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

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Ben Alexander (1911-69)


Nicholas Benton Alexander, IV, was born May 26, 1911, in Goldfield, Nevada. Bennie's family moved to Los Angeles in 1915. Involved in the entertainment industry, Bennie was acting in films of D.W. Griffith as soon as he got there, at the age of three. Actually, his real career started a little later, when he was 15. His best known film of his youth is All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).

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Despite working in movies, Ben went to regular classes at Hollywood High School. He wasn't one of the best students at Hollywood High but he did graduate. Ben was well liked by everyone and the girls thought he was good looking.
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In this page from the 1928 edition of the Hollywood High School yearbook, Ben Alexander is seen in the second row, second person. It's easy to see that, reading his comments about himself, he never took himself seriously.




Ben worked steadily in the movie industry until about 1943, when he began working as a writer for radio programs. He would also appear as a support cast member.

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When television broke out in Los Angeles (1947), Ben was working as a host and interviewer in several shows. He was part of the cast of the Martin and Lewis Show from 1949 to 1953. During this time, Barton Yarborough, who played the part of Ben Romero on Dragnet, who died in December 1951. Barney Phillips played the first of Joe Friday's relief partners, Ed Jacobs. His second partner was Frank Smith. Frank was originally played by Herb Ellis. But after a few months, it was decided to have Ben Alexander to do the part. One of the reasons for this was that Ben was a capable writer and would be able to write scripts for both the radio and the television versions of the program. Also, Ben was already under contract to the Marin and Lewis Show, which had the same sponsor as Dragnet.




This might seem a bit strange today, but sponsors actually used to be sponsors. When a company sponsored a radio or TV show, it owned it and, usually, all the members of the cast, as well. The sponsor of Dragnet was Liggett and Myers, the company that made Chesterfield and Fatima cigarettes, as well as L & M cigarettes.


When Ben would look back at the six years he spent on Dragnet (on both radio and TV) he often mentioned it was the best time he ever had in show business.


However, when Dragnet returned to the air in 1967, Ben had an obligation as he was already working in a police show, Felony Squad, on ABC. That would be Ben's last work as an actor.


Ben died at the age of 58 in Los Angeles.


One of the things about Ben that most people didn't know about was that he liked to stay busy. In 1953, Ben bought a car dealership. Until 1969, Ben Alexander Ford was one of the highest grossing Ford dealerships in America. It's one reason why, on all of the Dragnet shows (even the ones in the 1960s) the police cars were all Fords.















1 comment:

Michael J. Hayde said...

Webb might have gotten the cars he used through Alexander's dealership (although it's more likely the deal was struck with the manufacturer), but the one and only reason why Fords were used on Dragnet is because that's the car the real-lfe LAPD used.

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