SOLE SURVIVOR

MIKE SPRITES

Radio can be fabulous . . . Radio can be cruel . . . But hundreds of young hopefuls are willing to risk heartbreak to make good

BRUCE McLEOD October 15 1943
SOLE SURVIVOR

MIKE SPRITES

Radio can be fabulous . . . Radio can be cruel . . . But hundreds of young hopefuls are willing to risk heartbreak to make good

BRUCE McLEOD October 15 1943

MIKE SPRITES

BRUCE McLEOD

Radio can be fabulous . . . Radio can be cruel . . . But hundreds of young hopefuls are willing to risk heartbreak to make good

ONE LITTLE starlet went to New York. Another little starlet went to Hollywood. And still another little starlet stayed home —but irrespective of how they cut their drama teeth each of these young Canadian girls has attracted to herself a fair share of the glitter worn by Canada’s up-and-coming crop of radio starlets.

Nor are they alone in their success for daily in radio studios across the Dominion dozens of other young hopefuls confront the microphone— bright, vivacious youngsters with pleasing voices and a flair for the drama. Some of the more fortunate ones have lead roles, others just bit parts, but all are striving to make for themselves a name that will twinkle more brightly in the Canadian radio heavens.

For every starlet who succeeds there are hundreds of others who fall by the wayside disillusioned, discouraged or downright broken-hearted.

Radio, producers and agents explain, is no world for hopefuls who tackle W

it for the fun of it. Radio can be fabulous. It can also be cruel. In many ways it is divorced from other fields of the drama and often girls who have made good in their own Little Theatre groups find they are flops before the mike.

But that doesn’t stop others from trying. In thousands of Canadian homes, stores and business offices would-be starlets dream of a career and of fame and fortune. But when they come out of their cloud world chances are they will find radio nothing like they imagined, their chances of making the grade far less glittering Continued on page 56

Continued on page 56

Mike Sprites

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than they had generally assumed. There are, of course, a few who “click” with almost ridiculous ease. There are others who work and study hard and succeed through sheer tenacity and resolve. The majority, however, just work and study and suffer for a while then return to their store counters, their typewriters or their dustmops.

Typical of those who are making good is auburn-haired Beryl McMillan, perhaps the tiniest Miss in Canadian radio. She’s the starlet who went to New York. She stands but five feet in height and weighs only 80 pounds. So petite is she that during a broadcast she has to stand on a box—which, she says, is the bane of her life.

Daughter of Mr. and Mrs. K. A. McMillan, Toronto, Beryl, at 19, has behind her dozens of shows for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and more than 60 performances before the microphones of the big U. S. networks.

Beryl was 16 when she decided to put her ambitions to work by tackling radio and she confesses she was as “jittery as a boxer stepping into the ring with Joe Louis.” But her mike fright was short-lived and soon after her debut she headed for New York where she studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Art and Columbia University. It was during this time that she crashed the big time with appearances on such popular American radio shows as “The Aldrich Family” and “Life Can Be Beautiful.”

By the time she arrived back in Canada, Beryl had her sights set on a very definite goal. First she wants further seasoning and direction in Canada. Then she wants to return to New York and obtain further experience there. Still later she wants to come back to the Canadian airwaves as a producer.

Playing in such Canadian air shows as “Penny’s Diary,” “Nazi Eyes On Canada,” “Magic Carpet,” and “Soldier’s Wife” seems to have given this youthful hazel-eyed starlet the

poise and assurance of a competent performer. Thrills are no novelty to Beryl McMillan but the greatest occurred one August while she was vacationing in Muskoka. A wire from NBC asked her to return to New York immediately for an important audition. It was for a part in “Good Neighbors” and a plane got Beryl there just in time for her to win the audition from a field of experienced contenders.

“It was my first studio audience show,” Beryl recalls, “and since we all were to wear evening dress Dad had to rush me one by special delivery. Before the show hit the air I was shaking all over but when it was done one of the producers hustled over, put his arms around me and said, ‘You’re terrific!’—Cosh, I was in Seventh Heaven.”

People who know Beryl best find her even-tempered, obliging and enthusiastic. One of the few ways to ruffle her is to call her a glamour girl, and while romance must take a temporary back seat to her career she loves children and two days each week she assists at a war nursery.

Went to Hollywood

Another newcomer whose star is rising in the Canadian radio heavens is dark-haired, brown-eyed Frances Coffman who came to Toronto via Manville Alta., where she was born; Dauphin, Man., where she went to school and Winnipeg where she made her stage and radio debuts. She’s five feet three of very serious young lady—and is the starlet who went to Hollywood.

Unlike most aspiring actresses her age—she’s now 24—when Frances headed for the film capital she wasn’t seeking a movie career. She wanted instead to study drama and for a year she did just that under the stern direction of the famous Russian actress, Maria Ouspenskaya.

“I wanted to see what cooked,” Frances explains, “so I went to California. My people would like me to forget about the stage and settle down but they know I couldn’t be happy doing that so they’ve let me go my own way. It’s been hard work but

I wouldn’t want, it any other way.”

But Frances Coffman’s bid for dramatic laurels goes back much fur her than her year with Ouspenskaya for it was while attending Crade Eight of a Dauphin school that she firsc tried her hand at acting. It. was a Chinese skit and so impressed were her teachers with her dramatic talent that they told her the stage was for her. “J took them seriously,” says Frances, ‘‘at. least seriously enough to want to become an actress. I haven’t changed my mind.”

In 1939 she made her radio bow over CKY, Winnipeg, getting experience in such productions as “Everyman’s Theatre.” Two years later, while in Blolywood, she extended this radio career by playing in the “Actors’ Workshop” series aired from station KI'WB. By 1942 she was back in Winnipeg where she settled down to the extent of attending business college and working in an office—but the business world was not for her. She revolted, packed her bags and headed for Toronto.

Her first Toronto appearance was in “Comrades In Arms,” following which she played in “Highlights For Today,” “The Open Door” series and “Children’s Scrapbook.”

Before the mike this young starlet is relaxed and composed. Her manner of delivery is confidential but she often punctuates a line with a shake of the finger or a toss of her head. At all times frankness is one of her predominating virtues. She likes to think things over before venturing an opinion and she can take a joke—even on herself. While in Hollywood she was asked by one of the studios to report for an audition. “After it was all over,” Frances relates candidly, “they told me I wasn’t pretty enough for pictures, that I didn’t have enough glamour. I worried about that at first but not any more. People tell me I worry too

much. I don’t really—I just look that | way.”

Frances hopes to have both marriage and a career. “People say 1 can’t mix marriage with a career,” she says, “but I intend to try.”

Hollywood Waited

And then there’s 16-year-old Peggi Loder—the radio starlet who stayed I home. Peggi in real life she’s Marguerite Loader, daughter of Air. and Airs, kirie Loader, Toronto—is more than just a starlet who stayed home. She’s the girl who made Hollywood wait.

When Peggi first walked into the CBC’s studios she was only 11, a ! golden-haired youngster auditioning for the lead role of “Patsy” on the program, “The ATagical Voyage,” a children’s show aired daily over a national network. There were other youngsters seeking the part—young! sters who could boast of their elocut ion lessons and dramatic training. Peggi could lay claim to neither—but she ! walked off with the audition and a job Alonday through Friday for 26 weeks.

Today, five years later, Peggi is a I star in her own right with a beauty and talent Hollywood would like to claim. | One day last Alarch a talent scout for ! MGM saw Peggi in action. He took j one look and said, “Terrific!” But j Hollywood had to wait. It’s a matter of age—or rather a lack of it—for Peggi is only 16 and until she’s 18 she has no j intention of giving up the schooling she J began at Flavergal College nine years I ago.

Versatility is this blue-eyed starlet’s forte and when in action she comj pletely loses herself in the script. ! Producers say she lives a part and has actually shed real tears when the ! script called for them. She’s mastered | the art of relaxing before the mike, j something many artists many times her

age have been unable to do. Her work keeps her too busy to ever have allowed her to study drama and her mother confesses she can’t imagine where or how her daughter acquired her talent.

With a daily radio show and regular appearances on such programs as “Canadian Theatre of the Air,” “Soldier’s Wife,” “Fighting Navy,” “Out of the Night,” and “Somewhile Before the Dawn,” you’d think Peggi would find school quite a handful. But that hasn’t stopped her from specializing in languages and this year she’s studying Spanish, French, German and English.

Peggi says her most embarrassing moment was during a broadcast of Producer Sid Brown’s “School of the Air.” Originally she had a substantial role but before air time the part was whittled, bit by bit, until she had only two words to speak. To top it off, when the crucial moment arrived, Peggi couldn’t get near the microphone and after hours of preparation and rehearsal she wound up saying nothing at all.

Like a lot of other young girls, Peggi is a “swing” fan and will admit, with a sly little glance at her mother, that Harry James is her favorite band ! leader.

Vancouver’s Starlet

Three years older than Peggi is Barbara Kelly, a former model and Vancouver’s contribution to the current crop of Canadian radio starlets. Away from the studio Barbara is Mrs. Bernard Braden. She i$ tall, of striking appearance and if you discount her blond hair and green eyes she bears a noticeable resemblance to Greer Garson.

Barbara is 19 but it was six years ago that she had her first taste of dramatic success. Then after winning enough B. C. Drama Festival cups to flood a mantel she topped off her verse-speaking career by winning the Canadian championship. She was mighty proud of that at the time but blushes prettily now when her husband tells how “smug” she looked in a photo taken shortly after her success.

She got her first radio “break” at 17 when as a member of a Little Theatre group in Vancouver she was auditioned by Andrew Allan for the ! role of Mary in his annual Nativity j production. It was an extremely ; difficult role, requiring delicate treatment, but Barbara not only won it— she played three repeat performances, j the last being on Christmas Day—only j a few days before her son, Christopher Michael, was born.

Young Chris, incidentally, is one of the few babies to have his birth i announced over a coast-to-coast radio network. His father, Bernard Braden, himself an actor and formerly associated with Alan Young in “Stag Party,” was preparing to broadcast a network show from Vancouver when, unknown to him, the big event j occurred. The program was already on the air when a member of the cast nonchalantly stepped to the mike to j announce that Bernie had just become a father. Somehow, Bernie isn’t quite I sure how, he finished the program without collapsing.

Since arriving in Toronto last April, Barbara has clicked in such programs as “Comrades In Arms,” “Somewhile Before the Dawn,” “Help Wanted,” and “Theatre of the Air.” She has played the lead in a series, “The Army Speaks,” and has handled several other ingenue leads.

Barbara is not superstitious and was married on April 13. Her friends describe her as lots of fun and a good sport. Her husband says she’s a sentimentalist.

A lot of funny things have happened to her around the studio but she rates an incident which popped up during the broadcast of a radio version of Ivanhoe as the funniest. Playing the role of Lady Rowena, Barbara on four occasions had the line—“No one winds his horn like Locksley”—and each time the sound man was to create the effect by blowing into a piece of lead piping. Unfortunately he wore his lip out during rehearsal and when the show went on the air his “blow” just didn’t come out right.

“There we were all trying to be so serious,” recalls Barbara, “and every time the line came up we knew what would happen. Every time ‘Locksley wound his horn’ it sounded like a tire blowing out.”

2,000 Broadcasts

Of all the starlets perhaps the most well-established is blue-eyed Alice Hill who at 24 has five years of extensive broadcasting tucked away for the record book. She’s never counted the number of broadcasts she’s made but thinks she must be heading for the 2,000 mark.

But for all her success Alice has little to say about herself. 'Though friendly and gracious, with a personality that fairly bubbles, she’s inclined to be shy and restrained when it comes to talking about her accomplishments. That she prefers not to indulge in too many memories is understandable, for tragedy darkened Alice Hill’s life one day last year when her husband, Jack Storey, was killed while serving with the RGAF in western Canada. This left Alice the sole support of their yearold daughter, Pama, and almost every minute she has away from the studio is devoted to the care of the youngster. “Having babies is fun,” Alice says in all sincerity, “but they certainly demand attention.”

She caused a bit of a furore among her radio associates by working right up until the day before Pama was born. Everybody in the cast but herself was on pins and needles. They worried about her climbing the stairs to the studio and tried to arrange for her to use the freight elevator.

Alice packs a real punch before the mike. Before the show goes on the air she’s jittery but once she gets into action she appears oblivious of everything around her. She’s tiny and has to stand on her tiptoes to address the mike; a strategy made all the more necessary by the fact that she likes to work in her stocking feet. Says she can get in the mood better with her shoes off. Radio listeners perhaps know her best as Janice in “The Craigs,” which has been on the air five days a week since its inception back in 1939. But she’s appeared in many other roles too—as Sandra of “John and Judy” and as Polly of “The Family Man.” She has had the lead in several Victory Loan broadcasts and in the radio version of “The Mortal Storm” she played the same role Margaret Sullivan handled in the screen version. For the most part, however, Alice has been cast as “the sweet young thing” and admits she’s getting sick of it. She’d like character parts—such as the one that once cast her as Queen Victoria.

Rupert Lucas “discovered” Alice in a Hart House play and immediately

arranged an audition for her. Though now a veteran before the mike she confesses she’s “scared silly” prior to every show. After it’s over she invariably thinks she’s flopped and producers have to spend a good deal of their time convincing her she’s got talent. Thousands of Canadian radio fans could tell her the same thing— but she probably wouldn’t believe them.

“I’m just an ordinary person,” she says seriously. “There’s nothing outstanding about me. I’m not even temperamental.”

Plays Characters

Nor is there anything temperamental about 18-year-old Pegi Brown, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W. C. Brown, Toronto. Away from the studio Pegi seems a rather sophisticated young lady with a husky voice and beautiful enunciation. She’s tall, attractive, blue-eyed and has light brown hair that falls in a long bob to her shoulders. But to radio listeners in Canada Pegi is better known as the gum-chewing gal who talks out of the side of her mouth with an accent that puts to shame anything heard at Ebbetts Field.

Not that she wants to be a character all the time. Pegi thinks such parts are all right but she has her heart set on some nice, cultured, sophisticated role that will let her be herself. For the moment, however, producers think she’s too much of a “find” as the girl from Brooklyn or the screwball housewife to be wasted on ingénue parts.

Pegi was born in Saint John, N.B., and lived in Vancouver, Victoria and Edmonton before arriving in Toronto six years ago. She had her debut in radio in 1941 and her first role was that of a Queen in “The Magic Carpet.”

It wasn’t long, however, before her flair for character parts asserted itself * and she found herself playing Henrietta, the harassed housewife, on “For Men Only.” There have been times when she’s doubled for an old woman and a young shopgirl on the same program and she has been heard on “Hidden Enemy,” “White Christmas” and “The People.”

While broadcasting, Pegi sheds all semblance of artificiality. On edge before she gets into her lines, once her cue is given she throws herself into her part with all the vigor she’s known to display in tackling a thick, rare steak. When doing shopgirl or tough parts producers find they get the best out of her if she’s chewing gum.

For a long time Pegi had trouble convincing herself that she was acting for an audience. Then one day she had to do a show while suffering from a bad head cold. “I sneezed,” she recalls, “right into an open mike—and when I began to realize that they had heard that sneeze all the way back to New Brunswick — well, I was impressed.”

Nor are these by any means all the starlets currently charming their way into the hearts of Canadian radio listeners. There are others—in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver and in other cities across the country. And there will he others— new names, new voices, new personalities. The fact that radio has its heartbreaks as well as its glitter will not serve to discourage those young Canadian hopefuls who are determined, no matter the reeuk, fro flirt wkh the airwaves.