Your Movietown Radio Theater

For movie actors on their way up to the A-List, Your Movietown Theater provided a showcase.

One result of the symbiosis between the Studio System and Radio Row was Your Movietown Theater.

Jeff Chandler

Symbiosis is a scientific term describing two different organisms which live in close proximity to one another, usually to the benefit of each. The classic example of this is bees and flowers; the flower’s colorful display attracts the bee who gathers nectar to feed the hive and at the same time spreads the pollen which helps the flowers make more flowers.

Radio Row and Hollywood Studios also enjoyed a symbiotic relationship on many levels. A radio show would not need as many players as a Hollywood movie but Radio Row had an insatiable appetite for talent, and several actors worked in Radio on their way up (or down) the ladder of Stardom. The Studios took advantage of Radio’s reach into nearly all the households in America by having Stars appear on comedy and variety programs and plugging their latest film.

Another example of Studio and Radio symbiosis was the Movie Adaptation Anthology Program. At first, this seemed like a bad idea to the Studio execs; why would anyone want to pay to see a film after Lux or Lady Esther gave the story away? The films adapted were usually not “first-run” although some were. When a film was adapted while it was still playing in theaters, the adaptation made more people want to see the real thing.

Your Movietown Theater took a slightly different approach; rather than featuring A-list actors in stories adapted from film scripts, producer/director Les Mitchell hired up-and-coming players and used original story scripts. The show often featured a “get to know the Star” segment along with the main story; Ginger Rodgers got to introduce her mother, journalist Leila Rogers, Lurene Tuttle talked about her first day on a movie set, and William Lundigan talks about his golf game.

Movietown was a product of ZIV Syndications, which had a big impact on the show’s success. Fred Ziv came from an advertising and legal background and was known to pitch a show like he was making a court case. Although Movietown appeared to be a relatively low-budget project, Ziv was willing to spend lavishly to get big names on his programs, including Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Adolphe Menjou, Fred MacMurray, Ronald Colman, and Irene Dunne. Ziv’s marketing philosophy was that he could make more money selling his programs to local sponsors at unaffiliated stations than he could by dealing with the big networks.

A member of Movietown‘s regular company who was also an up-and-comer was Jeff Chandler, appearing here under his given name, Ira Grossel. Growing up in Brooklyn, Chandler always wanted to act although he admitted later that commercial art lessons were cheaper than acting lessons, so that is the direction his early career followed. He eventually formed an acting company in the Midwest during the summer of 1941. During the War, he served in the Aleutians and managed to save $3,000, which he used to stake himself while giving Hollywood a shot. Jeff was on his way to a screen test when he was in an auto accident that left him scared across the forehead. Fortunately, the bandages didn’t show on Radio, and he managed to find work on the air just before the $3,000 ran out. In addition to Movietown, he made a splash on Escape, Academy Award Theater, Rogues Gallery, Frontier Town, and Our Miss Brooks before finding success on the silver screen.

Ed Begley Sr in Old Time Radio

Winner of the Tony and an Oscar, Ed Begley Sr. was a force to be reckoned with on Radio Row in both New York and Los Angeles.

Although he will never be as popular as the Leading Man, sometimes the character actor is the best part of a movie. Leading Men are pretty much interchangeable; he is a ruggedly handsome manly man, and Hollywood has nearly as many ruggedly handsome manly men as it does beautiful girls. Character actors tend to specialize as certain types, and few actors were as able to pull off the querulous old guy whom everyone likes quite as well as Ed Begley. 

Born the son of Irish immigrants in Hartford, Connecticut, 1901, Ed Begley Sr enjoyed a happy childhood. His father “could mimic any dialect and knew hundreds of songs and stories. He loved to entertain people – for the fun he got out of it.” Ed began performing at the age of nine and did his acting apprenticeship with the Hartford Globe Theatre. Although his parents encouraged his efforts and he grew up in a happy home, Ed frequently ran away, not to get away from anything but to find adventure.

One of these adventures landed Ed in the “hoosegow” for a four-day stretch, but he was always happy to return home because it was a happy and welcoming place. However, he dropped out of school in the fifth grade and began working with carnivals and traveling shows Later, he would work as a bowling alley pin boy, sold brushes, and delivered milk. He was too young to get in on the adventure of the Great War, but he did serve a four-year hitch in the Navy between the Wars.

During the Great Depression, Ed worked in vaudeville and was hired as a radio announcer while he struggled to establish himself on the legitimate stage. He would become Radio’s first Charlie Chan and played Sgt. O’Hara in The Fat Man. Broadway success came in 1943 with Land of Fame (Belasco Theatre, 6 performances) and Get Away Old Man (Cort Theatre, 13 performances).

Broadway notices led to invitations to Hollywood where Ed was cast in character roles while keeping his presence felt on Radio Row. He played Lt Walter Levinson on Richard Diamond, Private Detective. Begley also appeared on episodes of Suspense, Escape, and The Cavalcade of America. Back on Broadway, Ed starred as Matthew Harrison Brady in Inherit the Wind (1955, National Theatre, 806 performances) opposite Paul Muni as Henry Drummond. Ed won a Tony for his work, and when Muni left the production Begley moved into the Drummond role. In 1965, he reprised the Brady role for an NBC TV movie. The highlight of his film career came when he was awarded the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Sweet Bird of Youth (1962, MGM).

Ed Begley was married three times and is the father of actor and activist Ed Begley Jr. On April 28, 1970, Ed Begley Sr. suffered a fatal heart attack during a party at the home of his publicist, Jay Lerner. He was 69.