Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The Lawyer Who Didn't Play One on TV

Herb Vigran was one of a number of actors who made a very good living without being a star. In radio, he was among an elite group constantly in demand for dramas and comedies. The same in early network television based on the West Coast. On top of that, he realised—like a number of good radio actors—that commercials were not something to be sneered at. They paid very well. Stardom? Fame? Yeah, that may be nice, but a good character actor could make plenty of cash and, as Arnold Stang once observed, without all the stress.

Vigran did land a starring role, but like other supporting players in radio who did the same, it didn’t last very long. We’ll get to it in a moment.

First, let’s pass along this unbylined biography about Vigran found in the Lewiston Evening Journal of February 29, 1964. I doubt the paper interviewed him and he isn’t plugging anything. I imagine his agency had it sent out to newspapers in the hope someone might publish it.
There Have Been Changes For Herb
HOLLYWOOD—When Herb Vigran first arrived in Hollywood, he was broke and unknown, and had scant experience as an actor.
Today he’s not penniless, obscure or inexperienced. His voice, if not his face, is known to millions. His voice got him started in show business and earns him the income which in part built his new San Fernando Valley home he has named “Rancho Residual.”
Herb’s professional career, which spans more than 25 years, got its start in 1939 when he was lucky enough to get an interview with an agent. An hour later, he had the lead in a radio “Silver theatre” drama. It was a welcome change after a particularly bleak year in the world’s entertainment capital.
For $5, which he could ill afford, Vigran had a recording made of the show. It proved to be the open sesame for future jobs. He parlayed his vocal versatility into a career covering most of radio’s top shows as well as both radio and television commercials.
The move from radio to television and motion pictures came naturally. His bushy-browed features were as much an asset as his voice. He has appeared in character roles in innumerable live and filmed TV series, including “The Donna Reed Show,” “Hazel,” the Jack Benny, Ed Wynn, Red Skelton and Lucille Ball shows, and “McHale’s Navy.”
Vigran perhaps is best known for his role of Monty in the Dick Powell “Willie Dante” shows. His most recent motion picture credit is Universal’s “The Brass Bottle,” starring Burl Ives and Tony Randall.
Herb was born June 5, 1910, in Cincinnati, Ohio. At 16 he moved with the family to Fort Wayne, Ind., where he was graduated from the local high school and from Indiana University’s Law School.
As soon as he had taken his bar examination, Herb abandoned Blackstone for greasepaint and struck out for Hollywood.
“I didn’t even wait to find out if I’d passed the exam,” he says. “I headed West because I had an aunt living in Hollywood and knew I could sponge on her for room and board.”
He got a few bit parts, but finally packed off to New York. After roles in “Boy Meets Girl,” and “Having a Wonderful Time” on Broadway, Vigran headed West again, determined to take another crack at Hollywood before thinking of going back to the law books.
That was in 1929, when he met the agent. Herb hasn’t looked back since. One good radio role followed another and except for a two-year stint in the Army during World War II, he hasn’t been out of show business.
A year after he took the bar examination Herb learned he had passed. He later returned to Indiana to be officially admitted to the bar, but he has never practiced law.
Coupling his infantry and acting experience, he starred in “Sad Sack,” a 13-week summer show, when the war ended. Good roles in motion pictures followed. By the advent of television, he was known, trained and ready.
Herb married the former Belle Pasternak, a secretary to a motion picture executive, in 1952. They have two sons, Richard, 10, and Robert 8, and live in Woodland Hills in California’s San Fernando Valley.
Vigran’s starring role was on a half-hour summer replacement comedy in 1946, portraying World War Two’s most put-upon soldier, the Sad Sack. Summer shows were treated as auditions for fall pick-up, but that isn’t what happened with Vigran’s show. It finished its 13-week run and never returned. Vigran told interviewer Chuck Schaden the show failed because people didn’t want to be reminded about the war any more.

Radio Life magazine profiled the show in its edition of August 18, 1946. Any fan of the Golden Days of Radio should love this publication. It’s full of network publicity pictures about anyone who was anyone on the air. It’s a shame the copies on-line aren’t better scanned but it’s nice to have them. The photos come from that edition.

“Sad Sack’s” In Civvies
—And On the Air With Veteran Actor Herb Vigran in His First Starring Role as the Wistful Little Hero of George Baker's Pen

By Lynn Roberts
ALTHOUGH actually, Herb Vigran didn't become "Sad Sack" until just a few weeks ago when the new airshow was inaugurated, Herb himself will tell you that he has been "Sad Sack" for over two years. For that length of time, the actor was wearing khaki that was no stage costume in an Army camp that was no movie set. "And all of us guys in the Army," related Vigran earnestly, "turned to see what the 'Sack' was doing the minute we got hold of a Yank magazine, because every guy in the Army thought of the 'Sack' as himself—including me."
After years of skipping meals and pounding pavements in search of acting assignments, thirty-six-year-old Vigran had just established himself as a successful character actor in Hollywood radio when Uncle Sam called him to the colors in October of 1943. "That made me a little sad," grinned Vigran, "and the Army made me a 'Sack'."
The actor was stationed with the Infantry at Camp Roberts for six months, then transferred to the Torney General Hospital at Palm Springs, where he was placed in charge of entertainment, staged shows and taught classes in stage acting and radio production. He was discharged from service in October of 1945.
Looking very unlike "Sad Sack" (save for the discharge button in his lapel) in a conservative well-pressed dark blue suit, his thinning black hair combed neatly back, actor Vigran talked with enthusiasm about his new radio assignment. The title role on this CBS comedy series that is based on George Baker's familiar comic-strip character, is Vigran's initial starring part.
He expressed gratitude to the show's producer, Ted Sherdeman. "It was Ted, in fact," reminisced the actor, "who gave me my very first Hollywood radio job—on Hedda Hopper's 'Brent House'."
Said Sherdeman of the "Sad Sack" show, "We're having fun with it," and Vigran pointed out, "That's typical of Ted. When he's putting together a radio show, he always says, 'Let's have fun with it,' and as a result, so does the audience."
Cast of the "Sad Sack" show includes Sandra Gould as "Lucy Twitchell," Ken Christie as "Lucy's father," Patsy Moran as "Mrs. Flanagan, the landlady," and Jim Backus as "Chester Fenwick."
Ex-Navyman Dick Joy is its announcer.
Ex-Coast Guardsman Charlie Isaacs and ex-Army man Arthur Stander do the scripting. Producer Sherdeman is an ex-Lt. Col. "Sad Sack's" creator, Baker, in an ex-Sgt.
Smiled Vigran: "The ruptured ducks are thick around the 'Sad Sack' microphone."

Besides radio and TV, Vigran could also be heard in cartoons. He’s the uncredited narrator in the Warner Bros. short What’s My Lion? (1961) and appears in a number of industrials for John Sutherland Productions, such as It’s Everybody’s Business (1954). He died in 1986.

Press the arrow below to hear him and Jim Backus (several years before he was Mr. Magoo) in The Sad Sack.


  1. No mention of his numerous appearances on THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN with George Reeves? Strange...

  2. He was also on a few Flintstones, like Season 2 (1961-1962)'s later-season "The Mailman Cometh" and "Kleptomaniac Caper" as cops. (The former sounded somewhat like Officer Dibble on "Top Cat', though Allen Jenkins played Officer Dibble, the second had Herb's trademark grainy voice-I like to call it a kind of "porcupine voice" due to the raspiness.) In the former, he plays a cop in a borrow from the 'Stones's prototype,
    The Honeymooners when Fred's docked from a raise by Mr.Slate, sends a nasty missive to him, then as it turns out, Mr.Slate uninentionally docked Fred, Fred finds out so he and Barney have to-you guess it-run to the mailbox, this cop played by Vigran shows up, and at the end begs on his hands on knees after John Stephenson's chief-of-police, in George Nicholas (?) (maybe Howard F.or someone else can confirm) animation. There he uses the voice he did for "What's My Lion".SC

    1. Herb also appeared with Alan Reed in a Winston cigarette commercial for The Flintstones