Helen spent part of her youth on an Indian Reservation. Her (step)father
Samuel Lees Joslin
(New Hampshire, March 21, 1879 - Reno, October 5, 1933)
doctor. As Harvard Medical School student he started
his practice in New England, but answered the call of the West and came to
After one performance Max Reinhart came up to her and asked her to read a
part of Midsummer Night’s Dream and subsequently to play Hermia in his
traveling production. "After a night spent convincing my mother
that I didn't want to finish college and be prepared for a teaching career,
I departed the next day to join the show. To say I have never for one moment
regretted the move is a strong understatement. I know that it's sound
judgment to prepare yourself so that you have something to fall back on. In
my case, however, I think it might have been disastrous, for had I finished
college and obtained my teaching license, I'm sure there would have been a
number of occasions in my struggles in the theatre when I would have felt
forced to give up and 'fall back.' But since I had no secondary means of
earning a living, when the sledding got tough, I merely gritted my teeth,
ate less and hung on. For which I thank my lucky stars!"
In 1938 she arrived in New York with
less than 25 dollars. "I had saved a little money and I lived at the
Rehearsal Club which is endowed by rich women for young women stage
hopefuls. I remember I barely managed to pay the rent and I was always
hungry." There she met
Marion Shockley one of her roommates.
They both tried out for the role
of Nikki Porter in The Adventures of Ellery Queen
which went to Marion.
On TV she was seen in a light romantic comedy "The Noble Lord" is about a young girl (Helen Lewis) who pretends to be drowning so that she can attract the attention of a nobleman (Harold De Becker). He saves her and learns of her deception. Pretending to be his own valet, he tests her motives (also starred Robert Lynn) (April 1938).
On radio she was heard in "The Affairs Of Anatol" part
of "Mercury Theatre On The Air"
(with Orson Welles)
(Aug 22.1938), "The Mighty Show" (as Sally of
the high wire) (1938-39), "Big Sister"
(as Sue Evans Miller) (1939) and "The Road
of Life" (as Maggie Lowell)
She was called in for television after an audition for regular radio
work. She played television's first long-run show, a dramatic sketch that
ran 14 performances. Lewis had this to say on television: "There is
something very intimate about a camera gazing at you several feet away and
all the world watching through its lens. Compared with stage and radio, I
think television gives the actor a greater Incentive for emotional
In 1939 the drama series "Kate Hopkins, Angel of Mercy," starring Helen Lewis, Peggy Allenby, Constance Collier, and Clayton "Bud" Collyer began a 2½-year run on CBS Radio (Clayton later married Marion Shockley). She also played the part of the dew fairy in performances of Humperdinck's opera "Hansel and Gretel" (1939), had the leading role in "The Pirates of Penzance," and has been soloist with the Schenectady Choral Club and took the lead in a production of the Light Opera Company, "My American Cousin."
When Helen started rehearsing for an Office of War Information show she met
J. David Penn. A whirlwind courtship — met in August, 1942, and married seven
months later on March 12, 1943 in New York. David spent two-and-a-half years in the
Army. Then at the close of the war he entered the State Department as a
Special Press Advisor to the International Conference Division, a position
he has held ever since. "It's a wonderful and really exciting job, but it is
the reason we're so much and so often apart." Helen confided in a 1952
Her involvement in radio continued with roles in series as "This Is Your FBI" (1945 - 1947), "Adventures of the Falcon" (1946), "Matinee At The Meadowbrook" (1946), "Dick Tracy" (as Tess Trueheart) (1947) , "Mystery of the Week " (1947), "The Man Who Played God" (1947).
On one or two occasions Helen has gone along on trips with her first husband David Penn. In 1947 she went along to the Inter-American Defense Conference held in Rio, where—aboard the USS Missouri—she had the happy experience of meeting President Truman and General Marshall. It was on that same trip that she met the late much-publicized Evita Peron, once the first lady of Argentina. Domestic life was less glamorous since they had a small, compact, but attractive apartment in Manhattan. For whatever reason the marriage didn't last.
Roland Winters (famous for Charlie Chan) had already met Helen when both were in radio, he saw her first with Agnes Moorehead sitting on top of a grand piano playing jacks. Almost unknown nowadays but they were married in 1960.
When she and Winters travelled to Durban, South Africa in 1964 they played together (a rare event) in "Never too Late" a comedy presented in several South African cities at the invitation of Theatre International of Johannesburg. In Summer they love to spend some time in their summer house in Martha's Vineyard.
(1) 'Perpetual Honeymoon' Radio & Television Mirror, Nov 1952
(2) 'American Television Drama The Experimental Years', 1986
(3) 'Here is Television', Thomas H. Hutchinson , 1946
(4) 'A Candid Talk with a Television MC', John Durham, Times Daily, Oct 26, 1939
(5) 'Life on the Air, March of Time', Life Magazine, 1938 Aug 8
(6) The Niagara Falls Gazette, Oct 7. 1938
Additional video & audio sources
(1) Old time radio downloads
Page first published on Sep 1. 2014
Latest update June 1, 2016
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