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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Gale Gordon (1906-95)

Charles Thomas Aldrich, Jr., was born February 20, 1906 in New York City. An only child, his parents were British actress Gloria Gordon and Charles T. "Chuck" Aldrich, a vaudeville comedian. When he was very young, the family moved from America to England to seek employment in entertainment. Gale was born with a cleft palate and he received surgery to fix this when the family was in England. In 1915, the family went back to New York City. At age 17, Gale went back to England to attend the Woodbridge School in Suffolk, England.

Returning to North America, Gale became a movie extra in Canada. His picture was The Dancers (1923). He also worked on the stage in Toronto. Knowing he was a good actor, he never realized that he had such a strong voice, having been born with a cleft palate. He said his discovery of his strong voice came about when he was playing around on the stage. In 1926, when radio was still in its infancy, Gale made his radio debut playing the ukelele and singing popular songs of the time. At this time, he was in Hollywood doing various odd jobs at movie lots and in radio stations. He was not afraid of hard work and developed a great repuations for being one of the most honest, ambitious men in Hollywood. There was lots of uncredited radio work and Gale considered this to be paying his dues.

By 1933, Gale Gordon was the highest paid radio performer in Hollywood. Some of the programs on which he was heard were Calling All Cars (on which he was the relief dispatcher when Los Angeles Police Sergeant Jesse Rosenquist had to work), Flash Gordon (he was Flash Gordon), Lux Radio Theater (many parts), and Sherlock Holmes (he was Dr. Watson, playing agains Nigel Bruce).

Gale met radio actress Virginia Curley in 1937. After a whirlwind courtship, they married. They were married for 67 years until her death in 1995. They had no children. Now, it should be pointed out that Gale Gordon NEVER legally changed his name. He was Charles T. Aldrich, Jr., until the day he died.

In 1939, Gale began a long working relationship with Lucille Ball on Jack Haley's Wonder Bread Show. This was also the year that Fibber McGee and Molly (he would not appear until after Marian Jordan successfully left an alcoholic detox program in Illinois) was moved from Chicago to Los Angeles. Many who do not know Gale's colorful radio past often write on their webpages that the part which made him famous was the part of Mayor La Trivia (a play on New York City Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia). The first part he played on the Fibber McGee show was Molly's former suitor, Otis T. Cadwallader. Actually, it was the part of La Trivia which was the first representing his trademark slow burn anger, which would be present in every comedic role he ever did after that time.

But he did do drama. On Dr. Christian - - The Country Doctor, he played the part of Roy Davis, the pharmacist. More can be read about that show in the story about Jean Hersholt. (Also click on the picture at the left to view more information.) Gale was on that show from 1939 to 1942.

In 1942, Gale joined the United States Coast Guard. He joined willingly; he wasn't drafted. He enlisted and rose to the rank of Petty Officer First Class in the three years he was in the Guard. Going on US Navy vessels his military service took him all around the most dangerous parts of the world at that time... mostly to Asia (he was stationed at the Coast Guard station at San Clemente, California, just north of Oceanside.) When on leave to visit his wife in Hollywood, he appeared on Fibber McGee and Molly in his Coast Guard uniform. For those who are proud American citizens, this program evokes a great deal of patriotism when listening to it, even though Gale, in his role as Petty Officer La Trivia, was in his normal slow burn to anger he made famous.

Returning to civilian life, Gale was heard on Fibber McGee and Molly as Mayor La Trivia. He was also Foggy the weatherman on later episodes of that show. He was also Rumson Bullard, another weatherman on The Great Gildersleeve. There were many other radio shows. On Our Miss Brooks he was Osgood Conklin, the principal of Madison High School. On My Favorite Husband, he was Rudolph Attebery, the bank president. This was the first program in which he would have verbal fights with Lucille Ball. That would be the character Gale would be remembered for until the end of his life. 1n 1950, he played the part of John Granby in Granby's Green Acres. Granby was a New York City banker who got the idea of moving to the country to have his own farm. It also had Bea Benaderet as his wife and Louise Erickson as his daughter. 15 years later that TV show was transferred to television with most of the same characters (with different names), although that couple didn't have a daughter living with them.

There were also some radio programs on which Gale intended to be on but it didn't work out so well. He played the part of university president William Todhunter Hall on the pilot for The Halls of Ivy. The actual program was done with Ronald Colman as the president and Colman's wife, Benita Hume, as Mrs. Victoria Hall. Dr. Hall was referred on the program as being all-American. And Vicky was his English wife. However, in real life, Mr. and Mrs. Hall were English. To some purists that didn't seem right. But it was a very popular radio program. Three years later, with almost all the same actors, the program was seen on TV. It wasn't quite as successful.

Gale was expected to have the part of Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy on TV, with Bea Benaderet as his wife, Ethel. But those parts went to William Frawley and Vivian Vance (a very unlikely couple, especially for the early 1950s). Later, he would have important parts on all of Lucille Ball's subsequent television series, with the exception of the last one, Life with Lucy (he only appeared on the first episode.)

His first television series was Our Miss Brooks. Except for missing Jeff Chandler (as Phil Boynton - - he was replaced by Robert Rockwell) both the TV series and the movie based on it had the original cast. There would be many other television shows.

In 1949, Gale bought a 150 acre ranch in Borrego Springs, California. On the ranch, he grew carob trees. He became one of the few successful carob farmers in the United States. His commute from Borrego Springs, located in the Anza-Borrego Desert of eastern San Diego County, was a four hour drive away from Hollywood back in those days, with the only freeway the Hollywood Freeway between downtown Los Angeles and Sunset Boulevard.

There were a few movies, including Speedway (1968), starring Elvis Presley.

He had a hobby of painting pictures and his work often hung in some of the best art galleries on the West Coast. He wrote two children's books: Nursery Rhymes for Hollywood Babies and Leaves from the Story Trees.

Gale and his wife Virginia spent the last few years of their lives at the Redwood Terrace Health Center in Escondido, California (next to San Diego). Virginia died on May 3, 1995, of a heart attack. Gale died June 30, 1995, after a long struggle with lung cancer.

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