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Warren William—On The Air

Warren William, Claudette ColbertPeople who discover the provocative pre-Code movies made in
the early 1930s inevitably become fans of leading man Warren William, an urbane
actor (sometimes referred to as the poor man’s John Barrymore) who starred in
so many memorable films of that period: Beauty
and the Boss, Skyscraper Souls, The Mouthpiece, Employees Entrance, The Dark
Horse, Three on a Match, The Match King,
and many more.

Warren William in his primeHe also gave fine
performances as Dave the Dude in Frank Capra’s Lady for a Day and served Cecil B. DeMille well as Julius Caesar in
Cleopatra. He played a number of
prominent detectives including Philo Vance and lawyer/sleuth Perry Mason before
starring in his own B movie series as The
Lone Wolf
. In later years he transitioned to character roles, effectively
playing an older D’Artagnan in The Man in
the Iron Mask
(1939) and a suave villain in Edgar G. Ulmer’s modern take on
Hamlet; Strange Illusion (1945).

As longtime Warren William admirers, my wife and I are
enjoying a recent discovery: an obscure radio show from the 1940s in which he
stars called Strange Wills. It’s the
latest oddity to be unearthed by the folks at Radio Archives, who seek out
original transcription discs from the period and perform audio transfers so
flawless that you’d swear the shows were being broadcast “live.” There are
twenty-six half-hour episodes in all. At one time I would have purchased the
physical CDs, but I am finally making the move toward a virtual audio library
and simply paid for a zip file instead. To learn more or purchase the shows
click HERE.

Strange Wills-Ad

I wish I could tell you that Strange Wills is a major find. It’s not: it’s a pulpy melodrama
about a probate lawyer named John Francis O’Connell who becomes involved with
the lives—and fates—of the “strange people” who have left behind “strange
wills,” attempting to control the people closest to them from beyond the grave.
The show was produced by one of the many enterprising production companies that
popped up in Hollywood, especially in the 1940s, ready to supply local stations
with professional (if uninspired) programming, usually featuring a Hollywood
star who was no longer on the A list. Warren William’s days as a marquee
leading man were behind him, but he still had a recognizable name that would
attract listeners. Teleways produced the shows, utilizing one writer (Ken Krippene—who
purportedly based his scripts on real-life cases), a small supporting cast,
minimal sound effects, and organ music by Del Castillio. (The discs were sent
out to local stations, which would insert local advertisements at appointed
breaks in the show. On these original transcriptions—as opposed to air
checks—we’re serenaded by Castillio on the organ with no sponsor in sight.)

What makes the shows enjoyable is the distinctive voice and presence of its star. Not every Hollywood star was at home in front of the radio microphone, but William seems quite at ease. There is a rich theatricality to his delivery that’s a pleasure to hear. He is joined by a capable cast of hard-working Hollywood radio actors who, like most of the working professionals in the field, could handle any assignment thrown their way. 
Warren William-Ann SavageThe series’
permanent leading lady is Lurene Tuttle, who’s equally convincing as a
beautiful temptress or a victimized wife. (Tuttle, like a handful of other
radio actresses, could be called on to play any kind of part: she was Sam
Spade’s lovesick Friday Effie on The
Adventures of Sam Spade
, and the long-suffering mother to Red Skelton’s
Mean Widdle Kid on his weekly comedy show.) Other key roles are filled by such
familiar voices as Howard Culver, Marvin Miller, Carleton Young, Peggy  Webber, John Brown and William Conrad, to name
just a few. Their professionalism helps to compensate for some of the
weaknesses in the scripts.

William was nearing the end of his life when he recorded
these shows (he died in 1948 at the age of 53) but his vigor seems undiminished
here, although every now and then the director might have called for a second
take.

Man In The Iron Mask

In many ways it’s a miracle that shows like this survive at
all. They were meant to be used and then discarded. Fortunately, someone saved
a pristine set of 16-inch recordings, so we can dip into the eerie world of Strange Wills, starring “the
distinguished Hollywood actor” Warren William. He remained exactly that to the
end of his life, contributing a fine performance to The Private Affairs of Bel Ami in 1947. And just as film keeps his
image before us, these radio shows keep that wonderful voice of his alive and
present.

Radio Archives-Strange Wills

 

 

4 comments

  1. Amanda says:

    I adore Warren William. He was a fantastic actor who thankfully is being rediscovered by those of use who adore pre-code films. His voice is fantastic, so I can’t wait to check out this radio program.

  2. Barry Traylor says:

    I have been of his work ever since I saw Skyscraper Souls on TCM.

  3. Paul F. Etcheverry says:

    Sounds like fun listening – I did not know that Warren William, wonderful as the "cad of cads" in SKYSCRAPER SOULS, did any radio series.

  4. Lee says:

    "Red-Headed Woman" was one of the best pre-code movies (along with "King Kong").

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