This is an online encyclopedia of personalities of Old Time Radio. It is designed for educational and entertainment purposes.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Abe Lincoln (1907-2000)

Abram Lincoln was born March 29, 1907, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He began studying cornet with his father at the age of five. His dad never let him go to bed at night until he played all major and minor scales. Eventually, Abe settled on the trombone as his instrument. In 1921, he became the solo trombonist with his dad's band, the Bud Lincoln Orchestra, which was also known as the Brunswick Orchestra.

In time, Abe became friends with many of the great hot jazz musicians of the time, including the Dorsey Brothers. After Tommy Dorsey joined the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, Abe took his place with the California Ramblers.

In time, Abe was a member of several of the best known bands of the 1920s and 1930s.

He joined the Ozzie Nelson Orchestra in 1934. If a listener pays attention on Ripley's Believe It or Not, one can hear some of the most unusual trombone playing. He became notorious for making animal sounds with his trombone.

Abe was heard on many of the best know and loved radio programs of the Golden Years of Radio. Although his real love was jazz, he was one of the most innovative trombonists of all time. When Universal Pictures created Woody Woodpecker cartoons, his trombone was often the sound of the little red bird.

He was married in 1921 and had a son, Abe Lincoln, Jr.

Abe Lincoln died June 8, 2000, at the age of 93 in Los Angeles.


Speaking of Lincolns, Robert Todd Lincoln (1843-1926) was the only one of President Abraham Lincoln's four sons who lived past puberty. By the time his father was inaugurated President, the eldest son was already out of the house (as a student at Harvard University). In 1865 he left school to join the Union Army. He rose to the rank of captain and was present at Appomattox when General Robert E. Lee surrendered.

He had a distant relationship with his father. He was present at Ford's Theater when actor John Wilkes Booth shot his father and was one of the few who stayed around to see him die. He openly wept.

After the Civil War was over he enrolled at the University of Chicago (not the same as the present University of Chicago) and finished his studies in law. He was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1867. The following year, he married Mary Eunice Harlan (1846-1937). They had two daughters and a son (the son, Abraham Lincoln, II, called "Jack," died of blood poisoning at the age of 16 in London, England).

One of the terrible trivial tidbits about Robert Todd Lincoln was that whenever there was a Presidential assassination he was there.
-Abraham Lincoln (Ford's Theater, Washington, DC)
-James Abram Garfield (Sixth Street Train Station, Washington, DC)
-William McKinley (Pan American Exposition, Buffalo, NY)

After a political/service career, Robert Todd Lincoln took over for George Pullman in 1898 when he died, Lincoln served as president of the Pullman Company until 1911, after which time he served as Chairman of the Board.

Robert Todd Lincoln died July 26, 1926, in Manchester, Vermont, at the age of 83.

Danny Kaye (1913-87)

David Daniel Kaminski was born January 18, 1913, in Brooklyn, New York. He was the son of Jacob Kaminsky (yes, the spelling was different) and his wife, the former Clara Nemerov. With their sons, Mack and Larry, they emigrated from the Ukraine to the United States in 1910. For school, he attended P.S. 149 in Brooklyn before going on to Thomas Jefferson High School also in Brooklyn, but he never even finished the first year, leaving at the age of 13.

At that time, Danny became a tummler, which is Yiddish for master of ceremonies at Jewish resorts in the Katskill Mountains of Pennsylvania. Danny would do many other things and, as it can be seen from the program on the right, he experimented with different names. He did many other jobs that had nothing to do with entertainment.

In 1935 he acted in some shorts for Educational Films, usually as a Russian musician acting with future stars June Allyson and Imogene Coca (his contract actually began in 1936). Sadly that division of 20th Century-Fox shut down in 1938 which meant the end of Danny's film career, at least for six years.

Danny premiered on Broadway in 1941 in a show called, Lady in the Dark. He stopped the show with a tongue twisting song called Tchaikovsky. It was written by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin.

He began doing some experimental radio programs in 1940. He starred in his own program beginning in 1945, about a year after his "big break" in motion pictures. Also in 1940, he married a young pianist by the name of Sylvia Fine (1913-91). They remained married until his death in 1987. They had a daughter, named Dena who was born in 1946.

Danny is best known for his movie career which included such films at The Court Jester, The Inspector General, and started out with Up in Arms.

In the 1950s, he wrote for Mad Magazine. In the 1960s he had his own variety show. Toward the end of his life, he appeared in a number of comedy shows and was lauded for a dramatic film called Skokie.
He was a life long Democrat and active with UNICEF and also owned a baseball team in Seattle.

Danny Kaye died March 3, 1987, at the age of 74 in Los Angeles of hepatitis.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Lorne Greene (1915-87)

Lyon Chaim Green was born February 12, 1915, in Ottawa, Ontario. His parents were Russian Jewish immigrants to Canada, Daniel and Dora Green. He attended Lisgar Collegiate Institute (a public high school), where he earned his diploma in 1932. He then attended Queens University in Kingston, where he majored in chemical engineering. He was also involved drama and worked at the school radio station, CFRC. An excellent student, his professors had the idea that the young man was going to be a wonderful chemical engineer. But he changed majors in the middle of his college career and took a degree in languages so he could spend more time with drama activities.

When he graduated from Queens in 1937, rather than go into engineering, he went in for broadcasting, he spent some time in New York City to get some honest to goodness
drama training. Unfortunately, being at the deepest depths of the Depression, there were no jobs and he was not a US citizen. So he went back to Canada.

He walked into the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) studios in Ottawa and was hired on the spot, thanks to his, low booming voice, even as a young adult.

In 1938 he married Rita Hands; they would have two children, twins born in 1945 named Susan and Charles.

In 1939, he became the principal newsreader for CBC's national evening news broadcasts. It was also this time he became known as Lorne Greene, which was based on his birth name. Having an unusual deep, rich voice, when they heard his voice, they said they had to have him. The Canadian Broadcasting Company billed him as the Voice of Canada. To most Canadians listening to the radio in 1939-42, he became known as the Voice of Doom, because when they heard his voice, it was normally tragic news about the war in Europe.He also narrated a number of documentary films for schools.

From late 1942 to early 1945 Lorne served as a flying officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force.When he returned from military service he went in more for acting. He began acting on the radio and worked in television as soon as it became available. Lorne helped establish the Academy of Radio Arts (founded as the Lorne Greene School of Broadcasting) and the Jupiter Theatre (1951).

In 1953, he made the move to California to try his luck at Hollywood acting. He got a lot of acting work on television and his booming voice also helped him to get work as narrator for more of those school documentary films,when times were lean.

The biggest break in his life was when he was cast as Ben Cartwright in the dramatic western series, Bonanza. Debuting in 1959 on NBC, it would be the defining role of his life. Lorne would go on to do animal shows and dog food commercials, but he would always be Ben Cartwright, the owner of the Ponderosa Ranch for those of us who watched him every week through September 1973. This was one of the greatest family television shows of all time.

Lorne Greene died September 11, 1987, following heart surgery in Santa Monica, California. He was 72 years old. Married twice, first to Rita Hands (1938-60) and then to Nancy Deale (1961-87), he was the father of three children. Green is buried at Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City, California.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Liberace (1919-87)

Wladziu Valentino Liberace was born May 16, 1919, in West Aldis, Wisconsin. His family was quite musical. His father, Salvatore Liberace (1885-1977) played the (French) horn with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. His mother, Frances Zuchowsky (1891-1990), was a pianist. By the time young "Walter" was four, he could play anything on the piano by ear. He learned both from listening to his mother and from experimentation. Because of his parents' connections, he was able to earn money as a piano player when he was in his early teens. But his father did not want his children involved in music.

Walter had three siblings, brothers George (1911-83) and Rudolph (1931-67), and a sister, Angelina (1914-96).  They were all musicians. 

Walter made his big time piano debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the age of 14. He didn't just play the classics. He had a dance combo ("The Mixers") at the same time and later played piano in nightclubs as a student at the University of Wisconsin. He used the pseudonym Walter Busterkeys for those gigs. 

After graduating from college, he moved to California to try his hand at some kind of stardom. He was not against doing any kind of work. The first movie that he was in where he could be seen (even though unbilled) was Best Foot Forward (1943), in which he appeared as a piano player (what else?)

It was after this time that Liberace began his radio career. (Don't blink too fast or you might miss it!)  He wasn't only a piano soloist at this time, so he played in the orchestra for a number of radio programs that aired between 1941 and 1950, originating from Los Angeles. As a soloist, he played for the Texaco Star Theater (starring James Melton) and a number of Armed Forces Radio Service shows.

After 1950, he began working in television. His local TV show on channel 13 in Los Angeles was often poked fun at in Warner Brothers cartoons.

Now something should be said about his music. He was what most people would call a classical musician. He played Chopin, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, and all those other guys. But he liked everything. He was Elvis Presley's friend. He had friends who worked in country and western music.

Probably the most controversial aspect of Liberace's life was his sexuality. His homosexuality was rumored as early as 1945, when he began to make a name for himself in radio.  Fortunately, the world was a much more innocent place during the time between the 1930s and the 1960s. Liberace's sexuality was something most people really didn't care about. He was a heck of a piano player. He had a nice personality. He was respectful. 

But there was a homosexual episode that happened in England that got coverage in several magazines. Because it was a defamation to his character (and, while what he did was probably immoral, but it wasn't illegal) he successfully sued a British publication for the equivalent of $110,000 in 1957. That was the setting for his one joke, "I cried all the way to the bank." With his settlement money, he was able to make some shrewd investments. From that he had a second joke: "You know the bank where I went crying to? I bought it!"

His career took a nosedive in the early 1960s as the world was going through some changes which made us all a little less innocent. Paul Harvey would tell of the story how Liberace had a performance one November and he couldn't get one of his suits cleaned. So he had some chemicals in his hotel room and cleaned the clothes in his room of the hotel where he was staying.  But the room wasn't well ventilated and he breathed in too much of the noxious chemicals. He tried to yell for help, but the dry cleaning chemicals made it so he couldmake no sounds and he began to pass out. 

The radio was on. The President of the United States was spending the day in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. And suddenly there was a commotion. Liberace almost completely passed out. But he listened intently to the radio. He prayed, not for himself, but for the country. He was scared of what might happen. And Liberace clung to his life as he worried about the President's life. 

A maintenance man was doing some work in the all of the hotel. He lingered near Liberace's room and listened to the radio. It concerned him, too. He knocked on the door to ask if the radio could be turned up. Liberace tried to say something, but nothing came from his mouth. The maintenance man heard this and opened the door with his master key. Seeing Liberace lying on the floor, he called an ambulance. As the medical personnel came to pick him up, it was announced on the radio that President John F. Kennedy was pronounced dead.

But after this, his career really took off. He had been working in the motion picture industry for some time since 1950.  But by the mid 1960s he was doing everything. He was even a guest villain on the Batman series!

That lasted into the 1970s. Then he began making public appearances. Most of his fans were middle aged women. Most of them were married. They didn't care about the gossip about his sexuality. Liberace was an A1 entertainer and he was a gentleman. And such a great pianist!

Liberace died on February 4, 1987, in Palm Springs, California. Because so many aspects about his life were kept secret, there were thousands of reporters at the Riverside County Administration Center in Riverside (Palm Springs is in Riverside County). When the Riverside coroner announced that he died from AIDS, itwas big news.  He is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Hollywood Hills, in Los Angeles, in a large white crypt with his mother and older brother.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Milton Cross (1897-1975)

Milton John Cross was born March 16, 1897, in New York, New York.  In 1910, at the age of 13, he saw his first performance of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. He was a trained serious singer, a tenor.  For about five years, he had a distinguished singing career.  In 1923, he became the pioneer announcer of radio station WJZ in Newark, New Jersey, during the days of radio's infancy. He also announced part of the inauguration of President Herbert Hoover in 1929. WJZ eventually moved to New York City, where it became the flagship station of the Blue Network of NBC, sharing facilities with WEAF. WJZ is known as WABC today. WEAF became WNBC and is known as WFAN today. WJZ moved from 30 Rockefeller Plaza in 1946 when the Blue Network, which had already broken from NBC in 1942, became known as ABC.

On December 24, 1931, NBC began to broadcast the concerts of the Metropolitan Opera and Milton Cross became the Voice of the Metropolitan. Since opera broadcasts don't happen every day, Mr. Cross announced other programs on NBC.  He announced game shows, gothic dramas, and mostly musical shows. OTR fans know him best as the narrator for This is Your FBI. He narrated the program and helped sell some darned good life insurance. It's difficult for most fans of Old Time Radio hear his voice and not think of him saying,  "... the Equitable Life Assurance Society." 

He continued broadcasting the Metropolitan Opera for exactly 43 years.  He only missed two broadcasts for all those years. The first time was in 1933, when his eight year old daughter, Lillian Gale died. The second time was 40 years later in 1973 when his wife, also named Lillian, died. Incidentally, the tombstone for Lillian Gale originally intended for her alone. But it ended up also marking the grave of her parents, who are buried on top of her.

His movie career only consists of four pictures: Historic Greece (a 1941 school documentary); Gaslight Follies (a documentary from 1945 in four parts about entertainment of the past--he narrates the first part; the other narrators are Ben Grauer, John B. Kennedy, and Ethel Owen); Fifty Years Before Your Eyes (a 1950 documentary about the twentieth century); and Grounds for Marriage (a 1951 comedy, in which Mr. Cross narrates a dream scene from George Bizet's opera Carmen).

Old Time Radio fans remember Milton Cross as the narrator of This is Your FBI, as stated previously. But he only narrated 18 episodes of that series. He did much more work on Information Please, the Chamber Society of Lower Basin Street, and the soap opera Betty and Bob.

Book lovers know Milton Cross from the musical reference books he authored, edited, or co-authored. While, because of their popular appeal, they have never been widely accepted as textbooks for serious musical study, because of their simplicity, many postgraduate students of music have relied on his material to help them study for their final written comprehensive examinations (including your loyal 'Blogger!) These books are written in the form of novels. They lack cross referencing, which is  what college textbooks should have. 

Here are some of the books Milton Cross authored, edited or co-wrote:
  • Complete Stories of the Great Operas
  • More Stories of the Great Operas 
  • Encyclopedia of the Great Composers and Their Music [two volumes] (with David Ewen)
  • Milton Cross' Favorite Arias from the Great Operas
  • From the Beauty of Embers: A Musical Aftermath (with Gordon M. Eby)
Cross never retired. He died suddenly at the age of 77, of a heart attack, at his home in New York City on January 2, 1975. He was getting ready for his next broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera.


Texaco (later Chevron/Texaco) was the sole sponsor of the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts 1940-2004.  Originally, the Met was sponsored by a pool of advertisers, as most commercial broadcasts are sponsored today. These sponsors included Lucky Strike cigarettes, Listerine toothpaste and mouthwash, and RCA electronics. Today the sponsor is Toll Brothers house contractors.

Raymond Knight (1899-1953)

Raymond Knight was born February 12, 1899, in Salem, Massachusetts. A scholar, Ray graduated from Boston University with undergraduate and law degrees and passed the Massachusetts Bar examination. But rather than go into law, he went in for more education and attended Harvard University's 47 Workshop, where he studied drama and writing. Ray then began studying drama at Yale University. 

In 1927, he made his debut on Broadway in the musical revue, The Manhatters, which ran from August through October of that year.  

Ray earned most of his living from writing. He was a very versatile performer who was witty, charming, and mostly satirical. In 1929 Bertha "Betty" Brainard (1890-1956), who was the programmer for NBC in New York, told Ray, who was writing several shows and commercials at the time, to come up with something cuckoo for the Blue Network.

What he came up with was the most popular radio comedy program of the 1930s: The KUKU Hour.  This show was the forerunner to most of what America thought was funny afterwards. Ray, unlike most of the other radio personalities at the time, didn't have a background in vaudeville. He did all of his work within a short distance from home. Consequently, Ray had a good grasp on what people did when they were at home. Nothing was safe from Ray Knight's sarcasm. It wasn't meant to be rude or upsetting. But the KUKU Hour was so different from anything that was going on at the time. He would bounce back and forth between networks. The show started on NBC and was there for a few years before moving to Mutual. 

The KUKU Hour did not always have the same characters but it would have the same elements in each show. One of these was a segment called the "Firing Squad." In this, Ray would make comments about a person, a group, or an idea, and then have everyone in the studio shoot at it with toy guns (paper cap guns were provided for members of the studio audience and even the technical people got involved in this!)

Ray also worked on the children's series Wheatenaville Sketches, in which he played Billy Batchelor, the publisher of the town newspaper. 

Ladies Love Hats was Ray's one motion picture appearance. This 18 minute film premiered at movie theaters on November 1, 1935.

In 1938, Ray wrote a comedy play for Broadway, Run Sheep Run. It started on November 3 and ran for 12 days, closing on November 15. Two of the cast members were William Bendix and Dick Van Patten (who was quite young at the time)

Ray created a soap opera called A House in the Country. It was the story of Joan and Bruce and their trials and tribulations. Ray played the part of shopkeeper on the show, which aired from October 1941 to October 1942. 

During World War II, after ABC (the Blue Network) broke off from NBC, Ray was the network's national program manager (roughly the same job that Betty Brainard had at NBC). 

He wrote articles of all kinds for many magazines. 

Ray's last job was writing for the radio comedy team of Bob and Ray (Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding) on CBS from about 1949.

Ray Knight died on his 54th birthday, February 12, 1953, in New York City. His widow, Lee, married Bob Elliott in 1954. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Did Anyone Say Cereal?

Kellogg's Pep - - Kellogg's introduced this cereal in 1923, it was whole wheat flakes. Radio programs sponsored by Pep included Superman, Breakfast in Hollywood, and Tom Corbett - - Space Cadet. It wasn't the first cereal to have mail-in offers for boxtops, but it was one of the first to put the things other cereal companies required boxtops for. Pep had such premiums as badges, balsa wood airplanes, trading cards, and cars.

Pep cereal ceased production in 1979.

Quaker Puffed Wheat (Sparkies) and Quaker Puffed Rice (Sparkies) - - Quaker Puffed Wheat and Quaker Puffed Rice were the first cold cereals made by Quaker Oats. The slogan that these are shot from guns was not just hype.Early in the twentieth century, the company devised a machine that takes kernels of wheat and rice and expands them eight times their original size. It's a long tube that actually shoots them into a large container.The Dick Tracy program in the 1930s often had recorded sounds of this machine in action.

Radio programs which were sponsored by Quaker Puffed Wheat and Quaker Puffed Rice included Babe Ruth (1935), Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, Roy Rogers, and Gene Autry.

The name of the cereal was changed to Sparkies in 1939 as the company thought the names "Puffed Wheat" and "Puffed Rice" sounded too generic as other companies were making the same cereals. They went back to their original name in 1950.

Although they aren't listed on the Quaker Oats website, these cereals are still being produced.

Post Huskies - - Lou Gehrig said it was the only cereal he would eat... "...and I've eaten them all!" Huskies was a whole wheat flake. In fact, this was the original wheat flake, whose history went back to 1912, 11 years before Kellogg's Pep, and 13 years before Wheaties.

In the 1930s, Huskies was the sponsor of many of the most popular shows including Ripley's Believe It or Not, Joe Penner, Young Dr. Malone, and many athletic contests.

Huskies went out of production prior to World War II.

Shredded Ralston - - This was the cold cereal that Tom Mix ate (there were two Tom Mixes). However this isn't the one that can be purchased now. That is the hot cereal. The cold version was introduced in the 1920s. It was similar to shredded wheat, only coarser and harder. Even though it wasn't the same cereal, when Ralston-Purina introduced Wheat Chex, Shredded Ralston was discontinued. This was about the same time the Tom Mix radio program finally went off the air (ten years after the real Tom Mix was killed in a car accident in Arizona.)

Shredded Ralston had its own jingle:

Shredded Ralston for your breakfast
Starts the day off shining bright;
Gives you lots of cowboy energy
With a flavor that's just right!
It's delicious and nutritious,
Bite sized, and ready to eat
Take a tip from Tom:
Go and tell your mom:
"Shredded Ralston can't be beat!"

Shredded Ralston was manufactured by the Ralston-Purina Company at Checkerboard Square in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1998, the cereal division of that company was sold to General Mills, except for the pet food and private label cereal divisions. The pet food division was sold to Nestle. The company that was left became Ralcorp. In August 2008, the Post division of Kraft Foods (formerly of General Foods)was sold to Ralcorp.

Wheaties - - Wheaties was said to have been created by accident in 1922 when some batter for a cooking experiment was dropped on a hot stove at the Washburn Crosby Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After going through several tests, it was sold as a cold cereal in 1924. Washburn Crosby became General Mills (with the acquisition of 27 grain mills) in 1928.

The slogan for the cereal, Breakfast of Champions, was coined in 1926. This was the same year the jingle was written...

Have you tried Wheaties?
They're whole wheat with all of the bran.

Won't you try Wheaties?

For wheat is the best food for man.

Written to the tune of a popular song at the time, Jazz Baby, the commercial jingle first aired on December 24, 1926.

The first person who had his picture on a box of Wheaties was Lou Gehrig in 1934. He was a spokesman for Post Huskies, an almost identical product. Babe Ruth also appeared on the Wheaties box and he had a contract with Quaker Oats at the time. Until 1958, all the athletes pictures were on the back of the box. Gehrig and Ruth had pictures which could be clipped as trading cards.

On Old Time Radio, Wheaties first sponsored baseball and football games. It then became the sole sponsor for Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy. The jingle was expanded to include something about Jack Armstrong eating them. The 15 minute daily soap opera was actually, more or less, a long commercial for Wheaties. The story seemed to take second place. However,the program was so popular. Jim Ameche (1915-83), who played Jack said that grocery stores were often out of Wheaties for weeks.The company had to work extra hard to put out more and more cereal, especially if there was a special mail in offer for a toy or a piece of athletic equipment. Wheaties also sponsored the Lone Ranger, Night Beat, and Tales of the Texas Rangers.

The first man who had his picture on the front of a box of Wheaties was the Rev. Bob Richards (b. 1926), USA Olympic champion of the 1956 games at Melbourne, Australia, who had also competed in the games at London (1948) and Helsinki (1952). He was the main spokesman for the cereal for the next ten years.

Wheaties now come in different flavors.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Graham McNamee (1888-1942)

Graham McNamee was born July 10, 1888, in Washington, DC. He grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. After completing his postsecondary studies, in 1912 he moved to New York where he became a serious singer (some people would say "opera singer".) He had a very active career in his area, singing in choirs and small groups, as well as solo work. He was a baritone.

One afternoon in 1923, after serving jury duty, he wandered into the AT&T Building to the studios of station WEAF. He asked the staff how he could get a job as an announcer. They auditioned him and he was hired then.

Within days, he became the first baseball announcer in history, as he broadcast a preseason game between the New York Giants and the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds. The folks in Chicago heard about this and WMAQ became the second station to broadcast Major League baseball games.

Graham McNamee became the voice of everything... from horse racing to boxing to football to the National Marble Championships. He was the announcer for the 1924 Republican National Convention (in Cleveland, Ohio), the first political rally EVER broadcast. He was the announcer for the first coast to coast broadcast of the Rose Bowl football game (the University of Alabama tied Leland Stanford, Jr., University 7-7) in Pasadena, California. He was on hand when Charles A. Lindbergh returned to America from his transatlantic flight. McNamee was ringside on September 22, 1927, in a fight known as the Battle of the Long Count, between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney (won by Tunney). And he announced everything that could be announced concerning baseball at the time.

OTR aficionados know him best as being Ed Wynn's straight man.  He could be also heard on Rudy Vallee's program and many other shows originating from New York.

His voice was also familiar to moviehouse attenders in the late 1930s as he was the voice that announced the Universal Pictures Newsreel every week.  Although he was connected with NBC, he did make the report about the infamous Marian broadcast on Orson Welles' Mercury Theater on October 30, 1938. The newsreel was out the second week in November.

Graham McNamee died May 9, 1942, in New York City. He was survived by his wife, Josephine Garrett, a fellow serious singer who continued her career during their marriage. McNamee was 53 years old. He is buried at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio.

Mc Namee had such a friendly way of ending his broadcasts: "This is Graham McNamee speaking, good night, all."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Jack Latham (1914-87)

John Jackson Latham was born December 27, 1914, in Washington State. After graduation from high school, partly because of the Depression, he moved to Los Angeles to be a movie star. For his first six years in Hollywood he received nothing but bit parts and background ("extras.") But he found work as a radio announcer for Earle C. Anthony, who owned radio stations KFI and KECA.

Jack's voice was very authoratative. He also had looks that were stern and impressive. That didn't matter much for radio, except that it got the studio audience quiet. Eventually JackLatham would be heard on a number of programs on all the networks: NBC, ABC, CBS, and Mutual. He never mentioned his name. The sternness of his demeanor were actually not true. Jack was a very humble man who was happy with every job he ever had. In 1949, he began a 20 year relationship with the NBC owned and operated television station. At the same time, he became the announcer for The Man Called X (starring Herbert Marshall).

The station now known as KNBC-TV has its humble beginnings in the back room of Radio City West, at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street. The television station almost didn't happen. As KNBH (the "H" stood for Hollywood) it was the second NBC affiliate in Los Angeles. It began on January 16, 1949. Earle C. Anthony, owner of the NBC radio station, KFI (KECA was acquired by ABC in 1945), started KFI-TV (now KCAL-TV) in August 1948. It broadcast kinescopes of NBC network programs made in New York, as well as programs produced at Radio City West. When KNBH went on the air, many of KFI-TV's staff went there to stay with the NBC network. Channel 4 was the next to the last VHF station to go on the air.

Jack Latham broadcast the news twice a night, at 7:30 and 11:00. Each of these broadcasts was only 15 minutes long. This was as long as any other station in the Los Angeles area at that time.

Here is a list of the stations that existed in 1949 and what happened with them...

Note: Los Angeles did not have one Dumont network station. All of the independent stations broadcast one or a few Dumont shows during the lifetime of that network (1947-55).
2 KTSL (Independent) 1947-1951 Owned by Don Lee Broadcasting
KTSL (Independent) 1951 Owned by RKO-General (very briefly)
KNXT (CBS) 1951-1984 Owned by CBS
KCBS-TV (CBS) 1984-present Owned by CBS
4 KNBH (NBC) 1949-1954 Owned by NBC
KRCA-TV (NBC) 1954-1962 Owned by NBC
KNBC(-TV) (NBC) 1962-present Owned by NBC
5 KTLA (Independent) 1947-1964 Owned by Paramount Pictures
KTLA (Independent) 1964-1982 Owned by Gene Autry
KTLA (Independent) 1982-1985 Owned by "Sun Television"
KTLA (Independent) 1985-1995 Owned by the Chicago Tribune
KTLA (WB/CW) 1985-1995 Owned by the Chicago Tribune
7 KECA-TV (ABC) 1949-1954 Owned by ABC
KABC-TV (ABC) 1954-present Owned by ABC (many owners)
9 KFI-TV (NBC) 1948-1949 Owned by Earle C. Anthony
KFI-TV (Independent) 1949-1951 Owned by Earle C. Anthony
KHJ-TV (Independent) 1951-1989 Owned by RKO-General
KCAL-TV (Independent) 1989-1996 Owned by the Walt Disney Company
KCAL-TV (Independent) 1996-2002 Owned by Young Broadcasting
KCAL-TV (Independent) 2002-present Owned by CBS
11 KTTV (CBS) 1949-1951 Owned by the Los Angeles Times
KTTV (Independent) 1951-1963 Owned by the Los Angeles Times
KTTV (Independent) 1963-1986 Owned by Metromedia
KTTV (Fox) 1986-present Owned by News Corporation
13 KMTR-TV (Independent) 1948 (one day) Owned by the New York Daily News
KLAC-TV (Independent) 1948-1954 Owned by the New York Daily News
KCOP (Independent) 1954-1960 Owned by the San Diego Union and Evening Tribune
KCOP (Independent) 1960-1995 Owned by Chris Craft Industries
KCOP (UPN) 1995-2001 Owned by Chris Craft Industries
KCOP (UPN/MyTV) 2001-present Owned by News Corporation

Jack appeared in several movies after his retirement from NBC. He moved to Palm Springs and read the news for station KMIR-TV, channel 36, there. He died in Palm Springs on January 1, 1987, at the age of 72.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tommy Walker (1922-86)

Thomas Luttgen Walker was born November 8, 1922, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His father was band director Vesey Walker (1893-1977), who became the leader of the Disneyland Band at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.  His father, also a musician (cornet player), was born in England and came to America in 1913 "because of all the wonderful bands." He would become the instrumental music supervisor of the public schools in Milwaukee and helped organize 30 high school bands. In 1930, he was the band director at Marquette University. This is all very important because his son Tommy was a part of all of that. On the weekends, Tommy played trumpet with the American Legion band that his father led in 1936. Vesey Walker moved to Los Angeles shortly after this and helped organize several bands in Southern California, including the Topper Band, originally made up of members of the Elks Lodge of Whittier. The Topper Band was a regular part of the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California for over 30 years. 

Tommy graduated from high school in 1940 and enrolled at the University of Southern California as a music major. He had been a drum major in high school. But he was also the place kicker for the varsity football team. The band plays a very important role in the game of American football: It might be on the field two or three times in a game. At first, for the pregame. Just before the game starts, the band gets into a formation on the field and plays the Star Spangled Banner. The band might also play some kind of music to show homage to the school. The second time is the band's show in the middle of the game, called a half time show. This is where, in this 'blogger's mind, American football has soccer beat. If the game is boring, the band's perfomance makes up for all the bad stuff. Some people actually go home after half time, figuring that's all with the band. But some band's give a third perfomance on the field after the game.

In his freshman year at Southern Cal, Tommy did play trumpet in the marching band, as he did the following year. But in 1942, Tommy had gone away to be in the Navy overseas. He returned in the fall of 1946. This time, he wasn't content to just be in the band. He became the band's drum major and student director. And he went to varsity football coach Jeff Cravath (1903-53) to tell him he wanted to be the place kicker for the team AND be the band's drum major. How could he do that?

Tommy was the absolute master showman. He would sit on the bench during the game wearing a helmet (they didn't have face guards then) with no pads underneath (this was legal for kickers at that time; today NCAA rules mandate protection for all players). Just before half time, unless he had to kick the ball, he would slowly move toward the band and make a big production, changing from a football uniform to a band uniform.

One of Tommy's most notable achievements, and this is the reason why his biography appears on an OldTimeRadio website, was a six note composition that takes a little more than three second to perform--CHARGE! It was first heard in 1946 and most people heard it on the radio.

After graduating from USC in 1948, the Washington Redskins wanted to draft him as their place kicker, but he chose, instead, to become the marching band director at his alma mater. He stayed there until 1955, when he went to work at Disneyland, when it opened (father and son both went to work at the park at the same time.) As previously stated, Tommy was the master showman. He created a wonderful show for the opening of Disneyland on July 17, 1955. For the next eleven years, if something at Disneyland was showy, it was a Tommy Walker production! He left in 1966 to start his own production company. But, in 1960, just prior to the 17th Summer Olympic Games in Rome, Italy, he composed a military march in honor of the games entitled, the March of the Olympians. It was definitely more complicated than Charge!

Every New Year's Day, Tommy was the drum major for the Toppers Band in the Rose Parade. During its last few years of existence, the band was made up of members from Local 47 of the American Federation of Musicians in Hollywood. (Tommy was a member of Local 7 in Santa Ana.)

Tommy's production company created extravaganzas for five World's Fairs, two Presidential inaugurations, various football games, and more. He was in charge of the fireworks for the centennial celebration of the Statue of Liberty and the 350th anniversary of Harvard University. At the time of his death, he was executive producer of special events at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Undergoing his third series of open heart operations, Tommy Walker died  October 20, 1986, during surgery at the Carraway Methodist Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama. He was survived by his wife Lucille and three daughters (Debbie, Diana, and Patty). Tommy was 63 years old. He is buried at the Pacific View Memorial Park in Newport Beach, California.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bill Cullen (1920-90)

William Lawrence Francis Cullen was born February 18, 1920, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Bill was an only child. At the age of 18 months, he contracted polio. He wore a brace on one leg until he was ten.

Bill attended South High School in Pittsburgh. A good student, he was considered somewhat of a clown. He organized pep rallies and assemblies at South High. And he was the comic relief at spelling bees. He organized fund raising projects and published his own school paper when he disagreed with the official one.

During his Junior Year of high school he was involved in a terrible automobile accident that put him in the hospital for nine months. (Most websites combine the childhood polio and the car wreck, stating that he contracted polio at the age of 18. Or they state that he was involved in a car wreck that left him with a limp.) So his school that year was provided by a private tutor in the hospital.

Even though he was nearly killed in that car wreck, Bill acquired a new hobby during his senior year of high school, midget racing (uses miniature versions of Indianapolis-style racing cars.) He was so involved in it that at one point, he dropped out of school and raced professionally. After talking with his parents, he went back to school and graduated with his class in 1938.

Between 1938 and 1943, Bill was a student at the University of Pittsburgh. He was a pre-med student, hoping to become a physician. To pay for his studies, Bill worked at his father's garage. Some of the clients at the garage were well known radio personalities. He got a chance to be in the audience of the 1500 Club on station WWSW in Pittsburgh. Eventually, he performed on the show. He worked at the station for free first, then they began paying him minimum wage. One of his jobs on that station was to help veteran sportscaster Joe Tucker give color to University of Pittsburgh football games. He had a whimsical sense of humor that was appreciated by most listeners.

In 1943, Bill earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theater Arts from the University of Pittsburgh (he didn't drop out; again some of the researchers combine their facts to make Bill's biography shorter. It should also be pointed out that pre-med is NOT a major but a group of classes future medical students take as prerequisites for medical school.) No longer interested in becoming a doctor, after working at WWSW for a couple of years, he moved on to station KDKA, the pioneer station of Pittsburgh. A 50,000 watt station, owned by Westinghouse, and affiliated with NBC, Bill's voice was now be heard by a great portion of the United States.

It was also this time that Bill married a local Pittsburgh girl. The marriage didn't even last two years.

In 1944, Bill was hired as a staff announcer for CBS in New York. He also wrote some of the copy for Easy Aces (Goodman Ace and Jane Sherwood Ace.) In getting this job Bill said with all the major announcers out because of military service (this was World War II), they had to hire him. He was also heard as an actor on some of the programs on station WOR (and, consequently, some of the Mutual network programs.) The loyal Blogger can point this out on the hour long end of the year program on WOR in 1944. Bill was one of the servicemen who was a prisoner of war in Bataan in that program.

Two years later, Bill got his big break and hosted the radio quiz show, Winner Take All. That program would be his destiny. But the show that was paying the bills at home was a 15 minute daily soap opera called This is Nora Drake. Eventually he did many of the shows on CBS, including Casey, Crime Photographer, Beat the Clock, Give and Take, Dan Dodge, Catch Me If You Can, Strike It Rich, and many others.

On February 20, 1949, Bill hosted his first television game show, Act It Out, on WNBT (now WNBC-TV) in New York City. Rather than give a narrative of all the TV game shows on which Bill appeared (he was a panelist on To Tell the Truth, though he often subbed for the regular host), here is a numbered list (these are only the game shows):
  1. Act It Out (AKA Say It with Acting) [WNBT] (1949)
  2. Meet Your Match [WOR-TV] (1949--two weeks in October)
  3. Winner Take All [NBC] (1952)
  4. Give and Take [CBS] (1952)
  5. Matinee in New York [NBC] (1952)
  6. I've Got a Secret [CBS] (1952-67)
  7. Name's the Same [ABC] (1952-53)
  8. Who's There? [CBS] (1952)
  9. Professor Yes 'n' No [Syndicated] (1953-but possibly filmed as early as 1950)
  10. Where Was I? [Dumont] (1952-53)
  11. Why? [ABC] (1952-53)
  12. Place the Face [CBS/NBC] (1954)
  13. Name that Tune [CBS] (1954-55)
  14. Bank on the Stars [NBC](1954)
  15. Place the Face [NBC] (1955)
  16. The Price is Right (daytime) [NBC/ABC] (1956-65)
  17. Down You Go [NBC] (1956)
  18. The Price is Right (evening) [NBC/ABC] (1957-64)
  19. Eye Guess [NBC] (1966-69)
  20. You're Putting Me On [NBC] (1969)
  21. To Tell the Truth [Syndicated] (1969-74-Bill was a regular panelist, who often subbed for host Garry Moore frequently)
  22. Three on a Match [NBC] (1971-74)
  23. Winning Streak [NBC] (1974)
  24. $25,000 Pyramid [Syndicated] (1974-79)
  25. Blankety Blanks [ABC] (1975)
  26. I've Got a Secret [CBS] (1976-four weeks in summer)
  27. How Do You Like Your Eggs? [QuBE-Warner Cable] (1977-two shows)
  28. Pass the Buck [CBS] (1978)
  29. The Love Experts [Syndicated] (1978-79)
  30. Chain Reaction [NBC] (1980)
  31. Blockbusters [NBC] (1980-82)
  32. Child's Play [CBS] (1982-83)
  33. Hot Potato [NBC] (1984)
  34. The Joker's Wild [Syndicated (1984-86-took over, sharing duties with Jim Peck, after the death of Jack Barry, the show's creator and original host)
The Internet Movie Database states that Bill Cullen hosted 23 game shows. Wikipedia states this number is 24. Your loyal Blogger listed all the game shows that Bill hosted (including the one in which he served as panelist and substitute host), allowing the reader to make his or her own conclusion.

In 1953, he hosted a 30 minute variety show (no guests, ever) that only lasted 13 weeks, The Bill Cullen Show. Two partial episodes are available on DVD, believe it or not! Bill hosted. Milton DeLugg's trio played the music. And Betty Brewer sang. There was no script. The sponsor was Mogen David Wine! (Remember that Bill's background was Irish Catholic!)

Inside NBC was a local news/public affairs program on WRCA (now WNBC-TV) in New York City 1955-56.

He hosted the Tonight Show a few times in 1956.

Sports Cavalcade was a documentary sports series that was syndicated in 1963.

The NFL Special was a syndicated program that aired during the 1966 football season in which Bill interviewed professional coaches and players.

NBC Sports in Action was NBC's attempt at their own version of ABC's Wide World of Sports. Bill hosted it for the first half of 1966. And then it went off the air on June 5.

Bill continued to be active in radio all during this time. He hosted a number of game shows in the 1950s including Quick as a Flash (ABC). He had a variety show called Pulse (AKA The Bill Cullen Show) on WNBC (now WFAN) from 1955 to 1961, which, unlike the TV version of the Bill Cullen Show, was immensely popular. During the 1956 football season, he was a commentator for Army Football Games (US Military Academy, West Point, NY.) From 1960 to 1975, he hosted a series called Emphasis on NBC, these were short documentaries that aired five times a weeks. He was one of the hosts on NBC Monitor (1971-72).

His last work in broadcasting was a group of radio documentary series produced by David J. Clark, which aired between 1981 and 1988. These included: People Who are Different (1981), Goose Who's Coming to Dinner (1982), Fuji Facts (1987?), and The Parents' Notebook (1985-88.)

On July 30, 1949, he married singer Carol Ames. They divorced in 1955. She was a regular cast member of Arthur Godfrey's radio program until about 1971.

Bill's third wife was model/dancer Ann Roemheld Macomber, the daughter of Heinz Roemheld, a composer of music for the movies. Bill met her in the 1950s when he would host one game show in Los Angeles (Place the Face) and fly back home to New York. They married December 24, 1955. He finally moved out to California in the late 1970s. Ann's sister, Mary Lou Roemheld, was married to another game show host, Jack Narz (1922- ) in the 1950s and 1960s until they divorced. He then married a TWA "stewardess" named Dolores ("Dodo"), who began working for the airline in the 1950s and was still working as a flight attendant when the airline was sold to American Airlines in 2001.

A lifelong smoker, Bill started getting sick in 1987. He died at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles on July 7, 1990. Bill was 70 years old.

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