Saturday, November 22, 2014

100th Birthday Celebration for Frank Graham (old time radio star)

My Antique Radio

100 years ago today, in Detroit, Michigan, Frank Graham was born.  Though he died at age 35, he made a lasting impact among fans of old time radio during a very short career.  More about his death later.

Living near Detroit, I always get stopped by that word when I am scanning through articles and news.  So a few years ago, I learned about Frank Graham and that he was one of many Detroit natives who make their mark in old time radio programming.  Though he did not work at WXYZ (the Detroit station famous for many series including the Green Hornet, the Lone Ranger and Challenge of the Yukon), I was always interested in him and his career.

But what made him the great radio star was his voice.  While he was known as the man of 1,000 voices, he was best known for two series.

First his great role on Romance of the Ranchos, where he was the "Wandering Vaquero" on this historical series which came to the air thanks to the Title and Trust Insurance Company of Los Angeles.  This historical series revealed how complicated it was to ensure that you held title to your land.  Given the great history of the Ranchos in Southern California, this radio series was a perfect way for the Title and Trust Insurance Company to share its stories.  When I travel in Southern California, I always make sure I have these on my phone or my  MP3 player.
Frank Graham was also well known for being in the detective series Jeff Regan, Investigator.  The role was created by Jack Webb (of Dragnet fame).  The long suffering Jeff Regan worked as the "Lyon's eye" for the International Detective Bureau in Los Angeles.  His boss was the insufferable Anthony J. Lyon.  Regan was always balancing between what he thought was right and what Anthony J. Lyon could bill for.  As you might imagine, Regan always won.

One of my favorite episodes is the Man in Black.  What I love the most about it is that it is a rehearsal, not a final performance.  So you hear the directors and the banter during the recording.  You hear (at the 25 minute mark) Frank Graham get frustrated with his fellow actors as they are clearly lost in the script.  Check out the link below.  
The Series was recorded in Hollywood at the CBS studios

CBS Columbia Square (Hollywood, Los Angeles, California) - October 31, 2013

CBS Columbia Square (Hollywood, Los Angeles, California) - October 31, 2013

The series ended abruptly in September 1950 with the death of its star.  Even though Frank Graham was not the original Jeff Regan, the producers decided not to continue.

The news of his death, at his own hand, was carries across the country:

Frank Graham, Radio Actors, Kills Himself (Toledo Blade on September 5, 1950, p.15)
Funeral services will be held today for radio's "man of 1,000 voices." Frank Lee Graham.
Graham, 35, star of the Jeff Reagan program, committed suicide Saturday night by inhaling automobile exhaust fumes.  Police blamed an unhappy love affair.

A more detailed story appeared (as you might imagine) in the Los Angeles Times (from the Tralfaz blog).  From that story, "Near Graham’s hand on the front seat of the car was the photograph of a handsome brunet woman, identified by police as Miss Mildred Rossi. Associates said that until recent weeks Miss Rossi had been Graham’s constant companion."

While his life ended tragically and all too short, it is nice that we have these recordings that his work lives on.

Other links worth looking at include:

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