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Happy Birthday, Frank Nelson!


It never fails…every time I tune into an episode of The Jack Benny Program (be it on radio or TV) and Jack needs help from someone in customer service, the clerk is played by the same actor—who greets the comedian in the same sneering fashion: “Yeeeeeeeeesssss?” It couldn’t be the same guy, could it? Of course it could! Actor Frank Nelson, born on this date in 1911, seemed to serve one purpose while here on Earth: to play the patronizing nemesis of America’s beloved everyman. The important thing to remember is: he was the one guy who couldn’t stand Jack Benny. Whenever Jack confronted him with “You really do hate me, don’t you?” Nelson’s enthusiastic response was always “Oooooooh, do I!”

nelson12Frank Nelson was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado…and at the tender age of 15, he beat out thirty other actors who were competing for a part (a character twice his age) for a KOA broadcast. Nelson was then hired by the radio station as an actor, and he later migrated to a smaller Denver station (KFEL) to tackle announcing chores. By the end of 1929, Frank was ready to take on Hollywood, and he lucked into a position at KNX where he played the leading man on many a local show while acting on syndicated series like The Count of Monte Cristo and Tarzan of the Apes.

By the mid-30s, Frank had moved up to the big time: he put together an impressive resume appearing on the likes of Shell Chateau (as an announcer) and The Lux Radio Theatre, and he was part of the old-time radio acting ensemble on the seasonal The Cinnamon Bear (Nelson was Captain Tip Top). Frank recalled in a 1975 interview with historian Chuck Schaden that his association with Jack Benny began in June of 1934, but his regular appearances on the program date right around 1937. He became a member-in-good-standing of the comedian’s valued stock company, rarely straying from his assigned role as the individual who took gleeful pleasure in disparaging Jack. Jack Benny was not the only “Jack” Frank would work with, by the way; the actor later shared a microphone with the likes of Jack Carson, Jack Haley, Jack Kirkwood and Jack Paar…an impressive poker hand in any language.

nelson3Nelson flourished in radio as a professional foil, and as he told Chuck Schaden: “[I]’d go in and the writer would say, ‘Now be as funny on this show as you are on The Jack Benny Show.’ And, I’d always say, ‘You write it as funny and I’ll be as funny, ‘cause I’m just as funny as the material. That’s how funny I am.’” Frank and the writing staffs must have come to a meeting of the minds, because the actor soon received appreciative audience response working alongside such greats as Bud Abbott & Lou Costello, Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy, Fanny Brice, George Burns & Gracie Allen, Eddie Cantor, Cass Daley, Jimmy Durante, Ed Gardner (Duffy’s Tavern), Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Dorothy Lamour, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, Dinah Shore, Red Skelton and Alan Young. Nelson also paid the occasional visit to The Adventures of Maisie, The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, Amos ‘n’ Andy, Beulah, A Date with Judy, Fibber McGee & Molly, The Great Gildersleeve, The Life of Riley, Life with Luigi, Meet Me at Parky’s, My Favorite Husband, My Little Margie and Our Miss Brooks. (And of course, it seems only right that he would emote on the two series “spun-off” from The Jack Benny Program: A Day in the Life of Dennis Day and The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show.)

nelson7While Frank Nelson stressed that “I wasn’t a regular on those shows, but I worked them all”—he occasionally landed a steady gig on such programs as Blondie (he played the role of the Bumsteads’ next-door neighbor, Herb Woodley) and a short-lived sitcom entitled Today with the Duncans, on which he starred with then-wife Mary Lansing. (Nelson and Lansing were married from 1933-70; he later walked down the aisle with another Jack Benny regular, Veola Vonn – his second wife until his passing sixteen years later.) Frank also took on an unusual role in the series Jeff Regan, Investigator, playing the titular gumshoe’s corpulent boss, Anthony J. Lyon. Though identified with lighter roles (Lyon was Regan’s comedy relief), Frank Nelson was more than capable of handling dramatic parts, appearing on such series as The Cavalcade of America, Defense Attorney, Hallmark Playhouse, Screen Director’s Playhouse, Suspense, The Whistler, You Were There and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.

nelson5When Jack Benny transitioned his show to television in the fall of 1950, Frank Nelson soon joined the cast on a semi-regular basis…but the actor also performed on the small screen in other venues as well. Having worked with Lucille Ball on her radio sitcom My Favorite Husband, Frank turned up in a number of memorable episodes of I Love Lucy—including the uproarious outing (“The Great Train Robbery”) where the Ricardos and Mertzes are returning to New York by train, with Nelson as the beleaguered conductor. (Frank: “Madam, did you stop this train by pulling this handle?” Lucy: “Well, I didn’t do it by dragging my foot!”) Frank later played Ralph Ramsey, the husband of Lucy’s Connecticut neighbor Betty Ramsey (Mary Jane Croft) in the show’s final TV season. Other sitcoms that welcomed Frank Nelson’s presence include Our Miss Brooks, Private Secretary, The Real McCoys and Make Room for Daddy; the actor also fell back on his radio roots by voicing various characters on animated series like Mr. Magoo, The Flintstones, The Jetsons and The Oddball Couple—a cartoon version of The Odd Couple with a Felix cat (Frank) and Oscar dog (Paul Winchell).

nelson10Frank’s radio and television duties—he was president of the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists from 1954 to 1957—didn’t leave him a lot of time for movies…so it’s always a treat to spot him in a small role in various films you might catch on TV. In a number of 1930s movies, you can hear Frank as a radio announcer—Humphrey Bogart’s Black Legion is a good example—and he provided narration for theatrical cartoons as well. Nelson turns up in several of the Joe McDoakes comedies starring George O’Hanlon, and among the actor’s movie credits are Down Memory Lane, Fourteen Hours, You Never Can Tell, Here Come the Nelsons, Bonzo Goes to College, The Clown, Remains to Be Seen, It Should Happen to You, It’s Always Fair Weather and Kiss Them for Me.

nelson6Frank Nelson became so identified as Jack Benny’s “Yeeeeeeeeesssss?” man that he was often called upon to reprise the part in other sitcoms; he appeared in several 1976 episodes of Sanford and Son doing his beloved shtick, and McDonald’s built a TV ad campaign around him in 1981 with Frank as an obnoxious passport agent, promoting their vacation sweepstakes. He continued to supply his memorable voice on a number of cartoon shows until 1986, when he left this world for a better one at the age of 75.

20637To celebrate Frank Nelson’s natal anniversary, Radio Spirits invites you to generously sample the actor’s exemplary work on The Jack Benny Program, with the following collections: Maestro, Neighbors, Wit Under the Weather, Drawing a Blanc, Oh, Rochester!, Be Our Guest, No Place Like Home, On the Town, Tall Tales and Jack Benny International. (Nelson can also be heard on our latest Jack Benny vs. Fred Allen compilation, Grudge Match.) Check out Frank’s contributions on some of our other comedy sets: Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy (The Funny Fifties), Burns and Allen (Treasury, Muddling Through), A Day in the Life of Dennis Day, Fibber McGee and Molly (Wistful Vista), Life with Luigi, Phil Harris and Alice Faye (Private Lives, Quite an Affair, Family Values, Smoother and Sweeter), Our Miss Brooks (Boynton Blues, Good English) and Red Skelton (Stick Around, Brother). We’ve also got Mr. Nelson’s dramatic side on hand, with his co-starring role on Jeff Regan, Investigator (Stand By for Mystery), and excursions before the mike on Defense Attorney, The Mutual Radio Theatre and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (Murder Matters, Wayward Matters, Expense Account Submitted). Can we make this birthday a great one for one of radio’s finest character performers? Oooooooh will we!

“Heavenly days!”


The day that writer Don Quinn crossed paths with Jim Jordan at WENR in Chicago would prove to be a most fortuitous one for both men…and for Jim’s wife Marian as well. The Jordans arrived on radio by way of vaudeville. Although radio didn’t pay nearly as well as stage work at the time, both Jim and Marian liked the ease and comfort of not having to undergo the grueling travel required by performers of the time. Quinn would sign on to become the author of Smackout, a weekday quarter-hour starring Jim and Marian that began on Chicago’s WMAQ in 1931 before moving to the national NBC lineup. One of Smackout’s fans was Henrietta Johnson Louis, the wife of ad executive John J. Louis, who convinced her hubby that the Jordans would be perfect for a new show Johnson’s Wax was looking to sponsor in 1935. That show premiered eighty years ago on this date as The Johnson’s Wax Program…but we know it as Fibber McGee & Molly.

fibbermcgeemolly2In their early broadcast days, the characters of Fibber & Molly McGee were on what we would refer to nowadays as a “road trip.” The couple traveled around in a dilapidated old jalopy, ostensibly to promote a Johnson’s product entitled Car-Nu. But once summer was over, the company wanted to switch to hawking Johnson’s Glo-Coat, and so with the purchase of a winning raffle ticket, the McGees found themselves the proud owners of a house at 79 Wistful Vista…soon to become one of radio’s most popular addresses.

It was probably a good thing that the McGees owned their home…because Mr. McGee wasn’t much of a provider in the traditional husbandly sense. Fibber wasn’t really lazy, just unmotivated; many of the show’s plots would find him employed in some capacity…and by the end of the broadcast he’d be in search of work again. McGee was a good man, it’s just that he earned his nickname “Fibber” for a reason—he had a propensity for stretching the truth, and liked to while away the hours telling tall tales to anyone unfortunate enough to be within earshot. His wife Molly loved him despite his serial exaggerations, and her warm, loving demeanor was just the remedy needed to the take the wind out of her blustery spouse’s sails. Her voice was reassuring and comfy, always greeting newcomers to the house with a “How do you do, I’m sure.” (Marian Jordan was sorely missed when she was forced to take a leave of absence from the program from September 1937 to April 1939, so much so that the show was briefly renamed Fibber McGee and Company.)

fibbermcgeemollyThe ratings for Fibber McGee & Molly were anemic at first; they had the misfortune of being up against the popular Lux Radio Theatre on Monday nights. But a switch to Tuesday nights helped the listenership immensely, and soon loyal audiences couldn’t get enough of Fibber and Molly’s misadventures. The show also developed many memorable supporting characters: Bill Thompson, who began appearing on the show in 1936, played Greek cafeteria owner Nick DePopolous (who got laughs via malapropisms and mispronunciations) and shady con man Horatio K. Boomer (whose voice was a dead ringer for W.C. Fields). Several years later, Thompson would introduce two of the program’s most enduring personages: The Old Timer, a half-deaf old codger who could out-tall-tale Fibber any day of the week (“That’s pretty good, Johnny—but that ain’t the way I heared it!”), and Wallace Wimple, a cheerful milquetoast who paid Fibber and Molly frequent visits to escape the wrath of his formidable wife Sweetyface.

galegordonGale Gordon also became a regular on the program, playing Charles LaTrivia, Wistful Vista’s mayor—whose visits with the McGees usually left him in a frustrated state of tongue-tiedness. (Gordon introduced a character in the show’s later years that was always one of my favorites: F. Ogden “Foggy” Williams, the town weatherman, who always announced his exit with “Good day…probably!”) Actress Isabel Randolph was the snooty Abigail Uppington, who never tired of looking down at Fibber and Molly’s lowly social status. (Mrs. Uppington was later replaced by the equally condescending Millicent Carstairs, played by Bea Benaderet, and Elvia Allman emoted as Mrs. Albert Clemmer after Bea’s departure.) Other actors who appeared on The Johnson’s Wax Program on a regular basis include Cliff Arquette, Hugh Studebaker, Richard LeGrand (as Ole, the Elks’ janitor) and Ransom Sherman. Marian Jordan doubled as other characters when the need arose: her best remembered supporting role was “Teeny,” the little neighbor girl who often drove Fibber to distraction.

greatgildersleeve13Actor-singer Harold Peary played a variety of characters on the show before he was able to convince Don Quinn to write him a meatier part: that of Fibber’s pompous next-door neighbor, Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve. The only man in Wistful Vista windy enough to match McGee’s bluff, Gildersleeve and Fibber were purportedly best friends…though the two of them engaged in an awful lot of quarreling and traded a good many insults. Peary’s Gildersleeve would later become so popular that NBC agreed to spin the character off in a situation comedy entitled The Great Gildersleeve, which premiered in August of 1941.

Then, with America’s entry into World War II at the end of 1941, The Johnson’s Wax Program became one of the benchmarks by which patriotism on the radio homefront was measured. The McGees beseeched their listening audience to do all they could for the war effort (like buying war bonds and planting victory gardens), and many of their broadcasts were built around this theme. (For example: cognizant of gas rationing, Fibber and Molly often depended on four-legged transportation—their horse Lillian.) The war kept two of their cast members occupied, Thompson and Gordon, so the show was forced to create new characters to make up for the deficit.

mcgeesgambleArthur Q. Bryan was soon brought aboard as Dr. George Gamble, a corpulent physician who replaced Gildersleeve as Fibber’s verbal punching bag…though the erudite medico often got the better of his nemesis in their oral entanglements. Shirley Mitchell played man-crazy Alice Darling, a war worker who boarded with the McGees. The character with the most influential impact was an African-American maid named Beulah that Fibber and Molly hired in 1944. Unbeknownst to home listeners, Beulah was played by a white actor named Marlin Hurt, who got shrieks of laughter from the studio audience whenever he would spin around (he spent the time until his entrance with his back to the audience) and holler his first line. The character of Beulah later migrated to a spin-off as well, in CBS’ The Marlin Hurt and Beulah Show in 1945.

fibbermcgeeclosetFibber McGee & Molly continued to be popular with radio listeners once the war ended, and fans tuned in religiously each week to hear their favorite catchphrases (“Tain’t funny, McGee!”, “Dadrat the dadratted…”). The most popular running gag on the show was introduced in 1940: the McGees had a closet at 79 Wistful Vista that had become home to numerous piles of junk and bric-a-brac over the years. And because the contents of the closet had been organized with the kind of discipline you’d expect of a man nicknamed “Fibber,” when some unlucky individual (usually McGee) opened the closet…an avalanche of odds and ends came spilling out (courtesy of the show’s preeminent sound effects man). “Gotta straighten out that closet one of these days,” McGee would wind up muttering.

fibbermolly11Jim and Marian Jordan were a rarity in radio: they were practically alone among the medium’s top comedy acts who had no interest in transitioning to television. They filmed a pilot at Johnson Wax’s request, but having fulfilled that obligation, the couple decided that newfangled boob tube had nothing to offer them. So they amicably split with their longtime sponsor at the end of the 1949-50 season, and for the next two years Pet Milk paid their bills, with Reynolds Aluminum writing the checks for the final season their half-hour show was on the air. The thirty-minute adventures of the McGees ended on June 30, 1953, and in October of that same year Jim and Marian’s show became a five-day-a-week quarter-hour that was heard until March 23, 1956. The couple also performed in Fibber and Molly skits on NBC’s Monitor between 1957 and 1959.

20345The traditional gift for eightieth wedding anniversaries is oak…which would be kind of appropriate in the case of Fibber and Molly; one of the subtlest running gags on their program was that the address for any home, business or government building was always located at 14th and Oak. We at Radio Spirits, however, suggest a more suitable anniversary gift: Fibber McGee & Molly collections Whoppers, That Ain’t the Way I Heared It, and the crème de la crème of their wartime broadcasts available on Wistful Vista. For Yuletide McGee mirth, we recommend checking out Christmas Radio Classics, Radio Christmas Celebrations and The Voices of Christmas Past; Fibber and Molly also figure prominently in our Road Trip: Humorous Travel Tales collection. If you’re curious about the origin of Fibber’s famous closet, our Burns and Allen: Gracie for President can take you back to when it all began. And keep your eyes peeled for the brand spanking new Fibber McGee & Molly: For Goodness Sakes collection, which will be available for purchase next week! Happy anniversary, Fibber and Molly!

“Out of the fog…out of the night…”


It was on this date in 1941 that Captain Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond began what the announcer referred to as “his American adventures” on Mutual Radio. The need to stress “American adventures” stems from the fact that Captain Drummond (nicknamed “Bulldog” because of his tenacity) originally hailed from our neighbor on the other side of the pond. Drummond, a decorated war hero in the “Royal Loamshire Regiment” (he earned the Military Cross [MC] and Distinguished Service Order [DSO]), had grown restless after the First World War and decided to advertise (much in the same way as Dan Halliday and his Box 13) his services as a two-fisted adventurer and private detective.

bulldogdrummondbookDrummond was introduced in a self-titled novel (Bulldog Drummond) in 1920 by H.C. McNeile, who wrote under the pseudonym “Sapper.” McNeile purportedly based the Drummond character on his friend Gerald Fairlie, and when McNeile passed away in 1937, Fairlie repaid him for the compliment by continuing to write Drummond novels for a time afterward. Military fit and a bloke you’d definitely want on your side in a barroom brawl, Bulldog craved excitement…and was unquestionably no stranger to it. His sidekick in his various endeavors was (James) Denny, a loyal man-servant (and his former batman), though the Captain was often aided and abetted by a number of his ex-Army pals as well—one of his hangers-on was Algy (Longworth), who appeared in a good many of the motion pictures inspired by the character.

bulldogdrummondcolmanThe Drummond novels and short stories proved quite popular with the British public, and it was only a matter of time before Hollywood began calling—Bulldog Drummond, based on a play written by McNeile (screenplay adapted by B.E. Doxat-Pratt), began packing theater houses in 1922. There were several other actors to tackle the role of Captain Drummond (including Jack Buchanan and Ralph Richardson), but most Bulldog fans believe that Ronald Coleman’s take on the famed detective in 1929 stands head and shoulders above the rest. It was Bulldog Drummond (1929) that put Colman on the map in his first talkie, and he did a sequel in 1934 entitled Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back. (Sadly, Strikes Back has never been made available to TV or home video in this country.)

BulldogdrummondcomesbackParamount Pictures instituted a Bulldog Drummond film series beginning in 1937 with Bulldog Drummond’s Revenge, which starred John Howard as the adventurous detective. Howard played the part in the majority of the series titles (the exception being Ray Milland in Bulldog Drummond Escapes [1937])—yet the series wasn’t so much about him as it was about featuring John Barrymore as Col. J.A. Neilson, Drummond’s pal and master-of-disguise. The Great Profile eventually tired of his role, and left the series (allowing H.B. Warner to take over)…but the franchise soldiered on until 1939, and always featured first-rate character actors such as Heather Angel (as Bulldog’s girlfriend Phyllis Clavering), Reginald Denny and E.E. Clive. (Turner Classic Movies has tentatively scheduled eight of the Paramount Drummond features to be shown June 4, beginning at 8pm.)

colouris2On April 13, 1941, Mutual premiered Bulldog Drummond to radio listeners in a series produced and directed by the man who brought you the creaking door (on Inner Sanctum Mysteries): Himan Brown. Airing on Sunday evenings for Howard Clothes, Captain Drummond was played by character actor George Coulouris, a member of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre who also appeared in Welles’ debut motion picture, Citizen Kane (1941), as well as Mr. Skeffington (1944) and Nobody Loves Forever (1946). Many of the early broadcasts probably seemed like Old Home Week to George: several of his friends also played parts on the program, including Everett Sloane (as his sidekick Denny), Ray Collins, Agnes Moorehead, Paul Stewart, Mercedes McCambridge and Ted de Corsia.

weverSantos Ortega took over for Coulouris in May of 1942 and portrayed Drummond for nearly a year…then the Bulldog role was handed off to Ned Wever, the actor best remembered for playing the “polished man-about-town.” (Actors Rod Hendrickson and Luis van Rooten eventually inherited the part of Denny from Everett Sloane.) The series was sustained for most of its run (with sponsorships from Tums in 1945-46 and American Transit in 1947), and bounced around Mutual’s schedule until 1949. While this was going on, Columbia Pictures attempted to jump-start a big screen version of Drummond in 1947 with Bulldog Drummond at Bay and Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (not to be confused with the 1934 Ronald Colman). 20th Century-Fox had a turn the following year with The Challenge and 13 Lead Soldiers, both starring former Falcon (and radio Sherlock Holmes) Tom Conway as Bulldog.

callingbulldogdrummondWith the radio show having been off the air for two years, M-G-M tried their hand at the character with Calling Bulldog Drummond (1951), featuring Walter Pidgeon in the part. It didn’t move past the initial entry, but Bulldog Drummond returned to Mutual for a season in the fall of 1953 (briefly sponsored by Chrysler-Dodge) starring Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Captain Hugh. The series called it a wrap on March 28, 1954…and with the exception of two films in the 1960s that starred Richard Johnson as a more James Bondian interpretation of the hero (Deadlier Than the Male and Some Girls Do), Bulldog Drummond eventually disappeared into that foggy night well established during Radio’s Golden Age.

20636Several of the Paramount Bulldog Drummond films are available for purchase from Radio Spirits: Bulldog Drummond’s Revenge (1937), Bulldog Drummond Comes Back (1937), Bulldog Drummond’s Peril (1938) and Bulldog Drummond’s Secret Police (1939). You also won’t want to miss our fine collection of classic Bulldog broadcasts in Out of the Fog, featuring radio Drummonds George Coulouris and Ned Wever!

“…the bulkiest, balkiest, smartest, most unpredictable detective in the world…”


On this date in 1943, the first of several attempts to introduce radio to one of the most memorable of literary sleuths got underway. Nero Wolfe, the well-upholstered creation of author Rex Stout, was introduced in 1934 in the pages of Fer-De-Lance. The first of 33 novels (and 39 short stories) introduced the eccentric bon vivant with a taste for cold beer, fine food and orchids. (I should stress this last item wasn’t on the menu). Nero lived lavishly in an elegant New York City brownstone—but because of his fondness for the finer things in life, he had turned to detection to pay the bills.

ferdelanceThe only trouble was—Wolfe loathed venturing outside his familiar environs (he had an aversion to both travel and trains), and so he often depended on his “leg man,” Archie Goodwin, to do the heavy lifting. (I’m not kidding about the “heavy” part; Goodwin once guesstimated his boss’ girth at about 286 pounds). Goodwin was more in keeping with the traditional private eye cliché – a hard-boiled wisecracker with an eye for a shapely dame – yet his most important function was to serve as the narrator for their various misadventures.

arnoldwolfeThe success of Fer-de-Lance eventually led to Stout’s being besieged with offers from movie studios to adapt Wolfe to the silver screen. Rex himself thought Charles Laughton would make an outstanding Nero (and it’s certainly fun to speculate), but Columbia Pictures (who purchased the screen rights to the novel for $7,500) refashioned the book into Meet Nero Wolfe for contractee Edward Arnold—reasoning that they could keep the actor busy in between more prestigious assignments with a series of “B” programmers budgeted to play on the bottom of movie theater double bills. Meet Nero Wolfe (1936) was actually a borderline “A,” and featured a young Margarita Carmen Cansino on her way to becoming Rita Hayworth. It was directed by Herbert Biberman who, along with Arnold, was not asked back for the second (and last) film in the series, The League of Frightened Men (1937; Stout’s second Nero book). Walter Connolly took over as the corpulent Wolfe in that feature, with Lionel Stander reprising his role from the first film as Archie Goodwin.

ortegaStout was adamant about authorizing any more movies featuring his creation. (You can’t really blame him; the studio had Nero switching from beer to hot chocolate in Frightened Men.) But he was amenable to a radio adaptation, The Adventures of Nero Wolfe, which premiered over a small regional network (The New England Network) on April 7, 1943, and featured J.B. Williams as Wolfe. That series ran until June, and in July it moved to the Blue network with veteran Santos Ortega as the show’s star. Ortega would later be replaced by Luis van Rooten (in January of 1944) until the show left the airwaves on July 14, 1944. (John Gibson, best remembered as “Ethelbert” on Casey, Crime Photographer, played Archie during the Blue network run.) A disagreement between producer Himan Brown and Edwin Fadiman—the man who oversaw Stout’s radio, movie and television interests as Nero Wolfe Attractions, Inc.—is what kept The Adventures of Nero Wolfe from returning to the now-retitled ABC network.

lewisNero Wolfe, however, would not be silenced where the airwaves were concerned. Mutual resurrected “the detective genius who rates the knife and fork the greatest tools ever invented by man” in the summer of 1946 on a Sunday night series sponsored by Jergens Lotion. The series was retitled The Amazing Nero Wolfe, and appearing as “the gargantuan gourmet” was former silent movie legend Francis X. Bushman…with Elliott Lewis as Archie. Produced and directed by Travis Wells and scripted by Louis Vittes, the new Wolfe series was criticized by Stout biographer John McAleer for its “slapstick” humor. The Amazing Nero Wolfe went off the air on December 15 of that same year.

greenstreetwolfe2When NBC premiered The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe on October 20, 1950, fans of the detective had to be wondering if the third time would be the charm. The actor chosen to play the rotund gumshoe seemed to be a natural; Sydney Greenstreet, who hit one out of the park with his first movie role in 1941’s The Maltese Falcon (at the age of 62, after a lengthy stage career)—his character of Kasper Gutman in Falcon was even referenced as “the fat man.” Greenstreet had solid radio credentials: he appeared on such programs as The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre and Academy Award Theatre, and poked fun at his silver screen persona alongside comedians like Fred Allen and Bob Hope. But the actor’s participation on New Adventures didn’t come cheap, and even with the input of Vittes and Fadiman, NBC had difficulty locating a sponsor (Plymouth signed up briefly, then lost interest) so the series was mostly sustained during its one-year run.

bartellThe low ratings for Nero Wolfe explains why five actors—Wally Maher, Lawrence Dobkin, Herb Ellis, Gerald Mohr and Harry Bartell—all played Archie Goodwin during the program’s single season on the air. Old-time radio historian Stewart Wright reminisced that after seeing Dobkin, Ellis and Bartell recreate a broadcast of the series at a radio convention in 1999 he learned “[t]he reason why there were so many Archies during the Greenstreet run is that the ratings for the series were never good and Greenstreet, as the star, could not believe that the poor ratings were his fault, so the fault must lie with the actor playing Archie. Therefore, [the] actor playing Archie was changed several times. Obviously, the changes didn’t help.”

greenstreetwolfe1The fate of The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe was a sad one, because Stout was quite positive about Greenstreet’s participation (Rex just thought the scripts were lousy). And who knows? Had the attempt been made to keep the Wolfe franchise stable in the early years of its broadcast history, it might have enjoyed a more successful run during Radio’s Golden Age. The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe made its last bow at the curtain on April 27, 1951. Except for a brief attempt at resuscitation in the early months of 1982 courtesy of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Nero Wolfe soldiered on in his brownstone, saddened that the aural medium hadn’t been kinder to his legacy.

20182Still, time was pretty good to The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe; of the twenty-six shows originally broadcast, only one didn’t survive the ravages of neglect (“The Case of the Headless Hunter,” from November 11, 1950). The surviving shows are featured on two Radio Spirits collections: The Case of the Midnight Ride and Other Tales and Parties of Death. To compensate for the missing “Hunter,” Parties includes an April 16, 1945 broadcast of The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre: “The Mask of Dimitrios,” a radio adaptation of the 1944 suspense thriller with Greenstreet and Peter Lorre recreating their original roles. (Trust me—you don’t want to miss it!)

Happy Birthday, John Brown!


In the 1949 film The Life of Riley—based on the successful radio situation comedy created by Irving Brecher (who also directed and wrote the silver screen adaptation)—one of the series’ most popular characters is introduced in a rather novel fashion. The electricity has been cut off in the Riley household, and in the darkness we hear those familiar sepulchral tones of Chester A.’s pal, Digby “Digger” O’Dell—“the friendly undertaker.” The lights then come up, and the audience is able to see the somber mug of the character veteran whose portrayal of “Digger” saved the radio Riley from almost certain cancellation, according to creator Brecher. Old-time radio fans know the actor that played Digger (and so many other comedic creations) as John Brown, born on this date in 1904.

brown1For an actor who mastered Noo Yawk accents with effortless ease, it’s interesting to learn that John Brown was actually a native of Hull, Yorkshire, England. After emigrating to the U.S., Brown was eager to start a career as a radio actor…but while waiting for “the call” he worked many an odd job and appeared on stage in such New York City productions as Peace on Earth and The Milky Way. (Curiously, Brown’s main source of a paycheck in the Big Apple at that time was working as a mortician’s clerk—which probably came in handy later in his career.) His earliest recorded radio credit was in a 1932 syndicated series entitled Police Headquarters, and from that he packed his resume with appearances on such dramatic shows as The Adventures of the Saint, Arch Oboler’s Plays, Casey, Crime Photographer, The Cavalcade of America, Ellery Queen, Everyman’s Theatre, Family Theatre, The Lux Radio Theatre, Mr. President, Mystery in the Air, Radio Almanac, The Shadow, The Silver Theatre, Stars Over Hollywood, Suspense, The Treasury Hour and The Whistler.

brown4John Brown is probably better known for his comedic contributions to the Golden Age of Radio, seeing as he was afforded the opportunity to work alongside one of the leading radio funsters in Fred Allen. John appeared on Fred’s Salad Bowl Revue in 1933, and then became part of Allen’s “stock company” on Town Hall Tonight in the fall of 1934. John was still with Fred when the comedian’s weekly hour-long program became The Fred Allen Show in 1939, and when the satirist got a new sponsor in Texaco (The Texaco Star Theatre) a year later. Brown is best remembered for playing “John Doe,” one of the earliest “Allen’s Alley” tenants when Fred introduced the recurring segment in December of 1942.

brown3Because of his association with Allen, John got a foot in the door and worked alongside many of the medium’s best-remembered comedy-variety stars, including Abbott & Costello, Amos ‘n’ Andy (Freeman Gosden & Charles Correll), Jack Benny, Bergen & McCarthy, Fanny Brice (Baby Snooks), Burns & Allen, Eddie Cantor, Jack Carson, Cass Daley, Ed Gardner (Duffy’s Tavern), Charlotte Greenwood, Phil Harris & Alice Faye, Marlin “Beulah” Hurt, Al Jolson, Danny Kaye, Jack Kirkwood, Dinah Shore, Rudy Vallee and Alan Young. Brown could also be heard on occasion on The Amazing Mr. Smith, The Bickersons, December Bride, The Gay Mrs. Featherstone, Life with Luigi, Lorenzo Jones, Maisie, Tillie the Toiler and Young Love.

On The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, John Brown played Syd “Thorny” Thornberry, the Nelsons’ next-door neighbor…who was often called upon to offer advice to his friend “Oz” whenever the male half of “America’s favorite young couple” found himself in a particularly sticky wicket. He offered fatherly words of wisdom as Melvin Foster on the teen sitcom A Date with Judy—and though Mr. Foster was played by other radio veterans (including Paul McGrath and Joseph Kearns), Brown made the character his own by relying on his trademark sardonic manner. John also played Homer Willoughby, Dennis Day’s boss at the drugstore where Day soda-jerked on A Day in the Life of Dennis Day; Willoughby made a good go at counseling Dennis, but usually ended up frustrated by his employee’s weekly shenanigans.

riley2John’s radio immortality stems from two of the medium’s truly beloved situation comedies. I’ve already mentioned that Brown played “Digger” O’Dell on The Life of Riley, a character that Irving Brecher created on the spur of the moment when that week’s broadcast was going to run short. O’Dell had a touch of the macabre about him (“You’re looking fine, Riley—very natural!”) and though the show’s original sponsor thought the character was in bad taste, audiences soon made Digger a solid favorite. But Brown also doubled on Riley as Jim Gillis—who, unlike John’s “Thorny” character on Ozzie & Harriet, did not always provide the best advice to his chum (played by William Bendix). In the movie adaptation, character veteran James Gleason played Gillis to avoid the need for split-screen trickery, and when John joined the cast of the TV version of Riley that starred future Honeymooner Jackie Gleason, it was Sid Tomack who took over the Gillis duties.

irma3Brown’s other radio claim-to-fame was his weekly gig as the perpetually unemployed Al, boyfriend to Irma Peterson (Marie Wilson) on My Friend Irma. Al was truly one of nature’s noblemen: an unrepentant loafer who subsisted solely on his unemployment checks…and the generosity of Irma, of course—his little “Chicken.” While John Brown was working on both Irma and The Life of Riley, he landed a program that would allow him to be the star. Carrying an entire show was not a new experience for the actor—he had played the titular The Busy Mr. Bingle back in 1943—but The Damon Runyon Theatre allowed John to combine his comedic and dramatic talents as “Broadway,” the narrator (and frequent participant) in stories based on the wonderful tales from the pen of author Damon Runyon.

brown7Suffice it to say, John Brown was kept so busy in radio that it rarely gave him time to concentrate on a film career. But he turns up in a number of wonderful classic films. One of my favorites is a small role in his old boss Fred Allen’s It’s in the Bag! (1945), in which he plays a theatre usher who stands outside and announces “Immediate seating on all floors!” Later that year, John had an equally memorable turn as a sarcastic cafeteria manager in The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945), which starred Allen’s nemesis Jack Benny. Brown’s movie resume also includes bit parts in such features as Casanova Brown (1944), The Stranger (1946), Three Desperate Men (1951), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), The Sniper (1952), The Bigamist (1953) and The Wild One (1953). Classic movie fans can spot him in Strangers on a Train (1951) as the soused professor who can provide Guy Haines (Farley Granger) an alibi for a murder that Haines has been accused of…if he can only remember the events of the previous evening. (Brown also voices “Ro-Man,” the alien ape protagonist—clad in a diving helmet—in the 1953 cult oddity Robot Monster.)

brown6John Brown was starting to make inroads on the small screen with his reprisal of “Digger” O’Dell on the Gleason Life of Riley, and he also guest-starred on the likes of Amos ‘n’ Andy, I Love Lucy and Biff Baker, U.S.A. He had taken over as “Harry Morton” on The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show when his name surfaced in the infamous Red Channels. As a result of being blacklisted, John found himself fighting to get work. The experience clearly took a toll on this multi-talented actor, for Brown passed away in 1957 at the age of 53.

20264Radio Spirits has beaucoups and beaucoups of old-time radio collections featuring the great John Brown; we suggest sampling his signature series of The Life of Riley (Magnificent Mug, My Head is Made Up!), My Friend Irma (On Second Thought), The Damon Runyon Theatre (Broadway Complex), A Date with Judy, A Day in the Life of Dennis Day and The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet (on our Happy Halloween! set). You should then check out his support of such legendary radio comedians as Amos ‘n’ Andy (Volume Two, Radio’s All-Time Favorites), Fred Allen (The Fred Allen Show) and Jack Benny (Neighbors, On the Town and Oh, Rochester!)—John even makes his presence known in our two Jack Benny vs. Fred Allen compilations, The Feud and Grudge Match. For dessert, there’s The Adventures of the Falcon (Shakedown), The Bickersons (Put Out the Lights!) and The Shadow (Crime Does Not Pay)!

Happy Birthday, Richard Denning!


If I stated up front that the man who’s in our birthday spotlight today transcended his meager beginnings as a mere thespian and eventually became the governor of a state…well, you’d probably assume I was talking about Ronald Reagan. So I’ll abandon that angle. Instead, join me for some cake and ice cream as we pay tribute to Louis Albert Heindrich Denninger, Jr.—born in Poughkeepsie, NY in 1914, and who would later find fame on stage, screen (big and small) and radio as handsome leading man Richard Denning.

denning13Before Denning decided on a show business career, however, he was a handsome leading man working for his father in the Los Angeles garment industry. Clothes may make the man, but in this instance they made Richard restless; besides, he was much more interested in appearing in plays presented by the city’s Little Theater groups. A Paramount Pictures scout spotted Denning in a production and offered him a contract…but first, Paramount’s Powers That Be demanded that he change his last name of “Denninger.” (It seems that there was a certain Public Enemy Number One with the same surname, and the executives didn’t want audiences wondering if there was a family connection once they saw Richard onscreen.)

denningankersThe lanky, square-jawed actor would soon become a casting favorite with the studio’s directors…though many of the films in which he appeared were of the B-variety. A few of the more recognizable features Richard Denning graced include The Buccaneer (1938), The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938), Her Jungle Love (1938), Union Pacific (1939), Some Like it Hot (1939), The Gracie Allen Murder Case (1939), Million Dollar Legs (1939), North West Mounted Police (1940), Love Thy Neighbor (1940) and Adam Had Four Sons (1941). 1942 was a very good year for the ambitious Richard; he had one of his best remembered movie roles as the wastrel Taylor Henry in The Glass Key (1942), and he had fallen for the studio’s resident “Scream Queen,” Evelyn Ankers (The Wolf Man, Son of Dracula). The two of them would tie the knot before the year was out, and had one of Hollywood’s happiest marriages until Evelyn’s passing in 1985.

denning8Richard Denning’s movie career momentarily stalled once World War II was underway. He served in the South Pacific with the U.S. Navy, and upon his discharge appeared in Black Beauty (1946) with wife Ankers. But Richard soon found his niche in “science fiction” films: he appeared in such features as Unknown Island (1948), Target Earth (1954), Day the World Ended (1955), Creature with the Atom Brain (1955), and The Black Scorpion (1957). His best known work in sci-fi films is unquestionably Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954), in which he played the arrogant boss of dedicated scientist Richard Carlson, and served as Carlson’s rival for the affections of swimsuit clad Julia Adams. (The two men had a little competition in that department, though, from the titular beast of the film.) Other films from Denning’s expansive resume include No Man of Her Own (1950), Hangman’s Knot (1952), The Glass Web (1953), An Affair to Remember (1957) and Twice-Told Tales (1963).

denning1While working to reestablish himself in motion pictures, Denning began the first of many forays in front of a radio microphone beginning in the late 1940s. On July 5, 1948, CBS Radio premiered “a special preview” of My Favorite Husband, a sitcom that was developed to capitalize on the long-underutilized comedic talents of glamour gal Lucille Ball. Based on Isabel Scott Rorick’s 1941 novel Mr. and Mrs. Cugat: The Record of a Happy Marriage, Husband cast Lucy in the role of socialite-turned-housewife Elizabeth (Liz) Cugat, and movie favorite Lee Bowman as her husband George, former-playboy-turned-bank-vice-president. The reception to the show was quite positive, and the network made plans for it to return two weeks later. But they would have to do without Bowman’s services (he had other commitments), and so Richard was tabbed to play opposite Lucy.

denning2My Favorite Husband was a sporadically funny series that didn’t really find its full footing until writer Jess Oppenheimer was hired to script the show after he lost his job as head man on The Baby Snooks Show. Oppenheimer was quickly promoted to director-producer, and along with network staff scribes Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll, Jr., revamped both the series and Lucy’s character—making her more childlike and impulsive (qualities that defined Fanny Brice’s Snooks, when you stop and think about it). Denning’s portrayal of Richard Cugat also got a reworking: while he remained a jocular, good-natured individual, he wasn’t afraid to lay down the law when it came to the shenanigans engineered by his endearingly ditzy wife. The characters of Rudolph and Iris Atterbury—played by Gale Gordon and Bea Benaderet—were also added, and the show soon featured radio veterans Ruth Perrott, Hans Conried and Eleanor Audley, to name a few.

denning5Old-time radio fans know that Husband was pretty much the blueprint for Ball’s mega-successful I Love Lucy, which came about when CBS wanted her to bring MFH to TV and she told them that if her real-life husband Desi Arnaz wasn’t cast as her television spouse it wasn’t gonna happen. Richard took all this in stride (no offense, but Lucy wasn’t going to back down on the Desi thing). And he had a show waiting for him in the wings for him anyway – Mr. and Mrs. North, a small screen adaptation of the long-running radio hit. Denning was Jerry North, and the attractive Barbara Britton perfectly complemented him as wife Pam. Mr. and Mrs. North had a two-year run on TV, but Barbara and Richard later inherited the radio roles from Alice Frost and Joseph Curtin in 1953 and continued over the ether until the series rang down the curtain in April of 1955.

denning11Richard Denning continued to work in feature films while at the same dabbling in the medium known as television: he guest-starred on such series as Cavalcade of America, The Ford Television Theatre and Cheyenne, and in 1959 starred as Dr. Greg Graham on The Flying Doctor. The following year, Denning got back into the detective game by playing longtime radio favorite Michael Shayne in a season-long series. Dick later played TV pop to Debbie Watson on a sitcom called Karen, which was part of a trilogy of series under the umbrella title of 90 Bristol Court (the others being Tom, Dick and Mary and Harris Against the World). After finishing a film in 1968 entitled I Sailed to Tahiti With an All-Girl Crew (thanks for the spoiler warning), Denning was ready to kick back and enjoy retirement in The Aloha State with his wife Evelyn. But producer Leonard Freeman made the actor an offer he couldn’t refuse: he’d work five-hour days and a four-day work week and in turn be the familiar face of Governor Paul Jameson on the hit crime drama Hawaii Five-O. (That’s how Denning got into politics.) Richard Denning remarried after his wife Evelyn’s death; he and spouse Patricia Leffingwell remained together until the actor’s death in 1998.

20518Radio Spirits offers an eight-DVD set—with a total of thirty-two episodes—that spotlights the televised adventures of Mr. and Mrs. North as played by today’s birthday boy and leading lady Barbara Britton (they also appear in “The Doll House,” a North episode spotlighted in our collection Rare TV Detectives, Volume 2). When you’re done with those, we invite you to listen to Britton’s Pam and Denning’s Jerry investigate “murder liberally sprinkled with laughs” in Bet on Death and Touch of Death. Happy birthday to Richard Denning!

Happy Birthday, Philip Rapp!


Comedy writer Phil Rapp was born on this date in 1907, and during his long show business career he would probably become best known for creating a constantly squabbling couple played on numerous shows by actor Don Ameche and singer Frances Langford. His son Joel once related that his father’s inspiration for John and Blanche Bickerson sprung forth from the disagreements Rapp often had with his wife Mary, a former vaudeville dancer. “I’ve hidden under a lot of tables in my day,” cracked Joel as he pointed out that the Rapp’s quarrels frequently went beyond the bedroom environs established by “The Bickersons,” spilling out into public view. “My father would scurry off to the typewriter while the dialogue was still fresh,” Joel confessed…and old-time radio comedy fans are the richer for it.

rapp3Philip Rapp, a native of jolly old England, emigrated to the U.S. with his Austrian-born parents when he was just a teen, and he set his sights on an entertainment career by first becoming a novelty dancer. But Phil discovered he possessed a flair for the funny, and one of his first jobs involved selling jokes to his fellow vaudevillians. By 1932, he had moved to Hollywood and joined the writing staff of Eddie Cantor’s show; Rapp later moved up to take over the directorial duties for Banjo Eyes’ Pebeco program in 1936.

Phil Rapp also played a part in establishing Ziegfeld Follies legend Fanny Brice as a radio comedy star. Rapp developed Fanny’s “Baby Snooks” character, which she began playing on the CBS program Ziegfeld Follies of the Air in 1936. A year later, Brice transferred the bratty kid to the Good News of 1938 series on NBC and, with her foil Hanley Stafford (as Lancelot “Daddy” Higgins), provided comic relief for a celebrity-studded show that featured the crème de la crème of MGM’s “more stars than there are in heaven.” Both Brice and MGM’s resident comic actor Frank Morgan supplied the laughs on Good News, and teamed up for four years of Maxwell House Coffee Time beginning in 1940. (Maxwell House was the original sponsor of Good News, and though Fanny and Frank were the stars of Coffee Time they worked in separate sections of the show.) Fanny would then headline The Baby Snooks Show from 1944 until her death in 1951.

generalPhil used his Cantor connections to contribute material to the comedian’s 1936 movie musical comedy Strike Me Pink, and began to get jobs working on such films as Start Cheering (1938—with Jimmy Durante and the Three Stooges) and There’s Always a Woman (1938). In addition, Rapp entertained a most felicitous collaboration with entertainer Danny Kaye, writing the screenplays for two of Kaye’s most successful comedies: Wonder Man (1945) and The Inspector General (1949). His other cinematic contributions number New Faces of 1937, Ziegfeld Follies (1945), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947—another Kaye film), Ain’t Misbehavin’ (1955) and Wild and Wonderful (1964).

bickersons12Of Philip Rapp’s many contributions to show business, his creation of the energetically argumentative John and Blanche Bickerson is perhaps his longest-lasting. “The Bickersons” first appeared on an NBC comedy-variety series entitled Drene Time in 1946, which featured actor (and former Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy announcer-straight man) Don Ameche in the role of a harried husband who just wants to get a good night’s sleep. This is an impossible task, for he shares his bed with his wife Blanche—played by vocalist Frances Langford—who’s determined to have her say. The Bickersons sketches also featured an up-and-coming Danny Thomas in the role of Blanche’s ne’er-do-well brother Amos. The following year, the battling couple moved to CBS’ The Old Gold Show, where they continued their nocturnal give-and-takes on a series that also featured Frank Morgan, musician Carmen Dragon and announcer Marvin Miller.

topperThe Bickersons would later resurface in sketches on Edgar Bergen’s program (with Marsha Hunt replacing Langford as Blanche) and had a brief run as a stand-alone sitcom in 1951 (with Lew Parker as John B.). The 1951 radio Bickersons followed shortly after John and Blanche briefly became TV stars on DuMont’s Star Time, on which Phil Rapp not only wrote the sketches but directed as well. Star Time was a launch pad for Rapp’s debut into boob tube society. Phil would go on to direct and produce the television adaptation of Topper (he was also the supervising story editor) and the short-lived Wally Cox series The Adventures of Hiram Holiday. Rapp’s TV credits also include I Married Joan, The Tab Hunter Show, Summer Playhouse and My Favorite Martian. Philip continued to have great success with The Bickersons in the form of TV commercials and best-selling records (in addition, he authored a “Bickersons” play in Match Please, Darling) before his passing in 1996.

19804My colleague and good friend Ben Ohmart is the author of the definitive biography of the creative mind behind Baby Snooks and The Bickersons, and Radio Spirits has it for the sale—the amusingly-titled The Gripes of Rapp. Ben is also editor of The Philip Rapp Joke File, and has compiled several of the birthday boy’s funniest Baby Snooks misadventures in The Baby Snooks Scripts and The Baby Snooks Scripts Volume 2. It’s all highly recommended reading, of course—but don’t forget that to get the full force of this classic comedy you can’t be without our Bickersons collection Put Out the Lights! and the Baby Snooks sets Why, Daddy? and Smart Aleck.

Happy Birthday, Mandel Kramer!


“I’m a product of radio,” actor Mandel Kramer confessed to an interviewer for a 1953 article in the March edition of Radio-TV Mirror. Mandel, who was born in Cleveland ninety-nine years ago on this date, never really amassed the large number of movie or television credits that defined his many of his contemporaries…but, you could argue that he never really wanted that sort of attention. That same Radio-TV Mirror article revealed that once Kramer made the long commute back to his wife and two girls at his suburban Harrison, NY home, “no one would ever suspect Mandel of being an actor.”

kramer4Not only was Mandel Kramer “a modest, likable guy”—the actor himself never really had an answer as to why he entered that profession in the first place. Kramer attended both Cleveland Heights High School and Western Reserve University in his formative years. Later, while working in his father’s shoe store for the princely sum of $15 a week, he took classes at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Mandel’s studies there led him to a year of performing with the Cleveland Playhouse, and he developed an interest in radio while apprenticing at WTAM in Cleveland.

With $150 squirreled away in his pocket, Kramer followed his thespic ambitions to New York City…and though the Big Apple was certainly capable of treating newcomers cruelly, Mandel caught a break by bluffing his way into a radio audition by telling the receptionist a tiny white lie. It didn’t matter—the producers liked him, and hired him for the gig. Kramer worked steadily on such programs as The Cavalcade of America, The Columbia Workshop, The Molle Mystery Theatre, Murder at Midnight, Philo Vance and Words at War. Mandel was a semi-regular on This is Your FBI in the series’ early New York years (from 1945 to 1947), and could also be heard on such Big Apple-based shows as The Adventures of the Falcon, The Adventures of the Thin Man, The Big Story, Casey, Crime Photographer, Famous Jury Trials and Gang Busters. He was garrulous cab driver Mahatma McGloin on Mr. and Mrs. North, and occasionally played a similar talkative hack on The Shadow: Moe “Shreevy” Shrevnitz.

kramer5Mandel Kramer’s most durable radio gig was playing Harry Peters opposite Don McLaughlin’s David Harding on the popular juvenile adventure series Counterspy—he landed the role in 1943, and played the part until the show’s departure in 1957. Kramer also had recurring roles on a slew of daytime dramas; in addition to appearing on Big Sister, The Guiding Light, The Light of the World, Stella Dallas and Young Dr. Malone, Mandel played Tom Bryson (theatrical manager to matinee idol Larry Noble) on Backstage Wife and Lt. Tragg on the radio version of Perry Mason. Kramer also transitioned with the Mason cast when the series went to television—not with the familiar Raymond Burr nighttime version, but instead with The Edge of Night. The actor received an Emmy nomination in 1979 for his work on that program as Police Chief Bill Marceau. (Mandel also appeared briefly on the TV version of Guiding Light before his long-running stint on Edge.)

kramer6Mandel’s busiest period as a radio actor could arguably be observed during the mid-1950s; he was the last performer to play Pat Abbott on the mystery comedy The Adventures of the Abbotts, which in turn led to a similar role as the star of It’s a Crime, Mr. Collins. Kramer was also heard on 21st Precinct, The Chase, Exploring Tomorrow, Official Detective, Rocky Fortune and X-Minus One. Perhaps the one radio program for which modern-day audiences remember today’s birthday boy is Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. When the long-running crime drama left for New York in December of 1960 after its many years in Hollywood, Mandel was the last actor to play “the man with the action-packed expense account.” Kramer also appeared several times on the New York-based incarnation of Suspense, which – along with Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar – rang down the curtain on “The Golden Age of Radio” on September 30, 1962.

20716Mandel Kramer was a radio veteran who insisted on remaining true to the medium that brought him fame: he was a member-in-good-standing of the informal stock company that frequented the 1970s radio revival attempt known as The CBS Radio Mystery Theatre. Kramer passed away at the age of 72 in 1989.

Mandel Kramer is represented as “America’s fabulous freelance investigator” in two broadcasts (“The Guide to Murder Matter” and the series’ swan song, “The Tip-Off Matter”) on our The Many Voices of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar collection—and he’s also a formidable presence on several of Radio Spirits’ X-Minus One sets: Archives Collection, Volume Two and Time and Time Again. In addition, the work of Mr. Kramer can be heard on The Adventures of the Falcon (Count Me Out Tonight, Angel), The Big Story (As It Happened), Gang Busters (Cases of Crime), The Molle Mystery Theatre (Nightmare) and Rocky Fortune. Best wishes of the day to Mandel Kramer!