Born as Howard Brasfield Culver Jr. in Larimer County (a
rural area near Fort Collins), Colorado. His father Howard Culver was a farmer,
his mother was Mabel Eva Ogden.
Howard's publicity said that he learned to ride on the
family's ranch, but actually the family moved to Pasadena, California while
Howard was a tiny tot as Howards's mother didn't cotton to farm life.
The Culver family moved into Los Angeles where Howard
attended Manual Arts High School. He became active in the school theater group,
not only acting, but assisting in building sets, and the other many needs of a
theater group. He was a popular young man, whose antics kept things lively when
he was around. He was in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps for two year while
in High School.
So Culver worked all summer in radio, planned to start back to school again in the fall. When fall came, he was doing so well he decided to postpone school for another year. By the time that year was ended, the recession had set in and Culver decided that inasmuch as he was firmly established in one career, he'd be silly to drop it, so he's stayed in radio ever since, a decision he's never really regretted.
According to Lois Hayes Howard graduated from Manual Arts High School in June 1936. He had entertained thoughts of being a doctor, but college seemed a long way off, as his sister wanted to go to college and it was necessary for him to earn money to help with her college tuition and costs. His father was not well, and it was up to Howard, as the other "man" in the family to go to work. One of his jobs was as the proverbial "night watchman in a mattress factory". He worked there quite awhile, before getting fired for being asleep on the job!
In the summer of 1938 Howard worked at Yosemite National Park in the laundry, and met a young lady named Maxine Born from nearby Merced, who was also working there.
Howard fell back on his love of radio to earn a living. His first radio station job was at KMTR in Hollywood in 1938 where he had his own half hour show, Happy Dalton's Ranch, for which he wrote, directed, handled sound effects and played the four parts required by the script! All this five shows per week! He became involved with their news department and they had the first mobile news team, Radio Newsreel, complete with trick and mikes with long, long cords! He became Editor-in-Chief of Radio Newsreel, a subsidiary of KMTR.
Culver's distinctive baritone and straightforward delivery worked in his favor. Working regularly at KFI, KNX and Don Lee-Mutual both in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
He moved to San Francisco at the beginning of World War II,
and he worked as newsman and announcer for Radio Station KFRC (Mutual Network),
and did free-lance acting. By this time he was father to baby Pamela Joan
(1941). He grew a beard, which was fiery red, and it became his trademark, as
few men wore beards at that time.
On the numerous papers he had to fill out, he listed "Radio
Actor" as his profession in civilian life. True to their colors, the "powers
that be" looked at the paper, saw only the word "radio" ,and sent him to radio
school to be a radio technician at the Great Lakes Training Center! They could
no believe that he almost flunked out, and though he was doing it on purpose!
When he graduated from there, he was put on a ship and sent to the Philippines,
where he was stationed in he jungles of Luzon for the rest of the war. He earned
medals for Philippine Liberation, Asiatic Pacific, American Area, Victory Medal,
and was Honorably discharged February 1946.
After the war this experience aided him to quickly continue his career in both Radio, as well as early Television.
Culver made many appearances in Strange Wills
(1946), All-Star Western Theatre
(1947), Mystery in The Air (1947).
Juvenile adventure fans will also recognize Howard Culver
from his role as the announcer in the Chandu The Magician
(1948) radio series.
For busy actors such as Howard, each day was a challenge. Each show was in a different building, perhaps different parts of town, and it was necessary to rush out from one show, race madly to the next site, run up or down stairs, and appear, out of breath, just in time to pick up his script and calmly speak his first words in the next show.
He also took Civil Aeronautics training in his spare time, and got his Pilot's License for Single Engine Planes, and enjoyed flying as a hobby. He also was an ardent hobbyist: modeled in clay, wrote, photographed, did woodwork, interior decorating, collected knives, hunted and camped.
Howard and Maxine ('Miki') were divorced in 1949, after having been separated for several years. He soon after met Lois Hayes, who from 1940-44 worked in radio at small station KWLK in Washington, (jack of all trades), and also was National Traffic Manager at Radio Station KFI in Los Angeles, a station where broadcast many of the NBC radio shows.
Howard also had a nightly poetry show of KFI, where he read poetry and Robert Mitchell played the organ. He had begun doing this show in San Francisco, and was asked to reprise it in Los Angeles. Called at first "Stairway to the Stars", it later became "A Joy Forever", from the line of the Keats poem, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever," and it was one of his favorite projects.
On Jul 15, 1949, Mr. Culver auditioned for the radio version of Gunsmoke, and the lead role as Marshal Mark Dillon. He might have become famous in the role were it not for the fact that he was also playing Steve Adams—the secret identity of the Indian known as Straight Arrow—on the popular Mutual radio adventure that ran from 1948 to 1951. Culver was selected for the title lead. In the juvenile adventure of a Comanche impersonating a white man who wore Indian regalia as he crusaded for justice in the old West he used his regular voice for Steve Adams and then lowered it for Straight Arrow. At the time, he had a small goatee, which would be later be shaved off before his first personal appearance as Straight Arrow. Frank Bingman was hired as the announcer. Bingman was surprised to find out that Culver occupied his spare time at the studio by knitting. While on the Joan Davis Show, Verna Felton had taught Bingman to knit, but he was a "closet knitter," since he was embarrassed to knit in front of other men. "Well, I don't give a damn what they say!", Culver told Bingman, sounding very unlike Straight Arrow. Thereafter, they both knitted in the studio, and later these two buddies donated their time at local military hospitals, teaching wounded vets to knit.
Culver’s contract stipulated that he couldn’t do any other western while performing on Straight Arrow and so he missed out on the opportunity to be “the first man they look for, and the last they want to meet.” in Gunsmoke. The show wasn't aired that year, but in 1952, William Conrad played the part of Marshal Matt Dillon in the extremely successful series. Some years later, the TV series Gunsmoke appeared. Culver was given a job in the TV version that extended through the entire duration of that series. He played ... the desk clerk (Howie Uzzell) at the Dodge House.
(Picture courtesy of Katherine and Patricia Culver)
In 1950 shortly after being chosen to play the dual lead in "The Straight Arrow" he married Lois Hayes. This show ran three days a week, then five days a week, and was sponsored by Nabisco Shredded Wheat. It enabled Howard and Lois to buy their first home in Sun Valley, California.
Television had slowly crept into the scene, and Howard made his first TV appearance in 1949 on KHJ-TV in a local dramatic series. From there one, he was busy with such shows as Dragnet, Mr. District Attorney, Perry Mason, Zane Grey Theater, Defense Attorney (with Mercedes McCambridge), 77 Sunset Strip, Death Valley Days, Untouchables, Twilight Zone, Lost in Space, Time Tunnel, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Adam-12, The Brady Bunch, Marcus Welby, M.D. , Mannix, Hawaii 5-0, General Hospital, Chips, Barnaby Jones, Eight is Enough, & Hart to Hart, among others.
In the Los Angeles area, there are many unincorporated cities , many of which have Honorary Officials from the entertainment world, who officiate at ribbon-cutting ceremonies, community appearances, and the like. Howard was elected Honorary Mayor of Sun Valley, the town in which he lived, in 1954. Follow a year of these duties, he begged off the following year, but was elected Honorary Sheriff, which did not consume so much of his time.
During this time, Howard was suffering loss of hearing in both ears. He and Lois bought a hobby shop in Montebello, CA. hoping to have something to fall back on if the hearing gave out. The hobby shop had been owned by friend and "Straight Arrow" announcer Frank Bingman. They owned and operated the show for seven years. Howard was a natural "fixer", and was very successful in the hobby business. In the meantime, three ear operations restored his hearing.
In 1963, Howard joined the news staff of Radio Station KLAC in Los Angeles, and in 1969 he became news editor for Radio Station KGIL in the San Fernando Valley, where his close friend Frank Bingham was also working. All the while, he was working TV shows, doing voice-overs, narrations, and movies, which included Disney's The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Barefoot Executive, and Million Dollar Duck, as well as Shampoo, Bad News Bears, Cattle Drive, Halloween II.
Culver seemed even more in demand as a character actor the more he matured. He retired in 1980, and only acted in a few pictures and TV shows which offered parts which he found interesting. This gave him time to do more stage plays in the local community theaters in the San Gabriel Valley, and he dedicated much time to reading and recording books for "Reading for the Blind" in Hollywood.
He and his wife were just completing a 3-week tour of China, when, on their way home he contracted a respiratory illness, and died in Hong Kong after a week's illness, in August 1984.
Lois, Howard Culver's widow, remained active in the OTR community as actress/historian. She passed on, on Friday, Aug. 5, 2011
(3) The Digital Deli Too
(5) Patti & Kathi Culver
(6) Lois Hayes, biography of Howard (Courtesy of Katherine and Patricia
Additional video & audio sources
(1) Gunsmoke - Audition Episode with Howard Culver (July 13, 1949)
Page first published on May 21. 2017
Last updated May 1, 2017
b a c k t o L i s t o f S u s p e c t s