Sunday 4 June 2023

The Radio Girl

Keith Scott has done animation fans a great favour by publishing his two books on actors in the Golden Age of Cartoons, one delving into studio histories and the other listing individual cartoons and the actors in them.

A plea has come from Keith for anyone with information, especially about the three main East Coast studios—Fleischer/Famous, Terrytoons and Van Beuren. Most of the major players have received some publicity over the years, but studio records have either been destroyed or are missing.

Without gumming up this post with talk about whom we know, here’s one that no one seems to know anything about.

The New Rochelle Standard-Star of March 12, 1932 reported on Paul Terry bringing some of his cartoons to a benefit for the American Legion post in Larchmont. Musical director Phil Scheib spoke as well. By this point, Terry was including original songs and this called for professional singers. “[T]he very best singers are hired for quartet work and for solos,” the paper quoted Scheib. I’ve read this kind of vague comment before, but then came this revelation:

"Mr. Scheib introduced Miss Hazel Dudley, the Animated Voice of the Terrytoons. She sang “Morning,” “Her Gown,” “The Newlyweds,” and a song from “Her First Egg,” one of the comedies shown."

Hazel Dudley?? Who’s that??

Well, it’s time to turn to trusty old newspapers and census records to try to find out.

It can be really dangerous to make assumptions—I’ve seen it time and time again on “databases” and “pedias” where animation fans guess incorrectly—but I’m going to go out on a limb on this one. In the 1930 Census for Brooklyn, we find one Hazel A. Dudley, single, age 25, with an occupation of “singer,” specifically at a church. She’s the daughter of Birdsell and Florence Dudley, her father being a broker at a fish market.

Matching this to other records and information, we find Hazel Alberta Dudley was born in Brooklyn on August 8, 1904. The New York Tribune relates on Dec. 30, 1911 an amateur child performer named Hazel Dudley appeared at the 39th Street Theatre, performing “specialties.” She appeared in a “Fight TB” benefit in 1915. We’ll skip some childhood news stories and go into listings of the early days of radio. On July 21, 1924, she is a soprano on WOR, singing on two shows of 15 minutes (in those days, it’s very likely she was not paid). She moved to WEAF in 1926 and then WOV in 1928. Miss Dudley was also an early television star, performing on a 15-minute programme on W2XAB (the CBS station) in 1931 and 1932. It would appear to be a happy coincidence she sang on the radio and was, we presume, the voice of the girl mouse in the 1932 Terrytoon Radio Girl (frame to the right).

On July 15, 1934, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle announced her marriage to a George Leadbetter. The 1940 Census has her and her husband living with her parents in Baldwin, Hempstead, Long Island. Her occupation is “clerk, telephone company.” There’s a newspaper reference in 1963 to her being on the board of the Nassau County Welfare Employees Association. She died on Long Island in April 1973. So far, I have been unable to find an obituary for her.

If nothing else, perhaps another cartoon voice mystery has been solved.

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