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

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Frank Sinatra (1915-98)

Francis Albert Sinatra was born December 12, 1915, in Hoboken, New Jersey. The son of Anthony Martin Sinatra (1894-1969), who immigrated to the United States from Sicily, to become a New York City firefighter and professional boxer (known as "Marty McCoy") who wound up as the owner of a speakeasy (illegal saloon during Prohibition), and Natalie Della "Dolly" Sinatra (1894-1977), a woman from Genoa, who was a midwife, Democratic party official, and abortionist, Frank was an only child. When he was born, there were many complications. Originally, his mother wanted a girl, so Frank's name was originally Frances. Weighing in at 13 pounds and eight ounces, he appeared to be stillborn at delivery. Placed under a cold water faucet, this scarred him for life and permanently punctured his eardrum. He had a very normal upbringing in the shadow of New York City. In 1932, at the age of 15, Frank dropped out of high school and went to work for the Jersey Observer, a newspaper. Frank then went to work for the Tietjan and Lang Shipyard as a riveter. In the early 1930s, he also began working as a singer in saloons, which were still illegal at that time due to Prohibition. Frank was still in his mid teens at that time. After President Franklin Roosevelt's first Inauguration in 1933, alcohol became legal and saloons were wide open.

As a young singer, Frank idolized Bing Crosby and wanted to be everything he was. With his parents' help (since his dad owned a saloon), Frank began singing a lot. In 1934, there was a popular singing trio in the area known as the Three Flashes. Frank's mother begged them to let her son sing with them for a performance at the Hoboken Union Club. This was a step in the right direction as, with Frank as lead singer, they became the Hoboken Four and became contestants on Major Bowes' Amateur Hour on NBC radio on September 8, 1935.

The Amateur Hour was a forerunner to today's American Idol and other such talent shows. Frank's group didn't win but Major Edward Bowes liked Frank so much, he quietly awarded him a check for $35 (the same amount a professional singer got for singing on a single episode of a network show). With his mother's help he secured a job at the Rustic Cabin in Englewood, New Jersey, as a singing waiter. He earned $15 a week at this job and was able to be heard singing on WNEW radio in New York City.

Frank married Nancy Barbato February 4, 1939. They would have three children: Nancy Sandra Sinatra (1940- ); Francis Wayne Sinatra, alias Frank Sinatra, Jr. (1944- ); and Christina "Tina" Sinatra (1948- ).

In March 1939, he made his first recording with the Frank Mane band. Three months later Harry James hired him as a singer for $75 a week. Frank only stayed with the Harry James a short while. In November, he was approached by Tommy Dorsey, who hired him in January 1940. After a few years, he would not be tied down to any one band.

Frank began making motion pictures in 1940 with a couple of movies as the male singer with Tommy Dorsey's band. In 1946, he signed a motion picture contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Movies included Anchors Aweigh (1945) and On the Town (1949), among others.

In 1951, he left wife Nancy and their three kids, for starlet Ava Gardner. Their relationship lasted for five years and it began a downward spiral for Frank's singing career. In 1952, his vocal chords hemorrhaged and he thought he would have to quit singing all together. He had previously begun a TV show on CBS, however, by the end of 1952 CBS-TV, Columbia Records, and Universal (with whom he then had a movie contract) all dumped him.

A role in From Here to Eternity (1953) was offered him for what even then was considered a measly sum of $8,000. Despite winning the Oscar that year for Best Supporting Actor in the role of Private Angelo Maggio, he still was not accepted by the studios as a viable performer. He won a special Oscar a decade before and would win the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1973.

Frank gave some amazingly powerful performances in The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), Suddenly (1954), and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). His voice healed and he once again able to sing again, although it sounded a little different.

Ava Gardner and Frank were divorced in 1957. Frank was then able to spend some time with his estranged children, two of which were teenagers. Eventually, the relationship Frank had with his kids was very strong.

Frank and daughter Nancy had the first father/daughter Number One hit song with C. Carson Parks' "Something Stupid" in 1965.

There would be two more marriages. The third was to actress Mia Farrow, who was younger than two of Frank's children. The fourth was to Zeppo Marx's ex-wife, Barbara. This was a few months before his mother was killed in a plane crash, which happened shortly after takeoff from Palm Springs, California. This marked a big change in Frank's life. He returned to his Roman Catholic roots and lived his final two decades feeling better about himself.

On radio, he had a very impressive resume which included many shows in which he was host or featured singer, such as Your Hit Parade. He was also the lead in Rocky Fortune.

He died March 14, 1998, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. His wife Barbara and daughter Nancy were with him. His last words: "I'm losing (it)."

Frank Sinatra was a very giving man. When the picture Ed Wood (1994), a biopic about director Edward D. Wood, Jr., was being produced one part that was not mentioned was that Frank paid for Bela Lugosi's funeral.

People will always think what they want to think about others. But Frank Sinatra was one of the most giving men in show business.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Eddie Anderson (1905-77)

Edmund Lincoln Anderson was born September 18, 1905, in Oakland, California, into a poor show business family. As a child, Eddie sold newspapers to help meat family expenses. He yelled so much to sell the newspapers that it permanently damaged his vocal chords. His raspy voice became his trademark.

He joined the vaudeville circuit at the age of 14 with his brother and a friend. They were known as the Three Black Aces. They had long standing contracts in New York (at the Roxy and Apollo Theaters) and the Cotton Club on Central Avenue in Los Angeles.

Eddie was always plagued with health problems. When Hollywood called, he was able to get a motion picture studio contract with Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Even after he began working on the Jack Benny Program, he would continue with films through 1945, and a few cameo appearances after that.

The character, Rochester, originally appeared on the Jack Benny Program as a Pullman porter. The story was changed a few times. As the writers thought it over, they decided that Rochester was a cabby for the Sunshine Taxi Company. Jack then ended up hiring Rochester for the position of personal valet.

At first the humor involved with Rochester was racially motivated but, during World War II, when the Jews were tortured during the Holocaust, Jack, a nonpracticing Jew, decided that racial humor was not funny. Any jokes resulting from Rochester's ethnicity would have to come from Rochester himself.

Eddie Anderson was one of the highest paid performers in radio, regardless of race. Not being one to squander his money, he invested his money well, including a thoroughbred race horse named "Burnt Cork."

In his personal life, Eddie was very private. He was happily married to Mamie, a fellow entertainer at the Cotton Club in Los Angeles. His adopted son, William (called either Billy or Willie), almost made the 1948 U.S. Olympic team. He played for the Chicago Bears, but was arrested on a drug charge and spent five years in prison. Mamie died of cancer in 1954.

It's not too often remembered that Eddie had quite a successful motion picture career, having taken part in over sixty films. That was his reason for being in Hollywood in the first place. He is best remembered for Cabin in the Sky, but he also appeared in Gone with the Wind, Topper, and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Jack Benny and Eddie maintained a close relationship until Jack's death. Three years later, Eddie died. His pain wracked body finally gave up. He died on February 28, 1977, at his house in Los Angeles.

Eddie Anderson was one of the best entertainers of all time.

Fanny Brice (1891-1951)

Fania Borach was born October 29, 1891, in New York City. As a little girl, Fannie was much like the character which would become her trademark, Baby Snooks. She was the third child of a successful couple that was in the saloon business. She dropped out of school in 1908 to join a burlesque revue, using the name Fannie Brice. Two years later she began her career with Zigfeld's Follies, which lasted into the 1930s. As a teenager, she married Frank White, a barber. That quickly ended in divorce. After this she started a relationship with the love of her life, Julius "Nicky" Arnstein. Nicky was in Sing Sing Prison when they began their "courtship." Nicky was still married, although the couple never spoke to each other when they lived together. The crime was racketeering (he also did time at Fort Leavenworth). After his release from prison, Fannie and Nicky lived together and would not marry until Nicky's wife finally sued for divorce. They had two children--Frances and William. The marriage was a happy one, but it did not last very long... They divorced in 1927. Two years later, she married Broadway impresario Billy Rose. It wasn't a happy marriage, but they stayed together until 1937. It was at that time Fannie Brice became Fanny Brice.

She moved to Hollywood at that time. Fanny only made three movies after this time but it was in Hollywood that she made a name for herself in radio.

Baby Snooks was created at a party in the early 1920s. Over the years, Fanny improved the act. It was the basic comic/straight man routine. Baby Snooks (Snooks Higgins) was a little seven year old girl. Fanny said the girl was based on herself in her own childhood. The straight man was her father. Originally, "Daddy" Lancelot Higgins was portrayed by Alan Reed. After several changes, Daddy was played by Hanley Stafford for many years. Hanley and Fanny were best (platonic) friends and their chemistry was amazing.

She had so many other talents... Singing with a Yiddish accent ("My Man"), other singing ("Second Hand Rose"), dramatic acting, recitations, etc. But to most people she was Baby Snooks and she played the part on many radio programs, including her own.

Fanny Brice died at her home of a brain hemorrhage on the morning of May 29, 1951, at the age of 59. The Baby Snooks program that aired that week was a memorial service to the life and loves of Fanny Brice.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Marian Jordan (1898-1961)

Marian Driscoll was born April 15, 1898, in Peoria, Illinois. She was the daughter of Daniel Driscoll, a coal miner from Ireland and his wife, Anna. As it was stated on Fibber McGee Molly, she actually did graduate from Peoria High School (only it wasn't called Peoria Union High School--they only did stuff like that in California). She was active in her Roman Catholic church, where she was the childhood friend (and later teenage sweetheart) of Jim Jordan.

When Jim went off to fight World War I, Marian waited in Peoria and taught music lessons in church. They married on August 31, 1918. The Jordans had two children, Kathryn and James Edward Jordan, Jr.

After returning from the War, the Jordans became busy with vaudeville and toured the country. Eventually, they got to Chicago to try out the new entertainment medium, radio. The Jordans did several shows before their first "hit," a situation comedy in 1930, called Smackout. It was called that because Jim Jordan, who played a grocery store manager, would be "smack out of everything" customer Marian asked for.

Years later, in 1934, the Jordans became Fibber McGee and Molly. Originally, they were supposed to be an elderly couple who didn't quite get things right. The obliviousness continued, but the couple was made younger within the first four years.

One character that everyone loved on the show was the little girl, also called Teeny. She seemed to be somewhere between five and seven years old, with a mouth that never stopped. Teeny was actually played by Marian and was also heard on Smackout.

In 1938, tragedy overtook Marian, as she had some terrible drinking problems. She entered a rehabilitation center in suburban Chicago and tried to get her life straightened out. This was thought to have been a good time as the Jordan children were in high school and college. Molly was written out of the script. The program was renamed Fibber McGee and Company. Most people who knew the private struggles that Marian faced didn't believe she would ever return, especially after the show moved from Chicago to Los Angeles in early 1939.

But Marian astounded everyone by returning to the show (actually took a train alone from Joliet, Illinois, to Pasadena, California, riding in a cheap coach seat) in March 1939. She was back in form. Some people said she was better than ever. She was stronger. And she never touched alcohol again. Nor was it allowed to be mentioned on the program.

Everything started looking up for the Jordans. They had the most popular radio show for many years. In 1953, she suddenly became fatigued. The doctor suggested she take a long rest. She said no. She wanted to keep performing. So the Fibber McGee and Molly program began being recorded from the Jordan house in Encino (Los Angeles). The music was canned (meaning recorded) and the commercials were no longer part of the show, as they were when Harlow Wilcox was the announcer. The show now aired five days a week, for 15 minutes a day. While that adds up to 75 minutes a week, it was still less of a strain than when they had to drive to Radio City West in Hollywood for two rehearsals and, sometimes, two shows (an East Coast show and a West Coast show).

Marian's health continued to deteriorate. The daily show went off the air, but Fibber and Molly became a part of the weekend NBC news show, Monitor. They would do skits lasting anywhere from six minutes to a half hour, depending on how Marian felt. By 1958, Marian had gotten so sick more tests were performed. She was found to have inoperable cancer. Marian kept working for Monitor into 1959 and spent the last two years with the love of her life, Jim.

She died at her home in Encino on April 7, 1961, one week and a day shy of her 63rd birthday. Husband Jim said that not only Molly died on that day but so did Fibber. He never did the part of Fibber McGee again.

Cathy Lewis (1918?-68)

Cathy Lewis was born towards the end of December and the beginning of January sometime between 1916 and 1918 in Spokane, Washington. In 1937, she started out as a teenager (or young adult) as a vocalist for Kay Kyser and Herbie Kay (it is now thought that Cathy lied about her age so that she could work as an adult, so the 1918 birth year is probably correct). Eventually, she wound up in Chicago, where she was the original female lead on the First Nighter. She was also heard on Lights Out (where she was the "Cat Wife" of Boris Karloff). In 1939, many of the Chicago-based radio series moved to Los Angeles. Cathy moved with them and enrolled as a student at the Pasadena Playhouse.

At the same time, she signed a contract with Metro Goldwyn Mayer. MGM, thinking Cathy Lewis sounded too much like a made up name, renamed her Catherine Lewis. In 1943, she married actor Elliot Lewis. Cathy often joked about this: "Miss Lewis married Mr. Lewis, so Miss Lewis became Mrs. Lewis. I didn't have to change my driver's license. I could have changed my name to 'Cathy Lewis-Lewis'." While Cathy worked in the movies, it was radio that gave her the most pleasure. Her husband Elliot was one of the busiest people in the radio business. Over the years, Cathy was one of the busiest radio actresses.

Cathy was the narrator in My Friend Irma. Later, she would be heard on Suspense, Escape, and her own series (with her husband), On Stage. Ironically, On Stage also featured Mary Jane Croft, who married her husband after their divorce in 1958.

At that same time, Cathy was playing Molly McGee on the TV version of Fibber McGee and Molly. It was not nearly as good as the radio version. This was also when Marion Jordan (Molly McGee on radio) was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. She had been in failing health for the previous five years.

Cathy did more television and it did get better. Her last appearance was on F-Troop in 1966.

Cathy died on November 20, 1968, at her apartment in Hollywood. She and Elliot had no children. She died utterly alone.

Anna May Wong (1905-61)

Wong Liu Tsong (黃柳霜) was born January 3, 1905, in the back of her family’s laundry on Figueroa Street in Los Angeles (her family never lived in Chinatown, although she attended school there). She was a third generation Californian whose family arrived in 1855. However, due to the prejudicial laws which existed until 1948, she was a foreigner by California law. Although she spoke Mandarin at home, she never considered herself Chinese—she always called herself an American.

She became a movie star quite by accident: Coming home from school one afternoon, she walked near a film crew which was doing a location shoot. One of the crewmembers said they needed a child. Overhearing this, Liu Tsong volunteered her services and she was paid more for one hour than her family subsisted on in one week. She began to work more.

Liu Tsong gave herself an American name, Anna May. That first movie she was in was The Red Lantern (1919).

After appearing as a nameless extra in Dinty (1920), she began a career of stardom which was both amazing and heartbreaking at the same time. Her parents believed in an old Chinese idea that to have one's picture taken would ruin her life. Besides acting in movies, she also worked as an advertising model for a furrier in Los Angeles. She was tall, even for a Caucasian woman, at 5'7" with shapely legs and a very nice figure. She was not opposed to doing "cheesecake" photography, such as the partially topless publicity picture above.

As a silent star, she was successful. She was the romantic lead in The Toll of the Sea (1923), an early Technicolor film. Her portray of the Mongol slave in The Thief of Bagdad (1924), which starred Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., was legendary. Acting in a silent movie was no easy feat. The eyes did the acting instead of the voice. And Mr. Fairbanks' costume obviously did not include underwear which could either arouse or sicken the fellow cast members (and this is considered a "family film"!)

In 1925, Anna was heard on the dedication program of the War Memorial Building in San Francisco. This would become the home of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. From material gathered for this website, this would make her possibly the earliest big star to perform on the radio. Network radio would not be around for another three years when NBC came to the air.

After the Thief of Bagdad, most of Anna's roles tended to be exotic characters who didn't require much in the way of acting. When talking pictures revealed she didn't have a Chinese accent, but rather had the normal Southern California twang (that even this blogger claims as his accent), there was a sad disappointment in the industry.

Feeling like her talents were wasted, she went to Europe in 1929. She went to the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Austria. Most critics referred to her as a "great American actress." During this time she made several movies. She learned to speak French and German. Anna returned to America in 1931. Shortly after this, her mother was tragically killed in a car accident.

The trip did much to improve her work in America, although the success was not long. Rudy Vallee had her on his radio program in 1935. After this, Anna took another trip. This time she went to China (1936-7).

Many Chinese knew Anna May Wong as a great American actress. They weren't happy that she wasn't doing the kind of work she deserved to be doing. She actually acted in a few films in China but these were not so great, either.

Anna went back to America and, again, went on Rudy Vallee's program. Later she would be on the Kraft Music Hall, Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy, the Campbell Playhouse, and Fred Allen.

She went back to do a few low budget movies but that career was over. By the time World War II started, she was acting a little but earning most of her money by selling real estate with her young brother, Richard. Anna was on some radio shows to raise money for American war efforts and she was also very concerned about how China was going to come out of the war with Japan.

In 1949, she played the part of Su Jin, a Chinese housemaid, in Impact, a low budget mystery movie. This would be followed by several television appearances, including her own dramatic anthology series on the Dumont Network, The Gallery of Madame Liu Tsong. And she continued acting on TV and selling houses. There would be one last film, Portrait in Black (1961), released six months after her death.

Anna May Wong died of complications of a heart attack and cirrhosis of the liver at the cottage she and her brother Richard shared in Santa Monica, California, on February 3, 1961. She had been both a heavy drinker and smoker. She was 56 years old. She was a member of the Church of Christ (Scientist).

The 1936 song, "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)," by Harry Link, Holt Marvell (Eric Maschwitz), and Jack Strachey, was said to have been written about Anna. English songwriter Albert Eric Maschwitz (alias Holt Marvell) and Anna were dating in the late 1930s.

Anna May Wong was cremated and her ashes were buried in the grave of her mother at the Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Joseph Kearns (1907-62)

Joseph Smith Kearns was born February 12, 1907, in Salt Lake City, Utah. As a child, his family moved to Southern California. He returned to Utah to complete his college education at the University of Utah with a degree in music. He paid his tuition by teaching a course in theatrical makeup.

Joe returned to California to work as a movie theater organist. As talking pictures were taking over, eventually his services as a musician were no longer needed. Since he had worked as an actor in plays as a child, he tried his hand at this again.

But the biggest change in his life happened in 1937 when he got the part of the Crazy Quilt Dragon for the series, the Cinnamon Bear. A few years after this, he would become the Man in Black for Suspense. When Bill Forman was drafted in World War II, Joe took over his part of the Whistler on the Whistler. He also acted in many episodes on these and other radio series. Besides acting, Joe also wrote for and directed some episodes. Joe had a recurring role on the Jack Benny Program as Ed the night watchman. This was a classic comedy role.

After radio, Joe had a very similar career on television, first appearing on the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. His most famous role came ten years later, when he played George Wilson on Dennis the Menace. Sadly, before the last season was over, Joe died of a heart attack five days after his 55th birthday on February 17, 1962, in Los Angeles. He was replaced by Gale Gordon, who played his brother, John Wilson (even though he looked more like the George Wilson character in the comic strip!)

Music was very important to Joe. His Hollywood house was built around a huge theater organ.

He was also a devout Mormon who hated it when he had to read a commercial for Roma Wines (sponsor of Suspense). However, he thought enough of that program to write several scripts.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Joe E. Brown (1892-1973)

Joseph Evan Brown was born July 28, 1892, in Holgate, Ohio, the third of seven children. Joe said he was the only child who ran away to join the circus when he was ten with his parents' blessing. In 1902, he joined a tumbling act called the Five Marvelous Ashtons. The group toured with circuses and visited various theaters around the country. For all that hard work, Joe earned $1.50 a week. Toward the end of that career, he got another dollar a week. It all ended in San Francisco in 1906 with the earthquake. Joe was 14 and ready to start something new.

The greatest love of Joe's life was baseball. He played for a team in Toledo which was sponsored by a bar (that was a nice place for a teenager!) Joe was very accident prone and broke his back several times. But the man was built like a Sherman tank! Seeing his face, all that could be seen was his big mouth. But he had an athlete's body up for most of his life.

He married Kathryn Francis McGraw, a nice Ohio girl who loved everything about Joe. They had four children, two sons (Don Evan Brown and Joe L. Brown) and a daughters (Kathryn Frances and Mary Elizabeth).

When they had Don, their first child, Joe worked as a manager of a bowling alley. This was after he spent time as a semiprofessional baseball player. Within five years, he was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. And, just as easy as that came, five years after that, he signed up with one producer, David L. Loew, and his career went down fast. However, it was during this time that, in 1939, he did a comedy variety show on the CBS network. It was similar to the Jack Benny Program. In fact, Don Wilson was his announcer.

Most people would easily forget this program if it hadn't been for something that happened on September 21, 1939. Ironically, this was his show's last episode. But one radio station, WJSV, the CBS owned and operated station licensed to Washington, DC, recorded its entire broadcast schedule for the day. The Joe E. Brown Show (sponsored by Post Toasties, the Wake-Up Food), aired at 6:30 pm, Eastern Daylight Time.

Tragedy struck Joe with the beginning of World War II, when his son Don was killed when the bomber he was flying for the U.S. Army Air Force crashed on a routine training mission near Palm Springs, California.

Eventually, Joe's career was back on track. He did two of the biggest films of this blogger's lifetime with Some Like It Hot (1959) and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). He did numerous television guest spots.

Joe died at his home in Los Angeles at the age of 80 on July 6, 1973. Everything he ever did was for his family. He never stooped to telling dirty jokes or being involved in anything he couldn't show to his mother, even long after she died.

He eloped with his wife, marrying her at the office of a Justice of the Peace. He promised her that someday, there would be a church wedding. That happened twenty years later, at the local Episcopal church (Joe's church preference) with his son Joe as best man and son Don gave the bride away. The daughters acted as maids of honor. Later, when Kathryn, his wife, decided that she would reaffirm her faith in the Roman Catholic faith, Joe decided to convert. And they got married again in a Catholic church. So, he is probably the only person on this list who was married three times without ever being divorced or widowered!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Joe Penner (1904-41)

Pintér József Színész was born November 11, 1904, in Nagybecskerek, Hungary (today located in Serbia). As a child, his family entered the United States at Ellis Island and they moved to Detroit, Michigan.

A successful vaudeville comedian, Joe made his first performance on radio thanks to Rudy Vallee. Through Rudy's help, Joe was able to have his own program on the Blue Network in 1934, sponsored by the Bakers' Union.

Now, contrary to how some accounts read, Joe Penner was a respected performer in every sense of the word. He was a hard worker who never shirked responsibility.

He is said to have been the Pee Wee Herman of his day, without any troubles with the law (or pornography).

Let's describe the man (if you were around in 1936):

Shorter than the average man, a little bit of weight, a cigar (not always lit), nice clothes (though a little flashy). He looks older than his age. He has a harsh voice but a pleasant, nonoffending personality.

Despite the sound and the looks, Joe was actually based in Los Angeles, not New York. Rudy Vallee's show was in New York but then he was able to get to Hollywood and get into motion pictures. He only did eleven features.

Listening to his radio shows seventy years hence, it is easy to dismiss him as a trite performer whose gimmicks were getting stale. However, listening to the stories which were heard, it was all very interesting. This blogger can remember one program which involved sailing to Russia. Now if anyone remembers that it was only about twenty years after the Bolshevik Revolution, it's amazing to hear.

In 1940, Joe decided to tour the country with the musical play Yokel Boy. While his company was in Philadelphia, he died of a heart attack. It was January 10, 1941. He was only 36 years old. He was survived by his wife, the former Eleanor May Vogt. They had no children.

People today often compare him to Pee Wee Herman. Personally, this blogger thinks that is unfair. While he had the voice and a similar appearance, he didn't try to run off and do something his fans wouldn't approve of (like watch pornographic movies and expose himself). True, there was that cigar. But that wasn't so stigmatic back in those days. Most everyone smoked back then, at least the men did. Including Dad and so did Grandpa, if he was still alive.

Joe Penner should not be forgotten. He was a great entertainer of his day.

Jackson Beck (1912-2004)

Jackson Beck was born in New York City on July 23, 1912. He was the son of silent film star Max Beck and wife Irene. The movie industry was originally centered in the rural area of New Jersey. When the industry began packing up and moving to California in 1910, Max Beck said no and kept his family in New York City and then he became a famous Broadway actor. Max Beck was one of the original cast members in the 1938 production of Our Town by Thorton Wilder.

Jackson (never Jack) began doing voices for Bluto (later Brutus) on Popeye cartoons in 1944. William Pennell was the original actor who did the voice of Bluto. The Fleischer Brothers had been doing the Popeye cartoons since 1933, four years after Popeye made his debut in the Thimble Theater comic strip (January 17, 1929). The original voice of Popeye was Billy Costello, who didn't get along so well with Dave Fleischer. Brother Lou helped him by hiring in-betweener Jack Mercer, who would end up being one of the most versatile voice actors of all time. Jackson was under contract to the Famous Studios division of Paramount Pictures. He had gotten this job as the announcer for the Superman radio series, which he began in 1940.

In the late 1940s, he was Philo Vance on radio. In this, Jackson was both narrator and main character in the stories. In the years following, after radio was no longer the mainstay of home entertainment, Jackson was best known as a commercial pitchman who sold everything from cars to pizza to paint. Jackson pitched Studebakers, Lark cigarettes, building materials, and so many other products. He was was the first to sell Little Caesar's Pizza on TV. He worked until a series of strokes stopped him from speaking. The doctors attending to him said that the strokes were most likely attributed to smoking cigarettes for almost eighty years.

Actually, Jackson's broadcasting career went back to the mid 1930s, after he graduated from college. He had a naturally low voice, which most people in radio loved to hear. One of his secrets for giving his voice a "gravelly" quality was to smoke as many cigarettes as he could smoke in a day. At one point in his life, he smoked more than four packs a day and would go through three cartons (ten packs in a carton) a week. It was said that, if a cigarette sponsor would pay him only in free cigarettes, he'd do it, even if they were Virginia Slims (a brand intended to be smoked by women).

Politically, Jackson was quite liberal. He was opposed to the Vietnam War. He was always quite vocal in his opinions.

Jackson died on July 28, 2004, of congestive heart failure at his home in New York City. He was married to Bernice, who had been married before and he had a step-son from her previous marriage.

Jackie Gleason (1916-87)

Herbert John Gleason was born February 26, 1916, in Brooklyn, New York. Jackie's childhood was extremely sad. His father, John Herbert Gleason, an insurance auditor, abandoned the family. His brother, Clemence, died at the age of 13, when Jackie was three, of tuberculosis. Jackie attended Bushwick High School in Brooklyn, but dropped out before graduation. His mother, the former Mae Kelly of Ireland, died when Jackie was 19. He was all alone in the world.

Jackie first made a mark for himself on Broadway in Follow the Girls. In just a few years, he was making movies in Hollywood. First working at Warner Brothers, they gave him the name, Jackie C. Gleason. He next went to Columbia Pictures and then to 20th Century-Fox. Probably his best known role in all this time was as the bass player for the Glenn Miller orchestra in Orchestra Wives (1942).

In 1944, he began working on radio. He began a shared program in August... The Jackie Gleason-Les Tremayne Show on NBC. He was a guest on many other radio shows but radio was on the way out and television was the newest thing.

He started out on TV as Chester A. Riley, Sr., on the Life of Riley. William Bendix, who portrayed the character on radio was unavailable due to motion picture commitments. Eventually, Gleason quit and Bendix was able to be Riley. He next did a variety show which came and went. Then came the part he will always be remembered for:

The Honeymooners began as a sketch on Jackie's variety show. It became a staple on the fledgling Dumont Network and then it moved to CBS. There were several changes in the cast, but the cast most folks remember were:
  • Jackie Gleason as Ralph
  • Audrey Meadows as Alice
  • Art Carney as Ed
  • Joyce Randolph as Trixie (Thelma)

The American Forces Radio Service would not have television for soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen stationed overseas until 1968. So the audio portion was recorded and adapted to be played on radio.

Jackie also did other TV shows, including the one this blogger remembers best, Jackie Gleason's American Scene Magazine.

There were also movies, lots of movies: Soldier in the Rain, Gigot, Smokey and the Bandit, The Hustler, Papa's Delicate Condition, and Nothing in Common, among many others.

Unbelievably, even though he couldn't read music or play a musical instrument (he played around on the vibraphone), Jackie composed several songs. He would sing the songs to a musician who transcribed them into notes and Jackie would offer suggestions as it was being played.

Family life: He married Genevieve Halford in 1936. They had two children, Geraldine and Linda (actress Linda Miller). They separated in 1954, hoping to never divorce, which they did do in 1970, so Jackie could marry Beverly McKittrick. And they divorced in 1974. His third marriage was to Marilyn Taylor, the sister of June Taylor (remember the June Taylor Dancers on Jackie's variety shows?)

Jackie died in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, of colon and liver cancer, on June 24, 1987. He was 71 years old.

Jack Haley (1898-1979)

John Joseph Haley, Jr., was born August 10, 1898, in Boston, Massachusetts. He first went into entertainment in vaudeville, where he became friends with fellow Bay Stater (what a person from Massachusetts is called), Fred Allen.

In the early 1930s, Jack began working in motion picture shorts at the Vitaphone studios in Brooklyn, New York. He moved to Hollywood in 1936. Later that year he starred in his own radio variety series on CBS. At first, it was called the Log Cabin Jamboree, as the sponsor was Log Cabin pancake syrup. The next year it changed sponsors (and networks, this time it was on NBC) and it was the Wonder Show, sponsored by Wonder Bread. After the program went off the air for summer, Jack wouldn't return to the air again until 1944.

The big job in 1939 was the MGM motion picture, The Wizard of Oz. Originally, Buddy Ebsen was hired to portray the Tin Woodman. However, the makeup used was an aluminum oxide powder which almost killed him. Buddy was relieved of the job, spending several weeks out of work because of how ill he had been made to feel. Jack was hired to take over the position. They used a different makeup which used an aluminum oxide cream. Unfortunately, this began with catastrophic results, as the makeup artists applying the cream got some into Jack's eyes, almost making him lose his sight. He lost for days from that accident and there were no more accidents like that. His eye recovered.

Whenever asked if he thought the Wizard of Oz was fun, he let people know what it was really like: "Hell, no! It was hard work! You try singing and dancing with a contraption like that around your body and see if you can do it. See if YOU like it..."

Jack Haley did many other radio shows, including Fred Allen, Sealtest Village Store, Radio Hall of Fame, Family Theater, and many programs for the Armed Forces Radio Service.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, he appeared as a guest on many television dramas and comedies. For his last big screen effort, he appeared in the 1977 film, New York, New York, as a master of ceremonies.

Jack married Florence McFadden in 1921. Jack and Flo had two children: Jack, Jr. (John Joseph Haley, III [1933-2001]) and Gloria. Flo Haley had a successful beauty salon in Hollywood for many years. It was lovingly referred to as "Flo's House of Correction." Jack was a devout Roman Catholic.

Jack Haley died on June 6, 1979, in Los Angeles. He was 80 years old.

Jack Kirkwood (1894-1964)

Jack Kirkwood was born August 8, 1894, in Scotland and moved to the United States as an adult to become a vaudeville entertainer. A popular radio celebrity in the San Francisco Bay area in the 1920s and 1930s, he didn't receive wider acclaim until he moved from KFRC to KPO to star in Mirth and Madness, with his wife, Lillian Leigh. It was heard five days a week on the West Coast stations of the NBC network. In 1945, he moved to CBS with a similar program.

Eventually, Jack moved to Los Angeles and started performing a regional ABC series called At Home with the Kirkwoods. Jack was a performer who could do any kind of radio program from comedy to drama and everything in between.

It is comedy that made him famous, especially with comedians based on the West Coast. When he moved to L.A. he was warmly received by both his peers and his public.

One comedic element which Jack Kirkwood invented was the slow death. Used in Westerns, it worked like this... A man was shot and he fell to the ground. Someone would get up to ask if he had any last words. And the dying man would talk for 15 minutes before becoming completely dead.

Jack also appeared on other shows... Bob Hope, Alan Young, Fibber McGee and Molly, Ozzie and Harriet, and Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy. He also appeared in a few motion pictures.

He moved to Las Vegas in the early '60s and died there on August 2, 1964, six days shy of his seventieth birthday.

Jack Kirkwood was one of the funniest men on the radio who is all but forgotten today.

Jack Grimes (1926-2009 )

Jack Grimes was born April 1, 1926, in New York City. Being told by his teacher in the second grade that he had a beautiful speaking voice, little Jackie began supporting his family at the age of seven by acting in the Broadway play, Old Maid. He also began acting in radio programs, starting with Let's Pretend. He did other radio series, such as Fred Allen, Philip Morris Playhouse, and Death Valley Days. He began acting in movies in 1944 (coinciding with his graduation from high school), when he actually commuted by train from New York to Los Angeles to act in films at Universal, where he had a contract, and he did this for many years. He also acted in television

During the 1950s, he he acted in the few remaining radio shows that were on the air, most notable on X Minus One. After 1962, he began doing voicework for cartoons. A few years after this, he started a project with his childhood friend, Peter Fernandez, in which a Japanese cartoon was given a new script. That cartoon was Speed Racer. He did the parts of Sparky (a little boy) and Chin Chin (a chimpanzee).

Jack continued to act on TV. In 1974, CBS began broadcasting radio dramas again with their CBS Radio Mystery Theater (which was recorded in New York). Jack did at least 49 of those shows. He also acted on some of the other radio shows that were going on at that time.

He retired in 1978. He was not related to the politician by the same name.

Jack Grimes died in Queens, New York, on March 10, 2009.

Jack Pearl (1894-1982)

Jacob Perlman was born October 29, 1894, in New York City. He became a vaudeville entertainer as a teenager using the stage name Jack Pearlman. Over a course of time, he developed into one character, a German storyteller named Baron Munchausen, loosely based on a famous fictitious literary character. To be the Baron called for a straight man.

A straight man in comedy is one who supposedly thinks like everyone else in the audience. Jack's first straight man was Ben Bard (1893-1974), who left the act in the early 1930s to go to Hollywood. (And Ben made it big in Hollywood.) The second straight man was Clifford Hall (1894-1972). Cliff had the gentlest nature. He was inquisitive without seeming ignorant. In 1942, Cliff was attacked by a Canadian soldier on leave, leaving him blind in one eye. Eventually, the eye was removed and replaced with a glass eye.

The Baron's stories were amazing. Even when they weren't so amazing they were incredibly funny. Here is an example of one of those:

CLIFF: You went to a correspondence school?

BARON: Yes, I did. Back in the old country.

CLIFF: I didn't know they had correspondence schools on the continent!

BARON: Yes, but let me finish.

CLIFF: OK, Baron.

BARON: I wasn't such a good student. Sometimes I played hooky!

CLIFF: How did you do that?

BARON: (laughs) I sent them an empty envelope!

Jack and Cliff tried their routines on radio in Hollywood but they didn't work. They then tried to go back to radio to try them but that didn't work either. Cliff would play other characters in other radio programs before retiring. Jack stopped doing everything until 1963 when he played a man (using the name Jack Pearlman) who seemed very much like Munchausen. Cliff worked on TV until he was diagnosed with cancer in 1966.

Jack Pearl was happily married to Winnie Desbrought for most of his life. He died on Christmas Day in 1982 at the age of 88 in New York City.

Jack Paar (1918-2004)

Jack Harold Paar was born May 1, 1918, in Canton, Ohio. When he was a child, his family moved to Jackson, Michigan. He quit high school in 1935 to work as a disc jockey at radio station WIBM in Jackson. He proved to be one of the funniest DJs in the business. After he turned 18, he began working for some of the prominent radio stations at the time, including WJR in Detroit, WIRE in Indianapolis, WGAR in Cleveland, and WBEN in Buffalo. It was while he was working at WGAR that Orson Welles broadcast his "realistic" version of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. He was the station announcer for that evening. During the station break at 9:30, Jack gave a friendly announcement: "The world is not coming to an end. Trust me. Have I ever lied to you?" (For those who don't know this story, I will put it up in a future posting.)

Jack Paar continued working as a utility announcer and sometimes disc jockey until he was drafted into the Navy in World War II. His job in the Navy was entertainer. He was stationed in the South Pacific. Although he had never worked as a professional comedian in civilian life, most of the men who saw him perform said he was better than most of the guys who came on USO tours to entertain for the troops.

Upon his discharge from the Navy, Jack Benny selected him to host his summer replacement series in 1947. The show only lasted through the summer. Later, he worked under contract at RKO Radio Pictures. Most of the films were not that memorable. He usually played a master of ceremonies.

After this came television... Jack did a number of game shows and talk shows. Eventually, it became known that Jack had a real gift for interviewing people. During the 1950s, he was the substitute host for Steve Allen on the Tonight Show (which was simply called Tonight back then). After Steve Allen left the show, Jack became the new permanent host. He remained there until 1962, when Johnny Carson took over.

As an interviewer, Jack Paar was very unpredictable. He often became passionate and bitter. He never hid his feelings about anything. This often got him into trouble. He continued to work in television until the early 1970s, when ABC television tried to have him host a late night talk show. It lasted one month.

Jack Paar was married three times. He was married twice to the same woman. His third marriage (to Miriam Wagner) took place in 1943. They were married for 58 years and had one child. In poor health for over five years, he died on January 27, 2004, at his home in Greenwich, Connecticut, at the age of 85.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Jack Mercer (1909-84)

Jack Mercer was born January 14, 1909, in New York City. His parents were actors and, unlike some of the other performers in this 'blog, encouraged him to go into acting. But Jack had other ideas. His plan was to go into art. So, after graduating from high school in 1927 (De Witt Clinton High School) he went to a two year art school. When he got out, he got a job with the Fleischer Brothers Cartoon Studio in New York City as an in-betweener. In animation, an in-betweener is an entry level job in which the mistakes of the more advanced artists are corrected. In the old days (and this was the old days) in-betweeners were hardly paid anything. But it was the only way to get anywhere in the animation business.

Billy Costello (1898-1971) was the original voice of Popeye, the chief product of the Fleischer Brothers, who were Max, Dave, and Lou Fleischer, three brothers whose parents came to the United States from Austria-Hungary (actually, the area they came from is located in Poland). Max was born in the "old country," so he, too, was an immigrant. Billy had a very difficult attitude. But he was the only one the brothers knew who could pull off the Popeye voice. Dave hated Billy. He literally hated him. His arguments with Dave were known throughout the studio. The only one of the brothers who seemed to like him was Lou. And Lou really didn't do that much for the studio. After one of Dave and Billy's legendary rows in 1935, the artists in the studio began teasing Billy. Jack, imitating Billy, made up a song about what was going on, using some off color words, to the tune of the Popeye theme song. Dave left the room but Lou, who was always quiet, spoke up.

"Young man," Lou said, "Can you sing that song for me again?"

Jack was embarrassed. He knew someone was going to be fired for what was going on. With the Depression going on it was terrible to be back on the streets of New York looking for work. He really didn't want to do it.

"Come on, young man. I'm waiting..."

He repeated the song.

"Mr. Costello," Lou told Billy, "This in-betweener sings better than you. He sounds more like I think Popeye should sound. What's more... You're fired and I'm hiring him to take your place."

William A. Costello never worked in show business again. He moved to California and became a lumberjack.

Jack was one of the Fleischers' most loyal employees. When the studio moved from New York to Miami, he never complained about moving. He did many of the voices for their Superman cartoon series (which borrowed Bud Collyer from the radio series). He also did cartoons for the Famous Studios division of Paramount Pictures. They would continue doing Popeye cartoons through the 1950s.

While the program was still new, a Popeye radio series was aired over a handful of stations throughout the country. The radio program was a little different than the cartoons. In the cartoons, Popeye ate spinach to get strong. In the radio series, the sponsor was Wheatena hot cereal. So Popeye ate Wheatena to get strong.

His last regular work in cartoons was a revamping of Felix the Cat, which was done by the Trans Lux Company in New York City (early 1960s). All of the voices on that series were done by Jack... Felix, Poindexter, the Professor, Rock Bottom, Vavoom, and all of the other voices heard.

After this, he did some cartoons for CBS Television a few years before his death. During that time, he lived in Los Angeles. For most of his life he lived in New York City, except for the brief periods when he worked at the Fleischer Brothers Studios in Florida and for CBS in California.

Jack was married twice. The first time, he was married Margie Hines, the original voice of Olive Oyl, Popeye's girlfriend. His second wife was named Virginia. Jack died in Queens, New York, on December 4, 1984, at the age of 75.

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