Old Time Radio

Steady Work: Paula Winslow in Old Time Radio

Paula Winslowe

There are stars in every industry, the CEOs who make the big decisions, the outstanding salespeople who convince new customers to buy and develop new markets for the product, the daring researchers who create new products, the ambitious production managers who help the factory meet or exceed production quotas each month. These so-called stars are impressive, but overall probably less important to the bottom line than the countless working stiffs who punch the clock each morning, do the job they are hired for, and picking up their paycheck which will go towards expanding the economy as a whole. Being a worker may not be as glamorous as being a star, but without the contributions of the workers, the stars would never be able to shine.

Paula Winslowe was a typical Midwestern girl, born in Grafton, North Dakota, 1910, who would grow up to prove that a worker can, in her own way, shine as brightly as a star. Many of the wonders of the Twentieth century were late in coming to the Midwest, but every small town had a movie palace, and Paula’s high school sweetheart, John Sutherland, was as fascinated by what he was seeing on the screen as he was with the pretty girl in the seat next to him. John determined that he would become the next great movie director as soon as he could get to Hollywood while Paula decided she was going to become Mrs. Sutherland and support whatever ambitions he had. They married just after high school and made the move to Tinsel Town.

Paula Winslowe and William Bendix

While the young couple was adjusting to big city life in Hollywood, the movie industry itself was trying to adjust to the new phenomenon of talking pictures. The studios were hardly beating the bushes to find the Next Great Director, unfortunately for John, but he did manage to get a job with Disney studios as an animator, his first project was the Mickey Mouse short Beach Party (1931).

While John was looking for a job, the studios were coming to grips with the fact that many of their most photogenic actresses simply did not have voices which were suitable for talkies. An early solution was to hire a “voice double” to speak their lines which were later added to the film’s soundtrack. With a lovely contralto voice, Paula was well received as a voice double, signing with MGM. Of course, the studio would never admit that their most popular actresses were not using their own voices, so Paula was rarely given public credit for her work beyond a paycheck every week, and since she knew her husband would someday be the Next Great Director, that was credit enough for Paula.

One of her most notable voice doublings was for Saratoga (1937) after star Jean Harlow died suddenly of kidney disease during filming. Body double Mary Dees filled in for Harlow’s long shots during the remainder of the shoot and Paula was tapped to dub the star’s lines. Winslowe was gaining enough of a reputation for reliability around town that she was offered a job with KHJ, the flagship station of the budding Don Lee Network, joining the station’s company before the December 1936 merger with Mutual. Don Lee had been the West Coast outlet for CBS before merging with Mutual, and Paula appeared in “dramatized commercials” on several Tiffany Network programs before and after the merger. She also worked with Louella Parsons on Hollywood Hotel, Alexander Woolcott on Town Crier, was a pitch lady on Lux Radio Theatre and had a recurring role on Big Town.

Meanwhile, John was still at Disney and had moved from animation to the Story department where he received a greater exposure to the business side of animation. Frankly, the business end of things at Disney was not great at the time. Sutherland was working on the studio’s fifth full-length animated feature, Bambi (1942), while two previous films, Pinocchio and Fantasia (both 1940) had been box office disappointments. Dumbo (1941) had been a “financial miracle” for the studio, but a strike during production had killed the family atmosphere workers had previously enjoyed. Paula voiced Bambi’s mother in what would be her most famous film role, but Bambi lost money in its first release.

Sutherland left Disney on good terms before the strike, and Mr. Disney gave him strong recommendations and eventually helped him to open his own animation studio. He produced several live-action training films during the War, and later John Sutherland Productions released a series of industrial and propaganda films espousing the strengths of free enterprise. The studio was so prolific that Disney considered buying him out, but no deal was reached.

In addition to their professional success, John and Paula had four children. Paula’s biggest radio role was as Peg Riley on The Life of Riley from 1944-1951. The concept for the program had been created as a radio vehicle for Groucho Marx, but he was not a good fit for the role as it developed. Groucho would find radio success in other projects, and writer Irving Brecher reworked the script to fit William Bendix, who he had seen in Hal Roach’s The McGuerins of Brooklyn (1942). The reworked story revolved around a Brooklyn family who moved to California to find their fortune in the Wartime aircraft industry. Bendix’s Chester Riley would be the prototype of the bumbling sitcom dad, but Riley would have been nowhere without the wise and loving support of wife Peg. Few listeners realized how closely Paula’s own backstory paralleled Peg’s.

Paula continued to work in television and eventually retired with John to their home in Van Nuys. Paula Winslowe passed away at her home on March 7, 1996. She was 85. John Sutherland went to his reward on February 17, 2001, at the age of 90.

Eve Arden Fibber McGee and Molly Gale Gordon Lucille Ball Lux Radio Theater Old Time Radio Our Miss Brooks

Happy Birthday, Gale Gordon

On Feb 20, 2015, we celebrate the 109 birthday of the beloved character actor Gale Gordon.

gale gordonGale Gordon was born Charles T. Aldrich in New York in 1906, the son of vaudevillian Charles Aldrich and his English actress wife, Gloria Gordon. The couple took their one year old son to Great Britain where they worked on stage, and the boy spent the next eight years absorbing the English reserve that would define his professional persona. Young Gordon underwent a delicate operation to repair a cleft palate while in England. The family returned to America when the boy was nine, settling in New York’s Forest Hill’s area. Gale returned to England to complete his education at the Woolbridge School in Suffolk at the age of 17.

Gale Gordon got his acting start in a 1923 Canadian production, working with stage and silent screen great Richard Bennett. To earn extra cash, Gordon also worked as Gale-Gordon-5Bennett’s dresser. The great actor must have seen potential in the young man, and he endeavored to teach Gordon the elements of acting and the craft of stage work. By 1925, Gordon found himself in Hollywood, taking what acting jobs he could find. In 1926,  he got a call to come to a studio to try his hand at a new thing called radio. “I sang and accompanied myself on ukelele. You might say I almost killed radio before it was born” Gordon later remembered.

By 1933, Gordon was the highest paid radio actor in Hollywood. He played the male lead on serials opposite Mary Pickford and Irene Rich. He appeared on most of the big shows on the air, from Lux Radio Theater to Stories From the Black Chamber. He even played the cockney-accented Inspector Lestrade opposite Basil Rathbone on Sherlock Holmes and was the first actor to play Flash Gordon.

Gordon met Virginia Curley while appearing on Death Valley Days in New York. The couple was married two days after Christmas in 1937. For at least the next twenty years, the 27th of each month was celebrated as an anniversary.

In 1941, Gordon appeared as Molly McGee’s former boy friend. The fit was so good that the part of Mayor LaTrivia was created for him, and Gordon became part of the Fibber McGee and Molly family for the next 12 years, with a break while he served in the Coast Guard. In 1948, Gordon landed the role of Principal Osgood Conklin on Eve Arden’s Our Miss Brooks, a role that would carry him into TV fame. The Conklin character was slightly refined to become banker Rudolph Atterbury on the Lucille Ball vehicle My Favorite Husbandgalegordon2

Lucy and Gordon had been friends for a long time, first working together on Jack Haley’s Wonder Show in 1938-39. When My Favorite Husband made the move to TV as I Love Lucy, Gordon was Lucy’s first choice to fill the role of Fred Mertz. Gordon, however, remained committed to Miss Brooks and eventually moved to TV with the program.

On TV Gordon perfected his famous “slow burn” persona. He realized that his characters were funnier if he lost his temper by degrees rather than exploding all at once. Although his characters were full of bluster, in real life Gordon was a “pipe-smoking homebody”. In 1949, Gordon and wife Virginia bought a 150 acre ranch in Borrego Springs, 175 miles from the craziness of Hollywood. An incurable handyman, Gordon built the house himself and became one of the leading growers of carob beans in the US.

Gordon continued to have commitments on other shows, and was not able to become a regular part of a Lucille Ball TV show until the 1963-64 season of The Lucy Show. TheGale_Gordon_Jay_North_Dennis_the_Menace_boxing_1962 bombast between Gordon and Lucy became an important part of the red-head’s shows until they both “retired” from weekly TV in 1974, but their roles were recreated in annual specials for several years.

Of Lucy herself, Gordon commented “her attitude has never changed. Every show she did was the most important show of her life. And I think that is the secret of her success.”

The secret of Gale Gordon‘s success may have been to find roles he enjoyed, but mostly to enjoy life beyond the studio.

Esther Williams Obituary Old Time Radio

Rest in Peace Esther Williams

It is often said that the secret to success is to be in the right place at the right time. The life and career of swimming sensation Esther Williams proves that it has to be the right person in the right place at the right time.

Ms. Williams was born in Inglewood, CA, on Aug 8, 1921, the youngest of five children. Her parents grew up on neighboring Kansas farms, courted for nine years, eloped, and ran off to California. However, they ran out of money in Salt Lake, where they settled until their oldest son was discovered by actress Marjorie Rambeau, allowing them to complete their journey to the Golden State.

Underwater1An older sister taught Esther to swim at Manhattan Beach and the Los Angeles Athletic Club. The two got a job counting towels to pay their entrance fee of five cents apiece. While working at the pool, the life guards taught Esther the “male only” swimming strokes, including the butterfly. By the time she was 16, she was winning national championships, and was in training for the 1940 Olympic Games in Helsinki. When the Games were canceled due to the War, Williams dropped out of competition to earn a living.

Esther-Williams-Van-JohnsonShe found a job selling shoes and modeling for the I. Magnin department store on Wilshire Blvd when she was discovered by showman Billy William, who put her in his Aquacade show at the San Francisco World’s Fair. Here, she caught the eye of MGM talent scouts. Louis B. Mayer was convinced that MGM needed and “athletic leading lady” in its stable to promote as Fox had with Sonja Henie. Williams’ contract included a clause that she be allowed nine months before appearing on camera so she could take acting, singing, dancing and diction lessons. The contract also provided her with a guest pass to the Beverly Hills Hotel so she could use the pool on a daily basis.

Esther_questionShe worked in a number of short subjects before being cast opposite Mickey Rooney in Andy Hardy’s Double Life, followed by Hollywood’s first “swimming movie”, Bathing Beauty. In Bathing Beauty, Red Skelton enrolls in an all girl college to win the heart of the swimming coach played by Ms. Williams. Skelton was demoted to supporting lead, and Bathing Beauty‘s success was second only to Gone With The Wind when it was released.

When MGM send its top stars on War Bond tours, Esther was asked to tour military hospitals. She was a natural pin-up girl, not only beautiful, she actually belonged in a swimming suit. For the hospital visits, she would listen to the Bob Hope and Jack Benny radio programs on the radio and repeat the best gags for the G.I.s. Her visit usually included dancing with the soldiers, and mock screen tests where the script called for her “co-star” to refuse her advances until the end of the skit.

2737FFA7-A2C6-4B9B-BF82-304BA3463B00_mw1024_n_sEsther Williams made several appearances on Lux Radio Theater, usually in support of her movies, but also as part of an “Esther Williams pin” premium. She was a popular guest and hostess on Command Performance, as well as appearing in several public service announcements on popular programs.

Esther Williams passed away in her sleep at her Los Angeles home on June 6, 2013.

A Star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame at 1560 Vine Street honors Esther Williams’ contribution to the Motion Picture industry.

Good night, Esther Williams.

Ginger Rogers

Eve Arden: Old Time Radio Voice Actress

EA019In an era of radio that was filled with stereo types, Eve Arden managed to rise above them as her own woman and developed on of radio’s best loved characters.
Eve Arden, who was born Eunice Quedens, related that she had an unhappy childhood. She was torn between divorced parents and continually self conscious about her looks (she claims to have needed therapy because her mother was so much more beautiful than she was). Probably her best therapy was to join the magical world of show business. She quit school at the age of 16, joined a touring company, and changed her name (taken from a jar of cold cream on her dressing room table).
Whatever insecurities she may have faced as a child, Eve Arden carried herself with the undeniable swagger of a depression era business woman or highly desirable sophisticate. During the early part of her film career she was often cast in supporting “second banana” roles. Eve Arden would be the sensible friend who took the leading lady by the shoulders to tell her to “snap out of it” or she would play the smart mouthed but sophisticated comic relief. No matter what character she was called to play, she unabashedly played Eve Arden.

Arden made a number of friends and connections while a starlet, which would serve her well later in her career. While working on Stage Door (1937) she became good friends with Lucille Ball. When the movie was adapted to radio’s Lux Theater, stars Ginger Rogers, Rosalind Russel, and Adolphe Menjou appeared, but Arden, who had made a career out of snappy comebacks, stole the show and proved that she was a natural for radio.
Her first regular radio role was again the sensible second banana to contrast the lead’s zaniness on the short lived Danny Kaye Show. Arden and Kaye were long time friends, and had carried on a discreet affair for years. In the end Danny was unwilling to leave his wife, and the professional collaboration came to an abrupt end.

Arden was too tough to be knocked down, and soon landed what would be her best known role. CBS wanted to develop a comedy around a “smart” female character, and the role was offered to Lucille Ball. Lucy was already committed to My Favorite Husband, but recommended her old friend Eve Arden. The project became everyone’s favorite high school teacher, Our Miss Brooks. The show trod over several stereotypes. The teachers in typical teenage comedies like Henry Aldrich, Archie Andrews, or A Date With Judy existed to make life miserable for the kids. Connie Brooks was young and attractive enough to be a confidant, but mature and respectable enough to be taken seriously. She was just man-crazy enough to hold a continuing flame for her absentminded science teacher boyfriend, but tough enough to stand toe to toe with her stack-blowing principal Osgood Conklin, played by Gale Gordon.

Our Miss Brooks had a nine year run on radio, and was thought to do enough to humanize the portrayal of educators that Arden was awarded an honorary lifetime membership to the NEA. When the show made the transition to television, production was turned over to Desilu Studios, the production company belonging to Lucille Ball and her husband.
Arden returned to “educational comedy” in the 1978 movie musical Grease. She played the role of Rydell High School principal as a female parody of Gale Gordon’s Osgood Conklin.
Eve Arden has been honored with a Star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame at 6714 Hollywood Blvd for her work in Television, and for her contributions to Radio at 6329 Hollywood Blvd.