Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Alan Reed the Candy Maker

This blog is devoted to early Hanna-Barbera short cartoons, so I won’t be touching on The Flintstones all that much; there are plenty of places on the web that do (or is that ‘Yabba dabba do’?). But I love the voice actors on that show and because of that, I thought I’d pass on a 1945 column devoted to Alan Reed.

After all these years, it still sounds like someone has mixed up the soundtrack when I hear Henry Corden’s voice come out of Fred Flintstone, though Corden did it for a couple of decades and did a pretty good job of it. But I grew up with Alan Reed, and his voice just sounds right. He could portray Fred as a Kramdenish-loud jerk, a warm father and a frustrated, growling neighbour to perfection with that rich, expressive baritone.

Alan had an incredibly prolific career. If you’re of a certain vintage, you would have seen him on TV shows (an episode of The Addams Family immediately comes to mind). Long before that, he had an incredible network radio career, starting in 1927 at the time he was in Columbia University. He was the voice of Rubinoff, the violinist, on the Eddie Cantor Show. He was an announcer, too, for ‘Colonel Stoopnagle’ on Quixie Doodle. For a time on the air he used both ‘Alan Reed’ and his real name, Ted/Teddy Bergman, before going exclusively with Reed about 1940. When asked why, he purportedly said “Oh, well, you can’t get along with a name like Bergman,” to which a critic replied: “I dunno about that—Ingrid Reed seems to be doing all right.”

But his biggest fame probably came as hammy poet Falstaff Openshaw, one of the original denizens of Allen’s Alley on Fred Allen’s show (another voice he once did for Allen was a bellowing NBC page who sounded a lot like a later bellowing cartoon caveman). It was at this time Virginia MacPherson of the United Press wire service interviewed Reed. Here’s her column with some stuff I’ll bet you didn’t know about A Man Called Flintstone.

Movie Roundup
Alan Reed Started Out to Become Candy Magnate

HOLLYWOOD.—(U.P.)—Radio and screen audiences would probably never have heard of Alan Reed—better known as Fred Allen’s “Falstaff Openshaw”—if it hadn’t been that pecan pralines melt in hot weather.
“That may sound pretty silly,” Reed grinned. “But I was all set to be a big candy magnate until summer came along.”
After the pralines melted he drifted into a dozen assorted jobs and eventually wound up as a radio comedian, stage star and movie actor. He just finished “Nob Hill” for Twentieth-Century-Fox and goes into Frank Ross’ film version of Lloyd Douglas’ best seller, “The Robe.”
AND THAT LAST role is a far cry from the Reed most of his fans know. He made a small fortune kicking Shakespeare around on the air, but he’s adding to it with serious stuff now.
“I started out a serious dramatic actor,” he explained. “And first thing I knew I was in the candy manufacturing business.”
Seems Reed joined forces with a wealthy chocolate bar king who thought it would be nice to dabble in theatricals.
“But he dabbled a little too much in a stock company that had me as a leading man,” Reed added. “Lost his shirt, he did.”
But the candy bar king wasn’t downhearted. He and Reed went to New York with $800 in their pockets. A little dice manipulation ran it up to $2,800. Then they started another candy business.
“We were going great guns,” Reed said. “Making money hand over first. Everybody wanted pecan pralines.”
Then came the hot weather. And those fancy pralines just went poof!
Reed doesn’t remember what happened to the candy bar king, but he himself went from shipping clerk to real estate to gym instructor to newsreel commentator.
“EVENTUALLY I wandered into radio and worked with Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, George Jessel, Burns and Allen, Bob Hope and Allen,” he said. “That’s where Falstaff got famous with his hammy version of Shakespeare.”
For a while Reed was batting out from 25 to 30 shows every week. Once in a while he’d take time off to do a Broadway show—when he could afford it. Those radio programs paid good money and it was an expensive luxury to do a play.
Each month in the mail came an offer from Hollywood. Regular as clockwork. And each month Reed turned it down.
“I wanted to make a movie like crazy,” he admitted, “but every offer was for a long-term contract. I was too busy to make more than one picture at a time.”
Then last year he got his own radio show, and his booming voice rounded up a whole nation of listeners. The Hollywood offers started pouring in each week.
“AND THEN R-K-O came up with a one-picture deal,” he said, “and I snapped ‘em up fast before they could change their minds. That was ‘Days of Glory.’ No comedy stuff.”
Twentieth-Century-Fox caught on and offered him a similar contract for “Nob Hill.” In that he’s funny.
“And now I’m back in another straight role in ‘The Robe,’” he added. “But before I start that I have to lose some weigh.”
His doctor put him on a diet to trim his 210-pound frame down to the 190s.

No less than Bosley Crowther of The New York Times praised Alan for his role in ‘Days of Glory.’ But if you want to hear Reed as Falstaff, go here to listen to rare copies of the ABC radio show Falstaff’s Fables with his son. I believe he wrote the show, too.

Ben Ohmart has written a biography of Reed and you can read an interview about it here. Ben must have an affinity for voice actors, as he’s also been involved in books about the wonderful Daws Butler and Paul Frees.

As Falstaff might say (as Fred Allen tumbles in his tomb, remarking “That one’s more ‘dog’ than ‘doggerel’”):

Voices come and voices go
Especially in cartoons
Some are straight and some are not
Those ones are mere buffoons.

Some emote in any style
Like one named Alan Reed
Though best known for his “Wilma!” roar
We willingly concede.


  1. Bill Thamson and Hal Smith as Fred & Barney? That'd have been...interesting. Thomson as Barny and Smith as Fred, now THAT may have worked. Of course Alan and Bill would work together again as Touche and Dum Dum - a nice vocal comma in the cartoon studio's sound.