Wednesday 7 September 2022

A Squirrel is the Only Thing Screwy About This Book

The finest piece of news about the Golden Age of Animation this year is out.

Keith Scott’s long-promised book on cartoon voice actors is at the printer, and you can buy it starting September 20th.

When I was a kid in the ‘60s, you had to rely on credits on (mainly TV) cartoons and listening to similar voices to figure out who was in your favourite animated efforts. But even then, no one knew there was an Arthur Q. Bryan, unless they listened to certain old radio shows and heard him do his Elmer Fudd voice there. Then in the 1980s came books by animation historians, fanzines, chatter amongst experts on Usenet and finally a full-blown internet. They discovered there was a Danny Webb and a Sara Berner.

Into this mix came Keith Scott, an impressionist with a massive collection of old radio shows and a huge interest in cartoons. Besides having the chance to interview fellow cartoon voice actors when making trips to Los Angeles (such as Daws Butler, to the right), his ear was able to match radio actors to cartoon voices of the era because they used the same voices in radio and cartoons. Pretty soon, we started hearing about Kent Rogers and Jack Lescoulie and Frank Graham and a pile of people no one knew about. (Hands up if you had known before Keith Scott told you that Lloyd Perryman was in a cartoon). And he confirmed information with legitimate studio records resting in archives, as well as newspaper clippings from when the cartoons were actually made.

Keith has been talking about writing a book on the subject for, well, I don’t know how long. But a bit of a layoff during COVID gave him time to work on it. There are still some mysteries he hasn’t solved (one, I think, is the title character in the 1935 Merrie Melodies short The Country Mouse) but anything accurate, even if incomplete, is better than nothing.

One of the identities Keith discovered (if he isn’t responsible, he’ll let me know) is that of Screwy Squirrel. It’s an actor who used the same voice on a comedy show called Tommy Riggs and Betty Lou. His name was Wally Maher. In honour of Keith’s book (and Screwy, I guess), here’s a little information about him. This story from the Cincinnati Enquirer of January 31, 1943 doesn’t mention cartoons because Screwy didn’t come along for another year.

Is From Cincinnati.
Wally Maher Credits His Success To Ambition
To Be Actor Despite Lean Times—First Job Follows Prayer In New York.

The "Queen City of the West" lays claim to a devotion to the cultural arts and quite frequently some of her native sons go forth to prove that contention. Almost everyone knows the success scored by Tyrone Power, but not many realize that radio has a budding star, who stems from this neighborhood and who first was heard from nationally, over station WLW.
No one who hears Wally Maher in the part of Wilbur, the goon-child pal of Betty Lou on the "Tommy Riggs and Betty Lou" show, would suspect that he is a tall, nice-looking chap, intelligent and devoted to his family. But Wally does have all of those characteristics.
Claiming Cincinnati as his native city, he credits his current success in radio to his constant ambition to be an actor.
Born on August 4, 1908, Wally hadn't completed his high school training when he abandoned further education in favor of a career. First as an amateur, then later as a stock company "regular," he started climbing from the bottom in show business.
He made his radio debut in 1930 as Paul Baumer in "All Quiet on the Western Front." However, roles were scarce for youthful actors at that time, and some lean years followed. At one time he was particularly depressed financially, with no job on hand or in sight. He passed a precious half-hour in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, asking for divine guidance through and out of that troublesome time.
That same day a friend told him of a radio audition at one of the large studios. Before dark Wally was cast in the first of many successful roles.
Since his first utterances over the airlanes here, radio audiences have heard him on Jack Benny's program, on the Radio Theater, with Burns and Allen, Rudy Vallee, "One Man's Family," "I Love a Mystery," and Shirley Temple in her "Junior Miss series." He appeared five different times, thereby setting a record for guest artists, on the "Hollywood Showcase" program with Mary Astor.
He first appeared on the "Tommy Riggs and Betty Lou" as a temporary stooge, but his portrayal of Wilbur was so successful that he was signed as a permanent member of the cast.
Wally is married to the former Carmella Bruno of Hamilton, Ohio. They have two children, Wally Maher, Jr., 4 1/2, and Patricia Ann, 1 1/2. Maher enjoys boating and boxing, but for real sport he prefers to play with a good "nine" on a baseball field.

The same paper on January 24, 1946 had this cute tale.

A Career of Crime
Wally Maher, Ex-WLW Actor, on "Suspense;"
Young Man From Madisonville Makes Good

Wally Maher, who either is murdered or murders someone himself every Thursday night on “Suspense,” began making crime pay, at AFRA rates, on WLW in 1934. Wally says he was hired by Ed Byron, currently producing “Mr. D. A.,” to play the leading corpse on “Famous Jury Trials.” “Later I worked up to the position of leading murderer,” he says.
Wally has been doing network dramatics on the West Coast for 10 years, but his former radio colleagues around town remember him chiefly because of Frank Komarac, a delicatessen owner near the Arlington street studios. In this food shop the acting staff was wont to gather for a snack between shows— mostly on the cuff.
After Wally left town for the coast, Frank went to a movie. The feature went off without a hitch, but suddenly, as a “Crime Does Not Pay” short was flashed on the screen, the audience was startled by a cry of pain from one in their midst. It was Mr. Komarac, pointing wildly at the screen. “That's Wally Maher,” he hollered, “And he still owes me for his last sandwich.”

The radio column in the December 9, 1945 edition of the Pittsburgh Press pointed out that Maher “murders only the nicest people. In three years he has killed 31 persons, stole five million bucks and—we almost forgot to mention this—he was slain by the police 18 times...He strangled Agnes Moorehead to death, shot and stabbed Lucille Ball, shot Myrna Loy, poisoned Joan Lorring, drown George Couloris and beat Ronald Colman to death.”

What did Maher say about his animation career? If he said anything publicly, it’s hiding in some hitherto undiscovered newspaper. Earle Ferris’ syndicated column of January 28, 1943 only revealed:

The voice of ‘Wilbur,’ created by Wally Maher for the Tommy Riggs and Betty Lou show, is heard as that of a squirrel in the new Metro movie cartoon, “Nuts in May.”

Daily Variety was still using the Nuts in May title in October. It was the working title for what became Screwball Squirrel. Screwy’s first cartoon took some time to hit theatres. A model sheet for it is dated December 12, 1942 and the short was finally released April 1, 1944. Maher made five cartoons as Screwy. Some fans insist director Tex Avery killed off the character in his final cartoon, based on the fact Avery publicly said he disliked his creation and in the finale of the squirrel’s last short, co-star Lennie pulled out what appeared to be a dead Screwy. If Screwy’s dead, how can he hold up a sign and open his eye? I say Screwy is playing yet another trick and faking his demise.

Any long career in animation for Maher was cut short by an early death. The Los Angeles Daily News informed readers on December 27, 1951:

Wally Maher, radio actor, taken by death
Radio actor Wally Maher, 43, one of the top local artists for many years, died today in St. Vincent's hospital after a long illness.
Maher, who for many years was radio's detective, Michael Shane, was admitted to the hospital only last night. Recently he had undergone major chest and heart surgery.
He started in radio 22 years ago and worked in Cincinnati, New York and in recent years, here. Lately he was acting in CBS' “Lineup,” a mystery show.
He leaves his widow, Molly, three children, Patricia, Wally Jr. and Judy; his parents, Daniel and Mary Maher, and a brother. The family home is at 1017 Fairmount road, Burbank. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Keith has discovered other MGM cartoons where Maher can be heard. No doubt there are real revelations—perhaps some for the first time—in his book (actually, it is in two volumes). Anyone interested in the identities of actors you hear on those great old animated theatrical shorts should get it. Now, if he can only tell me who played the title role in John Sutherland’s propaganda cartoon Meet King Joe.


  1. This is one book I’m looking forward to.

  2. Outstanding! Another book from Keith Scott shedding light on those long forgotten not only in animation, but radio as well. And a fellow WLW alum, no less, Wally Maher. He deserves a rediscovery. Also, in those days, Barbara Cameron was a singer at WLW. So it's possible that at some point, the future voice of Screwy Squirrel was in the same studios with the future composer and singer of "Road Runner, that coyote's after you."

  3. As of today, which IS September 20th, the book is now for October 30 but you csn pre-order it (I did.)

  4. I meant Oct3 . Ordered and recieved BOTH volumes on Kindle. Very good!