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

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Billy Idelson (1919-2007)

William Idelson was born August 21, 1919, in Forest Park, Illinois. Billy was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. He began working in radio at the age of 12 on Vic and Sade. He was also heard on a number of other Chicago radio programs in the 1930s. He remained on Vic and Sade until he was called to serve in the Navy during World War II. He returned to the program in 1945. He sporadically continued working in radio but his real job for most of that time was in real estate. In 1950 he married Seemah Wilder. They would have four children, including daughter Ellen Idelson (1961-2003), who also acted and wrote TV shows like her father.

In 1959, not understanding what he was doing, he wrote a script for a TV show. He sent it to the producers of the Twilight Zone and they bought it. He called the script, "Direct Line," but it was changed to "Long Distance Call." He was the only person from the original Twilight Zone series who both wrote and acted on the program. He also acted in many other programs. In time, he wrote for many television shows and gave classes of how to do it. He wrote a number of books about writing for television and about old time radio. 

Bill is probably best known for his work on the Odd Couple, which starred Tony Randall and Oscar Klugman. This was one of the most popular shows of the 1970s.

He also became well known at OTR (old time radio) conventions. His stories about the people involved in the Vic and Sade program were interesting.

Bill Idelson died on December 31, 2007, after a fall at his home in Los Angeles. He was 88 years old.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bea Benaderet (1906-68)

Beatrice Benaderet was born April 4, 1906, in New York City. Her father was Samuel Benaderet, an immigrant from Turkey. Her mother was Margaret O'Keefe.  Bea moved to San Francisco with her family when she was little and was first heard on radio there at the age of 12. Bea attended the Reginald Travis School for Acting in San Francisco. During her time there she worked in stock companies and found work in radio.  She became an active voice actress in the Bay Area in the 1930s and moved to Los Angeles in 1936 where she became one of the most active radio actresses of her day.  She married actor Jim Bannon (1911-84)  in 1938 and they had a son, Jack Bannon (1940- ), who also became an actor.

Bea was on hundreds of radio programs throughout the 1940s and into the 1950s. Although she wasn't the most beautiful woman on the radio she could make her voice sound like it. Bea could be anyone. She could be old. She could be sexy. She could be a doting wife. 

And once she was naked. Dead, but naked. It was on the program The Whistler. The date was August 21, 1946.  The episode was called "The Broken Chain." In it, Elliott Lewis played a business owner who wanted to run away with his pretty, young secretary. Bea was a seemingly devoted housewife who would do anything for the love of her husband. But usually she never got out of bed in the morning until hours after her husband went to work. So the husband had a plan... He asked his wife to cook breakfast for him. She went to bed that night spending hours talking about what she was going to cook for him. In the morning, the wife had gotten up long before the husband. She had something cooking in the stove and had gone to take a bath. The husband had worked it so that a chain that was used to pull themselves out of the tub would break and cause an accident. So the husband left home when he heard the chain break and took breakfast at the coffee shop near his office. That afternoon, he received a phone call from his "wife" that she was playing cards with a neighbor and wouldn't be home until late in the afternoon. 

Now how could that happen? The loyal Blogger won't spoil this excitement. Readers, you can find that radio program here. You will find out that the husband wasn't the only guilty party!

She was a regular on Fibber McGee and Molly, My Favorite Husband, Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, and many other shows and was heard on almost every situation comedy originating from Los Angeles.

And, beginning in 1940, she was in a lot of movies. But she had the parts that you could hear but couldn't see.  She began doing voicework in 1947 for Warner Brothers in their Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons. Her first role was that of Granny, the owner of Tweety Pie. 

Beginning with one movie in 1949, Bea began to show her face to the camera, although she was seen on a TV show produced and written by radio impresario Arch Oboler before that. Now her parts on television were different than what she did on radio. She always played the same people on the sitcoms she appeared on.
  • I Love Lucy - - Miss Lewis
  • Jack Benny - - Gertrude Gearshift (operator/she also did this part on radio)
  • Burns and Allen - - Blanche Morton
  • Bob Cummings - - Blanche Morton
  • Flintstones - - Betty Rubble
  • Beverly Hillbillies - - Pearl (earlier shows)
  • Beverly Hillbillies - - Kate Bradley (later shows)
  • Petticoat Junction - - Kate Bradley 
  • Green Acres - - Kate Bradley
In 1960, she was called on to do the part of Betty Rubble in the "adult" cartoon series, the Flintstones. The original four actors to portray the four main characters were all Old Time Radio veterans: Alan Reed (AKA Teddy Bergman), Mel Blanc, Jean Vander Pyl, and Bea Benaderet. She stayed on the program until Filmways producer Paul Henning asked her to do the part of Kate Bradley on Petticoat Junction. She did both that show and the Flintstones until her body couldn't take it anymore.

Bea and Jim Bannon were divorced in 1950. Besides their son Jack, they also had a daughter. In 1957, she married actor and sound technician Gene Twombly (1908-68).

She became very ill beginning in 1967 and had to stop all of her work. It was lung cancer (she was a smoker). Bea Benaderet died October 13, 1968, at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles. She is buried at the Valhalla Memorial Park in the North Hollywood district of Los Angeles. Four days after she died, and two days after the funeral, her husband Gene died, and is buried next to her.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Bernardine Flynn (1904-77)

Bernardine Flynn was born January 2, 1904, in Madison, Wisconsin. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1926 and married Dr. C.C. Doherty, a prominent physician, in 1929.  Ever since arriving in Chicago in 1927, she had been involved as a radio actress and announcer. She was one of the few women whom the station managers thought could announce without getting too emotional. It was for this reason that Bernardine was selected by Paul Rhymer to be Sade Gook on the comedy-soap opera, Vic and Sade.

Sade Gook was a devoted wife to husband Vic Gook, an accountant for the Consolidated Kitchenware Company. They had an adopted son named Rush who was quite bright.  Sade had absolutely no sense of humor. When Paul Rhymer selected her, he knew that if something were to make everyone laugh, Sade would not laugh or even crack a smile.

The program aired 15 minutes a day, five days a week from 1932 to 1945. It returned to the air during the middle of 1946 for a weekly one hour show. And there were some television episodes in 1949 and 1957. It was originally heard nationwide over the NBC Blue Network. At the height of its popularity, the show was heard six times a day on all the networks. It was one of the first radio programs to be recorded.

Bernardine and the doctor had two sons,  Bill and Roger.  The doctor served overseas during the Second World War. During that time, Bernardine had time while the boys were in school so she was a reporter for a daily afternoon news program sponsored by Crisco shortening.

She retired from broadcasting in 1957 and moved to Clay City, Illinois, her mother's home town. Bernardine died there on March 10, 1977, at the age of 73.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Smoke 'Em (if you got 'em)

Tobacco advertising was a normal part of radio through 1971. After that, smoking became stigmatized. But your loyal Blogger here can remember a time when it would be assumed that any adult smokes. Cigarette cartons, which held 20 packages of 20 cigarettes, were a welcome gift for birthdays and Christmas.

On radio it was actually the most affluent of radio shows that were sponsored by cigarettes. Let's look at some of the brands commonly advertised on Old Time Radio.

And here's the important disclaimer: Your loyal Blogger (the LoyalTubist) is a militant nonsmoker himself. He doesn't condone smoking in any manner, nor the use of any product containing nicotine, except maybe as an insecticide.

AVALON - - Avalon cigarettes were introduced by the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company in 1933. They originally cost ten cents a package. Avalon's "secret ingredient" was Latakia, a Turkish tobacco grown in Syria and cured by the burning of camel dung. Avalon's advertising featured beautiful women. The first major natinal radio show to be sponsored by Avalon cigarettes was hosted by Red Foley and Red Skelton and made its debut in 1939. It went off the air after only one season. Soon after that, the production of Avalon cigarettes also ceased. "Don't forget your change, sir!"

FATIMA - - Fatima was the flagship brand of the Liggett and Myers Tobacco Company through the 1940s. Introduced in the 1870s, it was one of the first brands to be made on a cigarette machine. For many years, it was the most popular cigarette brand. The picture on the yellow package featured a veiled Turkish woman. In the 1940s, with the introduction of newer flagship brand Chesterfield, Fatima became a king size brand; the cigarettes were 10 millimeters longer. Fatima sponsored Dragnet and Tales of Fatima. By 1952, the shows formerly sponsored by Fatima were sponsored by Chesterfield. Fatima cigarettes left the market in 1980. Their replacement, L&M cigarettes, first appeared in 1955.

KOOL - - Kool cigarettes were first made by the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company in 1933. The target smokers were successful men. It was originally a regular cigarette without a filter but the tobacco had the addition of menthol to make the smoke "kool." The mascot for Kool cigarettes was a penguin named Willie. The Brown and Williamson folks thought so much of making youngsters smoke cigarettes when they became older that they actually made coloring books and comic books featuring Willie the penguin. Joe Camel never had anything like that! Kools are still being made, though now with a filter tip. Kool first sponsored the Jack Pearl program in 1935. (Kools are now made by R.J. Reynolds.)

CAMEL - - Camels were first made in 1913 by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. They became extremely popular during the First World War. Military personnel from the United States were the first to nickname the mascot on the package "Old Joe." In 1985, R.J. Reynolds came up with their own cartoon mascot, Joe Camel, who was really the same animal. Camels became the most popular American cigarette brand, whose smokers included President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Edward R. Murrow. On radio, Camels sponsored many programs including those of Benny Goodman, Blondie and Dagwood, Abbott and Costello, Richard Diamond, Jimmy Durante, and many others. The Camel brand is still very popular among tobacco users. "I'd walk a mile for a Camel." In the late 1940s, many advertisements included the claim: MORE DOCTORS SMOKE CAMEL THAN ANY OTHER CIGARETTE.

LUCKY STRIKE - - The brand was first seen on packages of chewing tobacco in 1871. It was made by R.A. Patterson of Richmond, Virginia, which was acquired by the American Tobacco Company in 1905. The slogans "It's Toasted" (meaning its tobacco is dried in a smokehouse) and "L.S.M.F.T." (Lucky Strike means fine tobacco) were first used in magazines (and on packages) in 1917. In 1935, Lucky Strike began to sponsor the Hit Parade. The original color of the package was green. In 1942, because of rumors that what went into making green ink was needed for the war effort, the package was changed from green to white. Marketers realized that by changing the package from green to white that more women liked to smoke Luckies. So the packages were never changed back to green. For its last 12 years on the air, the Jack Benny program was sponsored by Lucky Strike. "Be happy. Go Lucky."

RALEIGH - - Raleigh was the flagship brand of the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company. It sponsored the Jack Pearl, Tommy Dorsey, and Red Skelton radio shows. In the 1950s, along with its menthol counterpart, Belair, Raleigh began putting coupons on its packages which could be redeemed to buy almost anything. If smoking is stigmatized in the early twentieth century, in the 1950s the coupons on Raleigh cigarettes helped many folks to smoke them. The coupons were often collected by churches and schools to purchase equipment they needed. By the way, this Raleigh advertisement shows Babe Ruth, the baseball player. Smoking was one of the factors that led to his death by cancer at the tender age of 54. Doctors have known that cancer and smoking were linked as early as 1912. These findings were reported to the public in 1952, 40 years later. Health warnings on cigarette packages would first appear twenty years after this. Reading some of the other life stories on this 'blog, one can see that smoking helped shorten the lives of several performers.

CHESTERFIELD - - Named after Chesterfield County, Virginia, this brand, made by Liggett and Myers, first appeared in 1913. On radio, the most popular gimmick Chesterfield did was use the initials, ABC, for "Always Buy Chesterfield." This would also be used for something else about the programs advertised, such as, "Arthur Godfrey, Bob Hope, and Bing Crosby." For the last ten years of the Old Time Radio era, Chesterfield's most noted spokesman was George Fenneman. He could be heard on Dragnet and the Martin and Lewis shows. Chesterfield was one of the last brands to add a filter to its cigarettes. In fact there was an advertisement in the late 1960s which declared that "Chesterfield people don't need filters because the cigarettes are so mild." Chesterfield was the brand of choice of the LoyalTubist's father.

OLD GOLD - - Introduced in the 1920s, Old Gold sponsored Harold Lloyd's program in the 1940s. Actress Mary Tyler Moore made her television debut as a dancing cigarette package on the Richard Diamond TV show. Dick Powell, who played Richard Diamond on both radio and television, would die from smoking cigarettes at the same age as your loyal Blogger is while he is writing this 'Blog. The radio show was sponsored by Camel. Old Gold's most infamous slogan was, "Not a cough in the carton" (referring to a carton of cigarette packages). Old Gold would become a filter only cigarette by the late 1960s. This was one of the brands which was offered to military personnel in C-Rations and K-Rations during World War II.

The Zippo lighter was invented in 1932 by George Blaisdell in Bradford, Pennsylvania. During World War II, they were only available to military personnel.

PHILIP MORRIS - - Philip Morris is one of the oldest brands in tobacco. In 1847, Philip Morris began selling ready made cigarettes at his shop in London, England. In 1881, Philip Morris & Co. Ltd. was established in England. Another Philip Morris company was set up in New York in 1902. Eventually, the English company was acquired by the American company. In radio, Philip Morris sponsored many radio programs. Its spokesman was Johnny Roventini (1910-98), a 4 foot tall (122 cm) bellboy from New York City who would shout out, "Call for Philip Morris!" The corporate theme music was the "On the Trail" movement from the Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofe (1892-1972), who was best known as the man who orchestrated George Gershwin's (1898-1936) Rhapsody in Blue. (Philip Morris cigarettes were renamed "Commander" cigarettes in 1989.) Philip Morris had advertising in the late 1950s and early 1940s admonishing smokers to "believe in yourself." Philip Morris was the sponsor of I Love Lucy on both television and radio (the radio version is believed to be just a pilot, although the loyal Blogger has actually heard from people who said they heard the show on the radio).

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Laurel & Hardy

We normally don't think of them as radio performers and they only did one radio show with their names on it--The Laurel and Hardy Show, March 6, 1944. It was a pilot that shouldn't have gotten any further than the parking lot at Radio City West at the corner of Vine Street and Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

But the guys also did one very impressive skit on Mail Call, a show on the Armed Forces Radio Service, on November 24, 1943. This Blogger can recall listening to other fine shows heard on old time radio. They were all around, multitalented performers who belong on this list as much as anyone else included.

After the death of Oliver Hardy in 1957, Stan Laurel went into seclusion (he actually had a nervous breakdown). He came out a few times to do some fantastic radio interviews, which often appear as downloads on the Internet.

Stan Laurel (1890-1965) Arthur Stanley Jefferson was born June 16, 1890, in Ulverston, Cumbria, England. His father was Arthur J. "A.J." Jefferson, an actor and theater manager. Stan (who was always called "Stan," because his father's name was also Arthur) made his acting debut in Glasgow, Scotland, at the age of 16. He then joined a troupe of comedic actors led by impressario Fred Karno (born Frederick John Westcott, 1880-1941) who often toured around the world. He arrived in Hollywood in 1917 (in his first movie, he was listed as Stan Jefferson). Motion picture actor Charle Chaplin (1889-1977) also went to America on the same trip. In 1918 he began shacking up with actress Mae Dahlberg (1888-1969), who was married to another actor. Both Stan and Mae changed their names to Laurel. They broke up in 1925. He then married actress Lois Nielsen (1895-1990).
Stan was not only a brilliant actor but also a director. He had been working as a stage actor, film actor, and director in the early 1920s. In 1927, he teamed with Oliver Hardy for some short films that Stan was directing for the Hal Roach Studios. They worked under contract with Hal Roach (1892-1992) until personal problems, including drunk driving. In1930 his second child, a son, died at the age of nine days. Stan's first child, Lois Laurel, later an actress, was born in 1928. After the contract with Hal Roach was finished, Stan also divorced Lois Nielsen and married Virginia Ruth Rogers (d. 1976--she was called Ruth), who had been in the motion picture Sons of the Desert (1933) with him. They divorced in 1938, when he marriedRussian opera star Vera Ivanova "Illiana" (or "Illeana") Shuvalova. Vera had a fiery temper and the marriage lasted only 16-1/2 months.

After the contract with Hal Roach was over, they signed with 2oth Century-Fox in 1939. They would do one movie for Fox, then Stan discovered his health was failing (from diabetes) and decided to take some time off to recuperate. He had begun his own motion picture company, Stan Laurel Productions. It specialized in westerns, starring Fred Scott (1902-91), who had been the baritone soloist of the San Francisco Opera. Fred's horse was named White King, which was the brand name of a popular laundry detergent in Los Angeles through the 1980s. These films were done on a low budget but with a lot of attention to detail Stan loved westerns and strove to do a good job. They were distributed by a company called Spectrum Films. After making westerns for about six years, Stan's accountants showed that the films were losing money and he reluctantly pulled the plug on his pet project.

Laurel and Hardy did some 80 contractual films for 20th Century-Fox. After that, they did one more film, Atoll K (1951), in France, which is said to be one of the worst movies ever made. Stan had a stroke in 1955 and was in retirement status after that. In June 1957, Ralph Edwards featured Laurel and Hardy for his This is Your Life television show (which was heard on radio in parts of the United States that didn't have TV yet). Oliver Hardy died a few months after this and Stan had a nervous breakdown. He was not able to go to the funeral.

After recovery, Stan vowed never to perform comedy again. He became a great influence to several popular comedy performers of the time, including Jerry Lewis and Dick Van Dyke. Jerry Lewis wanted to hire Stan as a creative consultant for some of his movies, but he refused. Stan did keep contact with these men and his ideas were incorporated into much of their work. Jerry often went to visit him at home and got ideas for The Bellboy (1960), a movie he was making at the time.

In 1961 he won an Oscar, the Lifetime Achievement Award. It was one of the few public appearances he made. But he was a very public person. Stan lived in a modest apartment in Santa Monica with his wife. He answered every piece of fan mail he received PERSONALLY. And he kept his phone number (including his address) listed in the directory.

Stan Laurel died February 23, 1965, in Santa Monica, California, at his apartment. He was 74 years old.  At his funeral, Dick Van Dyke gave his eulogy. Stan is buried at the Forest Lawn Cemetery, Hollywood Hills, in Los Angeles.

Some things about Stan Laurel: After settling down in his fifth marriage, he finally decided to settle down with his life. He had already become a United States citizen. He had been in the country for thirty years by that time. Stan loved America and he loved being an American.

Oliver Hardy (1892-1957)  Norvell Hardy was born January 18, 1892, in Harlem, Georgia (USA), which is near Augusta. His father, Oliver Hardy, a prominent lawyer and a Civil War veteran for the Confederacy, died when Norvell was 10 months old.  His mother, Emily Norvell, ran a successful hotel in Harlem after her husband's death. As a youngster, Norvell showed great promise as a singer. His mother sent him to a boarding school near Atlanta where he also received singing lessons. Norvell would run away from there so he could sing "professionally" at the Alcazar Theater (it showed movies) for $3.50 a week. Eventually, he would be sent off to military school, which also didn't work out. It was his mother's dream for Norvell to be a lawyer, just as his father was. But that wasn't Norvell's idea.

Now, it should be pointed out that his nickname, throughout his life, was Babe. He got this from his boyish looks, even though he was huge, even as a baby. Girls fell in love with him on sight. 

In 1910, Babe ran a movie theater in Milledgeville, Georgia. Actually he was the projectionist, ticket taker, and manager. He did this so he could attend law school during the day. In 1913 he got a chance to act in the movies at the Lubin Studios in Jacksonville, Florida. At night he performed in cabaret and vaudeville. It was there he met and married his first wife, Madelyn Saloshin, a concert pianist. 

In 1914 he made his first movie, Outwitting Dad. He used the name O.N. Hardy, as he had taken his father's name to preserve his memory. He made many more movies for the Lubin Studios. After that film he went by the name Babe Hardy in the credits. Eventually, Babe moved to New York to make several movies for the Pathe, Edison, and Casino studios in New Jersey. Then he went back to Jacksonville, where he worked for the Vim and King Bee studios. Since he weighed over 300 pounds, he usually played menacing characters. He moved to Los Angeles in 1917.

He worked for the Vitagraph Studios between 1917 and 1920, making more than 40 movies for director Larry Semon (1889-1928). Larry was also an actor. He went golfing with Babe, which became Babe's biggest addiction.  It was with Larry Semon that Babe worked with Stan Laurel for the first time, in the picture The Lucky Dog (1921).

Babe and his wife separated in 1919, leading to a divorce in 1920. He married actress Myrtle Lee Reeves (1897-1993), which was a very unpleasant experience and Myrtle became an alcoholic. They would finally divorce in 1937.

In 1924, Babe came under contract to the Hal Roach Studio. He began working with Stan Laurel in films, though not as a team. In Yes, Yes, Nannette (1925), Stan was the director. In 1926, a hot leg of lamb changed both the men's lives as the leg of lamb, which was quite real (and quite hot) caused Babe to get injured. Stan, who was writing now for Hal Roach, was called in to fill in Babe's scenes. The two men were also in 45 Minutes from Hollywood, although they weren't in any scenes together.

The Laurel and Hardy team actually started in 1927. There were well over 250 movies together. To be honest though, their relationship was only a working relationship. They had very little to do with each other outside the studio. Stan liked to go camping and hunt while Babe could play a whole day of golf and not get tired from it. Good friends, no. But they had a lot of personal respect and admiration for each other. Babe acted more like what people expected a Hollywood actor to be. Stan was the quiet neighbor next door who was always there when you needed him.

In 1940, Babe married actress Virginia Lucille Jones. This was a happy marriage that lasted until Babe's death. Babe never had any children.

There were three movies that Babe did without Stan during the years of their partnership: Zenobia (1939) in which he played a country doctor who was called on to cure a sick circus elephant, The Fighting Kentuckian (1949) in which he played John Wayne's parter,  and Riding High (1950) which starred his close friend, Bing Crosby (he was also a close friend of John Wayne). In 1948, Stan was found to be diabetic and Babe had to keep working. During the time Babe was making the last two movies here, Stan was in the hospital.

The two returned to the screen in 1951's Atoll K. Not the greatest movie, simply because it was filmed in France with a film crew that included French, Italians, Germans, British, Americans, and others, the scriptwriter, Leo Joannon, didn't know how to write comedy for Laurel and Hardy, so Stan often stayed up for hours rewriting their scenes.

They also appeared on an episode of This is Your Life on December 4, 1954, which was also heard on NBC radio. Much of the writing for this article came from watching that program.

Despite what some people thought (and still think), Babe was actually the more healthy of the two men. Stan was now diabetic and, in 1955, suffered a stroke but recovered.  But later on that year, Babe had a heart attack. He took it upon himself to make his life healthier. He never stopped smoking. But he thought it was his obesity that was making him sick. So he took stern measures to lose weight.

In ten months, he went from being over 300 pounds to a more respectable 150 pounds. Unfortunately, his body couldn't take it. He suffered a massive stroke on September 14, 1956. He became aphasiac, losing the power of speech. His wife, Virginia, took care of him and stayed constantly at his bedside. Babe had several more strokes before he died after being in a coma for weeks. He died on August 7, 1957, of cerebral thrombosis, at his mother in law's home in the North Hollywood district of Los Angeles, where he lived for the last few years of his life. Babe was 65 years old. He is buried in the Masonic section of the Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood.


Long after both men died Laurel and Hardy continue to delight the world.  

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