Charlie Summers at Nostalgic Rumblings reports the passing of actor/sportscaster Gil Stratton, Jr.. who died this past Saturday at the age of 86. Devastating news to hear, to be sure—particularly in light of the fact that in working on this Radio Spirits project (which I just finished) I heard his unmistakable voice on a Life of Riley broadcast from February 3, 1950 (in which he plays a boyfriend of Babs’ who’s told by Riley to stay away from the house…but manages to sneak in when Riley hires a tutor for his daughter).
Stratton—who even in later years never lost the youthful enthusiasm in his voice—was a fixture on radio in the 1940s and 1950s, appearing regularly on programs like Fibber McGee & Molly, The Halls of Ivy, The Great Gildersleeve, Suspense and My Favorite Husband. He was also a fixture on Life with Luigi (as Luigi’s “partner” in the antique business, Jimmy), My Little Margie (as Freddie, Margie’s good-for-nothing boyfriend) and Those Websters—a situation comedy that replaced That Brewster Boy and starred Stratton as son Billy (with a pre-Gildersleeve Willard Waterman as his pop). Stratton received his first taste of show business at the age of 19 (in the stage production of Best Foot Forward) and also embarked on a movie career that included appearances in Girl Crazy (1943), the Bowery Boys films Hold That Line (1952) and Here Come the Marines (1952) and The Wild One (1953). But his best known movie role is probably that of Clarence Harvey “Cookie” Cook, narrator and sidekick to Bill Holden’s J.J. Sefton in Billy Wilder’s classic Stalag 17 (1953).
Stratton used his experience as a former baseball umpire to secure work as a sportscaster; he was hired by KNXT in 1954 and soon became part of the station’s “Big News” team that included legendary newsman Jerry Dunphy—the inspiration for The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s Ted Baxter. Stratton was quite active in the OTR hobby in later years, both as a member of REPS and a frequent guest to the Friends of Old-Time Radio Convention—“always quick with a laugh,” as Charlie fondly remembers. Fans and friends are encouraged to leave condolences for Gil’s family—as well as share memories and stories—at Stratton’s website.
R.I.P, Gil. You always called ‘em as you saw ‘em.