Sunday, 2 October 2016

Advice From Don Wilson

Don Wilson was an integral part of Jack Benny’s cast (1938 photo to the right) and it’s difficult to imagine Benny carrying on for years with Howard Claney or Alois Havrilla as his announcer; both had been with the show before Wilson.

Wilson’s hiring for the Benny show was as fortuitous as it was improbable. Wilson was a play-by-play football broadcaster who had started in radio as a singer with a trio. Those aren’t exactly credentials for a comedy/variety show. But it proved to be a stroke of genius. Wilson and the rest of the cast interacted beautifully. And who better to sell food than a happy fat guy? Then when American Tobacco took over sponsorship and handed Wilson’s commercial spots at the start and close of the show to a bevy of others, the writers found ways to keep Donzie as a relevant and vital part of the show.

Wilson was incredibly popular and, season after season, in market after market, topped listener polls for favourite announcer. He bested some greats. Harry Von Zell, Ken Carpenter and Harlow Wilcox were beautiful foils on their shows; Carpenter was a Wilson protégé at KFI while Von Zell was signed by Columbia to star in a series of shorts.

Here’s an article about Don from Radio Life, a terrific Los Angeles-based publication, from March 30, 1947 (the photos accompanying this post are from elsewhere). Those of you familiar with his wife Lois Corbet from TV and radio may be puzzled by the reference to Marusia Rudunska. Before Lois, Wilson didn’t have the best luck with wives. He divorced two of them; reading between the lines of stories at the time, one was left with the impression that Donzie hooked up with some drama queens. Wilson filed for divorce from Marusia in June 1949, citing cruelty. The divorce was granted on June 19, 1950. He married Lois four days later in Santa Barbara. Four days?! We’ll avoid editorial comment.

Don Wilson
They Call Him “Jovial, Genial, Chubby,” but We Call Him a Distinguished Veteran Who’s Seen Radio Change for the Better

By Lillian Kramer
DON WILSON, rotund winner of Radio Life's 1946-47 Distinguished Achievement Award for the Most Enjoyable Commercial, has been "at it" for twenty-four years now, and that's a long time. Don has seen radio change from a frail to a giant industry. When he started dabbling in radio back in 1924 they weren't as fussy about production, sound and timing as they are now.
"Before commercial radio, it didn't make much difference if we ran over a minute or two," Don recalls.
"As a matter of fact, if we didn't have anything to put on the air—or if someone failed to show up for a broadcast—the station just signed off for a while."
A bit more informal than things are today!
Don confesses there wasn't much money then in radio, "but it was a lot of fun and we learned as we went along".
Most people got into early radio because they were musically inclined, either instrumentally or vocally, since most radio programs consisted solely of music. Don started out as a singer over a Denver transmitter. It was several years before he took up sportscasting and then announcing.
Our chubby voice of experience says that announcers, along with technique, have changed for the better since those early days.
"Announcers today have finer diction and a much greater command of the language.
"They must have more than a good voice and a knowledge of pronunciation, however. They have to be able to project a 'selling' voice over the microphone and to have an acceptable radio personality at the same time", he points out.
According to Don, the radio microphone is the daddy of the lie detector.
"The mike is the greatest detector of insincerity, and by the same token it reflects honesty and sincerity in an announcer's voice", he claims.
His Advice
Every week Don receives countless letters from would-be announcers seeking advice on how to succeed in radio. He answers them all:
"Be yourself. Don't try to mimic someone else. Your own personality is your greatest asset.
"Have an honest enthusiasm about the product you're selling and your voice will register successfully."
He certainly knows whereof he speaks. The Radio Life citation is the latest in a ten-year-long string of firsts in popularity polls which have picked him as favorite announcer.
Don has been with Jack Benny for thirteen years. Besides his Sunday stints for Benny, the Wilson verve also adds lift to Ginny Simms' Friday night airers, the Victor Borge-Benny Goodman show, and Kenny Baker's five-times-weekly early morning broadcasts.
Most of his fans write about his infectious laugh. Those background chuckles are not prop laughs. Don doesn't laugh at a joke because there's a paycheck in the shadows. He really enjoys a funny line and it's second nature for him to boom out with the hearty ho-hos.
After all those references to Don as a "Hemo Boy," comparisons to Mt. Wilson, and what not, the popular conception is a Don Wilson weighing in the neighborhood of 400 pounds, more or less.
Actually, Don weighs a trim 230—not bad for his six feet, two.
Ginny's warm-up shows make a lot over Don's avoirdupois. A make-believe storm at sea calls for a line like "Make Wilson stay in the middle of the ship—it's listing!"
Pounds don't worry Don, and he claims he diets only when he's asleep. His favorite midnight snack 1s a bowl of graham crackers and milk.
Wilson is married to Marusia Rudunska, a refugee Polish countess and a very talented dress designer. A couple of weeks ago Marusia had her new spring opening in Beverly Hills. Hollywood stars and Beverly Hills society were well represented.
Ginny was one of the hostesses at the opening, which was emceed, as you might guess, by Don Wilson. Marusia modeled her creations herself and caused quite a flurry.
Don is very proud of Marusia's success. He likes to talk about her workshop in downtown Los Angeles, about the clever things she does with fabrics, and about the gowns she whips up for Esther Williams and other stars.
"They call her the Valentina of Beverly Hills", he says gleefully.
The Wilsons have just moved into a new apartment in Beverly Hills and are now in the happy throes of decorating. They used to live on a ranch in the Valley, but their busy careers made town living more to be desired.
Besides his multitudinous radio assignments, Don finds time to be President of Acro-Speed, Incorporated, an automotive tune-up equipment plant located in Pasadena—and to be radio's number one gin-rummy addict.

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