Saturday 15 December 2012

The Sad End of Frank Graham

Almost every cartoon voice actor in the ‘40s who didn’t have the name “Mel Blanc” performed their tasks anonymously to the movie-going public. At least on screen. Sara Berner worked at a bunch of studios and received one credit on the first Chilly Willy cartoon for Walter Lantz. You won’t find Billy Bletcher’s name on any Warners cartoons. Nor Kent Rogers’. Nor Bea Benaderet’s. And you won’t find Frank Graham’s, either.

Frank Lee Graham was a radio actor who played both the Fox and Crow at Columbia. Tex Avery used him as the voice of the wolf in the first Red cartoon and in other MGM shorts, like “House of Tomorrow.” He popped up at Warner Bros. in a number of the Snafu cartoons and in theatricals as well—he’s the narrator of “Horton Hatches the Egg,” to give you one example.

Frank Graham was also dead at the age of 35 by his own hand.

The Los Angeles Times published a full story on September 4, 1950.

Actor Known as the Man With 1000 Voices Found in His Auto With Engine Running Radio

Actor Frank Graham, 35, known as the man of 1000 voices and radio’s one-man theater, was found dead in his automobile in the carport of his Hollywood Hills home, 9115 Wonderland Ave.
Police said Graham had committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. His body was found about 1 p.m. Saturday by friends. He was slumped in the front seat of his expensive convertible.
Engine Was Running.
The engine of the automobile was running. A section of vacuum cleaner hose had been attached to the car’s exhaust pipe and brought under the cloth to carry the poisonous gas to the car.
Near Graham’s hand on the front seat of the car was the photograph of a handsome brunet woman, identified by police as Miss Mildred Rossi. Associates said that until recent weeks Miss Rossi had been Graham’s constant companion. She was not present at the time the tragedy was discovered and she could not be reached for comment.
Telephone Call.
At 9:10 p m. Saturday Graham telephoned Jack and Virginia Shallow, 2707 Castle Heights Ave. “He told us to come to his house and pick up something from the front seat of his car,” Shallow told police. They said they arrived about 10 o’clock and pulled Graham’s body from the car and applied artificial respiration. He was already dead. They called police.
Officers Ted Morton Jr. and J W. Hodson said that two notes were found in the living room of Graham’s home. They were neither dated nor signed. Both were addressed to Radio Producer and Announcer Van Des Autels. One read, “Please get keys of the house and car from Mildred. I don’t want her to have time to disturb anything here.” The other, “Although the attached note says – owes me $600, he actually only owes me $400. It’s to become part of the estate.”
No Cause Learned.
Morton said Graham was dressed in blue denim trousers and a T-shirt. No cause for the suicide was immediately learned by police.
Associates at the Columbia Broadcasting Co. said Graham was at the peak of his career. He was star of the Jeff Regan Show. He had just completed a summer announcing the highly successful dramatic program, Satan’s Waitin’, which he and Des Autels had developed and which they owned.
He was the star of Night Car Yarns over CBS from 1938 through 1942 and was the announcer of dozens of programs, including the Ginny Simms, Rudy Vallee and Nelson Eddy shows.
Graham was born to show business. His mother was Ethel Briggs Graham, concert and opera singer. He grew up in dozens of cities and attended numbers of schools while traveling the concert circuit with his mother. At the age of 2 he knew the backstage odors of grease paint and dress rooms well.
Attended UCO.
He attended the University of California for one year and left to begin his acting career in Seattle, both on the stage and in radio. He was brought to Hollywood in 1937 to join the CBS-KNX. He had been married two years before to the former Dorothy Jack of Seattle. They were later divorced. In addition to his radio roles, Graham's voice was well-known to motion-picture fans. He created the voices of numbers of cartoon characters in animated films for Walt Disney, MGM and Warner Bros. studios.
Services Tomorrow.
He leaves his mother and father, Mr. and Mrs. Frank L. Graham of San Francisco, a brother Jack and a sister, Mrs. Janet Downs, both of Seattle. Funeral services will be conducted at 3 p.m. Tuesday in the chapel of Will A. Reynolds Mortuary, West Hollywood. Burial will be private.

California state records say that Frank Lee Graham was born in Detroit on November 22, 1914, though the 1940 Variety Radio Directory has him older, saying he was born on the same date in 1911. It lists him at 5-foot-7 and 125 pounds with brown hair and blue eyes. An Associated Press story said his father was an inventor. His mother was related to the Briggs who built Briggs Stadium in Detroit. The family had moved to Seattle by 1920. Graham’s first radio appearance was in 1931, when the repertory company with which he was acting was contracted for several regional network commercials. He started as an announcer at KHQ-KGA, Spokane, in 1935, where he and his wife founded founded the Rockcliff School of Theatre and Radio. She was from Sedro-Woolley, about an hour north of Seattle. The Variety profile lists a decent-sized body of radio work by 1940, mainly on CBS, and reveals he appeared in film shorts but doesn’t list any titles.

Mildred Rossi had been employed at the Disney studio. The Associated Press followed up on the story:

Unusual Will Fills Gaps in Mystery of Graham’s Death
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 19. (AP)—Missing gaps in the last few hours of radio producer Frank Lee Graham’s life were filled in when his unusual will was filed for probate yesterday.
Graham’s body was found in his convertible at his Hollywood Hills home about 10 p.m. September 2 by two friends, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Shallow, whom he had telephoned an hour before asking them to come over.
The automobile engine was running. A hose led from the exhaust into the tonneau. Friends said the 35-year-old radioman was at the peak of his career.
On the seat of the car was a picture of a brunette woman, identified by police as Miss Mildred Rossi. Radio associates said she and Graham had been close friends.
One paragraph of the will said: “To Mildred, I leave absolutely nothing except the pleasure she will have knowing that now she won’t have to decide whether I am good enough for her or not.” A postscript said: “Gee, I wish Mildred had called me back yesterday morning.” The document didn’t further identify “Mildred.”
Ex-Wife Gets Share
It bequeathed to Graham’s divorced wife, Mrs. Dorothy Jack Graham, insurance policies, an automobile, half interest in two radio shows, “Satan’s Waitin’,” and “Sing for Your Supper,” and said of her “Believe me, she struggled and worked harder for them than I did.”
Graham left the other half interest in the shows to Shallow. He directed that the remainder of “all my earthly possessions (and they’re certainly not much)” be divided among his father, Frank Graham, San Francisco; his sister, Mrs. Janet Downs, and his brother Jack, both of Seattle.
The probate petition valued the estate simply as in excess of $10,000.

How ironic that Graham’s best-remembered role in cartoons was that of a Hollywood wolf.


  1. Yowp, Don't forget the wonderful "Romance of the Ranchos" on CBS/KNX from 1941 to 1946, featuring Frank Graham as "The Wandering Vaquero". I can't find any such radio show as "Night Car Yarns", but there is a "Night CAP Yarns" which aired in 1939. Only a few shows of "Night Cap" exist, but a lot of episodes of "Romance of the Ranchos" can be heard on the Internet. "Satan's Waitin'", also the title of a Warner Bros. cartoon, I can't find listed anywhere. It sounds like an obscure summer replacement program, maybe Friz heard it and remembered the title. Mark Kausler

  2. "Each Dawn I Crow", copyright 9c)1948 as Prod.1092 and released in 1949, the last full year before Graham died, was narrated by him a la Suspence and Inner Santcum--"It's you or him,".

  3. Mark, I don't have the actual Times story so I went with the OCR-mangled snippets on Google news.
    The Satan show ran Tuesdays from June-Aug. 1950. It was replaced on KNX the Tuesday after Graham died with "Mr and Mrs North;" the rest of the evening schedule remained intact.

  4. And of course NO mention of Columbia/Screen Gems and the FOX & CROW….

    I personally think Graham was the best cartoon voice person after Mel Blanc during the 1940s.

    1. Yeah it's rather sad how none of these guys like Graham were ever given credit at all in these cartoons. I wonder if that fueled his suicide in the end?

    2. Probaly did. Agreed with Jerry.

  5. I worked for Frank and Van. They were responsible for mentoring me into a career that lasted from 1946 until my retirement in 2005. They gave me a life for which I will be eternally grateful. I miss them to this day.

  6. Ed, thanks for the note. It's nice to hear from a radio veteran.
    The story about Frank Graham is so sad. I'm sorry he didn't find happiness.

  7. Ed, thank you for sharing your feedback....Listening to the podcast, Down these Mean Streets has given me a new dimension to OTR, for the newcomer. It makes me curious to what became of these great voices of yesteryears ~ sad to find results such as these, though such a person as Frank Graham's body of work IS remarkable! ......and SO REMEMBERED!

  8. Mel Blanc had a clause in his WB contract that only he would have onscreen credit for the cartoons he voiced. That was a rotten way to treat others he worked with. Sarah Berner & Bea Benederet both supplied numerous comedic voices along side him in radio. God only knows how many of his other frequent co-working talent got slighted.

    1. I've never seen any evidence that Blanc's contract specified exclusive voice credit at the exclusion of all others. All I've seen is internet assumptions.

  9. Post WWII America seems like such a great time for us. So many people felt super confident about the future. My mom and dad were married in 1945, and I was born in 1949. Because of his hard work, dad was very successful- everybody was proud to say they knew him, but he had a dark side that people didn't see. It's very difficult to explain, but the main thing is that as a small boy I lived in nearly constant terror of him while everyone else thought he was a super great fellow. I guess I'm trying to say that era, from radio to TV, was probably a very intense time for Frank Graham and the stress of life was too much for him. he did some quality work, and it's a little sad to think that possibly Jack Webb's great work could have affected Frank's outlook on life, among other things. I love old time radio!

    1. I think I know exactly what you mean.

  10. I was 16 year old kid. Van DesAutel was my mentor. I worked for DesAutel and Graham. Offices at KMPC. We did Three Alarm and The Man Says Yes. Frank (The Man Of A Thousand Voices) was exceptionally talented. I admired and liked him very much, I couldn't believe it when Van told me what had happened. I discovered the man I thought I knew so well, I didn't know at all. So sad and such a loss.

  11. Here is your chance to see Frank Graham, in the title role of Cosmo Jones in Monogram’s “Crime Smasher.”