Your Shopping Cart | Your Account Information | Catalog Quick Order | Customer Service | Order Status | Contact Us


AboutBlogOur Radio Show SEARCH   KEYWORD

Happy Birthday, Joan Crawford!

“Joan Crawford has passed into myth as a demented martinet whose greatest need or belief concerned padded clothes hangers,” observes author-historian David Thomson in his book The New Biographical Dictionary of Film. You see, a year after Joan’s passing in 1977, her adopted daughter Christina’s controversial child abuse memoir—Mommie Dearest—was published, followed by a big screen adaptation in 1981 (with Faye Dunaway portraying Crawford). Whatever side you’re on in the Joan-vs.-Christina grudge match, however, you can’t deny that the show business career of the woman born Lucille Fay LeSueur in San Antonio, Texas on this date in 1904 has certainly transcended the cartoonish depiction of the Oscar-winning actress in later years. As author Ephraim Katz succinctly sums up in The Film Encyclopedia: “Miss Crawford never ranked among Hollywood’s sex symbols, nor has she been counted among the screen’s accomplished actresses, yet few in filmdom have rivaled her for star glamour and for durability as a top-ranking celluloid queen.”

Joan Crawford’s parents divorced not long after her birth; her mother Anna Bell then married Henry J. Cassin, a vaudeville theatre owner—and Joan went by “Billie Cassin” for a time. Crawford had ambitions of becoming a dancer since her childhood and would later find work as a terpsichorean in nightclubs and traveling revues while working as a shopgirl to earn money for dance lessons. Joan’s later movie persona of the working woman struggling to make good during the Depression was made even more authentic by her real-life employment experiences. Outside of attending St. Agnes Academy and Rockingham Academy in her teen years (both venues as a “working student”) Crawford never progressed beyond primary education.

It was impresario J.J. Schubert who was bowled over by Joan Crawford’s dancing talent; he gave her a part in the chorus line in his 1924 Broadway production of Innocent Eyes. A Hollywood screen test followed not long after for Joan, who was then signed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to a $75-a-week contract. Her feature film debut was as Norma Shearer’s “body double” in Lady of the Night (1925). Crawford would be billed as “Lucille LeSueur” for a few pictures until a studio press agent named Pete Smith (later the star of the “Pete Smith’s Specialties” short subjects) organized a ‘Name the Star” contest in Movie Weekly. “Joan Crawford” was a consolation moniker; the contest winner was actually “Joan Arden” until it was discovered another actress had staked a claim to it.

Beginning with Sally, Irene, and Mary (1925), Joan Crawford began to get noticed in silent feature films. She appeared opposite comedian Harry Langdon in Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1926); Lon Chaney in The Unknown (1927); and Ramon Novarro in Across to Singapore (1928). Her leading man in Spring Fever (1927), West Point (1928), and The Duke Steps Out (1929) was her good friend William Haines. Joan’s breakout role was in 1928’s Our Dancing Daughters, which allowed her to claim a bit of the “flapper” mystique adopted by the likes of Colleen Moore and Clara Bow. (It also produced follow-ups in Our Modern Maidens [1929] and Our Blushing Brides [1930].)

Joan Crawford’s initial foray into talkies was 1929’s Untamed; to rid herself of her Southwestern accent, she took diction and elocution lessons, which paid off handsomely in such films as Dance, Fools, DanceLaughing Sinners, and Possessed—all three released in 1931 and featuring Clark Gable as her leading man. Crawford and Gable would go on to make five additional pictures during her time at M-G-M including Dancing Lady (1933) and Forsaking All Others (1934). It was Tinsel Town’s worst-kept secret that Joan had a thing for “The King of Hollywood,” yet the two of them never tied the knot. However, she did end up marching down the aisle with three other actors: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (1929-33), Franchot Tone (1935-39), and Philip Terry (1942-46).

As “Flaemmchen” in the studio’s all-star Grand Hotel (1932), Joan Crawford managed to outshine luminous M-G-M rival Greta Garbo. Though many believe she was miscast as “Sadie Thompson” in Rain (1932), that role led to more mature showcases in vehicles like Sadie McKee (1934) and No More Ladies (1935). The similarity of Joan’s many movie parts would start to hurt her by 1938 when she was pronounced “box office poison.” Although she would stage a “comeback” with one of her finest performances in The Women (1939), her fortunes at M-G-M did not improve and she left the studio in 1943.

Joan Crawford found a new home at Warner Bros., but didn’t make a movie there for two years. Her “coming-out party” was a big one, however; as the star of Mildred Pierce (1945), a big screen treatment of the James M. Cain novel, Crawford would be rewarded by her peers with a Best Actress Oscar statuette. Some will argue (myself included) that Joan’s time at the WB produced some of her absolute best vehicles, including Humoresque (1946), Possessed (1947; her second Best Actress Oscar nomination), Daisy Kenyon (1947), Flamingo Road (1949), The Damned Don’t Cry (1950), and This Woman is Dangerous (1952). Although she didn’t make Sudden Fear (1952) at Warner’s (it was an R-K-O release), her performance as a wealthy playwright at the mercy of a homicidal actor (Jack Palance) garnered her a third and final Best Actress Oscar nomination.

Joan Crawford had something in common with her longtime crush Clark Gable. Like “The King,” Joan experienced white-knuckled terror whenever she had to face a radio microphone in front of a live audience. Actor Sidney Miller recalled in Leonard Maltin’s The Great Radio Broadcast being on a program with Crawford and the actress’ bleeding palms from where her fingernails had dug in clenching her fists so tightly. (“She was so nervous and so scared, I helped her back to the table…she hated radio.”) Still, Joan was a trouper; her radio resume includes appearances on Good News Of 1938/1939The Gulf Screen Guild TheatreHollywood Star PlayhouseThe Lux Radio TheatreMail CallScreen Directors’ PlayhouseThe Silver TheatreStars Over HollywoodSuspense, and This is Your Life. There’s even a surviving September 8, 1947 audition recording for a proposed series entitled Sound Stage for Joan Crawford, in which Crawford performs with radio veterans like Lurene Tuttle and Gerald Mohr in a half-hour adaptation of Mildred Pierce. (As you may have already guessed, it did not get picked up.)

By the 1950s, Joan Crawford’s motion picture career had started to fade. She kept her hand in with features like the cult classic Johnny Guitar (1954) and Autumn Leaves (1956), but with the passing of her fourth husband (PepsiCo CEO-Chairman Alfred Steele) in 1959, Joan concentrated on being a “goodwill ambassador” on the company’s behalf. Crawford enjoyed a major box office success with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)—co-starring the actress with whom she did not get along, Bette Davis. That camp horror classic paved the way for similar vehicles like Strait-Jacket (1964) and I Saw What You Did (1965). Joan did one or two more features after that (BerserkTrog), but by that time had started to concentrate on the small screen with appearances on favorites like Route 66 and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  (She also made a legendary appearance—though the videotaped record appears lost to history—on the daytime drama The Secret Storm. She played the character that daughter Christina usually essayed but was unable to perform due to illness.)  Joan’s last public appearance was in 1974; she retreated into seclusion and passed away in 1977 at the age of 73.

To celebrate the natal anniversary of the immortal Joan Crawford, we invite you to check out two items in our downloads store. Suspense: Classics features Joanie as the star of a June 2, 1949 broadcast, “The Ten Years,” while Suspense: Tales Well Calculated spotlights her “mike fright” on “Three Lethal Words,” originally broadcast on March 22, 1951. You’ll also find Ms. Crawford among the many stars on the DVD collection Hollywood’s Greatest Screen Legends. Celebrate Joan’s birthday with us but remember…no more wire hangers!

Happy Birthday, Lawson Zerbe!

In her 1968 autobiography Tune in Tomorrow: Or, How I Found the Right to Happiness with Our Gal Sunday, Stella Dallas, John’s Other Wife, and Other Sudsy Radio Serials, daytime drama doyenne Mary Jane Higby relates an amusing anecdote about one of her fellow radio thesps—Lawson A. Zerbe, born on this date in 1914. It seems that Lawson was entertaining himself by playing around with a set of handcuffs belonging to the sound effects man, receiving hearty laughter after snapping the “bracelets” on himself. There was even more laughter when the sound patterns artist explained to Mr. Z that he didn’t have a key to the handcuffs…but as it turns out, he wasn’t joking. The network (NBC) didn’t have a key, either. Fortunately for Zerbe, he wouldn’t ever have to explain the handcuffs to the curious (he was eventually “sprung”) and he continued with his successful radio career.

Lawson Zerbe was born in Portland, Oregon to Charles and Nell Zerbe but became a resident of the Buckeye State at an early age, residing in Dayton, Ohio with his family. He attended Fairview High School, followed by a stint at the Dayton Art Institute. Zerbe would establish a foothold in radio by working as an actor-writer for a Dayton station, then moving on to Cincinnati’s WLW in 1934. From there, a move to New York City to seriously pursue an acting career, which he found awaiting him in the aural medium. An unidentified announcer in a May 1949 Radio Mirror article described Lawson thusly: “Lawson is the man of a thousand voices. He can play any kind of character a script writer can dream up. And double! He can play two characters on the same program—switch flawlessly from one to the other without batting an eye.”

Busy radio actors—and particularly those based in The Big Apple—made a most comfortable living emoting on “the soaps,” and Lawson Zerbe was certainly no exception. Zerbe portrayed “Jeffery Clark” on Valiant Lady, “Pascal Tyler” on Against the Storm, “Rex Lawton” on Lora Lawton, and “Peter Harvey” on Rosemary. He also played, at various times, “Fred Brent” and “John ‘Butch’ Brent” on Road to Life. Lawson’s best-remembered daytime drama job might be that of “Larry ‘Pepper’ Young, the hero of Pepper Young’s Family. He inherited the part from Curtis Arnall in 1937 and would relinquish it to future Smucker’s spokesman Mason Adams in 1945. (Adams had previously emoted as Pepper while Zerbe was in the service). Other dramatic serials making use of Lawson’s talents include By Kathleen NorrisThe Life of Mary SothernMarried for Life (there’s a concept for you), and The O’Neills.

Lawson Zerbe would soon add prime-time programming to his radio acting resume. He portrayed photographer Dusty Miller on the popular Big Town, Agent Williams on Treasury Agent, and recurring parts on Best PlaysCrime and Peter ChambersDick TracyExploring TomorrowGang BustersGrand Central StationMurder by ExpertsThe Mystery ManRoger Kilgore, Public Defender, and Strictly Business. Zerbe had the starring role on The Adventures of Frank Merriwell, a Saturday morning favorite heard over NBC Radio from 1946 to 1949 (based on the dime novels by Burt L. Standish – a.k.a. Gilbert S. Patton). (Merriwell was “an All-American boy” several years before Jack Armstrong answered the call.)

Listing every item of Lawson Zerbe’s “radioactivity” would be a particularly daunting task, but among the notable programs on his c.v. are Adventure AheadAmerican PortraitsBarrie Craig, Confidential InvestigatorCasey, Crime PhotographerThe Cavalcade of AmericaThe CBS  Radio WorkshopThe ChaseThe Columbia WorkshopCounterspyCrime ClubDimension XHigh AdventureInner Sanctum Mysteries, Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost PersonsMurder at MidnightThe Mysterious TravelerNBC Star PlayhouseOfficial DetectiveThe Radio Hall of FameRogue’s GalleryThe Sportsmen’s ClubSquad RoomThis is Our EnemyTwenty-First PrecinctWords at War, and X-Minus One.  Zerbe would keep busy up to the end of Radio’s Golden Age on the likes of Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar…and beyond that on shows like The Eternal Light. Lawson passed away in 1992 at the age of 78.

Radio Spirits has on hand a collection of broadcasts from the syndicated series The Avenger, featuring today’s birthday boy as the irascible Inspector White. We also invite you to check out our sets of Crime Club, Dimension X (Future Tense), Inner Sanctum Mysteries (Pattern for Fear, Shadows of Death), Science Fiction Radio: Atom Age Adventures, Suspense (Final Curtain), Words at War: World War II Radio Drama, X-Minus One (Countdown), and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (The Many Voices of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, Medium Rare Matters, Mysterious Matters). An incredibly happy birthday to Lawson Zerbe!

Happy Birthday, Leonore “Lee” Allman!

The dirty little secret about show business is that it is a virtual petri dish for nepotism. As Fred Allen jokes in It’s in the Bag! (1945), after seeing a list of names in the film’s opening credits: “In Hollywood, all a producer produces is relatives.” It was not uncommon in vaudeville, either, where performers often worked their spouses into the act (for example, the aforementioned Mr. Allen and his wife, Portland Hoffa).

Such is the case with the radio actress born Leonore Jewell Allman in Detroit, Michigan on this date in 1908. Lee Allman’s brother was James Jewell, a producer, director…and even, on occasion, an actor at the legendary radio station WXYZ. Jim joined the station in June of 1932 as WXYZ’s “dramatic director,” working on two of the station’s most popular programs, The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet. Lee asked her brother for a part on the latter series and, as she later related to Rik Viola of The (Camden, NJ) Courier-Post in May of 1978, “Jim said it wasn’t much, probably a one-shot deal. The one-shot lasted for 25 years.” Allman would play “Lenore ‘Casey’ Case,” secretary to Daily Sentinel publisher Britt Reid (a.k.a. The Green Hornet) from the first Hornet broadcast on which she was introduced to the final show on December 5, 1952.

Although she dabbled in dramatics at the age of five by playing a potato, Lee Allman’s love of acting accompanied her choice of vocation (school teaching) at Wayne State University College in Detroit. Graduating in 1930, Lee taught speech and drama in Detroit schools and did readings in those same schools in addition to hospitals, detention facilities and the like. Brother Jim asked her to fill in one day for the hostess of a WXYZ women’s show, who had taken ill. On that broadcast, she ad-libbed a tale about Santa Claus’ cat. “We did a lot of ad-libbing in those days,” Allman reminisced. She was signed to a $25-a-week contract soon after, becoming a member of what was informally known as the “Jewell Players.” Lee was part of a rare group at WXYZ in that actresses were a minority (other female thesps at “Wxyie Wonderland” included Ruth Dean Rickaby and Beatrice Leiblee). Writer Fran Striker compensated for this by limiting the number of women’s roles in his scripts for shows like The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet.

As a WXYZ performer, Lee Allman had more to do than play Miss Case on The Green Hornet. She was also heard on The Lone RangerAnn Worth, and Manhunters. Later in the 1940s she worked on The Hermit’s Cave (produced at Detroit’s WJR) and Challenge of the Yukon (Sergeant Preston of the Yukon). (In her 1978 interview with the Courier-Post’s Viola, Allman remembered once having to portray a “toothless Eskimo” on Preston.) Lee worked hard for the money in that she would have to do three separate broadcasts anytime she was on Ranger, for example—one for the local broadcast, one for the Midwest, and one for the West Coast. “Sometimes I’d work seven days a week ’til 11 o’clock,” she mused. “Then I’d go over to Canada and work through the night at stations there.” Her prominent gig on Hornet also gave Allman little opportunity for vacations; when the actress took maternity leave “Miss Case” went with her, temporarily replaced with “Emma Lovejoy” (played by Ruth Rickaby), Casey’s aunt.

Despite the long hours and short pay (Miss Case really should have considered joining a union), Lee Allman did an outstanding job making the publisher’s secretary an integral part of The Green Hornet. There was even a bit of friction between Lee and brother Jim because she elected to stay behind after he left WXYZ in 1938 (Jewell later supervised the likes of Jack Armstrong and The Silver Eagle). Allman’s Casey would eventually get the opportunity to work at the Sentinel as a full-fledged reporter, and in early 1948, would be let in on the secret that her boss (who she had a crush on in the early years of the program) was the one and only Green Hornet!

After The Green Hornet departed the airwaves, Lee Allman continued to work on The Lone Ranger and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. She later appeared on a few Detroit TV shows before returning to higher education to get her master’s in education and teach school. She and her husband Emerson eventually relocated to Moorestown, NJ, where she got involved in local theatre as both an actress and a director of children’s shows. Lee would even become liaison director of the New Jersey Theatre League. In the 1970s, she would share her experiences during those “thrilling days of yesteryear” at several old-time radio conventions. (Radio Spirits’ own Martin Grams, Jr. has some pictures of Allman in this blog post from 2011.) Ms. Allman passed away in 1989 at the age of 82.

Radio Spirits is pleased to have so many broadcasts featuring our birthday celebrant in its voluminous inventory. We highly recommend the Green Hornet CD collections The Big Deal, City Hall Shakeup, The Green Hornet Strikes Again, Night Flight, Racket Busters, and Road to Ruin. If you’re curious to hear the fascinating backstory of the connections between The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, we have that covered, too, with Generations. In our digital downloads store, we have the Green Hornet sets The Biggest Game, Endpoint, Fog in the Night, The Green Hornet Fights Crime, Spies & Rackets, Sting of Justice, and Underworld. We’ve even got a little “Har-nut” on the mini-collection Great Radio Favorites. Sufferin’ snakes, Reid!

Happy Birthday, Olan Soule!

In 1947, when the dramatic anthology The First Nighter Program moved from its long-time Chicago home to Hollywood, leading man Olan Soule—born in La Harpe, Illinois on this date in 1909—relocated to Tinsel Town as well.  Olan went shopping for patio furniture to furnish his new digs and in paying for his purchase handed the salesclerk a check.  The clerk recognized Soule’s name immediately.  “Well, my goodness, I’ve listened to you for all these years and now to finally meet you.”  After giving Olan a good once-over, the salesman then remarked: “I don’t mind telling you, I’m sure disappointed.”

Olan Evart Soule developed an interest in writing and dramatics in high school and, at age 17, toured the Midwest with the Jack Brooks stock company.  Work in similar repertory troupes soon followed, but by 1931 many of these road shows had folded due to the Great Depression.  Olan and his bride Norma moved to New York, where the only employment available to the struggling young thespian was operating elevators and serving hamburgers “with the best actors in town.”  Two years later, Soule was in the Windy City where his job as a secretary-switchboard operator-file clerk would soon be discarded so that he could pursue his acting ambitions (okay—technically Olan was fired).

Although Olan Soule made his radio debut over KSO in Des Moines, Iowa in 1933, his first dramatic role was on Chicago’s WGN, with Uncle Quin’s Scalawags.  After that, Olan scored a regular role on Painted Dreams.  Soule soon became one of the Windy City’s busiest and most reliable actors; he played Bob Regent on Chandu the Magician, Coach Hardy on Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, and Chinese cook Aha on Little Orphan Annie (yes, really!).  Olan had a prominent role on Captain Midnight as L. William Kelly, second-in-command of the Secret Squadron.  Another long-running role was that of Sam Ryder on the popular daytime drama Bachelor’s Children, which originated over WGN.  During his time in Chicago, Soule appeared on such favorites as Author’s PlayhouseThe Chicago Theatre of the AirThe Couple Next Door (not the Peg Lynch-Alan Bunce series), Curtain TimeFifth Row CenterFreedom of OpportunityGrand HotelGrand MarqueeJenny PeabodyMidstreamThe Story of Joan and KermitA Tale of TodayTom Mix and His Ralston Straight ShootersValiant Lady, and The Wayside Theatre.

Olan Soule joined the cast of talented performers on The First Nighter Program in 1943, and three years later became that show’s designated leading man (opposite leading lady Barbara “Biddy” Luddy). The job lasted until Nighter left the airwaves in the fall of 1953.  That following year, Soule replaced Bob Bailey as George Valentine on the popular detective drama Let George Do It.  Olan was kept quite busy in the aural medium, with a c.v. that includes The Adventures of Philip MarloweThe Adventures of Sam SpadeBarrie Craig, Confidential InvestigatorBold VentureDragnetThe Great GildersleeveHave Gun – Will TravelI Was a Communist for the FBIInheritanceThe Lux Radio TheatreA Memo from MollyThe Railroad HourThe Romance of Helen TrentScreen Directors’ PlayhouseStars Over HollywoodTarzanToday’s ChildrenThe WhistlerYou Were ThereYour Movietown Radio Theatre, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.  Long after “Radio’s Golden Age” had ended, Soule was an enthusiastic participant in radio drama revivals like Heartbeat TheatreThe Hollywood Radio Theatre, and The Sears Radio Theatre.

Olan Soule once described himself as a “What’s-His-Name?” actor in motion pictures.  He may not have been a major star…but he worked much more often than the “major stars” did.  Olan’s name usually went missing from the onscreen credits (for example, he’s “Mr. Krull” in 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still) but his credited films include Cuban Fireball (1951), The Atomic City (1952), Francis Joins the WACS (1954), Dragnet (1954), Cult of the Cobra (1955), -30- (1959), The Bubble (1966), The Seven Minutes (1971), and The Towering Inferno (1974).  (Soule is uncredited in my favorite Hitchcock film, North by Northwest [1959], as the assistant to the auctioneer—played by Olan’s fellow radio chum Les Tremayne.)

On the small screen, however, Olan Soule’s billing was a different matter.  One of the reasons he had a prominent showcase in the 1954 feature film of TV’s Dragnet is because he reprised his role as lab technician Ray Pinker; Soule later speculated that more people recognized him from that program than any other.  But couch potatoes also knew Olan as scientist Aristotle “Tut” Jones on Captain Midnight (the only actor to do both the radio and TV versions), Cal on Stagecoach West (Soule’s list of boob tube Westerns appearances would stretch to infinity and beyond), choir director (and hotel clerk) John Masters on The Andy Griffith Show, and Fred Springer on the Herschel Bernardi sitcom Arnie.  Soule’s best-remembered TV gig would fall back on the skills he learned in radio, providing the voice of The Caped Crusader beginning with The Batman/Superman Hour in 1968 and ending with the last permutation of the “Super Friends” franchise in 1983.  According to the IMDb, one of Olan’s final gigs was playing a crime scene technician in the 1991 movie Homicide (most appropriate!).  He passed away in 1994 at the age of 84.

On radio’s Honest Harold (The Harold Peary Show), today’s birthday boy had a recurring role as Mr. Peabody, the radio station manager (and Harold Hemp’s boss).  Radio Spirits invites you to check out Olan Soule’s wonderful flair for comedy in our The Harold Peary Show: Honest Harold collection, as well as our The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, Have Gun — Will Travel: Bitter Vengeance, I Was a Communist for the FBI: Sleeper, and Stop the Press! sets, too.

Happy Birthday, Victor Moore!

In the 1945 Warner Bros. cartoon Ain’t That Ducky, Daffy Duck encounters a most unusual hunter: a sportsman who looks and sounds like veteran comic actor Victor Moore.  As you can probably guess, there is a simple explanation for this—the hunter is Victor Moore, born Victor Frederick Moore in Hammonton, New Jersey on this date in 1876.  Friz Freleng, the director of Ducky, approached Victor about appearing in the Daffy short and when the comedian said yes, had a caricature of Moore prepared to show him how he’d look in the proposed cartoon.  “I love it,” Victor enthused, “if you’d just put more hair on my head.”  Moore lent his own voice to the animated project…and refused to charge Warner’s a cent.

Ain’t That Ducky was just a small entry in the logbook that comprised Victor Moore’s lengthy stage and screen career, which purportedly got underway with a small non-speaking role in an 1893 Boston Theatre production of Babes in the Woods.  Moore made his Broadway debut in Rosemary (1896) and achieved major fame and acclaim as “Kid Burns” in George M. Cohan’s Forty-five Minutes from Broadway in 1906. (Victor would reprise his role in Cohan’s sequel, The Talk of New York, the following year.)  In addition to hits like The Happiest Night of His Life (1911), Victor was a major success on the vaudeville stage.

The story goes that after undergoing an appendectomy in Los Angeles in 1915, Victor Moore decided to try his luck in motion pictures.  Assisting Victor in this goal was screenwriter Beatrice DeMille (a co-founder of Paramount Pictures), whose son Cecil directed the comedian in two short features, Chimmie Fadden and Chimmie Fadden Out West (both 1915).  After a series of five-reelers for the studio, Moore appeared in one-reel shorts like The Wrong Mr. Fox (1917) as part of Paramount’s “Klever Komedies” franchise until 1918, when he elected to return to the stage. Except for the occasional foray into the flickers like 1926’s The Man Who Found Himself, Victor concentrated on productions like Oh, Kay! (1926), Hold Everything! (1928), and Heads Up (1929).

1931 was a particularly memorable year in Victor Moore’s storied career amongst the footlights.  As “Vice President Alexander Throttlebottom” in George and Ira Gershwin’s satirical musical Of Thee I Sing, Victor scored one of his biggest Broadway successes.  Sing was also the first of a long string of productions to feature William Gaxton (as “President John P. Wintergreen”) as Moore’s comedic partner; the two men would reprise their roles in the Gershwins’ less-successful sequel, Let ‘Em Eat Cake! (1933).  Victor and William would continue their double act antics in Anything Goes (1934), Leave it to Me! (1938), Louisiana Purchase (1940), Keep ‘Em Laughing (1942), Hollywood Pinafore (1945), and Nellie Bly (1946).  The duo became so well-identified that they co-starred with Mae West in the 1943 motion picture comedy The Heat’s On and for two seasons (1942-44) were semi-regulars on Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy’s Chase & Sanborn radio program.

What Victor Moore and William Gaxton were to the stage—Moore and Helen Broderick were to motion pictures.  Successfully teamed in Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ 1936 musical Swing Time, the couple would grace five additional features for R-K-O, notably We’re on the Jury (1937) and a movie reviewed here on the blog, Radio City Revels (1938).  These film appearances would lead to their own starring NBC/CBS radio program, Twin Stars of Mirth and Laughter, in January of 1937.  Victor’s radio resume at this time also included guest shots on Rudy Vallee’s Fleischmann Yeast Hour and The Camel Caravan.  Moore’s finest hour onscreen would also be released around this time: Make Way for Tomorrow (1937), a Leo McCarey-directed heartbreaker about an elderly couple (Moore, Beulah Bondi) let down by their kids when they need them the most.

Though William Gaxton would reprise his stage role of “Jim Taylor” alongside Victor Moore’s “Senator Oliver P. Loganberry” in a February 22, 1943 dramatization of Louisiana Purchase on radio’s The Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre, Gaxton forfeited that part to Bob Hope when Purchase got the silver screen treatment in 1941.  Victor and Bob would be part of the all-star cast of Star Spangled Rhythm the following year.  Among the big movies to feature Moore in the 1940’s: Riding High (1943), True to Life (1943), It’s in the Bag! (1945; star Fred Allen introduces him as “Grandma’s glamour boy”), Ziegfeld Follies (1946; “Pay the two dollars!”), It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947), On Our Merry Way (1948), and A Kiss in the Dark (1949).

Victor Moore was quite busy on radio; he guested on such favorites as Amos ‘n’ Andy, G.I. Journal, The Harold Lloyd Comedy Theatre, Lincoln Highway, The Lux Radio Theatre, Paul Whiteman Presents, Radio Almanac, The Radio Hall of Fame, The Raleigh Room, The Texaco Star Theatre (with Fred Allen), Theatre of Romance, and The Victory Theatre.  After a series of guest appearances on The Jimmy Durante Show during the 1947-48 season (including a three-week period while ”the Schnozzola” recovered from surgery), Moore became a regular, described as “the Lothario of the lumbago set.”  Rounding out Victor’s radio resume: Command Performance, Family Theatre, Hallmark Playhouse, The Kraft Music Hall (with Al Jolson), The Martin and Lewis Show, Philco Radio Time (with Bing Crosby), The Railroad Hour, and The Sealtest Variety Theatre.

Victor Moore returned to the Broadway stage in the 1950s in productions like On Borrowed Time (1953) and Carousel (1957) while making time for live television on shows frontend by Milton Berle and Ed Wynn.  Victor also had two of his funniest film showcases during this decade. In We’re Not Married! (1952), he’s the Justice of the Peace whose boo-boo puts the six story vignettes in motion, and he’s a delight as a plumber in his cinematic swan song, The Seven Year Itch (1955).  Moore left this world for a better one in 1962 at the age of 86.

Despite Victor Moore’s popularity with Jimmy Durante’s audiences, Jimmy Durante Show director-producer Phil Cohan never felt Moore belonged on the program.  We’re going to let you be the jury by inviting you to check out the birthday boy on our CD collection The Jimmy Durante Show.  You’ll also find Victor and his confederate William Gaxton on our Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy set Homefront Charlie, available in our digital downloads store!

Happy Birthday, Ann Sheridan!

In Tinsel Town, she was known as “The Oomph Girl.”  Ann Sheridan—born on this date in 1915—loathed the nickname.  “Just being known by a nickname indicates that you’re not thought of as a true actress,” she reflected in later years.  “If you call an actress by her looks or a reaction, then that’s all she will ever be thought of as.”  Sheridan was understandably put out by the moniker that suggested she was little more than a pin-up girl (which, admittedly, she was in the early 1940s) instead of a versatile, intelligent performer vastly underrated by Hollywood.  Ann was also resigned to the reality that being perceived in that fashion certainly didn’t hurt her career any: “I know if it hadn’t been for ‘oomph’ I’d probably still be in the chorus.”

Denton, Texas was where Clara Lou Sheridan called home, the youngest of five children born to Lula Stewart and George W. Sheridan.  Although she dabbled in high school dramatics, Sheridan’s ambition was to become a teacher—pursuing that field of study at North Texas State Teachers College.  Her sister Kitty had other plans; she submitted Clara Lou’s photo to a “Search for Beauty” contest conducted by Paramount Pictures, with the prize being a screen test and a bit part in a 1934 film, Search for Beauty.  The studio then signed Clara Lou to a contract at a starting salary of $75 a week.  Sheridan appeared in several films, mostly in uncredited bit roles, but occasionally receiving billing in vehicles like Come On, Marines!Kiss and Make-Up, and Ladies Should Listen (all released in 1934).

By the time Clara Lou Sheridan made Behold, My Wife! in 1934 she had changed her name to “Ann Sheridan,” inspired by a character she portrayed in the play The Milky Way.  Behold turned out to be a good early showcase for Ann, getting positive notices (including a standout scene where her character commits suicide). Although Sheridan continued to do solid work in features like Car 99Rocky Mountain Mystery, and The Glass Key (all 1935), Paramount chose not to renew her contract after loaning her to Poverty Row studio Talisman for The Red Blood of Courage (1935).  Ann then appeared in Fighting Youth (1935) for Universal and signed a contract with Warner Bros. the following year.

Ann Sheridan was signed to Warner’s to appear in musicals but found a niche in the studio’s hard-hitting “social” dramas. She did three with Humphrey Bogart: Black Legion (1936), The Great O’Malley (1937), and San Quentin (1937).  (The last picture cast them as brother and sister, so offscreen they jokingly referred to one another as “Brother Bogie” and “Sister Annie.”)  Ann also graced many a Warner’s B-picture: Alcatraz Island (1937), The Patient in Room 318 (1938), and Mystery House (1938), to name a few.  A loan-out to Universal for Letter of Introduction (1938; featuring Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy) resulted in such favorable notices that the Warner’s brass cast her alongside James Cagney in Angels with Dirty Faces (1938).  This motion picture classic reunited her with her fellow O’Malley/San Quentin players Bogart and Pat O’Brien and was the first of three films she’d appear in with the “Dead End” Kids (the other two were 1939’s They Made Me a Criminal and The Angels Wash Their Faces).

There would be more Ann Sheridan-James Cagney pictures to follow (1940’s Torrid Zone and City for Conquest) as well as Bogie (They Drive by Night and It All Came True, both 1940), and Sheridan had fond memories of working alongside Errol Flynn in Dodge City (1939) and Edge of Darkness (1943).  Ann got star billing in 1941’s Kings Row and while her performance—one of the finest of her career—was singled out by the National Board of Review, she failed to get an Oscar nomination. In fact, she was repeatedly snubbed by the Academy Awards during her time in Hollywood.

Ann Sheridan didn’t do a lot of radio: as she explained on an August 19, 1945 broadcast of Songs by Morton Downey, she often suffered from “mike fright.”  Sheridan did guest on such series as The Bill Stern Colgate Sports NewsreelCommand PerformanceThe Gulf/Lady Esther Screen Guild TheatreMail Call, and The Smiths of Hollywood.  In addition, funsters like Eddie Cantor, George Burns & Gracie Allen, Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, and Jack Benny requested Ann’s presence on their programs—Jack even made a picture with Ann, George Washington Slept Here (1942).

Back at Warner Bros., Ann Sheridan co-starred with Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson in features like Wings for the Eagle (1942) and Shine on Harvest Moon (1944); the trio also comprised the all-star Warner’s cast in Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943), where Ann sang Love Isn’t Born (It’s Made).  Sheridan, Morgan, and Carson would team up for one final Warner’s film, One More Tomorrow (1946), but the actress’ post-War successes fell short of her earlier popularity.  She went out on a high note at the studio with Nora Prentiss (1947), The Unfaithful (1947), and Silver River (1948; her last feature film with Errol Flynn). Borrowed by director Leo McCarey for 1948’s Good Sam, Sheridan became a freelancer in such features as the classic screwball comedy I Was a Male War Bride (1949) and the recently restored noir Woman on the Run (1950, which she also produced).

Woman on the Run would be released by Universal, who signed Ann Sheridan to a contract and cast her in movies like Just Across the Street (1952) and Take Me to Town (1953).  One of her last features was made at Republic: Come Next Spring (1956), recently showcased on Turner Classic Movies.  Ann gradually faded from the silver screen and began doing small screen (TV) work like Playhouse 90 and Wagon Train.  A brief relocation to New York gave Sheridan opportunities for stage work and a role on the daytime drama Another World.  Her last work on television was starring on the comedy-Western Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats; Ann was clearly ill while working on the series, and she succumbed to esophageal cancer at the age of 51 in 1967.

I mentioned earlier in this essay that today’s birthday girl had once joked and joshed with the likes of George Burns & Gracie Allen; you can find that September 28, 1943 broadcast on Treasury, available in our digital downloads store.  But you can also check out Ann on the 2-CD set The Westerns: Music and Songs From Classic Westerns, featuring toe-tapping ditties from cinematic sagebrush sagas.  Sheridan’s rendition of Marching Through Georgia/Dixie from Dodge City (1939) is just one of the many highlights.

Happy Birthday, Clark Gable!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When man hunts man!”

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