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Janney as Spud in Bear Shooters (1930)
April 1, 1917
Ogden, Utah, U.S.
|Died||July 4, 1980
Atlantic City, New Jersey
|Other names||David Seal|
|Spouse(s)||Jessica Pepper (1936)
Dorothy Janney (1968 – 2016)
Leon Janney (April 1, 1917 – July 4, 1980) was an American actor and radio personality from 1920 to 1980.
Born Leon Ramon in Ogden, Utah, Janney made his first theatrical appearance at age two before an audience at the Pantages Theatre in his hometown. He spent some years in vaudeville, and made his first appearance on radio in 1926, making the leap to legitimate theater soon after.
His movie debut came with Victor Sjöström's The Wind starring Lillian Gish. While he was working with some of Hollywood's greatest, he used the opportunity to study the actors, and ask for advice at every chance he could. He appeared in a string of movies portraying the boyhood incarnations of actors such as Ricardo Cortez, Reginald Denny, and Conrad Nagel. Producer Hal Roach took notice of Janney and hired him to appear in the Our Gang comedy Bear Shooters as "Spud". However, Roach realized that he was too old to gel with the other members of the gang, and Bear Shooters marked his only appearance as a Little Rascal. In 1931 he starred in the second film adaptation of Booth Tarkington's Penrod and Sam.
By the mid-1930s, Janney was considered the quintessential male juvenile star, and was earning more than $100,000 a year. As he entered his teenage years, he realised that everywhere he went he would be recognized and surrounded by fans, something he did not care for. He turned to radio and worked on the series The Parker Family, playing all-American boy Richard Parker. Although his true love was theater work, he used his radio work to become a master dialectician. Janney was a master of using convincing foreign accents, and even more so at adapting regional dialects of the United States. After serving in World War II as a translator, he continued working in radio and theater.
Though blacklisted in films in the 1950s due to the "red scare", ironic, since the Army drafted him specifically because he could speak fluent Russian, a talent he specifically learned so his accents would sound authentic on radio shows, Janney continued to work regularly due to his preference for theatrical work, appearing in such plays as The School for Scandal and The Gazebo. In the early 1940s, he starred in his own radio series, The Adventures of Dick Cole an action and adventure show aimed at pre-teen boys. Most of the episodes still survive and can be found and listened to on the internet. He co-starred in "The Adventures of Charlie Chan" also available on the web.
Janney appeared in dozens of other radio series as well, including some of the most popular and longest running,such as the critically acclaimed dramatic series Suspense (1942–1962) – approximately 900 episodes are known to exist, which can be found and heard on the internet. Other examples include: The Mysterious Traveler. He appeared in several episodes of radio's first adult science fiction series, X Minus One. Often Janney played multiple roles, using his extraordinary ability to quickly alter his voice. This talent was used in CBS radio's successful radio drama "revival" series, CBS Radio Mystery Theater (1974–1982). Janney starred in at least 80 episodes. He also made countless uncredited appearances too, until his death in 1980. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Janney did voice-overs for hundreds of television commercials and PSAs. His voice was the narrator of the popular Saturday morning cartoon, Wacky Racers (1967–1969).
Janney appeared in bit roles on such television shows as Car 54, Where Are You?, The Defenders and The Jackie Gleason Show. He made his first film appearance in more than a decade, playing a sympathetic guard in The Last Mile. He was the spokesman for the New York Mets in their Rheingold Beer commercials for the team's first two seasons (1962–1963). In his final years, he was a regular on television shows, Another World, and The Edge of Night. His last film was Charly with Cliff Robertson and Dina Merrill in 1966.
- John Holmstrom, The Moving Picture Boy: An International Encyclopaedia from 1895 to 1995, Norwich, Michael Russell, 1996, p.76.