Elliott Lewis (actor)
Elliott Lewis (November 28, 1917 – May 23, 1990) was active during the Golden Age of Radio as an actor, writer, producer and director, proficient in both comedy and drama. These talents earned him the nickname "Mr. Radio".
Elliott Lewis in 1954.
|Born||November 28, 1917|
|Died||May 23, 1990|
|Occupation||writer, director, producer, actor|
|Spouse(s)||Ann "Nana" Wigton (m. Aug. 30, 1940; annulled Sept. 1940)
Cathy Lewis (m. 1943; div. 1958)Mary Jane Croft (m. 1959)
Elliott Bruce Lewis was born in New York City, New York, on November 28, 1917. He headed west to Los Angeles to take a pre-law course in his twenties but found himself drawn to acting. He attended Los Angeles City College, where he studied music and drama.
During World War II, Lewis was a master sergeant who supervised shows for the Armed Forces Radio Network. Much of his work involved recording programs from commercial networks and editing them before they were broadcast to military personnel. Lewis said, "We would take them off the air, take out anything that dated them or was commercial or censorable, reassemble them and ship them." In an era that preceded tape recording, that meant working with transcriptions on glass discs, which could easily be broken. Lewis received the Legion of Merit citation for his service.
Elliott Lewis made his radio debut in 1936, at the age of 18, in a bit part on a True Boardman-produced biography of Simon Bolivar. Lewis' role was to scream and bang metal chairs, in an earthquake scene. His mother drove him to the NBC studio, kissed him for luck, and waited in the car with the radio on. At the moment of her son's debut, a streetcar rumbled by, preventing her from hearing his big scene. Another early role was as Mr. Presto the Magician, on the transcription series The Cinnamon Bear (1937).
As an actor, Lewis was in high demand on radio, and he displayed a talent for everything from comedy to melodrama. He gave voice to the bitter Harvard-educated Soundman on the 1940-41 series of Burns and Allen and several characters (Rudy the radio detective, the quick-tempered delivery man, and Joe Bagley) on the 1947-48 series, many characters on The Jack Benny Radio Show (including the thuggish "Mooley", and cowboy star "Rodney Dangerfield"), a variety of comic and serious characters on the Parkyakarkus show, and Rex Stout's roguish private eye Archie Goodwin, playing opposite Francis X. Bushman in The Amazing Nero Wolfe (1945). He played adventurer Phillip Carney on the Mutual Broadcasting System's Voyage of the Scarlet Queen, and appeared on many episodes of Suspense and The Whistler.
But perhaps Lewis' most famous role on radio was that of the hard-living, trouble-making left-handed guitar player Frankie Remley on NBC's The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show. This character, based in name only on the actual guitar-player in Harris' band, served only one purpose: To get Phil into trouble. The trouble usually began when Frankie, in response to a request, complaint or musing from Harris, would speak the line that was to become his signature: "I know a guy...".
Jeanine Roose, the actress who portrayed Alice Jr. on the program, described Lewis as a "totally extroverted wild man," adding, "He and Phil would play off each other all the time; they had such good rapport and a genuine liking for each other." Lewis said that, though he mostly played dramatic roles, he wished he could be a baggy-pants comic.
The name "Frankie Remley" belonged to Phil's real-life guitarist on the Jack Benny radio program, on which Harris was a cast member. When Benny moved his show from NBC to CBS in 1949, rights to use references to Remley supposedly went with him. Recordings of the shows indicate, however, that the Remley character was still used at least as late as April 12, 1952, (in the episode "Alice's Easter Dress") while "Elliott Lewis" was being used for the character in the November 23, 1952, episode ("Chloe the Golddigger"). Phil left Benny's show at the end of the 1951-52 season, and the Frankie Remley name was changed in the first episode of the 1952-53 season of the Harris-Faye Show (October 5, 1952), "Hotel Harris", in which the character claimed "Frankie Remley" was just his stage name, and he now wanted to go by his given name of "Elliott Lewis". According to Lewis, the name change happened after lawyers convinced the real Remley to seek payment for the use of his name. Lawyers for both sides fought it out, until Harris, in frustration, decided to just call the character "Elliott Lewis". Unfortunately, as Lewis observed, "Frankie Remley" is a funny-sounding name, but "Elliott Lewis" isn't.
Lewis' other most famous voicing was not on radio but on record. He is the narrator and male lead of Gordon Jenkins' musical narrative album Manhattan Tower in both the original 10 inch LP and the later recorded, expanded 12 inch LP version of the musical story.
During the run of The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, Lewis took over as a director of the well-known radio series Suspense. On the May 10, 1951, broadcast, Lewis directed Harris and Faye in the play Death on My Hands. A band leader, played by Harris, is horrified when an autograph-seeking fan accidentally shoots herself and dies in his hotel room. A singer (played by Harris' wife and radio costar Alice Faye) comes to his aid as the townsfolk blame him for the girl's death and call for vigilante justice against him. Three weeks before this episode aired, "Suspense" was gleefully spoofed on the Harris-Faye Show.
Lewis was also heard on episodes of The Clock, The Adventures of Maisie (1946-47), and literally hundreds of other shows. He claimed that acting came to him too easily, and that he preferred to write and to direct. As a producer, director and writer, Lewis also worked on such radio programs as Broadway Is My Beat, Crime Classics and numerous other shows. He was considered one of the top talents in the radio world. In all, Lewis was involved in over 1200 radio productions.
Beginning January 1, 1953, Lewis and his wife, Cathy, co-starred in the character-driven anthology series On Stage on CBS.
In the 1970s, Lewis produced radio dramas during a brief reincarnation of the medium. In 1973-74, he directed Mutual's The Zero Hour, hosted by Rod Serling. In 1979, he and Fletcher Markle produced the Sears Radio Theater, with Sears as the sole sponsor. Lewis wrote the episodes "The Thirteenth Governess" and "Cataclysm at Carbon River" (the latter was pulled by CBS due to its subject matter of a nuclear disaster, and was never aired), and acted on the episodes "Getting Drafted", "The Old Boy", "Here's Morgan Again", "Here's Morgan Once More", and "Survival".
In 1980, the series moved from CBS to Mutual and was renamed The Mutual Radio Theater, sponsored by Sears and other sponsors. Lewis scripted the episodes "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" and "Our Man on Omega", and acted on the episodes "Interlude", "Night", "Hotel Terminal", and "Lion Hunt".
Lewis did work in film, although radio was his great passion, and he claimed to become extremely nervous in front of cameras. On the big screen, he played the distraught father of a child killed in a car accident in The Devil On Wheels (1947), narrated The Winner's Circle (1948), and portrayed Rod Markle in The Story of Molly X (1949). He also appeared as a cop in Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town (1950), and as reporter Eddie Adams in Saturday's Hero (1951). According to 1947 newspapers, he was the frontrunner for the title role in Jesse Lasky's The Great Caruso movie, and was screen-tested several times. The role ultimately went to Mario Lanza.
As the Golden Age of Radio ended, Lewis shifted his focus to television, where he produced and directed such shows as The Mothers-in-Law, Petticoat Junction and The Lucy Show (on which his second wife Mary Jane Croft costarred as Lucy's sidekick Mary Jane Lewis — her married name). His final credited work was as an executive script consultant for Remington Steele. He also was an announcer for the TV series Escape (1950), the visual counterpart of the radio program of the same name.
In his later years, Lewis wrote seven detective novels about Fred Bennett, a police officer who becomes a private investigator. The series was published by Pinnacle Books from 1980-1983.
- Two Heads Are Better (1980) ISBN 0523414390
- Dirty Linen (1980) ISBN 0523406533
- People in Glass Houses (1981) ISBN 0523414374
- Double Trouble (1981) ISBN 0523414382
- Bennett's World (1982) ISBN 0523415931
- Here Today, Dead Tomorrow (1982) ISBN 0523414390
- Death and the Single Girl (1983) ISBN 0523414773
Personal life and death
On August 30, 1940, Lewis eloped to Las Vegas with surfer/model Ann "Nana" Wigton. They then rushed back to Hollywood, for his weekly appearance as the bitter "Soundman" character on "The Burns and Allen" radio show. Five days later, they separated. Wigton filed for an annullment, on the grounds that Lewis had tricked her into marriage by falsely claiming he wanted to start a family. The annullment was granted a month later.
On April 30, 1943, while on leave from the Army, Lewis married singer-actress Cathy Lewis; they shared the common surname before their marriage. Together, the couple worked on such old time radio classics as Voyage of the Scarlet Queen and Suspense. They separated on their 14th anniversary, and Cathy filed for divorce, on the grounds of "extreme mental cruelty", claiming that Lewis had been staying out late at night, and not telling her of his whereabouts. The divorce was granted on April 16, 1958.
In the spring of 1959, Lewis married actress Mary Jane Croft, and they remained together until Lewis' death from cardiac arrest in Gleneden Beach, Oregon, on May 23, 1990. His stepson, from Croft's first marriage, was killed in Vietnam.
- Oliver, Myrna (May 26, 1990). "Eliott Lewis; Actor, Producer, Mystery Writer". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 25 June 2014.
- "Elliott Bruce Lewis". FindaGrave.com. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
- "The Cathy and Elliott Lewis On Stage Radio Program".
- DeLong, Thomas A. (1996). Radio Stars: An Illustrated Biographical Dictionary of 953 Performers, 1920 through 1960. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-2834-2. P. 165.
- Elliott, Jordan (Autumn 2017). "Mr. Radio". Nostalgia Digest. 43 (4): 26–31.
- Elder, Jane Lenz (2002). Alice Faye: A Life Beyond the Silver Screen. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 194. ISBN 9781578062102. Retrieved 7 October 2017.
- "air-casters" (PDF). Broadcasting. January 5, 1953. p. 54. Retrieved 16 July 2016.
- Cox, Jim (2009). American Radio Networks: A History. McFarland. p. 67. ISBN 9780786454242. Retrieved 7 October 2017.
- Terrace, Vincent (2011). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010 (2nd ed.). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 311. ISBN 978-0-7864-6477-7.
- "Death and the Single Girl by Elliot Lewis". LibraryThing.com. Retrieved 2019-01-12.
- Oliver, Myrna (26 May 1990). "Eliott Lewis; Actor, Producer, Mystery Writer". LA Times. Retrieved 18 April 2019.