Monday, October 10, 2016

My Neighbors Actors Barbara Luddy and Kenneth Tobey

"WHAT'S A BABY?" was a question the cocker spaniel "Lady" asked in Walt Disney's animated classic "Lady and the Tramp".

The kids on our block asked Barbara Luddy LeFevre to say those words over and over again, but wait I am ahead of my memory.

I was seven years old in 1954 when my parents moved me from the City of Los Angeles to our first home in the San Fernando Valley. For those familiar with those areas today. Such a move doesn't seem earthshattering. However, in 1954 there were only five ways into the San Fernando Valley on winding two lane roads through narrow passes. By name they are Benedict Canyon, the Cahuenga Pass, Coldwater Canyon, Laurel Canyon and Sepulveda Boulevard. All are there should you want to drive them rather than the Freeway System.

In Los Angeles, before that move. We lived in the bottom half of a duplex owned by my mother's parents. The two story building was on Mansfield Street which touched Wilshire Boulevard at the North End and curved into La Brea Boulevard on the South End. A trip today from that location to my 1954 home one block North of the corner of Burbank and Sepulveda Boulevards should take about 30 minutes, or less. In 1954 you were looking at an hour and half to a full two hours depending on the traffic. Not to mention the added time stopping for me to throw up on the side of the road from those winding turns one on top of another in quick succession.

Our first real house was located in the Los Angeles suburb of Van Nuys at 15144 Martha Street. It is strange how 62 years later I can still remember the address. I can also remember the phone number we had STate-6-9075. This was pre-area codes, all numerical phone numbers and a very less populated Los Angeles County.

On our block of Martha Street I had two neighbors. Their names were the aforementioned Barbara Luddy LeFevre and Kenneth Tobey. This is a short memory of those two neighbors.

I was seven years old when we arrived on Martha Street and one of my first new friend's was Barbara Luddy's son Chris. Like the other kids we attended Kester Avenue Elementary School. My memory may be a little faulty, but this picture of Barbara is the closest to the way I remember her at the time.

Look for information on line for my neighbor Barbara and you will only find out that she was born May 25, 1908 in Great Falls, Montana to Will and Molly Luddy. There is mention about her marriage to Ned LeFavre on September 18, 1942. There is no mention of their son Chris, or that he had a younger sister. I'm sorry, but I forget her name.

Writing this I looked at Barbara's background and discovered she started in silent motion pictures in a 1925 film entitled "An Enemy of Man" playing Janet. What this picture was about I couldn't find a mention. Between 1925 and 1933 Barbara appeared in nine short subjects and seven other feature films.
Below is a still from the Bob Steele, singing cowboy, 1930 "B" Western "Headin' North".

Above, Perry Murdock as "Snicker Kimball", Bob Steele as "Jim Curtis", and Barbara Luddy as "Mary Jackson".  

 All of them forgotten today. It would be twenty-two years later before Barbara Luddy would return to the motion picture industry. Her career was in radio as a major star and voice.

Two radio programs occupied Barbara Luddy's talents more than any others. From 1936 through 1953 Barbara was heard by radio audiences on the program "The First Nighter". The show was performed before a live audience and she wore a formal gown and her co-star, "Mr. First Nighter", wore a formal tuxedo. 

Above, Barbara Luddy with her "First Nighter" co-star, Les Tremayne, known to fans of 1950's science fiction movies for 1953's, "War of the Worlds", and 1959's, "Angry Red Planet".

The second radio program originated in Chicago and Barbara would be associated with it from its start in 1940 until it's end in 1954. The title was "Chicago Theater of the Air" and the program presented Operettas. Apparently my neighbor was an accomplished singer and her voice would be heard later on in an episode of Walt Disney's "Wonderful World of Color" singing "There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" in the 1964 "Disneyland Goes to the World's Fair".

I remember Barbara Luddy as having almost a Grandmotherly personality to the kids on the block. I wonder how Chris and his sister felt about sharing her with all of us? As I started out this memory I was surprised, as where many of my fellow Cub Scouts in our small troop, that Barbara was the voice of "Lady" in Walt Disney's "Lady and the Tramp". She immediately became a celebrity to a group of eight year olds. Finding herself repeating over and over again the line "What's a Baby" "Lady" asks when she hears her owners are expecting a new member to the family.

The picture was the first animated film in CinemaScope and Walt Disney was faced with the problem that not all theaters in June of 1955 could show it that way. So he released two versions. One in the widescreen process and another in the normal aspect ratio at the time.

Before Barbara's next screen voice in 1959 I was no longer her neighbor. The problem that unfortunately effects many families occurred. My parents separated and would divorce. The house on Martha Street was put up for sale and my mother and I moved into her parents new home also in Van Nuys. I would never see her again, but I did get the surprise of not only hearing her voice, but looking at an animated character that was her spitting image as the saying goes.

As with the first animated motion picture in CinemaScope. Walt Disney pushed the limits of animation and released a feature in Super 70mm and 6 channel stereo. The picture was "Sleeping Beauty" and Walt four years after "Lady and the Tramp" still had to release two versions of the picture. Indicative of a problem facing all studios converting to widescreen film making.

In "Sleeping Beauty" Barbara Luddy voiced the Blue Fairy Merryweather.

After some forgotten appearances on television Barbara created several more voices for Walt Disney that my readers can still enjoy. She was the voice of "Rover" in the original "101 Dalmatians", the voice of Kanga in "Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree" and would repeat the role in three more Winnie the Pooh features as well as several episodes of the original cartoon series. Also her voice is heard in both the roles of the Mother Church Mouse and Mother Rabbit in Walt Disney's animated "Robin Hood".

My neighbor Barbara Luddy LeFavre passed away on April 1, 1979. I will always hold fond memories of her.

Just before Barbara's house was another with a movie actor living there. From time to time I would see him, but I really never had the interaction as I had with Chris' mother. Actually none of the kids on the block did. At this time the actor was married to his first wife Violet M. Coglan. His name was Kenneth Tobey.

I first recognized him when I saw the third episode of the original Davy Crockett mini-series on the television show "Disneyland". Kenneth Tobey was playing Jim Bowie at the Alamo. After that I tried to see him, but I remember Tobey as somewhat reclusive to his neighbors, but he was openly friendly with Barbara Luddy. This may have just been the impression of a young boy at the time.

I next saw my neighbor once more on Disneyland in the two part mini-series based upon Davy Crockett and Mike Fink. Tobey was playing Jocko one of the crew of Mike Fink's keelboat. That's Kenneth Toby immediately to the right of Jeff York in the picture below.

Image result for images of kenneth toby in davy crockett

Prior to leaving Martha Street again saw Kenneth Tobey in a Walt Disney production. This time a feature length movie starring Fess Parker who had played Davy Crockett. The picture was based upon the story of the first winners of "The Congressional Medal of Honor" in 1956's "The Great Locomotive Chase". Tobey played a Confederate engineer that helped Jeffrey Hunter chase the Union spy's lead by Parker. Other than these Walt Disney appearances I had no idea of his other work.

Briefly Kenneth Tobey was born on March 23, 1917 in Oakland, California. He would attend college at UC Berkeley for law, but the acting bug, as they say, bite him. He studied acting at the New York Playhouse with fellow Berkeley alumni Gregory Peck and Eli Wallach. During the 1940's Kenneth Tobey appeared mainly in stock company productions and on the Broadway stage. It is his start in motion pictures that is kind of weird according to the on line sources.

One website shows Tobey having an non-screen credit role in Todd Browning's 1935 picture "Mark of the Vampire" made on the MGM lot. The problem here is MGM was located in Culver City a suburb of Los Angeles, but Kenneth Tobey would have been 18 at the time and entering college in Oakland in Northern California. It's possible, but I doubt it actually happened. Another on line bio of Tobey states his first feature was a Hopalong Cassidy movie. That would be "Dangerous Adventure" where he played the character of "Red" in 1947.

However, IMDb shows a 1945 made for television movie version of Ben Hecht's "The Front Page" as Kenneth Tobey's first film appearance. This seems possible, because he was working on the New York stage that year. Also early television was being broadcast in New York City since before at least 1940. We could be playing with semantics here, if you consider a movie studio picture over what is classified as a television feature length movie. Then "Dangerous Adventure" was Kenneth Tobey's first movie, but "The Front Page" is his first non-stage on screen appearance.

"The Front Page" and "Dangerous Adventure" were followed by 16 performances in movies and early television in parts so small the actor received no screen credit. On July 4, 1950 Kenneth Tobey received his second, or should that be third screen credit in the movie "My Friend Irma Goes West". The picture was part of a series of popular films that would become am early 1950 television series right after it's release. Tobey's part was described simply as "Pilot". HIs next screen appearance was in "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye" starring James Cagney. Tobey was billed 13th as "Detective Fowler".

The actor stayed in 13th billing in the June Allison, Dick Powell film "Right Cross" playing "Ken the third reporter" and billed appropriately as "Ken" Tobey. Four more uncredited roles and 12th billing in the Glenn Ford picture "The Flying Missile" would bring Kenneth Tobey to the first of three motion pictures that would turn the actor into a 1950's Science Fiction Icon of sorts.

At one time there was a movie theater on Van Nuys Boulevard at the present location of the Civic Center called "The Ritz". "The Ritz" wasn't one of those second run, or third run movie houses. It was at the minimal a 200th run theater showing pictures years old. What was great for a young movie buff like myself was that "The Ritz" ran one double feature program from Sunday through Tuesday and a second double feature program Wednesday through Saturday. So I could see four movies on a weekend.

It was at "The Ritz" that I saw 1951's "The Thing from Another World" in 1958.

Image result for movie the thing from another world

Notice the above original poster does not mention one member of the cast. Although clearly on the poster are the faces of the major leads. Released April 27, 1951 the low budgeted Science Fiction film has influenced audiences for the last 65 years and inspired two sequels. Although the first really isn't a true sequel.

The picture is a combination of a very solid script with finely drawn characters and solid acting. The direction is credited to Howard Hawks' cameraman Christian Nyby, but the story has always remained that Hawks', himself, really directed the film. As there are scenes so obvious in his style and an example is the poker game at the beginning. The characters talk over each other's lines giving the impression of an actual conversation taking place. A trademark of Hawks. Although some argue that Nyby having worked for the director for so long just copied his style.

The screenplay was based upon the first 31 pages of John W. Campbell, Jr's novella "Who Goes There". I highly recommend reading the original story available as an E-book. The sequel I consider a non-sequel to the original picture was released in 1982. This was director John Carpenter's "The Thing". The reason this sequel is not a true sequel is that Carpenter filmed the last 38 pages of Campbell's novella. So these two motion pictures together with slight cinematic changes complete the original written work.

Kenneth Tobey played the no nonsense Army pilot who takes his crew and a reporter to the North Pole. The flight is ordered because of the nature of the reports coming from a scientific station located there. They seem to imply a strange aircraft has crashed. Is it Russian?

After the introduction of the reporter to the scientists at the station. We meet the lead scientist Dr. Arthur Carrington played by Robert Cornthwaite. His secretary Nikki Nicholson is portrayed by Howard Hawks' discovery Margaret Sheridan. Sheridan was offered the lead in Hawks' "Red River" starring John Wayne and Montgomery Cliff, but turned it down because she was pregnant at the time. This was her first motion picture and she had the number one spot in billing.

There are some wonderful comic sequences within all the suspense and thrills between Kenneth Tobey's Captain Patrick Hendry and Sheridan's Nikki. Before we ever see her Hendry's crew was teasing the Captain to the reporter about Hawaii and Nikki.

Carrington becomes the model of the Atomic Age scientist who is blinded to the potential dangers of the scientific discovery he sees before him. In this case a humanoid vegetable played by unknown James Arness. This becomes even stronger when "The Thing" turns out to be alive and escapes confinement.

Dr. Carrington only sees what science can learn from the alien without really seeing "The Thing" as the means of an invasion of the Earth, because it can multiply with seedlings being a plant and not a animal. In fact Carrington conducts an experiment starting to help the invader reproduce. All in the name of scientific progress.

Image result for images of movie the thing from another world

It is Kenneth Tobey's straight thinking Captain Hendry that puts a stop to Dr. Carrington's experiment and organizes the defense and final destruction of "The Thing from  Another World". That complete title was dropped to just "The Thing" until John Carpenter released his motion picture.

The movie ends with the now classic words from the reporter:


American's at the time knew "WHO" and "WHAT" those words were really referring too. "The Thing from Another World" was perfect Cold War propaganda disguised as Science Fiction.

At the time of the movie's release Kenneth Tobey probably had no idea he would become the model Military Hero of 1950's Science Fiction. However, two years after "The Thing from Another World" the second part of what would become the Kenneth Tobey Science Fiction Trilogy was released June 13, 1953.

The image below was not a poster for the motion picture, but a publicity promotion for local television and radio stations and newspapers. It makes interesting reading on the right side. Also note the expected release date was June 18th, but Warner Brothers released the picture five days earlier.

Image result for the beast from 20000 fathoms

Below is one of the films original posters.

Image result for the beast from 20000 fathoms

A point about the original release prints had them tinted red. I saw the film that way and again at "The Ritz" in 1958, or 1959. The picture is recognized not for Kenneth Tobey, but as the first stop motion picture completely animated by Ray Harryhausen.

Once more my ex-neighbor was playing a Military Man. His fourth billed role was as Army Colonel Jack Evans who had been in charge of "Operation Experiment". Which was a test of an Atomic Bomb just north of the Artic Circle.

The star of the picture was Paul Christian as Professor Tom Nesbitt. It just be noted that the actor's name was created for American audiences. In actuality Paul Christian was Swiss Actor Paul Hubschmid. In the following picture Christian (Hubschmid) is shown with second billed Paula Raymond as Paleontologist Lee Hunter Portraying Dr. Thurgood Elson was third billed Cecil Kellaway.Perhaps the real star was Ray Harryhausen's "Rhedosaurus".

Professor Nesbitt after being rescued from an avalanche and loosing his scientist associate claims to have seen a monster. Kenneth Tobey's Colonel Jack Evans tells him he ordered a search of the area, but no monster was found. Nesbitt is sent to a hospital to recover from exhaustion. It is there that he reads an article about a fishing boat in the Grand Banks seeing a Sea Serpent.

Against Doctor's orders he leaves his hospital room and goes to see Dr. Elson and meets Lee Hunter. Dr. Elson tells him it is impossible for such a creature to exist today. Returning to his hospital room he is eventually released and reads of other attacks.

Nesbitt asks Evans to see if he can locate anymore such sightings and reluctantly Tobey's Evan's contacts his friend Navy Captain Phil Jackson played by Donald Woods. Lee Hunter shows up with drawings of "Known" dinosaurs at Nesbitt's apartment. He identifies the "Rhedosaurus" and with Lee's help convince Dr. Elson that there is a creature at loose heading for New York City.

 Image result for images of kenneth tobey in the beast from 20,000 fathoms

Elson is killed in a diving bell after confirming the creature is lurking in New York harbor. Then it strikes and the reminder of the motion picture deals with that and Kenneth Tobey's Colonel Jack Evan's attempts to capture the beast. A beast that has brought a million year old disease to the residents of New York City.

The climax of the film comes at Coney Island where an isotope is shot into the bleeding wound on the "Rhedosaurus'" head.

The movie has the distinction of being the first motion picture about a monster being awaken by Atomic Bomb tests. The Toho classic "Gojira" aka: "Godzilla" did not come out until November 3, 1954 the following year. The classic about mutated Giant Ants "THEM!" was released June 19th also in 1954.

Two more years later Kenneth Tobey was seen in his third Science Fiction feature with effects once again provided by Ray Harryhausen. Released on July 1, 1955 was "It Came from Beneath the Sea". I would see the picture not at "The Ritz", but another long forgotten San Fernando Valley movie theater "The Sherman" on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. It was a Saturday Kid's matinee and around 1956 or 1957.

This time Tobey was not in the Army, but the Navy and the captain of a new nuclear submarine. It played Commander Pete Mathews and after a shack down cruise. The sub is seemingly attacked by something from the sea and a portion of the sea creature is found trapped in the submarine's rudder.

To save money producer Charles H. Schneer had the script written in a documentary style narrated by William Woodson. This actually added a realistic tone to the story of a giant octopus that eventually attacks San Francisco.

Kenneth Tobey was first billing and playing his love interest and Professor Lesley Joyce was Faith Domergue. One month earlier to the day June 1, 1955 she co-starred in another Science Fiction classic "This Island Earth".

The third billed actor was Donald Curtis. Curtis played Dr. John Carter a fellow scientist that Joyce admires and for awhile Commander Mathews thinks is competition over her. Curtis would be seen the following year in Ray Harryhausen's "Earth vs the Flying Saucers".

The octopus attacks San Francisco as the three figure out a way to stop the creature. A means similar to the one used to kill the "Rhedosaurs" is discovered and in a mini-sub Kenneth Tobey and Donald Woods go after the octopus.

Although my one time neighbor would be seen in other productions such as director John Sturges' "Gunfight at the OK Corral" playing Bat Masterson, or on television in the 111 episode series he starred in "Whirlybirds". It was the above three feature films that have become Kenneth Tobey's legacy.

After a career of 219 motion picture and television appearance and many legitimate stage appearances to add to that. Kenneth Tobey passed away at the age of 85 on December 22, 2002.

Childhood memories are wonderful to have especially when I can watch Barbara and Ken's films over and over again to relive them.

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