Quiz 7 – Frank Nelson
November 14, 2013
If you've just checked our blog, we're playing a game on our Facebook “Media Heritage, Inc.” and “Big Broadcast” pages. If you'd like to play, “like” one or both of those Facebook pages and on Mondays, we'll post a photo of an old radio “second banana”…a secondary or character actor from the 1930s through '50s. You'll be instructed to email a guess as to the identity to our email and from the correct answers, we'll pick a winner for a prize each week on Wednesday night! Then check back here at the blog, later in the week, for the answer.
One of the attributes that made The Jack Benny Program such a radio and TV tour de force was the wide range of its talented stock characters and “second bananas.” In addition to the principle cast-members, fans remember Mel Blanc and Artie Auerbach and the unique humor of actor Frank Nelson, among others. But long before Nelson squealed his legendary “weeeeellll” and “oooohh” on Benny, Nelson enjoyed a variety of second banana roles in radio and early film. Born in Colorado Springs in 1911, Frank Nelson (no, that was not a stage name) started in radio as an actor at age 15 on Denver’s legendary KOA radio. His first taste of national radio was in the good company of the Marx Brothers on their 1932 Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel radio comedy. Around 1936, he appeared in the serious role of announcer and occasional actor on Lux Radio Theater…a job he kept until 1939. It was about that time that Nelson found his comedy niche on Benny appearing as a “rude” doctor one week, a masseuse the next, or a judge, or, quite often, the clerk at a store or ticket agent at the railroad station. First in radio, then on the television version, Nelson always played the same sarcastic dry character but often in a different profession as nemesis to the hapless Jack Benny. In the 1950s, Nelson would sneak that character onto other television programs, as well, including I Love Lucy, The character even surfaced as recently as the 1980s in a Saturday Night Live cameo. Nelson did plenty of voice-over work in cartoons, too, particularly The Flintstones and The Jetsons and he voiced the animated Mr. Cow in Tootsie Pop commercials. He was also national president of AFTRA, the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists, between 1954 and 1957. Frank Nelson died in 1986 after a battle with cancer.