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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.

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