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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

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.

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