Smith (November 25. 1909 - March 4. 1978)
He attended the University of Iowa, Iowa City, and San Fernando Valley State College, Northridge, California.
As early as 1925 he tried his luck in theatre only playing little roles (secretary, page,...).
In 1934, Sydney Smith married Ester Ott Smith (aka Esther Abbye Ott) in Manhattan NYC. Ester was the singing lead in the Rhythm Girls trio with the Paul Whiteman orchestra (who had her performing with the top actors and singers of the day, including Cary Grant and Bing Crosby). Living in Connecticut, the couple had two children.
Sydney decided to try his luck at acting, first in radio with roles in Dot and Will (1935-37), Your Unseen Friend (1936-37), and Grand Central Station.
On September 26. 1936 Horse Eats Hat?, a farce
adapted by Orson Welles and Edwin Denby from the French, opened at Maxine
Elliott's Theatre. The cast included Orson Welles, Joseph Colton, Arlene
Francis, Sydney Smith, Virginia Welles, Sarah Burton and Paul Lawrence.
Below right: Sydney Smith's sister Margarette
was undecided when it came to a choosing a stage name. Glancing through the
Chicago telephone directory, she found only one "Shanna" listed. Also there was
only one "Sorrell." She decided to toss a coin. If it came up heads, she would
be Margarette Sorrell, tails she would be Margarette Shanna. She tossed. Shanna
His sister Margarette graduated from the University of Iowa
in 1935, where she already performed in the theatre. As
graduation gift, her brother Sydney gave her a free trip to visit him in New York.
He also spent long hours of painstaking personal coaching in voice training and microphone
technique. In less than six months, she was playing parts in Columbia's School
of the Air. She got parts as Mary Krueger in
Girl Alone, as
Beulah Sherman in Dan Harding's Wife, and
in 1937 "Arnold
Grimm's Daughter", (part of The Gold Medal Hour) had "Margarette
Shanna" in the title role of Constance Grimm. On Nov 5. 1937 she married Elliott
Woodruff, a investment broker from Chicago. After raising her family she
returned to the study and performance of the piano.
He played a fiery Laertes in William Shakespeare's play, Hamlet, at
the Hanna Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio with Maurice Evans (Hamlet); Carmen Mathews
(Ophelia); Mady Christians (Gertrude); Henry Edwards (King)...
(October 23, 1939)
After roles in So This Is Radio (1939), Keeping Up With Rosemary (1942) his first real success came as Abie Levy on Abie Irish Rose (1942-44).
He was the seventh to voice Ellery Queen on
CBS, a role he kept for almost four years. Interestingly, the actors in the
title role of the series seemed to get less press than the supporting cast,
Santos Ortega as Detective Sgt Richard Queen and Marian Shockley as Ellery's
assistant Nikki Porter. This was partly to help maintain the illusion that the
"real" Ellery Queen was on the air. So in order to uphold this
gimmick NBC kept his identity a secret.
Above left: Sydney Smith, Ted De Corsia, Marion Shockley
and Santos Ortega in radio's Ellery Queen
DuPont's Cavalcade of America was created, in part, to counter accusations of profiteering by the chemical company during the First World War. The long running anthology built an awesome body of work for several actors during its run from 1935 to 1953. Smith was a frequent part of the company between 1944 and the end of the run. He found more literature related mystery work on Crime Club (1947), where the audience would come into the mysterious library to hear the weeks story of murder.
Now he also got parts in Life Can Be Beautiful, Rosemary (1944-45) and the lead in Richard Lawless (1946), Real Stories from Real Life (1947).
TV started showing interest and he was asked in the sketch show The Admiral
Broadway Revue (1949), Mama
(1949) and an episode called 'The Champion'
(1950) from Robert Montgomery Presents
starting a TV career which would last until 1968.
In 1950 he returned for to the stage in the comedy The Curious Savage (as dr. Emmett). In The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, (April 1951) a play based on a Mark Twain story and directed by Ezra Stone the plot centered about a town and the man who corrupted it. It had a large cast of about 50 people headed by Russel Collins, Mabel Taliofero, Jonathan Harris, Sydney Smith,...
He also did two minor role in English movies before TV gave him regular guest roles, Highway Patrol (1956), Cheyenne (1957), The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (1957), General Electric Theater (1957), The Man Called X (1957) to name a few.
Perhaps in light of his TV work in 1957, the Smiths moved to Hollywood, California. In 1957 he was seen in cinema's as Judge Frisbee in Gerd Oswald's Valerie opposite Sterling Hayden and Anita Ekberg.
Back on stage on the East Coast as Junius Brutus Booth, the younger in the play Edwin Booth, performed at 46th Street Theatre, by the end of 1958.
Mike Hammer (1958), M Squad (1958), Rescue 8 (1958-59), Wanted: Dead or Alive (1960), The Untouchables (1962), The Virginian (1962), Ben Casey (1962) all provided notable guest roles. But his most recurring roles het got playing (different) judges on the Perry Mason series (between 1958 and 1964) and on Bonanza (1963-1968).
He became college associate professor and taught in the theatre-arts department at Northern Illinois University from 1969 until his retirement in 1976. Sydney then moved from DeKalb, Illinois to Seattle.
Sydney Smith passed away in King (Seattle), Washington on
March 4. 1978. A memorial fund in his name was established at the Leukemia Fund
Tumor Institute at Swedish Hospital.
Additional video & audio sources
(2) Judd for the Defense (full episode 'Square House' - YouTube)
remark: At the
moment of making this page (Dec
2016) several sources mistakenly
place his birth in Quebec. I'm
sure during the coming months
this will be corrected. It also
makes the exact date of his
birth unsure as it wasn't
confirmed. Nor the fact that he
was indeed married once before
his marriage to Ester Ott.
This actor profile is a part of the Ellery Queen a website on deduction. The actor above played Ellery Queen in an Ellery Queen radio series.
Page first published on December 23. 2016
Last updated November 18, 2018
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