Monday, November 23, 2015

Old Time Radio - John Dehner Centennial Celebration

CBS Columbia Square (Hollywood, Los Angeles, California) - October 31, 2013
CBS Columbia Square in Hollywood, California (October 2013) .  This was the home of the CBS's radio studios in Hollywood.  More importantly, it was the home of Gunsmoke and other leading programs from the network.
Today we celebrate the centennial of one of the most prolific actors from the golden age of radio: the great John Dehner.  On November 23, 1915, John Dehner was born in Staten Island, New York.  John Dehner was not only a regular on radio programs, but was also accomplished on both television and film.  But surprisingly, there is relatively little written about him.

According to his obituary from the Washington Post (published on February 10, 1992, six days after his death in Santa Barbara, California), they pointed out that he was educated in Paris and served as an animator with the Walt Disney Company after entering show business through the stage in New York.  At Disney, he worked on Fantasia and Bambi among other projects.  Like so many men during the 40s, he served in the U.S. Army during World War II.  Upon his return to civilian life after the war, he started his career in radio.

According to the RadioGOLDINdex, John Dehner appeared in 874 programs.  To put this in perspective, big names put up big numbers of programs.

  • Joseph Kearns (1160)
  • William Conrad (1141)
  • Robert "Bob" Bailey (709)
  • Howard McNear (1000)
  • Lawrence Dobkin (917)
  • Jack Webb (463)
This is really nice company.  

I wanted to showcase a few episodes that I love from John Dehner.  There are a lot to choose from.  Of the 480 Gunsmoke episodes, John Dehner appeared in 223.  And almost always, he was the mysterious villain.  When my wife and I are listening to Radio Classics on XM 148 and we hear John Dehner on Gunsmoke - we are pretty sure he is the bad guy!

Dehner has such a distinct and sophisticated voice.  He often played the elder statements, the aristocrat, or the dignitary from another country.  He was a mainstay in the stable of actors that were called on regularly for CBS where great programs were being produced through the early 1960s.  I am sure that he was a regular at the studio above and that everyone there knew his name.  If they did not know his name, they certainly would have recognized his voice!

While mostly a supporting character, he was given two shows on CBS where he was the star.  One will be featured below (Frontier Gentleman).  The other is Have Gun Will Travel, where he played Paladin.  I am still trying to get into this series - it is just not my favorite.

The Librarian (From Frontier Gentleman - October 5, 1958)

The Frontier Gentleman was a late radio series from CBS that starred Dehner as J.B. Kendall, a correspondent from the London Times who traveled to the American West.  This is the opening of the series (which would run from February through November, 1958):

Herewith, an Englishman's account of life and death in the West. As a reporter for the London Times, he writes his colorful and unusual accounts. But as a man with a gun, he lives and becomes a part of the violent years in the new territories. Now, starring John Dehner, this is the story of J. B. Kendall, Frontier Gentleman...
The story called "The Librarian" finds J.B. Kendall meeting a widower who moved to the territory out west with her husband who recently died.  The woman, who was a librarian, found herself back at her house after traveling east to get medical treatment for her husband.  Even though he died, she returned to the land to honor his sacrifice.  What she found was a claim jumper, a Confederate soldier who was not interested in leaving the land.  J.B. Kendall works with a local posse to get the claim jumper off.  The group disbands when the librarian reports that the claim jumper had left.  But did he?

The Constable (From Gunsmoke - May 8, 1954)

Gunsmoke is one of the series that hardly needs an introduction.  It started in 1952 as a western series for adults.  So popular, it spawned a television series and lasted on radio until 1961. This episode has always been one of my favorites.  John Dehner joins the Gunsmoke regulars as Rantz, the head of a a Texas cattle herd that just came into Dodge.  The episode opens with Chester and Matt Dillon talking about how they took care of rowdy cowboys that rode into Dodge that day.  Rantz threatened to not return to Dodge City and that made the business leaders nervous.  The business leaders gathered to encourage Marshall Dillon to go easy on the cowboys - they cannot afford to lose the business.  When the business leaders hire a Constable and tell Marshall Dillon to leave the cowboys alone, chaos is the word of the day in Dodge.  Only the strong hand of Marshall Dillon can restore order.

The Laughing Matter (From Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar - June 11 through 15, 1956)

If anyone knows my tastes of Old Time Radio, you know I love Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.  I especially love the multi-part episodes that ran from 1955 through 1956 when Bob Bailey became the star and title character of the show.  These five part marathons are a staple of XM 148 - Radio Classics with host Greg Bell.  The best part of these multi-episode stories is the ability to expand the plot and dig deeper into the characters.  The conversations are more revealing and are less driven by exposition to get points out in a short program.  These stories typically cover 75 minutes and that is fantastic for some of these mysteries.

John Dehner was in a number of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar episodes as a big actor at CBS (where that was recorded).  In the Laughing Matter, John Dehner plays Actor and Comedian Charlie Burton - who is in Mexico where he life was threatened.  Turns out, the problem is not finding someone who wants to do in 'lovable Charlie Burton,' but finding someone who DOESN'T want to kill him!  

No comments:

Post a Comment