August 17, 2001
Fully realizing that this feature will only just scratch the surface, on Walter Tetley’s radio career, we humbly offer a few words, about his role in The Great Gildersleeve show, from the 40s and the 50s. Hopefully we will be revising, and editing, this article, in the near future. Thanks to two of our readers, I have had the opportunity to listen to 139 episodes from this great series. One of our readers sent me 179 episodes, between the years of 1941-1946 and a second reader sent me two episodes from the 1948 season. As you can see, at this writing, I still have 42 episodes to go. I feel, however, that I have listened to enough of this collection, to be able to make a commentary.
If you have already perused our Peabody’s Pony Express, and our Tribute to Walter Tetley, you already know quite a few things, about the different shows, that Tetley was involved in, during those “Radio Days” (Woody Allen, forgive me, for stealing one of your movie titles!). Of course, on The Great Gildersleeve, Tetley played Leroy Forrester, the juvenile nephew of the star character, Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve.
Though I have never had children, myself, I think that I almost have a grasp for what it is like to be a parent, after listening to all the grief that Leroy has given his guardian, Uncle Mort!! Walter so very masterfully created a very life-like and realistic portrait, of a twelve-year-old boy, on that show. Leroy has his very mischievous side, which is often combined with a savvy edge of humor. At the same time, Leroy is usually almost always a very good boy—–not at all like the hooligan, Julius, whom he later played on The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show.
Leroy was often quite funny, when he repeated, time and time again, some of his own stock expressions: “ARE YOU KIDDING???” (this one really grated on Gildersleeve’s nerves!) and “OH, FOR CORN’S SAKE!!” (this one was usually said, with a groan of resignation, about something that he knew he just could not get out of). He was even funnier, when he occasionally decided to steal one of his uncle’s own lines: “OHHHHHH——–THIS IS GOING TO BE ONE OF MY B-A-A-A-AD DAYS!!!“
I do remember at least two or three episodes, when it must have been really fun, for Walter Tetley to play Leroy. One involved his Uncle Mort’s, then fiancée, Leila Ransom. Leila was determined to get Gildersleeve, to at least consider, moving into another house, after they were to marry. Even after Gildersleeve told her, that there had been a murder in that house, she still wanted him to look at this house (“Gildy” probably made that up, because he really wanted to stay in his own house). Well………when Gildersleeve and Leila, took a peek, inside that empty house (it had been empty for many years), who should be hiding, there, in a dark portion of the house, but Leroy! He let out a blood-curdling, ghostly noise, in his young, puerile voice, and succeeded in scaring Leila Ransom out of that house. Though there was no doubt, that the voice was that of a child, he still scared her!
Actually, quite a few of the funniest things that Leroy did, had to do with women, in his uncle’s life. On another show, when Gildy was trying to have a private moment, with a lady, in the front yard, Leroy kept coming out of the house, again and again, pesting his uncle about various odds and ends (including that he could not sleep!). Even after his uncle bribed him, with $2.00 in 1945 money (to not come back!) he still tormented him! After Gildersleeve sang a very beautiful solo, in his tender, baritone voice, to his lady love, his nephew’s own voice, came screeching from his bedroom window, on the second floor, as he tried to add something to his uncle’s song (Leroy was a sly one, though; he knew exactly what he was doing……..he was just trying to sabotage his uncle’s intimate moment!).
Still another episode had Leroy as the featured character. He received an invitation to a party, from a girl at school, and he absolutely refused to go (he was still in that “hatred phase” of girls!). Uncle Mort decided to get involved. Not only did he insist that Leroy go to that party; he arranged for Leroy to have a tête à tête, with the girl, at their house. As is so often the case for Gildersleeve, whenever he tries to help Leroy out, he sorely regretted that he ever got involved (though his mission was successful; he did turn Leroy on to girls)! In this episode, Walter very comically shows Leroy’s more flirtatious side, and his school-boy giggle (with which we can almost see him blushing, right through the radio—-or through the computer, in my case).
At any rate, one cannot really do Walter Tetley justice, unless one touches on some of the other characters, from this show. Though much of the rest, of what I am going to say, has nothing to do with Leroy it still cuts to the heart, of what made The Great Gildersleeve, a truly quality show. Two of my other favorite characters, especially in their relationship to each other, are Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve and Judge Horace Hooker. Gildersleeve and the Judge seem to always have a type of “Love/Hate” relationship with each other.
The Judge, with his crusty, raspy, often cranky voice, was one of the funniest characters in the cast. He was played by Earle Ross and he was one of those devoted performers who, like Walter Tetley, stayed for the entire run of the show, from 1941-1954 (some accounts state that the show ran from 1941-1958). Many of the other performers did not stay for the entire run (even Harold Peary, who held the title role, did not. He left in 1950. From then on, Gildersleeve was voiced by Willard Waterman).
Horace Hooker wore many hats, in his relationship with Gildersleeve. He was the judge who gave Gildersleeve legal custody, of Leroy and his sister, Margerie. He also served as Gildy’s attorney. In addition, they were neighbors, and became friends (though they were often simultaneously at each other’s throat!). Hooker also enjoyed engaging Gildy as a checkers partner (he also enjoyed cackling, when he took many of Gildy’s checkers, and then saying: “Now crown me!!”). And who could ever forget about how the Judge was also Gildersleeve’s campaign manager, when Gildy ran for mayor of Summerfield?
Hooker also competed with Gildersleeve, on at least one occasion, for the affections of a lady………..and the competition was not always completely nice!! He also enjoyed showing Gildy up, or making a fool out of him, in front of others. Gildy almost always got his sweet revenge, in the end, and made the Judge regret, whatever joke he had pulled! Of all the things, that the Judge did, probably the most exasperating, for Gildersleeve, was when he “conveniently” showed up, at their household, right at dinner time (and ended up being invited to the table, to feast on the labor’s of the family cook, Birdie Lee Coggins!). It was kind of curious, that a prominent member of the community, like Judge Hooker (and also a man in his sixties), would pull a stunt like that, time and again.
Suffice it to say, you could say that they got each other’s goat……..and “goat” is a very appropriate word, because that is exactly what Gildy would call Hooker, whenever he was mad at him: “YOU OLD GOAT!!”. Hooker would even laugh like a goat, thus making that epithet all the more apropos. His raspy, blaring cackle, would reverberate almost exactly like the bleat of a goat!
Hooker was not always nasty; he could actually be quite charming. Even when he was charming, however, he was almost always “full of himself” and conceited (kind of like Gildersleeve; maybe that is why they never got along, too well; their personalities were too much alike). Judge Hooker would always make me laugh, when he suddenly became dismayed, with something that Gildy had done, and his crusty, raspy voice would become quite high-pitched, as he squawked, in alarm: “WHAT???!!!???”
Hooker called Gildersleeve “Gildy”, both affectionately and scornfully. Sometimes his affection, would change to scorn, in practically the same breath. They were the best of friends and the worst of friends (to steal a line from Charles Dickens!). Perhaps their whole “Love/Hate” relationship can be traced all the way back to the first time that they met. The two of them met on a train and they really butted heads, and insulted each other profoundly. Gildersleeve would never, in a million years, guess that he would be in that same man’s courtroom, in a matter of days, for approval of his guardianship of Leroy and Margerie Forrester. What a nightmare that was, for him, when he saw who the judge was!!
As for Harold Peary’s Gildersleeve portrayal, though there were times, that he seemed a bit “cartoonish”, on the whole he was very much a flesh and blood man, and very realistic and believable. I think what I enjoyed most, about Gildersleeve (and what I laughed most about), was how quickly he became a “hot head”, when confronted with a difficult person. Gildy did not like to take anything from anyone (sometimes even if it was from a policeman!!). You could almost see that rabid, ruddy color, rising up into his face, when he would impatiently start to say: “NOWWWWWWW SEE HERE!!!” or “WHYYYYYY YOU!!!!!!!!“. He almost reminded me of a singer, who was warming up with some scales!
I also liked the monosyllabic expression of frustration, that would emit from Gildy’s mouth, whenever he suffered a jolting, harsh, rude awakening of something extremely unpleasant: “OOOOOOP!!!!“, he would gasp, with great chagrin. And every now and then, that “Ooooop!” would be accompanied with the words: “OHHHHHH, BOY!!…………THIS IS GOING TO BE ONE OF MY BA-A-A-A-AD DAYS!!!“
A few really great episodes, involving Gildy and Judge Hooker:
Gildy and Judge Hooker are laughing, and reminiscing, about all the really bad, mischievous pranks, that they pulled in school, as boys. A couple times, while they are doing this, Leroy walks in the room. Then each one angrily wants to blame the other, for setting a bad example for Leroy. They also blame each other, for starting the whole conversation, about these pranks, in the first place.
Leroy’s Paper Route:
Gildy is forced to help Leroy out, with his newspaper route, on a soggy, torrentially-wet, stormy morning. Naturally it is still dark and way, way early!! All kinds of problems occur, that morning, but the worst one is when Gildersleeve throws a paper and it crashes through a window……….and that window belongs to Judge Horace Hooker!!
Judge Hooker, and another community leader, need someone to spy on the local warden. There is talk that the warden is not running the jail properly. The Judge, and this other leader, talk Gildersleeve into getting himself arrested, on some minor charge, so that he can spy on the jail and make a report. Gildersleeve very reluctantly agrees to do this, only when the Judge insists that he will obtain a Writ of Habeas Corpus, to get him out of the jail ASAP. When Gildersleeve is in jail, it turns out that the Judge was called out of town, and will not be back for days………..
After listening to 139 episodes, of The Great Gildersleeve, in a relatively short period of time, I feel like I know the Gildersleeve/Forrester household, as if they were family (or neighbors, at least). I also feel like I know so many of the other characters, from the mythical township of Summerfield (as if they were my neighbors or friends).
I have now followed Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve, through so many things, in his life, including two broken engagements (for marriage, of course), two careers (including his more familiar career, as Water Commissioner), his campaign for mayor of Summerfield, and I have shared the holidays with him and his family, over more than one calendar year. I have also shared all the woes, and hurts, of being part of the World War II era. Hooker once said to Gildersleeve: “We’ve been through a lot, together, haven’t we, Gildy?”. I sometimes feel like I could turn to the great “Laugh King”, himself, and say the same thing.
In many ways, The Great Gildersleeve seems like a precursor to shows like The Honeymooners, The Flintstones, and even All in the Family. Though Gildersleeve was a bachelor, the one thing that he had in common, with all those shows, was that he was a fat man, often a very funny man, and he so frequently came up with hair-brained schemes that all went wrong, or blew up in his face…………and so many times, when he was left picking up the pieces, he realized that, the harder he tried to get ahead (or “fix things”), the further back he fell behind!
But enough said about the show in general. Perhaps someday, soon, we will cover some details on Walter Tetley’s stint on The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show…………….or his work with Fred Allen, on Allen’s own radio show, when he first came to Hollywood, in the late 30s. Perhaps we may even have some things to share about Walter’s very early radio career, in New York City, where it all began for him.
We have heard from a reporter, from United Press International, who claims to be a HUGE fan of Old Time Radio. He has told us that he has thoroughly enjoyed listening to some of Walter’s work, from The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show. He went even one step further, and said that he thought that Walter really “stole that show”! I look forward
to hearing some of those episodes someday.
How very interesting that, 20-25 years before Tetley ever voiced Sherman, on Peabody’s Improbable History, he was already a child “impersonator“, even that long ago!! Even if he was still a minor (as some accounts do give his year of birth as 1923, rather than the more accepted 1915), he would still have been at an age when most boys’ voices begin to change. The more that I have read, written and learned, about Mr. Tetley, the more I believe that his life would make an extremely good and interesting, motion picture. Especially the last decade of his life.