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Les Tremayne (Apr 16,1913 - Dec 19,2003)


Height: 5' 10½" (1.79 m)
(1) Eileen Palmer, actress  (May 1 or 2, 1940 - ?, divorced)
(2) Alice Reinheart (Dec 9, 1945 - ?) (divorced)
(3) Ruth Ann Mills (Oct 18, 1963 - May 26, 1967, divorced)
(4) Joan L. Hertz (Jul 17, 1980 - Dec 19, 2003, his death)

Born in Balham, London, England, to an American father and a British mother Lester Tremayne began his acting career at the age of 3 under the tutelage of his stage actress mother, Dolly Tremayne. His family moved to Chicago when he was four years old.

After a group of bullies beat him he disguised his British accent while growing up and began his career with community theater, dancing in vaudeville shows and even put those splendid vocal chords to work as a sometimes barker in amusement parks.

He was educated at Northwestern, Columbia and UCLA

Reportedly he started his legendary radio career in Chicago on his birthday in 1932.

Luddy and Tremayne appeared before their microphones elegantly attired in evening clothes... to foster the illusion of attendance at a prime play-opening Barbara Luddy and Les Tremayne

His first big break came in 1936, when he replaced Don Ameche as romantic co-star, to Barbara Luddy, on the dramatic First Nighter Program. This was the show that whisked its listeners to New York City, to "the little theater off Times Square" where they would be treated to a fine "3-act play"... perhaps a romance... perhaps a tense drama... always intriguing and highly enjoyable. The show's introduction was a memorable one, encompassing the usual Broadway sounds: automobile horns blaring, people gathering together,.... The fact that the show emanated from Chicago was beside the point. The show's host "Mr. First Nighter" would arrive at the theater just in time to be told: "Good evening, Mr. First Nighter, the usher will show you to your seat" (which was always 3rd row center). The host would then briefly reveal to the listeners the contents of the forthcoming play, its author and its cast. The orchestra would play a short prelude. There would be background murmuring of the audience, possibly a cough or two. Warning buzzers would sound. "Mr. First Nighter" would softly intone: "The house lights have dimmed... and the curtain is about to go up on tonight's production..." All done in the most professional and believable manner imaginable. You were THERE! Since "The First Nighter Program" was not only heard but viewed by a live audience, Luddy and Tremayne appeared before their microphones elegantly attired in evening clothes... to foster the illusion of attendance at a prime play-opening.... and Tremayne's already-fine reputation soared! 3

Publicity shot for Les Tremayne and Claudia Morgan, who played Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man on radio. Alice Reinheart and Les Tremayne are MBS's detectives Abbott. (1946-47) Publicity shot for Les Tremayne as "The Fantom" (1947)

In 1943 Tremayne, the original leading man in "The Romance of Helen Trent." left Chicago for New York and then Los Angeles, where he enjoyed a lengthy career performing on virtually every type of radio show.
There he starred with Bob Crosby on the "Old Gold Show" (1944) before serving in the military service. When the show moved to New York, where he co-starred with a relatively unknown comic Jackie Gleason. New York proved to be very productive for Tremayne’s career. Throughout the 1940s, he was the voice of Nick Charles on the lighthearted mystery series The Adventures of the Thin Man (1944-49). He also played detective Pat Abbott
in Abbott Mysteries (1946-47)  and starred in the mystery thriller The Falcon (1947).

He appeared on stage with Heads or Tails in 1947 Tremayne was in the original cast of the Broadway hit, "Detective Story," for its full 18-month run.

A poll in the early 1940s cited Tremayne as one of the three most famous voices in America. The other two were President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Bing Crosby. Tremayne’s credits extend far beyond drama. In Chicago Les was briefly married to the attractive actress Eileen Palmer 2, after his divorce, he co-starred with second wife, equally beautiful radio actress Alice Reinhardt, on "The Tremaynes" breakfast talk show on WOR/New York.

It is estimated that Les worked on more than 30,000 broadcasts, with as many as 45 radio shows a week in the 1930s and '40s.

"How I was able to attain whatever status I enjoy, with meager education and no powerful or influential friends to assist me, remains a mystery to me," he said in a 1991 interview. "Stubborn perseverance, I guess. Were it possible to live it over, I would change very little. I've been privileged to work in radio in the 'Golden Days.' Nothing can top that." 1

After radio drama died, he moved easily into film and television work. So in the 1950s, he was a durable player in film and TV dramas. Typically playing shifty execs, errant husbands, and authoritative, no-nonsense professionals in teams of TV dramas, he appeared in numerous shows. Tremayne's credits read like a show business almanac:
 Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-60), Perry Mason (1958-66), 77 Sunset Strip (1958), The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin (1958-59), Ellery Queen (1958-59), The Rifleman (1959), ... . All this along with a few sitcoms for good measure.

Wagon Train (1950) Les seen with Sylvia Marriott Les Tremayne and Adam Williams in The Riflemen (1959)
 "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat" an 1960 episode from the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series with Les Tremayne and Audrey Meadows Andy and Barney in the Big City an episode in the Andy Griffith series (1962)

Tremayne appeared in a number of sci-fi and horror films during the 1950s and 60s. He played General Mann in the 1953 classic adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel, The War of the Worlds (1953) co-starring Gene Barry and Ann Robinson. Tremayne was the narrator for the sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet (1956).

 Tremayne as General Mann in the 1953 classic adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel, The War of the Worlds. “Guns, tanks, bombs – they’re like toys against them!” In The Monolith Monsters (1957) Tremayne played a newspaper owner who looked and sounded like a lifelong resident of the desert community. Les Tremayne as Prof. Theodore Gettell in The Angry Red Planet (1960)

He also narrated the U.S. versions of Rodan (1956), and King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962). He starred in The Monolith Monsters (1957), The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959), the original version of MGM’s special effects cult classic The Angry Red Planet (1960) and the forgettable horror schlock film The Slime People (1962).

Bing Crosby, Debbie Reynolds &  Les Tremayne in "Say One for Me" (1959) Olan Soule as Assistant Auctioneer and Les Tremayne as Auctioneer in North by Northwest (1959) Back in 30s it was Olan who went on to do the First Nighter series which made Tremayne famous...

He acted in other cinema genres as well. He co-starred with Irene Dunne and Richard Crenna in the comedy It Grows On Trees (1952), and starred in the Maureen O’Hara comedy Everything But the Truth (1956).  Also among his movie roles, Tremayne played the auctioneer in Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959), he voiced a radio newsman in the James Bond film Goldfinger (1964) and he had a small role in director Billy Wilder’s The Fortune Cookie (1966).

Comic fans will probably best identify him for his role as Mentor on the 1974-75 Saturday morning series, Shazam! But he also was heard on many cartoon shows. He was the Voice of Christmas Present in Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (1964), the voice of Churchy LaFemme and other characters on The Pogo Birthday Special, (1969) and the villain in dozens of Hanna-Barbera shows.

Les as the friendly, misunderstood eccentric psychopath Snakey in Fangs (aka Holy Wednesday) (1974) Comic fans will probably best identify Les Tremayne for his role as Mentor on the 1974-75 Saturday morning series, Shazam! Les Tremayne as Big Daddy Hogg in The Dukes of Hazzard (1985)

During the 70s - 80s he continued his streak of guest starring roles e.g. in The Virginian (1971),  The Beverly Hillbillies (1971), The Dukes of Hazzard (1985), Bonanza (1988-95),...

In the mid-80's Tremayne co-produced and and co-hosted "Please Stand By: A History of Radio"... an accredited course of 30 half-hour programs... for a group of Southern California Community Colleges.3
Soap opera fans will remember his 1987 stint on "One Life to Live" as Victor Lord and his 1988 role on "General Hospital" as Edward Quartermaine.

He is reputed to have said that because of its reliability in delivering paychecks that radio helped an actor to be " upstanding, home-owning, stay-in-one-place, family-raising... good-credit-risk individual......." 3
It is documented that in various polls, he was voted the No. 1 dramatic actor in the highly popular commercial medium. Les Tremayne was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995.  He was a founding member of AFTRA radio performers union.

Tremayne stayed active in show business until his recent retirement. He died of heart failure in Santa Monica, CA. He was survived by wife, Joan, and brother, Charles Henning of Vermont.

In 2009 he was portrayed by actor Michael Brandon in "Me and Orson Welles".

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Obituary at Torgo the White's Rolodex by Chris Cornell et al
Cincinnati Radio by Michael A. Martini
Fri, 28 Mar 1998 Old Time Radio column by the late Betsy W (Betsy Weinberg).
(4) IMDb
(5) Wikipedia

Additional video & audio sources
NPR obituary
(2) Interview at Speaking of Radio
(3) Susan Slept Here (Film Clip, 1954)

Latest update May 27, 2016

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