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Les Tremayne, leading actor in golden era of radio; at 90

LOS ANGELES -- Les Tremayne, one of the best-known actors on radio in the 1930s and '40s for his starring roles in "The Thin Man," "The Falcon" and, most notably, "The First Nighter," has died. He was 90.

 

Mr. Tremayne, whose film credits included the science-fiction classic "The War of the Worlds," died of heart failure Friday at a hospital in Santa Monica.

In a six-decade career that began on radio in Chicago in 1930, Mr. Tremayne once estimated that he had worked on more than 30,000 broadcasts, with as many as 45 radio shows a week in the 1930s.

Mr. Tremayne was so familiar to radio audiences that in one poll in the early 1940s, he was cited as one of the three most famous voices in America. The other two were President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Bing Crosby. "He had a silken, wonderful voice -- it was in the Orson Welles timbre; it kind of was honeyed in the best sense," Norman Corwin, the renowned radio writer, director and producer of the 1930s and '40s, told the Los Angeles Times yesterday.

Mr. Tremayne, who was a charter member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995. Born in Balham, England, Mr. Tremayne moved to Chicago with his family at age 4. He learned to hide his British accent after he was beaten up by bullies, said his wife, Joan.

In 1927, after a year in high school, Mr. Tremayne's father forced him to quit and go to work. His mother encouraged him to become an actor, and he worked in community theater, danced in vaudeville and was an amusement park barker before landing his first radio job in 1930.

He went on to appear on numerous radio shows, including "Grand Hotel," often without benefit of rehearsal.

Mr. Tremayne received his big break in 1936: He replaced Don Ameche as the leading man on "The First Nighter," a weekly program of original half-hour radio dramas set in the fictional "Little Theater off Times Square." The show, which was presented as if listeners were attending a Broadway opening of a new play each week, was broadcast in front of a live audience in Chicago.

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