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.
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
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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
He is reputed to have said that because of its
reliability in delivering paychecks that radio helped an actor to be
"......an upstanding, home-owning, stay-in-one-place, family-raising...
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".
Latest update May 27, 2016
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