Wednesday, 13 January 2021

John Wald

“Oh, oh. It looks like they’re going to warm up the new pitcher,” says the narrator in the Tex Avery cartoon Batty Baseball. It was released April 22, 1944. The narrator is a man named John Wald. This was the second cartoon where he was employed by the MGM studio. The first was Avery’s What’s Buzzin’ Buzzard, released November 27, 1943. He came on at the end and announced the requests of the theatre patrons would be honoured and a picture of a steak would be shown again. As far as I know, those are the only two cartoons where he can be heard.

Who was John Wald? He was an announcer back in the days when announcers did everything—hosted shows, read commercials, presented newscasts, went on location for remote broadcasts. While Avery was animating for Walter Lantz in 1933, Wald was announcing at KSTP in St. Paul; he has been born in Hastings, Minnesota on September 6, 1908.

He came to Los Angeles in February 1937 for a job at the Evening Herald Express station KEHE. Within two months, he was a “Richfield Reporter,” commenting on the news 15 minutes nightly on the six-station NBC Pacific network. As the war came, the number of stations jumped to 13.

Coincidentally, in May 1942, Frank Bingman was added to the newscast as the commercial announcer. Bingman, too, did narration on MGM cartoons, though not for Avery (one of them is Hanna and Barbera’s non-Tom and Jerry short The Goose Goes South).

Let’s jump ahead to May 18, 1947. That’s when Radio Life magazine profiled him. It’s a little miffing (is that a word?) to see these feature stories with no mentions of cartoon work. But the magazine is about radio.

Come V-J Day and High Water, Your "Richfield Reporter" Has Carried On Unremittingly for Ten Years
By Evelyn Bigsby
Sunday-Friday, 10 p.m.
NBC - KFI-KFSD

PLEASANT-VOICED "Richfield Reporter" John Wald has achieved two of his greatest ambitions this year: in April he rounded out ten years on the famous news program, AND he made a hole in one!
(After twenty years at golf).
Placid John admits his golfing companions were more excited about his feat than he was. Wald calmly tossed off the remark, "Why, this game is easy!"
"I'm a phlegmatic person," he summed up succinctly. But we have a sneaking hunch his "Reporter" training has made him take a sane view of most any event.
Wouldn't you be tranquil if you had to report in unheated manner such world-trembling events as V-J Day, D-Day, and President Roosevelt's death?
John Wald, a sandy-haired, ruddy, complexioned 180-pounder, six feet tall and blue eyed, has made over 3,000 broadcasts as the "Richfield Reporter." He followed Sam Hayes in the spot, working first as a team with Ken Barton, then with Alan Ladd, later with Don Forbes. Since the first of this year (and for three years during the war) John has broadcast as "a single." A world upheaval has happened in the decade of his reporting, Wald placing the stories most personally interesting in the following order: the broadcast on V-J Day ("I almost didn't go on"), D-Day, V-E Day, Roosevelt's death, and the flood of 1938.
"I was living at Hermosa Beach then," he recalled, "and when the waters got precariously high, I had to find a place to stay in town so I wouldn't miss the show. I remember we broadcast with lanterns hanging around the studio, just in case the power went off."
When Wald originally started with "Reporter," world news was breaking at such a furious pace that editor Wayne Miller tried to pack as many items as possible into the nightly broadcast and John tried to spiel off his news at the rate of 220 words a minute. Since peace has come, he has assumed a more leisurely pace—180 to 200 words a minute.
Wald, whose presentation of the news is always unimpassioned, with a minimum of alarmism and morbidity, credits editor Miller for writing the broadcasts in newsworthy manner. "In reading of a story," John enlarged, "I try to give an intelligent, factual account of the incident."
John's schedule calls for him to eat seven o'clock dinner with wife and fourteen-year-old daughter
Susan in their Beverly Hills home. He reaches NBC at 8 p.m., goes over his script, looking up any uncertain pronunciations in Webster's International, then does the Arizona broadcast at 9:30.
"What do you do after 10:15?" Wald was questioned.
"You sound like my wife!" he exclaimed kiddingly, adding that twenty years of night work have turned his routine upside down and that he seldom goes to bed until one o'clock.
Suppressed Desire
Golf is John's passion—he plays two or three days a week at Riviera Country Club. He's also an avid reader of New Yorker, Time, Life, and Sunset. A native of St. Paul, he was staff announcer there in 1929 and also played in stock and little theater and although he's afraid he's been definitely typed now as a newscaster (he's played one in fifty pictures, "Body and Soul" being the latest). Wald hungers for an acting career and yearns to be a heavy. The meager taste he had of portraying Japs, Russians, and Chinese on NBC's "Pacific Story" served merely to accentuate his appetite for acting.
But then, again, he might have two new ambitions: to complete another decade as "Richfield Reporter" and to make another hole in one. Golfing probably gives him leeway to indulge in cherries jubilee and other fancy desserts which are John's weakness. And newscasting isn't exactly dull. One never knows what's going to develop in a new script.
Biggest tongue-twister John's run across to date is the name of the Russian Dam: Dnepropetrovsk.


The story doesn’t mention it, but Wald started taking on announcing duties elsewhere. In 1945, he announced The Eddie Bracken Show, in 1947 he was the announcer on the Great Gildersleeve summer replacement, Summerfield Bandstand and slid into the same role when Gildersleeve returned. Maybe his best-known announcing gig was when Fibber McGee and Molly changed to 15-minute week-nightly format from October 1953 into early 1956.

The Richfield Reporter moved to CBS in 1958. Wald went along, announcing Frontier Gentlemen and then Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar in 1960 until the end of November, when the show moved to New York. The same year, he was caught in a “change in direction” and dumped by Richfield as of July 1st (I know how Mr. Wald felt). He stayed on as a CBS staff announcer until he retired in 1975.

Despite Wald’s long tenure on the longest sponsored newscast in its day, his death was ignored by his colleagues. He died in Los Angeles on March 22, 1988.

Now, let’s show you the steak again.

2 comments:

  1. Wald was also heard in several of the early UPA wartime instructional cartoons under the banner of A FEW QUICK FACTS. He's in three with Mel Blanc, another with Frank Graham, and I'm sure more. Incidentally, Avery used to observe the shooting of live action movies when he could (ever since his early days at Universal), and was interested in the MGM Skelton comedies. I wonder if that's why he hired Wald, who is seen on camera in a couple of Red's movies 1942-43 era as a radio announcer (essentially playing himself), e.g., Whistling in Dixie.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Keith. I've got some of the facts but it's been years since I watched them. I remember Graham did some.

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