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Sydney Smith (November 25. 1909 - March 3. 1978)
Marriage***:
(1) Ester Ott (Jun 16. 1934 - Mar 3. 1978, his death)
      Children:
      Valentine Castro (Sep 27. 1943, Mrs. Ernst)
      Christian Reverdy Smith (Feb 3. 1948)

Sister: Margarette Florence (Oct 20. 1913
            in Kane, Iowa -  Dec 18. 2008)
            aka Margarette Shanna, radio actress
            aka Margarette S. Woodruff
Sydney Smith publicity shot

Above right: Sydney Smith in another Ellery Queen publicity shot.

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. His father Sydney Henry Smith, was the son of Sydney Harry and Mary Oliphant Smith, born in London, England, January 3. 1879. His father was originally trained to be an actor in the Emerson School of Oratory in Boston in 1901-02. He joined the Fiske Players** (on the stage playing with Minnie Maddern Fiske) for six years and had other road show experience. However he went on to study medicine and became a doctor around 1904.

In 1910 the family went to live in Council Bluffs Ward 2, Pottawattamie, Iowa. By 1913, the city directory listed 242.N 2nd Street as their address (by 1928 someone else lived at this address). Sydney's father read Shakespeare to him as a young lad in Iowa. (8)

Young Sydney attended the University of Iowa, Iowa City, were he studied law and San Fernando Valley State College, Northridge, California. In college he already appeared on the Chautauqua Circuit.
He decided to follow in his father's footsteps and become an actor, only this Sydney would remain in the amusement business.

In February 1928 father Dr. Sydney H. Smith announced his affairs were in such order he jumped on the train and went to New York. Expecting to be right back where he was two decades before. He found after the long absence that he wasn't as adept as he used to be. That same year, his wife initiated proceedings for legal separation and finally divorced in 1929. Dr. Smith was back at the profession of medicine in Salinas, Monterey, California. According to 1930 census (April), the now divorced mother Ethel and her 2 children remained in Pottawattamie, Iowa.

Dr. Sydney H. Smith married Lela O. Shaw in San Francisco on June 5, 1931 (there are 2 marriage licenses the other for May 19. 1930). His 3rd and her 3rd or 4th marriage! This newfound happiness was short-lived since Dr. Smith died on Dec 17. 1931 in San Francisco at the age of 52 years.

Our Sydney made his theatrical Broadway debut as a page in Norman Bel Geddes' adaptation of Hamlet in the Broadhurst Theatre N.Y. (Nov. 5.1931 - Nov. 28. 1931)
**

 

Ester Ott (b. Jun 6. 1905) graduated from the University of Kansas as a music major and immediately went alone to New York City as a young 22 year old to make her mark in music (ca. 1927). In those days, it took some gumption, ambition and strength, especially for a Kansas girl who was raised by her widowed mother. (Her own father passed away by being decapitated in an elevator in Kansas City when he was there to pick up supplies for the general store her ran.). So off to New York she went, staying at the Barbizon Hotel for Women. Ester first dated a young Englishman who had recently arrived in New York named Archie Leach. (Mr. Leach later changed his name to Cary Grant.) Ester loved to tell the story of how “He was intrigued by this little farm girl from Kansas and I was intrigued by his black patent leather pumps.” (8).

 

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). On June 16. 1934, Sydney Smith married Ester Ott Smith (aka Esther Abbye Ott) in Manhattan NYC. Living in Westport, Connecticut, the couple had two children.

The Rhythm Girls with (from L to R) Ester Ott, Florence Creagh and Gertrude Bates.Ester Ott Smith
Above left: The Rhythm Girls with (L to R) Ester Ott, Florence Creagh & Gertrude Bates. Above right: Ester Ott Smith.
 

He reappeared on Broadway under the name Sydney G. Smith as Jensen in Allure (Empire Theatre, Oct. 29.1934 - Nov 3. 1934)

 

Sydney continued to try his luck at acting, expanding to his first roles in radio: Dot and Will (1935-37); Your Unseen Friend (1936-37); and Grand Central Station.

 

Sydney Smith played Horatio in Orson Welles' two-part radio adaptation for The Columbia Workshop of "Hamlet" with Orson Welles himself (Hamlet), Joseph Cotton (Laertes), ... (CBS, Sep 19. and Nov. 14 1936).

 

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, New York. It ran for 10 weeks with Orson Welles, Joseph Colton, Arlene Francis, Sydney Smith, Virginia Welles, Sarah Burton and Paul Lawrence. (Sep 26. 1936 - Dec 5. 1936)

 

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 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.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 was triumphant.

Just before taking up his stage roles of Green and Sir Pierce of Exton in King Richard II (St. James Theater, Sep 15. 1937 - Oct 16. 1937), Sydney was heard as Sebastian in Shakespeare Cycle with "Twelfth Night" (CBS, August 30. 1937) and a star studded cast: Tallulah Bankhead, Helen Menken, Cedric Hardwicke, Orson Welles, Estelle Winwood, Robert Strauss, Burford Hampden, Ray Collins, Sydney Smith and Mark Smith.

 

Sydney himself got a radio 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). This tour was between the two runs of the play on Broadway (St.James Theatre, Oct. 12, 1938 - Jan. 1, 1939 and 44th Street Theatre, Dec. 4, 1939 - Jan. 6, 1940) before heading back on tour (Erlanger, Buffalo, Feb 19-21. 1940).

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.


Sydney Smith, lead on Light of the World, volunteered as an auxiliary fireman. Coming into the firehouse he was startled by the lines, "Down, down I come. Like glistering phaeton, wanting the manage of unruly jades," coming from the lips of a fireman sliding down the firehouse pole. As those were the lines from King Richard II, in which Smith played Thomas Mowbray and Sir Stephen Croop (St. James Theatre, Apr 1. - Apr 27. 1940), he was naturally bewildered. The grinning fireman explained that the company to which Smith was assigned was the company stations at the St. James Theater to check on fire violations. All the fireman knew practically all the lines, not only of Richard II but also of Hamlet and Henry IV. Syd felt quite at home. (Jan 31. 1942)

 

After being heard in roles in So This Is Radio (1939), Keeping Up With Rosemary (NBC, Jul 4. - Sep 5. 1942) his  first radio success came as Abie Levy on Abie Irish Rose (1942) a role Richard Coogan took over in the second year of the series.

 

He played Radius in the Broadway flop R.U.R. (Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Dec 3. - Dec 5. 1942).

Mae Murray with Sydney Smith at a "Your Unseen Friend" airing (1937).Sydney Smith as Laertes with Katharine Locke shaping Ophelia in "Hamlet" (1939).
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.Portraying Harriet Beecher Stowe, "Harriet" starred Helen Hayes and also featured Sydney Smith. (1943) (Sydney is wearing a wig)
Top left: Mae Murray with Sydney Smith at a Your Unseen Friend airing (CBS, 1937)
Top right: Sydney Smith as Laertes with Katharine Locke shaping Ophelia in Hamlet (1939).
Above left: 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 (1942).
Above right: Portraying Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet starred Helen Hayes and also featured Sydney Smith (1943) (Sydney is wearing a wig).
 

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 performances until April 1st 1944. 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. ..."

 

In August 1943 Dodie Yates, director of Young Dr. Malone and When a Girl Marries spends two weeks of her vacation staging a production of Ladies in Retirement at the Guild Playhouse, Stamford, Conn. Casting: Carl Gose, Carl Eastman (Life Can Be Beautiful), Harold Vermilyea (Amanda of Honeymoon Hill), Rod Hendrickson, Delma Byron (Kate Hopkins), Ralph Bell, Clayton Collyer, Lesley Woods, Sydney Smith, Nancy Douglas, Ronald Liss (Just Plain Bill), Jackson Beck, Jack Smart, Lawson Zerbe, Jackie Grimes. Proof that many radio actors were doing some side work during the vacations.


Sydney's biggest 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 Inspector 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 Queen".Marion Shockley opposite Ellery Queen (as ever with the face hidden) Sydney Smith.
Gertrude Warner, (a hidden) Ellery Queen and Santos Ortega in the studio (11-1945)From Left to Right: Ellery Queen, Charlotte Keane, Parks Johnson and Warren Null.

Four photos from radio's The Adventures of Ellery Queen.
Top left: Sydney Smith, Ted De Corsia, Marion Shockley and Santos Ortega.
Top right: Marion Shockley
opposite Ellery Queen (face hidden) aka Sydney Smith.

Above left: Gertrude Warner, (Sydney hidden by a strategically placed NBC microphone) Ellery Queen and Santos Ortega in the studio (11-1945).
Above right: (L-R) 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.

 

On radio he continued to play many parts in Life Can Be Beautiful (1948 - 49), Rosemary (1944 - 45), Home Sweet Home (1944), David Harum (1944), The O'Neils (1944), the lead in Richard Lawless (1944 - 46), and the narrator in Real Stories from Real Life (1947 - 49).   

 

TV started showing interest and he was asked in the sketch show The Admiral Broadway Revue (Jun 3. 1949), in The Big Story ("George Goodwin, Atlanta Georgia Reporter", Dec 23. 1949) and an episode called "The Champion" (Jun 5. 1950) from Robert Montgomery Presents starting a TV career which would last until 1968.

n "Rosemary" (CBS, 1945) Sydney Smith played Peter Harvey a brilliant young lawyer, who has come closer to arousing real affection in Rosemary than any other men who have loved her. When Peter took the offer of a job with an important New York law firm, Rosemary was firm in her conviction she didn't love Peter enough to leave her family and go to New York."Photoplay" for radio's "Life Can Be Beautiful" (NBC, 1948) (L-R) Charles Webster as Dr. Markham, Alice Reinheart as Chichi and Sydney Smith as Douglas Norman.
Above left: In Rosemary
(CBS, 1945) Sydney Smith played Peter Harvey a brilliant young lawyer, who has come closer to arousing real affection in Rosemary than any other men who have loved her. When Peter took the offer of a job with an important New York law firm, Rosemary was firm in her conviction she didn't love Peter enough to leave her family and go to New York.
Above right: "Photoplay" for radio's
Life Can Be Beautiful (NBC, 1948) (L-R) Charles Webster as Dr. Markham, Alice Reinheart as Chichi and Sydney Smith as Douglas Norman.
 

In 1950 he returned for to the stage as dr. Emmett in the comedy The Curious Savage (Martin Beck Theatre, Oct. 24. - Nov. 18. 1950). In The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, (Erlanger Philadelphia, 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,...

 

TV started giving him regular guest roles: Studio One (3 roles, 1951-52), Frontiers of Faith (NBC, 3 roles, 1954), Mama (1955), Highway Patrol (Oct 15. 1956), Cheyenne (Jan 1. 1957), The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (Mar 4. 1957), General Electric Theater (Mar 17. 1957), The Man Called X (Mar 27. 1957) to name a few. We should also mention The Way of the World (1955 -) where actress Gloria Lewis, as Linda Porter, was the permanent hostess for this daytime drama series, with adaptations of stories appearing in leading women's magazines. Sydney played in 22 episodes.

 

Perhaps in light of his TV work, in 1957, the Smiths moved to Hollywood, California. That same year, March 19th Sydney's mother died. In 1957 he was seen in cinema's as Judge Frisbee in Gerd Oswald's Valerie (United Artists, Aug 1. 1957) 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"Sydney Smith had another role in Lassie's 'Judgment Seat' as the more mean Ed Carter (1960).
Top left: Judge Frisbee (Sydney Smith) in Gerd Oswald's Valerie (Aug 1. 1957) opposite Sterling Hayden and Anita Ekberg
Top right: Again the judge! Sydney Smith in Perry Mason's "Case of the Fiery Fingers" (May 3. 1958).
Above left: Sydney as the kind General Hess in a Lassie episode "Junior GI's" (Jan 4. 1959)
Above right: Sydney Smith had another role in Lassie's "Judgment Seat" as the more mean Ed Carter (Feb 28. 1960).

 

Back on stage on the East Coast as Junius Brutus Booth, the younger and also the understudy for Lorne Greene's role of William Winter in the play Edwin Booth (46th Street Theatre, Nov 24. - Dec 13. 1958)


On the big screen, Sydney Smith was usually seen playing bit parts as flag officers, Admirals and Generals. His most famous appearance was as
 Maj. General Vernon Pollard in No Time For Sergeants (Warner Bros., July 5. 1958), he also appeared as General in Tonka (Walt Disney Productions, Dec 25. 1958) and as Admiral in The Gallant Hours (United Artists, June 22. 1960).

 

Among others Mike Hammer (Apr. 4. 1958), M Squad (Oct. 3. 1958), Rescue 8 (4 episodes during 1958-59), The Dennis O'Keefe Show (4 episodes between Feb. and May 1960), Wanted: Dead or Alive (Dec. 21.1960), The Untouchables (2 episodes, Feb. 1. and Nov. 20. 1962), The Virginian (Nov 21. 1962), Ben Casey (Dec 31. 1962) all provided notable guest roles, now more frequent under the name of "Sidney Smith". His more recurring roles het got playing (different) judges on the Perry Mason series (between 1958 and 1964) and on Bonanza (1963-1968).

 
Smith again as Judge in "A Passion for Justice" (1963) part of the TV series "Bonanza".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).
Sydney Smith (L) with Madge Blake in "Batman" ("The Joker Goes to School", Mar. 2. 1966).Sydney Smith (R) as Peter Green in a scene from "The Survivors" an episode from "Bonanza" (1968).
Top left: Smith again as a Judge in "A Passion for Justice" (Sep. 29. 1963) part of Bonanza.
Top right: Episode from the TV's Branded called "The Golden Fleece" with Sydney Smith (L) as Secretary Richardson and William Bryant as President Ulysses S. Grant (Jan 2. 1966).
Above left: Sydney Smith (L) with Madge Blake in Batman ("The Joker Goes to School", Mar. 2. 1966).
Above right: Sydney Smith (R) as Peter Green in a scene from "The Survivors" an episode from Bonanza (Nov. 10 1968).
 

After appearances in Branded (2 episodes in 1965-66), Batman (Mar. 2. 1966) he ended his career in 1968 on series such as Bonanza (the last of 4 on Nov 10.), The Wild Wild West (Dec. 6.) and finally Judge for the Defense (2 episodes Mar. 1. and Dec 28.).

 

He became college associate professor and taught in the Theatre Arts department (courses in acting and oral interpretation) at Northern Illinois University from 1969 until his retirement in 1976. Sydney then moved from DeKalb, Illinois to Seattle. There he joined the Seattle Repertory Company as one of their actors. His son Christian believes he was still with the company when he passed away. (8)

 

Sydney Smith passed away in King (Seattle), Washington on Friday March 3. 1978. A memorial fund in his name was established at the Leukemia Fund Tumor Institute at Swedish Hospital.

 

When he died, the Northern Illinois University (NIU) Theater Arts Department established a "Sydney Smith Memorial Fund" in his honor. It now has a six-figure endowment dedicated to student scholarships for theater majors. His son Christian adds "I annually receive letters from the recipients of those scholarships sharing their appreciation for the resources collected in Sydney's name. I do remember my father exclaiming more than once how blessed he was to have found the joys of teaching. And reflecting that he only wished he had discovered those joys earlier." (8)

 

After losing her husband in 1978, Ester moved closer to her daughter and grandchildren in Seattle, WA. Mrs. Smith passed away December 29. 2007 at the age of 102!

  
Notes:

*
Bedford, Quebec is also mentioned as the place of birth. However several official
   documents confirm Bellwood, Nebraska as his place of birth as does his obituary.

** An actor with the same name is responsible for the listings before 1931
     on both Playbill (7) and IBDB (4). Entries prior to 1905 are credits for his father!

     Extra IBDB listings for Sydney Smith:
     The Speculator (Fifth Avenue Theatre, Apr 18, 1896 - Closing date unknown)
     Robert Fullerton was not played by Sydney Smith but Sydney Booth
     Captain Molly (Manhattan Theatre, Sep 08, 1902 - Sep 1902) Sydney H. played
     Private Barnett
     Mary of Magdala (Manhattan Theatre, Nov 12, 1902 - Feb 1903)
     Sydney Smyth (sic) as Quintus
     The Proud Laird (Manhattan Theatre, Apr 24, 1905 - Apr 29, 1905) directed by
     Harrison Grey Fiske, Minnie Maddern's husband.

     The Fiske company managed the Manhattan Theatre for eight years, until 1907.
     All 3 roles can be attributed to (Dr.) Sydney Henry Smith.

      Extra IBDB and Playbill listings for Sydney Smith:
      Taps (Broadhurst Theatre, Apr 14, 1925 - May 1925)
Sydney as secretary.
    
 (Try-outs at Shuberts, New Haven, Apr 9 1925 & Stamford, Apr 13. 1925)
      Present Arms (Lew Fields' Mansfield Theatre, Apr 26, 1928 - Sep 01, 1928)
     
Sydney as Lord Oliver Witherspoon. This could chronologically be the comeback
      performance for Dr. Smith but needs confirmation.

     
Listings IBDB and Playbill for Sidney Smith:
     
Suzi (Casino Theatre, Nov 3. 1914 - Jan 1915) The list for the full cast in
      The Billboard (Casino Theater, Nov 3. 1914) does not include a Sydney Smith.
      Patience (Theatre Masque, May 23. - Jun 4. 1927)
     
Horse Eats Hat (Maxine Elliott's Theatre, Sep 26. - Dec 5. 1936)
      confirmed as "our" Sydney G. Smith.

     
While we're at it: the film It Happened in Leicester Square (aka Hello
      London, 1949) features footage with Sidney Smith an English billiards player.

*** When I first put up this page in 2016 I was convinced  the following marriage
       was for "our"  Sydney. I was wrong. Since then IMDb copied the info. I'll inform
       them this is a mistake (jan 2024).

   
       There was a marriage between "a" Sydney Smith and

       Mary Powers (? - Brooklyn, Jan 11.1931, her death)
          Children:
         
Eleanor Teresa (aka Plantamura) (Brooklyn, Sep 11. 1929)


 
     However "our" Sydney Goffe Smith's marriage certificate to Ester clearly lists
       him as "single." The 1930 census confirms this. It lists him as single and living
       with his mother and sister in Iowa.


All dates for movies are for the official US release.
All dates for TV programs are original first airdates.
All dates for (radio) plays are for the time span the actor was involved.

Facts in
red still need confirmation.

 
Click on Uncle Sam if you think you can help out...!  Click if you think you can help out...!
Other references
(1) OTRRpedia
(2) TV.com

(3) IMDb
(4) IBDB (correct listing as of 1931)
(5)
Otrcat.com

(6) Radiogoldindex
(7) Playbill
(8) Info by courtesy Christian Smith (son)



Additional video & audio sources
(1) OldTimeRadioDownloads


This actor profile is a part of Ellery Queen a website on deduction. The actor above played Ellery Queen in an Ellery Queen radio series. Click Uncle Sam if you think you can help out...!
Many of the profiles on this site have been compiled after very careful research of various sources. Please quote and cite ethically!


Page first published on December 23. 2016
Last updated March 19. 2024

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