Saturday 8 September 2012

Will the Real Man of Steel Please Stand Up?

Proof of the impact of television compared with the old days of network radio rests in the form of a gentle, six-foot, 165 pound man named Bud Collyer.

He was a constant presence on the radio waves in a variety of genres emanating from the airwaves of New York. He was Superman, even. But even the Man of Steel was no match for the power of television. Only a few stories were written about Collyer in his radio days, almost all of them focusing on how Superman was very active in his church. When television rolled around and he stuck exclusively to hosting game shows, the news stories about him rolled off the presses more often—and faster than you can say “The Daily Planet.”

As a kid TV viewer of “To Tell the Truth,” I liked Bud Collyer. Unlike almost every other host, he didn’t crack a lot of jokes. He was friendly and sincere, kept the focus on what was happening and built the suspense in a genuine manner. Like Collyer, the show wasn’t loud and boisterous. In fact, its lack of noise and lights (other than a “ding” accompanying an “X” that lit up for each vote) and immoveable cameras would be incomprehensible to any game show producer today. But the game was basic and appealing, the celebrities (albeit B-list) were very pleasant, and the string-dominated theme music perked along, originally a library music cue by Dolf van der Linden, then a fine, somewhat similar tune by Bob Cobert. Collyer fit “To Tell the Truth” perfectly.

Let’s dig back through a few newspapers and see what they had to say about Bud Collyer. United Press International published this on July 17, 1960.

Remember Superman?

NEW YORK (UPI) — Clayton Collyer, a pleasant family man with an outboard motorboat, a 14-room house, and three grown children, has been superintendent of the Sunday school of the First Presbyterian church in Greenwich, Conn., for the last 14 years.
“His term in the Sunday school superintendency now seems certain to break his long-record run in another—and certainly disparate—job. He was “Superman” for 14 years on radio, creating the character and sticking with it until it went off radio in 1952.
His show-business name is Bud Collyer. You know him as the talented moderator of CBS-TV's popular panel show “To Tell the Truth” and as emcee and producer of ABC's “Beat the Clock.” But in the halcyon days of radio, he was all over the place as a soap opera actor and an announcer. His twenty-fifth anniversary in broadcasting is coming up in two months.
* * *
Collyer, a graduate of soap opera, can remember when he thought nothing of playing in four different radio shows — doing the leads in two and running pails in at least a couple more, and announcing on the side. During one 6-month period, he averaged 34 to 35 actual broadcast hours a week, and one day of each week was a 9-show day.
The announcing stints included the Eddie Duchin show on Mondays, the Benny Goodman show Tuesdays, and the Tommy Dorsey show Thursdays. And all the while there was “Superman,” with Bud Collyer shaping his voice into a light baritone for the role of the newspaper reporter Clark Kent and then dropping it as low as he could, at staccato pace, for the role of Superman.
* * *
Collyer, a native New Yorker, paid his way through law school as a radio singer (7:45 a. m., six days a week, accompanying himself on a guitar). Graduated, he practiced with a law firm for nearly two years before deciding, in 1935, to get into network acting.
His sister June Collyer was then a movie star. His mother Caroline Collyer had been an actress.
A nurse tagged him with the name Bud when he was a baby while the family was trying to decide whether to name him after his father, which they eventually did. He has no middle name, and neither, did his children until they were in their late teens.

For a while in the early ‘40s, Collyer portrayed Superman simultaneously on radio and in the cartoons produced in Miami by the Fleischer studio. He had a Fleischer connection of sorts that went back a few years before that. In early 1937, he was a regular on Jack Pearl’s radio show. And so was another young New Yorker known as the voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl—Mae Questel. He was hosting a game show as far back as 1943, called “Good Listening” on CBS. “Break the Bank” followed in 1945, “On Your Mark” and “Three for the Money” in 1948 (like “Stop the Music,” it involved calling people at home) and then another show on CBS in 1949. This review is from the Cedar Rapids Tribune, March 17th that year.

There's no limit to the number of rounds a contestant can win or the number of “Winner Take All” programs he may appear on — just as long as he has the right answers.
The format of this new weekday series heard Monday through Friday from 3:30 to 3:45 p.m. features two competing contestants selected from the studio audience. One is furnished with a bell, the other a buzzer, which they sound to indicate that they wish to answer the master of ceremonies’ question. Each correct answer earns the contestant a point, and three points win him a round, a valuable prize and the right to defend his “championship” against a new contender, until dethroned.
Clayton “Bud” Collyer who is the emcee for “Winner Take All” started out to be a lawyer. After graduation from Williams college and Fordham university Law School, he went to work in a New York law firm as a clerk. “I was working for a fast fifteen dollars a week and desk space,” he recalls, “but I found that quite dull.”
“He worked hard in this humble calling for the next two years, but thought there must be some other way to earn more money. While at Fordham, he had earned spending money singing on WCBS and he remembers that the actors and actresses he met at that time made as much money in a month as he could expect to collect in a year at the bar.
In, 1935 Collyer took an audition that landed him a network acting part, although he no longer recalls the name of the program. “This program marked the turning point of my life. I was in radio for good after that,” he says.
The construction of a career in radio acting and announcing comes slowly at the start, and for some time Bud languished in semi-obscurity. In those years he found his own lack of fame a particularly bitter pill because of a family connection. Bud’s sister, June Collyer, was then a well-known movie star. “People were always introducing us as June Collyer and, oh, yes, this is her brother,” Collyer says.
After a while Bud got his recognition. It was while attending a play with his sister June, that her husband Stuart Erwin was appearing in, that Bud experience his long–awaited triumph. A friend introduced them to tome strangers and said, “This is Bud Collyer, and, oh, yes, his sister June.”

How nice of a man was Bud Collyer? Paul Luther wrote in his syndicated radio column of February 28, 1947.

Radio people are mighty proud of the outstanding recognition just awarded one of their top drawer performers. In presenting annual scrolls, the Council Against Intolerance in America has cited Clayton (Bud) Collyer as one of five such persons in America worthy of the honor. That his constant efforts to promote a better understanding among and races and religions should come to the attention of the Council is indeed gratifying. Having known Bud and shared the same mike on many occasions, I concur that no more worthy recipient could have been selected for this signal honor.

Which is something one might expect from Superman.

Alas, while Collyer was a perfect radio and cartoon Man of Steel, he was more like Clark Kent to his kids. This is from the Anniston Star, Wednesday, May 19, 1948:

Clayton “Bud” Collyer, who is radio’s “Superman,” rues the decision now that prompted him to take two of his children, Michael, 6, and Cynthia, 8, to New York’s Central Park Zoo before going to Mutual’s studio for one of the broadcasts of the week-day “Superman”
series 5:15 to 5:30. The Collyer youngsters had never seen a “Superman,” broadcast, and after the show Bud asked his children: “Well, how’d you like it?” The unimpressed youngsters replied with: “Daddy, can you imitate a seal?”

And from Saul Pett’s column from the International News Service, May 29, 1946:

And the fact is that Bud Collyer, who plays “Superman” for Mutual, was fighting a losing battle in his home the other day and appeared to be in clanger of losing a finger until his young son reminded pappa of the “simple directions on the label” and opened a jar of jam for him.

Bud Collyer died after three weeks in a Connecticut hospital on this date in 1969. He was 61.

1 comment:

  1. The one mitigating circumstance I will credit the wooden 1966-67 Fimlation Superman cartoons for doing is voice-tracking the series in New York, using both Collyer and Jackson Beck from the original radio show and Fleischer cartoons (I'd like to think it's become someone at Filmation actually cared enough to go 3,000 miles from Los Angeles to get the appropriate voice actors, but it was probably because "To Tell the Truth" was still a CBS daytime and prime-time property, and the network wanted the cross-publicity).