Radio’s Most Essential People: #51-#49

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51) Jeanette Nolan

Jeanette Nolan was a remarkable character actress over radio. Her friend True Boardman said Nolan was a remarkable actress who could play any female role from the Queen, to a widow, to a seductress. Her first major role was on Tarzan in the 1930s Nolan was best known for her old lady roles. Ironically enough, Nolan was in her 20s and 30s while playing most of these dowager roles. She helped to hold some of radio’s great shows together. Producer Norm Macdonnell used her as part of a stock company that appeared often on Gunsmoke, Fort Laramie,and the Adventures of Philip Marlowe. She also made frequent appearances on Yours Truly Johnny Dollar, Suspense, and the Cavalcade of America.

Howard Duff50) Howard Duff

Prior to 1946, Duff’s most memorable radio work may have been as an announcer for the Armed Forces Radio Service. To millions of American soldiers, he was Sergeant X, who hosted the AFRS Mystery Playhouse featuring some of the most notable detectives on radio. Little did Duff know he’d become one of the most famous radio detectives after the war. Duff remains radio’s definitive Sam Spade. During his four years on the program, the show was a radio hit and his sardonic, wise-cracking portrayal of Spade  remains one of radio’s most iconic performances. His status as Spade led to an appearance on the Burns and Allen show in which he played himself, but Gracie believed him to be Sam Spade, and hilarity ensued. In addition, a program featuring a fan of the program was launched and entitled Sara’s Private Capers. A combination of high cost, unjustified accusations of Communist activity against Duff, and justified accusations of Communist activists against Dashiell Hammett led to the end of Duff’s run.  Duff struggled to find radio work after this. He was given a pilot for another detective show called The McCoy that went nowhere. Still, Duff’s role as Spade endures as does his othe radio work.

49) Eve Arden-Eve Arden was not the first choice to play  the title role in Our Miss Brooks. The first attempt at the series featured Shirley Booth in the title role.  Luckily the role went to Arden, whose main claim to fame over radio had been a season spent co-starring on the Danny Kaye Show, though Arden had enjoyed a successful film career. However in Connie Brooks, a wise-cracking, occasionally clumsy, but very competent and beloved English teacher, Brooks found a defining character.  When Our Miss Brooks hit the air in 1948, it was the beginning of a radio megahit. To be certain, Arden wasn’t the only contributor. It’s hard to imagine the show succeeding without Gale Gordon as Osgood Conklin and other parts including  Dick Crenna as Walter Denton and Jane Morgan as Mrs. Davis. However, Arden was the key. She made Miss Brooks likable. She was assertive without being pushy. She was wise-cracking without being mean. Arden had plenty of help but she was the key to the whole enterprise.

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