Though I couldn’t call the late Arthur Anderson a friend, we certainly knew and liked one-another. I had been meeting him on-and-off since the early 1980s, when I was on the board that organized a yearly seminar on vintage radio, The Friends of Old Time Radio convention (FOTR).
FOTR, run from its inception till its end just a few years ago (in 2009) by Jay Hickerson, was unlike other conventions. The three-day event would have multiple recreations of vintage radio shows starring the very people who starred in them during the 30s, 40s and 50s, and the event was small enough to create a feeling of family among regular attendees. I was in college when I went to my first FOTR convention, and well into my 40s for my last. If that doesn’t say something about Hickerson, vintage radio fans, and the event, then nothing does.
The most important names in radio drama attended FOTR at one time or another, and several were regulars every year. Anderson was in that latter category, and I actually had the pleasure of appearing with him in several radio recreations. (One of the great joys of FOTR was that fans and attendees were often part of the recreations; better still, there was a dinner event two nights of the three, and often you were seated next to the likes of Jackson Beck or Burgess Meredith. How cool was that?)
Anderson was a fixture on Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater (1938 – where you can hear Anderson in Treasure Island and Life With Father), and a regular on the classic children’s program, Let’s Pretend (1928-1954). His story – in a highly fictionalized form – is told in the film Me and Orson Welles (2009), where the handsome Zac Efron played young Anderson. (Anderson was actually much younger than Efron in the film, which allowed filmmakers to incorporate romance into the story.)
Anderson can be seen in the Woody Allen film Zelig (1983), and in John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969) and on television in Car 54 Where Are You, as well as the more sober Law and Order. And he worked till the end, doing voices for commercials (his is the voice of the Lucky Charms leprechaun from 1963 till 1992), cartoons and the like, and being the best spokesman vintage radio could ever have. As Anderson said: I never got the girl, not in 19 seasons. I was never starred, I was never featured. But I always worked.
Anderson was unfailingly friendly and one of that rare vanishing breed: the jobbing New York actor. He and his late wife, Alice, were always a pleasure to see and both always had terrific stories to tell. He was really the last of the great voices from the classic era of radio drama, and we won’t see his like again. He will be missed.