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Happy Birthday, Herb Vigran!

The man born Herbert (some sources spell it “Herburt”) Vigran in Cincinnati, Ohio on this date in 1910 would become one of show business’ most distinctive character actors. His easily recognized voice and facial features (particularly his bushy eyebrows) granted him the versatility to play individuals on both sides of the law (cops and gangsters) and flawlessly move back-and-forth from comedic roles to dramatic parts. Truth be told, Vigran’s acting resume is so lengthy and extensive it does him a disservice to boil everything down to a solitary blog post. Any aspiring biographer should really consider writing one about Herb, who chalked up over 350 film and TV appearances in his 50-year career (and he was every bit as busy on radio).

Although born in the Buckeye State, Indiana welcomed Herb as an adopted Hoosier sixteen years later when the Vigran family moved to Fort Wayne. He would end up graduating from the University of Indiana with a degree in law, and even passed the state bar exam. However, instead of hanging out his legal shingle, he took off for the Big Apple to become an actor. Herb landed small roles in Broadway productions of Achilles Had a Heel (1935), Cyrano de Bergerac (1936), and Having Wonderful Time (1937). Buoyed by his significant stage success, Vigran ventured out to Tinsel Town…despite having no prospects and no money.

Herb Vigran’s agent got him an acting job on radio’s The Silver Theatre, and Vigran spent $5 to have that broadcast recorded. With that transcription in hand, Herb was able to get additional work on popular anthology programs like The Lux Radio Theatre and The Cavalcade of America. Vigran would later make the rounds on programs such as California CaravanThe Camel Screen Guild TheatreThe CityThe Damon Runyon Theatre (as Harry the Horse), Dark VentureThe Eternal LightFamily TheatreFavorite StoryThe Ford TheatreThe Hallmark Hall of FameHollywood Star PlayhouseInheritanceNBC Presents: Short StoryOn StageThe Prudential Family Hour of StarsThe Railroad HourScreen Directors’ PlayhouseStars in the AirSuspenseThe WhistlerYour Movietown Radio Theatre, and You Were There.

Herb also proved his worth as a second banana, yukking it up alongside such mirth makers as Abbott & Costello, Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, Fibber McGee and Molly, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Lum and Abner, Phil Harris & Alice Faye, Jack Paar, and Alan Young. In addition, Herb logged guest appearances on many situation comedies: The Adventures of MaisieThe Adventures of Ozzie and HarrietThe BickersonsFamily SkeletonGranby’s Green AcresThe Great GildersleeveThe Halls of IvyThe Life of RileyMeet Mr. McNutleyMr. and Mrs. BlandingsMy Favorite HusbandSara’s Private Caper, and That’s Rich.

Three of Herb Vigran’s most memorable radio assignments were on comedy programs. The first was his only starring gig: from June 12 to September 4, 1946 Vigran played The Sad Sack, cartoonist George Baker’s famed luckless G.I. creation. The radio version featured Vigran-as-Sack mustered out of the service (coincidentally, Herb had just got out as well) and attempting to adjust to civilian life with the help of his chiseling roommate Chester Fenwick (Jim Backus) and girlfriend Lucy Twitchell (Sandra Gould). In the fall of 1949, Herb could be heard as next-door neighbor Hector Smith on the Robert Young series Father Knows Best with Eleanor Audley as wife Elizabeth and Sam Edwards as their son Billy.

Perhaps the one radio job that ensured Herb Vigran would be standing in front of a microphone week after week was his joining the “stock company” of the medium’s most popular comedy broadcast, The Jack Benny Program. Herb’s “Everyman” quality allowed him to play any number of characters on Jack’s show. An excellent example is a November 15, 1953 episode in which Vigran, as “Mac the Doorman,” explains to the comedian that while he was assigned to watch the doors at the radio studio he’s been transferred to “Television City.”

“Mr. Benny,” Mac asks the star, “how long ago was it that you held the ‘I Can’t Stand Jack Benny’ contest?”

Jack is somewhat taken aback. “Well, we finished that eight years ago,” Benny explains to the doorman.

“Well, you ought to make an announcement on your program,” Mac responds. “We keep getting about 500 letters a week!”

Rounding out Herb Vigran’s radio C.V. are favorites like The Adventures of Philip MarloweThe Adventures of the Lone WolfThe Adventures of the SaintBarrie Craig, Confidential InvestigatorBold VentureBox ThirteenBroadway’s My BeatThe Casebook of Gregory HoodThe Cisco KidDragnetFort LaramieThe Green LamaGunsmokeHave Gun — Will TravelI Was a Communist for the FBIJeff Regan, InvestigatorLet George Do ItLuke Slaughter of TombstoneThe New Adventures of Nero WolfePresenting Charles BoyerRocky FortuneThe Roy Rogers ShowThe Six-ShooterSomebody KnowsTales of the Texas RangersWild Bill Hickok, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. You know the old saying (that I just made up): “You can take the boy out of radio…but you can’t take radio out of the boy.” Herb continued to perform on shows that attempted to revive radio drama, including The Hollywood Radio Theatre and The Sears Radio Theatre.

Herb Vigran appeared in a multitude of motion picture shorts and features, often uncredited but never failing to make an impression. Among his early credited films are It All Came True (1940), Murder by Invitation (1941), Reg’lar Fellers (1941), and Secrets of a Co-Ed (1942). He’s the reporter interviewing Henri Verdoux (Charles Chaplin) on his way to the gallows in Monsieur Verdoux (1947); the police lieutenant in Bedtime for Bonzo (1951); and a nightclub manager in White Christmas (1954). Herb’s also the salesman who sells The Long, Long Trailer (1954) to Tacy and Nicky Collini (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz).

Herb Vigran had a long working association with Lucille Ball—he made multiple appearances on I Love Lucy and later on The Lucy Show. Herb was also a familiar presence on Dragnet, on both the 1951-59 and 1967-70 versions, as well as the 1954 feature film. (Vigran plays a desk clerk in both versions of “The Big Little Jesus,” the series’ celebrated Yuletide offering.) Among the many TV shows that Herb guested on before his passing in 1986 at the age of 76: The Adventures of SupermanBachelor FatherBewitchedBonanzaBurns and AllenThe Danny Thomas ShowThe Dick Van Dyke ShowThe Ed Wynn Show (as Ernest Hinshaw), The FlintstonesGomer Pyle: USMCGunsmoke (as Judge Brooker), I Married JoanThe Jack Benny ProgramMaverickMcHale’s NavyMy Little MargieOur Miss Brooks, and Perry Mason.

That Jack Benny Program broadcast I mentioned a few paragraphs up is available for purchase on the Radio Spirits collection The Fabulous ‘50s, as are several other Benny sets featuring today’s birthday celebrant: Be Our Guest, Days of Our Lives, The Fabulous ‘40s, Jack Benny & Friends, and Tough Luck! In addition, you’ll find plenty of Herb on compilations of The Life of Riley (Blue Collar Blues, Lovable Lug), The Six-Shooter (Gray Steel, Special Edition), and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (Expense Account Submitted, Fabulous Freelance, Fatal Matters, Wayward Matters). Rounding out our Vigran CD compendiums are The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, The Adventures of the Saint: The Saint is Heard, Broadway’s My Beat: The Loneliest Mile, Christmas on the Air, Damon Runyon: Here is Broadway, Dark Venture, Dragnet: Get ‘Em, Family Theatre: Every Home, Father Knows Best: Maple Street, Fibber McGee & Molly: Selling Kisses, Fort Laramie: Volume Two, The Halls of Ivy: School Days, Have Gun – Will Travel: Dressed to Kill, Jeff Regan, Investigator: Stand By For Mystery, The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe: Parties for Death, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show: Reminiscing, and Somebody Knows.

You thought I was kidding about Herb Vigran being a busy man in the aural medium, didn’t you? Well, in Radio Spirits’ digital downloads store there’s plenty more of Herb with Barrie Craig: Confidential Investigator, Broadway’s My Beat: Great White Way, Family Theatre, The Halls of Ivy, Happy Halloween, Let George Do It (Cry Uncle, Enter Mr. Valentine), The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show (Family Values, Hotel Harris), Rocky Fortune, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: Phantom Chases. If your cart isn’t too full, see if you can make some room for more Jack Benny—International, No Place Like Home, Oh, Rochester!, On the Town, and Picture Parodies. Happy birthday, Herb!

Happy Birthday, Henry Fonda!

For actor Henry Fonda, the old “third time’s the charm” idiom certainly rang true in 1982. He was recognized by his peers at the Academy Awards ceremony that year and awarded the Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar for his performance as an elderly curmudgeon who reconnects with his daughter (played by real-life daughter Jane) in On Golden Pond (1981). The winner of an honorary award the previous year (“in recognition of his brilliant accomplishments and enduring contribution to the art of motion pictures”), Fonda had been nominated earlier for his turns in The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and 12 Angry Men (1957). Yet the legitimate trophy would provide a fitting capper to the career of the actor born Henry Jaynes Fonda in Grand Island, Nebraska on this date in 1905.

Henry Fonda and his family moved to Omaha when he was six months old. His father set up a printing shop, and while young Hank aspired to be a newspaperman (majoring in journalism when he enrolled at the University of Minnesota), he quit college after two years and accepted a job as an office boy with the Retail Credit Company. That line of work didn’t satisfy Fonda, either. However, his time spent with the Omaha Community Playhouse (which he joined at age 20, at the suggestion of Marlon Brando’s mother Dodie) stoked an interest in acting and the theatre. After success in productions like You and I and Merton of the Movies, he quit his Omaha job in 1928 and relocated to Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

A short time after his arrival in Cape Cod, Henry Fonda (on the advice of a friend) joined the University Players in nearby Falmouth—an intercollegiate summer stock company that developed his acting style. It was here that he met future wife Margaret Sullivan (they were married from 1931 to 1933 and appeared together onscreen in 1936’s The Moon’s Our Home), and made acquaintances with the likes of Joshua Logan, Myron McCormick, Mildred Natwick, and James Stewart (who would become Hank’s lifelong friend and even roommate when the two arrived in Hollywood).

Henry Fonda and James Stewart were also best buds/roomies when Fonda moved to NYC to be with his then-wife Margaret Sullavan. Hank soon got roles in productions of I Loved You Wednesday (1932) and New Faces of 1934 (his first important Broadway role). Even after establishing himself as a major motion picture star, Fonda still made time for stage work with later appearances in Mister Roberts (1948; he reprised the role in the 1955 film adaptation), The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (1954), Two For the Seesaw (1958), Critic’s Choice (1960), and a 1969 revival of Our Town. However, it was his showcase in 1934’s The Farmer Takes a Wife that started his meteoric rise in Hollywood when he was asked to reprise his stage role in the 1935 film adaptation. He would soon become a favorite of moviegoers in features like The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), You Only Live Once  (1937), Jezebel (1938), and Spawn of the North (1938).

The apex of Henry Fonda’s early Hollywood career was reached with his appearance in John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), the first of seven films Hank would make with the veteran director. In fact, the two films released after LincolnDrums Along the Mohawk (1939) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940), were Fonda-Ford collaborations—with Wrath earning the actor his first Best Actor Oscar nomination. (He was beaten in that race by his pal Jimmy Stewart, who won for The Philadelphia Story.) The remaining films of the Fonda-Ford partnership were postwar releases: My Darling Clementine (1946), The Fugitive (1947; a box office disappointment), Fort Apache (1948), and Mister Roberts (1955; started by Ford but taken over by Fonda’s old friend Josh Logan when Ford fell ill). (Henry also appeared in the 1962 epic How the West Was Won, which featured direction by Ford–but Hank’s scenes were helmed by George Marshall.)

One of Henry Fonda’s earliest radio appearances was on a December 13, 1934 broadcast of Rudy Vallee’s Fleischmann’s Yeast Hour, on which he and June Walker performed a scene from The Farmer Takes a Wife. Hank would become a welcomed guest on the top dramatic anthologies of the day, reprising roles from such feature films as I Met My Love Again (1938), The Return of Frank James (1940), and The Magnificent Dope (1942) on the likes of Hollywood Star Theatre and The Lux Radio Theatre. Fonda’s radio resume includes appearances on Academy Award TheatreThe Cavalcade of AmericaThe Electric TheatreEyes AloftFamily TheatreFree CompanyThe Gulf/Lady Esther Screen Guild TheatreThe Hotpoint Holiday HourThe Martin and Lewis ShowPhilco Radio TimeThe Royal Gelatin HourThe Shell ChateauSuspenseTheatre of Romance, and The Treasury Hour.

Henry Fonda’s film career was one of great versatility: he shined in screwball comedies like The Lady Eve (1941) and The Male Animal (1942) and excelled in Westerns such as Jesse James (1939) and The Ox-Bow Incident (1943). Fonda enlisted in the Navy in 1942, serving in the Pacific in WW2 and receiving a Bronze Star and a Presidential Citation. As a civilian once again, he fluctuated from motion pictures to stage work, and continued to do so throughout the 1950s. Hank scored a critical success with his appearance in the Alfred Hitchcock-directed The Wrong Man (1957); that same year, he received his second Best Actor Oscar nomination for 12 Angry Men.

1957 also saw the release of The Tin Star, an Anthony Mann-directed Western featuring Henry Fonda as a bounty hunter who mentors an inexperienced young lawman (Anthony Perkins). The film’s plot would inspire Fonda’s first starring TV series, The Deputy (1959-61), with the actor as a U.S. Marshal giving a helping hand to the titular peacekeeper (Allen Case). Fonda’s participation on the program was a bit minimal (in the first season, he shot all his scenes in ten weeks to free up his schedule for film and theatre work); he committed himself more to The Smith Family (1971-72), a family comedy with Hank as the cop patriarch of a brood that featured Ron Howard as his oldest son. Fonda was also a guest on such shows as The Bill Cosby ShowThe Dick Powell TheatreThe Ed Sullivan Show, and Maude.

Throughout the 1960s, Henry Fonda came to represent authority figures in feature films. He was a Secretary of State nominee in Advise & Consent (1962) and a candidate for the Presidency in The Best Man (1964). (He’d eventually get to be President in 1964’s Fail Safe…though he’d also wind up having to decide to nuke New York City.) Fonda played top cops in Madigan and The Boston Strangler (both 1968) and was even cast against type as one of the most cold-blooded villains in movie history in the classic Western Once Upon a Time in the West (1969). In the 70s, Hank would portray historical figures like Clarence Darrow (in a 1974 TV movie), General Douglas MacArthur (1976’s Collision Course: Truman vs. MacArthur), and Admiral Chester W. Nimitz (Midway [1976]). The actor received the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award in 1978 and left this world for a better one a few months after winning the Best Actor Oscar at the age of 77.

Radio Spirits invites you to celebrate Mr. Fonda’s natal anniversary by checking out our Jack Benny collection Be Our Guest. Henry’s the narrator of “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” a production of the classic George S. Kaufman-Moss Hart play as originally presented December 25, 1949 on The Hotpoint Holiday Hour. Fonda is also among the galaxy of stars featured on our 4-DVD set Hollywood’s Greatest Screen Legends. In our digital downloads store, we have Henry on hand on Great Radio Spies and an October 8, 1945 broadcast of The Cavalcade of America (“Spy on the Kilocycles”). Happy birthday, Hank!

Happy Birthday, Ben Wright!

“Ben was one of the last of the true English gentlemen in the Edwardian sense of the word, with an accent on the gentle,” remarked Joe Bandille in 1989 on the passing of his good friend, actor Ben Wright. “He was also a scholar in the best tradition of the self-educated man.” Old-time radio devotees know that the man born Benjamin Huntington Wright in London, England on this date in 1915 was one of the most skilled character actors in the medium. One would also be hard-pressed to find a more practiced dialectician, in that Ben’s roles ranged from portraying the titular sleuth on The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (in the 1949-50 season) to Toku, the devoted Tibetan assistant to Jethro Dumont, a.k.a. The Green Lama.

At the age of 16, Ben Wright scratched the itch left by the acting bug by joining the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA). (Ida Lupino was one of his classmates!) After graduation, Ben appeared in a number of stage productions in London’s West End. Wright enlisted in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps as World War II was underway. His arrival in Hollywood in 1946 was ostensibly to attend a cousin’s wedding (Ben’s father was American—his mother British) but he decided to stay…and found ample acting opportunities in radio.

Ben Wright quickly established himself in radio as a valuable supporting player, particularly when it came to dialects. Of course, he could be in the center spotlight on occasion…like his previously mentioned Sherlock Holmes gig and his portrayal of “Inspector Peter Black” in the 1951-52 season of Pursuit. Ben’s undeniable performing strengths, however, would be showcased in supporting roles like his “Nicholas Lacey” on the long-running One Man’s Family. During the 1940s, he was also heard on popular programs such as The Adventures of Philip MarloweChandu the MagicianEncore TheatreEscapeFamily TheatreThe Lux Radio TheatreMystery in the AirThe NBC University TheatreOur American HeritageRocky JordanRomanceScreen Directors’ PlayhouseSuspenseTell it AgainVoyage of the Scarlet QueenThe Whistler, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

In the 1950s, Ben Wright was doing some of his best radio work, particularly on shows directed and produced by Elliott Lewis: Broadway’s My BeatCrime ClassicsOn Stage, etc. Ben’s credits include appearances on The Adventures of Christopher LondonThe Adventures of MaisieThe Cisco KidDangerous AssignmentThe General Electric TheatreThe Hallmark Hall Of FameHallmark PlayhouseThe Halls of IvyInheritanceLuke Slaughter of Tombstone, Let George Do ItThe Man Called XThe Modern Adventures of CasanovaNBC Presents: Short StoryNight BeatO’HaraRichard Diamond, Private DetectiveThe Screen Guild TheatreThe Six-ShooterThe Silent MenStars Over HollywoodThe Story of Doctor Kildare, and T-Man. Wright would continue as radio was struggling on life support with quality programs like The CBS Radio Workshop and Gunsmoke.

When the CBS Radio Network issued a press release announcing the February 2, 1958 premiere of a new program, Frontier Gentleman, the copy read: “Featured in the leading role of J.B. Kendall, a quiet-spoken freelance correspondent for a London newspaper and a veteran of a long service with the British army in India will be the versatile radio and TV actor Ben Wright, who has appeared in many of CBS Radio’s most popular dramatic programs…” This was a bit of a faux pas on the network’s part; while Ben auditioned for the role of Kendall (a recording of which exists today), he lost out to actor John Dehner, who would play the part for 41 broadcasts until Frontier Gentleman’s cancellation on November 16, 1958. The following week, however, would see the two performers working together on a radio version of the TV hit Have Gun – Will Travel. Dehner portrayed “Paladin,” the gun-for-hire made popular on the small screen by Richard Boone, and Wright used dialect to play “Hey Boy,” the Chinese houseboy at the Carlton Hotel. The radio version lasted until November 27, 1960. Ben never really abandoned radio, acting on 1960s dramas like Arch Oboler’s Plays and Horizons West and 70s revivals such as The Hollywood Radio Theatre and The Sears Radio Theatre.

Ben Wright made his Hollywood movie debut (billed as Ben H. Wright) in 1947’s The Exile, and included among his credited roles are such features as Botany Bay (1952), The Desert Rats (1953), Johnny Concho (1956), The Power and the Prize (1956), Pharaoh’s Curse (1957), The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959), Operation Bottleneck (1961), and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). Ben’s best-remembered live action role (as “Herr Zeller”) is in a film that’s now become a holiday viewing staple, The Sound of Music (1965)…but sharp-eared fans will immediately recognize his familiar clipped tones voicing “Roger Radcliff” in the Walt Disney animated classic One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961) and “Rama” (Mowgli’s wolf father) in The Jungle Book (1967). Wright’s final motion picture credit was in a Disney movie (released after his death), voicing “Grimsby” in The Little Mermaid (1989).

Ben Wright was kept quite busy on the small screen, too, with guest appearances on the usual suspects: Barnaby JonesBonanzaCannonDeath Valley DaysGunsmokeHave Gun – Will TravelHogan’s HeroesIronsideThe Man from U.N.C.L.E.Mission: ImpossiblePerry MasonQuincy, M.E.The Rockford FilesThe Twilight ZoneThe Virginian, and The Wild, Wild West, to name just a few. Ben Wright died in July of 1989 at the age of 74 from complications during heart bypass surgery.

Radio Spirits wants you to celebrate Ben Wright’s birthday in style, which is why we can’t recommend highly enough three CD collections featuring the actor’s signature role on Have Gun – Will TravelBitter VengeanceBlind Courage, and Dressed to Kill. Ben can also be heard on sets of The Adventures of Philip Marlowe (Lonely CanyonsSucker’s Road) and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (Confidential, Expense Account SubmittedFatal MattersThe Many Voices of Yours Truly, Johnny DollarMedium Rare MattersWayward Matters). Rounding out our physical media offerings are Broadway’s My Beat: The Lonesomest MileChandu the MagicianCrime Classics: The Hyland FilesEscape: PerilFrontier Gentleman: The Violent YearsGreat Radio Private EyesGunsmoke: Dead or AliveNight Beat: Human InterestRomanceSherlock Holmes: Cue for MurderThe Six Shooter: Special EditionStop the Press!Suspense: Wages of Sin, and The Whistler: Root of All Evil.

In our digital downloads store, we have classic broadcasts of Broadway’s My Beat (Neon Shoals), Crime Classics, Escape (Classics, Essentials, High Adventure, The Hunted and the Haunted, Journey Into Fear, To the High Seas), Frontier Gentleman (Aces and Eights, Frontier Gentleman), Great Radio Detectives, The Halls of Ivy, Have Gun – Will Travel, Let George Do It (Full Details), Night Beat (Lost Souls, Nightside is Different), Pursuit (When Man Hunts Man), Radio Christmas Spirits, Richard Diamond, Private Detective (Mayhem is My Business), Suspense (Around the World, Tales Well Calculated, Ties That Bind), The Voices of Christmas Past, Voyage of the Scarlet Queen (Volume One and Two), The Whistler (Eleventh Hour), and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (Phantom Chases). Happy birthday, Ben!

Happy Birthday, Wilms Herbert!

The actor born Victor Herbert Erpelding on this date in Chicago, Illinois in 1908 put his hobby of collecting rare, tropical birds to good use in his brief but prolific radio career. Wilms Herbert soon learned to mimic the sounds emanating from the occupants of his blossoming aviary, and in studying his fine-feathered friends while visiting zoos he added other animal “impressions” to his repertoire. “When a radio producer in Chicago needs a mad cockatoo, a pink elephant, an overworked and complaining horse, or an alligator noise,” noted Radio Life in December 1946, “his automatic choice for an authentic portrayal is Wilms Herbert.” Wilms could facetiously be called “the Mel Blanc of the daytime drama set”; for example, on the radio soap Tena and Tim, he not only played “Mr. Hutchinson” but gave voice to two parrots, “Mavoureen” and “Henry VIII.” (I’ll wager that Herbert didn’t get as many laughs as Mel, however.)

Wilms Herbert was a late bloomer when it came to radio acting. It’s not that he was a stranger to performing; Wilms developed a love for the craft while attending Lake View High School in his youth, with summers devoted to Chautauqua and Toby shows. In addition to honing his acting skills, Herbert perfected his singing and dancing. Wanderlust took Wilms to Hollywood in the 1930s, where he ran a dance studio and sang with both the Los Angeles Opera Company and the Civic Light Opera Company. For a time, Herbert wrote dance reviews for The Los Angeles Daily News.

Wilms Herbert eventually returned to Chicago (with a brief stopover in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he was a stage director for Milwaukee Opera) and worked in stage and opera productions. In 1942, he landed the part of “Keith Armour” on the “washboard weepie” Lonely Women, a role he would later reprise on Today’s Children. Wilms could also be heard on The Guiding Light (as Ted White and later Keith), Judy and Jane (as Jerry), and Ma Perkins (as Mr. Garrett). During his broadcasting days in the Windy City, Herbert narrated Tales of the Foreign Service, an offshoot of NBC’s University of the Air. Other Chicago-based series on which Wilms worked include Author’s PlayhouseThe Crime Files of FlammondFirst LineFreedom of OpportunityGrand HotelHymns of All ChurchesLights OutSmilin’ Ed’s Buster Brown GangThose WebstersWe Came This Way, and World’s Great Novels/World’s Greatest Novels.

Wilms Herbert would make a triumphant return to Tinsel Town in September of 1946 when he followed Today’s Children, which relocated its production to Hollywood. If Wilms thought he was busy in Chicago as a radio performer, he was positively swamped during his stint on the West Coast. Herbert was an early member of Norman Macdonnell’s “stock company,” working with the director-producer on such programs as The Adventures of Philip MarloweRomanceSuspense, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. During the eight-week summer run of Escape in 1948, Wilms joined that elite coterie of hosts (which included William Conrad, Paul Frees, and Lou Krugman) who asked listeners: “Tired of the everyday grind…?”

From July 10 to September 18, 1948, Wilms Herbert played “Anthony J. Lyon,” the wily and parsimonious boss of the titular shamus (Jack Webb) on Jeff Regan, Investigator. Herbert also played numerous roles on that show during the Frank Graham years. Wilms’ best-remembered radio work was on Richard Diamond, Private Detective; he played Sergeant Otis Ludlum, a thick-as-a-plank uniformed cop who clearly had a relative looking out for him at City Hall. The actor doubled as Francis, devoted butler to Diamond’s socialite girlfriend Helen Asher. Francis had an uncanny knack for killing the romantic mood by walking in as Diamond and Helen were getting down to business, if you get what I mean. Richard Diamond, Private Detective constituted Herbert’s final radio performance (he passed away on March 5, 1951 at the age of 42…with his pre-recorded Diamond episode airing four days after) although he could still be heard on the program in the summer of 1953 (which were rebroadcasts from 1950 and 1951).

Before his passing, Wilms Herbert’s radio resume included appearances on The Adventures of Ellery Queen, The Adventures of Frank Race, Dark Venture, Favorite Story, Four Star Playhouse, Hollywood Star Playhouse, The Line Up, The Lux Radio Theatre, The Man Called X, A Man Named Jordan, Mr. President, My Home Town, The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe, Night Beat, Presenting Charles Boyer, Rocky Jordan, Screen Directors’ Playhouse, The Story of Doctor Kildare, Tales of the Texas Rangers, The Whistler, and Your Movietown Radio Theatre.

You want proof that Wilms Herbert was one of the busiest thespians in the aural medium? Let’s start with his signature work on Richard Diamond, Private Detective and the Radio Spirits sets Dead Men and Homicide Made Easy. Next on our audio menu: a fistful of The Adventures of Philip Marlowe collections (The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, Lonely Canyons, Night Tide, Sucker’s Road). Finally, check out our CD compendiums Escape: Peril, Great Radio Detectives, Great Radio Private Eyes, Jeff Regan, Investigator: Stand By For Mystery, The Line Up: Witness, The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe, Night Beat: Human Interest, Stop the Press!, The Story of Doctor Kildare, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar: Mysterious Matters.

In our digital downloads store, we’ve got even more collections featuring today’s natal anniversary celebrant—classic broadcasts of Christmas Radio Classics, Escape (Classics, Essentials, High Adventure, The Hunted and the Haunted, Journey Into Fear, To the High Seas), Jeff Regan, Investigator (The Lyon’s Eye), Night Beat (Lost Souls), and Richard Diamond, Private Detective (Mayhem is My Business, Shamus, Surplus Homicides, Trouble). Happy birthday, Wilms!

Happy Birthday, Vic Perrin!

Old-time radio fans remember actor Victor Herbert Perrin—born in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin on this date in 1916—as a member-in-good-standing of the informal “stock company” of performers frequently used by director-producer Norm Macdonnell for the popular radio series Gunsmoke. What you may not know, however, is that Perrin was also a writer; he penned five scripts for the program, two in tandem with fellow Gunsmoke actor Harry Bartell. (Vic and Harry were not only colleagues but remarkably close friends, and their fascination with the Chester Wesley Proudfoot character would result in collaborations like “Chester’s Inheritance.”) It would appear that the time Perrin put in as a “badger” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was put to excellent use where his creative muse was concerned.

Acting became a passion for Vic Perrin while he was still attending college, obtaining his thespic experience on the campus radio station. After graduation, Vic was presented with a choice: “starving in New York or starving in Hollywood.” It’s warmer out West, so Perrin—armed with two letters of recommendation from a professor—knocked on endless doors until he finally landed a job parking cars in a lot at the National Broadcasting Company.  Six weeks later, a spot for a junior announcer opened up at NBC and Vic’s successful audition won him the gig.

Having established a beachhead in radio, Vic Perrin made the decision to hone his craft by joining a Shakespearean workshop instituted by Academy Award-winning actor Charles Laughton. Under Laughton’s tutelage, a group of actors (which included big names like Shelley Winters, Robert Ryan, and Jane Wyatt) congregated at the actor’s Hollywood home three-days-a-week to read and study classic plays. Vic would later credit the experience for his success in the industry, remembering the advice given to him by Laughton: “Let the words do the work. Don’t inject too much emotion into them, just let them come out.”

Vic Perrin would rise through the ranks of announcers at NBC and eventually move over to ABC when that network emerged from the old NBC Blue. Perrin also did what working radio actors did back in the day: read a lot of daytime drama scripts in front of a microphone. He had roles on Aunt Mary and Dr. Paul, and one of the more interesting “washboard weepies” on which Vic worked was The Story of Holly Sloan, which also showcased the talents of actress-singer Gale Page and Let George Do It star Bob Bailey. (Perrin played “Clay Brown,” “the faithful boy from back home who followed [Holly] to New York.”) Vic was also a member of the voluminous One Man’s Family cast, playing “Ross Farnsworth.” Perrin even headlined two radio programs as the star. On The Zane Grey Show, he was lead cowboy “Tex Thorne,” but was replaced by Don McLaughlin when the show moved to New York. From 1950 to 1952, he gave voice to circus star and wild animal tamer Clyde Beatty on Mutual’s The Clyde Beatty Show.

Cementing a friendship with radio auteur Jack Webb worked wonders for Vic Perrin’s acting career in the aural medium. Perrin appeared on Pat Novak for Hire and Pete Kelly’s Blues, and was a charter member of the “stock company” frequently used on Webb’s Dragnet. (Vic even got a tryout as “Frank Smith,” the replacement partner for Joe Friday after the death of Ben Romero [Barton Yarborough]. Webb was reluctant to lose such a valuable supporting player, however, and assigned Ben Alexander to the role.) Perrin would continue his association with Webb not only on both the 1952-59 and the 1967-70 TV versions of Dragnet (not to mention the 1954 feature film, in which he played a deputy D.A.) but on Webb-affiliated series like Adam-12 and Project U.F.O.

Vic Perrin’s most prolific radio collaborations were with director-producer Norm Macdonnell. Gunsmoke has already been mentioned, of course, but Vic also made appearances on such Macdonnell-supervised programs as The Adventures of Philip MarloweEscapeHave Gun — Will TravelThe Lux Radio TheatreRogers of the GazetteRomance, and Suspense. Perrin also had a weekly gig as Sergeant Gorce on Macdonnell’s Fort Laramie, a Western in the Gunsmoke mold that starred Raymond Burr as Lee Quince, “Captain of Cavalry” at the titular Wyoming Army post. Modern day listeners recognize Laramie as an exemplary radio drama…but sadly, its run over CBS was brief (January 22 to October 28, 1956).

Because so many broadcasts have been lost to the ravages of time and neglect, compiling a complete list of Vic Perrin’s radio acting credits would be a particularly daunting task. Among the shows that Vic appeared on include The CBS Radio WorkshopCrime ClassicsErrand of MercyFamily TheatreFree World TheatreFrontier Gentleman (under the pseudonym “Richard Perkins”), The Hallmark Hall of FameHopalong CassidyThe Hour of St. FrancisThe Line-UpLuke Slaughter of TombstoneThe NBC University TheatreThe New Adventures of Nero WolfeNight BeatThe Pacific StoryRetributionRichard Diamond, Private DetectiveThe Roy Rogers ShowScreen Directors’ PlayhouseSomebody KnowsStars Over HollywoodThe Story of Doctor KildareWhispering StreetsThe WhistlerWild Bill HickokYou Were There, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Perrin was even an enthusiastic participant in the attempts to revive radio drama in the 70s on series like The Hollywood Radio Theatre and The Sears/Mutual Radio Theatre (reunited with Norm Macdonnell!).

Vic Perrin made his motion picture debut in 1947’s Magic Town, uncredited as an elevator operator. His first credited part was in the Ida Lupino-directed Outrage (1950), and although many of his movie roles were small ones Vic did memorable work in features like Black Tuesday (1954), Airport (1970), and Black Oak Conspiracy (1977). (One of Perrin’s oddest turns is in the 1954 Randolph Scott oater Riding Shotgun; his character has little dialogue, preferring to walk menacingly around holding a noose.) Vic was seen more often on the small screen, guesting on such classic favorites as The Adventures of SupermanThe Big ValleyGunsmokeHave Gun -– Will TravelMannixMaverickMission: ImpossiblePerry MasonPeter GunnStar Trek (Tharn in “Mirror, Mirror”), The Twilight Zone, and The Untouchables.

Vic Perrin’s television immortality was cemented with this unforgettable opening narration: “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission…” Vic was “The Control Voice” on The Outer Limits, a 1963-65 ABC-TV science-fiction anthology that became a cult favorite despite its brief network run. Perrin’s voice would become his fortune on TV whether it was on animated cartoon series (The Adventures of Jonny QuestScooby-Doo, Where Are You?) or voice-overs for commercials, selling everything from the Yellow Pages to Porsches. Perrin believed that commercials were every bit as challenging as acting, observing to The New York Times in 1967: “I’m able to be much more selective about the acting parts I do now. When your bread and butter depends on just being an actor, you have to accept parts that you like to think are beneath you. Now, I don’t work as an actor too often, but when I do, it’s in better parts.” Vic Perrin passed away in 1989 at the age of 73.

Back when Victor Perrin wasn’t selective about acting parts he racked up an impressive c.v. of radio credits…and Radio Spirits offers a lot of his work on CD. To start, we recommend his two signature radio series—Dragnet (The Big BlastBig CrimeThe Big Death, The Big GambleThe Big MakeGet ‘Em, and Night Watch) and Gunsmoke (Around Dodge CityDead or AliveFlashbackThe Hunter, and Snakebite). In addition, Radio Spirits has on hand compendiums of Have Gun – Will Travel (Bitter VengeanceDressed to Kill) along with the complete run of Fort Laramie on two fantastic sets (Fort Laramie and Fort Laramie, Volume Two). Of course, you can listen for Vic on our fistful of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar collections (ConfidentialExpense Account SubmittedFabulous FreelanceFatal MattersThe Many Voices of Yours Truly, Johnny DollarMedium Rare Matters, and Wayward Matters). Rounding out the sets featuring our birthday celebrant are Crime Classics: The Hyland FilesFamily Theatre: Every HomeFrontier Gentleman: The Violent YearsGreat Radio DetectivesGreat Radio Science FictionThe Line-Up: WitnessNero Wolfe: Parties for DeathRomanceSomebody KnowsStop the Press!, and The Story of Doctor Kildare.

As they say in the commercials—but wait! There’s more! At our digital downloads store, you’ll find Mr. Perrin in collections of Dragnet (Crime to Punishment, Official Files, Protect the Innocent), Escape (Classics, The Hunted and the Haunted), Frontier Gentleman (Aces and Eights, Frontier Gentleman), Gunsmoke (Bloody Hands, Killers & Spoilers, The Round Up), Have Gun – Will Travel (Blind Courage, Have Gun – Will Travel), Richard Diamond, Private Detective (Surplus Homicides), and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (Archives Collection, Mysterious Matters, Phantom Chases). It’s Vic Perrin’s birthday…and your shopping cart awaits!

Happy Birthday, Shirley Temple!

There’s a classic Jack Benny Show telecast from the 1960s (but really…aren’t they all classics?) where Jack, having ordered a “Shirley Temple” (a non-alcoholic drink made with ginger ale and grenadine, with a maraschino cherry for garnish), takes a swig of his cocktail and discovers it’s been spiked with Scotch. Benny expresses his displeasure to the waiter (who else but Frank Nelson?) and the server dismisses the complaint with a condescending “Well, she’s a big girl now!”

The origin of the “mocktail” has been argued about over the years (some claim it was invented by a bartender at Chasen’s—others assert The Brown Derby) but one thing is certain: its namesake was not a fan. “[A]ll over the world, I am served that,” she told NPR’s Scott Simon in 1986. “People think it’s funny. I hate them. Too sweet!” (Maybe if Frank Nelson had been bartending?) Shirley Temple, born on this date in Santa Monica, California in 1928, loathed the concoction so much that she filed a lawsuit against a company in 1988 to keep them from manufacturing a bottled soda version.

There’s a certain irony in Shirley Temple describing the “Shirley Temple” as a ‘saccharine sweet, icky drink” because those same adjectives were often used by her detractors to describe the little moppet’s performing style. Love her or hate her, Temple was easily the most popular child star in the history of show business. As Ephraim Katz observes in The Film Encyclopedia: “No child before or after her enjoyed so great a popularity or was able to display a wider range of natural talents, as an actress, a dancer, or a singer.” Those “natural talents” were spotted early on by Shirley’s mother Gertrude, who in true stage mother-fashion enrolled her young daughter (age three) in the Meglin’s Dance School in Los Angeles.

It was writer-director Charles Lamont—working as a casting director for Educational Pictures—who spotted Shirley Temple at the school, signing her to a studio contract and casting her in a series of one-reel musical comedies known as “Baby Burlesks.” These low-budget audience pleasers featured juvenile casts in spoofs of adult movies (1932’s Runt Page lampoons The Front Page [1931], for example) and one in particular, Kid ‘n’ Africa (1933), would later come back to haunt Shirley in her adult career as the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana (1974-76). (Africa showcases some rather uncomfortable racial stereotypes.) The “Burlesks” shorts were a hit with theatergoers and Temple the most popular performer in them; she got a promotion to the studio’s two-reel comedies (Dora’s Dunkin’ Donuts [1934]), notably the “Frolics of Youth” series.

Although Shirley Temple was making inroads in features like Red-Haired Alibi (1932) and To the Last Man (1933), her appearances in the “Frolics” shorts paved the way for her eventually signing a $150-a-week contract with Fox Film. Studio songwriter Jay Hornet spotted Shirley giving a live dance performance at a theatre promoting one of the “Frolics” comedies, and the resulting screen test produced a memorable cinematic moment of Temple and actor James Dunn performing Baby, Take a Bow in the sprightly Depression-themed musical Stand Up and Cheer! (1934). That same year saw Temple appearances in Change of HeartNow I’ll TellBaby, Take a Bow, and Bright Eyes (which introduced her signature song, On the Good Ship Lollipop) for Fox. (She was also loaned to Paramount for Little Miss Marker and Now and Forever). For her hard work, Shirley was awarded a special juvenile Oscar “[i]n grateful recognition of her outstanding contribution to screen entertainment during the year 1934.”

From 1935 to 1938, Shirley Temple was the number-one box-office star in America. Many of her films released during this time period remain motion picture classics: The Little Colonel (1935; featuring the legendary “stair dance” with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson), Curly Top (1935; which introduced Animal Crackers [In My Soup]), The Littlest Rebel (1935; with “Bojangles” again), Captain January (1936), Poor Little Rich Girl (1936), Wee Willie Winkie (1937), Heidi (1937), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938), The Little Princess (1939). These features and many more entertained audiences back then and continue to do so with new generations of fans. By 1940, however, Shirley was reaching what might be termed “has-been” status when efforts like The Blue Bird (1940) and Young People (1940) were box-office disappointments. She left 20th Century-Fox and went to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for one picture, Kathleen (1941); the studio let her go after that, too, flopped.

At the time Shirley Temple was attempting to jump-start her movie career with Kathleen, she also explored possibilities in the aural medium as well. Having previously appeared on such programs as The Gulf Screen Guild Theatre and The Lux Radio Theatre, she hosted a four-week variety series, Shirley Temple Time, sponsored by Elgin watches and featuring celebrity guests like Robert Young and Humphrey Bogart. Shirley also starred in the situation comedy Junior Miss, which aired over CBS from March 4 to August 26, 1942. (Junior Miss would return to “the stars’ address” in April of 1948 [without Shirley] and run in various quarter- and half-hour formats until July 1, 1954.) Other items on Temple’s radio resume include The Bill Stern Colgate Sports Newsreel, The Bob Hope Show, The Chesterfield Music Shop, Command Performance, Family Theatre, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Mail Call, and Theatre of Romance.

Shirley Temple continued to work in movies throughout the 1940s. Although she wouldn’t equal her success of the previous decade, Shirley made several films of which any self-respecting ingenue would be proud: Since You Went Away (1944), The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947), and Fort Apache (1948), just to name a few. Temple’s final feature film was A Kiss for Corliss (1949), in which she played the teenaged heroine made popular by Janet Waldo on radio’s Meet Corliss Archer. (Shirley had previously portrayed Corliss in 1945’s Kiss and Tell.) She retired on December 16, 1950 at the age of 22.

Shirley Temple made a brief return to show business with Shirley Temple’s Storybook, which aired on NBC-TV intermittently beginning in January 1958. The series didn’t get a regular weekly time slot until the fall of 1960, and because it was pummeled by its competition (Walt Disney Presents and Maverick on ABC; Lassie and Dennis the Menace on CBS) it was cancelled in September of 1961. Shirley made guest appearances on shows like The Red Skelton Show and Sing Along with Mitch but in later years was quite active in politics, culminating in her ambassadorship to Ghana (appointed by President Gerald Ford) and later Czechoslovakia (appointed by President George H.W. Bush in 1989). Shirley Temple passed away in 2014 at the age of 85.

The 1975 documentary Brother Can You Spare a Dime? is a cinematic mosaic of clips from classic Hollywood flicks and newsreels in an attempt to chronicle the events of The Great Depression, featuring famous personalities like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, James Cagney…and today’s birthday celebrant, Shirley Temple. It’s available on DVD and for purchase here at Radio Spirits, as is the CD collection Family Theater: Every Home, which features our Shirley on the April 8, 1948 broadcast of “Toledo Smith.” Happy birthday, Shirley!

“…the courage, the devotion, the adventure of love…all strung on the bright thread of…Romance!”

On the subject of the Golden Age of Radio, one word frequently comes to mind: versatility. Its dramatic shows often presented tales well-calculated to keep you in…Suspense! (If you listened to Bob and Ray, however, you heard “tales well-calculated to keep you in…Anxiety!”) If you were tired of the everyday grind and wanted to get away from it all, radio offered you…Escape! If you were interested in hearing “transcribed tales of new dimensions of time and space,” Dimension X and X-Minus One were your meat.

On this date in 1943, CBS premiered a program intending to present “the great stories of all time—tender love stories of today, the memorable love stories of the past.” It was appropriately titled Romance, and although it enjoyed a lengthy run over the airwaves (its last broadcast was January 5, 1957), it’s often received the same sort of attention and respect normally afforded a middle child, or Rodney Dangerfield. An innocuous observation by John Dunning in his entry on the show in On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio ignited a spirited debate among old-time radio fans. Dunning’s description of the series as “a 30m schedule filler” was grabbed and run with by some…only they skipped over his further assessment of Romance as “a fine series” and that the program “just bloomed.”

Romance began as a sustained series. Its early broadcasts featured familiar stories that had previously received the silver screen treatment, such as “If I Were King” and “Dark Victory,” balanced with original dramas as well. The host of the program was Frank Gallop, described by Dunning as “a sober-voiced announcer at best, was an undeniable talent with comedy; he gave this an almost teary presence.” (Look, John’s not wrong about the comedy part. Listen to The Milton Berle Show or Berle’s radio Texaco Star Theatre and you’ll see what he means.) The acting talent on Romance included the likes of pros such as Alice Frost and Santos Ortega, and the show retained its sustainer status until June 20, 1944.

July 4, 1944 marked the debut of the rebranded Romance. Under the sponsorship of Colgate Tooth Powder, Palmolive Soap, and Halo Shampoo, the program now answered to Theatre of Romance. It also welcomed in big-name Hollywood talent—Humphrey Bogart, Shirley Temple, Van Johnson—and a new host in actor Arnold Moss. (Frank Graham, described by Dunning as “only slightly less morose than Gallop,” later took over hosting duties.) Adapting tried-and-true classics (“Casablanca,” “Bringing Up Baby”) with original playlets was the job of Jean Holloway. The series—a kind of Lux Radio Theatre, Jr.—would continue to plug soap and shampoo until August 27, 1946.

From October 2, 1946 to February 5, 1949, Romance would experience the same sort of scheduling problems that would later befall programs like Broadway’s My Beat and Escape. It hopped around like a hyperactive chess piece; sometimes heard on Mondays, sometimes Wednesdays…then switching to Fridays or Saturdays. The show would nevertheless keep its distinctive theme music, with scripts by Charles Monroe and direction by Albert Ward. Ward would be replaced in the final broadcasts by Norman Macdonnell, a talented director-producer making a name for himself on shows like Escape and The Adventures of Philip Marlowe. (An attempt to bring Romance to the small screen around this time was not quite a success, airing briefly from November 3, 1949 until December 29, 1949.)

Macdonnell would still be the director-producer of Romance when it returned on June 20, 1950 as a summer replacement for Life with Luigi (sponsored by Wrigley’s Gum). (Romance would again see summer duty in 1951 and 1952, giving The Lux Radio Theatre vacation time off.) Norm would be joined by writer-editor John Meston, and many of the program’s broadcasts would feature members of Macdonnell’s informal “stock company”: William Conrad, Georgia Ellis, John Dehner, Lawrence Dobkin, etc. In case you were getting ready to write this all off as an amazing coincidence, the August 6, 1951 broadcast, “Pagosa,” played an integral part in developing Macdonnell and Meston’s Gunsmoke.

Romance‘s acquisition of Jergens Lotion as a sponsor in the fall of 1952 got the show another rebranding as The Hollywood Playhouse of Romance…but the Jergens sponsorship was a brief one, and it was back to the sustainer salt mines (and Romance) until December of 1953. The period between May 22, 1954 and January 5, 1957 saw the series’ most sustained run, with direction from Antony Ellis and Fred MacKaye and scripts by familiar Gunsmoke names like Les Crutchfield and Kathleen Hite. Many of the program’s surviving broadcasts are from this period as well.

And speaking of surviving broadcasts (ah, these segues are a thing of beauty), Radio Spirits offers up a splendid collection of broadcasts on Romance, which even features the previously mentioned Gunsmoke blueprint, “Pagosa.” You’ll also find a Yuletide Romance (“Richer by One Christmas”) on our potpourri set Radio’s Christmas Celebrations and four Romance shows showcasing Robert Bainter Bailey on The Bob Bailey Collection. “Columbia presents…Romance!”

Happy Birthday, Joan Alexander!

In 1938, aspiring actress Joan Alexander found herself in Vienna after a lengthy tour of major cities in North America, Latin America, and Europe while studying her craft. The former model was under the tutelage of renowned director-acting coach Benno Schneider, which necessitated her frequent flier miles, yet her decision to return to America was heavily influenced by the inconvenient arrival of Adolf Hitler’s troops into the city. The woman born Louise Abrass on this date in 1915 in St. Paul, Minnesota had no regrets with regards to her globetrotting, having become acquainted with Yugoslavia, England, and France during her travels. “I even got to Casablanca before President Roosevelt and Humphrey Bogart put it on the map,” she joked to Radio Mirror in March of 1947.

Joan Alexander was certainly no stranger to the European continent at that point in her life. Her stepfather took her on her first visit to Europe when she was eight years old (he owned a linen factory in Madeira). When she wasn’t traveling, Joan attended parochial schools in Brooklyn and Brentwood, Long Island (the family relocated to Brooklyn after Joan’s mother remarried), hoping to fulfill her dream of being a concert pianist. Instead of putting in hours of practice, however, Alexander got distracted by outside activities like tennis and swimming. Joan then decided to transfer her ambitions to acting. The story goes that Alexander persuaded a down-on-his-luck producer to give her a part in a play (Are You Decent?)…as long as she was able to supply the wardrobe needed for all the women in the production. (It took a great deal of cajoling the owners from a number of shops where she had previously purchased clothes—but she fulfilled her part of the bargain.)

Joan Alexander took on modeling gigs while working in several stock companies and appearing on Broadway. (She performed in Jeremiah for the Theatre Guild, as well as in Merrily We Roll Along and Mr. Hamlet.) When a serious automobile accident scotched plans to further pursue her acting career in Hollywood, her friend Madeleine Carroll suggested Alexander try her luck in radio. An unnamed producer (who Joan would later work with) told her after her first audition that she wasn’t any good, but she kept at it. One of the most fulfilling moments in Alexander’s career, she once confessed, was auditioning against a hundred other actresses for a radio part she wanted very much…and got.

One of Joan Alexander’s earliest radio jobs was portraying “Mrs. Humphries” on the CBS daytime drama A Woman of Courage. As one of the medium’s busiest performers, Joan had recurring gigs on the likes of such “washboard weepies” as Against the Storm (as Nicole Scott), Bright Horizon (as Carol West, a character she also played on A Woman’s Life), The Brighter Day (Althea Dennis), Lone Journey (Lynn Alexander), Perry Mason (Della Street), Rosemary (Audrey Roberts), The Second Mrs. Burton (Marion Burton Sullivan), This is Nora Drake (Peg Martinson), Wendy Warren and the News (Maggie Fallon), and Young Doctor Malone (Tracy Adams Malone). Other soaps on which Alexander made the rounds include David HarumThe Light of the WorldThe Open Door, and The Right to Happiness.

Joan Alexander also appeared regularly on programs such as The Man From G-2Leave it to Mike, and The Adventures of the Falcon—on which she suffered the small indignity of portraying girlfriend Nancy…who had no last name. (It was worse on G-2: she was identified only as “The Girl.”) On Philo Vance, Alexander portrayed the titular sleuth’s assistant, Ellen Deering. Joan’s most memorable role was emoting as determined reporter Lois Lane on The Adventures of Superman, the radio exploits of the famous comic book superhero. She was so well-identified as Lois that she would join her Superman co-stars Clayton “Bud” Collyer and Jackson Beck in lending their voices to the series of Superman theatrical cartoons produced by Max Fleischer/Famous-Paramount Studios between 1941 and 1943. (The trio would also reprise their roles in The New Adventures of Superman, a Saturday morning CBS-TV animated series that aired from 1966 to 1968.)

Joan Alexander’s radio resume includes appearances on the following programs: Armstrong’s Theatre of TodayThe Author Meets the CriticsBarrie Craig, Confidential InvestigatorBest PlaysThe Big StoryThe Cavalcade of AmericaColumbia Presents CorwinThe Columbia WorkshopCrime ClubDimension XThe Eternal LightFantasies From Lights OutIt’s MurderMr. and Mrs. NorthMr. PresidentThe New TheatreNick Carter, Master DetectiveThe ShadowStudio OneTheatre Of RomanceThis is My BestThis is Your FBIUnder ArrestWords at War, and X-Minus One.

Joan Alexander’s Superman co-star Bud Collyer later cemented his television fame as the host of such popular game shows as Beat the Clock and To Tell the Truth. Joan went a similar small screen route; from 1951 to 1955, she was the stationary panelist on The Name’s the Same, hosted by Robert Q. Lewis (1951-54). (She was joined at various times by fellow radio veterans Abe Burrows and Meredith Willson.) Alexander would later go into semi-retirement (her third husband was Arthur Stanton, the man responsible for bringing the Volkswagen Beetle to these shores), with a brief return to Broadway in 1964, appearing in Poor Richard (written by Jean Kerr). Joan succumbed to an intestinal blockage in 2009 at the age of 94.

Radio Spirits has on hand two collections of The Adventures of Superman, Last Son of Krypton and Up! Up! And Away, that features today’s birthday celebrant in her signature radio role. You can also listen to Joan on our two Dimension X compendiums, Adventures in Time and Space and Future Tense. In addition, check out Ms. Alexander on Barrie Craig: Song of Death, The Big Story: As It Happened, Crime Club, The Falcon Solves the Case, This is Your FBI: National Security, and Words at War: World War II Radio Drama. We have The Falcon: Count Me Out Tonight, Angel and Philo Vance in our digital downloads store as well! Happy birthday, Joan!