Harold Peary: The Great Gildersleeve and More

 

Harold Peary

Harold Peary

The radio and film character of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve immortalized Harold Peary, whose voice is distinct in entertainment history, an unusual talent, a vocal-genius and facially, unparalleled with his often petulant and mischievous expressions, adding to him a sincere and gracious smile. Others (Willard Waterman, who replaced Harold in the Gildersleeve radio program resulting from a poor decision by Peary) on radio and television have tried to imitate that guttural to mid-pitched laugh, but those near-do-wells pale in comparison. There are two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame commemorating the work of Harold Peary, for his part in the fields of radio and television.

For this writer, it is not TV or radio but it is the movies of Harold Peary that draw my attention. I cannot pass up any opportunity to see Peary ply the personality of that sweet (way deep down in his soul) avuncular  icon, that bilious barker, the bellicose braggart, that bastion of frustration, the gelatinous girthed gadfly, that is the great Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve. I must confess (albeit with much guilt and with some trepidation of written reprisals) that he (Gildersleeve) stands alone as my personal favorite of all comedic characters.

 

Practically Peary:

Harold (Harrold Pereira de Faria, Harold Perry Faria) Peary was born on July 25, 1908 in San Leandro, California to Jose (Joseph) P. Faria and Maude Focha. Joe Faria was born in Portugal and his wife Maude was born in California to immigrants from Portugal. Joe and Maude had their last name legally changed to Perry; Harold would attend Fremont High School in Oakland,[1] in which city he made quite the name for himself. When Harold Perry received notice that he was heir to an estate in Portugal, with the provision that he change his name back to his ancestral surname of Pereira de Faria, he promptly did. After the settlement of the inheritance he made the non-legal switch to Peary, which he took from North Pole explorer, Admiral Robert Peary.[2] Peary, Harold’s chosen professional name became legal in 1958 when he changed it from Harold Perry Faria. Peary’s predilection for a hobby? Collecting police crime scene photos;[3] a dark pastime for a light and jovial performer.

Peary was a life-long Republican and active in Hollywood in that regard and was a charter member of the Hollywood Republican Committee. Others that joined Peary in that group were Robert Montgomery, Walt Disney, Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott, Dick Powell, Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, Mary Pickford, Harriett and Ozzie Nelson, Jeanette MacDonald, Edward Arnold, Walter Pidgeon, William Bendix, Adolphe Menjou, Ginger Rogers and directors Sam Wood and Leo McCarey.[4] Harold Peary not only appeared in two short films, The Shining Future and Road to Victory (one for Canada and the other for the U.S., the U. S. short-subject edited from the Canadian version) that were produced to help the WWII effort but performed on stage for the same cause.[5]

Professionally Peary:

1924 saw the rise of the boy baritone Harold Peary and he was heard on KLX, broadcasting from Oakland, California. His two selections for the program were “When Song is Sweet,” and “Sunrise and You.[6] Peary attended the Fulton Dramatic Stock School of Oakland, under the teaching of actor and Professor Norman Field, who had been a regular at the Fulton Playhouse in Oakland. Peary appeared in “The Charm School” in a supporting role at the Fulton in April of 1925.[7]

Oakland_Tribune_Fri__Sep_12__1924_

Oakland Tribune, Oakland, California, September 12, 1924

 

In 1926 Peary was available for hire, not only on stage or radio but at any kind of event; he sang at the Oakland Advertising Club gathering which welcomed members of the Los Angeles Advertising Club, and the newest member to Oakland, Ms. Mary Ennis who worked with the Schlesinger store locally.[8] Further, in the late summer of the same year Peary appeared with the “Dalton Brothers,” Kelly, Jack and Pete, helping the vaudevillian trio in musical comedies and specializing in old-time ballads and favorite songs.[9] According to his words, Peary was going to work on The King of Kings, with Cecil B. De Mille in 1926;[10] can he be spotted? Probably not since he was reported to have tried his luck in Los Angeles and was back on vacation in Oakland, within a month of his proclamation of having a part in King of Kings.[11] There was one other report that is of interest regarding Peary doing silent films at the Fox, Christie and Chaplin studios;[12] unfortunately, there are no further references or supporting evidence to this period.

Harold Peary joined the Burke-Maxwell Players at the Casino Theater in 1927, as a character actor; the Casino was located at Foothill Boulevard and Thirty-Fifth Avenue in Oakland.[13] Peary sang again on Oakland radio KZM (call letters changed from KLX) in early January of 1929. Beginning in the spring of 1929 Peary landed a recurring gig on the NBC (San Francisco studio) radio program “Cotton Blossom Minstrels.”[14] Mr. Peary became a continuing performer with NBC radio on different programs often in “negro characterizations.” Indeed, Peary at that point was considered a “black-face” comedian.[15]

Harold J. Peary was living in San Francisco and beginning in 1930 was heard as a regular on Spotlight Review on NBC; often appearing with Captain (Bill) Royle, the duo performing “black face” vocals.[16] Many biographies, list the Peary “laugh” as originating in the late 1930s but actually, Harold Peary was already recognized for that “dirty laugh” in 1931, while working for NBC on the aforesaid program.[17] Much of 1930, 1931 and 1932 Peary spent either in his recurring role on Spotlight Review, or as was the case as often as not, in a variety-show skit heard just one time. Wheatenaville came a calling, another NBC program, with Peary performing several parts on the show; the serial premiered in the last week of September, 1932.[18]

Peary’s talent was varied and in one production, Flying Time, he portrayed Major Fellows, Tony the Wop and Diego Ramierez.”[19] Although, playing three parts was nothing compared to when he portrayed eight characters in one 15-minute broadcast; this on the Tom Mix serial[20] As is now seen (then heard) Peary often played minority parts “Black, Italian, Chinese and Hispanic,” earning the title of dialect-specialist from the press.[21] Prior to his part of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve on the Fibber and Molly McGee show, Peary played the “Chinese Boy” on their program.[22] Of course, being able to speak Spanish and Portuguese fluently helped immensely in the Hispanic roles that came his way, he was one of the most sought after character actors in radio.[23]

Fibber McGee cast caption

Lights Out, cast and Peary

Lights Out, cast, including Harold Peary, playing dead

 

In the late 1930s Harold Peary was heard not only in Fibber and Molly McGee but also on, Waterloo Junction, Public Hero No. One, Tom Mix-Ralston Straight Shooters[24] (starring Jack Holden) and It Can Be Done.[25]  Peary’s star continued to rise in radio; when he accepted his own program based on Gildersleeve, he gave up five shows that he had been voicing in, including Fibber McGee and Molly, which quintet of regular appearances actually paid more than his starring role of Gildersleeve (available on MP3 DVD).[26] His outrageous popularity on radio would morph into a film career with enormous success as the Great Gildersleeve in eleven different films. In the mid 1950s Peary gained a couple of turns in dramas, albeit small parts; appearing as Leo in, Port of Hell, 1954 and in Wetbacks, 1956 as Juan Ortega.

The rest of Peary’s career was filled with TV appearances on a multiplicity of shows, including his final years doing voice work for television animation characters; the voice of Big Ben, in Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, 1976, and Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July, 1979. Peary also provided the voice of Fenwick Fuddy on Yogi’s Space Race and Budford and the Galloping Ghost, 1978 and 1979 respectively. There were other series for Peary that got him at least a season of work. The CBS program, Willy, the June Havoc comedy which aired in 1954-1955; Harold appeared as Perry Bannister.  Another successful show for Peary was Blondie, on NBC, the Arthur Lake, Pamela Britton comedy based on the comic-strip and movies, which also starred Lake. Peary played the part of Herb Woodley for Blondie for this 1957 television production.

Personally Peary:

Harold Peary married dancer Eleanor Virginia (Betty) Jourdaine on May 14, 1929. In the 1940’s Peary and his wife Virginia took care of his nephew and niece;[27] life imitating art, for that is exactly what “Uncle Mort,” better known as Throckmorton Gildersleeve, did. Harold and Betty’s marriage lasted nearly seventeen years to date when their separation was announced in February of 1946.[28] Divorce proceedings were reported in late April, with a property settlement reached[29] and the divorce would have been final within a few weeks (Jourdaine was temporarily residing in Nevada) except Peary announced his engagement to Gloria Holliday, who was a member of his radio program. Betty Jourdaine packed up and went back home to Hollywood and filed the action there in the middle of May, on the grounds of mental cruelty.[30] This divorce would take more than a year from its inception (including the one-year interlocutory period) and would cause much confusion for everyone involved; the divorce was finalized on June 20, 1947.[31]

Harold Peary and first wife, Betty Jourdiane

Harold Peary and first wife, Betty Jourdaine

 

His second wife was Gloria Holliday (sixteen years younger), a singer and actress, appearing as Bessie on The Great Gildersleeve. The Holliday family formerly lived in the Big Sky State and Gloria was born in Billings; the Holliday’s moving to California in 1932.[32] Harold and Gloria were wed unofficially in a ceremony on July 8, 1946, in Tijuana, Mexico; they’re nuptials were in secret, and not legal. The Peary’s celebrated the birth of their son Harold Jose Faria (in 1958, when their son was twelve he changed his name to, Page Peary) who was born on March 9, 1947, prematurely.[33] The couple then followed up with the official shindig to tie the knot on June 24, 1947 just four days after the dissolution of his marriage to Betty Jourdaine. Holliday and Peary divorced without acrimony in the spring of 1956.

Harold Peary, wife Gloria and their son Page

Harold Peary, wife Gloria and their son Page

Gloria Holliday

Gloria Holliday

 

 

Mr. Peary’s third wife, whom he wed on Valentine’s Day, 1964, was electronic engineer Callie J. Lawson. Ms. Lawson was a resident of Manhattan Beach in California; he as well at the time. Peary was thirteen years Ms. Lawson’s senior;[34] the couple remained married until Callie’s death in 1977. Peary died at the Torrance Memorial Hospital on March 30, 1985, and then his ashes were received by the sea; he was survived by his son Page.[35]

 

great-gildersleevegreat gildersleeveHarold Peary2

 

Comin round the mountainCountry FairLook whos laughingHere we go again

seven_Days_leaveThe Great Gildersleeve movieposterGildersleeves bad daygildersleeve on boradwaygildersleeves ghost

 

The five film Great Gildersleeve Movie Collection (including Seven Days’ Leave) is available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

 

By C. S. Williams

 

[1] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) February 5, 1964

[2] Joplin Globe (Joplin, Missouri) August 8, 1944

[3] Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) April 18, 1938

[4] Hope Star (Hope, Arkansas) October 21, 1947

[5] Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah) June 27, 1944

[6] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) September 12, 1924

[7] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) April 19, 1925

Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) April 28, 1925

Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) April 29, 1925

[8] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) January 18, 1926

[9] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) August 18, 1926

San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) June 18, 1935

[10] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) August 18, 1926

[11] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) September 15, 1926

[12] Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) April 18, 1938

[13] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) February 6, 1927

[14] Daily Review (Hayward, California) January 3, 1929

San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) June 5; 12; July 3; 10; 17; 24; 31; August 14; October 2; 9; 16, 1929

[15] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) February 22; March 11, 1930

[16] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) February 25; March 18; April 12; July 12; August 9; September 13; November 15; 1930; January 3; February 14; March 21; May 9; 1931

[17] Variety, October 20, 1931

[18] Broadcasting, October 1, 1932

[19] Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) May 24, 1936

[20] Edwardsville Intelligencer (Edwardsville, Illinois) July 11, 1938

Pottstown Mercury (Pottstown, Pennsylvania) April 3, 1948

[21] Harrisburg Telegraph (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) January 9, 1937

Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) April 18, 1938

[22] Santa Cruz Evening News (Santa Cruz, California) January 26, 1938

[23] Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) April 18, 1938

[24]Broadcasting: Broadcast Advertising, April 15, 1938

[25] Kokomo Tribune (Kokomo, Indiana) February 18, 1938

Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) March 4, 1938

Wellsboro Gazette (Wellsboro, Pennsylvania) July 20, 1938

Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) August 11, 1939

[26] Monroe News Star (Monroe, Louisiana) August 29, 1941

[27] Waterloo Daily Courier (Waterloo, Iowa) October 2, 1945

[28] Lincoln Evening Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska) February 5, 1946

[29] The Times (San Mateo, California) April 24, 1946

[30] Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California) June 21, 1946

[31] Kingsport News (Kingsport, Tennessee) May 15, 1946

Corpus Christi Times (Corpus Christi, Texas) June 27, 1947

[32] Independent Record (Helena, Montana) July 6, 1947

[33] Zanesville Signal (Zanesville, Ohio) July 22, 1947

Daily Review (Hayward, California) April 30, 1958

[34] Bridgeport Post (Bridgeport, Connecticut) February 5, 1964

[35] Daily Sitka Sentinel (Sitka, Alaska) April 1, 1985

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