Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Morning Walk: Actors and multiple roles on radio

"Boston Blackie" - as you may know - is the blog's biggest fan and I try to get him to write here as much as possible.  His ideas are always interesting and thought-provoking. 

He's agreed to occasionally share those thoughts with us. He allows me to join in.

Boston Blackie: Hey, Jimbo, have you thought about how many actors or actresses played more than one part on the same radio shows?  John Brown played Riley’s neighbor Gillis and  Digby (Digger) O'Dell. the shoveling undertaker.  On radio you could do this as there was no visual.  A twist of a voice and zoom,  a new character.  I think I recall a show where someone played three different characters.  Not only did they play more than one character in a show, but, often they did other shows during the week.  John Brown had to play in Life of Riley and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (as Thorny) during the same week.   I would think that Walter Tetley must have done more than one show a week.  While doing the Great Gildersleeve he must have been on the Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show.  Was Gale Gordon ever on Fibber McGee & Molly at the same time as Our Miss Brooks?  In addition it seems like Howard McNear was on Gunsmoke, but also played on the Casebook of Gregory Hood.  I would be interested in knowing if this was true.  Jimbo, you are our resident book keeper of old time radio, maybe you could verify this?  Also, can you think of other actors which played multiple parts?

Jimbo:  As far as actors doing multiple shows at the same time:  we know this to be true for not just a few actors and actresses but literally dozens - maybe hundreds.  It was a cost-cutting move for the studios and was done quite often.  Some actors and actresses were more proficient in playing multiple roles - using different characterizations and voices - while others were pretty much the same, no matter what part they played.

Recall that not too long ago, I wrote of Lurene Tuttle playing at least 7 female parts in one CBS Workshop production (although actor John Gibson recollected that Tuttle played 14 parts - all German women.)  Here's a sample of her playing two of those parts:

Howard McNear
You spoke of John Brown - while he was doing the two parts on The Life of Riley he was also playing the part of Broadway on The Damon Runyon Theatre.  And he was also Dennis' boss A Day in the Life of Dennis Day during this same time. On Dennis Day's show, he often played another part that may have been needed as well, I can think of a couple instances where he did that.  And yes, he was also Thorny on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.  In 1951, you probably could hear John Brown at least 20 times a week if you listened to everything on the radio.
That's really only the tip of the iceberg.  Howard McNear, another one you spoke of, was not only on Gunsmoke but at the same time played many a victim or a fellow in the line-up in the show, The Lineup.  He's in almost every show.  I heard one show the other day where he wasn't on the show at all, but one of the guys in the lineup gave his address as xxx(whatever) McNear Street - probably as an homage to McNear, who like I said, was on practically every show in one capacity or another.

For fun, let's examine 1952 for Howard McNear.  This is only a list of what we have records of - I am certain there are many, many more not in this list:
  • Gunsmoke. April 26, 1952. CBS
  • Family Theatre. April 30, 1952. Mutual
  • Tales Of The Texas Rangers. May 4, 1952.  NBC
  • Gunsmoke. May 10, 1952. CBS
  • Tales Of The Texas Rangers. May 11, 1952. NBC
  • Tales Of The Texas Rangers. May 18, 1952. NBC
  • Gunsmoke. May 24, 1952. CBS
  • Gunsmoke. June 7, 1952. CBS
  • Night Beat. June 19, 1952. NBC
  • The Line-Up. June 24, 1952. CBS
  • The Line-Up. July 1, 1952. CBS
  • Gunsmoke. July 5, 1952. CBS
  • Tales Of The Texas Rangers. July 6, 1952. NBC
  • The Line-Up. July 8, 1952. CBS
  • The Line-Up. July 15, 1952. CBS
  • Family Theatre. July 16, 1952. Mutual
  • Gunsmoke. July 26, 1952. CBS
  • The Line-Up. July 29, 1952. CBS
  • Gunsmoke. August 2, 1952. CBS
  • The Line-Up. August 5, 1952. CBS
  • Gunsmoke. August 16, 1952. CBS
  • Gunsmoke. August 23, 1952. CBS
  • The Line-Up. September 10, 1952.
  • Wild Bill Hickok. September 19, 1952. Mutual
  • Gunsmoke. September 20, 1952. CBS
  • The Roy Rogers Show. September 25, 1952. NBC
  • Gunsmoke. September 27, 1952. CBS
  • Gunsmoke. October 3, 1952. CBS
  • The Line-Up. October 8, 1952. CBS
  • The Roy Rogers Show. October 9, 1952. NBC
  • Gunsmoke. October 10, 1952. CBS
  • The Line-Up. October 15, 1952. CBS
  • Gunsmoke. October 17, 1952. CBS
  • The Line-Up. October 22, 1952. CBS
  • The Line-Up. October 29, 1952. CBS
  • The Line-Up. November 5, 1952. CBS
  • The Line-Up. November 12, 1952. CBS
  • Gunsmoke. November 14, 1952. CBS
  • The Line-Up. November 19, 1952. CBS
  • Gunsmoke. November 21, 1952. CBS
  • The Line-Up. November 26, 1952. CBS
  • Wild Bill Hickok. November 28, 1952. Mutual
  • Gunsmoke. December 20, 1952. CBS
  • Suspense. December 29, 1952. CBS
Notice that he was on CBS, NBC and Mutual - probably all three networks on one day, several times in his career.   I chose McNear and the year at random.  Another random look at Lurene Tuttle, William Conrad, Joan Alexander - well, the list is endless - would provide similar or more startling results.

Boston Blackie: I knew if I asked the resident ‘book keeper’ of old time radio I would get the facts.  I find this to be interesting that actors or actresses could do all this work.  In today’s world we have actors doing about 13 episodes and that is it.  True they are one hour shows and they need to be on screen, but, think of the money they get now days as to what I suppose the pittance they got back during the 40s.  I am also intrigued by the number of actors that were able to play more than one part in a show.  I wonder if they were fairly compensated for such things?  

Another facet to this whole topic is that when television began, how many of these stars never became part of that world?  For example the radio Boston Blackie Richard Kollmar did not star in the television series.  It was Kent Taylor.  There are numerous other examples of this.  Again I am sure our resident ‘bookkeep’ of old time radio is well aware of these situations.  You would have thought it would be a natural progression for the radio stars to move over to television.  In some cases this was true, but, for many it was not.

JImbo:  Were radio actors compensated for doing multiple roles?  I have listened to a lot of interviews and have never heard anyone talk of making extra money for doing multiple roles.  An actor like McNear would generally get $30-$50 for an appearance.  He might say one word or 1000 words - play one part or twelve parts.  That was probably just part of the radio union contract - but I'm not certain about that.

Still, most actors made a nice living.  Imagine playing 10 shows in one week - that was at least $300.  And they didn't even have to go to rehearsal - but they had to provide a stand-in.  Break that down and these bit actors (like McNear) were making big money when you look at it from 'per hour' angle.

While there are cases of radio shows turning over to TV in the same or very close to the same cast (Our Miss Brooks, Abbott and Costello, Dragnet are just some examples) many others did not turn over the same cast (Fibber McGee and Molly, Amos 'n' Andy, The Great Gildersleeve, etc. )

John Dehner
Boston Blackie:  Great stuff Jimbo.  What is interesting is that a big radio actor like John Dehner did not play Have Gun Will Travel on television and William Conrad did not play Matt Dillon on TV’s Gunsmoke.  Both big time, yet, probably did not fit the image of the characters for television.  Both did some work on television, but could not land these roles.  Their voices allowed them to play these roles on radio, but, there physics did not lend themselves evidently to the television series.  I just find this as such an interesting facet between the two media vehicles, radio and television.  These two could play rough guys on radio, but not so for television.  I think these two actors portray the problem others had in radio to do the same thing.  You could not get much bigger than Conrad or Dehner in the radio era. 

Jimbo: That's true.  As a side note, did you know Have Gun Will Travel was a TV show before it was a radio show?  I think that's the only time that happened, at least in 'The Golden Age' of radio.

©Jimbo 2010/2011

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