Wednesday 12 August 2015

Arthur Q

All the years he was hunting wabbits, Elmer Fudd’s voice actor was never identified on screen. Countless kids grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s thinking it was Mel Blanc, because Blanc’s name was the only one that appeared in the title cards.

But it wasn’t Blanc. It was radio actor Arthur Q. Bryan, at least pretty much up until the time of his death. Kids of the ‘40s may have known Bryan was Fudd because he used the exact same trick voice on a number of wadio, er, radio shows, especially in the regular role of Waymond Wadcwiffe on Al Pearce’s show. Bryan had been on a show in the late ‘30s called The Grouch Club, and it’s probable someone at the Leon Schlesinger cartoon studio heard him on it, catapulting him to freelance animation work.

Bryan was a busy actor, lending his voice not only to comedy parts, but dramatic roles on Lux Radio Theatre. He even played a network censor on the Orson Welles Show in 1944 before being shown the door and replaced by John Brown (Ray Collins, a Welles favourite, lost his role to Jack Mather at the same time). Bryan’s most famous radio character was born on March 16, 1943 when he showed up in Wistful Vista as Doc Gamble on Fibber McGee and Molly. He stayed in the part until March 22, 1956 when the show’s format was reworked as strictly a dialogue between Fibber and Molly. He came down with gastritis later in the year.

Long before Fibber and cartoons and even Hollywood, Bryan was a young singer in New York. The New York Sun of September 20, 1930 profiled him.
ARTHUR Q. BRYAN, the chief announcer at W O R, was born in Brooklyn, N. Y., in 1899, which he says makes him today of a ripe old age. At the age of eighteen years he began the study of singing with an eye to a concert career. It developed, however, that necessity demanded that his aspirations along these lines be shelved, with the result that his vocal talents were displayed only in various church choirs.
In 1924, Mr. Bryan went to Scranton, Pa., where he worked in the coal mines for the long space of six days quite long enough for him to be prejudiced against that sort of position forever. He returned to New York city and secured a position with a well-known insurance company, incidentally the same which once sheltered Lewis Reid.
The singing persisted, however, and he finally got into radio over both WEAF and WJZ, and was heard in a number of programs including the Seiberling Singers and the Jeddo Highlanders. This was followed by eleven weeks in the show business singing with an octette in “Follow Thru.”
About this time he heard talk of Reid’s leaving WOR and more as a joke than with any seriousness went there and took an audition for an announcer. The joke, however, turned into a position and since then his air activities have been manifold, from singing and a speaking part in Main street for dogs and birds. Mr. Bryan writes the Moonbeam verses and reads on the Choir Invisible. He particularly enjoys working with Uncle Don and thinks him one of the finest characters on the air.
As an afterthought only, he is not married!
Radio listings in the New York City papers show Bryan at WGBS in New York as far back as June 1926 with a ten-minute show early every Thursday evening. He sang. By March 1928, he had a 15-minute morning broadcast at WEAF as a tenor soloist, and was announcing at WOR by April 1930. Bryan quit WOR on September 19, 1931; Variety reported he was going to freelance. If that was the case (“quitting” in radio can mean something else), he quickly changed his mind. He was hired on October 31st by WCAU, the CBS affiliate in Philadelphia, to announce, write and sing. In December 1932, he joined the staff of WIP-WFAN but returned to WCAU the following June to write the CBS network show Bill and Ginger while still appearing on WIP for several more months. Bryan remained in Philadelphia until May 1935 when he returned to New York where WHN employed him to work on, among other things, a variety show with M.C. Ted Claire. His New York radio career ended in September 1936 when he announced he was going to Hollywood. Billboard of October 3rd reported Bryan “leaves the movie lots to join the Par pix scripters”; it sounds like he went West to try his hand at acting first before Paramount hired him as a writer. That didn’t last long. In December 1936, Variety revealed he was now at KFWB, along with Gil Warren, who also later provided his voice on Warner Bros. cartoons.

Bryan was profiled in the Los Angeles publication Radio Life on May 12, 1946. It’s interesting Bryan should tell the writer he didn’t want a starring show. He had already starred on Major Hoople, a summer replacement show in 1942. And waaaaay down below, you can see a reference to his cartoon role.
We Found Out What Mr. Bryan’s Ambition Was, But He Refuses to Tell One Well-Kept Secret

By Joan Buchanan
Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.
Sunday. 8 p.m.

ARTHUR Q. BRYAN is one comedian without a “Hamlet” complex! “In fact,” Arthur admitted, “I don’t even like Shakespeare—except for ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’—it’s nice and wacky.”
“There’s just one role I would love to play—and what a part that is!” he continued. “It’s the lead in ‘Harvey’.”
On a trip last year to open the War Loan drive in Toronto, Arthur managed to go to New York and in ten days he saw seven plays. Frank Fay in “Harvey” was one—the one that Arthur can’t forget. Arthur is morose about his chances ever to play the part because Joe E. Brown is winning new acclaim in the West Coast company and Bing Crosby has been mentioned for the picture. However, if the chance ever presents itself—Arthur will put in his bid to play the part of Elwood P. Dowd, the lovable inebriate whose closest friend is an invisible, six-foot rabbit.
“What makes you desire the ‘Harvey’ part above others?” we wanted to know.
“Well, it’s wonderful fantasy, and it’s so terrifically sympathetic. Of course anyone who plays it will have to do it the way Frank Fay does, because he does it perfectly,” Arthur answered.
Arthur Q. is equally enthusiastic, however, about his part as “Doctor Gamble” on the “Fibber McGee and Molly” show. “Don Quinn (writer of the show) is wonderful,” he said. “Every part he writes is a good one. ‘Doctor Gamble’ is a real person—when I step up to the mike to do the ‘doctor’ I feel subconsciously that I am him. Don Quinn studies the character and your voice and writes for you. I feel that the characters on the show are all drawn by him and we just sort of aid and abet him.
“For instance, when the ‘McGee and Molly’ show was in Toronto, nobody knew or cared what our real names were. In the morning when I’d come down into the hotel lobby, people would say, ‘Good morning, Doctor’ . . . ‘How are you this morning, Doctor Gamble?’”
Prefers Comedy
Arthur admits that he enjoys doing comedy more than any other type of role. “I think most comics really enjoy being comedians,” he confided, “because of the instantaneous response to humor. We revel in laughter and can actually have fun with the audience. That's something you don’t get in drama. I guess a comedian has to have a touch of conceit to be a good comic—but perhaps I shouldn’t say that!”
“Is it harder to make people laugh or cry?” we wanted to know.
“I really don’t know,” Arthur admitted. “I do know that some audiences can be awfully hard to play to, though. Sometimes at rehearsal we actors will double up laughing at what we think is a hilarious script. Then we hit a cold audience—and murder! Dead silence!”
Arthur hasn't always been a comedian—he started out to be a singer and revealed that “singing was my first choice for a career, and once you’ve been a singer you never quite get it out of your system!” He has started to study classical singing again just to keep in practice. He’s an enthusiastic record collector and to date has about 2000 records—symphonic and concert, largely vocal. Arthur was (and still is) a tenor. He sang in light opera, did many Gilbert and Sullivan roles, sang in the Broadway show, “Follow Thru,” and on many radio programs. Locally he has appeared in the light opera festivals in “The Merry Widow” and “The Vagabond King.”
He loves the stage because “it’s so phoney! Such marvelous opportunities for hamming.” And likes radio because you never know what you’re going to be doing next.
“How would you like a show of your own?” we ventured.
No Show of Own!
“I’d hate it,” Arthur replied cheerfully. “Too much to worry about, and I happen to be crazy about everybody I work with. Never been in such a pleasant organization before.”
Arthur's been in radio for 22 years now and has done dramatic roles besides comedy, "We figured it out on the ‘McGee’ show that the radio experience of the cast figured out to over 180 years," he claimed. Arthur’s most recent picture was the Rosalind Russell starrer, “She Wouldn't Say Yes,” and of course he is still immortalizing the easily hoodwinked hunter in the Warners’ “Bugs Bunny” cartoons.
“By the way,” we inquired, finishing things up, “what does the Q. in Arthur Q. Bryan stand for?” Arthur looked cunning. “I haven’t told anybody that in twenty-two years, and I don’t think I’ll start now.”
“Aw—why not ?” we protested. Arthur laughed. “ ‘Cause that way--everybody always asks me!”
You needn’t ask what the “Q” stood for. Unlike Robert Q. Lewis, whose name purely an invention, Bryan had a middle name. Here it is on his World War One draft registration.

Bryan’s last appearance in a Warner Bros. cartoon was in Person to Bunny, released April 1, 1960. Bryan never saw it. He died on November 30, 1959 at the age of 60.

Late note: Voice actor and historian Keith Scott sends the following clarification:
[I]t was Avery who was the one who wanted Bryan for his cartoon DANGEROUS DAN McFOO. He spoke at a college lecture once of how he listened to THE GROUCH CLUB and heard Bryan as a regular (he played "The Little Man") on that...also said he and others would go and watch radio shows at KFWB on the Warner lot a few buildings away from the cartoon facility on Sunset. He saw Blanc doing his News of the World skit and knew of him before he ever used him.


  1. You'd think the writer would have taken the opening of Bryan wanting to play against a six-foot invisible rabbit as an opening to move up the mention about his cartoon work especially since the line near the end indicates that his role as Elmer was common knowledge. (It's also ironic that -- given his future character's pronunciation problems and his connection to Bugs -- Bryan's big New York break would be on a station with 'W' and 'R' as two of the three call letters.)

  2. From Red Skelton's appearance in the "Amos Is Missing" episode of Amos & Andy:

    "My name's Clem Kadiddlehopper. Clem Q. Kadiddlehopper to be exact."

    "What is the "Q" for?"

    "To shoot pool with."

  3. Doesn't surprise me that Bryan had been a singer. His vocalizing in "What's Opera, Doc?" was excellent. I've heard him in many radio shows but not in any singing capacity. In addition to playing Doc Gamble on the McGee show, he was also barber Floyd Munson on its spinoff "The Great Gildersleeve" - in which Gildy and his pals formed the "Jolly Boys" club, who broke into song now and then, but Hal Peary obviously overshadowed Arthur and the others.
    Bryan's most unusual use of the Elmer voice on radio was in a "Screen Director's Playhouse" adaptation of "It's a Wonderful Life" with James Stewart - he played Clarence the angel a la Fudd.

    1. Before "What's Opera, Doc" (1957)(agreed on the singing), in the earlier part to that opera trilogy (after the non-Fudd 1949 first one, "Long-Haired Hare"), 1950's "Rabbit of Seville", as Fudd, Arthur Q.Bryan was very good in a very small singing part..."Ohhhh.....wait'll I get that wabbit.." and his "hunting I will go singing" (many cartoons)and "Oh Susanna"(1942's "Wacky Wabbit"). So, I'd say that any one watching would know of his singing.

      PS I've known since the 70s at 15 that Bryan, NOT Blanc, was Elmer when that 1975 "Bugs Bunny Superstar" came out and one of the reviews stated that it WAS Bryan. Otherwise, before that, I,too, had thought that Mel Blanc did those due to his exclusive credit/SC

  4. I believe Mr. Bryan also played Fred Andrews, Archie Andrew's father (Bob Hastings) in the late 40s.