Gale Gordon: Old Time Radio
Gale Gordon had a long and varied career in radio playing everything from drama to science fiction to comedy. His radio debut was on KFWB in Los Angeles playing a ukelele and singing Ain't Gonna Rain No More, No More. He never played an instrument on radio again! Gordon worked steadily during the 1920s and early 1930s on radio, in films, and on the stage but he became a star on radio. By 1933, he was the highest paid actor on radio.
In 1935, he played the male lead opposite silent film movie star, Mary Pickford in her radio show, Mary Pickford and Company. He also starred with another star from the silent films, Irene Rich, in her show, Dear John. Like many radio actors, Gordon was working on more than one show at a time. He worked on shows like Lux Radio Theatre; he was Inspector Lestrade on the Basil Rathbone version of Sherlock Holmes complete with an authentic Cockney accent; and he played Flash Gordon on The Amazing Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon. The shows mentioned are just a drop in the bucket, Gordon worked on many shows sometimes playing more than one character.
Unfortunately, as with many actors, casting directors considered Gordon a dramatic actor. With his deep, dramatic voice, it is easy to see how he was typecast but, like most actors, he wanted the opportunity to stretch and try different types of characters. That opportunity came when he was hired to play Molly's former boyfriend on Fibber McGee and Molly, but the role was changed. The new character was the mayor of Wistful Vista, Mayor LaTrivia. The Mayor was an instant hit! The audience loved it when the Mayor would blow up then get his words all mixed up. Gordon was on Fibber McGee and Molly for 12 years with a break for World War II when Gordon and Mayor LaTrivia both enlisted.
While still working on Fibber McGee, Gordon was cast as the blustery, sneaky Principal Osgood Conklin. Principal Conklin was one of those characters that people love to hate. He was always making himself a nuisance to the faculty and students at Madison High School. "There is nothing subtle about Osgood," Gordon said in a March 1955 interview with TV Guide. Whether he was rigging contests so his daughter could win prom queen or going head-to-head with Miss Brooks, Osgood Conklin was a larger than life character and that is exactly how Gordon played him.
At the same time that Gordon was making his mark on radio as Principal Conklin, he was was also working with Lucille Ball on My Favorite Husband. This was the beginning of a relationship that produced comedy gold for years to come. The main character's on the show were Liz and George Cooper (Lucille Ball and Richard Denning) and Rudolph and Iris Atterbury (Gale Gordon and Bea Benaderet). Rudolph Atterbury was a banker and George Cooper's boss plus Liz and Iris were best friends. The show formula was very similar to I Love Lucy (in fact, I Love Lucy is based on the radio show) Liz talks Iris into some harebrained scheme and they both get in trouble with their husbands. It was a funny and popular show.
As radio gave way to television, Gordon continued working. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz wanted Gordon and Benaderet to take the parts of Fred and Ethel Mertz but they could not because of contract obligations though Gordon did make guest appearances on I Love Lucy. Gordon continued working in television in various shows as the star or as a supporting actor. Finally, Gordon and Lucy were able to get together on The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy.
Gale Gordon made his mark on both radio and television. He was known for his deep smooth voice and his "slow burn" reactions. In 1999, four years after his death, Gordon was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.