|rthur B. Allen (Apr 8. 1881 - Aug 25. 1947)|
(1) Gertrude Elizabeth Watt (Jun 30. 1921 -
Aug 19, 1931) (her death)
Above right: Arthur B. Allen (1905).
He spent his boyhood in Gowanda, New York some 35 miles
from Buffalo. From the
first, the stage interested him. He peddled papers as a boy, raised
chickens, sold eggs and was one of those kids who organize
amateur circuses and charge pins for admission.
Every minute that he could steal away from the manifold duties and things to do that a country lad always finds, he spent hanging on the words of the self-appointed town sages who gathered evenings around the stove and sawdust box in the general store and talked among themselves then as Arthur talked to radio audiences later.
He went to school in his home town and later to Oberlin College in Ohio. Even at Oberlin College the old theatrical yen still gripped him. He studied at a conservatory and through his musical efforts held down a job as church organist for several years. A pretty good pianist and organist he also did some music teaching (Persia, Cattaraugus, New York). Allen was for several years a private secretary in Buffalo, N.Y. He studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He played all sorts of parts in every dramatic offering. Then, out of a clear sky, a dramatic stock company came to town and he joined it. He termed this "the greatest school for the actor ever devised".
So he became a member of the Jesse Bonstelle stock company in 1913 in the days when they played in the old Star theater in Buffalo in which over a period of years he appeared with such gifted performers as Katherine Cornell, William Powell and Ann Harding. One of the few actors who have perfected the art of pantomime. Starting his professional career as an actor in Buffalo, Detroit, Northampton and Toronto he soon toured the country for many (4-5) years with such well known stage folks as James Rennie, James Gleason, Lou Tellegen, Herbert Corthell and Charles Gilpin. He claims to have appeared in more than 500 performances as a butler and to have worn out no less than a dozen sets of butler's livery during that time. After exclaiming "Yes my Lord" something like 10,000 times he moved on. From stock he went into road companies and later into Broadway productions.
As early as 1917 he was seen on Broadway. When
Allen came to New York he played for two years in Emperor Jones
(1920) with Charles Gilpin.
On June 30. 1921 he married Gertrude Elizabeth Watt and settled in Hempstead where his hobbies were gardening and painting.
Arthur continued working on Broadway he played old Jacob in The Field of Gold, and was the inventor of the original horse and buggy in Winthrop Ames' White Wings (1926) and afterwards with Paul Green's Field God (1927). In Dec 1927 he was also featured in The Skinners with Frank Keenan, Catherine Willard, Josephine Hull, A. O. Huhan, and Roya Byron. Together with the last two Arthur played playing the parts of Pop Skinner's three cronies and drinking companions.
It was with amusement rather than bitterness that he remembered his early years when he was often considered "too small, too puny" to take part in theatricals.
In August, 1927, radio sought him. Even his mother and Aunt Harmony initially thought he would have done a lot better if he had stuck to his job in a Buffalo, New York, furniture store. When he wrote his mother of turning to radio she sent word right back. "Don't you do it. You haven't got the voice." The she did hear him one day - she came to New York to see her boy - and Arthur put her in a control room during his program. "He sounds so natural," she said. "Just like he is, but he's no hero to me".
Gerald Stopp, director, is directly responsible for the "discovery" of Arthur Allen, as a radio headliner. Confronted with the "necessity" of finding some one to fill the role of Jeff Peters in the early Retold Tales series (1927-1929), Stopp recalled a performance in which he had seen Arthur Allen act on the legitimate stage. During the subsequent interview the director was successful in his attempt to interest the actor in the radio series in which he was to co-star with Louis Mason (as Andy Tucker), another dramatic artist from the theater world. They played two confidence men, hard at work fleecing the innocent public.
It was a friend who advised him to consider acting for radio audiences. But radio didn't appeal at the time, and he only grudgingly consented to appear before the microphone. As it turns out he ended up becoming one of the first actors of the legitimate theater to turn to radio performances as a profession.
"There's a big difference between trouping on the
stage and trouping on the air, but the things I learned in stock help me
every night on the radio," Allen said. A spry, energetic little man,
with quick-moving hands, thin narrow face, and mild blue eyes above a
sensitive mouth and long chin, was just the sort of Yankee personality his
radio voice indicated. For a man who made his living by talking, he moves
his lips very little. "Long stage experience taught me the trick of
throwing my voice from the back of the throat,'' Allen explained. "On
the air I develop a slightly different voice for nearly every character. On
the stage you have action costume and lighting effects to get your story and
character to the audience. On the radio you have only your voice and the
words, and you never know what effect you are creating until its over."
Despite the difficulties of the medium, Allen said he liked radio because it
insures what every actor always wants—"a full house."—no peeping through the
curtains to see how many empty seats there may be.
In 1927, ex-Broadway playwright William Ford Manley and Henry Fisk Carlton created a weekly anthology show known as Soconyland Sketches (Socony was an acronym for Standard Oil Company of New York). "Our first idea was to do only history stories," said Manley. "We did Miles Standish, Old Ironsides, and The Cherry Valley Massacre. But we found, after the first year, that Parker Fennelly teamed so well with Arthur Allen that we conceived of two homespun rural characters built around these two actors." So while Soconyland Sketches (Nov 1. 1927 - ) did not set out to have continuing characters, Parker Fennelly and Arthur Allen both played village rubes, stereotypical dry New Englanders. Together they probably created more shows in this "hillbilly" genre than anyone else before or since.
Some Soconyland sketches appearences by Arthur include:
Arthur Allen also played several recurrent characters in the Soconyland Sketches, the most popular were:
The Wayside Inn
(NBC, 1929), was a regional variety
program and a forerunner of the daytime dramatic serial. Arthur played the part of Jack Spindle.
Weeks after Uncle Abe and David
went off the air, the formidable Lord/Allen/Fennelly trio was responsible
for another series in this vein, The Stebbins Boys (June 22,
1931 to October 21, 1932). In the small
town of Bucksport Point, Maine, two elderly brothers - Allen as John
Stebbins and Fennelly as Esley Stebbins- were in business together in ... a
general store. A great success
only to be suddenly dropped from the airwaves by
their meat packer sponsor Swift & Co., packers
without explanation (see
left: Parker Fennelly and Arthur Allen as The Stebbins Boys in the
In 1932 a Hat Company wanted Allen's photo for as an
advertisement of the proper way a well dressed young man should look in a
hat ad, in the ad he looked about 30.
The Western Clock Company contracted the popular team of Arthur Allen and Parker Fennelly for an air series starting Sunday September 16. 1934. The weekly 15-minute broadcasts intended to take the place of Dream Drama (NBC, 1934-1935?) presented by this sponsor in former years in stead it continued under the same name.
Soconyland moved to CBS on October 16, 1934 and was retitled Snow Village Sketches. It continued on CBS until May 21, 1935. Went to NBC for four episodes in 1937, 1938 and 1942 and 1943 and ended at Mutual with a series of at least 11 episodes between Dec 28. 1945 and May 5. 1946.
Simpson Boys of Sprucehead Bay (Blue, 1935-1936)
Arthur Allen and Parker Fennelly, hardly re-invented their act as the
Simpson Boys, country storekeepers "way down East" (pictures below).
On the big screen he made very few appearances, he was seen in Ebb Tide (1937) which was directed by James P. Hogan "famed" for his Ellery Queen series.
Fennelly and Allen tried to get a Snow Village revival going in 1938 whilst on Broadway Arthur created one of the leading roles in Our Town (1938).
Parker and Fennelly did play in Four Corners U.S.A. (1938-1939) as Eben and Jonah Crowell respectively.
The Radio Guild had been around for 10 years when in 1939 Merritt P. Allen wrote comedy scripts about those genial old Vermonters, Noah (Parker Fennelly) and Mary Perkins (Effie Palmer) his wife and Toby Waller (Arthur Allen), their grumbling friend.
In radio's Your Family and Mine
(1938-1940) the role
of Lem Stacey was portrayed by Parker Fennelly whenever the part is in the
script. A short while back Lem was played by Arthur Allen
In 1940 Arthur Allen was seen in two more movies both directed by
Sam Wood: the Western Rangers of Fortune where he played Mr. Prout,
a persecuted newspaper publisher who chimes in with some erudite
sleuthing (see picture below left), and maybe his best movie role in a reprise of his
Broadway role of Geology Professor Willard in Our Town (below right).
For the series Gibbs and Finney, General Delivery (NBC Blue, July 26 - Oct 18 1942) Raymond Knight wrote a warm, dramatic serial in which Fennelly and Allen played their familiar roles as owners of their town's general store, Gideon Gibbs and Asa Finney. Actress Patsy Campbell was also cast in this Sunday evening serial.
In 1944 he played a Broadway reprise of Our Town. he reprised the role he had on stage and in the movie. Described as brilliantly amusing in a brief appearance as an earnest diffident professor. That year Arthur had his first heart attack.
They persisted under the banner Soconyland Sketches (Snow Village) for other firms at intervals to 1946. The duo turned their characterizations into careers, meanwhile, appearing in similar incarnations inspired by the Socony show. The Stebbins Boys (of Bucksport Point) (1931-1932), Day Dramas (1934-1935), The Simpson Boys of Sprucehead Bay (Blue, 1935-1936) , Four Corners U.S.A. (CBS 1938-1939) and Gibbs and Finney General Delivery (1942). ... It was a role Fennelly would play over and over. He later gained national fame on Fred Allen's radio program Allen's Alley in the mid-1940s, portraying Titus Moody, another version of the stock New England character.
He was stricken with a heart attack on August 18 prior to his appearance on the Lorenzo Jones radio program and was taken to the hospital. Arthur B. Allen died on August 25 1947 after a week's illness at Doctors Hospital, New York City.
He was buried at Gowanda, N.Y. , where he was born 66 years before.
Josephine Hardwicke described Allen (May 31, 1934) as follows: "I know of no famous person who is simpler and kinder in his ways than this actor." and "I think his sense of humor is a most appealing characteristic. In a few minutes conversation he is liable to get up and portray some character part to illustrate a point he is discussing."
Additional video & audio
This actor profile is a part of
Ellery Queen a website on deduction.
The actor above played Doc Prouty in the first
radio series of The Adventures of
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Page first published on Oct 8. 2017
Last updated Sep 11. 2021
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