Happy Birthday Ned Wever

NedWeverTriangleClub2

Ned Wever on left while at Princeton

Born 117 years ago today and regarded as one of the great voices during the Golden Age of Radio, Ned Wever was the recognizable voice of both heroes, villains in side kicks including the solid and dependable detective, Dick Tracy.  In addition to his decades of radio work, Ned was also a noted lyricist in his early years and a television and movie actor in his latter. While many radio historians know of Mr. Wever, and we here at the Depot are familiar with his radio role as Dick Tracy, very few know him in any great detail.  I spent some time digging into the man behind the voice and thought his birthday would be a good day to pass it on.

Early Life

Known as Ned Wever for most of his life, Edward Hooper Wever was born in New York city on April 27, 1899, to Daniel and Grace Wever.  Ned lived the first three decades of his life in his parents home with his younger brother George.  His father made decent money as a general lawyer and in 1918 Ned was enlisted as an Apprentice Seaman in the Navy and attended Princeton University as part of a Naval Training Unit.  He never saw deployment and while at Princeton Ned was chosen President of the Triangle Club, a historic theatrical troupe still active today.  He was the primary force behind the club’s “They Never Come Back” production in 1920, writing dialogue, most of the song lyrics and playing the role of Englishman Sir Rollover Doyle.

NewYork_RoyaleTheatre

After graduating Princeton in 1922, Wever sought work as a lyricist and actor in New York while he officially remained living with his parents in nearby Greenwich, Connecticut.  There are few records of Ned’s activities through the 1920’s but he kept active with roles in small budget plays as evidenced by his performance and musical credits in the New York Globe Theatre production of “The Grab Bag” in 1924 and 1925.  In September of 1930 he appeared on Broadway in the cast of “The Second Little Show” a short-lived 63 show performance at New York’s Royale Theatre.  Although signature song, “Sing Something Simple” went on to sweep the nation, the Second Little Show was not well received and at the conclusion of the Broadway show in October, Wever began to direct his energy towards radio drama while continuing to work as a lyricist and composer.

Sing a New SongMusical Success

Becoming a member of the music licensing firm “The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers”, Ned is credited with a number of popular 1930’s songs, including,

Radio Voice Pioneer

Dick Tracy - Ned Wever - publicity stillRadio found Ned’s romantic 30 year old voice at the dawn of the radio soap opera.  He was often cast as a love interest of long-suffering heroines and played the romantic lead in silent movie star Irene Rich’s “The Love Story Hour” in 1931 and 1932. Wever expanded his soap opera credentials as a cast member on the “Betty and Bob” show, which followed the lives of a Secretary (Betty) who falls in love and marries her Boss, Bob Drake. Of interesting note, Betty was played by Edith Davis who’s teenage daughter Nancy would later go on to marry a man named Ronald Reagan.

Ned also found love while working in New York and married 25-year-old Carla Scheuer in 1935. Now living in New York, with Carla’s mother (her father having passed) the married couple welcomed their first daughter in 1938.

Wever’s rich clear voice kept the radio roles coming and in addition to his frequent romantic roles he would soon play the speaking voice of Conrad Thibault in the variety/melodrama Showboat (1934), which was based on a the book and movies of the same name. Much like B and C movies of today, radio was quick to produce a show in copy of a popular movie or book and Wever benefited from this again in the radio drama, Twenty Thousand Years in Sing-Sing (1933-37).

Ned Wever, Dick Tracy Atmosphere Shot

Ned Wever, Dick Tracy Atmosphere Shot

In 1938 the seven-year old Dick Tracy comic strip by Chester Gould had gained enough popularity to warrant its second 15 episode movie serial and of course a Dick Tracy radio show was bound to be a sure fire hit.  Ned was ready for action and took on the title role of Tracy. The adventurous Tracy has a long history in radio and the Ned Wever years on the air are regarded as some of the best.  Heroes and crime fighters were becoming more popular and Wever also joined the cast of the Shadow (1938) with Orson Welles and ushered in 1940 with the role of Kryptonian Jor-L and the villains the Shark and the Wolf in The Adventures of Superman.

Wever continued to appear semi-regularly in Superman and also become a regular in the 1945 “Atom Man” serial, where he played the chuckling fat man and side-kick, Sidney. With World War II in full swing, he worked to keep the home front entertained, playing British detective Bulldog Drummond (1943-1944) in one of the most well regarded radio mysteries of the time. Due to the war, most roles of the 1940’s were of a crime fighting, heroic or war themed, such as his role on Treasure Star Parade as an American Pilot downed in China.

Movie, Television and Retirement

As radio drama began to die off in the 1950s, Wever transitioned to on-camera character roles and often portrayed doctors and judges. Now in his fifties, Ned rarely was given a starring role but he can often be seen as a doctor or judge in a supporting role on films like The Shaggy Dog and Anatomy of a Murder. Moving to Santa Monica, California around 1960 he also played smaller screen roles and made appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Bonaza, Perry Mason and Petticoat Junction.  By the end of the 60’s Wever officially retired from acting, his last recorded role in a 1968 episode of Get Smart as the judge marrying Maxwell Smart and Agent 99.

With a rich life and long retirement behind him, Ned Wever died in 1984 of a failing heart in Laguna Hills, California. A life long entertainer Mr. Wever’s accolades have only been touched on and sampled here and many more can be found on his IMDB page and in radio and music collections around the web.

When Chins Collide!

ChinsCollide

Teaser poster by Shane Fisher, courtesy of Mike Curtis. (Facebook)

He’s been copied honored by Vera Alldid as Dick Tracy parody J Straightedge Trustworthy.  He’s been mentioned in passing once twice probably at least three times by struggling comic strip writer Vera Alldid.  To many, or Mr. Alldid at least, he’s great in ways that Dick Tracy could only wish.  Now, straight from the crossover loving mind of the man himself (Mr. Curtis), the one and only Fearless Fosdick is on his way this summer!

Alldid better have his autograph book.  We can’t wait to see how this plays out.

Wait, what’s a Fosdick?  Time to drop a little Fearless knowledge.

Al Capp, well-known creator of Li’L Abner and all around hilarious satirist created the famous Dick Tracy parody, Fearless Fosdick roughly 74 years ago as Li’l Abner’s favorite comic crime fighter and “ideel” role model.  Fosdick first appeared in 1942 and was promptly shot. Fosdick could not be bothered by “mere scratches” however, and reported back to his corrupt Chief and over the next decade went on to battle an absurd succession of Dick Tracy-esque enemies like Rattop, Bombface, the Chippendale Chair and Sidney the Crooked Parrot.

FearlessFosdickIn addition to battling villains, Fosdick maintained a rich love life with a perpetual 17 year engagement to his very own Tess Trueheart, here named Prudence Pimpleton.  Unlike Tracy, Fosdick would never marry. Fosdick’s crime-fighting style was incredibly violent, excessive and dedicated to the extreme. Drawn wearing suit and cap with a razor-sharp jawbone, Fosdick was according to his creator, “pure, underpaid, purposeful” and of notorious bad aim.  “When Fosdick is after a law-breaker, there is no escape for the miscreant,” Capp wrote in 1956.  “There is, however, a fighting chance to escape for hundreds of innocent bystanders who happen to be in the neighborhood – but only a fighting chance.  Fosdick’s duty, as he sees it, is not so much to maintain safety as to destroy crime.”  A prime example of this is “The Case of the Poisoned Beans”, wherein Fearless Fosdick proceeds to slaughter dozens of citizens to protect them from consuming tainted beans.  You can read 20 full pages of the Poisoned Bean case here.

FosdickChippendale Continue reading

Thank you Jim Doherty!

THF_JoePistoneEach and every Sunday the first Hall of Fame or Crimestoppers panel of the Dick Tracy comic strip comes courtesy of Jim Doherty.  We were surprised to learn Jim’s last official day with the Tracy team was December 31st and want to thank give a big thank you and wish him well in the future.  In addition to the weekly Crimestoppers panel, Doherty has served as the police technical adviser for the strip since the start of the Curtis/Staton era in the spring of 2011.

A former officer, Jim has served in law enforcement at local, state and federal levels and is more recently an author of several novels.  Jim contributed to the now defunct PLAINCLOTHES website that unexpectedly served as a Dick Tracy audition for Mike Curtis and Joe Staton.  During his time with Team Tracy, Sgt. Doherty has been part of winning three Harvey Awards.

On a more personal level, Jim kindly emailed me emailed me shortly after the Dick Tracy Depot began to gain some legs and was more than happy to converse and share some of his Dick Tracy prose.  He has penned a pair of historical Dick Tracy articles I was excited to re-post and am still honored to include.  His very knowledgeable comments on police procedure and hierarchy on the go-comics forums invariably clarify things for all of us readers.  I am informed he is a contributor to the ever-growing Dick Tracy Wikia website, where you can read a far better bio.

While Jim’s time with the Dick Tracy comic has come to an end, there have been enough Crimestoppers submissions to keep his Railroad Police autograph on the Sunday panel for sometime.  On behalf of the Dick Tracy Depot, thank you Jim!

Dick Tracy Encounters Facey (1967)

BigLittleBook1967DickTracyEncountersFaceyOne of my favorite things about Dick Tracy research is shining a light on lesser known film, radio and stories. Today I want to shine that spotlight on the Big Little Book, Dick Tracy Encounters Facey. Big Little Books began in 1932 and were published through 1950. After a seventeen year break, Whitman Publishing attempted to revive the series and produced 35 more books between 1967 and 1969. The first book of this new “2000” series was Dick Tracy Encounters Facey, the only Tracy story in the 35 book collection.

Like the BLB’s of earlier decades, the Facey book is small in size so that it can be easily handled by young readers. Selling for 39 cents, it was printed in three runs, each currently valued in the $4/$8/$16 range for Fair/Near Mint/Mint condition. This book is by far the most common Dick Tracy BLB to be found by collectors. Inside is a brand new ten chapter adventure, written by Paul S. Newman and copyrighted by the Chicago Tribune. Accompanying each page of the youth novel is a color Dick Tracy panel. The story itself is accurate to Gould’s 60’s era Tracy cast and has well done and accurate illustrations.

Continue reading