Willard Waterman

Willard Lewis Waterman (August 29, 1914, Madison, Wisconsin – February 2, 1995,[1] Burlingame, California) was a character actor in films, TV and on radio, remembered best for replacing Harold Peary as the title character of The Great Gildersleeve at the height of that show's popularity.

Willard Waterman
Waterman (right) as The Great Gildersleeve, 1955
Willard Lewis Waterman

(1914-08-29)August 29, 1914
DiedFebruary 2, 1995(1995-02-02) (aged 80)
Resting placeSkylawn Memorial Park in San Mateo, California
Years active1949–1973
Spouse(s)Mary Anna Theleen (1937-1995; his death); 2 children

Early years

In the mid 1930s, Waterman attended the University of Wisconsin, where he joined Theta Chi, acted in student plays, and was a friend of Uta Hagen. His growing interest in theater put an end to his original plan to be an engineer, and he gained experience in radio at the university's station, WHA.[2]


Waterman replaced Harold Peary, on "The Great Gildersleeve," radio program after Peary was unable to convince sponsor and show owner Kraft Cheese to allow him an ownership stake in the show. Impressed with better capital-gains deals CBS was willing to offer performers in the high-tax late 1940s, he decided to move from NBC to CBS during the latter's famous talent raids. Kraft, however, refused to move the show to CBS and hired Waterman to replace Peary as the stentorian Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve.

He also began his radio career at WIBA in Madison, singing in a quartet that performed "musical interludes between programs,"[2] and came to NBC in Chicago in early 1936.[3]

There he met and replaced Peary on The Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters. Not only did the two men become longtime friends, but Watermanwho actually looked as though he could have been Peary's sibling, and whose voice was a near-match for Peary'srefused to appropriate the half-leering, half-embarrassed laugh Peary had made a Gildersleeve trademark. He stayed with The Great Gildersleeve from 1950 to 1957 on radio and in a short-lived television series syndicated in 1955.[4]

During World War II, Waterman worked in war production in the Nash-Kelvinator plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

At the same time he was heard as Gildersleeve, Waterman had a recurring role as Mr. Merriweather in the short-lived but respected radio comedy vehicle for Ronald Colman and his wife Benita Hume, The Halls of Ivy. Waterman's pre-Gildersleeve radio career, in addition to Tom Mix, had included at least one starring vehicle, a short-lived situation comedy, Those Websters,[5] that premiered in 1945.

He had radio roles between the mid 1930s and 1950 on such shows as Chicago Theater of the Air (variety) and Harold Teen (comedy), plus four soap operas: Girl Alone,[6] The Guiding Light, Lonely Women,[7] The Road of Life and Kay Fairchild, Stepmother.


Waterman is remembered for his role as Claude Upson in the 1958 film Auntie Mame.[8] He was also seen in Riding High, Three Coins in the Fountain, and The Apartment.[9][4]


Waterman was in two Broadway productions of the musical Mame (the 1966 original and the 1983 revival) and the 1973 Broadway revival of The Pajama Game. He also toured in the national companies of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.[9]


Waterman's later career included a variety of film and TV supporting roles on such shows as a short-lived television adaptation of The Great Gildersleeve, Vacation Playhouse, Lawman, My Favorite Martian, The Eve Arden Show (four episodes from 1957-1958 as Carl Foster), 77 Sunset Strip, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Guestward Ho!, F Troop, and Dennis the Menace, in which he played the lovable grocer, Mr. Quigley. Between 1957 and 1959, he appeared five times as Mac Maginnis in the ABC sitcom The Real McCoys starring Walter Brennan.[4]

Waterman was all but retired from acting after 1973, although in 1980 he appeared in the "Boss and Peterson" radio commercial for Sony, for which he received a Clio Award.[10]

Labor activities

In 1937, Waterman was a founding member of the radio union known as the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. One obituary noted, "He was believed to be the only person to have served as a member of the union's board of directors in four different locales: Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York."[11]


Waterman died of bone marrow disease February 2, 1995, at his home in Burlingame, California,[9] and is interred at Skylawn Memorial Park in San Mateo, California. He was survived by his wife, Mary Anna (née Theleen), two daughters, three granddaughters, and a great-granddaughter.[9]


Waterman has a star in the Radio section of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[12]


Year Title Role Notes
1949Flaming FuryDutchUncredited
1949Flame of YouthSteve Miller
1949Free for AllCommander H.C. Christie
1950No Man of Her OwnJack OlsenUncredited
1950Ma and Pa Kettle Go to TownJ.J. SchumacherUncredited
1950Riding HighArthur Winslow
1950Father of the BrideVincent Dixon - Engagement Party GuestUncredited
1950LouisaDick Stewart
1950The LawlessPawlingUncredited
1950Mystery StreetA Mortician
1950Three SecretsMaxUncredited
1950Hit Parade of 1951OilmanUncredited
1950Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. MaloneMr. Ogle
1950Watch the BirdieMayorUncredited
1951Fourteen HoursMr. HarrisUncredited
1951Francis Goes to the RacesExerciserUncredited
1951Darling, How Could You!Theatre Manager
1951RhubarbOrlando Dill
1951Sunny Side of the StreetJohn 'J.R.' Stevens
1952Has Anybody Seen My Gal?Dr. WallaceUncredited
1953It Happens Every ThursdayMyron Trout
1953Half a HeroCharles McEstway
1954Three Coins in the FountainMr. HoytUncredited
1955Three for the ShowTV Show ModeratorUncredited
1955How to Be Very, Very PopularSpeaker
1956Hollywood or BustManager NevilleUncredited; final Martin & Lewis film
1958Auntie MameClaude Upson
1960The ApartmentMr. Vanderhoff
1962The Joey Bishop ShowJohnathan Flint.1 episode
1962Walk on the Wild SideMan Listening to SpeechUncredited
1963My Favorite MartianMr. TrimbleEpisode- There is No Cure for the Common Martian
1964Get Yourself a College GirlSenator Hubert Morrison
1972HailVice President(final film role)

Radio appearances

1948Screen Guild PlayersUp in Central Park[13]
1949EscapeRed Wine[14]


  1. Cox, Jim (2008). This Day in Network Radio: A Daily Calendar of Births, Debuts, Cancellations and Other Events in Broadcasting History. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-3848-8.
  2. Leadabrand, Russ (September 22, 1963). "A Pro in Evoking Stitches". Independent Star-News. p. 58. Retrieved June 13, 2015 via Newspapers.com.
  3. Press release on Willard Waterman from NBC Chicago, dated November 9, 1936.
  4. Willard Waterman on IMDb
  5. "(photo caption)". Pampa Daily News. March 8, 1946. p. 7. Retrieved June 13, 2015 via Newspapers.com.
  6. Fairfax, Arthur (December 28, 1940). "Mr. Fairfax Replies" (PDF). Movie Radio Guide. 10 (12): 43. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  7. Buxton, Frank and Owen, Bill (1972). The Big Broadcast: 1920-1950. The Viking Press; ISBN 670-16240-X Parameter error in {{ISBN}}: Invalid ISBN. (pp. 144-45).
  8. "(photo caption)". The Zanesville Signal. May 31, 1959. p. 10. Retrieved June 13, 2015 via Newspapers.com.
  9. "Willard Waterman, An Actor on Radio And TV, Dies at 80". New York Times. February 8, 1995. Retrieved June 14, 2015.
  10. Clio Award website, clioawards.com; retrieved on July 15, 2007.
  11. Folkart, Burt A. (February 4, 1995). "Willard Waterman; Actor on Radio, Screen and Stage". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 14, 2015.
  12. Folkart, Burt A. (February 4, 1995). "Willard Waterman". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 14, 2015.
  13. "Those Were The Days". Nostalgia Digest. 40 (1): 32–39. Winter 2014.
  14. "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 39 (1): 32–41. Winter 2013.
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