Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Bradley Bolke, Everyone's Chum(ley)

In the 1960s, New York City had a small collection of actors who used their voices to make a living in cartoons and commercials. Allen Swift was one. Jackson Beck was another. And so was Bradley Bolke.

Word has come in from historian/author Rick Goldschmidt that Mr. Bolke has passed away at the age of 93. (Bolke is at the far left of the 1953 gag photo you see).

If you were a cartoon credit watcher, you would have seen his name at the end of Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales, playing Chumley opposite Don Adams’ Tennessee starting in the 1963-64 TV season. He also appeared on the TV Casper cartoons in the early ‘60s; it seems to me he did all three members of the Ghostly Trio opposite Norma MacMillan as Casper. Tennessee lasted three seasons on CBS before superheroes and fantasy-world shows shoved him off the Saturday morning network schedule and into syndication.

Bolke was born to Sol and Helen Bolke. He wasn’t the most famous member of the family. His brother was Dayton Allen, one of Steve Allen’s stock players and a cartoon actor as well (Heckle and Jeckle at Terrytoons). “The whole family jokes a lot. A bold sense of humour is just part of who we are,” he told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel on the occasion of his mother’s 100th birthday in 1997. Mother Helen explained it this way: “Sometimes I don’t turn up my hearing aid just so I don’t hear the boys.” She may have been the funniest one in the family. She explained she lived to be 100 because “I’m too darned charming.”

Bolke was more than an actor; he was an athlete in high school in Mount Vernon, New York. The local paper has results in its December 28, 1938 issue about a football kicking contest. Bolke placed just behind another junior, a young man named Ralph Branca, long before his errant pitch resulted in the Shot Heard Round the World and the Miracle on Coogan’s Bluff while pitching for Brooklyn against the New York Giants. Bolke had been appearing in school plays as far back as the fourth grade in 1934. He ran for school president at Davis High School in 1942, where he found time to do comedy on stage. In a performance of “Sweet Swing,” he and his female opposite “were much better than average and surprisingly good for high school performance,” according to the Daily Argus newspaper.

I’ve found one article about Bolke. Peter D. Kramer of the White Plains Journal News chatted with him about his work for Rankin-Bass and elsewhere. It was published December 22, 2012.
Since its 1974 premiere, there has been no year without "The Year Without a Santa Claus," the Rankin/Bass stop-motion Christmas classic about that fictional holiday when the North Pole's most famous resident wanted time off for good behavior.
Every year, Santa has a cold, thinks he's irrelevant, wants to skip Christmas, Mrs. Claus threatens to do the job instead, Heat Miser and Snow Miser battle, and Mother Nature settles the matter.
And every year, Bradley Bolke and his wife, Kitty, tune in to watch it in their Dobbs Ferry apartment. (It's on at 4 p.m. today on ABC Family.) "I have copies of it, but we watch it every year, and every year we watch it -- even though we've seen it God knows how many times -- we say 'This is a good show,'" says the 87-year-old Bolke, whose name is pronounced "BOWL-kee."
Bolke can be forgiven if he's partial to the show: After all, he's in it. He provided the voice for Jangle Bells, one of a pair of slightly dim Christmas elves in Santa's employ, the other being Jingle Bells (voiced by the late Bob McFadden).
The Mount Vernon native found regular work as a commercial and voice actor, which was sort of the family business. Bolke's older brother, Dayton Allen, was a fixture on "The Steve Allen Show," the voice of "Deputy Dawg" and the original Phineas T. Bluster on "The Howdy Doody Show." Allen died in 2004.
"Now, I'm a retired actor," jokes Bolke, who has lived in Dobbs Ferry since 1958. "In fact that's what it says on my unemployment card."
Bolke's most famous cartoon character is the lovably dim Chumley the Walrus, sidekick to the wise-cracking zoo penguin Tennessee Tuxedo. While that entire series was re-released in a boxed set just this year, it hasn't had the staying power of that perennial Christmas bauble with Heat Miser and Snow Miser.
He was also present at the creation of Vaughn Meader's classic comedy album, "The First Family," in which he played a shoe-banging Nikita Khrushchev. That album, which sold faster than any other comedy album to that point, was recorded on Oct. 22, 1962, the same night that President John F. Kennedy was delivering a crucial speech on the Cuban Missile Crisis. The audience was in the studio, unaware that the superpowers were on the verge of a monumental showdown.
"The Year Without a Santa Claus" was taped in one day in New York City, with Shirley Booth (Mrs. Claus) and the cast, minus Mickey Rooney, who added Santa's voice in a separate session.
Eight or nine years ago, they held a reunion of Rankin/Bass actors and creative team at the Museum of Television and Radio. "After it, I asked Arthur (Rankin) if Jangle was a caricature of me and he said it was. I'm thin-faced with a big nose."
Bolke says there was nothing particularly memorable about that recording session, when Jangle emerged from his voicebox. "It turned out to be a classic, but it's the same thing with 'The First Family.' It was another job," he says. "You come home and you don't realize it's going to become a classic."
It turns out Bolke isn't Dobbs Ferry's only tie to "The Year Without a Santa Claus." Rhoda Mann, who played the all-powerful Mother Nature in the show, also lives in the village. "We don't see each other that often, but we talk pretty regularly," says Bolke.
After retiring, Bolke and his wife began to sponsor a $100 humor award at Dobbs Ferry High School, The Bradley and Katherine Bolke Award, to a graduate who "in the opinion of the selection committee, either through performing, writing or any artistic endeavor, is outstanding in humor or wit."
"I still get fan mail," Bolke says, with a bit of wonder in his voice. "I don't know how they find me, but they write to tell me that this is their favorite show, or that Tennessee Tuxedo is their favorite show. It's a certain group that I don't quite understand. It's not very fancy vellum that they write on, it's more loose-leaf spiral notebook paper and I don't think they're allowed to use sharp implements."
"This is my fan base," he says with a giggle.
It’s nice to see that Bolke was remembered by his fans. We hope they’re remembering him today.


  1. "I'll have the eastern half of his Western sandwich!"

    RIP Bradley Bolke.

  2. I remember watching hours and hours and hours of " Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales ". How many of us as kids in the mid 1960's would do our imitations' " Chumley, Get me outta here....Get me outta here! "...Duh...OK Tennessee "-Ha!! Also " The Ghostly Trio " in the " New Casper Show ". A big part of the soundtrack of the lives of the Boomers. RIP Bradley Bolke.

  3. I remembr him on those catons, Tennesee, and Rankin/Bass ones,too. I can always find myself in the 60s/70s thinking of his voice.:)

  4. Will watch "Wreck of a Record" ("Abracadabra Change-o Range-o Ree") in his honor tonight.

  5. I asked Brad one time if he still did voices...he replied, "No, now I hear them."

  6. Did you see uncalar.tumblr.com?
    In the beginning days of this month, there was put, a picture of Tennessee Tuxedo Mask (Tennessee Tuxedo wearing Tuxedo Mask's mask, cape, and hat).