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Sydney Smith (November 25, 1909 - March 4, 1978)

Sydney Smith publicity shot

  Margarette Florence (Oct 20. 1913 in Kane, Iowa -
    Dec 18. 2008)
   (aka Margarett Shanna, radio actress)
    aka Margarette S. Woodruff
(1) Mary Powers (? - Jan 11.1931, her death) ??
(2) Ester Ott Smith (1933/34 - Mar 4, 1978, his death)
     Valentine Castro (Mrs. Ernst)
     Christian Reverdy Smith (Feb 3. 1948)

Sydney Goffe Smith was born in Bellwood, Nebraska, on November 25, 1909 to Sydney Henry Smith, a doctor born in England and Ethel Goffe Lemen from Salem, Illinois.


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.


The Rhythm Girls with (from L to R) Ester Ott, Florence Creagh and Gertrude Bates Ester Ott Smith


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. 


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 was triumphant.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.

Sydney himself got a part in 'Light of The World' (1938) (also part of The Gold Medal Hour) as Hezekiah, young Prince of Judah, who fell in love with the beautiful weaver's daughter, Hephzibah played by Claire Niesen.

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)
Only one of many Shakespeare plays he performed on Broadway before he landed roles in several of Orson Welles' Shakespeare adaptations for CBS in the mid to late thirties. 

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).


Mae Murray with Sydney Smith at a "Your Unseen Friend" airing (1937) ABIE (Sydney Smith) and his Irish Rose (Betty Winkler) start the new NBC-Saturday serialization of the classic "Abie's Irish Rose" with an old-fashioned elopement.

The Broadway production of the Florence Ryerson and Colin Clements play 'Harriet' played Henry Miller's Theatre in New York City. Opening on March 3rd 1943 it ran for 377 perfomances. Portraying Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of thirty-two books including the classic, "Uncle Tom's Cabin", this play starred Helen Hayes and also featured Sydney Smith as Henry Ward Beecher.
In this biographical comedy Mr. Smith approached the character of Brooklyn's pulpit-orator with tact and understanding.
When asked if Sydney cared for the character he played he answered: "Well, from what I've learned about him, let's say we wouldn't have seen things eye to eye. I'll probably have irate Beecherites in my hair for this, but I just can't believe the man was sincere. ...To play a phony you must believe in yourself as a phony, or otherwise you are phony on the stage. ..."


      Portraying Harriet Beecher Stowe, "Harriet" starred Helen Hayes and also featured Sydney Smith. (1943) (Sydney is wearing a wig) Sydney Smith in an another publicity shot


Sydney's big break in Radio came when he was selected to play the famous mystery writer in The Adventures of Ellery Queen during the 1943 season.

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.
Just like Hugh Marlowe did before him Smith convinced himself he actually was Ellery Queen.  August 18, 1944 Sydney Smith appeared as "Ellery Queen" on "Bill Stern's Sports Newsreel". (The previous day Bill had been an armchair detective).

Sydney Smith, Ted De Corsia, Marion Shockley and Santos Ortega in radio's Ellery QueenGertrude Warner, (a hidden) Ellery Queen and Santos Ortega in the studio (11-1945)
Marion Shockley opposite Ellery Queen (as ever with the face hidden) Sydney SmithFrom Left to Right: Ellery Queen, Charlotte Keane, Parks Johnson and Warren Null.

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.


  Judge Frisbee (Sydney Smith) in  Gerd Oswald's 'Valerie' (1957) opposite Sterling Hayden and Anita Ekberg Again the judge! Sydney Smith in Perry Mason's Case of the Fiery Fingers (1958)
  Sydney as the kind General Hess in a Lassie episode from 1959 'Junior GI's"Again Sydney Smith had a role in Lassie's 'Judgment Seat' as, a more mean, Ed Carter (1960)


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.

On the big screen, Sydney Smith was usually seen playing bit parts as flag officers, Admirals and Generals. His most famous appearance was in No Time For Sergeants (1958), and he also appeared in Tonka
(1959) and The Gallant Hours (1960).


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).


    An episode from the TV series Branded called 'The Golden Fleece' with Sydney Smith (Left) as Secretary Richardson and William Bryant as President Ulysses S. Grant  (1960) Smith again as Judge in ' A Passion for Justice' (1963) part of the TV series Bonanza
    Sydney Smith (right) as Peter Green  in a scene from 'The Survivors' an episode from Bonanza (1968)Sydney Smith (L) as Chairman Phillips in 'Judd for the Defense' (1968, episode Square House)

After appearances in Branded (1965-66), Batman (1966) he ended his career in 1968 on Bonanza, The Wild Wild West and Judge for the Defense.


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.
Mrs. Smith passed away December 29. 2007 at the age of 102!

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Editorial remark: At the moment of making this page (Dec 2016) several sources mistakingly place his birth in Quebec. I'm sure during the coming months this wil 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.

(1) Otrrpedia

(3) IMDb
(4) IBDB

Additional video & audio sources
(1) OldTimeRadioDownloads
(2) Judd for the Defense (full episode 'Square House' - YouTube)

Page first published on December 23. 2016 
Last updated December 24, 2016

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