Elliott Lewis (radio)
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Elliott Lewis (November 28, 1917 – May 23, 1990) was active during the Golden Age of Radio as an actor, producer and director, proficient in both comedy and drama. These talents earned him the nickname "Mr. Radio".
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 WW-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.
As an actor, Elliott Lewis was in high demand on radio, and he displayed a talent for everything from comedy to melodrama. He gave voice to 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.
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 on a former band mate of Harris', 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."
The name "Frankie Remley" belonged to 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"). The Frankie Remley name was changed in the episode (10-5-1952 Hotel Harris) in which the character claimed "Frankie Remley" was just his stage name and wanted to go by his given name "Elliot Lewis" from then on. He also played a few characters on The Whistler.
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," 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 reversed roles with Harris 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.
Lewis was also heard on episodes of The Clock, The Adventures of Maisie 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 900 radio productions.
Beginning January 1, 1953, Lewis and his wife co-starred in On Stage with Elliott and Cathy Lewis 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 produced the Sears Radio Theater with Sears as the sole sponsor. In 1980 the series moved from CBS to Mutual and was renamed The Mutual Radio Theater, sponsored by Sears and other sponsors.
Lewis did work in film, although radio was his great passion. On the big screen, Lewis narrated The Winner's Circle (1948) and portrayed Rod Markle in The Story of Molly X (1949). He also appeared in Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town (1950) and Saturday's Hero (1951).
As the Golden Age of Radio ended, Lewis shifted his focus to television, where he worked on such shows as The Mothers-in-Law, Petticoat Junction and The Lucy Show (on which his 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 1943, while on leave from the Army, Lewis married singer-actress Cathy Lewis, his first wife; they shared the common surname before their marriage. Together, the couple produced such old time radio classics as Voyage of the Scarlet Queen and Suspense. They divorced in 1958.
In 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.
- "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.