s additional television credits during the 1970s include M*A*S*HThe Odd Couple, and Happy Days.  Idelson passed away at the age of 88 in 2007.

You can hear Billy Idelson’s signature radio role on both our Great Radio Sitcoms and Vic and Sade collections…but why not, in celebration of his natal anniversary, check him out on Gunsmoke (The Hunter) and Great Radio Science Fiction (the CBS Radio Workshop presentation of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World), too?  Happy birthday, Billy!

Happy Birthday, Charles Farrell!

Unless you’re like me and have turned all of your extracurricular activity hours over to watching endless episodes of TV reruns, the name of actor Charles Farrell might not be an immediately familiar one.  Fellow couch potatoes know him as father to wacky Gale Storm on the situation comedy My Little Margie, while movie audiences from the Jazz Age/Depression Era remember him as a romantic partner for Janet Gaynor in a dozen motion pictures produced between 1927 and 1934 (Street AngelSunnyside Up, etc.).  New York Times film critic Mordaunt Hall once described a performance of Farrell’s in this fashion: “Sometimes he may seem to be a little too swaggering, but what of it?  The actions suit the young man’s agreeable bombast.  You find that you like him.”  And audiences did. Charlie—born Charles David Farrell in Walpole, Massachusetts on this date in 1900—was such a durable performer that comedian Bob Hope once joked that Farrell was a star at “19th-Century Fox.”

Charles Farrell’s parents were working-class Irish immigrants who envisioned a stellar career path for their son…but Farrell’s dream always seemed focused on show business.  The family owned a movie theatre, and as young Charlie set up the films to be shown and swept out the theatre, he told himself that one day it would be him on that silver screen.  The senior wanted his son to attend Boston University and become a dentist; Charlie offered a compromise and worked toward getting a degree in business.  Farrell abandoned this just before his senior year in college by getting a job as a valet to vaudeville performer/little person Billy Curtis, which provided the means for the ambitious Charlie to get to Hollywood.

After getting some stage experience, Charles Farrell found work in Tinsel Town doing small bits in films like The Ten Commandments (1923) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923); he’s also in Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman (1925) and in the Charlie Chaplin-directed A Woman of Paris (1923).  Farrell’s film career really didn’t get underway until he signed with Fox Films in 1925 and appeared in such features as Wings of Youth (1925), Sandy (1926), and A Trip to Chinatown (1926).  Charlie was loaned out to Paramount to appear as “The Commodore” in Old Ironsides (1926); directed by James Cruze and a huge success at the box office.  But it wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience before the cameras: an explosion on the set injured several bystanders and resulted in the death of a technician.  Charles’ eardrums were injured in the blast, and it left him partially deaf for the remainder of his life.

Charles Farrell’s next movie assignment was his first with Janet Gaynor and the film that would make him a matinee idol: Seventh Heaven (1927).  It would win Farrell’s co-star an Academy Award for Best Actress, and writer Benjamin Glazer a trophy for Best Adapted Screenplay.  Seventh Heaven was also responsible for garnering Frank Borzage a statuette for Best Director (for a Dramatic Picture). Borzage and Farrell would go on to make Street Angel and Lucky Star (1929) with Gaynor as leading lady, as well as The River (1929), Liliom (1930), and After Tomorrow (1932).

Charles Farrell was also the leading man in City Girl (1930), considered by classic film fans to be one of F.W. Murnau’s finest films. Throughout the 1930s, Farrell continued to be a familiar movie face in features like Wild Girl (1932) and Change of Heart (1934; his last film with Janet Gaynor).  World War II was responsible for Farrell’s abandonment of his picture career (his cinematic swan song was 1941’s The Deadly Game). He retired and joined the Navy, serving as a Personnel and Administrative Officer aboard the USS Hornet.

At the height of his motion picture fame in the 1930s, Charles Farrell moved to Palm Springs, California—which at that time was a dusty little desert town and not the “playground for the stars” it later became.  Charlie and his partner, actor Ralph Bellamy, opened the Palm Springs Racquet Club in 1934.  More than anyone, Farrell was responsible for Palm Springs developing prosperity. He was known to his friends as “Mr. Palm Springs” and, after serving on the city council in 1946, he was elected mayor from 1947 to 1955.  Radio’s The Jack Benny Show welcomed him as a guest whenever the program would visit Palm Springs. The show’s writers soon developed one of their hilarious running gags by having Farrell constantly introduce himself as “I’m Charlie Farrell—star of Seventh Heaven.”

Charles Farrell wasn’t quite done with show business yet, however.  “I took the part because I’m a ham,” he remarked in a 1954 interview.  ”The work is not exactly the same as making pictures, but it’s pretty close.”  Farrell was referencing his role as Vern Albright, the put-upon father to Margie Albright (Gale Storm) on TV’s My Little Margie. The show premiered on June 16, 1952 as a summer replacement for I Love Lucy and soon developed a large enough audience to appear on the schedule as a weekly series on its own.  What’s more, Charlie and Gale were coaxed into doing a radio version of the sitcom, which ran concurrently with its TV cousin from December 7, 1952 to June 26, 1955. (The TV Margie exited a bit later, in August of 1955.)

The success of My Little Margie would result in a second television sitcom success for star Gale Storm (The Gale Storm Show: Oh, Susanna! from 1956 to 1960). Charles Farrell tried to capture lightning in a bottle twice with The Charlie Farrell Show, which premiered on July 2, 1956…also as a summer replacement for I Love Lucy.  Farrell wasn’t quite as lucky with his series as Storm was with hers, however. It wasn’t renewed after it finished its run in September, though reruns later aired in the summers of 1957 and 1960.  (Not to be snarky…but the TV series was pretty much a commercial for Palm Springs and Farrell’s Racquet Club, which he would sell in 1959.)  Farrell died in 1990, still residing in his beloved Palm Springs.

Two of Charles Farrell’s classic guest appearances on The Jack Benny Show are available on our Benny collection Silly Skits—consecutive broadcasts dated April 11 and April 18, 1948.  You can also hear our birthday boy in his signature television role…only it’s on radio, with a broadcast of My Little Margie on Great Radio Sitcoms.  Happy birthday to Charlie Farrell!