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.
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.
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.
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,
- Sing a New Song – Recordings by Art Kassel; Bennie Krueger; The Coon-Sanders Nighthawks
- Trouble in Paradise – Recordings by Ted Weems; Freddy Martin
- Trust in Me – Recordings by Mildred Bailey; Etta James; Beyonce
- Sweet Stranger – Recordings by Mildred Bailey; Wayne King; Abe Lyman; Eddie Fisher; Roy Rogers; Patti Page; Etta James
- I Can’t Resist You – Recordings by Benny Goodman; Hal Kemp; Ted Steele
Radio Voice Pioneer
Radio 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).
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.