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

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Harry Bartell (1913-2004)

Harry Bartell was born November 28, 1913, in New Orleans, Louisiana. He grew up in Houston, Texas. After finishing high school, he attended Rice University and graduated in 1933. Harry's first perfomances on radio were short audio versions of popular movies that were in the theaters at that time. He would get two 25 cent theater tickets for each performance. This was at radio station KRPC in Houston. He then moved on to the Harvard Business School, then moved out to Los Angeles to work in retail work. After this, he tried his hand at acting on radio... He worked at radio station KFWB, which was located in the Warner Brothers Studios in Hollywood (now the site of KTLA, channel 5). He was a disc jockey for the station and was also studying at the Pasadena Playhouse.

He married his wife Beverly in the late 1930s and they had a daughter named Judie.

Soon after he married, he began working in radio drama. His first role had him speaking with a Hindi accent on a show called Raffles. Eventually, he did almost every program that originated out of Hollywood. No list would be fair to show everything he did, although the best shows he did were: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (where he was the announcer and commercial pitchman for Petri wines--with his pleasant inflection and the way the commercials were written, he could make Petri Apple Cider Vinegar sound like the best companion for your Sunday chicken dinner!), Dragnet (he'd be a drunk, he'd be another cop, he'd be a Mexican priest, he could be anybody!), Fort Laramie (he had a regular part here as a cavalry officer), Gunsmoke (he was everyone again), and many other shows.

There were programs on which he could be rarely heard. He wasn't on The Whistler. He said he just wasn't the type of actor they wanted.

He worked in many films, usually uncredited, beginning with Destination Tokyo (1943). After appearing in that film, he was drafted into the Navy.

Harry was the fifth person who portrayed Archie Goodwin on The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe.

After radio, and movies, and TV shows, Harry retired and moved to Oregon in 1975.

He died of natural causes at his home in Ashland, Oregon, on February 26, 2004. He was 90 years old. Harry is buried in the Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Dixie Lee (1911-52)

Wilma Winifred Hyatt was born November 4, 1911, in Harriman, Tennessee. She was very talented as a teenager and won a talent contest which offered her a trip to Chicago and a part in a Broadway play in New York. Taking the name, Dixie Lee (but legally keeping her own name), she was well known as a singer, dancer, and actress.

In 1928, Dixie met Bing Crosby. He had a group called the Rhythm Boys and sang with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Bing was a star. But Dixie was an even bigger star. That was to change. When they met in that November, Bing said it was love at first sight. They would meet again in early 1929. They married at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Hollywood on September 29, 1930. (Note by Bill: One thing that should be noticed here is Dixie's youth... When Bing first met her she was all of 16 years old. Today this would be grounds for statutory rape! Bing was reportedly either 24 or 25, depending on whose biography you're reading.)

Dixie continued in show business until her pregnancy with first child Gary began to show in November 1932. She continued in radio until 1935 (mostly on the Shell Chateau), except when the whole family would gather together for their annual Christmas show on whatever radio program Bing was doing at the time.

Here is a list of Dixie's four sons:
  • Gary Evan Crosby (1933-1995) [Died of lung cancer.]
  • Phillip Lang Crosby (1934-2004) [Died of a heart attack.]
  • Dennis Michael Crosby (1934-1991) [Died of suicide by gunshot.]
  • Lindsay Harry Crosby (1938-1991) [Died of suicide by gunshot.]
Bing had a reputation of being a happy go lucky man in entertainment circles, but in his business and private life he was an absolute tyrant. More is said about that in Bing's biography. However, his attitude at home was overly strict to the point of being insensitive. Dixie often complained that it was Bing that took her away from show business, which she loved so much. After the first three sons started school, Dixie, who was already an alcoholic, began binge drinking during the day. She had actually began drinking because of Bing's own drinking problem. With a record of drunk driving and other embarrassing problems with the police, she worked hard to get her husband sobered up. Unfortunately, the drinking problem was traded to Dixie. When she became diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer in 1948, her liver was also damaged. It was said, even in the 1940s, that if she had not been such a hard drinker, she could have survived (after a radical hysterectomy) and lived to a ripe, old age. Since she did have a bad liver, she probably would have died soon after this from cirrhosis.

Dixie Lee died on November 1, 1952, at home in the Holmby Holmes section of Los Angeles. It was two days before her 41st birthday.

A couple of Bing's best known recordings include Dixie singing a duet with him. Sadly, she is not usually credited on these songs. They include "The Way You Look Tonight" and "A Fine Romance" from 1936.

Dixie is buried in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California, along with Bing, his parents, and two of their four sons. Interestingly, the whole family has almost identical tombstones, all set in a row.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Bobby Driscoll (1937-68)

Robert Cletus Driscoll was born March 3, 1937, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His parents were Cletus Driscoll, an insulation installer, and the former Isabelle Kratz, who had been a schoolteacher. Shortly after his birth, the Driscolls moved to Des Moines. In 1943, while taking a routine medical exam, Cletus was found to have a lot of asbestos in his lungs. The doctor suggested the dry warmth of Southern California and the family moved to Altadena.

One Saturday afternoon, Cletus and his son, Bobby, were getting their hair cut at a barber shop in nearby Pasadena. Bobby, being a normal active boy, was doing an entertaining routine. The barber, whose own son was an occasional child actor, suggested that Bobby try his luck in the motion picture business. Bobby auditioned for Metro Goldwyn Mayer and got a tiny role in the 1943 film, The Lost Angel, starring Margaret O'Brien. Actually, he got the part in the movie because, during the audition he was playing on a make believe ship on a sound stage. The casting director was so impressed with Bobby's curiosity and ambition, he hired him. After this 20th Century Fox cast him as Al Sullivan, the youngest of the Sullivan Boys (five brothers who joined the US Navy together in World War II) in The Fighting Sullivans. Bobby did several other motion pictures for other studios and became known as the Wonder Boy.

Walt Disney took notice of Bobby Driscoll. In 1946, he made his first live action film since the 1920s, Disney was making movies depicting real people (he had done a series of live action/animated short subjects called Alice in Wonderland starring Lois Hardwick). Bobby starred in Song of the South (1946) and So Dear to My Heart (1948). His co-star was Luana Patten (1938-96).

After these movies, Bobby did a few "B" movies for RKO, which handled the distribution for Walt Disney until 1953, when Walt and Roy Disney decided to distribute the studio's productions through a company called Buena Vista Pictures (this was also the same year RKO began selling off its property in Hollywood.) Bobby won an Oscar for his performance in The Window (1949). This was for the Best Juvenile Performance, a category which was awarded 1934, 1938, 1939, 1944 through 1946, 1948, 1949, 1954, and 1961. Had they decided to give this award for 1947, both Bobby and co-star Luana Patten would have won, according to Academy sources.

Bobby was working with Disney again as Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island (1950). This was filmed in England. Since the Driscoll family's time was limited there, many of Bobby's scenes were performed by a double. He was the voice of Goofy, Jr., in theater cartoon shorts. Then he did Peter Pan (1953). For this, he was the voice of the character, plus he was the model for the close up shots for Peter Pan.

And then, he turned 16, the world changed. His face became loaded with zits. Walt Disney canceled his contract with him. His mother took him out of the Hollywood Professional School and enrolled him in University High School, located near the campus of UCLA. Bobby didn't belong there. He was an actor. He needed to be with other actors. He was still working in TV and managed to do a couple of terrible movies. And, in 1955, he actually graduated from University High School.

As a student at University High, he got in with the wrong crowd. He started experimenting with mind altering drugs. Beginning as a minor thing, it lapsed into a full addiction and it would lead him down the road to destruction. By 1956, he had several brushes with the law. He went from being the Golden Boy to being the Bad Boy in just a few years.

Bobby married Marilyn Jeanne Rush on December 3, 1956. Because he was underage and didn't have her parents' permission, the marriage was annulled. When he turned 20 in 1957, they remarried. They had three children. They divorced in 1960.

By 1958, Bobby was nothing. He had no work. He was a drug addict. He would do anything he could to get drugs. Marilyn was supporting the family, even during pregnancy.

In 1961, he was sentenced to the Narcotics Section of the California Institution for Men in Chino. (There is a newspaper clipping above explaining the whole thing.) He was released in 1962, having only spent six months in prison. But he was now free from drugs. No one wanted him anymore. In Bobby's words, "I have found that memories are not useful. I was carried on a silver platter and dumped in the garbage can."

Andy Warhol invited Bobby to work with him on his 1965 film Dirt. Not having the resources to go anywhere else, Bobby became a homeless person on the streets of Manhattan. He quit the drugs but he continued on his addiction as an alcoholic and would often be seen sleeping in the gutter.

On March 30, 1968, two children were playing in an abandoned apartment building when they found whom they thought was an unknown, forgotten homeless man. The authorities did an autopsy on him and had him buried in an unmarked grave at Potters Field on Hart Island in the Bronx. After the results of the autopsy returned, they realized that they had buried Bobby Driscoll but didn't know where they had buried him. His parents, now living in Oceanside, California, near San Diego, made a grave for him, even though he could never be in it. Actually, it's impossible to know when Bobby died exactly, but it is certain he lived past his 31st birthday on March 3.

With regards to this site, Bobby made several momentous radio appearances. The first was an interview show in which he and Luana Patten were talking about Song of the South. He was frequently heard on several episodes of Lux Radio Theater, Family Theater, and Dragnet. On Dragnet, he was usually unbilled. He appeared on other shows as well, also not usually mentioned by name.


An interesting note is that Luana Patten was also out of the motion picture industry after she became a teenager. She went back to her native Long Beach, California, and attended Woodrow Wilson High School. In 1957, she was working as a cashier in the box office of a movie theater in Long Beach when she was held up. The show playing was Song of the South.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Bob Hope (1903-2003)

Leslie Townes Hope was born May 29, 1903, in London, England. His family moved from England and they processed through Ellis Island into the United States on May 30, 1908, when little Leslie was four years old. He was the fifth of seven sons of William Thomas Hope, a stone mason, and Avis Townes, a Welsh light opera singer who ended up working as a washerwoman. Her mother was Italian. The family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, after being inspected.

Bob would talk about starting school in Cleveland, just a few months after arriving in the country. He still had his British accent and, when children would ask his name, he would say it in the typical British manner of surname followed by given name. So he told the kids his name was, "Hope, Leslie," which sounded like HOPELESSLY! The other children didn't like that, so they started calling him the short version, Hopeless. He then worked to talk like the other kids and gave himself the nickname, Bob.

When he wasn't in school, Bob worked as an entertainer... a busker, which is a street entertainer who works for tips. He became a boxer and fought under the name, Packy East.

In 1920, at the age of 17, Bob became a United States citizen.

Fatty Arbuckle saw Bob working his busk act and put him in Hurley's Jollie Follies. He worked with a number of partners, including a comedian George Byrne (not to be confused with George Burns) and a pair of Siamese twins called the Hilton Sisters. For part of the act, George and Bob played the part of Siamese twins. Today this might be considered low, degrading humor, but back then they thought it was funny.

Bob spent five years in vaudeville before making it big in motion pictures. He had already done a couple of bit parts in movies... The Sidewalks of New York (1927) and Smiles (1928). He tried to to a screen test for the Pathe Studio in Culver City, California, in 1930, but failed.

So, he went to New York and began to work in Broadway musical plays. He was in Roberta, Say When, the Zigfeld Follies of 1936, and Red, Hot, and Blue (which starred Ethel Merman). Audiences loved how he his comedy was well timed.

The truth was that Bob wasn't an improvisational comedian, but rather one who performed what others wrote. Later, Groucho Marx would, when working with Bob, often knock his script on the floor and stand on it, watching to see what Bob would do. Some of Bob's fans were shocked to learned that it was difficult for him to perform without a script.

Bob was first heard on radio in 1933 on Rudy Vallee's Fleischmann's Yeast Hour. He was introduced as a "promising new comic."

In 1933, Bob was briefly married to Grace Louise Troxell. Married in January, they divorced at the end of the year.

He was hired by Educational Pictures, a division of 20th Century Fox which made comedy shorts. He starred in a short called Going Spanish (1934). Unfortunately, when being interviewed for publicity, he tried to be funny and got in trouble for it. When asked about the new movie, Bob quipped, "When they catch John Dillinger, they're going to make him sit through it twice." Educational Pictures subsequently fired Bob Hope. This explains partially why Bob refused to work without a script. He was afraid to be left to his own devices after that. Vitaphone, which had studios in New York, had plenty of work for him for the next four years.

On February 19, 1934, Bob married actress Dolores Reade (1909- ). Not able to have children, the Hopes adopted four children: Anthony, Nora, Linda, and Kelly. They were all born in the Chicago area.

Bob Hope's big break was the Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938), which began his long contract with Paramount Pictures. It was in this movie that Bob sang his signature song, "Thanks for the Memory," with Shirley Ross. After this picture, Bob never lacked for acting work again.

His success in motion pictures spilled over into his success in radio. In October 1938, his Pepsodent Program debuted. Bob was one of the last of the major comedians to have his own radio program and it was partly because his career seemed to have a late start. But it was definitely successful. (He began the year before with a radio program sponsored by Woodbury soap.) The Pepsodent show would remain on the air through 1953.

It was just prior to World War II that Bob began entertaining U.S. military personnel. Bob's first show was at March Field, near Riverside, California, on May 6, 1941. He would go to the battle zones in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He did this proudly and took some of the greatest talent from Hollywood with him.

Bob was very careful to be a good role model in his professional and private life. With the large amounts of money he was earning, he parlayed this into even more money with real estate investments.

Bob Hope first appeared on television for an experimental broadcast by the Columbia Broadcasting System in 1933 in New York. But he is better known for being the emcee on January 17, 1947, for the first broadcast of station KTLA at the Paramount Studios in Hollywood. Reading the script, he misread the name of the station, calling it "KTL." He never had a regular television program (there was a show called the Bob Hope Theater on NBC, but it wasn't successful.)

He was a host for the Academy Awards 18 times. Bob never won or was nominated for an Oscar, but he won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1960.

There were many other awards, including the Order of the British Empire (KBE) from his native United Kingdom and the Order of St. Gregory (KCSG) by the Roman Catholic Church. In 1997, Congress voted to make him an Honorary Veteran.

In 1993, Bob converted to his wife's Roman Catholic faith and lived accordingly. He never had any bad habits in his life, except cigarette smoking. He quit smoking in the 1970s.

In 2000 his health began to fail. He was hospitalized in June of that year for gastrointestinal bleeding. And then there were recurring bouts of pneumonia. He died at the age of 100 at his home in the Toluca Lake section of Los Angeles. According to one of his daughters, when Dolores asked him where he wanted to be buried, Bob replied, "Surprise me." Those were his last words.

Bob is buried at the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in the Mission Hills section of Los Angeles.

Bing Crosby (1903?-77)

Harry Lillis Crosby was born May 3, 1903 (or May 3, 1903, or May 2, 1902, depending on who wrote the biography consulted), in Tacoma, Washington. He was the son of Harry Lincoln Crosby (1870-1950), a bookkeeper, and the former Catherine Helen "Kate" Harrigan (1873-1964), a homemaker. The Crosbys left the Seattle area and moved to Spokane shortly after Bing's birth. Bing was the fourth of seven children:
  • Lawrence Earl "Larry" Crosby (1895?-1977)
  • Everett Nathaniel Crosby (1895-1966)
  • Edward John "Ted" Crosby (1900-73)
  • Harry Lillis "Bing" Crosby
  • Catherine Cordelia "Katie" Crosby Mullin (1905-88)
  • Mary Rose Crosby Pool (1907-90)
  • George Robert "Bob" Crosby (1913-93)
Bing got his name from a Sunday supplement included in the Spokane Spokesman-Review called the "Bingville Bugle", sort of an early 20th century version of Mad magazine. It included mock ads and creative misspellings. Little Harry was only six, but a 15 year old neighbor girl named Valentine Hobart really took a liking to him. She would say, "Hey, it's Bingo from Bingville." Bingo was soon shortened to Bing and it stuck. He was no longer little Harry, but now Bing

(Bill's note: Like Bing, I have the same first name and middle initial as my father...I'm Billy Jack Long and he was Billy Joe Long. To avoid confusion, my parents called me "Jackie," from my middle name, Jack. I hated it, even before I started school. It caused all kinds of problems on government forms, even as an adult. And, when my dad died, some people thought I died, since I was living out of the country. Now I can be "Bill Long" without any confusion... I hope. And, when I write my full name, I always spell out my middle name, rather than write a middle initial. I hate those websites that won't allow anymore than one letter! Oh, read on and discover what other mistakes this can cause, with regards to his older son with his second wife!)

In 1917, Bing got a summer time job working as a property boy at the Spokane Auditorium. Working there, he saw many of the greatest performers of the day including Al Jolson and Billy Murray. He developed a profound fondness for Jolson and would imitate him, much to the chagrin of his family.

In 1920, Bing entered Gonzaga University in Spokane with intentions of becoming a lawyer. He maintained good grades but had a reputation for being a prankster. There is an urban legend floating around the campus that he pushed a piano out of his room from the top floor of DeSmet Hall. There are several reasons why this couldn't have happened... Bing didn't play the piano. Gonzaga didn't have a music program at the time. And DeSmet Hall wasn't built yet. Bing left Gonzaga in 1921. The dorm was built in 1922!

In 1921, Bing bought a set of drums from a mail order house and was encouraged to join a local band called the Musicaladers, made up of mostly high school students. Bing proved to be quite musical being a proficient singer and drummer. Eventually, he thought he was good enough that he decided to drop out of college and start a career in show business. The manager of the Musicaladers was Al Rinker, whose sister was Mildred Bailey. They went to Los Angeles together.

In 1926, Bing and Al got the notice of bandleader Paul Whiteman. They toured with the Whiteman orchestra and made a few popular recordings. After a few months, despite Bing and Al's popularity, Whiteman added Harry Barris, a composer and piano player. This group became known as the Rhythm Boys. They were featured in movies in which Whiteman's orchestra was playing, including the King of Jazz (1930). Later that year, Bing married Dixie Lee, a multi-talented star who was better known than he was at that time. With Dixie, Bing had four sons.

Bing's radio career started in 1931 over radio station KHJ in Los Angeles on a program that was carried over the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) radio network. In the following month, Bing had a regular program over the NBC Red Network, the Cremo Singer. Cremo was a cigar brand and Bing was a very devoted smoker of all kinds of tobacco products, as well as marijuana. After the Cremo program, he was on the Woodbury Soap Program on NBC Red and his longstanding program, the Kraft Music Hall. Bing would remain with that program until the late 1940s.

In 1940, Bing started his "buddy" movies with Bob Hope with the Road to Singapore, featuring Dorothy Lamour. It was one of his first really big motion pictures. In 1942 he introduced his most popular song, "White Christmas," in the film Holiday Inn (the title was the inspiration for the hotel chain of the same name.)

Because he was busy as an actor in motion pictures, and he still wanted to do the radio programs, he couldn't do them live. Bing tried to get the Kraft Music Hall to be recorded but they wouldn't do it. The program was then passed on to his idol, Al Jolson. His last Kraft Music Hall was aired on May 2, 1946.

The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) agreed that Bing could have a radio program and it could be recorded on the new Ampex tape recorder. The sponsor was Philco. Philco Radio Time premiered October 16, 1946. It was last heard on June 1, 1949.

During that time, Bing had an affair with Joan Caulfield and was ready to divorce Dixie over it. But this was during the time that Dixie was found to be dying of terminal cancer. Bing did have another affair before Dixie's death (and had many other affairs besides). Long before Bing starred with Grace Kelly in The Country Girl (1954), they had a torrid affair on which Dixie witnessed herself in Bing's home office, as they were having sex. Knowing that Dixie was close to death, he was totally insensitive about the whole thing. After this, Bing had an affair with Inger Stevens. Inger Stevens tried to rekindle the affair over the years, long after he married his second wife, and Inger committed suicide in 1970.

CBS sponsored Bing's next program, which was sponsored by Chesterfield cigarettes beginning in October 1949. It would be Bing's last regular radio series.

In 1957, Bing married movie star Kathryn Grant (born Olivia Kathryn Grandstaff in 1933) was younger than Bing's oldest son Gary by five months and Bing was some 30 years older than Kathryn. Bing and Kathryn had three children:
  • Harry Lillis Crosby, III (born 1958) [Investment banker in New York City, also an actor and singer] (although named Harry Lillis Crosby, III, his grandfather was actually Harry Lincoln Crosby, so this is a misnomer)
  • Mary Frances Crosby (born 1959) [Film actress]
  • Nathaniel Patrick Crosby (born 1961) [Professional golfer and golf executive]

Bing was involved with many businesses. He was an owner of several businesses, including the Minute Maid Company, which manufactured the first frozen orange juice. He owned several race horses and was part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates professional baseball team.

Politically, he was a die hard Republican. He campaigned very openly for G.O.P. candidates until the 1940 election when Wendell Willkie was running against Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Bing didn't think that it was right for anyone to be in office longer than two terms. When Willkie lost, Bing never did anything openly political again.

Bing was involved with television as a guest until he finally decided to appear on the Hollywood Palace in 1964. He would do the Christmas program on this show with his family. (See the picture above.)

Although he tried to portray the image of a happy family man, Bing Crosby was very covert in much of what he did in life. He never had a birth certificate and he always celebrated his birthday on May 3 and said he was born in 1904. However, some family members said that his birthday was actually May 2, 1902. May 3 was the same day as his sister Mary's birthday and the two always celebrated their birthdays together. Some biographers try to make Bing out to be a terrible man. His sons blamed their father for their failed lives. And Bing wasn't faithful to at least one of his two wives. When reading some of the resources to write this page, it was discovered that the negative entries came from people who disagreed with Bing politically. Also, when he died, he was reportedly worth $150,000,000 and is valued at $400,000,000 today. Those same people who were against him probably forget that he was for the decriminalization of marijuana and encouraged his sons (from his first marriage) to smoke pot instead of get drunk on alcohol, since that caused him so many problems with the law and ended his working relationship with Paul Whiteman. (Bill's Disclaimer: I personally am against the use of marijuana and do not endorse its use by anyone.)

His death occurred on a golf course in Madrid, Spain. It was some three years after a tumor, the size of an orange, was removed from Bing's right lung. He immediately stopped smoking cigarettes (he smoked three packs a day), pipes, and cigars. It was 6:00 pm on October 14, 1977, and he had just finished a golf game. Reportedly, his last words were, "That was a great game of golf, fellas. Let's go get a Coke." He then dropped dead of a heart attack. Bing was reportedly 74 years old.

Bing's funeral, as stated in his will was to be attended by family and close friends only, and held in a Roman Catholic church. Geraldo Rivera reported the event for ABC News and was the only reporter in attendance. Hating to wear a toupee (he preferred to wear a golf cap), his bald head showed for all to see.

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