William Bennett Kilpack

William Bennett Kilpack (February 6, 1883, Long Melford – August 17, 1962, Santa Monica) known simply as Bennett Kilpack, was an actor, director and playwright. He is best known for his performances in the title role of Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons (From 1937-1947 on NBC Radio's Blue Network, which became the ABC network in 1945, then from 1947 to 1955 on CBS Radio). The drama was one of radio's longest running shows (October 12, 1937 to April 19, 1955), continuing well into the television era.

Bennett Kilpack
William Bennett Kilpack

(1883-02-06)February 6, 1883
Long Melford, Suffolk, United Kingdom
DiedAugust 17, 1962(1962-08-17) (aged 79)
Resting placePacific Crest Cemetery, Redondo Beach, California, United States
  • Actor
  • Director
  • Playwright
Years active1908–1950
Notable work
Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons (1314 episodes, 19371950)
  • Mabel Alice Cromer
    (m. 1909; div. 1925)
  • Dorothy Young Schisler
    (m. 1940; her death 1955)
Children1 (adopted)

Acting career

Unable to find an engineering job in the United States, he became an actor. Kilpack's first acting job was as Michael Cassio in Othello.[1] World War I interrupted Kilpack's early stage career; he became a member of the Royal Flying Corps and was stationed in Canada as salvage department head at a large flying field. In this capacity, he dismantled the plane in which Vernon Castle, the dancer, crashed.[2]

He toured with Sir Philip Ben Greet's Shakespearean players, had several important parts in Broadway plays, and in 1927 was given the lead role in The Wayside Inn, an early radio serial.[1] He subsequently played the part of Cephus in Way Back Home, which was presented on radio and as a film, with Phillips Lord as Seth Parker. As a radio serial it was also known as Sunday Night at Seth Parker's. Kilpack made his CBS debut in 1935 in Vanished Voices and subsequently played roles on CBS Radio in Hilltop House, Gang Busters, The Goldbergs, The Shadow and Grand Central Station.[1]

Kilpack began his run as Mr. Keen in 1937. For 18 years Keen and his faithful assistant, Mike Clancy, entertained followers with their intuitive perception that kept listeners coming back for more. With 1690 nationwide broadcasts, Mr. Keen was the most resilient private detective in a namesake role. The nearest competitors were Nick Carter, Master Detective (726 broadcasts), The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (657) and The Adventures of the Falcon (473).[3] Over a span of 13 years, Bennett appeared on nearly 1300 of the 1700 broadcasts. At age 67, Bennett made his last appearance as Mr. Keen on October 26, 1950, the show's 1314th broadcast.[3]

Family life

Bennett married Mabel Alice Cromer (b. May 4, 1890, Revere, MA) April 29, 1909, in Boston, MA.[4] Kilpack sent his wife to Paris but, according to The New York Times, failed to follow her there as he promised, so she divorced him there in March 1925 on grounds of desertion.[5][6]

In September 1940, Bennett married a second time, to Dorothy Young Schisler (Mrs. Meryle Raymond Schisler, nee Young). Dorothy had been married once before, to Meryle Raymond Schisler (b. April 29, 1905, New York) Dorothy and Meryle were married Dorothy October 17, 1932, in Mount Vernon, NY. Just before marrying, Meryle had served as a soldier in the Army at Schofield Military Reservation, Oahu, Hawaii.

Prior to marrying Meryle and Bennett, Dorothy had a son, John Charles Stressling, born August 15, 1927, whom Bennett adopted, changing his surname to Kilpack. John's natural father, an emigrant from Germany, had died in an auto accident.

John Charlie Young (sic), was admitted to St. Christopher's in Dobbs Ferry on October 4, 1935 a school that, at the time, admitted only protestant children of single parents. Records show that he was the child of a single parent Dorothy Young and that he was being raised by his maternal grandmother, Susan S. Young (nee Griggs, b. Aug. 11, 1876, Dedham, MA - d. July 14, 1954, Bangor, Maine). John met Admission criteria primarily because his grandmother, Susan S. Young, who had become a widow in April 1935, did not have means of support. Also, his mother, Dorothy was single at the time and did not have a job. John's room and board was financed by a foundation connected to St. Christopher's. John's mother later contributed money towards his room and board. John was discharged from the school on June 27, 1941. John Graduated from St. John's School in June 1945.[7]

Dorothy died December 1, 1955, in Southampton, Bermuda. Dorothy was born on January 11, 1910, in Dedham, Massachusetts. Dorothy died of an overdose of sleeping pills (barbiturates).[8] At that time, she and Bennett had vacation homes in Dover, Vermont, and Bermuda.

Bennett died of cancer in Santa Monica in 1962 and was buried at Pacific Crest Cemetery in Redondo Beach, California.[9] John Charles Kilpack, who had changed his surname back to Stressling, died February 11, 2006, in Sun City, California.[10]

Citizenship and early years

Bennett Kilpack was the third of seven (four boys, three girls) born to William Gilbert Kilpack, a clergyman, and Maria Theresia Hennequin. Kilpack claims lineal descent from the poet, Alfred Tennyson.[11] He attended school at Sutton, England, St. John's College, Finsbury Technical College[12] and the London Oratory School.[13] He immigrated to Canada (from England) for his first job as apprentice in a locomotive factory whence he soon graduated to become an electrical engineer for the Canadian Pacific Railway in Montreal, Quebec.

Despite having served in the Royal Flying Corps. in Canada, Bennett had two U.S. Draft Cards, one for World War I and one for World War II.

See also

Old-Time Radio


  1. "Bennett Kilpack, 79, 'Mr. Keen' of radio". The New York Times. 1962-08-21. p. 33. Retrieved 2007-07-22.
  2. Bennett Kilpack (Doc Barclay), Columbia Broadcasting System Biographical Service, 1939-11-29, on file at The New York Public Library, Lincoln Center
  3. Cox, Jim (May 2004). Mr. Keen, tracer of lost persons: a complete history and episode log of radio's most durable detective. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-1738-2.
  4. Mabel's birth certificate filed in the City Clerk's office, Revere, MA; and the Mabel and Bennett's marriage license is filed in the City Clerk's office, Chelsea, MA.
  5. "Mrs. Kilpack Gets Divorce" (fee required). The New York Times. 1925-03-27. p. 5. Retrieved 2007-07-22.
  6. Private conversations between this contributor and a relative, Gilbert Hawthorn Kilpack, who is now deceased, references legal documents indicating that the divorce was actually filed in Seine October 1, 1924.
  7. St. John's School was a private military school for grades one through twelve. The academy's final June-Day was in 1958; after which, the property was sold to the Catholic Diocese of New York, and resumed operations as St. Ann's Parish School in Ossining. Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) the 26th U.S. President is the school's most distinguished alumnus.
  8. Dorothy Young Kilpack, Death Certificate 2404, General Register of Deaths, Bermuda, December 9, 1956.
  9. "Rites for Radio Actor Kilpack Will Be Today". Los Angeles Times. 1962-08-21. p. 23.
  10. John Stressling, 78, Obit, North County Times, (Lee Enterprises, publisher), San Diego, February 16, 2006.
  11. Bennett Kilpack (Doc Barclay), Columbia Broadcasting System Biographical Service, 1939-11-29, on file at The New York Public Library, Lincoln Center, MWEZ + N.C. 2412.
  12. Established by City and Guilds of London Institute in 1879, Finsbury Technical College closed in 1926.
  13. Bennett Kilpack (Doc Barclay), Columbia Broadcasting System Biographical Service, 1939-11-29, on file at The New York Public Library, Lincoln Center, MWEZ + N.C. 2412.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.