Willard Waterman

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Willard Waterman
Willard Waterman in Wagon Train 1961.jpg
Willard Waterman in Wagon Train 1961
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
SpouseMary Anna Theleen (1937-1995; his death)

Willard Lewis Waterman (August 29, 1914 – February 2, 1995)[1] was an American 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.

Early years[edit]

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 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]

Waterman replaced Harold Peary on The Great Gildersleeve in 1950, 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.

There he met and replaced Peary on The Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters. Not only did the two men become longtime friends, but Waterman—who actually looked as though he could have been Peary's sibling, and whose voice was a near-match for Peary's—refused 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.[citation needed]

During World War II, Waterman worked in war production[clarification needed] in the Nash-Kelvinator plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin.[citation needed]

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,[4] 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,[5] The Guiding Light, Lonely Women,[6] The Road of Life and Kay Fairchild, Stepmother.


Waterman is remembered for his role as Claude Upson in the 1958 film Auntie Mame.[7] He was also seen in Riding High, Three Coins in the Fountain, and The Apartment.[8]


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.[8]


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, Bat Masterson, The Eve Arden Show (four episodes from 1957 to 1958 as Carl Foster), 77 Sunset Strip, Bonanza, 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.[citation needed]

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.[9]

Labor activities[edit]

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."[10]


Waterman died of bone marrow disease February 2, 1995, at his home in Burlingame, California,[8] 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.[8]


Waterman has a star in the Radio section of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[11]


Year Title Role Notes
1949 Flaming Fury Dutch Uncredited
1949 Flame of Youth Steve Miller
1949 Free for All Commander H.C. Christie
1950 No Man of Her Own Jack Olsen Uncredited
1950 Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town J.J. Schumacher Uncredited
1950 Riding High Arthur Winslow
1950 Father of the Bride Vincent Dixon - Engagement Party Guest Uncredited
1950 Louisa Dick Stewart
1950 The Lawless Pawling Uncredited
1950 Mystery Street A Mortician
1950 Three Secrets Max Uncredited
1950 Hit Parade of 1951 Oilman Uncredited
1950 Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone Mr. Ogle
1950 Watch the Birdie Mayor Uncredited
1951 Fourteen Hours Mr. Harris Uncredited
1951 Francis Goes to the Races Exerciser Uncredited
1951 Darling, How Could You! Theatre Manager
1951 Rhubarb Orlando Dill
1951 Sunny Side of the Street John 'J.R.' Stevens
1952 Has Anybody Seen My Gal? Dr. Wallace Uncredited
1953 It Happens Every Thursday Myron Trout
1953 Half a Hero Charles McEstway
1954 Three Coins in the Fountain Mr. Hoyt Uncredited
1955 Three for the Show TV show Moderator Uncredited
1955 How to Be Very, Very Popular Speaker
1956 Hollywood or Bust Manager Neville Uncredited; final Martin & Lewis film
1958 Auntie Mame Claude Upson
1959 Bat Masterson Bank Manager
1960 The Apartment Mr. Vanderhoff
1962 The Joey Bishop Show Johnathan Flint. 1 episode
1962 Mister Ed Mr. Douglas Episode- Ed's New Neighbors
1962 Walk on the Wild Side Man Listening to Speech Uncredited
1963 My Favorite Martian Mr. Trimble Episode- There is No Cure for the Common Martian
1964 Get Yourself a College Girl Senator Hubert Morrison
1972 Hail Vice President (final film role)

Radio appearances[edit]

Year Program Episode/source
1948 Screen Guild Players Up in Central Park[12]
1949 Escape Red Wine[13]


  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. ^ a b Leadabrand, Russ (September 22, 1963). "A Pro in Evoking Stitches". Independent Star-News. Independent Star-News. p. 58. Retrieved June 13, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  3. ^ Press release on Willard Waterman from NBC Chicago, dated November 9, 1936.
  4. ^ "(photo caption)". Pampa Daily News. Pampa Daily News. March 8, 1946. p. 7. Retrieved June 13, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  5. ^ Fairfax, Arthur (December 28, 1940). "Mr. Fairfax Replies" (PDF). Movie Radio Guide. 10 (12): 43. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  6. ^ Buxton, Frank and Owen, Bill (1972). The Big Broadcast: 1920-1950. The Viking Press; ISBN 0-670-16240-X (pp. 144-45).
  7. ^ "(photo caption)". The Zanesville Signal. May 31, 1959. p. 10. Retrieved June 13, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  8. ^ a b c d "Willard Waterman, An Actor on Radio And TV, Dies at 80". The New York Times. New York Times. February 8, 1995. Retrieved June 14, 2015.
  9. ^ Clio Award website, clioawards.com; retrieved on July 15, 2007.
  10. ^ Folkart, Burt A. (February 4, 1995). "Willard Waterman; Actor on Radio, Screen and Stage". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 14, 2015.
  11. ^ Folkart, Burt A. (February 4, 1995). "Willard Waterman". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 14, 2015.
  12. ^ "Those Were The Days". Nostalgia Digest. 40 (1): 32–39. Winter 2014.
  13. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 39 (1): 32–41. Winter 2013.

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