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Page Last

Sat, Feb 28, 2004
01:46:18 PM EST

Contents and Source
Material Copyright © 2004,
L.O.F. Communications
All Rights Reserved

In Celebration:
Harry Bartell

Struts and Frets
By Harry Bartell

On Dwight Hauser

Dwight Hauser was a man who looked as though he had spent his entire life indoors. That is obviously not correct because he was an avid fisherman and there is very little indoor fishing. We met in 1937 at the Pasadena Playhouse where I was a player and he was a student in their school. We were not thrown together often. His interest was in directing, mine in becoming the next superstar. Besides that, his major social activity was as a member of the Corn Crib, a group of penurious (like most us) wannabes headed by George Bessolo, later known as George Reeves, later known as TV's Superman. The Corn Crib may very well have earned its title by indulging in humor like this:

Man 1: Who was that ladle I seen you with last night?

Man 2: That was no ladle; that was my knife.

George was the logical leader. He lived in a real house and made great spaghetti which he was willing to share. Also there was nearly always a penny ante poker game if any pennies were available. The matchstick version wasn't quite as interesting.

Each year the Playhouse did a summer festival of plays with a given theme. In 1937 it was the Great Southwest and included turkeys like Girl of the Golden West. In one of them I was cast as a dancer at a fiesta; no lines, but as an ACTOR I had to work up a complete characterization: background, makeup, bits of business while not dancing. Dwight played a servant at the rancho. At the conclusion of a big dance number, he appeared upstage center with a plate of refreshments and slowly worked his way through the dancers offering them the plate. Throughout rehearsals I had declined the plate with a flowing gesture and turned away haughtily. And then one night, Dwight had apparently stopped by the local watering hole before performance. On cue he made his entrance a bit off course, approached with the plate, came the haughty gesture of denial, and then out of the blue the unscripted line: "Aww, g'wan, Have a cookie!" I imploded. And it took a very long time for me to forgive his blatant destruction of a magnificent performance.

I lost track of Dwight after he graduated and I was writing copy and doing commercials and disc jockeying for a local advertising agency. I discovered his next incarnation when he showed up as program director for a new radio station in Pasadena. He casually offered me a job as a staff announcer at KWKW. I was floundering at that time and jumped at the chance. George Barclay and I constituted the announce staff. George later went to ABC. And there was a kid who used to hang around all the time named Stan Freberg but I can't recall his ever being on the air. Then Dwight mysteriously left for greener pastures; I left after six months, and Dwight was now an assistant director at CBS. By this time I was trying desperately to crack the wall around network radio and not doing a very good job of it. My wife and I were not starving because we were living with friends in Arcadia, out by the Santa Anita racetrack.

On a Saturday afternoon, the telephone rang. Dwight. He said he had a network job for me. The network was the Pacific regional network but it was a network and it was at CBS. When I asked him about the part I was to play he said it was a Hindu. I told him that I had never heard a Hindu dialect; the only East Indian I knew spoke perfect British English. Dwight replied that was tough, I was cast; he had told the director that I was fluent in Hindu and be at rehearsal at CBS at 7:30.

Santa Anita Oaks was about 45 minutes by car from CBS. On the drive over I was desperately developing a Hindu accent. I was sitting in the foyer mumbling to myself when the director, J. Donald Wilson arrived with an armful of scripts. He was a small man, but peering over the glasses at me he seemed ten feet tall. He said, "Are you Bartell?" I told him yes. And he said, "I understand you do Hindu?" I am proud to say that my voice didn't crack when I answered, "Oh, yes!" He than asked me to read a bit for him and I knew I was down the drain. I hauled out the now polished Hindu and read the lines. He retrieved the script, said "Fine. You can use a little more accent." Nothing to it.

The amazing Mr. Hauser turned out to be a very good writer and it was one of his scripts that got me to Mr. President, a series of programs that was essentially biographical sketches of American presidents starring Edward Arnold. It came as a considerable surprise to me every peerless leader from Washington to Roosevelt sounded exactly like Edward Arnold.

Dwight and I really got to know each other during the war when we were both living in Hollywood. His father was a butcher at the market where we shopped and was most helpful in occasionally stretching the limits of the meat ration coupons. His wife was a lovely, warm lady and our kids were about the same age. We frequently had dinner at each other's homes and there was naturally a great deal of talk, a lot of it political. At one point Dwight asked me to read a book on dialectical materialism. I waded through it, returned the book and told him that it wasn't my way to go. I don't know to this day if Dwight Hauser was a Communist. Of all the suspects that I knew during the McCarthy period, I can truthfully say that I could not testify to a single one of them actually being a card-carrying Communist. I do know that The House Un-American Activities Committee ruined Dwight Hauser's life.

Harry Bartell maintains that his major accomplishment as a professional actor for forty years was to survive with his mind, morale and marriage intact.

Born in 1913 in New Orleans, he grew up in Houston and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Rice University in 1933. After a stint at Harvard Business School and a couple of years forced labor in a department store he moved to Hollywood and stayed there for the next fifty-one years. Three seasons at the Pasadena Playhouse led to work in 185 radio series and 77 TV series plus a dozen or so properly forgettable motion pictures. He passed away on February 26, 2004.

These columns were originally written for the Internet Old-Time Radio Digest.