Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Gilligan, Danny Clover and the Dinosaur

There were seven stranded castaways on “Gilligan’s Island” who appeared every week. But there was one semi-regular who never credited at the end of the show along with the guest stars. That was the voice of the news announcer that came through the portable radio. It was Larry Thor.

There can’t be terribly many people in show biz who were exports from Manitoba. Monty Hall was one. So were Neil Young and Gisele MacKenzie. Oh, and David Steinberg. Larry Thor was another.

Thor has the distinction, back in the Golden Days, of being the star of a dramatic radio show despite no training as a dramatic actor. In fact, he only spoke Icelandic until he was seven.

Thor turned his career to academics after his acting career ended. But he also was an accomplished writer of children’s songs. Here’s a story from the Winnipeg Free Press of August 7, 1965 that goes over his whole career, “Gilligan” excepted.

Larry Thor Rides High On Dinosaur
GALLOPING On My Dinosaur is the title of a new exciting album of children’s songs by former Winnipegger Larry Thor. The album is issued by the Harmony label of Columbia Records.
Writing the music and lyrics to the dozens of songs he signs on the record is a new medium for Mr. Thor who, for many years, has been a working actor in Hollywood on radio, movies and television. Mr. Thor can be seen on television as a regular on Mr. Novak in which he plays the role of Mr. Hendricks, one of the Jefferson High faculty.
Larry Thor has created one of those rare items—a group of children’s songs that adults will not only tolerate but enjoy. Mr. Thor puts the blame for the whole thing on his own children, having turned their problems, philosophies and play into original songs.
As Mr. Thor points out, one day he posed a question to his four-year-old son, Cameron:
“What are you going to be when you grow up?”
Came Cameron’s reply:
“You’ll see.”
“That’s really a multi-barrelled proposition, innocent, yet loaded,” explained Mr. Thor. “I gave me the idea for a song.”
The song appears on the record as Answer Every Question.
The title song, Galloping On My Dinosaur, again was the happiest result of childish imagination, a phenomenon that never ceases to amaze Larry Thor and a precious possession that most of us seem to submerge in the unimaginative reality of living. Mr. Thor, it seems, is one of the privileged few permitted to retain the happy imagination of childhood. With him it is as clear and untarnished as it was some 40-odd years ago in Lundar, Manitoba, where Arnleifer Lawrence Thorsteinson was born.
Mr. Thor’s father, Gudmundur Thorsteinson, was a school principal and schooling for him and his brothers and sisters was wherever father was principal. As a teenager in times when money seemed precariously scarce, Mr. Thor earned his first dollars farming, ranching and swinging a pick and shovel around Hudson Bay territory. Then he spent three years in the Lord Strathcona’s Horse and three more with the Princess Pats.
His first introduction to a microphone came at station CFAR in Flin Flon. Here, for the munificent sum of $17.50 weekly Mr. Thor served as the station’s entire writing staff as well as substitute announcer and featured vocalist.
Mr. Thor was blessed with a hearty, pleasing, full-voiced delivery. Quick to recognize the money-making power of speech he moved to CKGB in Timmins, Ontario, then to Toronto where he was turned down by the CBC when he applied for an announcing job. The CBC thought he sounded “too American” although he had never even been introduced to an American.
A short stint at CKCL in Toronto led to an opportunity to replace the late Christopher Ellis on a nightly sponsored newscast from Montreal’s CFCF which attracted the largest consistent listening audience of any program of its kind in the region. He became of one of Montreal’s favorite newscasters and interpreted Canadian and world happenings for an audience of many millions through the shortwave facilities of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s international service. Mr. Thor’s voice and individual style became a trademark and listeners throughout Canada remember his comprehensive on-the-spot coverage of such front-page events as the Roosevelt-Churchill meetings in Quebec.
After six years in Montreal, the lure of Hollywood drew Mr. Thor to the U.S. Although he arrived in California without any connections he was taken on staff at KFAC, a 24-hour outlet devoted entirely to classical music. From there he moved quickly to KMPC where he quickly became one of the area’s most heard radio reporters.
“My main reason for going on my own was a desire to concentrate on dramatic work rather than stereotyped sales talk for pills and laxatives,” he said. He found that he had made a good move for almost immediately he won the lead role in a new series originating from CBS.
Mr. Thor recalled how one day he received a call from Harry Ackerman, CBS vice-president and director of network programs, for an audition. He arrived the next morning expecting to be one of a group of contenders for an announcing job. He was handed a script and read the lines ascribed to a tough, hard-hitting realistic Broadway cop. And that was that. When the program Broadway Is My Beat made its debut three weeks later, Larry Thor was in the starring role of Detective Danny Clover.
Mr. Ackerman had been looking for certain voice qualities to fill this choice of dramatic role. During one of Mr. Thor’s newscasts he decided he had found his man. As it proved, the choice was a good one for the show ran for five years and was considered one of the best of its kind. Its format led to a host of similar shows.
From radio it was inevitable that Mr. Thor would make the transition to television and movies. His list of credits reads like a listing of the shows from the TV Guide.
Announcing included such radio and television shows as the Carnation Hour, Clyde Beatty Show, Commander Performance, Columbia Workshop, Rockey Jordan [sic] and Steve Allen shows.
While it nets him no publicity and does little to forward his acting aspirations, Mr. Thor accepts considerable work at motion picture studios as the background voice in trailers of coming attractions. He narrated the trailers for Cyrano de Bergerac, The Steel Helmet, The Second Woman and many others. Mr. Thor attributes his apparently limitless energy and drive to inherent stubbornness. “Most Icelanders have trouble making a living off the farm,” he said. “This made me all the more determined to make my own way.”
Mr. Thor can be seen as a regular in the Mr. Novak TV series with James Fransiscus [sic]. When time permits he can be found in his Malibu Beach home swimming in the ocean or generally puttering around. His wife, actress Jean Howell, will probably be with him is she is not looking after Leifer, 2, Cameron, 4, or Kristina, 6. There are four other children by a previous marriage—Raymond, Kenneth, David and Lauren.

Thor and Jean Howell were married on October 1, 1955. It, perhaps, was a rocky affair. Here’s a short newspaper story from July 6, 1956.

TV Actress Granted California Divorce
Los Angeles (AP) — Television actress Jean Howell, 28, has won a divorce from Larry Thor, 39, actor-announcer, on the assertion that he was seldom sober during their four-month marriage.
She testified yesterday in Superior Court that Thor, among other things, went to sleep on the floor while dinner guests were at their Malibu home, went to sleep under a neighbor’s piano, and took a monkey to a bar and to work with him.

The two evidently reconciled, only to divorce in October 1975. Thor didn’t last much longer after that. CBS producer Bill Froug, who was involved in “Gilligan’s Island,” revealed in his autobiography that Thor’s alcoholism killed him. Thor died in a Los Angeles hospital on March 15, 1976. He was 69.


  1. Thor also served as commercial announcer for a syndicated radio special, "Fibber McGee and the Golden Days of Radio". (1974) The show aired in 7 parts, patterned after a Fibber McGee and Molly episode, in which Chuck Schaden "visits" 79 Wistful Vista. Mc Gee (Jim Jordan) has. A "magic" radio that picks up shows from the old time radio days. Gale Gordon and I think Harold Peary make appearances as well..Fun show..

  2. Wasn't Jack Carson from Manitoba, too?

  3. Yes, David, he spent the first few years of his life in Carmen. I'm not a Carson fan so the information didn't pop into my mind when writing this.

  4. Not a Carson fan? Why not? He's one of my favorites.

  5. I've just never had any interest in watching his movies. His radio show was so-so.

  6. I enjoy hearing "Broadway's My Beat," mainly for Morton Fine and David Friedkin's oddly poetic scripts (like Carl Sandburg meets Damon Runyon) and Danny Clover's descriptions of Broadway that open and close each episode (unfortunately SiriusXM Radio Classics tends to cut them out). Thor's performance as Clover adds much to the show, giving the poetry gravitas. I never got to hear the short New York-based run of "Broadway's My Beat" with a different actor as Clover (do recordings of that version exist?).